Polyamory Rights in Washington, DC

Chris Smith and Ben Schenker are working to extend anti-discrimination laws to include non-monogamous relationships. They introduced the Right to Family Amendment Act this month to the Washington, DC city council. This act “ensures people’s rights to maintain relationships as they see fit, prevents discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations, educational institutions, and against children based upon their parents’ relationships, and expands access to health coverage.”

Chris Smith will be live with Jewell Elliott, Esquire on Saturday, February 20th in the Black & Poly Facebook Group RSVP here. If you are a B&P Family Member, you’ll get a Zoom link to join and ask questions directly!

A committee will hear testimony on this bill on March 5, 2021. If you live in DC, follow the steps below to make your voice heard! If you live elsewhere, share this information with people you know!

Chris says, “This is a huge opportunity to be heard and make sure the DC council knows that Multi Partnered and Consensually Non-Monogamous people in the District of Columbia are present and ready to claim the rights that they deserve. The future of relationships and law in DC is counting on you. Below is the information on how to submit written testimonials, testify live and view the hearing. If you are a clinician, lawyer, or academic that specializes in relationship structure and/or DC resident please submit a testimony, sign up to testify live and/or post on social media, and encourage others to watch, submit and testify.”

Chris and Ben’s Letter to DC Councilmembers

Sign the petition (DC residents)

How to Testify at the Hearing

COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT OPERATIONS & FACILITIES

Chairperson Robert C. White, Jr.

FRIDAY, MARCH 5, 2021; via Virtual Meeting Platform – Room A

12:00pm – 6:00pm EST

Submitting Testimony:

1.     Written testimony: The Committee encourages the public to submit written testimony to be included for the public record. Copies of written testimony should be submitted by e-mail to facilities@dccouncil.us

2.     All testimony received will be made part of the official record.

3.     Hearing Record: The record for each oversight hearing will close five business days following the conclusion of each respective hearing.

Testifying Live:

1.     Anyone wishing to testify must sign up in advance by contacting the Committee by emailat facilities@dccouncil.us or by phone at (202) 741-8593, and provide their name, phone number or e-mail, organizational affiliation, and title (if any) by the close of business two business days before each respective hearing.

2.     Witnesses are encouraged, but not required, to submit their testimony in writing electronically in advance to facilities@dccouncil.us

3.     The Committee will follow-up with witnesses with additional instructions on how to provide testimony through a web conferencing platform.

4.     All public witnesses will be allowed a maximum of four minutes to testify, while Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners will be permitted five minutes to testify. At the discretion of the Chair, the length of time provided for oral testimony may be reduced due to schedule constraints.

5.     Witnesses who anticipate needing language interpretation, or require sign language interpretation, are requested to inform the Committee on Facilities and Procurement of the need as soon as possible but no later then five (5) business days before the proceeding. We will make every effort to fulfill timely requests, however, requests received in less than five (5) business days may not be fulfilled and alternatives maybe offered.

Viewing Hearings:

1.     Hearings can be viewed live at https://www.facebook.com/RobertWhiteAtLarge/Live.

2.     The hearing will be broadcast live on Channel 13 and streamed live at www.dccouncil.us and www.entertainment.dc.gov.

2021 Black & Poly Global Meetup

Happy 2021 Black & Poly Members!

2020 was a hard year for everyone, but we at Black & Poly are excited about new ways to connect. Announcing our very first global Black & Poly meetup!

Whether you are new to the community or been here since the beginning, please join us Sunday, January 17th at 4pm EST.

Missed it? Sign up here to get notified about the next event!

Subscribe

* indicates required

Dictionary Short Version

Confused about all the words used in the poly world? This dictionary can help!

Check out the full version if you can’t find what you’re looking for.

Jump to: A B C D E F H J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W

AGENCY: “…the power people have to think for themselves and act in ways that shape their experiences and life trajectories. Agency can take individual and collective forms.” https://www.thoughtco.com/agency-definition-3026036

ASEXUAL: An asexual person (also “ace”) is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Aces can be any sex or gender or age or ethnic background or body type, can be rich or poor, can wear any clothing style, and can be any religion or political affiliation. www.whatisasexuality.com/intro/

BDSM:  BDSM is a variety of erotic practices that, in short, involve power exchange, role-playing, bondage, and other interpersonal dynamics. Given the wide range of practices, some of which may be engaged in by people who do not consider themselves as practicing BDSM, inclusion in the BDSM community or sub-cultures is usually dependent on self-identification and shared experience. Read our Intro to BDSM here.

BISEXUAL: 1. Of or related to sexual attraction to or sexual activity with both men and women, though not necessarily equally; as, a bisexual person: a person who is sexually attracted to or sexually active with partners of both sexes. 2. A person whose enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction is to other people of various sexes and/or gender identities. Individuals may experience this attraction in differing ways and degrees over their lifetime.

CHEATING: In a relationship, any activity which violates the rules or agreements of that relationship, whether tacit or explicit. Commentary: In traditional monogamous relationships, any sexual activity with anyone outside that relationship is generally viewed as cheating. In a polyamorous or swinging relationship, sexual activity with people outside the relationship may or may not be seen as cheating, depending on the context of that sexual activity and whether or not it violates the agreements of the people in that relationship. Even in such relationships, most commonly sexual activity without the knowledge and explicit consent of the other members of the relationship is likely to be viewed as cheating.

CLOSED MARRIAGE: Any marriages where there is no emotional intimacy or sexuality outside the marriage; monogamous marriage. Contrast open marriage. Commentary: This is the most common form of marriage in most Western countries.  

CLOSED RELATIONSHIP: Any romantic relationship, such as a conventional monogamous relationship or a polyfidelitous relationship, which specifically excludes the possibility of sexual or romantic connections outside that relationship.  

COMET:  [kom-it] Noun. 1. A person that passes through your life sporadically, remaining in contact  when gone, but they are not a continuous partner.

COMPERSION: A feeling of joy when a partner invests in and takes pleasure from another romantic or sexual relationship. Commentary: Compersion can be thought of as the opposite of “jealousy;” it is a positive emotional reaction to a lover’s other relationship. The term was coined by the Kerista Commune.  

CONDOM CONTRACT; also CONDOM COMPACT, CONDOM COMMITMENT: A formal agreement within a relationship to confine exchange of bodily fluids and barrier-free sexual contact to the people in that relationship, each of whom has previously been screened for sexually transmitted diseases. Condom contracts may specify under what conditions a member of that group may exchange body fluids or have sexual contact without barriers with a new partner, or may specify that such contact is not permissible with any new partner.  

CO-HABITATE; also, COHABITATE, COHABIT: To live together. Cohabitating: the state or practice of living together.

CO-PRIMARY: A person who is one of two or more primary partners in a polyamorous relationship, as Bob and Joe are my co-primaries. See also primary/secondary; See related secondary, tertiary.

