Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

April 5, 2024

The New York Times' star conservative takes us on... and not badly. Two more women's open-relationship stories on the way. And, psychedelic-assisted poly transformation.

Polyamory infinity-heart symbol on a colorful, psychedelic-like background
Chacruna Institute

●  Ross Douthat is house conservative columnist at the New York Times. That can't be easy; he can't write dumb shit but has to be consistently worth reading for people who disagree with him. 

He discusses us polyfolk as his central focus in a pick-apart of society's current sexual transitions: The Quest for a New Vision of Sexual Morality (March 27). He starts with a recent New York magazine cover story about the pop-neuroscience men's influencer Andrew Huberman, who he agrees is an abusive pig:

...The portrait of a figure like Huberman would be interesting under any circumstances. But the special focus on his sex life, the detailed testimony from allegedly mistreated girlfriends, marks this as very much a post-#MeToo profile. Huberman is not accused of any sexual crime; he’s seemingly just a creep, cheat and control freak. But that kind of misbehavior is treated as essential to any judgment of his public career. Whatever the new rules of sex might be, it’s clear that we’re supposed to judge the cad’s lifestyle as regressive, deplorable and wicked. [Well yeah?]

So what kind of lifestyle might be preferable? Well, here we can turn back a few issues to a New York magazine January cover story on polyamory, featuring both a profile of a specific polycule and an extensive guide to “opening” your relationship or marriage.

When the Huberman profile appeared, some social-media voices suggested that there’s a tension in publishing a takedown of a man juggling six girlfriends after celebrating the juggle just a couple of months previously. But in reality the two cover stories are entirely of a piece. The implied critique of the neuroscience cad isn’t just that he has sex with lots of different women but that he does so deceptively and selfishly — instead of following the kind of open, complex process of negotiation that’s ethically required to be the kind of person who has sex with six different people at a time.

That idea of sex-as-process, with the sexual act itself embedded inside a kind of “best practices” of dialogue and interaction, seems to be where social liberalism has settled, for now, in its attempt to create a post-Hefnerian sexual culture. Thus the general fascination with polyamory, manifest in trend pieces, books and essays too numerous to count, isn’t just about envelope-pushing and shock value. It also reflects a desire to maintain the permissive sexual ethic that men like [Playboy founder Hugh] Hefner turned to their own exploitative ends, but to make it healthier and therapeutic, more female-friendly and egalitarian, safer and more structured.

Polyamory isn’t being offered as an alternative to conservative monogamy, in this sense, so much as an alternative to more dangerous, irresponsible, and deceptive forms of promiscuity — a responsible, spreadsheet-enabled, therapeutic version of the sexual revolution, in which transparency replaces cheating, and everything is permitted so long as you carefully negotiate permission.

Sounds pretty good! Especially because conservatives (of the old-fashioned type) are always talking about personal responsibility.

But I think he is committing a swap of cause and effect here, as people weak on history often do. In this case, our history.

For most of us old polyfolks who were there when today's movement settled on its current shape in the mid-1980s through 90s, polyamory (as opposed to broader forms of ethical non-monogamy) was not about tidier promiscuity. It was about actual heart-centered love — for people you truly want to treat well because you truly care about them. It was about the generalization of limerent, romantic love — that thing that has awed and obsessed and driven humans since humans existed — from the isolated couple, where society has carefully walled away its power, into wider, community-like fields that, we discovered, are not only imaginable but actually possible. Sometimes.

In the history of the poly movement, personal Road-to-Damascus revelations about such larger, agapé-style erotic-romantic love came first. Today's best poly practices developed not by an antiseptic therapeutic ideology, but by experiment and experience amid the early poly community's often bitter trials and errors. The wider world only later started to notice the emergent best practices — those found to improve the chance of success — as awareness of the movement finally began to spread mass-market.

Douthat continues:

A glance at some actual human relationships should raise some doubts about how well this model really works. Whatever Huberman’s failures of honesty and communication, for instance, he appears extremely well versed in the kind of therapy-speak that’s supposed to tame libidinous excess — suggesting that predators and cads can work through this system as well as any other.

