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Polyamorous Foundations

“I realized what I thought were just crushes on my friends… resonated with the polyamory community too.”

. . .

Sex ed growing up? “oh ho ho shit. So inadequate” says Wren. Promptly after asking for their sex education background Wren recounted sitting through a fifth-grade sex ed day in which the teachers separated kids by gender. This wasn’t Wren’s first experience though; in high school, it was the same “typical heteronormative cis sex education”. Awful and completely focused on abstinence.” Wren, a researcher, surfer, and chill ass Virgo, sat down with me to discuss a little bit about their experiences with sex and life in general. Wren describes themself as a problem solver. Wren is passionate about helping people be their full and amazing selves. As a full time, scientist, Wren notes that they apply their problem-solving skills not only to work but relationships, identity struggles, and self-love practices too. Not only does Wren want to do the work to bridge the gap between neuroscience and mental health work, but they emphasize that nurturing of identities is a big part of this holistic bridging. This week we ride the wave into non monogamy and polyamory, while learning how this wholesome individual creates space for their individuality on a day to day. 

. . .

1. How do you define your sexuality?

I identify as queer. If I were to break that down because I use that as an umbrella term, I would say romantically I am demisexual, not super hardcore. That label just helps me talk to partners about it or people I’m interested in or even friends on how I approach relationships. Romantic and emotional connection first and then I’ll have that physical attraction later. In terms of attraction, I’m attracted to more feminine energy, but it doesn’t matter the gender of the person at all. I am currently in a monogamous relationship, but I have been exploring non-monogamy and polyamory for the last year. 

2.               How did you come to define your sexuality?

Through, you know, how things are for queer people sometimes. You realize, ‘I’m feeling a little bit of rub against how society has told me this is what love looks like, or how attraction should feel like’. I felt a rub that would cause me discomfort and as a problem solver at heart, I would go online and research to try to understand my sexuality. That was kind of the first hurdle I had to come to terms within high school. Then in college, I realized my identity was not cis which was difficult too. Now that I had a lot of freedom to explore myself within my relationship, I realized what I thought were just crushes on my friends, or certain feelings about it resonated with the non-monogamy and polyamory community too. Now I’ve been able to have difficult but healthy conversations with partner(s) and friends. 

3.               How do you define your gender? How did you come to define your gender?

Just within the last year, I started to identify as nonbinary.  My gender expression has always leaned to sporty but once I got the freedom of not living with my parents, and I had a supportive partner, I started to resonate with more masc expressions. In terms of my identity, I started to question certain words or descriptions that felt uncomfortable to me. Quotes like “Hey, ladies’ ‘ and “Let’s go, girls” made me feel othered. I never grew up and pictured myself as a woman or in dresses, not that those things are what make you women, but I have always been confused about that. When one of my friends came out as nonbinary, I was taken aback and I had internalized transphobia, and working through that allowed me to come to terms with and explore my own identity. Now, I am micro dosing testosterone and battling insurance to get top surgery. 

4.               What did your virginity mean to you, if anything?

I was born and raised catholic. I was not attracted physically to my first two boyfriends. They were both catholic, so I thought, “this is great. We don’t really have to do stuff. I don’t want to do that stuff anyways.” It was something of a safety net to not have to lose my virginity. Although, I never thought that if I had sex, I would feel guilty or anything. I have always been of the mind that if you love someone, it’s okay. 

Specifically, virginity to me, used to mean having contact with genitals but I’ve expanded that for myself. Now, virginity to me means having any form of sex, not just penetrative sex. I think sex can be a feeling or whatever the folks involved want to identify it as.

I would say though, that I do have trouble with sex even now, and it totally plays into why I identify as demisexual. I feel like I can’t be vulnerable in sex and that really reduces my ability to receive, be pleased, or find pleasure during sex. I have to be very comfortable and vulnerable with my partner(s) and I think that has to do with Catholicism or maybe the feelings of shame that have gone unaddressed. 

5.               Were you influenced by family, religion, or other things that limited your sexuality/gender/ or expression of sex?

I was influenced by everything. I would like to say I haven’t been and I always like to say that I’m my own person, but it’s so apparent to me that how I go about sex right now has been such a journey. It’s still going to be a journey. That journey has mostly been stripping off what society has told me sex is or should be.

6.               What is one thing you wish you’d known sooner?

I wish I knew that being attracted to more than one person at one time or being attracted to people of any gender is okay. 

