Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

December 31, 2012

LGBTQ mag profiles exemplars of "ethical sluttery"

PQ Monthly

In case LGBTQs in Oregon hadn't got scoop on poly, the free monthly queer magazine of Portland and surrounding territories presents...

Ethical sluttery: Poly relationships expand the reach of love and sex

By Erin Rook

...Folks whose romantic and sexual relationships include more than two are still widely scorned in popular culture, so much so that same-sex marriage campaigns often emphasize that the couples they represent are “committed.”

But commitment is not the sole purview of monogamy. For those who practice polyamory (and it does take practice), the challenges inherent in holding space for and communicating with more than one person are outweighed by the opportunities for personal growth — and, to be fair, getting laid.


...Jake (a pseudonym) is 34 and currently considers himself “single.” But he is involved in a matrix of relationships, ranging from deep friendships that occasionally get physical to “flovers” (between a friend and a lover) and lovers with whom he shares physical and emotional intimacy....

“In general most people don’t expect one person to fulfill all of their needs in a particular area. No one expects a person to have just one friend who takes care of all of their non-romantic needs,” Kyra says. “Yet our culture demands that we do that for romantic love and for sex — and that romantic love and sex must be with the same person.”

Rachel Palmer and Devon Chase
Polyamorous relationships can take many forms and may shift over time. Rachael Palmer, 32, and Devon Chase, 30, have been married/partnered for seven years and each has casual secondary partners in addition to their primary relationship. Devon’s current secondary partner also has a primary partner and family of her own.

“The nature of our polyamory has changed a lot since we first got together,” Rachael says. “We used to only date people together and that came with its own set of rules that changed with who we were dating and, again, what made us both feel safe. For example, originally we would only date/sleep with people together and we wouldn’t interact romantically with said date without the other person around, but as we got more comfortable that changed, too. Now we date people together and opposite,” Rachael says. “We fuck other people because we want to be together for a long time and indulging our fantasies and desires keeps us happy and healthy.”

Read the whole article (December 2012 issue).

The author posts on the magazine's website a longer interview with Rachel and Devon, who identify as butch and femme queers, that didn't make it into the printed edition (Dec. 28, 2012).


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December 28, 2012

"Failure or Transition? Redefining the ‘End’ of Polyamorous Relationships"

The success or failure of a marriage is usually defined just one way: Does the marriage end with the death of one party, or before?

For no other kind of relationship are success and failure defined this way. A successful, rewarding, rich friendship may drift off in time, or when one party moves away. This does not mean the friendship was a failure or a bad thing. Conversely, you may have a "failed relationship" with your nasty mother, even though you remain in a mother-child relationship until one of you dies.

Romantic relationships? Many people assume, unwittingly, that these follow the marriage model. This leads to demonizing the ex after each breakup and recasting the romance as a failed mistake from the start.

Elisabeth Sheff's summary of her study sample to date.
But for poly folks, romantic relationships more naturally follow the friendship model. Breakups may be hurtful, even bitter, but that does not necessarily make the ex a bad person in one's mind or the initial romance a mistake, or preclude a continuing friendship (perhaps after a cooling-off period of no contact).

And many poly relationships end, or downshift, simply by an agreed "transition," via discussion, negotiation, and decision: away from sexual connection, or emotional primacy, or having such a large role in each others' lives.

This is surely one reason why polys tend to stay friends with their exes more than average. (Another reason: most poly communities are small. That means you're going to run into each other, you may be linked by other partners now or in the future, and you know that others in the community are watching how you manage a breakup and may judge your desirability accordingly.)

Sociologist Elisabeth Sheff has studied and written about poly people since the mid-1990s. She is currently working on a book about polyfamilies and their children based on her research.

On her blogsite, Sheff (who is not poly herself) has just posted a 5,000-word paper on "redefining the 'end' of polyamorous relationships." It will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming academic anthology Selves, Symbols and Sexualities: Contemporary Readings, edited by Staci Newmahr and Thomas Weinberg (Sage Publications).

Failure or Transition? Redefining the “End” of Polyamorous Relationships

...Cultural norms define “successful” relationships as monogamous and permanent in that the two people involved remain together at all costs. In this worldview, sexual fidelity is fundamental to the successful relationship and functions as both a cause and a symptom of relationship success.

Polyamorists, in contrast, define the ends of their relationships in a number of ways in addition to success or failure....

Respondents in my research emphasized the importance of choice as a guiding principle for their lives and relationships. Focusing on the utility and health of their relationships, respondents reported that if their relationships became intolerable, violated boundaries, or no longer met the participants’ needs, then the correct response was to modify or end the relationship....

This consciously engaged choice means that polyamorous people acknowledge their own responsibility for their relationships, with little or no social pressure (from the polyamorous paradigm at least) to either stay together or break up. As a result, poly people ultimately define their relationships as both voluntary and utilitarian, in that they are designed to meet participants’ needs. Clearly this self-responsibility is easier to espouse when the people in question are financially self-supporting and do not have children whose lives would be affected by parental separation. Given the framework of those familial and macrosocial constraints, poly people attach diverse meanings to the ends or transitional points of relationships. In this post I first detail the research methods I used in the study and then discuss those meanings poly people apply to the ends of their relationships. I conclude by examining the social implications of redefining the ends of or transitions in relationships.

Read on (Dec. 20, 2012).

I'm looking forward to her book. She writes that this paper

is part of a larger project based on three waves of qualitative data (1996-2003, 2007-2009, 2010-2012) collected across 16 years through participant observation, content analysis, Internet research, and in-depth interviews. The total sample is 500 participant observation and 131 interviewees, some of whom I interviewed only once and others I interviewed up to six times.

She says that her respondents held three primary definitions for the ends of their relationships:

– It Is Really Over: Success and Failure
– Moving Apart: Divergent Interests and Needs
– Not Really the End: Changes and Continuity

Among her conclusions:

My data indicate that poly relationships may not last in the traditional sense of permanently retaining the same form. Instead, some poly relationships appear to last more durably than many monogamous relationships because they can flex to meet different needs over time in a way that monogamous relationships – with their abundant norms and requirements of sexual fidelity — find more challenging.

...Such persistent polyamorous emphasis on fluidity and choice has several ramifications for the multitude of ways in which people can define the ends of or changes in their relationships. The most flamboyant version of poly identity is explicitly sexual in that it centers on being open to multiple sexual partners. A quieter version of poly identity, polyaffectivity, appears to be more durable and flexible — able to supersede, coexist with, and outlast sexual interaction. Relationships that have such a multitude of options for interaction and define emotional intimacy as more significant than sexual intimacy provide poly people with a wide selection of possible outcomes.

This expanded choice has two primary implications for poly relationships: graceful endings and extended connections between adults....

...Key to this redefinition is dethroning sexuality as the hallmark of “real” intimacy....

...This does not mean that no one in poly relationships gets hurt or mistreated in a breakup – poly people lie, betray, and cheat each other like everyone else. But the existence of alternative meanings provide a way for relationships to end in one phase and begin in another, or continue across many iterations that may or may not include sexuality....

Other interesting papers and presentations by Sheff are available on her site.


