In this series Poly UK will speak with people living a polyamorous life from different walks of life. We start with someone within the BDSM community…
When did you first become familiar with the term polyamory?
I became aware of the term in around 2005-6 via the internet and books such as ‘The Ethical Slut’. I had explored other terms like ‘Libertine’ during my teens and early twenties, but most of these terms carry a negative association. Free Love, for example is another term that is quite accurate in its historical meaning as a criticism of state interference in what can be defined as an acceptable relationship. But in the popular mind the term simply conjures up images of 1960s LSD fuelled hedonism, and has lost much of the radical political meaning. New terms like ‘Relationship Anarchy’ might help to put some of those more radical ideas back into the debate, and for me it’s a term I feel more at home with.
How did you learn the more practical sides of polyamory?
I read the books that were available at the time, went to a few Poly Meets or Munches. Later I attended a workshop with author and teacher Deborah Anapol and became friends with her for a few years before she sadly passed away in 2015. I also chatted online a bit with author Pete Benson.
What were your first thoughts/feelings about polyamory?
Polyamory seemed to encompass my political, spiritual and personal feelings about relationships. I had been looking to explore ideas relating to sexuality and freedom. Somehow monogamy (or monoamory) seems to often include a degree of people treating themselves, or each other, like property. Or seeing the idea of their partner enjoying time with someone else as the ultimate wrong a person can do in a relationship – that simply seems almost irrational to me.
How/when did you decide that polyamory was something that you wanted to try?
I was aware that I wasn’t naturally monogamous from my first relationships. I believed in being open and honest about this with my lovers from around sixteen or seventeen. So this was pretty much what we now call polyamory. I guess being involved in the BDSM community from early on made it easier to be open about alternative lifestyles. I did also have a triad relationship around this time, so I was living it from before I knew the term. Later in my twenties I had a long term relationship in which we toyed with the idea of non-monogamy but it never really happened in the form I would have liked. When that relationship ended I knew that I wanted to be polyamorous in the future.
Could you share your first poly experience with me…how it came about, what sort of relationship was it, what did everyday life look like….etc?
Well outside of my experiences in my teens and early twenties, my first truly polyamorous relationship in which all of us identified as polyamorous, was in about 2007. I started a relationship with one partner for a few months, which then got put on hold as she was from abroad and returned home. I then, sometime later, began a relationship with her friend. I learnt at this point that my new partner had also previously been involved with my partner who had left the country. So we later began a triad as all of us were already interested in polyamory and relationship anarchy. On a day to day level we spent some time together and some time apart due to the fact we were all from different countries and hadn’t settled in one place due to work and other lifestyle choices. Everyday life was very much like any relationship apart from the fact there was three of us and we also included a sadomasochistic dynamic. We would also openly talk about people we found attractive, or people we see outside of the triad. It really was very liberating not having to hide the way you might feel towards all the people in your life.
Have you ‘come out’ to your family, friends, work colleagues? If so was it difficult, did you experience negative or positive reactions?
I am only vaguely out to my family, close friends and within BDSM I am out. I am not hiding it, but I’m not making it an issue with my family either. I have not had a bad experience coming out to people, but I normally take my time and gage the situation. I am generally very open though, as I believe it helps people to see how positive polyamory can be, and how it doesn’t have to be as complicated as many imagine.
What negative experiences have you had? Failed poly relationships? Or do you know of someone else’s poly relationship which failed?
My only negative experience was with a partner I saw for a few months. We met online and I was openly non-monogamous from the start. We had a short relationship, after which she attacked my non-monogamy even though she had claimed this was her way of being from the start. A similar situation happened when I met with a woman from Fetlife and because I said I need to speak to my other partner before sleeping with her she attacked my polyamory and said it wasn’t really poly. So my limited negative experiences (and this is matched by friends) seems to be of people who claim to be polyamorous but actually have other agendas or desires at heart.
The mention of polyamory continues to increase in the media…is this positive/negative for polyamory? How does this affect the poly community? Is this media coverage what they want?
Well as with many things to do with the media it’s a double edged sword. On the one hand it means that more people are aware of the term and also those looking for a community can hear about us. But there is also the danger of losing the more radical elements of what polyamory could mean. I personally don’t want to see the opportunity for questioning some of the inequalities that underlie areas such as marriage. Polyamory is in danger of being portrayed simply as monogamy+1 as I like to refer to it. Nothing is different just an extra person. For me non-monogamy and the related ideas go deeper than that. They go into feminism, gender roles, legal definitions of relationships etc etc. I think this is why relationship anarchy (RA) is becoming popular, it is coming from a more radical standpoint.