Too true. 

...Or again, the new mom-with-an-open-marriage memoir by Molly Roden Winter, “More,” reads more like a testament to marital suffering than any kind of guide to the good life.

Also true. But as conservatives frequently say, getting to a good life often requires hard work and suffering. Ad astra per aspera. Roden Winter herself declares it was worth it.

●  Speaking of open-relationship memoirs by women, Rachel Krantz's Open comes out in paperback in June. Interviews and podcasts with her are already showing up. The book is sure to get more attention in the current environment than it did when it came out in hardback two years ago. From the publisher's description:

Krantz documents her dive into polyamory, from Brooklyn sex parties to swinging and beyond, in her extraordinary debut memoir. As she attempts to write a new plot for her love story with Adam, she runs up against miscommunications, gaslighting, and ancient power dynamics, and seeks solid ground in a relation-ship where the rules are ever-shifting. An award-winning journalist, she interviewed scientists, psychologists, and people living and loving outside the mainstream to understand what polyamory would do to her heart, mind, and life.

Here's a poly reviewer of the book for NPR two years ago: 'Open' explores polyamorous relationships through personal experience.

...I'll admit that I was trepidatious when I first approached this memoir. I've never really hidden the fact that I am polyamorous, nor that my partner of seven years and I have always had, to one extent or another, a non-monogamous relationship. Anyone who is poly (or polyam, the short form Krantz uses in the book) or non-monog knows when to share this information and when to silo it away in order to avoid the judging eyes and skeptical questions of the monogamous overculture. Knowing the memoir was about Krantz's introduction to non-monogamy — and not only that, but that she was introduced to it by a straight cis man, a demographic that is often assumed to abuse this relational preference — made me brace myself for a traditional happy ending about how it was a valid life choice but simply not for her.

Rachel Krantz

I couldn't have been more wrong. It's no spoiler to say that Krantz still identifies as polyam, at least according to social media, and... it's neither a manifesto of polyamorous ideals nor an argument against it. It's Krantz's sincere and curious reckoning with the cultural messaging we all receive about gendered expectations and power dynamics in romantic and sexual relationships in general. How do we untangle those from our own desires? How do we differentiate between those desires and the things we think we should want, or that our partners want us to want? The highs and lows of a first non-monogamous relationship prove the perfect canvas on which to explore these fundamental questions.

At first, things between Krantz and Adam seem rather rosy, although readers familiar with gaslighting and manipulation in relationships may recognize the red flags early on. ...

●  Holly Williams is another woman with a book coming out. She writes in the UK's Independent how she went back to monogamy brimming with good poly lessons: An open relationship taught me everything I needed to know about love (April 2). Her novel The Start of Something starts shipping next week. It's already a Cosmopolitan best book pick for 2024.

...The best lessons I’ve learned in how to be a good partner, and have a good relationship, came from exploring non-monogamy. ... I’m now in a happy, basically monogamous relationship. But starting out non-monogamous actually proved a pretty fantastic bedrock for long-term, committed love.

...My second novel, The Start of Something, tells the story of 10 characters via 10 interlocking sexual encounters. I wanted to explore the different shapes sex, love, and relationships can take in the modern world. ...

Running through The Start of Something is the belief that what makes love work is honesty – it doesn’t matter the structure, as long as you can communicate within it. This is hardly a new or radical take, I know. But – and it’s a big but! – it can still be alarmingly difficult. And while you might assume that opening a relationship would make it thornier, my own experience suggests the opposite – exploring non-monogamy made me a better partner.

...When I got into a serious relationship in my twenties, obviously it was monogamous, because I thought that was what being in a relationship meant. That was the point.

...[It] ended because of my unfaithfulness. Cue crushing, terrible guilt – and a new certainty that monogamy was Not For Me. ... I needed to be free: no one was ever going to tie me down again!

A pinball of pent-up horniness, I rebounded my way through Tinder, Feeld, and the nightclubs of east London. But I didn’t know how to communicate my need for freedom, and so often took a don’t-ask-don’t-tell approach. ... Still, there were clues that “just not mentioning it” was not working amazingly: the racing heart, the niggling guilt… And I did hurt people, by not being honest, and not really taking their feelings into account.