December 26, 2012

"Defining the Relationship"

Huffington Post College

Romance and sparking used to come in just a few assumed forms ("first comes love, then comes marriage..."), and woe unto you if you broke someone's assumptions. Or they broke yours.

But now an ethic of DTR — a need to "define the relationship" explicitly early on, rather than assuming stuff — may be taking hold among the next generation. If so, we're in good shape. And, certain poly-activist movers & shakers reading this can take credit for helping to make it happen.

How to DTR (Define-The-Relationship)

By Nadia Cho

Student, University of California/ Berkeley

Defining the Relationship is an often excruciating prospect, especially for unsettled and noncommittal college students. When involved in any fling that lasts longer than a one night stand, there is pressure from social circles and from oneself to clearly define whatever is going on with various intimate partners.

...I genuinely like all of my partners and would like to spend more time with them in the future. However, I don't want to be in an exclusive, monogamous relationship with one person right now. After clearly expressing this sentiment to all of my partners, I've been having a lot of great, honest conversations. Openly communicating my relationship preferences allows me to set boundaries effectively and better understand exactly how I want my relationships to be.

It's important for non-exclusive partners to have dialogue about their respective relationship preferences. Heartbreak comes from a discrepancy in intentions and expectations. So when partners don't DTR, it can be destructive for their relationship when one partner discovers the other is sleeping with a third party.

...I asked a good friend of mine who is a polyamorous relationship guru about the process of telling new potential partners that she isn't monogamous. She told me that during the first conversation of the first date she clearly explains what partners can expect from her: how much time she has available, how she practices her relationships and her commitment to seeing other people.

Be upfront with new partners about what boundaries and dynamics you desire, as well as those you are comfortable with. Don't assume that partners can't handle the truth, and don't let the fact that they might not like it keep you from being honest with yourself....

...Another eye-opening insight my polyamorous friend gave me is that there are different degrees of relationships. The monogamy paradigm makes it seem like people can only either be together or not at all.... Just because two people aren't in a relationship in the prevailing monogamous way, doesn't mean their relationship isn't valid or special....

Read the whole article (Dec. 21, 2012).


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December 21, 2012

Annual Holiday Poly Post!

I'm a softie for holiday ritual, and a ritual right here is my annual Christmas roundup of poly holiday stuff new and old. So without further ado....

● Break out the music. When Bone Poets Orchestra played Poly Living West in Seattle two years ago, lead singer Chris Bingham declared from the stage that any band hoping for commercial success (something that's eluded BPO) had better do a Christmas song. Here are Chris and his life partner Sue Tinney...

...from a video directed by Terisa Greenan of "Christmas Down South (of your Mason-Dixon Line)". Also starring um-friends down below. Here for your holiday viewing pleasure are the PG version and the R-rated version , depending on the sensibilities of visiting relatives.

Bone Poets Orchestra and its previous incarnation as Gaia Consort have been a fount of poly-themed music for like forever. If you're looking for a last-minute present, their CD Belladonna Smiles has just grown and grown on me. To listen to a selection of their poly songs, see Footnote 1 below.

● Speaking of last-minute presents, don't forget my pithy descriptive listing of all 31 polyamory books since the movement took shape nearly 30 years ago.

● After Christmas last year, this showed up on reddit/r/polyamory. It begins:


Again: Poly Problems in this thread are like First-World Problems: issues that only poly couples know.

My current poly problem: when my GF visits for the holidays, my wife sleeps in the other room with her BF. We have a nice house, but the walls are thin. One of us will wake up, hearing the other having sex with their SO, and listen. This leads to them having sexy times with their SO, which is heard by the original couple, who get turned on again. This leads to a dueling-banjos...scenario where both couples end up collapsing around 5 am, completely destroyed, and we're all haggard the next day.

Another Poly World Problem is that people, even those who know we're poly, get us things like a gift cert for a Massage For Two, a pair of Santa hats, or two bottles of wine to split between the three of us. Even though they KNOW we're in a committed triad.

What's your Xmas Poly World Problem?

● Another discussion got rolling on reddit/r/polyamory more recently, What tips can you offer for a smooth poly holiday season?

Things that make it work for us:

1. I define what I need out of the holiday (seeing lights, eating pie, big family-style dinner, decorating a tree) and find a way to do it on my own even if the SO's are busy/ not into it.

2. Figure out the schedule in advance (we start working on it now) and set aside extra days off to clean/ relax/ not do anything.

3. Set a dollar limit on gifts and stick to it. Last year we did $10 per storebought gift, + one handmade gift + one cooked gift per person. It saved us a ridiculous amount of money and stress.

4. As the newest/ most controversial member of the family, I don't assume I have the right to be at everything.... I'm at peace with that and respect that, though honest when it hurts a little.

5. Be super clear about what people's needs are for space and quiet.

6. Go to bed early! This one is HUGE. Being exhausted means people get sick or emotional or just worn down.

7. Take time to be alone and think about what things feel like and mean. It's easy to get caught up in a whirl of tasks and forget to feel things.

● This is the time of year when polyfolk most commiserate and share advice about homecoming visits to bio families who don't get it. Here is Cunning Minx's Polyamory Weekly podcast #297, "Poly for the holidays":

Which relatives are you out to? Can you introduce your lover to your Auntie May? How do you schedule family time? Listeners wrote in to ask the toughest holiday-related poly issues, and cohosts Joreth and Puck help Minx to sort them out:

— – How to introduce non-spouses
— – How to prevent your poly-aware [little] daughter from letting closeted poly relationships slip in front of the “in-laws”
— – Is being closeted OK to certain relatives?
— – How do you handle feeling secondary and isolated?
— – How do you manage economic disparities?
— – How do you deal with missing some and disappointing others?

● "Around the holidays, you tend to get a spike of interest [from others] in your family," writes blogger sexpositiveactivism. "I find this frustrating because in choosing to only be selectively out about my polyamorous status, I necessarily get stuck telling some lies, and I’m a big truth-teller...." See Poly Holidays and the Difficulty of Telling Half-Truths.

● On Planet Waves, Maria Padhila writes about traditional Christmas dreadfulness: ‘Tis the Season for Burl Ives’ Weapons-Grade Earworm.

● And on a positive note: Reid Mihalko is a longtime poly and sex-pos activist who's now a professional sex-geek relationship lecturer (book him for your campus). He has just put up four videos "so you can change how your holiday relationships are this year and for years to come":

...My geeky, online gift to you: short, practical, and unexpected solutions to add ease and foster natural connection and magic to your holiday. I grew up watching my parents struggle with relationship skills and know the anguish that can create within a partnership and for those caught in the crossfire.... I made it my life's mission to change how people connect, so no one has to suffer the way my parents and siblings did.

1. Are You a Cat or a Dog? Learn How To Create More Romance Now
2. Mastering Saying What's Not Being Said
3. Don't Walk On Egg Shells. Be Yourself For The Holidays
4. What Your Lover's Body And A Wineglass Have In Common

● If you're attending or hosting a family gathering, chances are it's not so traditional as it used to be:

Four in 10 say marriage is becoming obsolete

Associated Press, Nov. 18, 2010

As families gather... more people are accepting the view that wedding bells aren't needed to have a family.

A study by the Pew Research Center, in association with Time magazine, highlights rapidly changing notions of the American family....

