“The Line” Between Monogamy and Nonmonogamy

So, A-number-one, as some friends would say, it’s been a while since I’ve updated. Hello. Hi. I am alive, well, and thinking about sex, love, and relationships sometimes but not always, because life is grand and full of awesome and busy and still awesome.

Yes.

B-number-two: that doesn’t change how bad I feel about not updating. I am sorry. I am updating tonight because of a confluence of two unrelated events that were, in my head, related and became necessary to blog about.

Here goes.

I can’t explain how much I enjoy the company I’ve been keeping as of late. I have been happily living and working with people who, in many ways, are very similar to myself, and in many ways, very different from myself. It’s been an interesting flexing and constricting of my personality muscles. It’s been an opportunity to stop and examine the effect of my actions and words on others, and grow. It’s been an unusual situation of being housed with a number of people with very different life experiences and viewpoints than my own, and that’s provided much perspective.

Today, I talked with a friend, revisiting the topic of labels. She has a pretty easy time understanding my indifference towards labels like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” whereas others, not so much. It was interesting to not only hear her take, but also hear the questions she had to ask. Would I expect different things from someone I called “boyfriend”? Would it change things?

I don’t think it would, except to change the difficulty from having to explain that not having a boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t mean that I’m not emotionally invested in someone, to having to explain that, though I call someone “boyfriend”/”girlfriend”, I don’t expect things of them that most people would expect from a person with that label. It’s a pick-your-poison situation, and I guess I like handling the “if I don’t label it, you don’t feel obligated to understand it” poison.

In a completely unrelated parallel universe of my existence, another friend had, days ago, recommended I check out Sex Nerd Sandra, and when I finally got around to it tonight, her most recent podcast was on, you guessed it, Struggling With Monogamy!

In it, one of her guests poses the questions:

But what’s a relationship? And how do you know when you’re in one? And when do you decide that you’re actually in a relationship with someone?

And points out:

Monogamy and nonmonogamy; it’s not as clear-cut as it might seem.

True dat. There’s an honorable mention about polyamory at the end of the podcast, if you’re interested, but it’s mostly along the lines of “oh yeah, people these days are poly, like, ‘yeah, I’m vegan and fair trade and poly…'” before the conversation gets cut off for time. Too bad. The conversation had revolved around stuff I’ve already spent loads of thought-time and blog space on, so I won’t regurgitate it, but if it interests you and you’re new to the nonmonogamous conversation, have a listen.

Last, but not least, C-number-3: I am working on a book about sex for a, ahem, less-experienced friend of mine who would like a book on said topic. It is a very exciting venture, even more exciting at the moment than Love Times Infinity, the novel, so it’s been getting loads more attention. Hopefully, if I get it all put together, I can make it available in an ebook version, and let you all have at it.

You’re welcome.

Until my next break from climbing trees and smelling like campfire; keep smiling!

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Duke

I’m sure that the blogosphere is and has been blowing up about the Duke University freshman who is a porn star, but I’ll be honest: I haven’t really looked outside of my own little circle of blogs I follow, and within it, I haven’t seen a single mention. That really surprises me, given the blogs I read. It also means that a lot of people in my circle of friends are probably oblivious to the topic and the conversations I’d like to have surrounding it.

So, here’s me, having a conversation with myself about it.

Over at xojane.com, the woman in question submitted an absolutely amazing, well-written, honest and direct response to the negative attention her story has been getting, in a piece titled “I’m the Duke University Freshman Porn Star and for the First Time I am Telling The Story in My Words“. I absolutely loved reading it. You should read it. It’s good stuff from an articulate Duke student, which I think makes it even more powerful.

I am well aware: The threat I pose to the patriarchy is enormous. That a woman could be intelligent, educated and CHOOSE to be a sex worker is almost unfathomable.

That’s it right there; people are so aghast because, as an articulate Duke student, why on earth would she choose PORN?!

…the answer is actually quite simple. I couldn’t afford $60,000 in tuition, my family has undergone significant financial burden, and I saw a way to graduate from my dream school free of debt, doing something I absolutely love.

SHE LOVES IT! She absolutely loves it! And who wouldn’t? Sex is awesome! Being filmed having sex, if that’s your thing, is awesome! And think about it, as the Duke Chronicle article about Lauren* (name changed) points out: “With an estimated 450 million visitors each month, porn sites account for 30 percent of all data transferred across the Internet.”