...It wasn’t until I started seeing people who were already in their own open relationships that I really understood what it took to make things work. What I learned was pretty simple: the more we properly talked about what we were looking for, without any moralising or persuading, the easier and safer it felt. If you’re gonna do ethical non-monogamy, my god you’re also gonna do a lot of talking. You can’t muddle through on vibes and hunches – there have got to be explicit boundaries, because there are a thousand ways to “do” non-monogamy. It meant planning before certain situations, and debriefing after: Are we all happy going out together? Will I stay over afterwards? So, how did it feel…?

...It all felt uncomfortable at first, and then it felt liberating. Have you ever been trapped in circular discussions with a partner, where you expect them to silently know what you need and if they don’t, you subtly punish them? There was way less of all that. Fewer games. Almost no sulks. Dating poly people made me more upfront, more realistic, less embarrassed about my true desires; it made me think harder about what’s behind feeling jealous, or insecure.

When I began dating my current partner Tommo, I was still seeing someone else. But then… as we fell in love, we also fell into monogamy. I believe that romantic love is not a finite resource: you can love more than one partner, like you can love more than one child, or friend. However, time is a finite resource. I soon found I wanted to spend more of it with Tommo than with anyone else. But I maintain that the open beginning was a great basis for the relationship. From the off, we learned to be calm, transparent, and clear in our communication. Our trust in each other is not predicated on exclusivity – but on honesty.

It helped us ditch any assumptions of what a relationship “should” look like…

Knowing this makes me feel both more free, and more secure. ... We talk about what’s working and what’s not. We ask the big questions. Including whether or not we should open up. I don’t want to just slot into a societally-approved, till-death-do-us-part model – I want to allow for movement, and growth.

Because for me, monogamy shouldn’t be the default: it should be a question. ... Right now, I’m happy spending all my romantic energy on just one person – but I think the reason that works is because there was never the assumption it had to be that way.

●  An example of some early best practices surviving, mostly intact, into today's mass market is this quickie little Open Marriage 101 in a women's mag: The 4 Do’s and 3 Don'ts of a Successful Open Marriage, According to a Non-Monogamist (PureWow, March 25; reprinted on aol.com and Yahoo).

"We chatted with Ally Iseman... a speaker, non-monogamy educator and practitioner and organizer in the sex-positive community in Los Angeles....'"

The subheads:

DO: Establish Your "Why"...
DON’T: Think This Will Fix Anything...
DO: Have Weekly Meetings Where You Discuss the Specifics of Your Agreement...
DON’T: Expect Your Partner to Be a Mind Reader...
DON’T: Go with the Flow...
DO: Connect with Fellow Non-Monogamy Enthusiasts...
DO: Decide How Much You Want—or Don’t Want—to Know...

●  Lastly: Old forgotten revelations, if they are correct rather than illusory, do not die but lie dormant, reawaiting their time. How Psychedelics Can Guide the Transformative Journey of Polyamory is a serious new paper by ketamine-assist therapist Justin Natoli, JD, LMFT, in Los Angeles (Chacruna Institute, April 2).

In my work as a psychotherapist, I have found few opinions that feel as personal or divisive as those around monogamy and polyamory. I hold a mindset that different arrangements work better for different people, and what works best may change over the course of one’s life. However, I also observe that institutions of power put monogamy on a pedestal in the postindustrial world. The result is a queering of other healthy forms of relationship that limits the love we share as a human family.

My intention with this paper is to help balance the scales. First, I will offer an expansive definition of polyamory and explore how it can be a journey of healing and transformation. I will then identify the three primary struggles I have observed along the polyamorous journey: shame, past trauma, and difficulty transcending labels. I will also illustrate how the spiritual and therapeutic use of psychedelics can help guide us through those struggles. To be clear, I make no claims for or against monogamy in this paper. I simply wish to highlight polyamory’s transformative potential and reclaim its validity.