COWBOY/COWGIRL/PERSON: Colloquial A monogamous person who engages in a relationship with a polyamorous individual with the intention of separating the individual from any other partners and bringing the individual into a monogamous relationship.  

DADT (initialism): See don’t ask, don’t tell.

DEMISEXUAL: A person who does not experience sexual attraction unless they form an emotional connection. It’s more commonly seen in, but by no means confined, to romantic relationships. The term demisexual comes from the orientation being “halfway between” sexual and asexual.

DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL (DADT): A relationship structure in which a person who is partnered is permitted to have additional sexual or romantic relationships on the condition that his or her partner does not know anything about those additional relationships and does not meet any of those other people. Commentary: Many people in the polyamorous community frown on don’t ask, don’t tell relationships, and choose not to become involved in such relationships. Some feel there are many dangers in such relationships, including the idea that a person who claims to be involved in such a relationship may simply be cheating (as the relationship often provides no mechanism by which that person’s partner may be contacted to confirm that the relationship permits other relationships); the belief that many people choose DADT relationships as a way of avoiding and not dealing with emotional issues such as jealousy; and the belief that DADT relationships are built on a foundation of lack of communication within the existing relationship.   

EGALITARIAN: (adjective):  1. relating to or believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities.

ETHICAL SLUT: (Colloquial) A person who openly chooses to have multiple simultaneous sexual relationships in an ethical and responsible way, and who openly revels in that decision. See related responsible non-monogamy. Commentary: The term comes from the book The Ethical Slut, which advocates reclaiming the word “slut” from its derogatory meaning of a promiscuous woman.  

ERE (Existing Relationship Energy): see ORE (Old/Original Relationship Energy)

FLUID BONDING: Of or related to practices which involve the exchange of bodily fluids, such as barrier-free sexual intercourse and BDSM: «blood play». See related condom contract.

FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (FWB): A relationship in which two (or more) people establish a friendship which includes sex or sexual activity, typically without the same type or degree of expectations or other practical or emotional entanglements that typically accompany romantic relationships. 

FUCK BUDDY: (Colloquial; vulgar) See friends with benefits.

FWB (ACRONYM): See friends with benefits.

HINGE: (Colloquial; )see pivot.

HOTEP: Someone labeled as or self-identifying as a Hotep generally has beliefs as follows (though there are always exceptions, like in everything else):

– black nationalist
– believe everything/most positive things done were done by black ppl and white ppl later lied about it
– ancient Egypt is the root/center of black history and culture (contrast this to Black Hebrew Israelites who believe biblical Jews were black and Egypt was still the bad guy)
– heavy sense of patriarchy. The man is king. The woman is queen. The man is in charge, the woman is subordinate.
– OPP or harem relationship rules
– homophobia
– misogyny
– toxic masculinity
– strong emphasis on building, whether it be communities, ’empires’, etc

You’ll notice that some of the attributes aren’t inherently bad (like building communities and such). The problem it often triggers with many (often younger members like me) is that the ‘good’ things are almost always paired with the heavily toxic things like homophobia/misogyny/etc. And it’s not uncommon for some ppl to take an idea like building and make ppl/women into objects towards that end, which is bad. – Marcus Pyles, Sep 5 , 2018 in a thread in the Facebook group, Black & Poly.

Writing eloquently for The Root, Damon Young defined a hotep as “a person who’s either a clueless parody of Afrocentricity” or “loudly, conspicuously and obnoxiously pro-black but anti-progress.” May 8, 2018

“Hotep” is an Egyptian word that means “at peace.” It’s basically the Egyptian “What’s good?” Over the past several decades, the word has also been utilized quite frequently by black Americans who happen to be more Afrocentric. Let me put it this way: If you happen to attend a Juneteenth festival this year and collect business cards from vendors there, at least 17 percent of them will have “Hotep” written somewhere on them. –  https://www.theroot.com/hotep-explained-1790854506

HOTWIFE; also, HOT WIFE: (Colloquial) A married woman who takes male lovers outside the marriage, often in the context of swinging or BDSM: «cuckoldry»

JEALOUSY: A feeling of anger or bitterness that arises when something we already possess or feel we possess (usually a special relationship) is threatened by another person or persons. Distinct from envy, which is when we desire attributes of others for ourselves, although in popular culture, the two are used interchangeably. See https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/joy-and-pain/201401/what-is-the-difference-between-envy-and-jealousy

KITCHEN TABLE POLYAMORY: Kitchen Table Polyamory is a new term even in poly circles. It refers to poly relationships where everyone in the polycule is comfortable sitting together at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee. Folks who prefer kitchen table polyamory want to know their metamours and be friends with them. They may want their kids and their metamour’s kids to spend time together, or their metamour’s other partners to be comfortable calling them up to plan a surprise party together. 

LDR (initialism): See long-distance relationship.

LONG-DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP (LDR): A relationship in which the people involved do not live together, and are separated by great distances; as, for example partners who live in different cities, in different states, or even in different countries.  

LOVESTYLE: Type of intimate relationship, sexual and/or romantic; ‘lovestyle’ is used routinely in the Black & Poly ™ community.
See relationship orientation. Usage: Most common in New Age or tantra communities, according to the More Than Two glossary.

MARRIAGE: A relationship, most commonly between one man and one woman in Western countries, which is sanctioned by the State and/or by a religious institution and which confers upon its members certain social and economic conditions, typically including rights of joint property ownership, rights of inheritance and of decision-making in legal and medical matters, and certain legal rights and responsibilities concerning mutual child rearing. These rights and responsibilities have varied over time and today vary from place to place, but common to all of them is the expectation that people who are married are in a legally recognized, financially entwined, committed relationship which is not trivial to separate. Traditionally, marriages in most Western countries carry with them expectations of sexual and emotional monogamy. See related closed marriage, open marriage, group marriage, polygamy, polygyny,polyandry.

METAMOUR: (Literally, meta with; about + amor love): The partner of one’s partner, with whom one does not share a direct sexual or loving relationship. See related vee.

MONOGAMISH: Colloquial A relationship which is not necessarily sexually fidelitous, but that differs from polyamory in that the outside sexual relationships are seen as primarily sexual rather than romantic, without necessarily having any expectation of continuity, and are viewed as enhancing the primary couple. See related open marriage. Etymology: The term was coined by columnist Dan Savage to describe committed relationships that still allow some “outside” sexual dalliances.  

MONOGAMY: (Literally, mono one + gamos marriage) Formally, the state or practice of having only one wedded spouse. Informally, the state or practice of having only one wedded spouse at a time, or more generally, having only one sexual partner or only one romantic relationship at a time. Monogamous: of or related to the practice of monogamy, as in monogamous relationship: a relationship permitting one and only one romantic or sexual partner. Contrast polyamory, polygamy, polygyny, polyandry; See related closed marriage, serial monogamy.

MONO/POLY: Colloquial; see poly/mono

NESTING OR NESTING RELATIONSHIP: A nesting relationship means about the same as “primary” (the more common usage) – two or more people living together and building a closely shared life. This is preferable to some, to avoid the “ranking” implication. This leads to the obvious alternative of a non-nesting relationship (sometimes called secondary).

