Polyamory and Desire

Desire is a fundamental aspect of all of us, and it takes many forms. We desire the acquisition of things, to have certain experiences, and most complexly, we desire other people. Our desires for other people are not singular; we long for someone to fulfill multiple needs, some of which we aren’t even consciously aware of. These needs may be sexual, including a need for intimacy, emotional, practical, psychological, and beyond.
In the new book What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, Daniel Bergner explores many aspects of desire–in this case female desire–and the implications of having multiple desires that may not be fulfilled by a single person. This leads well into the concept of polyamory, since having multiple loving relationships is one way of overcoming that challenge.

One case study in the book is that of heterosexual couples who are in long-term relationships, where their love and dependence on each other deepens over time, while their sexual desire wanes–especially of the woman for the man. The author explains that this is caused by the fact that many of the qualities that make a long-term relationship work–familiarity, dependability, thoughtfulness, accommodation–are opposed to the qualities in a man that a woman finds sexually enthralling–uncontrolled passion, dominance, unpredictability, and unfamiliarity. In my experience, this often holds true, and many couples feel stuck, not willing to give up all the parts of their relationship that work, but ever increasingly frustrated by the growing sexual incompatibility.

Pursuing new relationships, while maintaining the existing one, is a logical solution to this problem. Assuming the couple can overcome the typical challenges of jealousy and time management, this allows a woman (or a man) to focus on the aspects of the existing relationship that work well, while satisfying sexual desires that require newness and qualities that don’t necessarily fit in a long-term relationship. Of course, this is only a partial solution; the original couple in the long-term relationship will only have those needs met with others, and not with each other. That said, it is likely that their sexual connection will take on new life, if only due to each of their increased focus on sex.

This situation raises the question of whether it is possible for someone to simultaneously play the role of the familiar, dependable long-term partner, as well as the passionate, dominant object of sexual desire. Of course, a long-term partner is necessarily not new or unpredictable, but perhaps there is room to maintain some of these qualities through an enduring relationship. The other point to consider here is that when pursuing new relationships, polyamorous or otherwise, the dynamic of that relationship will be affected by the focus on being thoughtful and accommodating, rather than dominant and overly passionate. This is not to say that one approach is right or wrong; ultimately, each of us must express ourselves naturally and truly. There may be competing qualities to reconcile here.

Open Relationship Dating Sites

The polyamorous community is in great need of a dating site that is specifically designed for those in open relationships. Currently, OKCupid is the go-to on-line dating destination for the ethically non-monogamous, but it has its limitations. Polyamorous people on OKCupid spend too much time filtering out recommended matches who are not actually interested in a relationship with someone who is “available” (as non-monogamous people are labelled in OKCupid land).
On the plus side–and it’s a huge plus–OKCupid is popular enough to attract a significant number of users, especially in larger cities, including a reasonable number of polyamorous or poly-friendly folks. Having a big enough pool of potential candidates is the most important factor for a dating site–more important than design or functionality. A good example of this is PolyMatchMaker; it seems to lack that critical mass of users to be the go-to place to find your poly match.

There are plenty of dating sites geared towards the swinging community, such as AdultFriendFinder and Cafe Desire. There is also the local Toronto Menage-a-Quatre, which is associated with Club M4–a swingers club that has recently started running some events for people who are polyamorous.

So is it time for a new polyamory dating site that will attract enough users to flourish? The authors of Sex At Dawn say yes, yes it is time! And so they present to us, KoTangle. KoTangle is dubbed as “a global community of sexy, ethical, adventurous people”, and is currently in alpha testing. Anyone can sign-up to help test and provide feedback about the site. The real question is whether KoTange will attract enough people to become the new polyamory dating site that this community is longing for.

2012 Sex Shows

It’s that time of year again! With Halloween in the bag, and the creepy facial hair of Movember not yet grown, Toronto is graced with not one, but two fabulous sex shows.
The first is the increasingly popular, and fairly mainstream Everything to do With Sex Show, which takes place November 2-4 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. This show is chalk full of education, entertainment, and not to forget shopping opportunities. The second is the up-and-coming Playground conference, which is described as an inclusive event for all communities.

Both of these shows are worth attending. For those wondering what the difference is, the Playground creator, Samantha, has posted a must-read article that will give you a good sense of where each conference is coming from.

We hope everyone has a fun, sex-show filled week!

Not Endorsing Polygamy

Recently, the Toronto District School Board came under fire for posters in their schools intended to promote “Safe and Positive Spaces”. The posters, among other combinations, include a heart that contains three stick figures–one male and two females. The board says this was to indicate that one person may be attracted to others of more than one gender, which makes sense. What got them into trouble is that the happy threesome was interpreted as being an endorsement of polygamy.

Perhaps it should not be surprising that the image of three stick figures within a heart leads directly to the concept of polygamy, rather than polyamory, or even someone casually dating males and females. It is certainly a reflection of the way mainstream society thinks about those who engage in relationships with more than one person at a time. The recent mainstream media attention paid to polyamory should help to slowly shift this view, but it will be a slow process, and a significant amount of time until polygamy isn’t the only alternative lifestyle mentioned in this kind of controversy.

The most fascinating part of this story is that in general, people understand and accept that an individual may be bisexual, and yet their default assumption is that a bisexual person will repress their attraction to all but one gender. That assumption is so strong that the only possibility people can imagine beyond such repression is polygamy. The press coverage, and people’s thought processes, don’t even explore the absurdity of someone having to live in such a repressed state, and what alternatives, beyond polygamy, might be possible.

