Columns Nov 28, 2012 at 4:00 am

Gone Solo


I don't see how IDGAF is being a coward - he's seems to be asking "how do I tell people who insist something is wrong ..?"

I agree it takes courage to say to close family and friends: "guess what, I don't conform to your expectations" but the challenge is how to demonstrate that you are not disfunctional without seeming defensive.

I guess you just have to keep saying "I am happy, you need to believe me" seems a bit lame but that's the best I can come up with when my family asks.
I don't see how IDGAF is being a coward - he's seems to be asking "how do I tell people who insist something is wrong ..?"

I agree it takes courage to say to close family and friends: "guess what, I don't conform to your expectations" but the challenge is how to demonstrate that you are not dysfunctional without seeming defensive.

I guess you just have to keep saying "I am happy, you need to believe me" seems a bit lame but that's the best I can come up with when my family asks.
My man came with some sex toys, and I don't like them, clean or not. I even threw one cock ring in the river when he wasn't looking.
omg the whole poly being an orientation debate is getting old use metaphor, I see orientation(gay/straight/bi) like a compass which tells you which way to point your gun, and mono/poly is the number of bullets you choose to shoot in that direction :)
The debate over poly being an orientation is getting pretty stale, and I totally agree with Dan. I think an orientation is like a compass that determines which direction you want to aim your "gun" and being mono/poly decides how many targets you want to shoot bullets at. Absolutely no disrespect intended to the polyamorous amongst us's just not a sexual orientation
Sex toy etiquette:

Why assume the ex was the sub and not the letter writer?

Depends on whether you meet this new gal through the BDSM community. As a freelancing sub, I certainly wouldn't give a rat's ass about "used" restraints. The idea that every new play partner will mean buying all new equipment seems completely ridiculous. As long as it's clean, then who cares. If you're spending your time trying to pervert vanillas and the hypothetical new gal cares, then get rid of it. See commenter 3. If she shares your cravings, then she'll have her own gear or want to buy her own new stuff anyway.

However...getting rid of sex toys (in one form or another) is often an important psychological part of letting go of the relationship. They are not unlike wedding rings, if the bond and/or experiences the toys facilitate were very strong. If you see the toys and get a little weird feeling in your stomach: get rid of them somehow.

If you feel that your relationship with the ex could have ended because she didn't share your kinks (on some level) then it can be a power affirmation to keep the toys as a symbol of coming out as a kinkster.
sorry for double post i didnt think my first one went through :P
My partner had a lot of gear from before we met and I was glad about it. He's a lot more experienced than I am, and I wouldn't have known what was good to get. (I'm also broke, so good quality items would have been out of the question.) Already having the equipment was really useful and practical. I would get rid of penetrative toys though, and clean anything that might have gotten fluids on it.
Yeah, Dan, I AM poly. I will never be able to be monogamous. Or rather, if I "do" monogamy, it'll be a miserable lie.

I guess it's silly for me to worry about how some advice columnist defines me though.
My partner already had a collection of toys when we got together, and I really appreciated it. I would never have known what to buy on my own, and I'm broke, so good quality gear would have been out of the question. As long as everything was kept clean and in good condition, I saw no reason to be anything but practical. For me, more personal items, like lingerie, should probably be kept for one person. Symbols of the relationship should also be kept personal.
crap. Now I double posted.
Also... Everyone around me knows I'm poly. I "came out" so to speak, and it upset them more than me being bi. If it were just some casual preference, I certainly would not have informed anyone but my partners. But it's not.
IDGAF, I am a 32 year old lady who feels exactly the same way you do about relationships. I have always been vocal about my preferences with my family and friends and have been very fortunate to receive their support. No nagging about grandchildren or unwanted setups :) Thanks to Dan for highlighting the fact that choosing to be single is a legitimate choice and should be respected.
SAT question:
Bigots labeled behavior A as a "choice".
Dan labeled behavior B as a "choice".
Therefore, Dan must be a bigot.

The "is poly an orientation" question is an interesting one. I've had both open relationships & monogamous ones. As long as I can indulge in the fantasy of other people, & my monogamous partner is doin' their part to keep me entertained at home, I'm more or less content. I'd say my leanings are poly, but as a bisexual woman, I *myself* wouldn't call it an orientation. I don't want to deny the right of people to label themselves as they wish & certainly I know some poly folks who are adamant that that's what they are, that's how their relationships need to be & hey, more power to 'em.

But I don't picture sexuality as a linear graph. Ya know how the Kinsey scale of gayness to straightness is shown sometimes:…

I am picturing, in my mind, a chart like that, but w/ monogamous people & polyamorous people. If societal mores weren't what they are I'm pretty sure there'd be a lot more accepted fluidity between those two things, where those of us in monogamish land would dwell. ;)
And AWASH, as @8 says above..depends on the gear, & the cleanliness of said gear - that stuff can be spendy! Huge difference between a penetrative toy & a Liberator pillow, which comes w/ a slip-off, easy-launder cover. :D If you can afford it easily, replace the lot. If you can't, ask yourself wher e you would draw the line for ick factor, & then be way more cautious than that when deciding what to keep. & clean the bejeezus out of whatever it is you hang onto.
Poly isn't a sexual orientation, as by definition your sexual orientation is which gender(s) you're attracted to.