When asked what constitutes a family, the vast majority of Americans agree that a married couple, with or without children, fits that description. But four of five surveyed pointed also to an unmarried, opposite-sex couple with children or a single parent. Three of 5 people said a same-sex couple with children was a family.

"Marriage is still very important in this country, but it doesn't dominate family life like it used to," said Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University. "Now there are several ways to have a successful family life, and more people accept them."

"More Americans are living in these new families, so it seems safe to assume that there will be more of them around the [holiday] dinner table"....

The changing views of family are being driven largely by young adults 18-29....

Read the Time article.

● For example, Joreth describes her multifarious Christmas plans as a radical atheist out poly:

...But with everyone reminding me that I'm "different", it got me to thinking ... how does a skeptical polyamorous atheist deal with a holiday that is more or less seen as a religious family holiday? Apparently, people want to know.

...First, I talk to all the partners and metamours who will actually be able to be present (i.e. the local ones and anyone who can travel). We discuss who has any pre-existing traditions, and how strongly everyone feels about those traditions....

...One of my metamours has a very strong attachment to decorating the tree, exchanging gifts, and spending the 2 days with her loved ones. On Christmas Eve, she likes to sleep out in the living room, under the lit tree. On Christmas morning, she likes to exchange gifts while sipping hot chocolate. Well, the rest of us think this is a fine and dandy way to spend a couple of days with loved ones, and since no one has any other traditions that they feel more strongly about than she does about her tradition, that's the one we all do....

Read more.

● If you live in a multipartner home, are you affected by people who don't know how to address their cards and letters to all of you? (Or, who pointedly refuse to?) Some people are — as was discussed on LiveJournal. Posts tehuti:

I am one part of a quad. We're about as out as you can get without tattoos or neon signs. :-) Some cards have come addressed to all four of us, some only to the legally married couple, one even came specifically to only one of us. In at least one case, a card sent to just the married couple was from people who know better. These cards are actually quite useful. We're getting a really good idea of which of our family and friends "get it" and which ones don't. Mostly, it's family that's the problem.

● Here's Mistress Matisse — a high-end professional dominatrix, member of a longterm poly vee, and columnist for Dan Savage's alternative newspaper in Seattle — with a thoughtful piece on bringing her partners to her relatives' traditional gatherings in Georgia: Bringing Poly Home:

...I suspect that having me show up with Monk instead of Max is going to be challenging to my kin.

...My biofamily is quite clear about the fact that they don't wish to know about the kinky side of my sexuality. But my observations of other people's coming-out experiences make me think that some families actually have an easier time accepting kink than they do polyamory.

...I suspect the difference is that kink doesn't seem to reliably make vanilla people question their own relationship choices. At least, not to a point of discomfort. But rare is the person in a long-term monogamous relationship who hasn't been attracted to another.... Too often what I've seen is someone more or less saying, "If I have to suffer, you should, too!"

● Polyfulcrum offers some holiday thoughts and experiences:

...I am strongly in favor of not coming out at major family events!!! There is a certain sick draw toward dropping the poly nuclear bomb at such occasions. Resist the temptation! ...Tell people in smaller groups, answer the questions, deal with the shock and awe, and be prepared to have people tell you that they always knew there was something different about you/ going on. Then, by the time the next family gathering comes along, it's part of the family fabric; weird fabric, but hey, there's always got to be an eccentric, right?

...We finished [Thanksgiving] weekend by hosting a meal here that was open to our friends in the poly community, as they often stand in as our family of choice (particularly for me, as I don't have relations close by). It was much more satisfying than the mandatory family event, because it was a conscious choice.

● If and when you come out to your family of origin, you might ease the shock a bit with some nice, positive news articles showing that at least you're not a lone nut, but part of a (supposedly) hip social trend. Find a bunch at my category Show Your Parents!

● Citi Kittie, who's in an equilateral QQF triad, has tales to tell:

...The next people we told were Alexis's parents. They were both stunned. Her father said, "I'm going to need another glass of wine." This from a man who only drinks beer.

But they seemed to adjust quickly. Seeing how happy we are together made it easy for them to accept our triad. Then they proceeded to tell the rest of the family and suddenly I had a whole new set of people to buy birthday presents for.

When her grandma heard she giggled and said, "Oh, I didn't know you could do that." When she thought about it some more and said, "Well, I don't think it's for me." But she's been sending the three of us Christmas cards ever since.

...My mom said it's not a good idea for my wife and I to have someone else living with us. She said, "What if you need to fight?"

Surely we can fight while living with someone. Growing up I had a brother and a sister and we fought all the time. So I think "fight" might have been code for "make a baby." And "why do you want Alexis to move in with you?" might have been code for "when are you going to give us some grandchildren?".

● And to close, here's an old classic dating back to 2007: a jingly-bell quad from Poly Victoria in Australia sings their 12 Poly Days of Christmas:

The final verse (copyright Anne Hunter):

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true loves gave to me
Twelve minutes alone (sigh)--
Eleven Christmas dinners
Ten jealousy cures
Nine long discussions
Eight dozen condoms
Seven Google Calendars
Six-handed mas-sage
Five Ethical Sluts!

Four sandwich hugs
Three-way snogs
Too much attention
And a quick course in polyamor-ee!


1.  Some poly songs from Bone Poets Orchestra / Gaia Consort:
● Their devotional "Three" [lyrics] [mp3] has become an informal theme song of the annual Loving More East retreats.
● "Family" [lyrics] [mp3] was used in the soundtrack of the poly documentary "When Two Won't Do" (2002) and later became the theme song of "Family" the web TV show (2008-09).
● "Move to the Country" [lyrics] [mp3] is a friendly self-satire.
● Another satire: "Perils of Poly" [lyrics] [mp3] ("Oh, if we all dream together/ Can we nightmare too?").
● Moving and deep: "Goodnight" [lyrics] [mp3].
● "Yes!" lyrics (scroll down); listen.



December 18, 2012

"My Sweet Threesome"


Polyamory is about love, not "just sex," right?

Such pat distinctions don't always match real life.

My sweet threesome

Sex was emotionally loaded territory for me. Until I found freedom in the arms of a couple.


Meeting Jane and her boyfriend at this Liberty Village pub took bravery and open-mindedness I wasn’t even aware I possessed. I steadied myself in the entranceway, forcing myself to take slow, deep breaths.... I’d never had a first date quite like this before.

...They were already seated when I arrived. Jane flagged me down with a sheepish wave. True to her Facebook photos, she was effortlessly beautiful. True to his photos, her boyfriend was boyishly cute. Vaguely preppy. Deeply non-threatening.

The couple looked as puppy-nervous as I felt. They had been together for years, they told me, and were head-over-heels in love.

...The pair spoke plainly about the polyamorous lifestyle they’d chosen. I found their candid discussion fascinating and told them as much.

Near the bottom of a second tumbler of wine, I knew exactly what I wanted.

I went to the washroom to freshen up. When I returned, Jane’s beautiful eyes locked with mine.

“We’d like to ask you to come home with us,” she said.

I grabbed my coat....


...I'd spent the better part of my 20s trying to sort out love from sex, measuring and separating them like baking ingredients. What if he likes me a pinch, but I love him a cup? How much sugar is too much for a first date?...