NESTING PARTNER: ​​​​ someone with whom you cohabit intimately,​​ but with whom you do not engage in common “relationship escalator” behaviors (progression to marriage, blending finances, identifying as a “couple”, shared-bedroom cohabitation, etc.), poly-hierarchy or couple-centrism. It’s a way of indicating a cohabiting partnership, while also indicating you do not engage in constructs that are often assumed of cohabiting lovers/partners.   

NEW RELATIONSHIP ENERGY (NRE): A strong, almost giddy feeling of excitement and infatuation common in the beginning of any new romantic relationship. Often following the beginning of a relationship (as opposed to desire for a relationship), and can last as long as several years. Contrast old/existing relationship energy. Commentary: Some researchers believe that new relationship energy is the result of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which are released by the brain during the start of a new relationship and after a mother gives birth and are believed to have a role in emotional bonding and in the feelings of happiness and well-being that often accompany the start of a new relationship.  

NOETISEXUAL: (noun) “Noetisexual — It’s a mental attraction rather than a purely “intellectual” one. It’s loving the shape of their mental landscape and wanting to explore it. It’s falling in love with the way they think, their unique mental make up. It’s loving their creativity, their ingenuity, their silliness, their humor, their emotional intelligence, the way they use words, or the way they make mental space for you in their minds, and more.

“It’s being attracted to the way their minds work — not how their brain functions — rather than simply one ill-defined facet of it. Noeti can serve as a prefix in itself: noetisexual, noetiromantic, noetisensual, etc. Noetilinking,the general experience, is not a sexuality per se; it can be a type of attraction like sensual or emotional are types.” – Michon Neal

NRE (initialism): See new relationship energy.

NRE JUNKIE: (Colloquial; usually derogatory) A term sometimes applied, often dismissively, to a person who starts many new relationships in rapid succession but does not seem to maintain relationships for very long. Such a person may appear to seek out the euphoria and intense emotion associated with new relationship energy over the maintenance of a long-term relationship. Commentary: Some psychologists and psychiatrists believe that the intensity and euphoria associated with new relationship energy can be psychologically addictive; in the psychiatric community, the term “love addiction” is sometimes used to describe this behavior.  

OLD RELATIONSHIP ENERGY (ORE), also Existing Relationship Energy (ERE) : The feeling of comfort, security, and stability often associated with a long-standing romantic relationship. Contrast new relationship energy.

ONE PENIS POLICY: (OPP) An arrangement within a polyamorous relationship in which a man is allowed to have multiple female partners, each of whom is allowed to have sex with other women but forbidden to have any other male partners. Commentary: Its hypothetical opposite, a “one vagina policy” in which a woman has a group of male partners who are each forbidden to have other female lovers, seems so rare as to be theoretical; I’ve never seen or heard of a real-life example of such a relationship.  

OPEN MARRIAGE: Any marriage whose structures or arrangements permit one or both of the members involved to have outside sexual relationships, outside romantic relationships, or both. The term open marriage is a catchall for marriages which are not emotionally or sexually monogamous; and may include such activities as polyamory or swinging. Contrast closed marriage; See related group marriage. Commentary: The term “open marriage” is sometimes used as a synonym for polyamory, though this is not necessarily the case; some relationships may be open but not polyamorous (as in some swinging relationships which explicitly ban emotional entanglement with anyone outside the relationship), and some relationships may be polyamorous but not open (as in polyfidelitious relationships).  

OPEN RELATIONSHIP: 1. Any relationship that is not sexually monogamous. 2. Any relationship that permits “outside” sexual entanglements, but not loving or romantic relationships. Commentary: Some folks use the term open relationship as a synonym for polyamory. To other people, the term excludes polyamory, and is used specifically to describe relationships which are sexually non-monogamous but which still expect that the people involved will not fall in love or engage in romantic relationships outside the couple, as for example with many swinging relationships. It’s important to be careful when using this term, as it may carry very different connotations for different people.  

ORE (initialism): See old relationship energy.

OTHER SIGNIFICANT OTHER (OSO): 1. A partner’s other partner; metamour. 2. A person’s partner, sometimes but not always a non-primary or non-spouse partner; as, Bob is my husband, and Joe is my other significant other.

OSO (initialism): See other significant other.

OPP (initialism): See one penis policy.

PANSEXUAL: Usage: In some communities, particularly some parts of the lesbian and gay community, antipathy toward or hostility to people who self-identify as bisexual has become common. The term pansexual has started to become popular as a synonym for bisexual but without the negative connotations of the word.

PARALLEL POLYAMORY: is a companion term to kitchen table polyamory. It refers to poly relationships where the relationships run in parallel and don’t interact. I’m in a relationship with you, and you are in a relationship with your other partner, but the two of us aren’t friends and may never meet. Our two separate relationships progress without connecting to each other. (From http://PolyamoryonPurpose.com/, August 4, 2016)

PERSON OF COLOR, (plural: PEOPLE OF COLOR), POC: a person who is not white or of European heritage; a term used mainly in the United States to describe any person who is not white. From Wikipedia: the term encompasses all non-white people, emphasizing common experiences of systemic racism. See also: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/03/30/295931070/the-journey-from-colored-to-minorities-to-people-of-color

https://www.sapiens.org/column/race/people-of-color/

PIVOT: Colloquial In a vee relationship, the person who has two partners.  

PLURAL MARRIAGE: See polygamy.

POLY: Colloquial Of or related to polyamory; as, a poly relationship, a poly person.

POLYAMORY: (Literally, poly many + amor love) The state or practice of maintaining multiple romantic relationships simultaneously, with the full knowledge and consent of all the people involved. Polyamorous: of or related to the practice of polyamory, as in polyamorous relationship: a relationship involving more than two people, or open to involvement by more than two people; polyamorous person: a person who prefers or is open to romantic relationships with more than one partner simultaneously. Contrast monogamy; See related polyfidelity, triad, quad, vee, N, polygamy, polygyny, polyandry, swinging, monogamy. A  person may have no spouse or only one spouse and still be polyamorous. Many people use the term “polyamory” to describe only those relationships in which a person has multiple loving partners; some people have extended the term to include relationships in which a person has multiple sexual partners regardless of the emotional component or degree of commitment between them, though this meaning was not a part of Morning Glory Zell’s original intent for the word. In 1992, when the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary contacted Morning Glory Zell to ask for a formal definition and background of the word; part of her response was “The two essential ingredients of the concept of “polyamory” are “more than one” and “loving.” That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other’s lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, “cheating,” serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as “mate-swapping” parties.”

POLYANDRY: (Literally, poly many + andros man) The state or practice of having multiple wedded husbands at the same time. Contrast monogamy; see related polygamy, polygyny, bigamy.

POLYFI: Colloquial; see polyfidelity.