But poly can be just as if not more important to someone's identity as their sexual orientation is, and it can carry just as much if not more of a stigma as being gay does.
I guess part of why I see poly as a possible identity issue is that I know many poly people who... they wouldn't even be themselves anymore if they were monogamous. It would be like if they suddenly had brain rumors that made them behave like aliens inhabiting their bodies. They are their beautiful selves and tjey'd be harming themselves if they pretended to be monogamous.
There are actually some companies that recycle sex toys, even the ones that have been up people butts and whatnot. They make 'em into brand-spaking new toys to stick in fresh new orifices. I swear:…

I think #2 will depend on whether the new gal is involved in the BDSM community or not. Personally, I see a little wear on BDSM toys as being a sign that the owner has some experience and I'll have a good time.
@bodhirungus and so many others.
PLEASE for the love of all that is holy STOP THROWING SHIT IN WATER BODIES. They're not junkyards. Do you have any idea how nauseating it is for people who clean up rivers- yes whole organizations have been founded because people throw shit in rivers- to be picking up trash and find a cock ring, or vibrator, or condoms that have washed downstream. I will remind you that children frequently serve as volunteers for river cleanups as many are required to volunteer by their high schools or other organizations.
Think of the rest of us. Thanks.
Re: the sex toys, I think it depends on how "used" they are and how expensive. Also, if it's from a really long term relationship, I'd probably feel weird if I were the new girl using it.

And Dan is spot on about the poly question. By that logic having any sort of fetish or sexual preference would be an "orientation".
^ hear hear

To anyone who flushes condoms down the toilet: what the fuck is wrong with you!?
Why is it necessarily bigoted to claim that something is a choice when it isn't? It may be inaccurate, but...bigotry is when you start hating people for what they do, choice or not.

I honestly kinda hate the fact that the gay rights movement has always been so big on arguing that gay isn't a choice WITHOUT also saying, "and even if it WAS a choice, too bad!" We're supposed to be living in a society that protects liberty, which means freedom of choice. "It's a choice," should not be a freakin' condemnation and "I was born this way!" should not be a necessary part of anyone's right to do the shit that makes them happy.

There is a difference between wanting to live alone, as in to have one's own apartment or house with no roommates or live-in partners, and to not be in or pursue a relationship. IDGAF said he was the second, but Mr. Savage answered him as if he were the first. Lots of people who live alone do not share IDGAF's lack of desire for romantic relationships.

As for "we're all naturally nonmonogamous," that sounds like more BS from that pseudoscience Sex at Dawn book. Look, anyone can look at all the "evidence" about how early modern humans lived (which has more gaps than Swiss cheese) and say that they were wildly nonmonogamous, rigidly one-on-one, or that they chose sex partners based on games of Twister. Maybe one day we'll know how early modern humans did the deed and what it means for our lives, but we don't now.
@24 I think I can answer that. See, bigotry is hating people for who they are. It's always been more acceptable to disapprove of someone for something over which that person has control than for something over which that person does not have any control.

Saying "I'm gay because I was born that way/I am as God made me" allows people to sneak in a "so don't blame me for something in which I had no say/pity me for being at the whim of fate because I'd sooooo rather be just like you instead" which may be implied, inferred or entirely imagined by the listener.

But saying that polyamory is a choice requires people to say, if only to themselves, "I could conduct my love life some other way, but I've chosen polyamory because I just like it more/believe humans are built for it/other reason." It doesn't let people pass the buck to God/nature/whatever. They've got to carry it themselves.

Most people have done this a little. Haven't you ever said "I'm driving to work the long way because that's the right way to get there. Darn this traffic!" or "I won't show up exactly on time because that's rude; it's polite to be a little late." People imagine some universal law of driving/courtesy/gym etiquette that really exists only in their heads so that they can pretend that what they do isn't really the sole or nearly sole product of their own preferences.
I agree with Dan about the poly thing, and I'm poly.

Here's the thing. If we all fuck around (and all science shows that we basically do), and monogamy isn't natural, but a choice we make to resist our nature for the sake of other people (we call *that* society), then either monogamy is something we *do* or polyamory is something we *do*. Or both. Because Polyamory is as much resisting our nature for the sake of other people as monogamy is, just that we do it in a different way. The polyamorous nearly universally describe their relationships as *not* being the complete tossing aside of all rules and allowing a total free-for-all of cheating and screwing around.

But it's certainly not intrinsic nor a sexual orientation. That would be the total free-for-all of cheating and screwing around that most everyone would prefer, but avoid doing for the obvious reasons.
Interesting column today, Dan, since it revolves around things I can so clearly relate to. I'm in a poly marriage with Mr Perfect and he came with a full drawer of gear. I also think if I hadn't met him I'd very much liked to go solo for a few years - where I'm from it's really not that big a deal - there's Europe for you I guess ;)

About poly being a choice - yeah I'm also divided. I thrive in my marriage - I love being able to be all of me and not restraining my urges because of some traditional patterns made extinct long ago - but before my husband I would never have thought of poly as something I could choose (so much for being brought up a "good girl"). I've always treasured my freedom and this meets the best of both worlds... I can have my perfect mate and whichever other person that strikes my fancy ;) I don't know if poly is in my bones but I do love being poly.

As for the gears I'm with #8 - the penetrating things I would discard (and have discarded from my husbands stash) and replace with new toys but the bondage gear I was quite thrilled to find in his possesion. He knew his gear and what to do with it and I was eager to learn - I guess I'm not that squeamish about the history of his restraints.
I agree with @1, Dan. How is IDGAF a coward about openly realizing that he's a shitload happier staying single?

Hang in there, IDGAF, and stick to your guns. By reiterating your feelings often enough---and to your "Where are the !@&*ing GRANDKIDS?!?" crazed parents, too---everyone bugging you about coupling up will back off.
There's absolutely NOTHING wrong with you or your desire to remain unattached. Our society puts way too much emphasis (TV, movies, trashy fuck novels, high schools, colleges, media, advertising, etc., etc.) on couples, and has been doing so long before I was even born. The good news is---and we now have the national statistics to prove it---that while not everybody living alone is necessarily happy about going solo, there are increasing numbers of us--myself included---who ARE perfectly jiggy with it.
Marriage, having kids, and long-term live-in relationships aren't for everybody.
Oh yeah. Side note, & don't wanna threadjack..but, a year ago yesterday is when Memorex died, who used to comment here. This column & us finding each other here, as well as IRL, brought me some joy. So though it's not topical, around this time of year, I will always mention him here. Hopefully you all won't mind.