7.               What is one nonsexual thing you find sexual?

I think that tattoos are really sexy. Depending on the tattoos if they’re aesthetically pleasing, I really like them. 

8.               What is an interesting sexual experience you’ve had (whether alone or not), that you’d like to talk about?

I want to talk about what I mentioned earlier. Sex is so much more than just your genitals. One time with my partner, I had been pleasing her for a bit. She had cum, and as I was holding her I felt an electricity pass between us. So, I started rubbing her back and she climaxed and came again with me just rubbing her back. 

9.               What do you wish you knew more about sex?

I wish. Well, there’s lots of things. I wish I knew more about having sex with folks that are trans or use hormones or are intersex. You know people that don’t necessarily have the genitals we’ve learned. I also want to learn more about having sex without using genitals.

10.            Is there anything you do that you feel is different from the norm?

If the norm is cis sex, I’m already trans and I am with a lesbian, so there’s that. Beyond that I guess what’s different than the norm  is constant communication and checking in. Whether it comes to romance, sex, to relationships always checking and understanding how your partner is feeling. I put my partner first when I’m pleasing her and keeping in mind it’s for her. Obviously, I keep myself in mind too, but it’s about not being at all selfish. I feel like the norm is like ‘what I’m getting out of it?’ 

11.            Do you think your sex falls within the heteronormative, why, or why not?

Nope. Definitely, not. 

12.            How do you care for yourself whether before, during, or after sex? 

This ties into a lot of the communication thing. Communication with your partner and the self. Whether checking in if I’m in the mood for this or not. What I usually ask myself is “am I open to sex or do I desire sex.” Lately with all the stress in the outside world I am more in the “open to sex category” and we check in with each other throughout. 

Afterwards just being with my partner and also reflecting for myself. 

I also want to say that people should know it’s okay if you’re well-seasoned. You don’t have to take a shower before sex. In a society, in general, you’re taught that you have to be clean and you can’t taste like anything or whatever before you have sex, but it’s okay. 

13.            Is there any advice you’d give to others?

I would say sex is supposed to be an enjoyable experience. You should empower yourself with as much information and communication as possible between you and your partner. Info about safe sex and what pleases you. Empower yourself to communicate those things with whoever you choose to have sex with. 

14.            Have you ever had sex for items, money, etc? 

No, I have not. 

. . .

So, what is polyamory? The short answer is a non-monogamous style relationship, but that short answer is just never quite enough. We can investigate what polyamory means by dissecting the root words and defining the Greek word “poly” as many and the Latin word “Amory” for love. Or we can take a deeper dive and do the actual work to understand what polyamory really means. 

Guess which one I am going to do here today?  

You guessed it. Polyamory is often defined differently by each person but always surrounds the same foundational values: expansive love, ethics, consent, and sometimes includes more than two partners. The reason for the distinction on “sometimes” versus always including more than two is because lots of folks who identify as polyamory may be in a relationship structure that is seen as monogamous or have the potential to be non-monogamous but they may not fully engage with those partners. This can look like person A from the AB couple dating multiple people and person B being open to interactions with the people person A is dating but never engaging. This “sometimes” also includes folks who are solo polyamorous. 

Now, to discuss the foundational values of polyamory. In many polyamory spaces the term of “expansive love” is used to describe how polyamorous folks feel. The distinction between expansive and exhaustive is important to the foundation because it integrates the idea that love for one cannot take away love from another. Society sees this form of normalized expansive love when discussing a parent with multiple children. Their love for one of their kids does not take away their ability to love another kid so why is it that this logic is only seen as applicable in polyamorous spaces?

One word, jealousy. Rooted into our society, by white supremacy, is the idea that we must always be in competition in order to succeed. Whether discussing race relations, class hierarchies, job access, or even relationships, we have been ingrained with the idea that jealousy is a proactive incentive. Well I’m here to tell you why that’s wrong.

Have you ever heard some amazing news from a friend or family member in which they told you they finally got that job, item, or skill they always wanted to achieve? Think back & really visualize when the moment they told you. How did you react? 

Chances are you were happy. With how much that person means to you, the thought of them succeeding at something they love really put a smile on your face. 