Read on (Nov. 27, 2012). It ends happily, including the part about "some unfortunate gangrenous limb that seeped poison," I think.



I would like to put in an endorsement for Natalia Garcia, who is still looking for another poly family or group to join a possible Season Two of Polyamory: Married and Dating. She is passionate about presenting examples of successful polyfolks to a mainstream TV audience (if that can be said about Showtime) in a way that is thoughtful, positive, humanizes us, and informs the world what polyamory is really about. The two families who worked with her for Season 1, which aired last summer, have had nothing but fine things to say about working with her. Whether there will be a Season 2 may depend on her finding you.

See Kendra Holliday's recent post on her site The Beautiful Kind for contact information. I cover Season 1 pretty thoroughly here.



December 14, 2012

Books about polyamory: All 39 since 1984!

Sixteen of 'em.

Last updated: August 31, 2014. I'll be continuing to maintain this list in a new post. Please go there for the latest version, and link to that version henceforth.


Here is a descriptive list of every nonfiction book on polyamory published since the movement took shape in the mid-1980s (a few years before the word was coined in 1990 and 1992). There are now 39 titles! I plan to keep this list up to date forever.

The criteria for inclusion are:

"Nonfiction books entirely or substantially about polyamory as it's understood by today's movement, published since 1984, in English, in a printed edition."

Too many to choose from? I've highlighted my top general-interest recommendations with green bullets.

The titles link to my own reviews and roundups for ten of them, otherwise directly to Amazon or the publisher. The descriptions are mine except as quoted.

Interesting statistic: Of all the authors and co-authors, 32 are women, 10 are men, and 1 is genderqueer. That's a more than 3-to-1 ratio of women to men.

In reverse date order:

More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory, by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert (Thorntree Press, Sept. 2, 2014). Although this game-changer of a book won't be formally published until September 2nd, the authors have delivered it to their Indiegogo backers and are selling pre-release copies at their personal appearances. For more than 15 years Franklin Veaux has run one of the world's most read and linked-to poly advice websites (now named More Than Two). But the material in the book is new. It is the first practical guide aimed directly at what Franklin calls the "second wave" of the poly movement: the growing influx of people since about 2010 who have been learning of poly not through alternative cultures but through more mainstream channels, and who are therefore blundering into every stereotypical mistake. (He gets mail. Lots of mail.)

More Than Two is a firmly grounded presentation of the poly-community wisdom that has evolved, through bitter trial and error, about what works and doesn't. And especially why. Short version: Self-knowledge, communication, and high ethics (defined largely as respect for other people's agency) are not nice extras, they are nearly mandatory for walking the multidimensional tightropes of poly webs without crashing. At 480 pages, the book delves deeply into many topics and strategies based on the authors' experiences and mistakes (which they tell about in many stories interspersed). These experiences, and those of many other people, led them to derive their foundational philosophy for good relationships of any kind. See the book's website. Disclosure: I'm biased; I edited the book.

Eight Things I Wish I'd Known About Polyamory (Before I Tried It and Frakked It Up), by Cunning Minx (Do The Work, July 2014). Cunning Minx is the creator and hard-working host of the popular Polyamory Weekly podcast, which she began in 2005; it's about to hit its 400th episode. She presents workshops and seminars on ethical non-monogamy at poly conferences and other sex-positive venues, and has counseled thousands of people on the air and in person. One of her most popular classes is "Eight Things I Wish I'd Known About Polyamory (Before I Tried It and Frakked It Up)," about lessons she learned the hard way in her first years at this. She expanded the notes of the talk into an e-book, then self-published it as this 84-page paperback (login required).

It's snappily written and flows as smoothly as her podcast sounds, though with occasional typos. Topics covered include “poly as a custom job,” “write your user manual” (with a template for doing so), “Minx's hot communication tips”, “emotional ownership”, “make guidelines not rules”, “NRE is fun”, and “you don't have to do it alone.” Recommended. Here's a review by poly author Louisa Leontiades. The printed edition's internal design does bear the common stigmata of self-published books (small type, too-wide margins, etc.).

Love Alternatively Expressed: The Scoop on Practicing Polyamory in Canada, by Zoe Hawksworth Duff (Filidh Publishing, March 2014). This is the self-published "story of a woman who, along with her partners, has been a Canadian public face for the cause of legal recognition for the loving poly families who raise healthy children in homes where many adults share one love. Her affidavit along with members of four other Canadian families was presented to the BC Supreme Court in the 2010 reference case on Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada (the Polygamy law). She shares her experiences and wisdom in an entertaining and informative read" (publisher's description). Contains much on the very public 2010–11 legal saga establishing that informal polyamory (unlike polygamy) is legal in Canada. The design has the common problems of self-published books (small type, too-wide margins, etc.).

The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, by Elisabeth Sheff (Rowman & Littlefield, Nov. 2013). This long-awaited book presents sociologist Elisabeth Sheff's conclusions and insights from her 15 years of studying poly people and households, and especially their children. While the subjects of her book sometimes show their flaws and awkwardnesses with word-for-word-transcript clarity, overall she finds the adults of her study to be highly capable and mature and their children to be at least as thriving and robust as the average, probably more so. Here's more (including how to get 20% off the high list price).

The Jealousy Handbook: Exercises and insights for managing open relationships, by Kathy Labriola (Greenery Press, Sept. 2013). The poly movement has long outgrown its early utopian idea that good polys don't get jealous. Today the community universally teaches that jealousy is normal, and what matters is how everyone understands and handles it. The conventional wisdom is that breakthroughs can come from examining and analyzing it: sometimes for rooting up your own fears and insecurities to analyze under the bright light of day — and sometimes as a valuable early-warning signal that some real problem exists external to you, sensed by the gut before the conscious mind sees it.

Kathy Labriola has professionally counselled hundreds of poly individuals and groups in the Bay Area for more than 20 years. Drawing on this long practice, she has compiled a big (8½ by 11 inch) open-relationship jealousy workbook. It presents 42 practical exercises, embedded in chapters on determining whether an open relationship is right for you, understanding your jealousy and its roots, determining its triggers, determining whether it may be rational for the situation at hand, and intervention strategies for managing it and addressing common external problems. The book includes chapters on best-practice communication skills for polyfolks and jealousy tips and techniques from other professionals with expertise in open relationships.

Not Your Mother's Playground: A realistic guide to honest, happy, and healthy open relationships, by Samantha Fraser (Creative Junction, May 2013). Samantha Fraser is an outspoken poly activist in Toronto, organizer of Toronto's annual Playground conference, and keynote speaker at Canada's first PolyCon. She and her husband proudly represent the swinger/poly interface. This book presents her many insights on the practicalities of making open relationships work, drawn from and described by her abundant personal experience. (If you don't like small print, get the Kindle or ebook edition.)

Polyamory and Pregnancy, by Jessica Burde (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, March 2013). Burde is the mother of three children born into polyamorous relationships, has lived in polyfamilies for much of the last 10 years, and has seen a great deal of the good and the bad. She discusses many  considerations you may not have thought of, starting before conception and continuing through birth. Burde runs the thoughtful Polyamory on Purpose blog of practical information and advice. The book is the first in a series of Polyamory on Purpose Guides that she plans to publish about once a year. Future titles, she says, include Safer Sex for the Non-Monogamous, The Poly Home and Raising Children in Polyamory.