I miss you so much, Memorex. Jenn, your family - we all do. You were a brilliant friend & advocate for others' happiness. <3.

Annnnnd..*how to bring this on the subject* I b'lieve Memorex would *want us* to recycle our kinky gear. ;)

If all people are naturally non-monogamous, then how do you explain those folks for whom non-monogamy makes them consistently miserable? Are those people somehow broken, Dan? Perhaps there's nothing in particular about a monogamous person that a good dose of reparative therapy won't cure?

I think Hyacinth has a good point: that for some people, maintaining a monogamous relationship would make them as miserable, and would be living a lie as much as it would for a homosexual to closet himself and have a hetero marriage.

It's probably worth noting that Polyamorous Polymath, the original poster that sparked this debate, never used the word "orientation." (Unless Dan edited it out?) The word "orientation" came from Dan, not from the Letter Writer.

PP said "sexual identity," not "orientation." I think "sexual identity" is a much broader term. Say someone refers to themselves as "a kinkster." Isn't that effectively an identity that they apply to themselves? If you can be "a kinkster" or "a sub" or "a devotee" then you can be "a poly."

Sorry, Dan, I think you tripped over your own misattributed terminology on this one.
@32:" If all people are naturally non-monogamous, then how do you explain those folks for whom non-monogamy makes them consistently miserable? Are those people somehow broken, Dan? Perhaps there's nothing in particular about a monogamous person that a good dose of reparative therapy won't cure?"

This. This exactly. I deny no one the right to love (and fuck, and marry) whom and how they choose so long as everyone involved is a consenting adult (and that includes not dating/fucking/marrying at all). Personally, nonmonogamy would ruin me. I don't share. Period. I'm fortunate that my husband feels the same way.

My best friend is poly, his wife and girlfriend are poly, and more power to them. He never wants to go back to monogamy and I would never expect it of him if being poly makes him happy.

He's not broken and neither am I.
IDGAF's question is an old fashioned etiquette one, more likely seen on the old Ann Lander's desk or something asked of Miss Manners. Many a happily single 20-something young lady has had to fend off relatives from fixing her up with that nice man from the country club. The only difference here is that it's a man who doesn't want to be fixed up. There's no need to bring sex, orientation, asexuality, or statistics on people living alone into it.

The classic answer is to say "not right now." Then change the subject, preferably by asking for something that you DO want.

"Gosh Aunt Mable, she does sound nice, but I'm happy and don't want to meet anyone. I could use an introduction to your building manager you mentioned (older man) who might throw some construction business my way."

"No Grandad, I don't want to meet your golf buddy's granddaughter, but I haven't seen you for a while, and if you could get us tickets for the superbowl, I'd love to go with you."

You can ask for anything you want this way. You can ask for home baked cookies, ipods, job recommendations, new apartments, payments on student loans, trips abroad. That's not saying that your relatives will provide any of these things, but you'll have redirected their thinking, and if you do it often enough, they'll have to stop suggesting gifts that will benefit them because you always come back with something that will benefit you.

This is a neat trick because it leaves open the possibility that you'll change your mind. I'm not suggesting that you will or should, but it answers your questions about how to communicate that there's nothing wrong with you, and it answers what to do if you do change your mind.
I think monogamy or polygamy is a choice but I wouldn't call nonmonogamy the natural option of the two. It is my choice whether I have sex with one partner or more - I don't think it is necessarily a choice whether I do love more than one person enough for romantic relationship or not. Loving more than one person has nothing to do with with how many people I have sex. my mom is poly in the sense that she loves more than one person romantically but it was her choice to live in a monogamous relationship. I am poly and apart from a husband I have to partners I share love with but I only have sex with my husband. I do think under the right conditions (whatever that means to the individual) everyone is capable of polygamy or monogamy but everyone prefers on of the modells at any given time (and this preference can change) but how you feel love is not the same for all people and I think the way how you feel love influences which model you prefer and choose.
Regarding the mono/poly debate:

Let me first say that technically, polyamory is not a sexual orientation, as "sexual orientation" is defined as what sex you're attracted to. I'll therefore use the "sexual identity" phrase that avast2006 so helpfully described in post #32. For the purpose of this post I define "sexual identity" as "that which is integral for your sexual-romantic happiness, or that to which you find a strong preference for in a sexual-romantic setting." Sexual orientation, per this definition, is a part of ones sexual identity, but it also encompasses other aspects.

Whether polyamory is a choice or not depends on how you define polyamory. Obviously, if you define polyamory as the act of being polyamorous, of having multiple romantic partners, then polyamory is a choice. However, if you define polyamory as the desire, possibly emotional need, for multiple sexual-romantic partners, then polyamory does not become a choice, but a sexual identity. From my discussions with polyamorous people, I think that the latter definition is the more correct one.

Whether nonmonogamy is the "natural state norm" or not, it is important to remember that nonmonogamy does not equal polyamory*. Nonmonogamy is simply to have sexual relations with several people, while polyamory implies romantic relations with several people. With people defining themselves as polyamorous feeling a desire and need for several romantic partners, I have to come out of that debate on the "not a choice" side.

