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.