Clearly, people, lots of people, watch porn. If Lauren gets off on making it, and people get off on watching it, who’s losing here? Why are people so up in arms and upset?

In addition to explaining her personal experience with filming porn, Lauren also brings up issues bigger than herself: the fact that, though she has had a wonderful experience in porn, many women do not, but the problem can’t be addressed if we keep pretending that these women “deserved it” for choosing to be sex workers. She brings up slut-shaming and rape apology, which she has encountered outside of the pornography world, but not within it. She addresses the issue of society convincing women that sex is shameful, something to withhold, something to make hard to get – but not too hard, lest you land on the “prude” end of the female sexuality dichotomy rather than the “slut” end.

Wait, what? Exactly.

She’s intelligent and aware. She asks anti-pornography feminists, and everyone, to “deconstruct why they treat female sexuality with such disdain,” to ask ourselves why “we condemn women who have had multiple sexual partners outside of a marriage.”

Great thinking points, great talking points. I like this girl.

I can say definitively that I have never felt more empowered or happy doing anything else. In a world where women are so often robbed of their choice, I am completely in control of my sexuality. As a bisexual woman with many sexual quirks, I feel completely accepted. It is freeing, it is empowering, it is wonderful, it is how the world should be.

Beyond the Fad: Polyamory and Relevance

As I write this, my fourth post to this blog in as many days, acknowledging a newfound urgency to express the things I’m thinking, I also find that I need to admit one of the reasons I wasn’t posting for so long:

I worried that polyamory had become a fad.

It was a moment of weakness, I admit. I faltered under the weight of the fear that all I wrote might be summed up by readers to simply be anecdotal contributions to the trendy new lovestyle that has garnered so much attention in the media, including TV shows like “Polyamory” on Showtime. I stopped working on my novel because I decided that, by the time I was done writing it, finding an agent, and doing the work necessary to get published, I would have “missed the boat” – the fad would have passed, polyamory would be old news, and no one would want to publish the book.

Discussion and visibility of polyamory has skyrocketed in the last year or two, and while the benefits of that include visibility, the drawbacks include the fact that people enjoy simplicity, and trying to simply define something as complicated as polyamory just doesn’t happen. Instead, people define it by comparing it to things they already know – infidelity, swinging, commitment phobias, sex addiction, etc. I feared being lumped into those definitions.

I should have been stronger. I should have waved away the possibility that I’d be just another voice in the polyamorous cacaphony, just another polyamorous person whining with other polyamorous people about being misunderstood.

But this blog, and my book, and my writing in general, are not about that.

This isn’t about polyamory and its visibility. This isn’t about convincing people that polyamory is okay.

This is about love; about rethinking relationship norms. That will always be worth writing about, even if the whole world suddenly became polyamorous. Ultimately, my biggest hope for every single person who reads what I write is that they stop to think about the way they love, and decide for themselves what ways of loving work for them. If polyamory is not a model for you, I have no intention of trying to “convert” you; I simply want you to know that for yourself because you actually took the time to think about it.

Blogging about polyamory has never, for me, been about getting more views and attention by playing into a popular topic. When I started doing it in 2007, it wasn’t a popular topic at all. Just because it has become one shouldn’t deter me. If it is a fad, then like all fads, it will pass. When the dust settles, I’ll still be here, plodding along, thinking about love, sex, and relationships and how people can be happier with all of those things in their life.

Hopefully, if it is a fad, it will be one that changes some love lives for the better.

Purpose and Change

campfireToday, as I pack to leave for my relatively isolated summer camp, I’ve been asking myself the same questions I ask every three to four months while preparing to leave one place for another:

What have I learned here in this place? Is there anything I learned about myself while here that I can work on improving as I move on to a new season of work? Can I be a better friend, coworker, or person for the people I’m about to meet?

I came into this season of work very comfortable with myself and who I am, and I wanted that to show in my conversations, actions, and choices. I also wanted it to show when I offered friends advice or challenged their misconceptions with questions. At times, I think it’s possible that my openness with my lifestyle can make people uncomfortable, and I’ve been thinking about ways in which I can be comfortable and open without being offensive.