Why do you think the media coverage has increased so significantly the last couple of years?
Well as soon as one article is published the press copy each other, especially when there is a subject related to sex and relationships. It is also just a knock on effect of people beginning to be aware of the term and possibly wondering if polyamory is something they could or would want to do within their own lives.
Who are the people/institutions that oppose polyamory? What are their arguments?
I don’t know of any group that actively opposes polyamory. There are the odd group of conservatives who will attack the idea as something to do with the end of the nuclear family and the institution of marriage. But beyond that I have not received any public criticism.
Some articles on the internet claim that polyamory is the ‘new sexual revolution’. What is your opinion on this statement?
I hope so. But really polyamory has been around a long time, there will always be the radicals and the conservatives, but the edges will become more blurry and wider. Although I am amazed by the amount of negative sexual attitudes that still exist, even in the young. I suppose for me polyamory holds at its core the notion of a more conscious engaged approach to sex and relationships. Much of mainstream culture seems based upon a thoughtless acceptance of the way you do things, be it sex, relationships, consumerism or whatever. My ideal would be people becoming more conscious and questioning these often damaging or negative viewpoints. But overall I don’t think that is an accurate statement as much of what is being said about polyamory plays down sex and focuses on relationships because of the dominance of ‘sex negative’ attitudes. It often seems to me people believe if they avoid saying anything like they enjoy sex with multiple partners they will have a better chance of polyamory being accepted into the mainstream. I would like to see a change in the mainstream view of sex. Sex for me is a pleasurable and unifying aspect of life when done consciously and responsibly. It is something that should be embraced as much or as little as a person desires.
Do you believe monogamy is a manmade structure?
Monogamy has a long history in many cultures, but there are also many other versions of how a relationship can be, sadly until recently most were focused on men. Monogamy in its original form was about marriage and was a partly religious idea, party a form of the male oppression of women and a way of exchanging property (including women and their virginity) and very low down the scale some kind of idea of love. Over time as religion has lost its hold over society and equality has been highlighted by feminism, marriage and other ideas about monogamy have changed. It is now clear to see that people are having relationships in many forms. I think that monogamy is obviously man-made when you view it in the light of all these social factors. We also have to remember that monogamy is also an ‘ideal’, many who call themselves monogamous will cheat during their relationship and practice freer situations when they are not so committed. So many who claim to be monogamous are actually non-monogamous, they just don’t practice an ethical or engaged form of non-monogamy like polyamory.
Monogamy is so deeply embedded in our society…do you think it is possible for polyamory to become a mainstream/acceptable way of living and be fully integrated into our society?
I do think that polyamory will become more integrated into the mainstream over time, probably in a similar way to how LGBTQ+ lifestyles have become more visible and accepted in some cultures. It seems to me that non-monogamy is actually fairly common in some European countries, it seems there is just not one overriding term or philosophy for it. The result of this is that without a ‘banner’ such as a common term it is hard for consciousness raising to take place within the mainstream areas of influence, like television. Without this idea of a movement or ‘scene’ people practicing non-monogamy will remain fairly invisible. Having said that I would imagine polyamory will become much bigger as a movement over the next decade, so that may well help to change the levels of awareness we have now.
Would you say social acceptance has already improved in the last couple of years?
Social acceptance of areas more along the lines of polyfedelity, or a committed multi-partner relationship, as this resembles monogamy most closely, but sexual freedoms of the types described in books like The Ethical Slut are still frowned upon by many. And in come social groups sexual openness and exploration have also increased.
We have all been culturally influenced to think that monogamy is the only ethical relationship structure…yet more and more people are considering polyamory. Why do you think this is?
Well I think for many monogamy simply doesn’t work and many others simply want a broader sexual and romantic landscape within their lives. Many of the arguments against polyamory do not hold up in our secular modern world. People are left to question the practical factors rather than the moral ones. Polyamory simply suits a more tolerant open society, like the acceptance of many LGBTQ+ issues there is a feeling that polyamory represents another move towards greater equality and honesty in how we live.
What, in your opinion, does the future for polyamory look like?
Hopefully the future will be more fluid and defined by the individuals involved far more creatively than is common now. As I mentioned in the interview I think that relationship anarchy brings together individual needs, LGBTQ+ issues, and allows for more crossing between friendship, sex, and love, without fear or limiting definitions. So I see this kind of idea, or something very similar, as how poly will evolve from this point on…