The ideas in this paper come from my own psychedelic and polyamorous experiences, my clinical observations as a psychotherapist, and 25 transcribed interviews. All personal statements in this paper come from these interviews with the participants’ consent. I found interview participants by posting queries in Facebook groups related to psychedelic healing. The participants who responded were diverse in age, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, socioeconomic status, and preference for monogamy or polyamory. Each interview lasted approximately 30 minutes and followed a structured series of questions.

Chacruna Institute 
...Psychedelics help us transcend our labeling ego to see the full complexity and potential of our relationships. By removing limits and expectations, we are able to access what Hardy and Easton (2009) call “clean love”:

How many times have you rejected the possibility of love because it didn’t look the way you expected it to? Perhaps some characteristic was missing you were sure you must have, some other trait was present that you never dreamed of accepting. What happens when you throw away your expectations and open your eyes to the fabulous love that is shining right in front of you, holding out its hand? Clean love is love without expectations. (p. 59)

To illustrate how psychedelics help us access clean love, it is fitting to share my own story. ...

(Obligatory caution: These substances are not to be taken lightly. Read up.)


Meanwhile, as the larger world stage darkens. . .

(Look up their phone / email.)

Here again is why I've been ending posts to this polyamory news site with Ukraine: I've seen many progressive movements die out because they failed to scan the wider world accurately and understand their position in it strategically.

We polyamorous people are a small, weird minority of social-rule breakers. Increasingly powerful people call us a threat to society — because by living successfully outside of their worldview, we expose its incompleteness.

Our freedom to choose our relationship structures, and to speak up for ourselves about the truth of ourselves, is just one way we depend on a free and pluralistic society that respects people's dignity to create their own lives, to access facts, and to speak of what they know.

Such a society is possible only where people have power to govern themselves, combined with legal structures that are at least supposed to guarantee the rights of all.

Innovative people, communities, and societies who create their own lives, and who insist on the democratic structures and legal rights that enable them to do so safely, infuriate and terrify the authoritarians who are growing in power around the world and in our own United States. Now with direct mutual support, which is increasingly unhidden.

Such rulers and would-be rulers seek to stamp out other people's freedom to choose their lives — by intimidation, repressive laws, inflammatory disinformation and public incitement, weaponizing police abuse, or eventually, artillery.

For what it's worth, Polyamory in the News received more pagereads from pre-invasion Ukraine over the years (56,400) than from any other country in eastern Europe.

You can donate to Ukraine relief through this updated list of vetted organizations (Oct. 2023) or elsewhere. We're giving to a big one, Razom, and to a little informal one, Pizza for Ukraine in Kharkiv, the project of an old friend of my wife.

But that is only the start. For those of us born since World War II, this is the most consequential war of our lifetime. Because we have entered another time when calculating fascism, at home and abroad, is rising and sees freedom and liberalism and social tolerance as weak, degenerate, delusional  inviting easy pushovers. As Russia thought it saw in Ukraine. The whole world is watching what we will do about it.

The coming times may require hard things of us. We don't get to choose the time and place in history we find ourselves born into. We do get to choose how we respond to it. 

Need a little help bucking up? Play thisAnother version. More? Some people on the eastern front trying to hold onto an open society. (TW: war is awful.) Maybe your granddad did this from a trench against Hitler's tanks— for you, and us, because a world fascist movement was successfully defeated that time, opening the way for the rest of the 20th century.

But the outcome didn't look good for a couple of years then, either. Popular history remembers the 1945 victory over the Nazis and the joyous homecoming. Less remembered are the defeats and grim prospects from 1941 through early 1943.

Remember, these people say they are doing it for us too. They are correct. The global struggle between a free, open future and a fearful revival of the dark past that's shaping up, including in our own country, is still in its early stages. It's likely to get worse before it gets better. The outcome is again uncertain, and it will determine the 21st century and the handling of all its other problems.


PS: Ukraine should not be idealized as the paragon of an open democratic society. For instance, see If Ukraine Wants To Stand for Liberty and Democracy, It Should Rethink Some of Its Wartime Policies. And it has quite the history of being run by corrupt oligarchs — leading to the Maidan Uprising of 2013, the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, and Zelensky's overwhelming election in 2019 as the anti-corruption candidate. So they're working on that. And they're also stamping hard on the old culture of everyday, petty corruption.  More on that.  More; "Ukraine shows that real development happens when people believe they have an ownership stake in their own societies."