That feeling is often termed “compersion.” Compersion is used as a way to describe this joyous feeling, this feeling of selfless happiness for another person. And that is what polyamorous individuals say they feel when their partners love other folks too. Although not an official word in English, polyamorous spaces and researchers have been using this word as a translation for such feelings identified in French and Spanish. Researchers have been fighting to integrate this word into dictionaries because as scientific researcher, Marie Thouin, puts it “once the word gets integrated into the collective psyche, it facilitates the experiences itself of the emotion” (Multiamory).

Of course, polyamorous folks are not explicitly and perfectly non-jealous, but I will argue that compersion has been integrated into the polyamorous psyches, allowing polyamorous folk to really work towards achieving more compersion. Though, this achievement is not one that comes easy. 

To go back to the foundations– as I stated above, polyamory depends on consent and ethics as well as this expansive love. One may be able to achieve the feeling of loving many at once but creating a safe, consensual, and ethical space to practice this all is where the harder work comes in. One thing’s for sure, polyamory is never going to be easy to achieve. You must be prepared for the fun and the tough conversations. For all the pleasure and the awkward miscommunication (they are inevitable). For the weekly nights of self-check ins, relationship evaluations, and mononormative challenges imposed by society. Most importantly, you must understand consent whether it looks like your partner(s) being accepting or not. Not everyone can handle the work and stress it takes to be polyamorous, but you can ground yourself in consensual and strong ethics so that you are at your best for those conversations. 

Although it is a common misconception that polyamorous folks are cheaters or can’t settle, this is not true. All polyamorous folk share different experiences, relationship set ups, and some even chose to settle down with their partner(s) too!

So, if you need some, here are some of my favorite resources:

One resource I’ve found quite helpful is that of PolyLand. This website provides several articles, but my favorite so far is the extensive list of polyamory discussion questions (HERE). This list has 25 chapters of discussion questions that you can go over with your partner(s) to identify your value, strengths, and things to work on. The list of questions dives deeper into how you view polyamorous relationships and how much room you are making for growth. 

I LOVE IT!

If you like podcasts, Multiamory is right up your ally. They have over 280 podcast episodes, all about polyamory and its intricacies. They can be found on Spotify, iTunes, and several other players. They also have a website where you can learn more (HERE).

Also recommended is Polyamory Weekly. This podcast is also available on several platforms, with over 500 episodes, and is sex positive! Learn more here.

If you are in the process of finding a couples or individual therapist you can use this site. Polyamorous friendly therapists and counselors are listed in several locations and chances are you can find an amazing one within your budget. There are also several other polyamorous friendly health professionals such as chiropractors, body workers, and family and childbirth specialists listed too. 

Below is a list I’ve recommended and compiled but have not engaged with much. As always, be safe & think intersectionally when engaging with them. 

. . .

Readings: 

The Ethical Slut – https://amzn.to/2SQ7NSa

More Than Two – https://amzn.to/2Yz4Zht

Sex at Dawn – https://amzn.to/313Uosu

Christianity & Polyamory – https://join.queertheology.com/polyam…

The Game Changer: A Memoir of Disruptive Love by Franklin Veaux http://amzn.to/1TvzABq  

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships  by Tristan Taormino http://amzn.to/1SNYVtp 

The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families by Elisabeth Sheff http://amzn.to/21eIc2l 

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein http://amzn.to/1SNZ67Z 

Videos/Podcasts:

http://www.youtube.com/thepolyamoryvlogshow

Online Dating Sites:

www.okcupid.com (has nonmonogamy option)

www.polyamorydate.com

www.beyondtwo.com 

Websites:

http://www.morethantwo.com

http://www.polyamorytoday.com

http://www.polyinfo.org

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The Ugly Truth — TW & CW: Abuse

“I wish I had known that abuse doesn’t look the same for everyone”

. . .

After just meeting Sam last year, I felt as if I had known them my whole life. We shared a lot of the same interests, down to even briefly sharing the same minors. By chance, I sat next to Sam on the first day, in one of my favorite classes of the year. Had they not reached over and explained they were bad at making friends, we would have never communicated again. Knowing so little about them but feeling compelled to bond, I sat next to them day after day. We shared our notes, hung out after class, and even sometimes just sat together in the Memorial Union without as much as saying a word to each other. Their company felt quiet, understanding, and sometimes stressfully erratic. To this day we sit for long periods of time discussing our aspirations, evaluating our feelings and goals in life. Sam has shared their experiences around sex ed in-depth with me, even though there wasn’t very much to share. Sam’s sex ed was similar to all my interviewees, who occurred in middle to high school, had no queer education, and they mostly gathered other info via the internet. They had a great group of friends in which they confirmed all findings with, but even then, they felt it wasn’t enough. For years Sam struggled with their identity and sexuality, never allowing themselves to process what it would be like to not be cis or het. With little information on adequate sex education and few comfortable spaces to talk about such things, Sam fell into a terrible and abusive situation. 