But, it’s hard. Sexuality is often automatically thought of as offensive in itself. As I think about whether and how to censor myself, I also think about the large number of people who have, in one way or another, informed me that my own openness about sexuality and encouragement of others to own their own sexuality has, indeed, inspired them to explore, question, celebrate, and talk with others, posing questions to people I wouldn’t be able to pose questions to, because I don’t know them. The journey and discovery has made many of my friends and acquaintances happier people who understand themselves better, and perhaps they’ve managed to pass that on to others.

I know that I can’t please everyone, and as someone who enjoys discussing a topic often considered sensitive, I may wind up pleasing less people rather than more. But, this isn’t a numbers game. I’m not trying to win masses over. I think that, of the many things I’ve learned this season, one that I’m going to remember the most is that huge differences can be made for individuals if you stop worrying about making a difference for a huge number of individuals. For those that know “The Starfish Story,” it seems cliche, but when you consider that I’m applying this to allowing people to think about their sexuality, I feel forgiveness for the cliche is warranted.

Back to packing I go; it will likely be a couple months before I post anything substantial, so have a great summer, and keep being your sexy self!

Progress and Patriarchy

Step 1: Print out manuscript

Check!

It took me over a year to do it, but yes, the manuscript of Love Times Infinity is finally printed and ready for my red pen. I have chosen to reward myself for completing this step by sharing two of my observations this week with you, because sharing feels good. I’m a sharing person, in case you couldn’t tell.

The first was something I stumbled upon while doing research for work. I’ll be teaching an outdoor education lesson on the Native American Lenape people in a week or two, and of course, I began my independent study on their history with everyone’s favorite free and readily available encyclopedia, Wikipedia. I couldn’t help but copy and paste this tidbit, even though at the time I wasn’t sure what I would do with it:

The Lenape kinship system was traditionally organized by clans determined by matrilineal descent. That is, children were considered to belong to the mother’s clan, where they gained their social status and identity. The mother’s eldest brother was more significant as a mentor to the boy children than was their father, who was of another clan.

I’ve read about a culture similar to this before: the Musuo in China, where at a certain age girls get their own room where there is a door that men they invite over can come discreetly through, and when the girls get pregnant, their brothers help raise the children. The fathers of the children are responsible for their sisters’ children, not the ones they father themselves. Like the Lenape, the Musuo are matrilineal. Unlike the Lenape, Musuo children may not know who their biological father is.

This got me thinking about how some have noted that “no matriarchal societies exist”, and how others have countered that perhaps it seems that way, because we expect matriarchy to look like patriarchy, except with women in all the roles of power instead of men. These people argue that matriarchies may actually exist, but we call them “egalitarian”, because when women are given equal power, well, things are more…equal. Thus, matriarchy = egalitarian. (I have more reading to do on this, here.)

So there my head was, swimming in matriarchal, patriarchal, and egalitarian thoughts, when, while out and about one night being an adult with fellow adults, a friend uttered the following phrase:

“Girls who claim to want it hard are cancer.”

We had been having a conversation about sex, and the different ways people like their sex, and at least two of us in the group had voiced our approval of women who are comfortable saying that they like their sex “hard.”

Then, that happened. *sigh*

Unfortunately, because we had been out and about adulting so hard that it was futile to begin an argument with that friend (I doubt he remembers even making the comment, now) I had to spare myself the frustration of calling him out and being the mood-killer by explaining why I was doing it. The feeling followed me until the end of the night, though, where I made sure to jot down a few feelings before I went to sleep.

Patriarchy hurts everyone. Men come of age in a society which cultivates an assumption that the “right girl” will be one who fits into the submissive role for women the patriarchy has established. For some men, society wasn’t needed to foster attraction to submissive women, and that’s fine. But many other men likely miss out on the great women they really want; the forward, bold, aggressive women who say what they want and say it proudly. Those women are sexy, too, but as my friend’s comment revealed, those women are also still seen by some as only sexy, and not…here it is again…”relationship material.”

And all of this, of course, hasn’t even touched what it does to non-normative relationships and trans* people.

There’s still work to do, people. Be you, be proud, and be happy.

 

Where to start?

First and foremost: This is my 50th post on lovetimesinfinity! Woo!