POLYFIDELITY: (Literally, poly many + fidelitas faithfulness) A romantic or sexual relationship which involves more than two people, but which does not permit the members of that relationship to seek additional partners outside the relationship, at least without the approval and consent of all the existing members. Some polyfidelitous relationships may have a mechanism which permits adding new members to the relationship with mutual agreement and consent of the existing members; others may not permit any new members under any circumstances. Etymology: The term polyfidelity was coined by the Kerista Commune.  

POLYFUCKERY: (Colloquial; vulgar; often derogatory) A coarse term sometimes used to describe people who call themselves “polyamorous” while engaging in a large number of sexual relationships which are short-lived or not emotionally intimate; as Bob practices polyfuckery. Almost always indicates derision of the activity or person so named. Usage: Almost always used only of people who self-describe as ‘polyamorous;’ not used to describe, for example, people who identify as swingers. See related polysexual.

POLYGAMY: (Literally, poly many + gamos marriage) The state or practice of having multiple wedded spouses at the same time, regardless of the sex of those spouses. Contrast monogamy; See related polyandry, polygyny, bigamy. Commentary: Polygyny is the most common form of polygamy in most societies which permit multiple spouses. For that reason, many people confuse the two. Some objections to the practice of polyamory–for example, objections based on the perception that polyamorous relationships are inherently disempowering to women–arise from the  misperception that polyamory or polygamy are the same thing as polygyny.

POLYGYNY: (Literally, poly many + gynos woman) The state or practice of having multiple wedded wives at the same time. Contrast monogamy; See related polygamy, polyandry, bigamy. Commentary: According to some sociologists, polygynous societies represent the most common form of society, with 850 of the 1170 societies recorded in Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas being polygynous. Modern Muslim societies are polygynous, and certain religious traditions, including Fundamentalist Mormonism (FLDS) in the United States, advocate polygyny.

POLY MIXED RELATIONSHIP: Colloquial A poly/mono relationship.  

POLY/MONO; also, MONO/POLY: Colloquial Of or relating to a relationship between a person who self-identifies as polyamorous and a person who self-identifies as monogamous.

POLY-SATURATED: Colloquial Polyamorous, but not currently open to new relationships or new partners because of the number of existing partners, or because of time constraints which might make new relationships difficult. Contrast polyunsaturated. Usage: Often considered humorous or slightly silly. Seems to be most common primarily in the western United States.  

POLYSEXUAL: Colloquial Of or related to relationships which are sexually nonmonogamous but which are not emotionally intimate. Usage: Sometimes condescending or derogatory; as Bill is not really polyamorous, but only polysexual. May indicate dismissal or derision of the relationship so named. See related swinging.

POLY-UNSATURATED: (Colloquial) Polyamorous, and currently seeking or open to new partners. Contrast poly-saturated. Usage: Often considered humorous or slightly silly. Seems to be most common primarily in the western United States.  

PRIMARY/SECONDARY: A polyamorous relationship structure in which a person has multiple partners who are not equal to one another in terms of interconnection, emotional intensity, intertwinement in practical or financial matters, or power within the relationship. A person in a primary/secondary relationship may have one (or occasionally, more than one) primary partner and one or more additional secondary or tertiary partners. A primary/secondary relationship may be “prescriptive” (that is, a primary couple consciously and deliberately creates a set of rules whereby any additional partners are secondary, often because this is seen as a mechanism which will protect the existing relationship from harm caused by additional relationships) or it may be “descriptive,” and emerge from the nature and the situation of the relationship. See related tertiary, veto. Commentary: In practice, prescriptive primary/secondary relationships may create an environment where the people in those additional relationships feel unappreciated or insignificant, which is why some experienced polyamorous people do not construct their relationships along enforced primary/secondary lines.  

PRIMARY: In a primary/secondary relationship, the person (or persons) in the relationship with the highest degree of involvement or entanglement, or sometimes the person accorded the most importance. A person may be primary either as a natural consequence of the circumstance and nature of the relationship (because that person has the greatest degree of financial entanglement, for example), or as a deliberate consequence of the relationship structure and agreements (as in the case of an existing couple who set out to add additional partners only on the condition that those existing partners are seen as “less important” than the couple). See also co- primary; Contrast secondary, tertiary. Commentary: People who deliberately seek to construct a relationship along prescriptive primary/secondary lines typically designate one and only one relationship as the primary relationship. People who do not seek to construct a relationship along prescriptive primary/secondary lines may have more than one primary relationship; a relationship becomes primary when it reaches a certain point of emotional commitment, practical entanglement, or both.  

QUAD: A polyamorous relationship involving four people, each of whom may or may not be sexually and emotionally involved with all the other members. See related N.Commentary: One of the most common ways for a quad to form is when two polyamorous couples begin romantic relationships cross-couple.  

RELATIONSHIP ANARCHY: A philosophy or practice in which people are seen as free to engage in any relationships they choose, that spontaneity and freedom are desirable and necessary traits in healthy relationships, that no relationship should be entered into or restricted from a sense of duty or obligation, that any relationship choice is (or should be) allowable, and in which there is not necessarily a clear distinction between “partner” and “non-partner.”  

RELATIONSHIP ORIENTATION: A preference for sexual or loving relationships of a particular form; as, for example, a preference for relationships which are monogamous, for relationships which are polyfidelitous, for relationships which are polyamorous, and so forth. See related switch (Def. 1). Commentary: Just as some people feel that their sexual orientation is fluid and a matter of choice where other people feel that their sexual orientation is fixed and not subject to choice, so do some people feel that their relationship orientation is subject to choice whereas others feel their relationship orientation is not a matter of choice. It has been my observation that some people seem to be inherently monogamous, and can’t be happy any other way; some people seem to be inherently polyamorous, and can’t be happy any other way; and some people seem to be able, under the right circumstances and with the right partners, to be happy in a monogamous or a polyamorous relationship.   (From the More Than Two glossary.)

SAPIOSEXUAL: adjective (of a person) finding intelligence sexually attractive or arousing.”I met a PhD student from Germany who told me that he was sapiosexual or noun a person who finds intelligence sexually attractive or arousing.”I’m a sapiosexual and I like to talk.”

SECONDARY: In a primary/secondary relationship, the person (or persons) in the relationship who, either by intent or by circumstance, have a relationship which is given less in terms of time, energy and priority in a person’s life than a primary relationship, and usually involves fewer ongoing commitments such as plans or financial/legal involvements. A secondary relationship may be secondary as a result of a conscious decision on the part of the primary partners, or simply as a result of circumstance or the natural development of the relationship. See related tertiary.

SECONDARY SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Colloquial A romantic partner other than one’s primary partner or spouse. Usage: Used almost completely within the context of primary/secondary relationships.  

SERIAL MONOGAMY: A relationship pattern in which a person has only one sexual or romantic partner at a time, but has multiple sexual or romantic partners in a lifetime, and may change partners frequently. Arguably the most common form of relationship in the United States, serial monogamy is predicated on the idea that a person can love more than one other person romantically in a lifetime, but not at the same time. Contrast polyamory, polygamy, swinging; See related monogamy.