*I am myself nonmonogamous, but while I do desire (and have) multiple sexual partners, I do not have a desire for multiple romantic partners. I have one girlfriend, our love is enough for me, and my other sexual partners are non-romantic. Friends with benefits, if you like.
As a short continuation of my previous comment (#36), as well as a comment to GermanGirl @ #35, it might be helpful for the mono/poly debate to separate desire and practice - which I'd do by using mono/polyamory for the desire, and mono/polygamy (and andry) for the practice.
I think Dan's mostly right about poly being more a thing you do than a thing you are, and I've never heard of a poly bashing. However, there is one thing that polyamory has more in common with LGBT than BDSM and that's the question of legal recognition of relationships (I don't think any of the sane people into BDSM would argue that a slave contract is something that should be legally binding for real instead of something you could walk away from if you chose). For people who are poly with primary and secondary partners, the current system works just fine. However, for more balanced arrangements, there's only one person that gets the health insurance and visitation rights. I think legal acknowledgement of poly relationships could be potentially more complex than acknowledging same sex relationships, and given the genuine danger of the exploitation of young women by fundamentalists from traditionally polygamous religions, perhaps more problematic, but I can see facing the choice of deciding which of your equally loved male partners gets to come to your hospital beds should you get sick and feeling like you're in somewhat of the same boat as someone who's gay.
Why do polyamorous people need to call it a sexual orientation? No one (here) is claiming that you choose to be polyamorous - in fact most people agree that even people in monogomous relationships wind up developing feelings for others while in those relationships. Myself included. In fact, I can't remember a time when I wasn't mentally and physically attracted to several people. They all happened to want monogomous relationships, so I made choices ...

Just because a group of people think that sexual orientation should refer to the TYPE of person you are attracted to, doesn't mean you are being persecuted.

If we all call it a relationship orientation will that appease you?
@33 Not sharing, aka possessiveness, is learned. The fact that you were socialized to be possessive isn't relevant. The fact is, at some point in their lives, almost everyone has a romantic interest in more than one person.

Your friend isn't just polyamorous, he's polygamous. They made two different words for those things for a reason.
"People who live alone tend to be more social than people who are married,"

So true. I married for the first time at 58 and dropped most of my social activities. After three years, I'd still rather spend time with my wife (and have her undivided attention) than anyone else.

Note: 58 years single. Had a few live-ins, but made it clear to my parents when I was 8 years old that I would never have kids.
DRF @25: I would bet that if someone invented a time traveling recorder and went to check what 50 different groups of early modern humans did, they'd get 50 different answers. Some very different. Like culture, either derived from whatever had worked in the past (tradition) or reacting to new influences (like the California condors in a threesome for lack of mates), actually had a lot to do with anything people were doing.
@40: "Not sharing, aka possessiveness, is learned. The fact that you were socialized to be possessive isn't relevant."

Have you met any people? Small children? Dogs, even, discovering that the stick the other dog has is definitely the only good stick even if they're in a forest full of sticks? Possessiveness of all sorts of things is a very natural behavior.

The "what I enjoy is natural and correct, and any variation is based on people's hang-ups and inability to be logical like me" schtick is annoying from anyone. Including the polyamorous.
IDGAF, I don't feel that you're a coward, but I do agree with Dan's assessment that he needs to be more assertive. Make it clear in a calm and rational manner that you are where you want to be and that you'll entertain no more pressure (however well-meaning) from friends, family or colleagues, and if they still persist in pressuring you, then surround yourself with those who'll respect and honor your choices. In fact, start doing that now. Nothing bolsters self-esteem and confidence by being around those who get who you are and what you want, and whose own fulfillment comes from a healthy mix of encouraging your happiness and minding their own damn beeswax.
I agree strongly with Functional Atheist (@26)-- the fact that lots of people are nonmonogamous does not mean that everyone is.

I suspect it seems that way to Dan because his sample is very large-- hundreds and thousands of letters over many years-- but is also skewed towards people to whom a) sex is very important (important enough to write to a letters columnist) and b) sex is causing them some kind of problem they believe can be solved (which is more likely if you're one of the people for whom, for whatever reason, the "accepted" "mainstream" "traditional" way of doing things doesn't work, and c) are not very "traditional" anyway, because if they were, they'd be writing to Dear Abby. I believe that, in Dan's (admittedly very, very, large experience), almost no-one is naturally monogamous.

But that sample is skewed. There are people for whom monogamy simply works better-- not just because of their social conditioning, but because of how they're wired. I am not such a person, but I've had enough conversations with some to know that they do exist. And it's insulting and unhelpful to them to tell them they don't.

And sure, if you want to call it an "identity" rather than an "orientation," go ahead. If you want to note that polyamory is one very distinct form of nonmonagomy, chosen by the participants and different from other types of behavior (cheating, lusting after people but not acting on it, etc), like gromm (@28) said, go for it.

But it is really annoying to insist that in this one area (how many people you're attracted to) everyone is the same, even though we acknowledge a wide spectrum of different ways to be in just about every other area of sexuality.
IDGAF, I don't feel that you're a coward, but I do agree with Dan's assessment that you need to be more assertive.

Make it clear in a calm and rational manner that you are where you want to be and that you'll entertain no more pressure (however well-meaning) from friends, family or colleagues, and if they still persist in pressuring you, then surround yourself with those who'll respect and honor your choices.

In fact, start doing that now. Nothing bolsters self-esteem and confidence by being around those who get who you are and what you want, and whose own fulfillment comes from a healthy mix of encouraging your happiness, and minding their own damn beeswax.
Coward? That kind of name calling is just so weak. Find a new hobby Dan. Have you heard this new idea that people move at their own pace?
i may be the odd girl out, but i would think it's kind of hot to know that the toys have been used before - and i'd even like to hear about how they've been used. hot hot hot.
I agree that "sexual identity" is the more correct term. I recently had a long discussion with a friend of mine about why she was so happy pursuing relationships with several different men at once, I just didn't get it. My sexual identity is monogamous, I get sick when even considering DATING more than one person, let alone a relationship with two or more (and I mean I get stomach cramps, not that dating around or polyamory is "sick"). So turning that the other way, if someone feels sick about being with just one person - sexually or in a relationship sense - then mono- or polyamory would be an identity - but sexual orientation is pretty specifically about gender.

