Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

July 28, 2018

"A lesson on what it means to be committed": Sophie Lucido Johnson's new book 'Many Love'

I'm reading Sophie Lucido Johnson's new book Many Love, the story of her very poly life from an early age and her growing awareness that this is an Actual Workable Thing. It's partly a graphic novel, with the words in her drawings continuing the flow of the text.

Illustrations by Sophie Lucido Johnson

Two articles about it are just out, and more are probably on the way.

● In Broadly, an online women's magazine that's part of Vice.com:

What We Can All Learn from Polyamorous Relationships

"Many Love," Sophie Lucido Johnson's new memoir chronicling her years of polyamorous partnerships, is actually a lesson on what it means to be committed.

In the middle of our interview ... [she] casually invites me to her wedding.

“Oh yeah,” the author and artist says, “we’re having an open wedding...it’s October 13, in New Orleans. We got a ton of tacos for hundreds and hundreds of people...it’s going to be in City Park....you can come! Just search 'Luke & Sophie’s Wedding' on Facebook.”

An open wedding is almost too fitting for Johnson and her fiancé; they’re polyamorous, of course.

“But if you come, it’s a flower and dessert potluck,” Johnson adds, immediately balancing expectations, clarifying my role — practices that are integral to successfully maintain multiple partnerships.

Polyamory, a form of nonmonogamy, was the fourth most searched relationship term on Google in 2017, perhaps because the concept is rife with common misconceptions. ...

Many Love offers up a picture of what polyamory has looked like, over the years, for one person — and her many partners. ...

We’re with her as she’s swept away by giddy high school romances, attempting to open up adult relationships, finding best-friendship, finding primary partnership, finding community, finding boyfriends, then falling in love with a boyfriend while staying in a primary relationship. And at each milestone, she narrates her process of making sure she knows herself well enough to communicate her needs and emotions.

...It begins with a FAQ, a list of definitions, and a series of illustrated charts that serve as keys for understanding concepts integral to polyamory. Then, each chapter tackles the fundamental aspects of polyamory: deconstructing myths on singular love, exploring and prioritizing friendship, encountering casual love, having sex, experiencing jealousy, and “checking in.” And throughout, there are candid illustrations and excerpts from the canon of texts on polyamory: Sex at Dawn, The Ethical Slut, Dean Spade’s pivotal [relationship anarchy] essay “For Lovers and Fighters”.

...For Johnson, checking in mandates “transparency, communication, and enthusiastic consent.” Although it can look different for everyone, it’s a process generally fundamental to polyamorous relationships — to make sure that the parameters still work, that jealously is acknowledged, that no one partner has the upper-hand. “You’re always checking in,” Johnson muses, almost lamenting the extent to which the process is at the forefront of her relationships. “I’m so emotional as a person!”

...I found myself wishing the chapter on sex was slightly juicier. But that’s not what Many Love is about, really. ... In Many Love’s introduction, Johnson and Luke attempt to have a romantic evening with another couple, but their DIY sushi night crumbles after their cat has to be rushed to the vet. What’s exchanged between the foursome is not titillating, but tender: The other couple nurtures Johnson and Luke, asking after their needs, making dinner, cleaning up, taking care of them.

Such ability to truly support one another seems to come only after deep understanding — of self and partner — and an acceptance of the fluidity of life. “Polyamory means accepting the ways that love is going to change and checking in with yourself and your partners with the way that is going to change — it’s a great way to let go of your ego a bit,” Johnson says.

...Johnson’s explanation is simple: “I’m pro-commitment. I want people to think about commitment differently, because I think commitment is really cool, but I don’t think commitment is about sex and mononormativity.” This is what Many Love accomplishes, within the canon of texts on polyamory: Transparently chronicling what commitment in the 21st century can look like. ...

The whole article (July 26).

● Insider did an interview. Excerpts:

5 things people always get wrong about polyamory

The author (Emily Rich photo)
Sophie Lucido Johnson [is] a writer and illustrator who lives in Chicago. She has a few partners — a fiancé, a girlfriend, and a long-distance boyfriend. Here's what she says everyone gets wrong about polyamory.

MYTH: Being poly is the same as being in an open relationship.

...In short, all polyamorous relationships are technically open [Hey, not if they're polyfi. –Ed.], but not all open relationships should be considered polyamorous. Polyamorous relationships often involve involve more of an emotional component than open relationships — and can sometimes take the form of friendships.

Part of the confusion comes from the narrow representation of either one in popular culture.

"If you see open relationship models on television, it's always a heterosexual, usually white couple who after years of being monogamous decides to open up their relationship, and it's done in a 'hall pass' kind of capacity," Johnson told INSIDER. "That is just not the only way that this relationship structure can work. I don't even think it's the healthiest way."

In real life, polyamory is much more inclusive.

"There are asexual people who engage in polyamory, communal living can be a kind of polyamory, and queer people often explore the polyamory model in different ways," Johnson told INSIDER. "Polyamory to me is mostly about how much you're willing to communicate and how much you're willing to embrace the inevitable changes that come from this relationship. ..."

MYTH: People who practice polyamory never get jealous.

...In Johnson's experience, polyamorous people simply approach jealousy in a different way.

"I think in a lot of monogamous relationship structures, the strategy is to go around jealousy. In polyamory, the strategy is to go through it," Johnson told INSIDER. ...

This isn't necessarily easy to do, Johnson said, but it gets easier over time.

"There's an initial jolt, and that feels really bad the first few times you go through it, but then it stops feeling bad. Jealousy has become way less of an issue for me than it once was. It's like going to the gym and getting good at doing push-ups. It's no longer something that's so painful that you can't understand why anyone would go through it."

MYTH: Becoming poly can help your relationship if it's on the rocks.

..."I'm sure there are instances where people have done that and it has worked. But in general, that's just a death sentence for your relationship. And if someone doesn't want to be polyamorous, and you do, that's a mismatch. You probably aren't going to be in that relationship long term."

MYTH: Polyamory is all about sex.