SIGNIFICANT OTHER: (Colloquial) A romantic partner. Usage: The term significant other is intended to be free of assumptions about the gender of that partner. See related other significant other.

SOLO POLY: An approach to polyamory that emphasizes agency and does not seek to engage in relationships that are tightly couple-centric. People who identify as solo poly emphasize autonomy, the freedom to choose their own relationships without seeking permission from others, and flexibility in the form their relationships take. Such people generally don’t want or need relationships that look like traditional couples, and may not, for example, seek to live with a partner (or partners) or combine finances with a partner (or partners).

SPOUSE: A person to whom one is married.

SWINGER: A person who engages in swinging.  

SWINGING: The practice of having multiple sexual partners outside of an existing romantic relationship, most often with the understanding that the focus of those relationships is primarily sexual rather than romantic or emotionally intimate. See also friends-first swinging, closed swinging, closed-group swinging, swing club. Commentary: The common perception of swinging is that those who engage in this behavior have sex outside of their existing relationship purely for recreation, and that emotional bonds or emotional intimacy are specifically excluded. This is true in some cases, and in fact some swing clubs specifically prohibit people from carrying on friendships or relationships outside the club. However, in practice swinging is much more nuanced, and people who self-identify as swingers can and sometimes do form close emotional relationships with their partners. Many people in both the swinging and polyamorous communities, though not all, see swinging and polyamory as two ends of a continuum, different in degree of intent, focus, and emphasis on romantic and emotional relationships rather than different in kind.  

SWOLLY: Colloquial A person who identifies as both polyamorous and also as a swinger; that is, a person who has multiple simultaneous relationships and also enjoys recreational sex in a swinging context. Etymology: The term was coined by Ken Haslam of the Kinsey Institute.  

TRIAD: 1. A polyamorous relationship composed of three people. 2. A union or group of three. Usage: In the sense of Def. 1, generally, the word triad is most often applied to a relationship in which each of the three people is sexually and emotionally involved with all the other members of the triad, as may be the case in a triad consisting of one man and two bisexual women or one woman and two bisexual men; however, it is sometimes also applied to vee relationships.  

THROUPLE: see triad. Etymology: A neologism coined by combining “couple” and “three”  

UNICORN: Colloquial; Usage: In dominant polyamory culture, almost always used of a hypothetical woman who is willing to date both members of an existing couple, agree not to have any relationships other than the ones with the couple, agree not to be sexually involved with one member of the couple unless the other member of the couple is also there, and/or agree to move in with the couple. So named because people willing to agree to such arrangements are vanishingly rare, whereas couples looking for a woman who will agree to these terms are incredibly common.    (Notation: in swinging, a unicorn is, typically, a bisexual female who seeks male/female couples for sex play at swinger parties and privately, choosing to be with both simultaneously (MFF), but beholden to neither as it relates to romantic or sexual fidelity. Source: SpecialKs on swinglifestyle.com)

VEE: Colloquial A polyamorous relationship involving three people, in which one person is romantically or sexually involved with two partners who are not romantically or sexually involved with each other. See also triad, pivot; See related quad, N.

VETO: A relationship agreement, most common in prescriptive primary/secondary relationships, which gives one person the power to end another person’s additional relationships, or in some cases to disallow some specific activity, such as some specific sexual or «BDSM»-related activity. A veto may be absolute, in which one partner may reject another partner’s additional relationships unconditionally, or may be conditional and used more as a way to indicate a serious problem in a relationship. Commentary: Not all polyamorous recognize or permit veto power. Veto is most common in primary/secondary relationship configurations, particularly in relationship configurations where an established couple is seeking additional partners. Veto is typically limited only to the primary partners, and a relationship which grants a veto power to a secondary partner is rare in the extreme.  

WOMANISM, WOMANIST: From Alice Walker’s Definition of a “Womanist” from In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose Copyright 1983.

1. From womanish.  (Opp. of “girlish,” i.e. frivolous, irresponsible, not serious.)  A black feminist or feminist of color.  From the black folk expression of mothers to female children, “you acting womanish,” i.e., like a woman.  Usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior.  Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered “good” for one.  Interested in grown up doings.  Acting grown up.  Being grown up.  Interchangeable with another black folk expression: “You trying to be grown.”  Responsible.  In charge. Serious.
2.
Also: A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually.  Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility (values tears as natural counterbalance of laughter), and women’s strength.  Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually.  Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female.  Not a separatist, except periodically, for health.  Traditionally a universalist, as in: “Mama, why are we brown, pink, and yellow, and our cousins are white, beige and black?” Ans. “Well, you know the colored race is just like a flower garden, with every color flower represented.”  Traditionally capable, as in: “Mama, I’m walking to Canada and I’m taking you and a bunch of other slaves with me.” Reply: “It wouldn’t be the first time.”
3. Loves music.  Loves dance.  Loves the moon.
Loves the Spirit. Loves love and food and roundness.  Loves struggle. Loves the Folk.  Loves herself. Regardless.
4.
Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.

Hierarchy, Anarchy, and Holidays

Les Hart talks about how she handles holidays as a relationship anarchist.

Marriage and Significant Relationships

When I first came to the polyamory community, I didn’t understand relationship anarchy and I didn’t understand egalitarian vs hierarchical poly. I didn’t understand what people meant when they advocated that romantic relationships not be more important than friendships. I believed in traditional monogamy and that the same ideas could be applied to non-monogamy. I believed that true love is defined by a relationship on the escalator that becomes more significant with time.  

Growing up, we are taught that a man should leave his family of origin and cleave to his wife, creating his own family. It has been the rite of passage into adulthood for centuries. It is a social norm, what we are taught to desire and what we are told will make our lives complete. This marriage thereby creates a hierarchy where every other relationship is less important, except for possibly the relationship with one’s dependent children. The couples vow to remain together committed to their love, in sickness and in health, until death.

So upon transitioning from monogamy to polyamory, the idea is that relationships will progress in the same way with the same conclusion…that true, undying romantic love is symbolized by this commitment to be together forever. The more of the commitment, sacrifice, and longevity, the stronger the love or at least the evidence of it. This can be problematic for many different populations. For example, many LGBTQ people, especially questioning or closeted individuals have intimate relationships that might not follow the traditional progression. So based on these ideals, romantic relationships that don’t fall into this or that category or that are not on escalator progression are seen as less than valid.  

Holidays and How to Measure Love

People have many ways to say I love you and show that someone is special to them. For example, holidays are those designated days that we use to show people we love them, ex. Valentine’s Day, Christmas. In the past, if my partner wasn’t available on a holiday, I did not feel like a priority to them. I felt that maybe I was “settling” or being used. I felt ashamed to care about someone who obviously didn’t care about me. I felt ashamed that my relationship had failed to meet societal expectations about what love should be. I felt ashamed for not asking for more, and with this it seemed that I was admitting to the universe that I was deserving of less.  