Then again, I've concluded that Kinsey was only partly right. Orientation is not a line, it's a color wheel encompassing gay/straight/trans*/*amory/etc. Any one person is not just one of these things, but all of them to greater or lesser degrees, blending in with each other to create a unique sexual identity.
Dan completely misunderstood the first letter (something he's been doing w/increasing frequency) -- this guy is simply asking for advice on how to deal with so-called "well-intentioned" people who harass him about it. I think he should just find a better class of people to interact with.
You guys are all assuming that 'naturally nonmonogamous' means that everyone wants to screw as many people as possible at all times. I believe when Dan uses the phrase he means that our minds and libidos are not irreparably attached to one partner for all time. You don't have to be having sex with more than one person to be non monogomous by nature, you just have to look at a passerby and think they look hot.

But more importantly, all this slicing and dicing of words is pointless pedantry. It's an advice column in a weird newspaper not a contract with the devil.
@42 I agree. As late as the 1800s, there was one group of tribal people who were strictly monogamous. Instances of cheating met with violent responses from individuals of both genders. That must be the natural way humans lived, right? Only, wait, the Mojave Indians who live right near them were at that time highly sexually permissive and breakups and rearrangements were common, hm... Early modern humans may indeed have been as diverse in their sexuality as modern modern humans.

@39 Yes, lots of us are claiming that people choose to be polyamorous.

My husband has some light bondage gear, had it when I met him - it never freaked me out. Like you yourself have pointed out, Dan, BDSM is now so far out of the closet that it's almost vanilla. :D
My favorite response to when people ask me when i'm getting married is "And who do you think I should get married to?" Then point out the prospective people (mainly by piling on their flaws) and cock my head to the side and stare at them.
My favorite thing to do when people ask me when i'm getting married is to ask "to whom?" and then list all the prospective partners (normally identifying them by their glaring issues) and then cock my head to the side and wait for their response.
I realized the best way to explain that being poly is who I am:

If polyamory or being with more than one person at the same time were outlawed with heavy prison sentences, I'd be unable to refrain from doing it anyway.

Maybe if there was the death penalty for it. Not sure though.
I see all the arguments differentiating poly/monogamous and how that differs from being gay/straight/whatever and the whole orientation/identity thing - although my mind is spinning so much at the moment that I cannot tell you which is which. That said, however, I am old enough to remember a time when gay was considered a choice by most people and it was not a choice that many gay people felt socially empowered to act on and had to keep closetted instead. Dan's comments from last week and this week simply take me back to a much earlier way of viewing the world. That doesn't make him a bigot by any means. However, just as African-Americans should think before saying the LGBT community's blues are not the same as theirs, the LGBT community should consider long and hard before telling polies that our issues are not like theirs.
I don't really get why the penetrative toys need to go. Both my girlfriends have cocks that really get them off. They used them with other people before me. As they currently date other people, I assume they use their favorites with their other partners as well.

That shit's expensive. Clean it really well; you don't have to replace. Besides, isn't trashing stuff like that bad for the environment? Reduce-reuse-recycle!
So ... let me get this straight.

If I'm a straight boy, I enjoy having sex with a girl, but find the prospect of having sex with another boy unappetizing.

If I'm a straight poly boy, I cannot enjoy having sex with a girl, unless I know that I can have sex with other girls. And the idea of having sex with said girl, knowing that I will not have sex with other girls at some time in the near future, is a unappetizing as sucking a dick.

Is that about it?
Thomas @35/36 has got the best nuances of this poly debate, methinks.
If I remember correctly, Dan has prefaced his "people are naturally nonmonogamous" statements in the past with the idea that TRUE monogamy, would be considered staying with the first person you went out with for the rest of your life. If you've dated multiple people at separate times (aka serial monogamy) you wouldn't fall into that definition.
Also, as others have pointed out, being attracted to someone other than your partner, even if you don't act on it, adds to that theory. If you were naturally monogamous, once you paired up,your ability to notice the gender(s) you are attracted to would cease to exist. Looked upon that way, its understandable why he would consider nonmonogamy natural.

While I would consider myself with more poly leanings, I don't consider poly to be an orientation. Even poly people are able to have a relationship with just one person and have it be good. That doesn't mean other relationships aren't allowed, it just is what it is at that point in time. I'm sure there are a couple people who've done it this way, but most poly people I know don't ONLY start relationships if they can start 2 or more at once.
@51 (drjones) said: "You guys are all assuming that 'naturally nonmonogamous' means that everyone wants to screw as many people as possible at all times. I believe when Dan uses the phrase he means that our minds and libidos are not irreparably attached to one partner for all time. You don't have to be having sex with more than one person to be non monogomous by nature, you just have to look at a passerby and think they look hot."

But the thing is, I know people who don't do that. Who look at passersby without the passersby's hotness even occurring to them.

My favorite example: I was at an anime convention with some friends, including one monogamous straight guy, who was there with his wife. A smoking hot girl walked by wearing a Pikachu-fur bikini, with a sign that designated her a Pokemon hunter, and an elaborately-designed glaive (that's a pole-arm). We all (including his wife, who's kinda bi) turned to stare at the girl as we went by. My friend said, "Wow... nice glaive!"

But the thing is, he was really confused when we all started laughing, because he wasn't kidding. He genuinely wasn't attracted to the girl-- didn't even notice her as "person who is sexy" rather than "person who made a cool prop weapon." And he's always like that-- it's not just that he didn't find that particular person attractive. Attraction, for him, is unidirectional, and it's always aimed towards his wife.

Now, like I said, I don't work this way, and I don't think the majority of people do. But some do, and I wish Dan (and everyone else here) would stop saying that they don't.
I remember about 35 years ago, Ann Landers printed a letter from a woman who was upset because her son & his wife announced that they would not be having children. The woman couldn't understand how they could be so "selfish" as to not give her grandchildren.