It's tempting to focus on the most outrageous aspects of any concept, and polyamory is no exception. ... For Johnson, it's more about making and keeping strong connections, whether they stay romantic or not. ... "I'm so grateful for all my many loves. I feel utterly grateful that I have all these incredible people in my life who are so willing to be honest with me," Johnson told INSIDER. "It's more work at the beginning, but it's like anything else, when you have a habit it becomes easier."

MYTH: Polyamory is an unnatural relationship model.

"I'm a high school teacher, and none of my students are in monogamous relationships," Johnson told INSIDER. "The idea that a book like mine could be controversial is totally over their heads. To them, it's incredibly vanilla."

Johnson suggested that people are gravitating toward a system of "relationship anarchy," which essentially means defining your relationships on your own terms, not by the terms that have been laid out by societal constructs.

There is some data to back this up. According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 16% of Americans viewed the concept of a married person having more than one partner as "acceptable." This, compared to a 7% acceptability rating in 2001, showed a 9% increase over time. ...

Read the whole article (July 26, 2018).


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July 26, 2018

"When You Have 3 Boyfriends, Getting An IUD Is Complicated"

Rachael Cromidas writes, "I just published an essay in BuzzFeed about a slice of my experience as a polyamorous woman. I've been a journalist for almost a decade but never written about my personal life until now." She says that years of reading Polyamory in the News "helped me get the confidence to do this."

Confidence is what it must've took to publish this intimate, wild, part ghastly, part puppy-cuddle piece of cringy-funny under her real name. Go you!

I have opinions about the subject matter. But first, excerpts to get you started:

When You Have 3 Boyfriends, Getting An IUD Is Complicated

Mikyung Lee for BuzzFeed News

Because I'm polyamorous, my decision to get on [non-condom] birth control had to go through an unusual chain of command.

By Rachel Cromidas

Desire can make you do strange things, like ... decide to have unprotected sex, in spite of all the sexual health podcasts you’ve ever listened to, you big nerd.

Last summer, this was me. A couple months into dating Sam, an indie musician–slash–dog walker with soulful brown eyes, I got that itch — the one that fills your brain with hormones and urges you to forget to wear a condom. I know for some couples who consider themselves perfectly responsible people, this decision can be as simple as having a talk about sexual exclusivity, getting tested, and then getting down to it. Not so for us — because we’re polyamorous, our decision had to go through an unusual chain of command first. Specifically, I had to talk to my partner Charlie, whom I lived with and had been dating for four years, and Daniel, my boyfriend of two years. Sam’s other girlfriend wanted to know how it would affect her, too. Our intimate, personal choice had quickly become something squeamishly bureaucratic.

...This network of connections dictates almost everything we do together in some way, whether it's a matter of who's having sex with whom, who gets the bigger bedroom on date night, or how the heck you share your time and process your feelings when all of your friends are sleeping with each other.

...Polyamorists call the decision to stop using condoms “fluid-bonding.” ... Some use their fluid bond ... as a symbol of status or a marker that they are special. I was a slut, not a romantic, and I didn't want it to be so significant. My loves knew this, but still, they knew I had never done this with someone before, and they had questions.

For Charlie, a quiet introvert who relishes his alone time and practiced impeccable, unwavering safer sex (if you can get him talking, he’ll brag about how much fun he can have with a latex glove), the decision to put my sexual health in the hands of a man I’d only known for a few months called into question my sense of self-preservation.

And Daniel, my best friend and confidante in all matters since we’d fallen in love a year ago, wanted to know why I had never asked to go barrier-free with him. I thought the answer was obvious: He and his other girlfriend had been fluid-bonding since before I even met them, so the option had never seemed real. Her needs and preferences usually came first, and I didn’t want to step on her toes or let myself be disappointed.

...Sam was newly polyamorous, a term some sensitive artists use to mean “doing whatever I want.” And he had already made some questionable safer sex choices, such as sometimes forgoing condoms with a casual hookup. He also had a little bit of a bad-boy vibe going — tattoos, cigarettes, a thing for staying out til 5 a.m. — and was nothing like anyone I’d been with before. But in spite of some yellow flags, I wanted him, the same way I suddenly wanted to put my day-to-day obligations and responsibilities on hold; to let it get late; to walk around my neighborhood in the middle of the night and look at how the sunflowers catch the amber street light. Maybe you can see where this is going — I had a crush, and after spending years playing by my boyfriends’ rules, I wanted to be a little bit bad, too.

No surprise, my doctor marked me down as “high risk” when I went in for my STI test and a birth control consultation. She asked me if my boyfriend had recently had any unprotected sex and I said, “Which one?” She knew that Charlie had a vasectomy, so I patiently explained that it wasn’t him I was getting the IUD for, but another man. “Well, is he currently having unprotected sex with other people right now?” She asked. “I honestly have no clue,” I replied. Charlie came back with me for my IUD appointment, only confusing the doctor more.

It’s not unusual for women to bring their boyfriends when they go in for a ParaGard IUD. The procedure is known to be quick but painful, and it can be helpful to have moral support. I fully expected to be going it alone, but to my shock, Charlie and Daniel both offered to take me. It’s no fun to watch your girlfriend writhe with discomfort on an exam table, and furthermore, it's not like they had anything to “gain” from my experience. There’s no less-ugly way to say it — I wanted to protect myself from getting pregnant while raw-dogging someone else. They were uncomfortable, turned off even, and yet, they were still game. If that's not love, I thought as I made the appointment, I don't know what is. ...

Read on (July 23, 2018). It gets bloody, but the ending is happy or at least a relief.


Everybody's safer-sex decisions are inevitably their own. No matter how you wish a partner would comport themselves in the heat of the moment when you're not around, you're not taking care of yourself if you hand off the responsibility for your sexual health to someone else. At least not in a polyamorous network. Cheers to her guys for supporting her, but a huge missing piece in this story is what extra precautions they planned to take, if any, with Yellow Flag Bad-Boy's fluids entering the picture.

This is why I go with Michael Rios's simple safe-sex rule: It's your job to protect yourself. Period.