Now, writes US war correspondent George Packer in The Atlantic, 

Here was a country with a tragic history that had at last begun to build, with great effort, a better society. What made Ukraine different from any other country I had ever seen—certainly from my own—was its spirit of constant self-improvement, which included frank self-criticism. For example, there’s no cult of Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine—a number of Ukrainians told me that he had made mistakes, that they’d vote against him after the war was won. Maxim Prykupenko, a hospital director in Lviv, called Ukraine “a free country aspiring to be better all the time.” The Russians, he added, “are destroying a beautiful country for no logical reason to do it. Maybe they are destroying us just because we have a better life.”

They have a word there, with a deep history, for the horizontal, self-organized, mutual get-it-done that grows from community social trusthromada. Learn that word. It's been keeping them going  to the extent they've been able. We polyfolks often dream of creating something like that community spirit in miniature, in our polycules and networks. Occasionally we succeed.


Social attitudes in Ukraine are mostly traditional, rooted in a thousand years of the Orthodox Church. But not bitterly so like often in the US; in the last generation the ideal of modern European civil society has become widely treasured, and social progressivism has room to thrive. The status of women has fast advanced, especially post-invasion (pre-invasion article). More than 43,000 women volunteer in the armed forces, flooding traditionally male bastions — including as combat officers, artillery gunners, tankers, battlefield medics, snipers, and infantry. (Intimidating video: "Thus the Witch has Said".) Ukraine has more women volunteering in combat positions than any other armed force in the world.
Ukraine's LGBT military unicorn emblem
Ukraine's LGBT military unicorn.
The thorns and barbed wire
represent old restrictions
now being cut away.
Some LGBT folx in the armed forces display symbols of LGBT pride on their uniforms, with official approval, whereas in Russia it's a prison-worthy crime for even a civilian to show a rainbow pin or "say gay." A report on Ukraine's LGBT+ and feminist acceptance revolutionsAnotherAnotherAnother. War changes things.

And in December 2022, Russia made it a crime not just to speak for LGBT recognition in Russia or occupied Ukraine, but to speak for "non-traditional sexual relations." Pre-invasion, Russia had a visible polyamory education and awareness movement.

Polyfolks are like one ten-thousandth of what's at stake globally. Ukraine must have our full material backing for as long as it takes them to win their security, freedom, and future. Speak up for it.

Your congressperson's email and phone. Putin-aligned Republicans right now are blocking some $60 billion in aid, especially ammunition, that the Ukrainians desperately need in order not to be overwhelmed by Russian advances. Just a handful of other Republicans getting some courage to do what they know is right would be enough.                         

A Russian writer grieves: "My country has fallen out of time."

Ukrainian women soldiers in dense undergrowth
Women defenders in a trench in the Donetsk region

PPS:  U.S. authori-tarians, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, are saying that allowing women in front-line roles is a woke plot to weaken America's armed forces. Ukraine puts that shit to bed. Do you have a relative who talks like that? Send them this video link to Vidma, who commands a mortar platoon, recounting the story of one of their battles near Bakhmut.

Update April 14, 2024: More than a year later Vidma is still alive, still in the Bakhmut area, and posting TikToks. Her unit is at the front in or around the battle for Chasiv Yar, a town just walking distance west of Bakhmut that will soon, unfortunately, be in world news. A young girl who looks high-school age has showed up to join their fightAnother. Their lives, and their promising society, depend on us. 

And maybe our own? Says Maine's independent Senator Angus King (Jan. 31, 2024),

Whenever people write to my office [asking why we are supporting Ukraine,] I answer, 'Google Sudetenland, 1938.' We could have stopped a murderous dictator who was bent on geographic expansion…at a relatively low cost. The result of not doing so was 55 million deaths.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your polyam summaries and your support for Ukraine! 🇺🇦

April 06, 2024 1:49 AM  

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