Seeing as I just also passed my one-year anniversary writing here, I’d like to point out that ideally, I would like to post with greater frequency. Unfortunately, my job/lifestyle doesn’t always allow for a lot of time and internet access, so 50 posts a year will just have to suffice. Hey, it’s almost twice a month. Almost. Better than some of my other blogs.

Recently, I promised myself that I would challenge ignorant posts I saw on Facebook. Most of what I’ve taken the time to challenge has been related to issues regarding gender roles. Today, my “Wall” was graced with the presence of this (click to enlarge):

I’m not sure where the image originated from, as the Facebook group that posted it clearly hadn’t created it themselves. It earned a head-shake, of course, but also, I was a bit pleased. It opens the floor for conversation. It gives us a visual to work with when we talk about women having to choose being one of these things, and being viewed as “hiding who they really are” when they, for example, wear skirts of different lengths.

A question that I think of, too, is whether this image can help open the discussion of it being “okay” that some women actually are sluts and whores, whether their skirts are that short or not. They are on that very visual spectrum, after all, and while some may interpret this image as showing women that they should find some kind of “balance,” I think that there’s a lot to be said for the fact that different people do, in fact, enjoy seeing women with skirts of all those lengths – some people prefer to see women dressing in long skirts, others in short, others in the middle, so all of those levels are ok. Being a slut, and perhaps even being a whore (gasp!) is okay.

What does the image make you think of?

Thought of the Day

thoughtI’ve been thinking about “isms”. Specifically, “isms” that relate to discrimination. Racism, sexism, ageism, classism, ableism, etc.

I know that some types of discrimination don’t necessarily have “isms”. It’s “discrimination based on sexual orientation” to act on “homophobic” prejudices, for example. According to Wikipedia,“[t]wenty-one states plus Washington, D.C. outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and sixteen states plus Washington, D.C. outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression.”

That’s cool. I mean, I of course would like to see discrimination of that sort outlawed in all states, but that’s just me. I am grateful that many states have legally recognized and outlawed this type of discrimination, though.

What I’m thinking about now is Dan Savage’s claim that polyamory is not a sexual orientation, and the resulting backfire from polyamorous folk insisting that it is. I agree with all those arguing in favor of identifying polyamory as an “orientation,” but I can’t bring myself to call it a “sexual orientation,” because, as one person pointed out, “polyamory is not sexual.”

Discrimination based on relationship style, lovestyle, romantic preferences, etc. exists, but there is no name for it that I know of. People have had their kids removed from their custody for being polyamorous. Potential adoptive parents hide polyamory to avoid being refused the opportunity to adopt. Polyamorous people can still only legally marry one person. Polyamorous people are not protected under laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation, because it is not recognized as a sexual orientation, and I can kind of see why…but…

Is being an ethical slut a sexual orientation? Is identifying as sexually nonmonogamous a sexual orientation? It’s most certainly based on sex, and there’s definitely well-documented, historic levels of discrimination happening to promiscuous people. Can identified sexually nonmonogamous people be protected under the laws that protect others with “alternative” sexual orientations? Would it make a difference in the day-to-day slut shaming that occurs? Would it make a difference to polyamorists?

I’m currently reading a paper, “Polyamory as a Sexual Orientation,” published in 2010 by Ann E. Tweedy. I cheated and skipped to the conclusion:

“Because polyamory appears to be at least moderately embedded as an identity, because polyamorists face considerable discrimination, and because non-monogamy is an organizing principle of inequality in American culture, anti-discrimination protections for polyamorists are warranted. Moreover, polyamory shares some of the important attributes of sexual orientation as traditionally understood, so it makes conceptual sense for polyamory to be viewed as part of sexual orientation. On the other hand, however, some of our culture’s cherished myths about sexual orientation, especially in its unchangeableness, would have to be given up to make such a change.”

What kind of discrimination is it when we discriminate against someone for being nonmonogamous? Promiscuous? Slutty? Polyamorous? Asexual? Any other number of “identities” on the sexual spectrum that aren’t based in what gender you are and what gender you are attracted to? Can we fight this discrimination?

Response to: “The War Against Monogamy is Bullshit”

Hugo Schwyzer wrote on Jezebel.com earlier this month speaking out for those who still desire monogamous relationships in the face of the current “War on Monogamy,” where books like Sex at Dawn and The Monogamy Gap encourage people to consider options like polyamory and other open relationship styles, supposedly because monogamy is an “unreasonable expectation.”