Today, holidays are still important to me and I want to spend them with people I love. Therefore, as a single adult, I have found community that I can spend holidays with when I can’t make it home to be with my family of origin or when I don’t have a significant other.  

That brings me to my question: If romantic love could be measured, how would we measure it? If we could write the love actions down and put them in a jar how would we know that our jar was full? Would we see holidays as optional, if we so desire, or as obligations to those we love?

Hierarchy and Anarchy

But if our relationships are seen on this hierarchy, where we judge their level of significance by things such as holidays, etc., what does that say about relationships where we don’t see our partners that often or where the connection may be primarily sexual? Or what about friends that sometimes have casual sex? These relationships are often seen as lacking in comparison to marriage and other committed relationships. But is it fair to judge the significance of these relationships based on longevity, milestones reached, time together on holidays, etc.? Relationship anarchists believe that the love they share cannot be quantified by how they spend holidays or anniversaries, because the absence of these things doesn’t make their love less.  

The Legal Status Of Polyamory (And How To Make It Better)

You have a right to be poly. The official word of the courts, though, is “ugh, whatever.”

On the bright side, there’s no risk of getting prosecuted. As long as no more than two people try to get married, what you do is your own business. It’s privacy, the same logic that struck down laws against same-sex relationships.

The drawback is that the government’s inability to interfere isn’t quite the same thing as cheering for alternative lifestyles. The only modern case on the subject was brought by the stars of the reality TV show Sister Wives, and a religious freedom claim about polygamy as practiced by a fundamentalist Mormon splinter sect isn’t very representative of modern polyamory.

Luckily, there’s a simple way to get polyamorous relationships enshrined in constitutional law.

A few laws still directly discriminate. Most obviously, some city and county zoning laws say that no more than five unrelated individuals may live together in certain places. Or three, or two. These are common enough that for most places in the United States, some city nearby probably has one.

Why does this matter? Occupancy limits aren’t very high-stakes discrimination. They’re definitely not as bad as declaring a relationship illegal. And even if a group of partners did want to live together somewhere it wouldn’t be allowed, enforcement is spotty enough that they’d have a good chance at being ignored. But it is discriminatory. And that means it’s a chance to make a judge say that polyamorous relationships are protected, even against small-scale discrimination like this.

There’s a case to make that polyamory should be explicitly protected, just like sexual orientation. But that would be asking a court to invent new law. It is far easier to use an obscure but already existing branch of the First Amendment, which protects the fundamental right to choose who you live with and what your family structure is. 

Two types of association count as a fundamental right: expressive association, where you’re forming a group with a message, and intimate association. Intimate association includes marriage, child-raising, and living with relatives, but courts have said these are examples, not a full list. A group of poly partners would have a strong case that they should be included. There aren’t many associations that are more intimate than romantic ones. 

“Intimate,” as it’s defined here, means a small, selective group, that exists for personal reasons. It’s the type of personal relationship that everyone has with at most a few other people and that helps define personal identity. This would unavoidably include polyamory. Even the largest polycule is small by these standards; when courts have said that a group is too large they’ve meant the Rotary Club International. And romantic relationships are always selective and personal. A stable group of long-term partners would have the strongest possible case that the First Amendment protects their relationship.

Why does this matter for people who don’t live with their partners? Or who see poly as being like monogamy but open, instead of being about multiple specific relationships? There’s no shortage of ways to be poly, and not everyone has any reason to care about random occupancy laws. But the goal isn’t just “people can live with their partners.” It’s “people can live with their partners because this is an important type of relationship that deserves protecting.”

So suppose a handful of partners, or partners and metamours, wanted to move in together. They ask the city for permission, and the city refuses. If they sue, whether they win would depend on whether their intimate association rights were violated. The court wouldn’t be able to find some other way to answer the question like in the Sister Wives case, where since it’s half about religious freedom any plausible argument in the other half gets treated like a real right. It would have to go further and actually decide whether polyamorous relationships are a protected form of intimate association.

The end result would be to make the law more inclusive. There would be a precedent that polyamorous relationships are a form of intimate association that some people prefer, and that the law cannot discriminate against poly relationships without a good reason. It would change the law from grudging acknowledgement that there are rights to affirmatively describing why this type of relationship is valuable and deserves protection. It would strike down the odd few laws that do discriminate. And it would give polyamorous relationships some better representation than a white fundamentalist polygamist.

I think this would be an improvement. Before Lawrence v. Texas said that gay relationships are legal because of privacy rights, advocates were talking about making progress through freedom of intimate association. The fact that there are still laws on the books defining what counts as a family means there is an opportunity to get legal recognition as just another type of relationship.

If this sounds like a step up, all it needs is a plaintiff. A group of partners and metamours who want to form a household together, or who already do and wouldn’t mind looking into moving. The bigger the group, the better. Not everywhere has these laws, and the more unrelated individuals there are the more likely it is to be illegal somewhere nearby. The stakes are the first solid positive precedent about polyamory anywhere in constitutional law.

Nathaniel Maranwe is a lawyer in the Washington, DC area. If you are interested in trying to make progress this way, want to suggest another way to improve the law, or want to talk for any other reason, you can reach him at nathaniel.maranwe@gmail.com.

Crystal’s Guide To Dating

Dating is hard! Dating while poly can be even harder. I’m autistic, so dating for me is hard to navigate without knowing the rules. So how do you talk about your identity, negotiate consent, and build quality relationships in the brave new swiping world? I’ve got you covered.

Step 1: Know Yourself

Why are you dating? Do you want emotional and physical connection, someone to have sex with, and/or a hiking buddy? Start the process by thinking about the wants and needs that motivate you to date. Do you have a list of ideal qualities? Deal breakers? Know what type of things you want in a person and the things that you would find unacceptable in a partner.

If you’re already partnered, think about what you like and dislike about that person. How are they meeting your needs? What’s missing? Are there any potential issues between you two that might interfere with you dating others? Do you have your partner’s consent to be non-monogamous, and have you discussed what that means for both of you?

Step 2: Check Your Presentation

If it’s been a while since you went out, think about your appearance and habits. Your current partner may be ok with bedhead, but what about a new person? Do you take pride in your concert tees, or should they go to the thrift store? Are you dressing and presenting yourself in a way that is flattering to your shape? Do you feel good about yourself, inside and out? (If no, consider reaching out to some professionals.)

Presentation applies to your social media presence as well. No one swipes right on photos of your torso, nether regions, or your dog. (Well, maybe your dog if he’s cute.) Take some time to compose quality pictures of yourself and make a good first impression. (Pro tip from a mom: never use pictures of children in a dating app.)

Step 3: Make Your Approach

Whether online or off, how you approach people is key to your success in dating. Just because we live in a world full of abbreviations and memes, doesn’t mean you can skimp on communicating your interest. That’s right: forget about copy and paste and take time to write a quality opening message. When you send private messages, talk about what interested you. Be upfront about why you’re connecting. Don’t start with “hi” and expect the other person to carry the conversation. You’re initiating, so you move the conversation toward a date in the real world.