The Husband Swap, by Louisa Leontiades (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, September 2012). Louisa Leontiades — born in Cyprus, raised in England, and living in Sweden — is a passionate, prolific, articulate new writer on the poly internets. This is her novelistic memoir of the tumultous, devoted, but ultimately failed quad that launched her and her husband on their current poly trajectory. A review comments, "For my solo poly lifestyle, I find the story aching with couple- and poly-normativity, but really, this can be forgiven since this is a memoir and it's highly unlikely that anyone entering into polyamory for the first time wouldn't try it this way."

Rewriting the Rules: An Integrative Guide to Love, Sex and Relationships, by Meg Barker (Routledge, September 2012). This is an insightful self-help guide to digging out unexamined social assumptions that govern your relationship life, looking at them directly, and deciding which to keep and which to remake. Barker has long been a poly activist as well as an academic and relationship therapist. The mono-or-poly choice is only one of seven relationship topics that she presents for readers to examine, but all of them are important for poly living. Review by Louisa Leontiades.

The Art and Etiquette of Polyamory: A Hands-on Guide to Open Sexual Relationships, by Françoise Simpère (Skyhorse Publishing, February 2011). Simpère is a widely published and quoted open-relationship advocate in France. This is a translation of her Aimer Plusieurs Hommes (2003). Writes Franklin Veaux: "Describes the author's process of coming to her own polyamorous arrangement, and talks about the rules and ideas that keep her relationships healthy and happy. It's written from a very specific perspective (long-term couples who want lovers on the side), and as such describes only one particular kind of polyamory."

Power Circuits: Polyamory in a Power Dynamic by Raven Kaldera (Alfred Press, December 2010). From the publisher's description: "Power Circuits is an alliance between two alternative lifestyles: polyamory... and power dynamics: relationships that choose to be consciously and deliberately unequal in power, such as dominant/submissive or master/slave.... Navigates the waters of effective polyamory and power exchanges, with many essays from the brave practitioners who swim there."

Love in Abundance: A Counselor's Guide to Open Relationships, by Kathy Labriola (Greenery Press, October 2010). Labriola is a nurse and counselor in the San Francisco Bay Area who has professionally advised hundreds of poly families and groups and observed the poly scene for more than 20 years. She offers distilled practical advice from this long experience.

What Does Polyamory Look Like? Polydiverse Patterns of Loving and Living in Modern Polyamorous Relationships, by Mim Chapman (iUniverse, August 2010). When people say "I'm poly," they may mean very different things. This is a lighthearted but serious guide to navigating among five major styles of polyamory widely practiced in the community today.

Love Unlimited: The Joys and Challenges of Open Relationships, by Leonie Linssen and Stephan Wik (Findhorn Press, August 2010). A relationship coach in the Netherlands who specializes in multipartner counseling describes the commonest recurring patterns and problems among her clients, and means to their resolution. She devotes 12 chapters to 12 composite case histories, with very different people and situations.

Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners, by Deborah Anapol (Rowman & Littlefield, July 2010). One of the founding mothers of the modern polyamory movement in the 1980s and 1990s takes a careful, sociologist's look at the state of the movement she helped to create.

Border Families, Border Sexualities in Schools, by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli (Rowman & Littlefield, June 2010). A health and social-development professor in Australia "explores the experiences of bisexual students, mixed sexual orientation families, and polyamorous families in schools."

Understanding Non-Monogamies, edited by Meg Barker and Darren Langdridge (Routledge, 2010; in paperback 2013). An academic collection of 25 papers and essays on styles of open relationships in various cultural contexts, especially in different parts of today's poly culture.

Swinging in America: Love, Sex, and Marriage in the 21st Century, by Curtis R. Bergstrand and Jennifer Blevins Sinski (Praeger, November 2009). The first 40% of this book is a study of the swinger subculture and the people in it. The second 60% is a critique of monogamous ideology in Western society, and this, Bergstrand has told poly conferences, he considers to be the most important part of the book.

Many Hearts, Many Loves, Many Possibilities: The Polyamory Relationship Workbook, by Christina Parker (Alfred Press, 2009). From the publisher's description: "This book provides a tool for everyone seeking to look beyond their fears, fantasies, and stereotypes and step into the reality of polyamory relationships.... A combination of information, insight, and detailed questionnaire, it is designed to help people get a clear understanding of who they are, what they want, and what they need in order to maintain a fulfilling relationship of any kind."

Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly Planet, by Serena Anderlini-D'Onofrio (North Atlantic Books, September 2009). This ethereal, philosophical polemic for multiple love as an opening to saving the world spends much of its time diverted into embarrassing New Age HIV denialism.

The Ethical Slut, Second Edition; A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures, by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy (Ten Speed Press, March 2009). Expanded by 30% and now aiming for a wider audience, this is a new edition of the 1997 word-of-mouth classic published by Greenery Press (for which Hardy used the pseudonym "Catherine A. Liszt"). It is still the most popular book on the networked or "free agent" model of poly — though it now includes an added chapter on opening an existing couple relationship. (A contrary opinion: Why I Hate The Ethical Slut.)

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, by Tristan Taormino (Cleis Press, May 2008). If The Ethical Slut is the bible of free-agent "single" poly, Opening Up has become the top choice for couples looking to open an existing committed relationship — of whatever sort. Tristan Taormino, a brassy star among America's sexerati, did exhaustive work interviewing more than 100 people and couples in a dizzying variety of open and poly arrangements successful and not. Learn from them.

Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, by Jenny Block (Seal Press, May 2008). With a husband, daughter, and long-term girlfriend, Dallas writer Jenny Block fearlessly puts herself out as an exemplar of successful open marriage and bold Texas feminism.

The Polyamory Handbook: A User's Guide, by Peter J. Benson (Author House, March 2008). A longtime poly-community stalwart and activist compiles a big, workmanlike guide to every Poly 101 and 201 issue you can think of.

Open Fidelity: An A-Z Guide, by Anna Sharman (Purple Sofa Publications, September 2006). A small book (36 pages) from England. From the cover description: "A brief introduction to most of the important issues around monogamy and non-monogamy, honesty and fidelity. It covers all the plus points of honest open relationships and many of the potential problems, from jealousy and time management to telling your kids – in a simple alphabetical format, with cross-references for easy navigation and quotes from those with lived experience of Open Fidelity." (Now available free online.)

Polyamory Many Loves: The Poly-Tantric Lovestyle: A Personal Account, by Janet Kira Lessin (Author House, 2006). The controversial creator of the New Agey "World Polyamory Association" publishes many of her internet pieces in book form.

Pagan Polyamory: Becoming a Tribe of Hearts, by Raven Kaldera (Llewellyn Publications, 2005). Publisher's description: "Relating polyamory to astrology and the elements (air, fire, water, earth, and spirit), the author addresses all aspects of the polyamorous life, including family life, sexual ethics, emotional issues, proper etiquette, relationship boundaries, and the pros of cons of this lifestyle. Kaldera discusses polyamory as a path of spiritual transformation and shares spells, rituals, and ceremonies." Pete Benson comments, "There is also plenty of good wisdom here about polyamory in general, so if Paganism is not your spiritual path, do not be turned off."