Michael is one of the people who run the Abrams Creek Retreat in West Virginia, which hosts many poly, gender, and New Culture events. At these events he offers a practical safe-sex workshop with the current scientific assessment of risks and prevention measures. He also tells of "many, many" polycules he has seen break up in fury and recrimination because a person relied on others to manage the person's own risk.

"Condom compacts," where a fluid-bonded group agrees that no one will have unprotected sex outside the group, are a road to catastrophe in his experience. Even with the best intentions, for instance, condoms break. Does the person now come back and inform the rest of the group about it — which may require them to take precautions that are new to them for, maybe, the next several months until tests give the all-clear? The actual chance of passing an infection during one such event is very low, so there's a temptation to say nothing. Which taints the group with a hidden layer of falsehood and betrayal of trust. Which makes the next betrayal easier.

And if an STI does get loose, the group is torn by crisis over who infected the group.

On the other hand, when each person takes full charge of their own protection, at the level each chooses for themselves, it's a lot easier for everyone to just be honest with each other. And more protection will actually happen.


● Speaking of the Abrams Creek retreat center, I'm going to their Endless Poly Summer August 17–22. See you there?


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July 25, 2018

"What Is Polyamory?" on a Canadian TV network does a pretty solid job

The Global News TV network in Canada just put up a long, well-ballyhooed online story about polyamory. It's the second in an five-part series called State of the Union, "a new Global News series that will examine alternative relationships in Canada and show that no matter what, love is love."

It isn't broadcast on TV, but it does come with short videos. Here's one (3 minutes):

The video is couple centered, yes. But the majority of North Americans are married or otherwise coupled, so they're always going to be the biggest audience for anything on relationships. However, treatments that make poly look all about open couples do a disservice for two reasons:

1) Plenty of people are solo poly, in a triad or more, RA (relationship anarchist), in their own unique structure, and other forms that viewers should know about beyond couple-plus.

2) More importantly, when a couple tries to go couple-plus, they're often blindsided when their own relationship inevitably changes to something different. For the better, they may hope, but don't go into this with the illusion that you're just adding a new hobby to your mono partnership. If that's what you want, you should look into swinging instead.

Most of us were brought up steeped in the monogamy paradigm, with its massive cultural baggage and unseen assumptions — and you'd better be prepared to look at them through the eyes of the social radical you've just become. That means putting the baggage down, examining it together and individually, and deciding what to keep and what to junk. Poly is not for everyone.

For instance: When tough stuff happens, will a new partner be treated as a disposable thing or as a fully realized person with feelings and equal rights to good treatment? As Granny Weatherwax said, and as More Than Two repeats as a bedrock principle: "Sin, young man, is when you treat people like things."

Failure to understand the social radicalism you have embarked on is, IMO, the number one cause of newly opened marriages not working. Not to mention the damage they can inflict on others.


Overall the Global News piece is pretty great. It's a long (2,100-word) article with infographics and videos that gets a lot right. Excerpts:

Polyamory is a world of ‘infinite’ love. But how do the relationships work?

By Marilisa Racco

...At the moment, [Darren] Ruckle has a new girlfriend, Laura, who’s going through a divorce, and she has a boyfriend who’s married. Harrington is also in the early stages of a new relationship with a woman who, coincidentally, Ruckle has known since they were six. She’s also married and has a boyfriend.

No one could be faulted for needing to draw a family tree of sorts to understand the intricate web of relationships, but make no mistake, they are all connected in their own way.

Brandie Weikle, founder of The New Family, a website and podcast about family diversity, says that polyamory is negotiated respectfully and with openness, “which means there’s no sneaking around or cheating.”

Ruckle has met and befriended Harrington’s past partners, and although he has yet to meet Laura’s boyfriend, Don, he will in time. For their part, Laura and Don often hang out with his other partner and spouse.

Monogamy isn’t always realistic

It sounds awfully complicated and like a lot of extra responsibility — after all, relationships require work. Surely, the more people you add to the mix, the more effort needs to be poured into maintaining each relationship.

But some would argue that the one-person model of monogamy is as outdated as the idea that we only have the capacity or willingness to make one relationship in our lives a priority. [Ed. note: You'll never hear that from me. For many people monogamy is best and will never be "outdated."]

...What the poly community strives to get across is that they’re not swingers who are trying to satisfy some insatiable sexual need or sow their proverbial oats. Rather, they’re people seeking out multiple romantic, meaningful connections with different people who can meet different needs.

...Statistics Canada doesn’t track polyamorous families, but a few bodies have tried to get a handle on how many exist in the country. The (a href="http://polyadvocacy.ca/majority/" target="_blank"> Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association (CPAA) conservatively estimates that there are 1,100 polyamorous families in Canada....

An Ipsos poll exclusively commissioned by Global News surveyed 1,501 Canadians and found polyamory to be gaining steam in certain relationship models. One in 25 respondents (four per cent) who are in a relationship described it as polyamorous. The marriage scenarios in which couples were most likely to be polyamorous were arranged marriages (27 per cent) and mixed orientation relationships, where one spouse is straight and the other is gay or bisexual (23 per cent).

“Once same-sex marriage was legalized, we started hearing more about polyamory — it allowed people to feel freer to experiment and to try out non-traditional relationships,” Mitchell says. “We’re seeing more studies in the area and anecdotally, we’re starting to see more people freely say that they’ve been in a polyamorous relationship. They feel greater acceptability.”

...Perhaps the greatest show of acceptance occurred in April, when Newfoundland and Labrador issued a landmark ruling that allowed three adults in a polyamorous relationship to be recognized as the legal parents of a child born to that union. ...

‘Having an extra dad was really awesome’ 

Blended families are nothing new today (especially not with a national divorce rate of 48 per cent) and co-parenting is a reality for many, even in polyamorous households. Except unlike scenarios of divorce and remarriage, where the adjustment period can be fraught with power struggles, polyamorous families tend to take a more communal approach.