. . .

1. How do you define your sexuality?

I used to always identify as bisexual, but that term is lacking for me now. I could very well just be attracted to anyone, regardless of who it is. Being in a relationship with a trans person, and not really feeling a change of attraction once they came out to me seems like the general reaction I would have with others. 

2. How did you come to define your sexuality?

I internalized it for a long time. I used to watch stuff about gay people being treated so bad and it resonated so deeply. But I never wanted to speak on how I felt. I hid my feelings; it was a really long process for me. High school was just the moment, I didn’t care what happened. I said who I was and didn’t care to see how people reacted. Whatever I am I know it’s not heterosexual.

3.   How do you define your gender?

I’m a woman but I wouldn’t argue with other pronouns being used on me that I’m aware of. I just don’t want to take away from people who struggle to have those different pronouns, so I guess I would just always identify as a she/they.

4.      How did you come to define your gender?

I didn’t and I don’t think I’ll ever truly define myself as anything other than queer because I don’t struggle to bond exclude any labels. 

5.        What did your virginity mean to you if anything?

My virginity didn’t mean anything to me at first. I am an open person, and I wanted to have sex, so I did. If my friends wanted to hear about it, I’d just tell them. I was kind of in a rush to do it, because, at the time, I had been in a relationship for a while with my ex who was about 8 years older. People always wondered what was happening, but I just wanted to please him so badly. My mindset was solely focused on proving to him that I was as mature as he thought I was.  I really didn’t realize I was in an abusive relationship then. Me having sex at first meant nothing, but with the abuse and manipulation, it was turned into something I couldn’t get out of for years. 

6.      Were you influenced by family, religion, or other things that limited your sexuality/gender/ or expression of sex?

I never felt pressured to act differently but I did feel really pressured by my parents to talk about having sex. I think it’s because at the beginning of my first relationship they suspected some abuse. I always lied about his age and never brought him around because he didn’t want to be judged. As time went on, I put on a mask and everything seemed fine, so I never talked about it. I hid my sexuality to my family until college because they were all conservative. My sister was the first to know, well actually I told my abuser and with his response, I hid it longer. Then I told my parents in my last year of college. 

7.       What is one thing you wish you’d known sooner?

I wish I had known that abuse doesn’t look the same for everyone. That you can’t talk people out of a relationship like that. A lot of the time you can provide resources, but I learned quickly that after I survived, my friend was going through the same thing, and no matter what I did to try to get her out, I couldn’t. It wasn’t the same so I just re-lived trauma alongside her until she could get out too. 

8.       What is one nonsexual thing you find sexual?

Tattoos. 

9.     What is an interesting sexual experience you’ve had (whether alone or not), that you’d like to talk about?

I attended a party with my best friend. My best friend and I decided it’d be fun to have a foursome, so for the remainder of the night, we ran upstairs and had very loud and obnoxious sex. 

10.    What do you wish you knew more about sex?

I think I’ve always been very informed about sex. It’s never been an issue really, but one thing I wish I were exposed to more of was body hair. I was unable to allow my natural body hair to be natural in my relationship, so I just wished I had seen more normalization of it before. 

11.     Is there anything you do that you feel is different from the norm?

I feel like there isn’t something that isn’t normal. You do what you get pleasure from and that can be your norm as long as it’s consensual.

12.   Do you think your sex falls within the heteronormative, why, or why not?

As a polyamorous person who now engages in queer relationships, I feel like my sex is not heteronormative. 

13.    How do you care for yourself whether before, during, or after sex? 

Shower, brush teeth, pee before and after. 

14.    Is there any advice you’d give to others?

Do what you want with your body. Whether it’s a learning process or you know what you want. Get therapy if you’ve ever been put in a situation that you’re not comfortable with.

15.     Have you ever had sex for items, money, etc.?   

I’m pro-sex-work but no.  

. . .

Writing this interview may have been the hardest one so far. When I started this series, I was prepared for my friends and even strangers to divulge their sexual information. I was prepared to provide resources, they’d light on stigmas, and even bring awareness to certain things folks experience. After weeks of it sitting in my drafts, I thought I’d be prepared for this article to come out. But even as I’m writing this now, I am struggling with wanting to share my friend’s story and wanting to scrap it while I run frantically around the world trying to stop these things from happening. 