“The problem is that very few people are making the brief for monogamy (with or without state-sanctioned marriage) as just one among many equal goods. Either monogamy gets held up as an ideal to which all ought to aspire, or it gets denigrated as an “unhealthy” and “unreasonable” straitjacket that we would do well to avoid.”

I’m very curious as to whether Schwyzer has spent any time, at all whatsoever, among polyamorists. Like, even in an online context. Quite honestly, when I entered the online poly world, I was initially met with a lot of “You are welcome here, but do tread carefully. We encourage open, honest, exploration, but this is not for everybody.”

Now that I’ve stumbled my way through to finding how and why it is for me, I often give other people the same message. Most of my friends, after explaining what it means when I say I’m polyamorous, say, “There’s no way I could do that.” I reply with, “Then don’t. I don’t recommend it. I just recommend asking yourself what you truly want when it comes to relationships, outside of what media and our culture tell you you want. That’s all.” If that means that they reaffirm for themselves that they value monogamy, awesome for them.

I know that I do my best to make it clear that monogamy is exactly what Schwyzer says, “one among many equal goods.” I am saddened that he, and probably many other people, feel that monogamy is being “attacked.” I think it is important that in discussions about “alternative” relationship styles, we remind ourselves and those we are speaking with that monogamy is no demon. It is the default in our society, and that is unfortunate in that it makes it hard for people to consider all of the possibilities before entering relationships, but demonizing it is like demonizing white people while trying to overcome racism or demonizing men while trying to overcome sexism…it moves us backwards instead of forwards.

Monogamy is right for some people. That is okay. Let people decide for themselves what is right for them. This means making them aware of alternatives, but not advertising those alternatives as the “more correct choice.”

That is all. Be cool, friends.

Thoughts On Slut Shaming: Respect, Infidelity, Logic, Gender Equality, and So Much More!

thoughtfulNow that my fear of slut shaming has been covered, I’d like to tiptoe a little deeper into the topic and share some thoughts I’ve had about slut shaming since I discovered the term.

My current theory: the slut shaming of women is related to the old “wife as property” idea of marriage. If a man is married and sleeps with someone other than his wife, well, what can she do? She’s his property – she has no real say. He has a mistress; that’s the way it goes sometimes, even if it’s not very admirable. In some cultures, men even take on additional wives.

But, if a married woman (the property) sleeps with another man…well, it’s a bit different. One man’s property is being used by another man, without any kind of compensation. I don’t even know of a word for the male equivalent of “mistress.” There is nothing but shame for the husband who has been “duped;” he’s a cuckold.  In Puerto Rico, it’s a common insult to call a man a “cabron”: a man who’s woman sleeps with other men. Are there equivalent words for women whose husbands cheat on them?

As a woman, if you have extramarital sex, you shame your husband, and you shame yourself, because you are his property. Perhaps this is part of the reason why slut shaming women is so much more popular than slut shaming men.

Or is it?

sad man

Slut shaming today does not only target women. I once began seeing a guy and was “warned” by a concerned friend that he slept around a lot. Because of that, this concerned friend thought that he wouldn’t be “relationship material.”

I was annoyed, not just because this friend assumed I was looking for a relationship, and not just because they assumed they knew what “relationship material” meant to me, but because this person was making a judgment of someone based on irrelevant information. The guy’s promiscuity should be viewed as just that: promiscuity. It should not be viewed as an indication of any other aspect of his character. It should not be assumed that it affects his relationship material-ness, which is vastly different for different people.

The definition and example of slut shaming posted on Urban Dictionary suggests that it is only bad because it means people will have less sex. It’s more than that, though. It’s an attack on character. For some reason, people associate what someone does with their sex life as relevant to the kind of person they are in other aspects of their life. It’s a cheap logical fallacy which is unfortunately used by educated people all the time. Be better than educated, people; be intelligent.