“It reminds me of the 1960s and 1970s when people were joining communes and raising kids in Utopian communities,” Mitchell says. “We know for a lot of those families it worked and the kids benefited from being surrounded by lots of adults who loved them, regardless of biological ties.”

Not only do children in these scenarios feel safer and more secure, she says, they’re also exposed to role modelling from adults who are less hierarchical in terms of traditional marriage expectations.

And for some kids, it also means that they can have all their problems fixed under one roof.

Zoe Duff, 59, is the spokesperson for the CPAA. She is in a relationship with two men, her nesting partner of 19 years and her other partner of nine years. When their families first came together, Duff and her nesting partner had eight children between them.

“The youngest was six years old when we first started dating, so the kids grew up in a poly household,” she says. “I ran a support group and there were always people in the house talking about it. They only have good things to say about it.”

And her kids, in particular, loved having two dads.

“Having an extra dad was really awesome, they’d say. They go to one for Mr. Fix It-type stuff and they go to the other when their computer dies. They have different relationships with each of them, but they view them both as their stepdads.”

Ruckle and Harrington also pitched in with their now-ex partner’s child, taking turns doing school runs and offering advice when it was required. In fact, he says, the child remains very attached to them both.

In a 20-year study examining children in polyamorous families, Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, a global academic expert on polyamory, found that although children raised in poly households experienced a range of advantages, including learning open communication strategies and gaining a deeper sense of trust in their parents, they also experience disadvantages.

These disadvantages are both practical — lack of privacy, an overcrowded home and increased supervision — and emotional, including social stigma, discrimination from others and the desire for a “normal” family.

‘It’s a designer relationship’

When it comes to arrangements and responsibilities, each polyamorous household has its own unique set of rules and agreements.

For example, in Duff’s house, each member of the triad has their own bedroom, whereas Ruckle and Harrington shared their king-size bed with their last partner.

...Every poly family has their own stipulations. For instance, some nesting partners may vow to only be fluid bonded to one another (meaning only they can exchange bodily fluids during sex and protection needs to be used when having sex with any other partner). In other cases, it could be saving one particular activity or behaviour (like holding hands) for your nesting partner. ...

When jealousy strikes

For people who are monogamous, perhaps the biggest and most insurmountable obstacle to a life of polyamory would be jealousy. But that doesn’t mean polyamorous people are immune to it.

“Jealousy happens, but it happens in all stages of our life,” Ruckle says. “We experience it with siblings and with coworkers, and it’s designed to push you forward.”

“In a polyamorous relationship, jealousy does the same thing. If I’m jealous that my partner’s partner is treating her better than I am, it pushes me to change and do better.”

Instead of focusing on feelings of jealousy, however, the polyamorous community upholds the concept of compersion. It’s the act of revelling in the joy that you see your partner experiencing at having a new partner in their life.

“At the beginning stages of a new relationship, most people are bouncing off the ceiling like a chihuahua in heat, and it can drive other people crazy,” Duff says. “But we practice compersion. It’s a true state of being and it’s achievable, but it’s based on being secure in yourself and being aware that your partner doesn’t love you any less just because they have a new partner.”

This kind of security comes from a constant flow of communication. Polyamory literature teaches people how to work through their feelings of jealousy, and it starts with communicating them to your partner. The willingness to discuss this openly and frankly, without judgment, is the cornerstone of preventing anyone in the relationship from feeling left out. ...

Read the whole thing (July 24, 2018). The other four "alternative relationship models" in the five-part series are sexless couples, mixed orientation marriages, arranged marriages, and couples living apart by choice.

● The article prompted a 6-minute segment on a morning news-radio show about polyamory ("yes, I know we all had to google it," says a host). The hosts talk to psychiatrist Marcia Sirota, who does a fine job of explaining what we're about. Listen here (CHQR radio, July 24).

● And in related news, now available is researcher John-Paul Boyd's 160-page report Perceptions of Polyamory in Canada from the Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family. It's based on surveys returned by 480 poly people recruited through the community (PDF download; dated December 2017).


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July 11, 2018

Unicorn Hunting as a Widely Recognized Thing

Posted to a Facebook poly group:

Wish we could find someone near [town], NV, there must be a lady out there somewhere that is looking for a loving couple. I see all the other comments from other couples looking for the same situation let me tell you there is probably more chance of you winning the lottery.

From Michigan:

ANY bi lady AT ALL out there want to start the new year in a new direction with a nice, kind, attractive couple? PLEASE let us know. Don't know ANY other way of finding her....... :(

Craigslist, Sunnyvale CA:

POLYAMORY LESBAMORY Looking for open minded woman to join our relationship/marriage. Must love babys and dogs....

From Ohio, on Reddit:

We are a married couple that I at least feel we are decently attractive. ... We have tried every dating app and site that I can find even several dedicated specifically to the polymarorous lifestyle. I am getting rather discouraged as is my wife who is very eager to explore with another woman. We just want some advice on what we are doing wrong.

An answer to that question, downvoted to oblivion:

The only advice I can give you is patience. My Fianceé and I are keen on triads ourselves and have had moderate success due to two things. Patience and staying away from online poly communities who have a strict enforcement of their interpretation of how non monogamy works.

For some background to better explain, I'm an emotionally detached ex special forces man who is so straight shooting that 65% of people don't like me because quite frankly I don't give a fuck what you think if you did something dumb we need to fix it and that's okay. ...

On Craigslist in Nevada:

We are a very happy stable couple of 12 years.... You have to be willing to participate with both of us...one on one and together and u must be willing to ensue a relationship with us.... female is 33, 5'8 size 10-12....

Kimchi Cuddles, used by permission. Click to embiggen.

Newcomers to the poly world, and there are lots of them these days, are often confused or offended by the community's reaction to "unicorn hunters."

A unicorn, of course, is an unattached hot bi woman ready to join a couple and slot into the role they have pre-designed for her — stereotypically that she will love them both equally, have sex only with both of them together so one won't get jealous, have no other relationships, and maybe do housework and childcare. And be dumpable at any moment by both of the couple if one of them gets the wibbles.

Some women who've been around this loop swear never to fall in love with a couple again.