Ann's response was "I cannot imagine a more personal decision than whether or not to have children. It's their business, not yours. If you crave consistent interaction with young children, look into associations and volunteer groups that could certainly benefit from your time."

Definitely an early snap!
@60, I agree that Hyacinth's postings sound like what you're proposing -- that sex would be unappealing if he didn't already know the next person he'd be screwing.

But I think KateRose @62 gets it right, at least for most poly people:

"Poly people are able to have a relationship with just one person and have it be good. That doesn't mean other relationships aren't allowed, it just is what it is at that point in time...most poly people I know don't ONLY start relationships if they can start 2 or more at once."

I bet that even Hyacinth is open to the idea of having a relationship with just one person, as long as the possibility of finding another partner isn't ruled out. Am I right, Hyacinth?
@51: "You don't have to be having sex with more than one person to be non monogomous by nature, you just have to look at a passerby and think they look hot."

That is to place a random glance at a stranger on the street on the same level of significance as a committed marriage of multiple decades' duration. I hope it is self evident how ridiculous that is.
@60: "Is that about it?"

No, that isn't.

@65: That's not how I read what Hyacinth was saying. There's a huge difference between not being able to enjoy one particular sex act with an otherwise compatible sexual partner, versus discovering over the long term that being with that person is limiting you in ways that make you miserable.
@65: I completely agree with you.

I was trying to point out the absurdity of some of the arguments that some of the poly folks are making here and elsewhere.

I grow weary.
@56: Here's the issue, though. "Being with multiple people" is a behavior, and it's a behavior that requires buy-in from others (unless you're a rapist, but I'm going to assume you're not). Making a statement like, "I can't not be concurrently sexually involved with multiple people over the course of a given time frame," (you didn't make this exact statement, and perhaps it isn't your intended implication, but that's how many people interpret the assertion that polyamory is an "orientation") is patently absurd because at some point in your life this has been the case or could be the case (I guess it's possible that you've been sexually active with multiple concurrent partners since birth and will continue to be until death, though that strikes me as extraordinarily unlikely). Behavior cannot define an orientation; desire can (this is why there can be gay virgins - it's not fucking someone of the 'same' 'sex' - or gender, as trans politics have contested existing formulations of categories of sexual orientation - that makes one gay, it's wanting to engage in sexual activity with only people of the 'same' 'sex').

Where we get into tricky territory with polyamory as a sexual identity is that, as Dan points out, a LOT more people desire concurrent sexual relationships with multiple partners than identify as polyamorous (or actually act on those desires). Perhaps you would still describe those people (Most people? Dan's wrong that it's everyone; I, for example, have never desired concurrent sexual relationships with multiple partners, and there are asexual people who don't desire sexual relationships at all) as polyamorous, but just closeted or engaged in self-denial.

I see the problem as one of essentializing descriptive categories on the part of both the poly and non-poly: it shouldn't matter whether polyamory is an "orientation" or "natural" or whatever because there's nothing wrong with it in the first place, but because it's both culturally maligned and because essentialized categorizations are granted cultural privilege (hence the logically-untenable "born this way" argument in favor of any number of non-normative expressions of sex/gender/sexuality), positing polyamory as an essentialized characteristic is an expedient way to demand recognition of its legitimacy. I argue that the better path is to simply assert that it doesn't matter because there's nothing wrong with polyamory (or homosexuality, or bisexuality, or asexuality, or gender non-conformity, or gender transition, or sex transition, or any of thousands of other sexual or gender behaviors/identities/presentations/orientations/self-conceptions/performativities/etc.) because it doesn't hurt anyone, and leave it at that.

Hitching activism for social/legal acceptance to problematic theoretical formulations (especially when one lacks the necessary background in studies and formulations of sex, gender, sexuality, etc., as a lack of historical and transcultural knowledge will tend to lead one to incorrectly universalize one's own experiences and understandings) is ultimately counter-productive, as a challenge to the theoretical basis used to argue for legitimacy serves to undermine the legitimacy. I think it's actively desirable to have people share their own perspectives and experiences, but those without the necessary study/training (this doesn't necessarily have to come from a formal educational institution, but it does have to be systematic and extensive enough to establish a knowledge base from which one can make informed commentary/theorizing and mitigate positional bias) should refrain from asserting generalities or universals. Experiencing gender/sexuality on a daily basis does not qualify one to comment on gender/sexuality as cultural systems. By way of analogy, the fact that we are all made up of and encounter subatomic particles on a daily basis doesn't qualify those of us without extensive training in particle physics to intelligently comment on models for the behavior of subatomic particles. Why people think that this is different when it comes to social systems instead of physical systems is beyond me (granted, plenty of people think training in 'theology' DOES qualify one to make legitimate assertions about the nature of reality, so this problem does exist in the reverse case as well).

Basically, Hyacinth, I think your perspective and experiences are entirely legitimate as far as your own experience is concerned - I don't doubt that you experience polyamory as something essential to you identity/sense of self, and I agree that the cultural and legal marginalization of polyamory is bad - but you're creating issues in trying to posit models to describe the interaction of cultural systems with or the effect of cultural systems on your personal experience. Demands that carefully-constructed jargon be altered to encompass something it was never intended to describe are generally going to be met with hostility by people familiar with the field in question.
I think the problem with describing poly even as a sexual identity is that everyone sets up their own rules of their relationships. Let me give an example.

I'm a bi girl in a relationship with a straight guy. He's monogamous- doesn't really want anyone but me, to screw or with whom to have a relationship. He has no problem with me having sex with girls though, but he draws a line at an actual relationship. So I start looking for someone to be my FWB- maybe a couple dates a month or something, you know? I wouldn't see them more often than I'd see most of my friends.