It’s a shame that the school board chose to simply say they were not endorsing polygamy, rather than using this as an opportunity to raise awareness of other alternatives, such as polyamory.

Mainstream Media on Polyamory

The Globe & Mail published a major piece on Polyamory last week, entitled Polyamory: Exploring the In and Outs of Multiple Partners. It is amazing to see the mainstream media reporting on polyamory more frequently, and this article is great example of factual, positive reporting on this topic. The Globe’s circulation is more than one million; that’s a lot of people who have now been exposed to the concepts of polyamory, from a source they presumably see as trustworthy.
The recently wrapped-up first season of Polyamory: Married and Dating on Showtime takes much of the credit for the recent coverage of polyamory in the mainstream media. While the show is not a perfectly accurate portrayal of polyamory, it has been generally well received within the polyamorous community, and has done wonders for the general public’s awareness of what polyamory is. This Globe article is another example of how the Showtime series has cleared the way for long-deserved coverage of this alternative lifestyle.

For those of us who are polyamorous and Canadian, this article provides a convenient avenue for discussion of our lifestyle with friends and family who have been kept in the dark about our non-monogamous nature to date. “Hey, did you see that article in the Globe last week about polyamory” is a nice sounding, relatively safe test of what your loved one’s reaction might be, should you decide you come out to them.

It has  been reported that an even longer, more in-depth piece on polyamory will appear in the Globe in the coming months.

Campaign for printing Not Your Mother’s Playground

Samantha Fraser, who runs the excellent website Not Your Mother’s Playground, as well as the Playground conference, is running a fundraising campaign to get her book printed. The book, also titled Not Your Mother’s Playground, is described as a realistic guide to honest, happy and healthy open relationships. As someone who has been in an open relationship for a while, I think this will be an excellent resource for everyone who is already in, or who is considering being open. While there are many great books out there already, many of them are not written from a practical perspective.
Go contribute to the campaign, and help support a local, open author!

Future of Monogamy Debate on CBC

On Valentine’s day, the CBC radio program Q, with Jian Ghomeshi, hosted a debate on the future of monogamy, as part of their Modern Love series. The debate featured New York University professor Judith Stacey, and W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project. This segment continues the recent trend of increasing media coverage of non-monogamy, and at the end of the segment, Ghomeshi implied that this would not be the last coverage of this topic on Q.
The majority of the debate focused on Wilcox’s belief that an increasing number of North American’s believe in the benefits of fidelity in their relationships, and that non-monogamy is really a marginal, fringe issue that does not even deserve a discussion. On the flip side, Stacey conveyed a level-headed, logical argument that it should be up to each and every individual to negotiate the terms of their relationship, and that while there is nothing inherently wrong with monogamy, that an open relationship is also a valid choice.

Stacey also took issue with Wilcox’s definition of fidelity, stressing that honesty in a relationship is key, not sexual exclusivity. Wilcox, unfortunately, was not willing to directly address almost any of the points that Stacey or Ghomeshi raised, but instead continuously repeated talking points that included lumping in polygamy with polyamory, and asserting that children are inherently more vulnerable to abuse if their parents are in open relationships.

Ultimately, Ghomeshi did his best to get to the heart of the matter, and Stacey did an admirable job defending her position.

Polyamory Activism

Given the lack of understanding of polyamory in the mainstream public and media, as demonstrated recently by the Newt Gingrich incident, there is clearly a great need for more activism around open relationships. Groups like the Polyamory Leadership Network, which will be much better known now thanks to upcoming coverage in the New York Times, are at the forefront of efforts to increase awareness of ethical non-monogamy.
Being an activist for polyamory is not quite like being a political or human rights activist. The difference is that to be a public advocate for open relationships, you yourself must first be “out” about your non-monogamous status, and be comfortable with drawing attention to that aspect of your life. Many people are not at all ready for that, especially because such a decision impacts the partners and families of anyone who steps into the spotlight.

That is, of course, unless you happen to be a monogamous person who believes so strongly that others should be able to choose to be ethically non-monogamous without discrimination, that you take up the cause. I have yet to come across such a person, although perhaps, like gay-straight alliances, the non-monogamous community should be trying to work more close with open-minded monogamous groups. Just as very conservative parents dealing with a gay child are more likely to listen to a fellow conservative than to another gay person, the mainstream public may overcome their typical skepticism about non-monogamy if the message came from a more traditional source.

The Polyamory Leadership Network, as well as the Polyamory Media Association, which helps connect the media with willing polyamorous spokespeople, have been added to the on-line resources section.

Gingrich vs Polyamory

There has been a great deal of polyamory and open relationship related coverage in the media recently, much of it thanks to Newt Gingrich. Clearly, to anyone who knows even the basics of what an open relationship entails, Gingrich’s past in no way resembles any sort of ethical non-monogamous situation. As Dan Savage put it on a recent Love Cast, after cheating on his wife for many years, Gingrich was not asking her if she wanted to be in an open marriage, but rather was informing her that she had, in fact, been in an open marriage for years, and just didn’t know it.
That said, because of the general level of ignorance within mainstream society about non-monogamy, the whole Gingrich affair has turned out to be a handy opportunity to contrast his situation with actual ethical non-monogamy, thereby educating the general public about all things open.

Of course, it would be nice if polyamory was already understood well enough that ridiculous associations such as the one with Newt Gingrich weren’t required. But alas, it isn’t yet. And so, we should say thank you to Newt, for providing platform, however ill-conceived, for the good word to be spread.