Plural Loves: Designs For Bi And Poly Living, edited by Serena Anderlini-D'Onofrio (The Haworth Press, January 2005). A collection of 18 substantial academic and general-audience essays that, according to the introduction, "point to the effervescence in current bisexuality and polyamory discourse and the benefits of having them resonate with each other."

Polyamory: Roadmaps for the Clueless and Hopeful, by Anthony Ravenscroft (Fenris Brothers/ Crossquarter Publishing Group, 2004). This book is idea-rich, opinionated, idiosyncratic, and resolutely hard-headed — bordering on cynical — but it needed an editor; it's wordy and overwritten. Contains food for thought if you can work past its annoyances. (The bibliography, with commentary, includes books important to the development of poly thought earlier than this present list, from James Ramey to Joan and Larry Constantine to Robert Rimmer to Wilhelm Reich to Judge Ben Lindsey to... Niccolo Machiavelli??)

The Sex and Love Handbook: Polyamory! Bisexuality! Swingers! Spirituality! (and even) Monogamy! A Practical Optimistic Relationship Guide, By Kris A. Heinlein and Rozz M. Heinlein, no relations to science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein (Do Things Records and Publishing, 2004). I haven't seen this; others call it lightweight and carelessly edited. Publisher's description: "Explores the most sensual sexual organ: the human brain. Explore the emotions, philosophies, risks and rewards of reaching toward your next sexual level. Nothing is out of bounds except dishonesty and hypocrisy." Swinger oriented.

Poly Communication Survival Kit: The Essential Tools for Building and Enhancing Relationships, by Robert McGarey (Human Potential Center, 2004, 2001, 1999). "The goal of this book: to provide in brief and usable form all the basic tools you need in order to communicate well, even in difficult circumstances." McGarey helped to spread learnable methods for excellent communication that the poly culture now widely holds as ideals. Currently available in a new printing (2013) and as an e-book. Says poly coach Dawn Davidson, "It's still good solid information."

Spiritual Polyamory, by Mystic Life (iUniverse, 2003). A small collection of the author's essays and musings to "help you to open your mind and heart to a fresh approach to intimacy."

Redefining Our Relationships: Guidelines for Responsible Open Relationships, by Wendy-O Matik (Defiant Times Press, 2002). An important early poly book among punk, anarchist, and radical street cultures, especially in the Bay Area, where Matic remains active today inspiring and guiding people in alternative relationships. Presents thoughtful guidelines for do-it-yourself relationship structures. Says Franklin Veaux: "Explores the realities of day-in, day-out nonmonogamy, particularly as a conscious political and social act."

The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles, by Ronald Mazur (iUniverse, 2000). From the publisher's description: "Now is an opportune and urgent time to give voice to the intimacies of alternative lifestyles, including open marriage.... It is to non-traditionalists, to those ready for new life and love affirmations, that this book is offered with joy. The evolution of human consciousness prepares the way for the unfolding of our universal polyamorous potential. Let the pioneers be unafraid to move beyond the ancient limits of relationships to the new intimacy of responsible erotic freedom."

The Lesbian Polyamory Reader: Open Relationships, Non-Monogamy, and Casual Sex, edited by Marcia Munson and Judith Stelboum (The Haworth Press, 1999). From the publisher's description: "If your own lesbian relationship lies outside the traditional monogamous couple model, you're definitely not alone. You'll find successful models of relationship styles from cover to cover.... Calls upon a broad scope of writers, professional women and academics.... Focuses on the social implications of this love phenomenon, bringing it into a more inclusive circle of discussion for lesbians, educators, and students of sociology and sexology."

Lesbian Polyfidelity: A Pleasure Guide For All Women Whose Hearts are Open to Multiple Sexualoves, or, How to Keep Nonmonogamy Safe, Sane, Honest and Laughing, You Rogue!, by Celeste West (Booklegger Publishing, 1996). Comments Sex Geek blogger Andrea Zanin: "Upbeat, quirky, explicitly feminist, and sprawling in scope, this one’s a mishmash of advice columns, conceptual musings, practical advice and personal insights. A bit essentialist but full of yummy ideas nonetheless."

Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits: Secrets of Sustainable Intimate Relationships, by Deborah Anapol (IntiNet Resource Center, 1997; a revision and expansion of her original Love Without Limits: The Quest for Sustainable Intimate Relationships: Responsible Nonmonogamy, 1992). Deborah Anapol's book was the bible of the early modern poly movement and for some time was practically its only book. She takes a spiritual approach to love and sex that continues to resonate with some people and not others. Introduced seminal insights on jealousy and how to handle it.

Breaking the Barriers to Desire: Polyamory, Polyfidelity and Non-Monogamy – New Approaches To Multiple Relationships, edited by Kevin Lano and Claire Parry (Five Leaves Publications [Nottingham, UK], 1995). From the introduction: "This book will aim to show that 'responsible non-monogamy' can be both a positive choice at a personal level and a radicalising current in society, providing a true alternative to the dependence and exclusion of traditional monogamy and the lack of responsibility and honesty in covert non-monogamy." Writes a reviewer: "There are personal stories, some chunky theoretical pieces, a history of non-monogamy, an article about the life of a non-monogamous woman in the early 1800s, and an exploration of Christian theological justifications for monogamy and polygyny... all in 137 pages."

Loving More: The Polyfidelity Primer, 3rd edition, by Ryam Nearing (PEP Publishing, 1992, 1989, 1984). If there was one central instigator of the modern polyamory movement, Ryam Nearing would be it. Focusing especially on closed polyfidelity, she was the sparkplug who built Loving More magazine and its conferences, the movement's central nexus before the internet. Her early how-to manual The Polyfidelity Primer went through several editions and is now a hard-to-find collector's item.


December 13, 2012

Amelia Earhart's open marriage
back in the news

Los Angeles Times and elsewhere

Amelia Earhart in 1937

In 2008 I mentioned here that aviation hero Amelia Earhart, America's sweetheart who disappeared in 1937 over the Pacific, insisted on an open-marriage agreement with her husband before marrying him in 1931. Her typewritten letter to him has long been available online at the Purdue University Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers.

Last week, Los Angeles writer Amanda Hess rediscovered the letter and posted about it to her Tumblr site. It got hundreds of likes. From there, writers picked up the story at Feministing, The Frisky, Jezebel, Women's Voice for Change ("Redefining Life After 40"), and elsewhere.

"Earhart’s prenup has been quoted before," Hess wrote a couple days later for Slate, "but it seems to have struck a chord at this particular point in relationship history." This morning it spread to the op-ed page of the Los Angeles Times and probably onward.

When conditions are right, old news can become new news.

At Feministing:

Wondering what a feminist icon living in the earlier half of the 1900′s thought about love and marriage? Look no further than the document above, a letter from Earhart to her future husband George Putnam.

You’ll remember Earhart became famous as the first female aviator to fly a solo transatlantic flight, redefining expectations of women along the way. Then, she tragically disappeared during a flight in 1937 (only to reappear in a “carefully scrubbed” and “exasperatingly dull” movie in which she was played by Hilary Swank, but that’s for another post).