I am not shy or new to seeing or hearing of abuse, but I am new to sharing it on a platform in which I have created to uplift everyone’s pleasure and confidence. What I came to realize was that this was Sam’s way of doing the same. Sam speaks on these issues to raise awareness, to uplift others who are going through the same things, and to simply share their truth. That’s why I thought it was important to share regardless of the feelings that it may bring whilst writing it. 

For the next few parts of my discussion section, I will talk more in-depth about abuse, resources, and statistics. Feel free to read when you can, or not at all. 

TW:// Abuse, harm, and click warning. 

1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the united states have experienced rape in their lifetime. On average, 20 people per minute report having been physically abused by an intimate partner in the US (CDC). 

Nearly half of all women and men in the US will experience some form of psychological aggression via an intimate partner (OJP). 

“Domestic violence and abuse stem from a desire to gain and maintain power and control over intimate partners” (NDV). The issue is that many of these statistics look at one form of abuse: the physical kind. Yet, this is not the only form of abuse folks encounter. There are four types of violence one may endure physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and neglect (Saferspaces).

Physical violence may include but is not limited to uses of physical force to cause injury, harm, disability, or even death. Sexual violence may include but is not limited to sexual acts being committed or attempted against a victim who has not given consent, who is unable to consent or has revoked consent. Psychological, better known as emotional or mental abuse, can include verbal or nonverbal communication used to harm, threaten, or intimidate another person via implied or explicit exertion of control. Neglect (i.e. deprivation) is a type of abuse usually done by an individual who has the responsibility to care for another person that is unable to care for themselves. Neglect can look like restrictions of basic needs, attention, medical help, and other restrictive actions that can cause injury or even lead to death. 

All types of violence can lead to physical violence or psychological effects. According to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) creators and Office of Women’s Health (OWH), any form of abuse can lead to health problems down the line so it is imperative that we try our best to create safe spaces for victims. 

The best way to help someone dealing with domestic or interpersonal violence is usually not by involving the cops. If you are in a position in which you can preemptively educate the community, discussions of consent and boundaries are an essential topic for everyone to keep in mind. You could even provide the community with some support via donating to or advocating to start a local shelter, holding weekly advocacy meetings, or creating safe spaces for victims to decompress.

If you are witnessing an act of violence it is important that you only get involved if the situation does not pose a threat to your safety as well. Hotlines such as National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-723 can provide immediate advice if you are witnessing or dealing with violence yourself. 

Most websites will outline the following actions to take when witnessing an occurrence: 

Call the police 

Ask someone to intervene with you. There is strength in numbers.

Distract the victim. Pretend like you are a long lost friend, strike up a conversation, try to remove the abuser from the conversation (Source).

Be a friend. Get them to a safe space if they are willing to leave, talk with them about their options, and share as many resources as you can. You can even show them to your local domestic abuse shelter.

If you are having trouble separating the victim from the abuser, make a lot of noise. Making a lot of noise will draw attention to the abuse that is occurring and most likely sway the abuser to stop. 

It is also important to note that most of the time, involving the police will only exacerbate the situation or lead to the abuser’s retaliation later down the line. In most cases of domestic violence or rape, folks avoid reporting to the police (Source).  Be sure that if you are witnessing or dealing with such occurrences that you consider the best action to take at the moment. If you need external guidance or intervention but do not want to opt for calling the cops, hotlines, community groups, and domestic abuse social workers are great contact options.

Keep in mind that most of the time victims will return to their abusers an average of seven times before leaving (Source).  It is important that, as an outsider, you be patient with the victim. Make sure they consent to your help every step of the way and do not push their boundaries. Victims of abuse are already struggling with a lack of control over their decision making, and it is essential that those trying to help do not further remove their control by trying to “savior” them out of the abuse. Victims should have full knowledge and the ability to make decisions on what is best for them. The most we can do as outsiders is support them. 

. . .

Below are other resources you can utilize: 

https://www.domesticshelters.org/search#?page=1

https://staging.domesticshelters.org/domestic-violence-commonly-asked-questions/i-know-someone-who-s-being-abused-what-should-i-do-nbsp#.Wh3dRbaZPow

https://www.cpedv.org/domestic-violence-organizations-california

http://www.womaninc.org/education/