So I meet someone- a genderqueer person who's in a relationship with an asexual genderqueer person. They're both "poly", but only looking for secondary partners. What does a secondary partner look like to them? Someone they might see and have fun with every other weekend or so, no more often than that.

The fact that as far as I can tell, we are looking for the exact same arrangement, and yet I think of mine as non-monogamous and they think of theirs as poly makes me dubious that poly is even a defined enough thing to be a sexual identity. The fact is, polyamory and monogamy are extremely ill-defined because everyone makes up their own rules and defines it for themselves. I wouldn't call a couple who has threesomes and no other outside sexual contact "poly". Maybe they wouldn't be monogamous, but I don't think they're having threesomes to fall in love most of the time, you know?

Straight people are attracted to opposite-gendered people. Gay people are attracted to same-gendered people. Bi people are attracted to both same and opposite-gendered people. The only nuances to these definitions, really, are where non-binary-gendered people fit in. Poly vs. monogamy, though? If your poly doesn't look anything like your friend's poly, are you actually "wired" for the same thing, or are they different things? I would argue that a monogamous person has a helluva lot more in common with a poly person with the primary-secondaries model than the "everyone's equal" model or the "tribe" model.

All that said, I still don't think people should be bigoted about people's choices. Religion is a choice, and while it might upset your mother if you decide not to believe in God or to convert to something you weren't raised with, she should still respect your choice. Your preference for poly can absolutely be part of your sexual identity, just like all the other things that you for certain want in your sex/love life.
@60 - this is my experience, exactly. not that i can't only have one lover for a while, if that's the way the chips fall. (although to be honest, it makes me increasingly uncomfortable...) but that my sexual desire is either on, or off. and if that sexual relationship is closed off, i cannot get turned on. same goes for emotional openness and connection.
i define it as a 'relationship orientation' because my experience of it is so similar to the gay/straight/bi thing. when i tried to not be into girls, i found that i lost all sexual interest - and function. if i try to not be poly, i lose all sexual interest, and become emotionally shut-down from everyone. my discovery of the word poly is recent - just in the last ten years or so. but for my whole life, it's just been the only way it works. it definitely feels hard wired to me.

On the poly thread, Dan, I think a key component of understanding this question is the context in which died-in-the-wool (if you will) polyamorists live out their poly lives while to at least some degree swimming against the larger mainstream cultural tide. You know, of course, what that's like. Trusting in ourselves and our own sense of who we are and what is right for us, without shame or apology, becomes an essential component in withstanding the blow-back we get from people whose esteem we care about and whose tolerance, if not acceptance, we value. That sense of identity becomes the bedrock upon which we can build a life that will withstand the external cultural challenges we sometimes encounter. As I am fond of saying, polyamory ain't for sissies. These challenges take the form of drama and rejection by one's family of origin, the loss of friends who don't approve, loss of a job because the boss starts to question our judgment, or loss of child custody due to false assumptions by family court judges.

As you point out and as Chris Ryan and Cacilda Jetha well demonstrate in Sex at Dawn, humans are naturally non-monogamous - of course! But over the centuries religious authorities' literal crusade to force people to conform to monogamy became a very effective barrier to patterns of relationship openness and non-monogamies of all kinds. Still today, living a life of integrity as a polyamorist requires a significant amount of swimming against the tide, and that's putting it mildly.

So with that perspective in mind, you asked:

" poly something anyone can do ...?"

Yes. Or at least, the majority can if they want it, but not quite everyone. In my experience, those who want it enough and who are committed to doing the work necessary to live comfortably outside the societal relationship box and make the transition from monogamy to polyamory absolutely can do it. The exceptions are those who have significant self-esteem and/or abandonment issues. Likewise as to those who lack self-awareness, live in denial, and don't own their own feelings. It's also essential that we learn good communication skills. Mental illnesses, anxiety disorders, depression, malignant narcissism, and oppositional personality disorders are generally prohibitive. Otherwise, anyone who is reasonably well adjusted, open to new experiences and personal growth, and those who are committed to the process can do it, whether by simple choice or as an aspect of identity.

Monogamy creates for many a desired sense of security. Becoming good at polyamory almost always requires giving that up in order to stretch, grow and challenge internalized cultural messaging. Failing to do this as to what is and is not ethically and morally acceptable is not an option if we are to reach a safe and secure comfort level with sharing with others our loved one's heart, time and attention. A fair number of people find that the transition is more difficult than they imagined and tend to be those for whom a poly life is a choice. They don't have that sense of identity that others find the need to fulfill. No problem!

"... or is it something some people are."

Yes. Or at least it is for many of us. You've heard from quite a few people who feel a strong sense that this is exactly who they are. It seems that like so many debates about complicated, emotionally charged subjects, the answers are not found in the black or the white but are instead found in the gray area. Some of us are doing it because we like it but could live without it in order to gain something else of value. Others can't imagine being any other way and make sure to choose partners who share their perspective.

Thanks for discussing this and for considering all the feedback.

Anita Wagner Illig

I feel sort of like I've been punched in the stomach.

No, really, sort of... out of it... and sick.

I only have one partner right now. If he were the only person left in the world, I'd still adore him and want him and feel blissy during sex. And I'd still be poly.

I'm not really sure what to say.
@65 was what I meant, not @60

I'm sorry.
Also, I'm a girl.

I am not capable of monogamy. I'd die first.
You people write like I'm not even a feeling person.
@ hyacinth - it's ok. it's not just you. and you're not even odd, just maybe unusual in your current cultural context.
Thanks sappho, I'm sorry, I'm too sensitive anyway...
I can't even believe normally open people are cruel enough to call it "screwing" when what me being poly means is that I love more than one person.

Screwing is nice. But it's mean and unkind to call love screwing.