Happy unicorns exist. Some women, and the occasional bi guy, find that being a couple's secondary or friend-with-benefits fits into their life well. But they take care to maintain their independence and autonomy. They tend to be fearless about rooting out unexamined assumptions and spreading them on the table under a bright light for discussion. Such intentional unicorns are on the nice side of a severe supply/demand imbalance, so they can take their pick. And/or have as many couples as they want.

● The wider world is starting to notice the poly unicorn trope and write about it. For instance, in the mainstream Business Insider:

What it means for couples to go 'unicorn hunting' — and why it usually doesn't end well

...Sometimes couples try out polyamory naively, especially when a straight couple wants to find another bi woman to join them. This is called "unicorn hunting," and it's something of a cliché in the poly community.

rawpixel.com / Unsplash
... But it's not as simple as finding a third person you both fancy. In fact, according to Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, expert witness, speaker, and coach of polyamory and author of The Polyamorists Next Door, straight couples often come into the polyamorous community expecting to find a bi woman to join them. This, she said, is called "unicorn hunting."

Sheff's former husband introduced her to the idea of polyamory with exactly this intention. He wanted another woman to sleep with, but he didn't particularly want her to be able to meet other men. Apparently in the poly community, this is quite a cliché.

"She's known as 'the unicorn' because she's so rare, and almost mythical," Sheff told Business Insider. "He thought he was so edgy and out there, and we could have a wife the two of us together.

"As it turns out, it's every straight boy's fantasy. It doesn't fly well in the poly community. And when he didn't get what he wanted, he had a tantrum, and didn't want to do it anymore."

When couples can't find a unicorn, Sheff said it's common that the woman has actually started to quite enjoy the freedom of polyamory. She may have been reluctant to try it at first, but turns out to be the one who enjoys it more.

"The woman of the couple finds other people to socialise with, and the man realises he's not the centre of attention that he [expected to] be, and thinks 'This isn't as much fun as I thought it would be," Sheff said. ...

Remember — everyone has feelings

Alex* is in a polyamorous relationship with his wife. They were monogamous for a long time, but ended up making friends with many polyamorous people, and it turned into quite a normal thing in their social circle.

He told Business Insider he's not aware of a situation where a male-female couple actively seeking a bi woman has worked out well.

..."The stereotype at least is that unicorn hunting couples are looking to treat a partner as an object in their relationship," he added. "They want someone — maybe anyone, reducible to their gender, sexuality, and availability — that fits into their lives and fits their relationship without thinking about the needs and human perspectives of the person they're looking for."...

The whole article (Nov. 29, 2017).

So if you're a well-meaning couple with genuinely big hearts who's looking, what should you do?

Make friends. Lots of them! Lively, thoughtful, socially unconventional friends. Be the kind of friend you want to attract. Seek out your local poly groups, sure, and go to poly cons. But this is not about finding a hole-filler for your marriage. It's about making intimate space for friends who, if cupid's arrows fly, might like to become more.

Splinter, part of the Gizmodo Media Group of online magazines, goes deeper: Bisexual women don’t want to be your sex ‘unicorn’ (July 19, 2016)

By Lux Alptraum

...Holly’s an open-minded, adventurous sort, interested in exploring all sorts of kinks and adventures, particularly with other people who are as queer as she is. But one thing she’s not interested in? Being the third in a random heterosexual couple’s threesome.

...Despite the fact that Holly explicitly notes that she’s very particular about her group sex experiences, she still gets message after message from couples who clearly haven’t read her dating profile, desperately hoping that they’ve finally found their unicorn.

The term is a familiar one to bisexual women like myself — and it may become known to a wider audience thanks to a new web series called Unicornland, which offers a celebratory vision of what it’s like to be a woman seeking adventure in the arms of couples. The series stars a 28-year-old divorcee named Annie who decides to explore her sexuality and expand her relatively vanilla horizons by dating couples looking for a third.

But missing from the show’s premise is a darker truth to the concept of the unicorn. ... As any bisexual woman who’s spent time on a dating app knows, she’s a fantasy come to life, a person willing to show up for a night of excitement and quietly disappear immediately after, a third who’ll ignite a couple’s passions without complicating their emotions. A unicorn is a creature who’ll bring all the sexy fun without creating any drama, baggage, or need for emotional work—and the reason she’s called a unicorn is because, quite frankly, she doesn’t exist.

What does exist, however, are leagues of unicorn hunters: couples on the prowl for the girl of their dreams, the one who’ll bring their fantasies to life without asking anything in return. And though there’s nothing wrong with a couple experimenting with group sex, or using the internet to seek out someone to play with, so many of these couples end up reducing bisexual women to fetish objects, treating us as interchangeable playthings rather than actual human beings. ...

...[The] assumption that being a couple’s third is some sort of special honor shapes the way many threesome seekers approach their would-be unicorns, mapping out elaborate criteria for consideration and often making demands for information and pictures without offering any in return.

...Lost in all of this, of course, is what bisexual women need, or want, or desire. Because while being a tourist in someone else’s relationship can absolutely be a good time, it can also be exhausting, stressful, and emotionally trying. A couple that hasn’t fully prepared for the reality of bringing a third into the bedroom ... is a magnet for drama and disaster, which can easily spill over into the life of an unwitting third. Even if you’re interested in joining a couple for a sexy night of fun, that couple needs to be able to treat you like a person, not a means to an end. Most unicorn hunters don’t seem to have thought enough about their threesome fantasy to realize that.

And there's always been loads about the topic in the poly community itself. What follows is a very partial roundup.

● A deeper, more radical analysis gets to the root on The Mouthy Non-Monogamist's blog: Why couples looking for a third drive polyamorous people stir crazy (Jan. 1, 2018):

Hetero couples seeking another woman to “add to their relationship” represent what happens when people steeped in toxic monogamy culture encounter polyamory. Polyfidelitous triads are seen as a “safe” way to engage in polyamory without having to embrace a full-on rejection of toxic monogamy culture.