Of course, we love her anyway for her courage and fierceness, and even more so having stumbled upon this priceless prenup agreement. Reading through the document, one thing becomes very clear: this woman had a clear sense of what she wanted out of a marriage. And I find much of her marital vision compelling, even today....

Read the whole article (Dec. 13, 2012).

Hess writing at Slate:

Dana LaRue, the editor-in-chief of alternative wedding site The Broke-Ass Bride, told me that she’d like to see marriage evolve “as a social construct away from a ‘lifetime commitment under God’ and more toward a ‘civil union in whatever form speaks most to those involved.’” And yet what ends up “speaking to us” today isn’t necessarily so different from what used to....

The whole article (Dec. 11, 2012).

At Twirlit:

So many people doubt the entire institution of marriage because it seems like a rigid system that we impose upon ourselves — but if marriage can be as malleable and personalized as Amelia Earhart made it, perhaps it’s not as obsolete as we think.

Whole article (Dec. 12, 2012).

And in today's Los Angeles Times:

A gayer approach to marriage

Everyone might do well to take a same-sex-marriage approach to nuptials, starting with not taking them for granted.

By Meghan Daum

Amelia Earhart's "prenuptial agreement" with her husband, George Putnam, whom she married in 1931 when she was 32, drew a flurry of attention this week. Los Angeles writer Amanda Hess posted the letter on her Tumblr page after running across it in the online library of Purdue University, which houses Earhart's papers....

In Slate, Hess explained that youngish female bloggers read this proto-feminist manifesto and seized the opportunity to mull over the confusing, often contradictory state of modern marriage....

Some readers rightly pointed out that if a man had served his betrothed with a document like this (let's be clear, it's not a pre-nup, just a letter) it would not have met with the same level of enthusiasm....

Given long-standing theories about Earhart's ulterior motives for marrying Putnam — Putnam was a powerful publisher and she a writer, and let's not forget the lesbian rumors — it's probably best not to read too much into what may be an expression of anxiety more than anything else.

But that doesn't mean there isn't an appetite for new ways of looking at marriage. It's worth noting that the surge of interest in Earhart's unconventional approach came along just as the Supreme Court announced its plans to take on the issue of marriage equality, and after an election that legalized same-sex marriage in four states and sent an openly gay senator to Washington....

It's ironic, then, that as gay marriage becomes more popular, barely half of all adults in the U.S. are married....

Maybe straight people want what they can't have: to be gay married too. That is, they want the perks of legal partnership without the baggage of thousands of years of that very durable marriage tradition: an unequal partnership....

This is not to say that Earhart's version of marriage bears a closer resemblance to gay unions than straight ones... but it shares this with the gay variety: It requires some imagination, and conscious choices. Despite her plea for an early escape clause, Earhart wasn't so much thumbing her nose at marriage as much as customizing it....

The whole article (Dec. 13, 2012).

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December 10, 2012

"Every time I turn around, I feel like more of my peers are entering open relationships."

Her Campus (UPenn)
Daily Nexus (UC Santa Barbara)

"This is my poly dream: that every college student in America will know the word polyamory and what it means within five years." So declared Diana Adams at a Loving More conference 4¼ years ago. Since then, more progress has happened in this direction than I expected. As the poly universe grows, its average age is certainly trending down.

For instance, a somewhat skeptical student journalist at the University of Pennsylvania writes this in an online college women's magazine:

On Open Relationships and Polyamory

By Laura Cofsky

Recently, a student in an open relationship hit on me. I didn’t reciprocate his advances. I really wasn’t interested in being the “other woman.” Well, I’m not sure what I’d be in this type of scenario....

This got me to thinking about open relationships and polyamory. Every time I turn around, I feel like more of my friends and peers are entering into open relationships.

I have one friend who practices polyamory with his wife. He is currently happily married with a baby daughter. Both he and his wife still sleep with other people.

...Polyamory is a more recent term [than open relationship]. Coined about 20 years ago, it was meant to have a more loving connotation. One issue polyamorists have with this term is that they believe promiscuous people just hide behind it. Another concern is that people who don’t practice polyamory will link the term to wild people with “pink hair.” According to an article published in The Guardian about polyamory, the former generally connotes Americans, while the latter applies more to those in the UK.

Polyamory — often taking the form of open relationships — seems to be a newer romantic model, and it is steadily growing among college-aged individuals....

...I guess [compersion] is a pretty beautiful thought. Polyamorists also claim that taking part in open relationships fits better with our biology, and I’ve certainly had plenty of people try to convince me that we’re actually hardwired to be with multiple people. I can’t find any research supporting or refuting this claim....

Read the whole article (Nov. 28, 2012).


Here's a mention in the Daily Nexus at the University of California/ Santa Barbara:

Gay, Straight, Vanilla, Kinky, Polyamory, Femme, Butch: In the Palette of Sexual Tastes, Minorities Are Not One, But Many

By Nate Charest

From fetishism to transgender attraction to polyamorous behavior to non-heterosexuality, non-normative sexual behavior reflects perhaps most directly the twisting and fluid nature of the human subconscious — it is intertwined with our animal past, complicated by our cerebral evolution, and manifested in our daily lives....

...The more contemporary version of polyamory seems to derive itself from the concepts of free love and, more generally, communalism....

Whole article (Nov. 21, 2012).

Here's a bunch more stuff I've posted from college publications (including this; scroll down) and regarding the next generation generally.



December 5, 2012

Dan Savage and the "poly orientation" hornet's nest

Two weeks ago Dan Savage, America's most important sex-and-relationship columnist in a lot of people's opinions including mine, walked into the controversy over whether poly is an orientation — something you are —— or a way of life, something you choose.

This matters, for reasons we'll get to. Savage riled the poly world to such a point that he promised to devote a column to polyfolks' responses. That's what fills his column today.

First, here's his original bit that got things going:

Q: I am a 30-year-old straight man who has always known that he is a poly. The woman I love is not a poly. She is a monogamous person.... Can someone who is poly be happy with someone who isn't?

—Polyamorous Polymath

A: You are not "a poly."

Poly is not a sexual identity, PP, it's not a sexual orientation. It's not something you are, it's something you do. There's no such thing as a person who is "a poly," just as there's no such thing as a person who is "a monogamous." Polyamorous and monogamous are adjectives, not nouns. There are only people — gay, straight, bi — and some people are in monogamous relationships, some are in open relationships, some are in polyamorous relationships.... These are relationship models, PP, not sexual identities....

Read the whole piece (Nov. 21, 2012; Scroll to the second item.)

His column today begins,

Poly Orientated

By Dan Savage

Sometimes I kick the proverbial hornet's nest intentionally — "bullshit in the Bible," for instance — and sometimes I kick the hornet's nest accidentally. I honestly didn't expect the outraged response I got after I wrote that poly wasn't a sexual identity in the "sexual orientation" sense of the term. Some people identify as poly, of course, just as some people identify as, say, dominant or submissive. While I recognize that poly (or D/s) can be central to someone's sexual identity, I've never viewed it as a sexual orientation and I didn't think this was a controversial point of view.