I guess I'm a kid or something, being sad when people are unkind.
I'm just sitting here sobbing my eyes out about how even the people here think I'm shitty for being poly.

I need to stop reading Savage. I only started reading Savage Love a couple months ago. I need to just read my own brain, and books, but not advice columnists.
well, it's a sensitive topic.
and my experience is that when i have only one lover, even though there are always more 'partners'/people in our family... i feel invisible, and defensive. a lot like that feeling of 'oh my gods people might think i'm straight'... which makes me reactive.
not saying that's what's going on, just that i always feel more vulnerable in that space.
i know that sick feeling, too. step away from the forums, doll. go get a cup of tea.
Hyacinth @73 etc:

The person to whom you're responding in 65 is in an open marriage, with both partners having outside secondaries. Maybe, just maybe, the language you are choosing is not coming across the way you intend?
not everyone is shitty here, there are a few intelligent thinkers. but there are huge cultural assumptions going on, and most of the posters are american(from what i can tell) which makes sense... but, there is more than one way to skin a cat, and many of the things taken for 'normal' in these forums make the 'real' people i know go 'what?' 'what?!' 'how crazy is that!!'
so... i only came here in the first place, to try to understand if the woman one of our family was hanging out with, was really psycho, or just american / cultural gap. now i think it was a bit of both.

You must be right.

I am an extraordinarily sensitive person but not necessarily the best at phrasing things.
A couple of points:

1) Sex at Dawn has not proven humans are, by nature, non-monogamous. It's generalizations about early human behavior are speculative. But more importantly, it mistakenly equates early human behavior with "natural behavior", as if early humans acted on nothing but instinct.

Humans have been extremely complex, adaptive, and flexible for as long as they've had a neo-cortex. Early humans used their intelligence to adapt to the widely different conditions they faced, just as we do today. Their behavior is no more a marker of "The Natural Human" than ours.

A little thought experiment - what if we discovered that beating women and killing homosexuals was commonplace among early humans (as may well have been the case)? Would you conclude that wife-beating and gay-bashing are the natural order of things?

2) People with personality disorders don't do especially well in monogamous relationships, either. And, from what I've seen, a certain degree of narcissism and/or histrionicism is, for some people (not all), what makes poly a "natural" choice for them. They need more attention and adoration than one partner can provide.
@34 a BIG – BIG – BIG thank you for your posting and "why didn't I think about that sooner??!!” I am constantly being bombarded with questions about a career decision 8 years ago. I’m always getting β€œwhen do you plan to start something new?” and guys will you please just let it go.
I am very sorry that I messed up your gender, and that that I wrote with a tone which gave you pain. Sometimes I say things bluntly because I feel that it makes it easier to see what people mean. Your post at 73 did help me understand you a lot more. But I'm very sorry that I wasn't able to find a way to generate that explanation from you without poking you with my stick. Hope your evening improves from here on in.
LW1 sounds like a straight-up sociopath to me.
@88 "generate" should be "elicit."

Also, thanks, IPJ. You're sweet to keep track of the ins and outs of my life :-)
Seems to me that whether we call nonmonogamy an "orientation" or a "choice" doesn't change the fact that monogamy ain't easy, and some folks seem to be wired to be better at it than others... The important thing is for folks to recognize that everybody has a right to their lifestyle, whether they see it as a choice, an orientation, or a bit of both...
seandr@85: Wild applause on the sex at dawn stuff.

erica@90: I like your posts.

On sean's 2nd point, my anecdotal impression of poly people through Savage Love letters/comments is that some (not all) find the increased potential for relationship drama of 3 relationships (AB, AC, and BC, rather than just AB) to be a draw. For those of us who identify as monogamous, this usually sounds like a disincentive, not an exciting bonus. (And some people, like I'm guessing Sappho, seem to find poly provides less drama.)
A teenager isn't sure of what he wants and it initiates this kind of a discussion? So what he doesn't want to be with anyone right now. And maybe he never will will. AND THAT'S OK. Maybe he will someday. AND THAT'D OK TOO. But for right now, given what we know about his post, I can only respond with, so what?
@34 Crinoline: Excellent points for IDGAF in how to respond to people pressuring him about " meeting a nice girl, settling down, getting married, and having kids".
Great idea about twisting their nosy questions into further asserting HIS needs and wants! Kudos! I wish I'd thought of that.
@65 & @90 EricaP: Hey--how are you?? Haven't heard from you in a while!
@EricaP, a large part of the issue was that I very badly needed a nap...

Now I've had one! And I'm awake and energetic and happy. But I do deeply appreciate your thoughtfulness in responding to my disgruntled comments here.
@Hyacinth, yay naps!

@auntie grizelda, I'm still here reading, just posting less. And I still hate the Smitten Kitten meat dildo at the top of the page :-)
Not really relevant to the question, but IDGAF should check out the song "Single By Choice" by The Bangles from the album Doll Revolution.
Adding my voice to the fray, I'm another for whom sexuality is on or off, kind of globally. When I'm not allowed to act poly by falling for people and continuing my long term other relationship, I shut down. My wife notices. And, awesome woman that she is, she helps me keep my relationships afloat. We all win.

I should mention I've always been this way. I've always loved many people. Only now, with a strongly supportive spouse, do I know how to live this life safely, but I made enough unsafe choices in the past.

I don't care what words people use. This is who I am and what brings me joy. Asking me to be monogamous shuts me down and takes something from me.

Thank god my wife sees that in me more than some readers here seem to feel is possible or appropriate. To her and to me, this is an identity... and in our shared life, that's enough.
@IPJ: Thank you! Happy to know at least one person read it, let alone appreciated it.
@98 EricaP: I agree: I'm not a Smitten Kitten meat dildo fan, either. :-)
@84: You and me both!
"And I still hate the Smitten Kitten meat dildo at the top of the page"


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