...Network polyamory [on the other hand] is inherently feminist. That is, it fully requires that we reject women being property. It also requires that we respect women as autonomous people able to make their own decisions about their sexuality and relationships and to pursue intimacy for its own sake decoupled from the need to form a family and have children.

Polyamorous people reject a whole lot of Western mainstream premises about love, such as:

     – true love exists and that it’s only with one other person
     – relationships’ value is based on their length of time
     – the only way to show commitment is through exclusivity
     – one romantic partner must fill all of your needs
     – jealousy is an acceptable way to show how much you love someone
     – jealousy is a good way to control your partner
     – the only natural outcome of love is marriage and children

...It’s a pretty scary thing, to give up all of these ideas of what love and relationships should be. ... It’s also a radical idea that women can pursue equal and open romantic and sexual relationships with other people. ...

How do closed MFF triads attempt to have their cake and eat it too?

[Among many other ways:] One single home remains the site of family and reproduction, and closed MFF triads just become nuclear families plus one — rather than imagining alternate kinship networks.

I think that newbies in search of closed triads drive many of us polyamorous people crazy because in many ways we’re trying to create an intimacy revolution. Meanwhile others think that they can take a shortcut and not do the mental groundwork to change their assumptions, and still get all of the benefits. For me it’s a wish that these newbies would dream bigger....

● Here's a gentle, respectful, but long piece to give to that sweet new couple who mean so well: So, someone called you a Unicorn Hunter? It's a friendly but thorough explanation of the dog poo they just stepped in.

By David L. Noble

...Common issues when opening a relationship

People can actually be perpetuating unhealthy, dysfunctional standards and practices while being completely unaware that they are part of the problem. If anyone has ever described the idea of societal privilege to you, it’s kinda like that. The core of it is, you can be a good person, doing things that seem reasonable from your perspective, and still be part of a problem. It really does take some education, some communication, and a lot of forethought to get this one right. ...

● And of course there's endless snark, such as Franklin Veaux's Flowchart for Couples Looking for a Third.

● A rather bitter perspective in xoJane: Beware the Unicorn Chasers, and Other Tips I've Learned in 10 Years of Polyamory (Aug. 12, 2015)

By Vae Drennan

...In the polyamory community, there is a common desire, especially from married couples who want to "add some spice," for a third. This third is almost always young, female, slender or fit, conventionally attractive, interested in both members of the couple, and completely new to the world of polyamory, with no compass to guide her. If she's lucky, she'll have other poly friends, but this is usually not the case....

If this sounds like a midlife crisis, you're not far off the mark. Usually, the couple is only interested in their secondary for purposes of their satisfaction. They don't care about what their third wants — or maybe they care, but they don't care enough to provide for her emotional needs or to put her "ahead" of the primary partner even temporarily.

In my first polyamorous relationship, I was the unicorn. My exes loved that they'd finally found a bisexual, thin young goth woman with a high sex drive and a willingness to try about anything. At the time I was still recovering from my first relationship....

● A matching pair of articles by Chelsey Dagger on Polyamory For Us: To Unicorns, From an Ex-Unicorn, and To Unicorn Hunters, From an Ex-Unicorn

There are plenty of women who are excited to do threesomes, or live in a triad, as the partner of both a man and a woman. I should know, I’m one of them! But there’s a difference between wanting to be in a triad and Unicorn Hunting.

The main difference is that Unicorn Hunters tend to look at the third partner as an addition to their relationship, instead of realizing that you’re creating a brand new relationship, with three people instead of two.

● Page Turner, book author and Poly.Land blogger, tells of the time she and her husband were hunted by a unicorn. It went rather well; she tells how.

She's also written a little book, A Geek's Guide to Unicorn Ranching: Advice for Couples Seeking Another Partner (2017). The idea is don't hunt them, attract them. "To attract a unicorn, you’ll have to create a sanctuary. Become unicorn ranchers." If that sounds a bit creepy don't worry, Page is good.

● Lastly, because I'm a word geek: Who invented the term unicorn hunter and when? On Facebook's Polyamory Discussion group, Mike SantaCruz claimed that he was there (posted April 8, 2016):

I'd like to share my recollection of how we came up with the term unicorn hunting. Back in the '90s we had mailing lists like Polylist and Triples, as well as Usenet's alt.polyamory. And like Old Faithful, new members would join and immediately declare that they were a couple looking for a Hot-Bi-Babe. This would become wearisome, and many folks would attack the new members as objectifying their desires.

Then some lists formed a militia that would handle these new members quickly and directly without an all-out war. On one list we called them Wanna-Warriors.

One of these Wanna-Warriors likened their request to seeking out a unicorn, a mythical beast that doesn't exist. And from that, we began to call these couples unicorn hunters.

Calling someone a unicorn hunter was a vast improvement over the derision offered in previous years. It was a rhetorical device that was designed to enlighten the couple instead of chase them away. Some people still feel this is too mean, but when used correctly it does have its intended effect.

Kimchi Cuddles, used by permission. Click to embiggen.



July 1, 2018

"Those in open relationships as happy with their partner as those in monogamous ones." And lots more poly studies!

Sociologists and other academics are studying people living in consensual non-monogamy ("CNM") much more now than in years past. Another such research project is currently making the news. Here's a report about it on CTV in Canada, where the work was done.

Those in open relationships as happy with their partner as those in monogamous ones: study

franckreporter / Istock.com

New Canadian research has found that individuals in open relationships are just as happy and satisfied as those in more traditional monogamous relationships.

Carried out by researchers at the University of Guelph, Ontario, the study surveyed more than 140 people in non-monogamous relationships and more than 200 in monogamous ones, asking them about their satisfaction with their current relationships.

Participants were asked to report on how often they considered separating, whether they confided in their partner, and what was their general level of happiness.

For non-monogamous relationships, the questions asked participants about their satisfaction with their main partner.

After comparing the groups' responses, the researchers found people in non-monogamous relationships were just as satisfied with their relationship with their main partner as the participants in monogamous ones.