Offline, approaching people must be done with care. Not everyone going about their business wants to flirt in public. Before you shoot your shot, observe their situation and determine if it’s an appropriate time and place. Are they at work? Do they have earphones in? Don’t engage. Are they smiling at you and making a lot of eye contact? Did they move seats to get a better view? Go!

Pay attention to how your potential partner responds. If someone is interested, they’ll keep talking even if they need to be somewhere else. People who are not interested will give a lot of one word answers or look at their phone. Don’t force it. If things look like they’re going downhill, exit gracefully. Offer your phone number and walk away when they say no. Why offer your number? If they are interested, they will call. It’s much more pleasant knowing that someone wants to get in touch than to keep calling and texting with no response.

But why would you spend all that time approaching someone to get rejected? It happens. The sparks you feel aren’t always reciprocated. People don’t owe you a response or the time of day. Just remember that their response is a reflection on you, not them. Have confidence that you will find people who are a good fit for you and get back out there.

Step 4: Tailor the Ask

Don’t be coy about interacting with someone. Be upfront (and polite) about what you’re looking for in a partner. It “no strings attached” sex is on your mind, say so. Everyone can see through you when you say, “looking for friends or more,” and it’s not appealing. It takes courage to ask for what you want, and you may get rejected. Guess what? You’re going to get rejected the majority of the time anyway. You might as well practice open and honest communication from the beginning, and that includes talking about your polyamorous orientation.

When should you let someone know you’re polyamorous? Right away. Non-monogamy is practiced by a small part of the US population, and not everyone is open to it. Your potential partners deserve a chance to opt out, and that should happen before either of you get too entangled with feelings. Whether you put it in your profile or save it for the first date, be prepared to explain what polyamory is and what your relationships look like. Correct misconceptions, but don’t try to convert anyone. Polyamory takes work, and it’s OK if people aren’t ready to try it.

What if the date goes really well, and you want to get physical? Get ready to exercise one vital organ–your mouth. Consent is more important than ever before, and I wrote a comprehensive guide about how to go about it. Here’s the short version: Use your words. Ask before you initiate touching or sexual activity. Pay attention to verbal AND nonverbal cues. Recognize if you are in a position of power over your partner (are they at your house? are you bigger? will they lose money/face/privileges if they don’t go along?). Know if you or your partner have the agency to consent (as an autistic person, I didn’t realize asking to have a sleepover as an adult meant you were OK with having sex. Spell these things out!)

Step 5: Know When to Fold ‘Em

No single interaction is worth losing your life, property, or freedom over. It may feel like the end of the world when a potential relationship doesn’t work out, but it’s not. Even if the first few dates go well, dating is a process of constantly reevaluating your compatibility. Everyone has the right to change their mind at any time. When it’s time to end it, do it gracefully (and not over text). If you’re interested in some kind of interaction in the future, say so–if it’s really true. One of the best things about being polyamorous is understanding that relationships have ups and downs, some people are only compatible on a few things, and communication makes everything easier.

So what would you add? How do you manage dating in the modern world?

The Triangle of Consent

Consent is an agreement between two people about how to move forward in a sexual relationship. While it’s easy to assume that obtaining consent is easy, American society has never created a space for people to learn how to obtain consent. What appears to be a simple issue of “yes” and “no” to sex often turns into “he said, she said” when someone makes an accusation of sexual assault.

So how do we improve our knowledge of how to handle consent? The sex positive community has not been a good example. In January 2018, Reid Mihalko, a well-known sex educator and cofounder of Cuddle Parties, was accused of of sexual harassment by a colleague. Though he later apologized and entered into a restorative justice process with other colleagues, his initial decision to not take responsibility shows a huge gap between his preaching about obtaining consent versus his actions.

Milhalko created an model for consent called the “safer sex elevator speech,” a way to establish boundaries and agreements before sexual activity. If a person who taught others how to obtain consent made a potential partner feel pressured, how can a regular person know what to do when consent gets messy?

I used to promote the safer sex elevator speech to people that want to know how to communicate about sex before the act. Once I learned about Mihalko’s behavior and his response, I started working on my own model. Who am I? I’m the website editor of Black & Poly, a community for black people transitioning to polyamory. I have been an assistant organizer for my local polyamory group and I am part of the sex-positive New Culture movement. I’ve taught others about consent and I am a survivor of sexual abuse. I identify as a womanist and I believe everyone wants to get this right.

A green triangle with the word consent in the middle. At the top is communication, and the at the bottom are power and agency.

This consent model expands the elevator speech beyond the basics of who, what, and how. It starts with the recognition of agency and power balances and ends with specific communication about sexual acts. This model has the form of a triangle in equal relationship to each other. If one part is missing or abbreviated, it will affect the entire experience of giving and obtaining consent. Here are the three legs: agency, power, and communication. I’ll break down each leg in detail.

Agency

The first leg is agency, which is the recognition that we all have the ability to make choices for ourselves. We make those choices based on available information and our own judgment. When we’re in a relationship, disclosing relevant information is the way we recognize our partner’s agency.

For instance, a person in the dating scene may tell a potential partner that they are seeing others. For those currently in a relationship, it may mean telling a partner that they have acquired an STI. This information usually affects the partner’s future actions, which is why it’s difficult and sometimes embarrassing to talk about. When we withhold information, we are taking away some of our partner’s agency. When a partner has the right information, they can respond in a way that will protect their own safety and peace of mind.

Another part of agency is cognition, or each person’s ability to understand the situation. Children, teenagers, and even young adults do not have the brain development of mature adults; it’s why we restrict drugs, alcohol, and driving by age. In the same way, neurodiverse people often lack the social awareness that will give them the information needed to give or obtain consent. For all people, impairment due to drugs and alcohol means people may make different decisions than if they were sober.

When determining if your partner has agency, compare their individual development against what is expected of people the same age and disability status. If they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are they cognizant of the decision they are making and its possible effects? Recognizing our partner’s agency is a critical part of obtaining consent. We must also acknowledge that even when consent is asked for and given, their actions could cross legal and/or moral boundaries.

Power

The second leg of the consent triangle is the awareness of power. It’s no accident that the majority of celebrities called out for sexual assault and harassment in the #MeToo have been powerful white men. Men born in the US have been brought up in a culture of toxic masculinity that values aggressiveness, manipulation, and dishonesty in order to “get the girl.” When a potential partner refuses to consent, a man’s response of disappointment and even anger is seen as socially appropriate.

Men are not always the bad guys, though. Any relationship between two people is subject to a power imbalance when someone has more seniority, wealth, status, or social support than their partner. Women who pressure men into sex by using their “feminine wiles” are just as guilty of manipulation. The power dynamics of each relationship is not fixed, and it’s always subjective. If someone believes they have less power, that will impact their ability to give consent.

