Polysexuality

Last week, I was having a drink at Serafina and talking about sex with an interesting acquaintance of mine. Like me, he has a primary partner and like me, he has sex with people other than his primary partner. But when I used the word "polyamory," he shook his head. "Amour--love--doesn't enter into it. I care about my secondary partners, but I'm not in love with them."

His remark started me thinking. On one hand, I think you can get too bogged down in semantic hair-splitting. I mean, where exactly is the line between "caring about" people and loving them? But I agree that there is a big difference between loving someone and being in love with someone.

A few days later, I had dinner with someone we'll call the Other Guy. I met Other Guy about a year ago, and since then we've moved from significant stares during otherwise-innocent conversations, to trading flirtatious e-mails, to leading questions over lunch. So when he asked if I wanted to go sit in his hot tub--that venerable standby of erotic possibility--I said yes.

We're not in love with each other, though, and while it's always risky to predict the future, I feel rather sure we're not going to be. I'm very much in love with Max, and I don't think I'm open to falling in love with anyone else. But I like Other Guy, and I definitely liked having sex with him. So, am I really polyamorous, or am I simply polysexual? And what does that mean if I am?

I'm hoping to explore questions like these at a sexuality and relationships conference that's happening next month. It's called Building Bridges 2003 and it's put on by an outfit called the Institute for 21st Century Relationships. The website suggests that the conference would interest "polyamorists, swingers, GLBT people, leather community participants, and persons choosing to cohabit without legally marrying." It goes on to say that it will "meet your need for information, techniques, and ideas that will make it easier to explore and practice intimate relationships of your choice, whatever form they take."

I'm thinking Max and I will be there, because I think we're both feeling ready for some new concepts and language about our sexual lives. Splashing around in a hot tub with Other Guy was an excellent reminder that sexual self-awareness is like a shark: It can't stop moving, or it dies.

Building Bridges runs Fri-Sun Oct 17-19. For more information, see www.lovethatworks.org.

matisse@thestranger.com