"We found people in consensual, non-monogamous relationships experience the same levels of relationship satisfaction, psychological well-being and sexual satisfaction as those in monogamous relationships," said lead author Jessica Wood. "This debunks societal views of monogamy as being the ideal relationship structure."

The results also showed that there was one important predictor of relationship satisfaction, and it was [the source of] sexual motivation, rather than the structure of the relationship.

"In both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships, people who engage in sex to be close to a partner and to fulfill their sexual needs have a more satisfying relationship than those who have sex for less intrinsic reasons, such as to avoid conflict," said Wood. ..."

Between three and seven percent of people in North America are currently in a consensual non-monogamous relationship, according to the researchers, in which all partners agree to engage in multiple sexual or romantic relationships.

"It's more common than most people think," said Wood. "We are at a point in social history where we are expecting a lot from our partners. We want to have sexual fulfillment and excitement but also emotional and financial support. ... To deal with this pressure, we are seeing some people look to consensually non-monogamous relationships."

However, Wood added that consensually non-monogamous relationships still attract stigma and are viewed as less satisfying and less stable, despite the fact that they are quite common and that research may suggest otherwise.

"They are perceived as immoral and less satisfying. It's assumed that people in these types of relationships are having sex with everyone all the time. They are villainized and viewed as bad people in bad relationships, but that's not the case," says Wood.

The original article (June 29, 2018). News of the study's results are showing up in many other media, from Medical Daily to the Hindustan Times.

Here's the paper itself: Reasons for sex and relational outcomes in consensually nonmonogamous and monogamous relationships, by Jessica Wood, Serge Desmarais, Tyler Burleigh, and Robin Milhausen, in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (first published March 23, 2018). Get around the paywall by going through an academic library.

From the abstract:

Approximately 4% of individuals in North America participate in consensually nonmonogamous (CNM) relationships, wherein all partners have agreed to additional sexual and/or emotional partnerships. ... A total of 348 CNM (n = 142) and monogamous participants (n = 206) were recruited.... Participants reported on their sexual motivations during their most recent sexual event, their level of sexual need fulfillment, and measures of sexual and relational satisfaction with their current (primary) partner. The CNM and monogamous participants reported similar reasons for engaging in sex, though CNM participants were significantly more likely to have sex for personal intrinsic motives. No differences in mean levels of relationship and sexual satisfaction were found between CNM and monogamous individuals. Participants who engaged in sex for more self-determined reasons reported increased relational and sexual satisfaction. ... This study indicates that CNM and monogamous individuals report similar levels of satisfaction within their relationship(s), and that the mechanisms that affect relational and sexual satisfaction are similar for both CNM and monogamous individuals. ...

● A related study, in the U.S. a year earlier, was also reported on by CTV at the time: New research finds low levels of jealousy in consensual open relationships (March 31, 2017):

...The perhaps surprising findings come from a new study by the University of Michigan, which looked at different relationships among 2,124 people over age 25.

Participants were asked about the quality of their relationship with either one or both partners, depending on if they were in a monogamous or consensual nonmonogamous relationship, and asked to rate the different relationship components of satisfaction, commitment, trust, jealousy and passionate love, which is the intense love feeling often described in new relationships.

Lead author Terri Conley (Delaney Ryan/Michigan Daily)
The team found no differences between monogamous and consensual nonmonogamous participants in terms of satisfaction and passionate love.

However, the team found that ratings of jealousy and trust were actually better for those in heterosexual open relationships, contrary to what society often presumes about the benefits from monogamy, considered by many to involve high levels of commitment, trust, and love.

The study also revealed that individuals in nonmonogamous relationships had higher levels of satisfaction, trust, commitment and passionate love with their primary partner than in their secondary relationship, going against another possible assumption that those in nonmonogamous relationships do not care enough about each other to be happy in their primary relationship.

"Overall, the outcomes for monogamous and consensual nonmonogamous participants were the same -- indicating no net benefit of one relationship style over another," concluded the study's lead author Terri Conley.

That finding is buried deep in a long paper that reports on two studies and comments on the whole field, with many references: Investigation of Consensually Nonmonogamous Relationships, by Terri D. Conley, Jes L. Matsick, Amy C. Moors, and Ali Ziegler, in Perspectives on Psychological Science (March 27, 2017. No paywall.)

A story in Vice drawing from other parts of that paper: Why We Need to Challenge the Culture of Monogamy, by Allison Tierney (March 30, 2017). "Relationship norms are so pervasive that they've led to flawed science."

And in Quartz: The idea of monogamy as a relationship ideal is based on flawed science, by Cassie Werber (March 22, 2017). "Is monogamy actually better than non-monogamy? It’s still very much an open question — and one with no clear answers, in part because scientists can’t break free of a certain worldview gripping their field."

● Also notable: in queer communities, These Two Factors Make You More Likely To Be Into Non-Monogamy — a story in Autostraddle by Carolyn Yates about a different study focusing on lesbians, bisexuals, and gays (Oct. 29, 2017):

Open to new experiences? Not very conscientious? Queer? You might be more into consensual non-monogamy.

...A study published last week in the Journal of Bisexuality found that more than any other personality factors or attachment styles, being more open (appreciative of a variety of experience) and less conscientiousness (not very self-disciplined) makes queer people more likely to feel positively about and engage in consensually nonmonogamous relationships.

...The study focused on how personality traits — specifically openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — are linked to positive attitudes and inclination toward consensually non-monogamous relationships among sexual minorities. The authors recruited 108 LGB participants online — 67% identified as women, 62% identified as bi- or pansexual, and 38% identified as gay or lesbian — to answer questions on their attitudes toward romantic relationships.

The authors found that being more open made people more attracted to consensual nonmonogamy, and write:

“[O]penness to new experiences and conscientiousness were robust predictors of attraction to multiple-partner relationships among LGB individuals. People who tend to have active imaginations, a preference for variety, and a proclivity to engage in new experiences (i.e., high in openness) hold positive attitudes toward CNM and greater willingness to engage in these relationships.”