I think that one of the reasons why some may think slut shaming is only ever aimed at women is because it is more widely and vehemently done so. I haven’t conducted any studies or anything, but I feel that while there are probably plenty of well-intentioned people out there slut shaming men, telling them that they’re missing out on experiencing “true love,” informing/warning potential lovers away from them, and encouraging them to “be more respectful of women,” those people are labeled “cock-blocks” by popular culture. On the other hand, it’s much more acceptable for icons like Taylor Swift and even one of my favorite artists, Pink, to insist that self-respecting women certainly know better than to have sex. Apparently, being respectful of women, and women respecting themselves, means leaving their vaginas alone. What…err…cunt-bunters? Twat swatters?

People just need to respect people, regardless of gender identity, and regardless of how frequently they have sex. Part of ethical nonmonogamy and sluttery is that people are supposed to be considerate of one another’s feelings. Manipulating a person’s emotions to get them to have sex with you, or purposefully hurting their feelings afterward, is still unethical and disrespectful. Making it clear that you have no intention of being monogamous, being honest about who you are and what you feel or don’t feel, and finding someone who wants to sleep with you with that knowledge, is not disrespectful or wrong. It’s beautiful. Even if it happens 10 times in one week.

Slut shaming shouldn’t be perpetuated against anyone, but maybe it’s the way we interpret it and the way it is supported/unsupported depending on who it is aimed at that contributes to the sense of inequality we notice when it comes to slut shaming.

Slut Shaming & My Fear of It

As defined on Urban Dictionary:

Slut Shaming:

An unfortunate phenomenon in which people degrade or mock a woman because she enjoys having sex, has sex a lot, or may even just be rumored to participate in sexual activity. Often it’s accompanied by urban legends such as the common virgin misconception that the vagina becomes larger or looser with use– in fact, sex has no effect on vaginal size.

However, since most people would rather women be MORE sexually active than less, slut shaming is counterproductive to the aims of most men and quite a few ladies.

I know that many in the polyamory and ethical nonmonogamy community are already familiarized with this term, but the thought occurred to me today that it’s a term I haven’t defined and talked about here for the people in my life who read this blog and aren’t involved in the online communities I frequent.

Slut shaming is counterproductive, as demonstrated in the example that accompanied the Urban Dictionary definition:

Guy 1: Ha ha Megan had sex with two guys, she’s such a SLUT!

Guy 2: You idiot, do you want her to stop having sex? We should be encouraging this. Your slut shaming will simply discourage more women from sleeping with us and we will be virgins forever.

And even more than perpetual virginity, slut shaming is counterproductive to gender equality. More on that in another post, hopefully.

I will admit, slut shaming is something that I fear a bit. I didn’t know that there was a term for it until recently, and now, knowing that there is one, I feel more empowered to identify what is happening in a situation, if it ever happens, and call someone on it.

Still, the fear lingers. Why? Because even if the effect slut shaming tends to have (sluts stop being so slutty) is unlikely to affect me, there’s the fact that I spent my whole adolescent and young adult life surrounded by slut shaming, and it’s ingrained the idea into me that promiscuity is bad. For a long time, I thought that was true. As I grew into an adult, I thought it was true. It was five or six years ago that I started seeing the possibility that promiscuity was not inherently bad, but even after so long, I’m still working so hard to push that message out.

My fear, I think, is based on one thought. One thought that I fear admitting, because it will open me up to attack from all those people who do think sluts should be ashamed.

What if I’m wrong?

We all fear being wrong from time to time. This one’s a biggie for me. What if my promiscuity means I lack good decision-making skills? What if it means I have low self-esteem? What if my promiscuity is the result of “daddy issues”? What if this, and my lack of ability to commit to a monogamous relationship, and my lack of ability to stick to a career, and my depression, are all linked…the common denominator being me, and me being the problem?

When this fear grips me, I have to take a deep breath. I remind myself that I have great decision-making skills. I’ve helped so many programs I’ve worked for grow, develop, improve. I am an excellent problem-solver and leader. I have left situations in which I was unhappy, and those to me are the most important decisions. I have healthy self-esteem. I know my strengths and hopefully most of my weaknesses. I use my strengths to help others, and am thanked for it often. Sure, Daddy and I have issues, but I’ve accepted that, stopped blaming both him and myself, and moved on. All the other things, well, I’ve spent so many years investigating them, writing about them, and even getting professional help for them, that all I can do is know that I’ve done the best I can with who I am, and, ultimately, I am happy.

And that is what is most important.