Polyamory sends visions of orgies and free love to most people who first hear the term and definition. Even after careful explanation to the uninitiated, they still walk away thinking polyamory equals f***ing anything that moves. This belief that polyamory is about sex is what send people into a frenzy about morality, commitment and family values. The Montel show did a wonderful show on polyamory but when one of the poly guests compared polyamory love to loving children and the ability to love more than one he made the statement “But I don’t have sex with my children”. In our culture we are sex obsessed and sex phobic. This obsession, according to most people, means sex changes everything.
American culture is challenged when it comes to sex and this generates much confusion. Sex is an important part of many romantic relationships but it is not the end all and be all. Sex has been equated with romantic love for centuries and, in more recent years, with monogamous marriage and commitment. Sex, love, romance and intimacy are not all the same thing and you can have one without the other.
Polyamory is more about romance and love than sex. The non-poly world just does not seem to get it; it’s not about the sex. Yes, poly relationships include sex but just like monogamous ones people are there for love, romance, intimacy and numerous other reasons. Sex is often an important component but it is not by any means the focus and sometimes it isn’t even there. But it is the sexual component that seems to evoke such passionate reactions to polyamory, swinging and other forms of alternative sexuality.
People are different in so many ways. They have different hobbies, interests, likes, dislikes and we all accept this. One person may love the water and boating and another loves rock climbing and mountaineering. People have diverse work interests, raise their kids a certain way and have preferences on where they live. This kind of diversity is not seen as right, wrong or even surprising in any way. Yet when it comes to sex and romantic relationships, we have this narrow parameter of what is acceptable behavior. We accept change and fluidity in every other aspect of life and then seek to box in love, sex and intimacy, the very things we should expect the most freedom with.
We would never tolerate our personal choices in work or where we live to be dictated by the neighbors or the government and yet, as a culture, we seek to control who a person loves, how they love, what sexual activities are accepted and even how many they can love. Why, one may ask, because of SEX. Gay marriage, gay relationships, bisexual relating, polyamorous relating all include sex and sex scares most people.
In the sixties and seventies our culture made a shift toward opening up sexually. The ideas of free love, swinging and the one night stand were being explored. Unfortunately so many of the young people exploring had been raised in families that had no communication, where masturbation was forbidden and no one talked about sex. Many were taught good girls were supposed to be pure and hold out their virginity for marriage like a bartering chip. Boys were supposed to push girls into submission. The same people who opened up the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies also brought in their own bad habits as well as unconscious fears and shame. Many were like a kid in a candy store, enthralled and lacking the self control not to overdo it. Free love instead of coming from a place of love was often coming from a place of rebellion and need to fit in with peers. In many cases people, especially women, were pressured into swinging or sex when it was not right for them. As a culture we lacked the important skills or role models to handle free love.
Sex has been demonized, used as a weapon and made a sin, first by the church and now by society. People have suffered terrible shame, guilt and even pain about their sexual nature and their sexuality. These ideas about sex as sinful can wreak havoc on the unconscious mind and sabotage people’s attempts to free themselves and embrace their sexual nature. Part of this cultural programming is that when we “really” love someone we should only want sex with them. We are only allowed to experience this naughty pleasure in the boundaries of a “committed monogamous relationship”. This originally comes from religion and yet people, who have a completely different set of beliefs and values, from atheists to pagans, continue to perpetuate this boundary.
We as a culture exalt romantic sexual love to this sanctified realm. We say it is different from love for friends, siblings, parents and children. That because of the sexual component it has to be limited and you can only share this activity with one person. But as many people understand, and studies have shown, we are really talking about lust and it fades over time. The maddening lust of new relationships is replaced with long term love more akin to love of family and friends, though often deeper because of the deeper intimacy sex can bring in a relationship.
We know people are able to love many people. Sex is one component of a vast array of ways in which people connect. Why is it so hard to make the leap that people who love someone deeply, are committed to that connection and have a sexual relationship could also love another person as well and in the same way. Human beings do it all the time, they have an affair, they go from one relationship to another, often overlapping, and they often still have strong feelings for past lovers.
Perhaps this is why, in the end, polyamory is so damned scary for many people. Polyamorists admit the truth; they romantically and sexually love more than one person. They choose to do so honestly and openly despite the possible repercussions of lost jobs and threats to their children. Polyamorous people embrace what many people already feel but are afraid to acknowledge; love is free flowing and abundant.
Many poly people do get the opportunity to explore and embrace their sexuality. When the boundaries are removed within the support of a loving committed relationship then there is the opportunity to explore what excites you and what gives you pleasure without losing your lover. You can deepen intimacy through honesty and working your way past jealousy and insecurity. You can remain open to love, connections, attractions and become an explorer of your own sexual nature and what intimate relationships really mean for you. It is challenging, exciting and at times risky. You risk being hurt, being rejected, trying things that scare you and losing people you love. You can gain personal growth, insight, living life to the fullest and an abundance of love and relationships to share and/or dance in and out of your life. It is not easy and not for everyone.
Sex is a beautiful and natural expression of love and affection and it is good for you. We have made it into something fearful and shameful rather than celebrating the joy. The simple truth is polyamory has nothing and everything to do with sex. Polyamory is at the core, about loving romantic relationships. These relationships usually include sex but can also embrace deep intimate and romantic friendships without sex. They can be fabulous networks of sexy connections. They can also be a family with children and multiple parents; raising kids, sharing a home, doing chores and watching TV, hoping they might have time to squeeze in a little sex play between bedtime stories and passing out for the night. They are no different and no more about sex than any other relationship style.
Most poly people have experienced the phrase “But if you’re poly, you should have sex with me”. While I might want to yell “It’s not about the sex” the truth is, I am polyamorous and I am also picky. Just between you and me, with the kids, the house and balancing relationships, if I can find time I am much more interested in spending quality time with the partners I love then exploring sex with a random person I feel no connection with.