While being more conscientious tended to make people less attracted to consensual nonmonogamy:

“[I]ndividuals who tend to be very organized, neat, careful, and success driven (i.e., high in conscientiousness) perceive CNM negatively and have less desire to engage in CNM. ...”

...They also found that, maybe counterintuitively, being extroverted made someone more likely to feel negatively about consensual nonmonogamy, and didn’t impact willingness to try it out.

The paper itself: Personality Correlates of Desire to Engage in Consensual Non-monogamy among Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Individuals, by Amy C. Moors, Dylan F. Selterman and Terri D. Conley, in the Journal of Bisexuality (published online Oct. 10, 2017. The abstract is free, the rest is behind a paywall.)

● Another: What attachment theory can tell us about polyamory, by David M. DeLuca in Medium (Oct. 8, 2016), drawing from this paper: Attached to monogamy? Avoidance predicts willingness to engage (but not actual engagement) in consensual non-monogamy, by Amy C. Moors, Terri D. Conley, Robin S. Edelstein, and William J. Chopik, in Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (April 1, 2014).

● Long essay: The Distinctiveness of Polyamory, by Luke Brunning in the Journal of Applied Philosophy (Aug. 5, 2016). "To render [polyamory] palatable to critics, activists and theorists often accentuate its similarity to monogamy. I argue that this strategy conceals the distinctive character of polyamorous intimacy."

Has the American Public’s Interest in Information Related to Relationships Beyond “The Couple” Increased Over Time?, by Amy C. Moors in The Journal of Sex Research (published online: May 23, 2016). "This study utilizes Google Trends to assess Americans’ interest in seeking out information related to consensual nonmonogamous relationships across a 10-year period (2006–2015). ... Searches for words related to polyamory and open relationships (but not swinging) have significantly increased over time."

● This one got a great deal of attention when it came out two years ago, and it has been cited often ever since: Prevalence of Experiences With Consensual Nonmonogamous Relationships: Findings From Two National Samples of Single Americans, by M. L. Haupert, Amanda N. Gesselman, Amy C. Moors, Helen E. Fisher and Justin R. Garcia, in Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy (published online June 20, 2016).

"Using two separate U.S. Census based quota samples of single adults in the United States (Study 1: n = 3,905; Study 2: n = 4,813) ... more than one in five (21.9% in Study 1; 21.2% in Study 2) participants report engaging in CNM at some point in their lifetime."

Justin Lehmiller, on his Sex & Psychology site, published two articles on this report: How Many People Have Ever Had A Consensually Non-Monogamous Relationship? (May 30, 2016), and How Common Is Consensual Non-Monogamy? (May 13, 2016). Also: Lehmiller on people's suitability for friends-with-benefits relationships: Why Some People May Be Better Suited To Consensual Nonmonogamy Than Others (Aug. 15, 2016).

● From the Open Source Psychometrics Project, The demographics of polyamory/monogamy from a general population survey (2015). "A survey of users of this website was conducted that asked about demographics and about polyamory/monogamy. For those not familiar with polyamory, the definition from Wikipedia was provided. In October 2015, 5,043 responses to this survey were recorded...."

● On the other hand, this on Mic.com: When It Comes to Relationships, Turns Out We're Not as Edgy as We Think We Are (March 25, 2016). "We" means millennials:

Only 15% of Americans age 18 to 29 would ever consider being in an open relationship, according to a new survey conducted by the Huffington Post and YouGov. That proportion is nearly identical to — not higher than — the numbers for adults age 30 to 44 and 45 to 64.

The survey also found that 18% of 18- to 29-year-olds have been in an open relationship, while only 14% have attended a party where they engaged in sexual activity with multiple partners.

● There's a lot of stigma, but less when people know what "polyamory" actually means: Around Consensual Nonmonogamies: Assessing Attitudes Toward Nonexclusive Relationships, by Katarzyna Grunt-Mejera and Christine Campbell, in The Journal of Sex Research (published online Aug. 4, 2015). From the abstract:

The present study examined the social norms that are violated by different forms of consensual nonmonogamy and the negative judgments that result. We asked 375 participants to rate hypothetical vignettes of people involved in one of five relationship types (monogamy, polyamory, open relationship, swinging, and cheating) on items related to relationship satisfaction, morality, and cognitive abilities. The monogamous couple was perceived most favorably, followed by the polyamorous couple, then the open and swinging couples who were rated equally. Participants judged the cheating couple most negatively. ... We conclude that the aspect that has the most effect on judgments is whether the relationship structure has been agreed to by all parties.

● An important work was the big Loving More survey six years ago: What Do Polys Want? An Overview of the 2012 Loving More Survey. It followed and improved upon Loving More's pioneering survey of its members and their associates in 2000.

One particular paper that came out of some of the 2012 data was this: The association of an open relationship orientation with health and happiness in a sample of older US adults, by James R. Fleckenstein and Derrell W. Cox II, in Sexual and Relationship Therapy (published online Nov. 18, 2014). From the abstract:

The authors collected 502 responses via an online survey from individuals aged 55 and older residing in the United States who engage in consensually non-exclusive sexual relationships. Self-reported health and happiness, number of sexual partners, and sexual frequency were compared with 723 similar respondents from the nationally-representative 2012 United States (US) General Social Survey. Key findings were: irrespective of formal relationship status, the non-exclusive sample reported significantly more sexual partners, more sexual frequency, better health, and were much more likely to have had an HIV test than the general US population; the non-exclusive sample also reported being significantly happier than the general population, with the exception of married men, who reported being as happy as the general population sample; and regression analyses suggest that the factors which predict better health and happiness differ between the general population and those who participate in consensually non-exclusive sexual relationships.

● The leading specialist regarding the health and outcomes of kids in poly families is of course Elisabeth Sheff, author of The Polyamorists Next Door (2015). She's now in Year 20 of her own very longterm study tracking children of poly. Here's one of a five-part series about such kids on her Psychology Today-hosted blog.

● This list makes no pretense of being complete! If you've read this far, you may want to join the long-running PolyResearchers Yahoo Group, which Sheff founded long ago. Many papers can be read for free in its ample files.