Many poly people disagree. I've received a ton of impassioned e-mails from polyamorous readers, most of whom see themselves as poly-oriented, not just poly-identified. And while some seem confused — I've never denied the existence of polyamorous people, I never said that people couldn't or shouldn't identify as polyamorous — I'm turning the rest of this week's column over to the polyoutraged....

Read on (Dec. 5, 2012).

He also had briefer things to say in the intervening two weeks. On November 26:

Is poly a sexual orientation?

I said "no" in last week's Savage Love, kicking off a shitstorm in the comments thread, in my e-mail inbox, and here and there on the interwebs. (Even the right-wing nutjobs have taken notice.) At least one poly person agrees with me:

There are a few problems with describing polyamory as a sexual orientation. The first of which is that polyamory is not sexual. Polyamory is about relationships, honesty, and intimacy. Look back at the definitions given by Loving More. Not a single one mentions sex. Calling polyamory a sexual orientation is a joke.

Secondly, polyamory is not an orientation. Polyamory is not a physical desire or a feeling. While there is not complete agreement on what polyamory is, there is clear agreement about it isn’t. And it isn’t just an attraction to multiple people. As Shaun pointed out, if you define polyamory as a feeling or an inclination, then half of the country is polyamorous, which is an absurd result. Almost everyone feels attraction for multiple people at the same time. This does not make them polyamorous.

A third problem with describing poly as a sexual orientation is that being poly is nothing like being GLB. Being GLB is about the type of person to whom you are sexually attracted. Being polyamorous is about the amount of people you love. Describing polyamory as a sexual orientation suggests a false equivalence between the groups, and seems like an attempt to co-opt the sympathy that the GLBT community has built up.

I'm hearing from lots of poly folks who disagree....

And then more two days later (scroll to end).


Some backstory to understand what's going on: Savage, a long-partnered gay man who coined the word "monogamish" for his somewhat open relationship, used to snark at polys. He famously remarked that he'd been to poly multi-marriage ceremonies but never to a poly third-anniversary party. That prompted many long-term polyfamilies to speak up as counterexamples, jumping up and down to try to catch his attention. At the time Savage was already infamous for declaring that bisexuals don't really exist. He backed off from both attitudes, and two years ago offered this:

Q: Do you think polyamory is possible or healthy?

A: Polyamorous relationships are possible — I know for a fact that they're possible — but they're only as healthy as the folks who are in them. The same goes for monogamous relationships.

And he wrote a nice feature article about the folks behind the annual PolyCamp Northwest near his home base of Seattle, especially their children: Heather Has Two Mommies, One Daddy, and Several Matriarchal Women in the Community Who She Thinks of as Moms.

After Savage's You-Are-Not-a-Poly column, Anita Wagner posted on her Practical Polyamory blog,

...Over the last 15 years I've met many, many polyamorous people for whom being polyamorous is to them about a lot more than what (or whom!) they do. They say emphatically that it's about who they are. Many tried to live by mainstream society's monogamy rules because they thought they had to, but it chafed — a lot. Many always felt like they were different and like they were the only ones who saw relationships differently. We still have people come into our community who are delighted and relieved to have discovered they weren't alone after all.

Is polyamory a sexual orientation? Some will insist that it is not as to the traditional meaning of it. Yet many polyamorists express themselves differently sexually, i.e. with more than one person at a time. If not sexual orientation, then sexual relationship orientation or sexual relationship identity — that's how I refer to it, and I've done so for some years now.

I expect that this point will be made much more frequently in the future as research under way now gives us more scientific insight into such questions....

And Anita's round-2 followup November 28th.

A lengthy discussion got rolling on reddit/r/polyamory: Is polyamory a sexual orientation, or is this just a first world problem?

Franklin Veaux's take: You are not "a poly": Dan Savage runs off the rails:

...Every now and then, he says something that leaves me scratching my head and wondering what color the sky is on his planet. He has in the last few years backtracked from the notion that there's no such thing as bisexuality (a claim that seems so absurd on the face of it that it's hard for me to understand why it still has any currency whatsoever), but when it comes to polyamory, it's hard to find anything to like about his ideas.

...What's most interesting about this is that it mirrors almost precisely the attitude of folks who believe that homosexuality is an activity, not an orientation — that there is no such thing as "a gay" or "a straight" but merely those who engage in homosexual activities and those who don't. Dan Savage's words would be right at home in Ministry Today Magazine, which ran an article that claimed something similar about sexual orientation....

Now we're getting to the heart of why this is such an issue: because of the gay experience with the same debate, and the usefulness that the inborn-orientation model has had in winning gay legal rights and public acceptance.

Sarah Taub of Network for a New Culture wrote in a Polyamory Leadership Network discussion,

Folks are asking why people care whether polyamory is an orientation (sexual or relationship) or not. I agree with others that the reason is political and linked to struggles for rights and freedoms.

In the USA, we have (at least) two rationales for granting rights and/or freedoms. One is, basically, "It's not fair to penalize people for something they can't help." The other is, "Free people get to choose what they do."

We see the first rationale in many rights struggles — for people of color, people with disabilities, etc. We see the second rationale in our rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, etc.

The GLBT movement, broadly speaking, made a choice to frame its case in terms of the first rationale. If sexual orientation is innate and unchanging, then it's something people can't help, and it's unfair to penalize people for it. This makes (e.g.) bisexuality and pansexuality a big problem — if a person can choose either to be in a heterosexual relationship or a homosexual relationship, that person doesn't really fit in the "I can't help it" framework.

At the same time, there were voices within the GLBT movement who preferred to frame the case in analogy to freedom of religion —— free people get to choose who they love and who is in their family.

Poly activists generally tend to frame their case in this second way, though sometimes we see polyamory framed in the first way. I believe that it is the tension between these two approaches to rights and freedoms that makes the question "is poly an orientation" keep coming up as a heated debate.

As our opponents are aware. Looking down this road two years ago, Ann E. Tweedy of the Hamline University School of Law published a sympathetic 55-page analysis of the question in the University of Cincinnati Law Review, looking to future legal battles:

Polyamory as a Sexual Orientation


This article examines, from a theoretical standpoint, the possibility of expanding the definition of “sexual orientation” in employment discrimination statutes to include other disfavored sexual preferences, specifically polyamory. First, it examines the current, very narrow definition of sexual orientation, which is limited to orientations that are based on the sex of those to whom one is attracted, and explores some of the conceptual and functional problems with the current definition. Next the article looks at the possibility of adding polyamory to current statutory definitions of sexual orientation, examining whether polyamory is a sufficiently embedded identity to be considered a sexual orientation and the degree of discrimination that polyamorists face. After concluding that such an expansion would be reasonable, the article briefly outlines some issues for further investigation, including potential policy implications and the conflicting evidence as to whether polyamorists want specific legal protections.

Date posted: June 30, 2010 ; Last revised: August 29, 2011
Suggested Citation:
Tweedy, Ann E., Polyamory as a Sexual Orientation (June 29, 2010).
University of Cincinnati Law Review, Vol. 79, p. 1461, 2011. Available at
SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1632653

I went to Tweedy's talk on this at the Poly Living 2012 conference in Philadelphia. You can download her entire paper here. It's not too soon to start thinking about this.


P.S.: Here's Dan Savage's powerful Big Think video on why expecting monogamy is ridiculous (2:41). Directness has always been his trademark.


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