In order to move forward with consent, people should acknowledge the power they hold in the situation. Have they considered the reasons their partner might say yes besides an actual desire to engage? Are they using their position or cultural privilege to get the sex they want? Can they give their partner the space to say no without fearing the consequences?

The fear of rejection is a powerful motivator during consent conversations. Saying or hearing “no” can be painful no matter how justified they are. In fact, many people go through with sex they are not sure about because the idea of hurting their partner seems to be worse than grinning and bearing it. To counter this, sex educators have asked people to ask for enthusiastic consent: it’s either a “Hell, yes!” or it’s a “no.”

Consent is almost meaningless when one partner has created a power imbalance through coercion and violence. People evaluating consent from the outside cannot use someone’s failure to stand up to or leave their abuser as a sign of consent. In the same way, it can be difficult to tell if a situation is sexual harassment or not. We can only start by believing the accuser and looking for patterns in each person’s behavior as it relates to the power balance.

Communication

The final leg of consent is the actual communication. Even in romantic comedies where the couple is falling over each other to get in a bed, consent has to be asked for and given. In an ideal world, progressively more intimate activities are verbally consented to by each partner. In the real world, it looks more like shy touches, smiles, and other nonverbal communication. The problem is that some people will look back on those activities and know that at some point they were unwilling to continue.

The moment bad sex becomes something worse is when this unwillingness is glossed over, when one partner notices that something is wrong but continues anyway. We have all experienced the feeling of powerlessness when we give up our agency to another. Our consent is half-hearted, and the guilt can be overwhelming. If you’ve ever had that experience in a non-sexual situation, then try to act with compassion when you see your partner hesitating to give consent.

So what does a conversation about sex look like? It starts with the truth. “I want to be intimate with you.” Even if the phrase sounds awkward and perhaps unauthentic, I encourage you to go into even more detail. The initial yes should be followed up with a checklist of sorts to cover the entire spectrum of sexual activity. Consider the following areas:

  1. Dirty talk
  2. Kissing
  3. Touching genitalia and erogenous zones
  4. Penetration (genitals, fingers, toys)
  5. Oral sex
  6. Anal sex
  7. BDSM activities such as spanking and fetishes

In the spirit of recognizing agency, both partners should discuss any potential barriers to consensual sex. This includes:

  1. STIs and date of last testing
  2. Use of barriers (such as condoms or dental dams), what kind and where
  3. Current relationships and agreements
  4. Past sexual history
  5. Use of birth control or medical sterilization
  6. Medical conditions and other physical limitations
  7. Psychological limitations, history of abuse, and triggers
  8. Attitude towards sex and how it will affect the relationship moving forward

Practice communicating consent before you and your partner get to the bedroom. Over time, these conversations will become commonplace and easier. It’s understandable that not everyone can talk about these things without feeling embarrassed or nervous, but sex is not something to be done in the proverbial dark. The more openness you bring to the conversation, the less shame you will feel about doing one of the most human acts.

At the end of the day, consent is just one part of navigating relationships. Due to the legal and social change in the world, it’s more important than ever to find a way to give and obtain consent without shame and guilt. Recognizing each other’s agency, addressing power imbalances, and communicating consent is a great way to create space for the pleasurable experience that sex should be.

Examples

Now that we have a model of consent, let’s apply it to different situations.

Situation 1: A heterosexual couple has gone out on their first date and are now at the man’s house for a nightcap. The man, recognizing his power in this situation (it’s his house and his alcohol) tries to make the woman as comfortable as possible. He may offer her a drink and sit beside her, almost touching her in a way that is intimate but not forceful. Either may initiate sex by engaging in touching and other nonverbal signs.

In order to bring the triangle of consent into balance, they can do things differently. Either partner could demonstrate agency by speaking the truth about the situation: “I’m at your house and excited about connecting more with you.” “I know I invited you over, but I understand if you want to leave without us having sex.” They can also turn touching into communication by saying, “Can I give you a hug or kiss?” Creating an opening for communication gives both partners the space and time to get in touch with their desires and act from a place of enthusiastic consent.

Situation 2: Gay acquaintances have been drinking at a bar, and one partner is interested in making out. Both partners have been using their agency by flirting and talking during the night. They have the social skills to be able to interpret when their attention is no longer reciprocated. Either one can gain consent by verbally asking for a kiss.

No matter how encouraging a partner has been, direct communication establishes a starting point for consent that they can both point to later. It’s true that alcohol can interfere with judgment, and that people can still regret activities they consent to. The more time they spend talking about what they both want, they more likely they will look back on the situation with confidence.

Situation 3: A woman at a higher level in a company is flirting with a colleague. The woman can acknowledge her position of power by saying, “I know I’m in upper management at work, but I want us to be equals outside.” She can clarify what she wants by saying, “I’m flirting with you because I’m interested in a sexual relationship.” It is vital that she gives her partner space to say yes or no and to follow up with details. Instead of depending on innuendo and creating a potentially dangerous “he said, she said” situation, both people can consent to the interaction in a way that feels good. (It’s still possible that their relationship could violate company guidelines.)

The world of dating is often murky, and misunderstandings can be played up as humorous or treacherous. By incorporating the triangle of consent into your interactions, you can create a container of safety and awareness around sexual activity.

Bonus

Believe it or not, a children’s show has created a perfect scenario for talking about consent. In the show Steven Universe, Steven is a half-alien who has a human friend named Connie. In this episode, they realize that they can fuse together like the aliens can. Fusion is an analog of sex for the aliens, and the episode is a great representation about how consent works.

In this episode, Steven and Connie are enjoying themselves at the beach. They start dancing, which is how the aliens initiate a fusion. Steven recognizes his power and covers his eyes before asking Connie to dance. They both allows themselves to be vulnerable with awkward dance moves and giggles. When they fuse, they are able to enjoy the pleasure of being in sync with each other while recognizing that sometimes they are uncomfortable. After interacting with other characters in the show, they stop to check in. “Are you ok?” This simple question opens up space for both people to communicate their willingness to continue.

Later, at a dance party, Steven and Connie’s togetherness becomes downright uncomfortable. They stop dancing and wonder why it’s not fun. They are both willing to say that something is wrong, even if they can’t explain why. Whether we express it or not, we know what a no feels like. Many of us have also experienced the negative consequences of saying no. In the episode, the response to no included aggressive shaming and attempts to convince them that their no is not a real no. We can create a better consent culture when we recognize a no, stop, and enjoy our time with a partner at a level where we are both comfortable.

H/T to Gregory Avery-Weir for their breakdown of Alone Together.

Black & Poly Dating

For five years, Black & Poly has been your resource for information on polyamory and diversity in the black community. Now, we are offering a dating service tailored to your needs!

Introducing Black & Poly Dating!

B&P Dating

-Inclusive: Open to all genders, sexual orientations, and poly configurations

-Educational: Resources to help you on your poly journey

-Worldwide: Celebrating black-identified people and those who love them

-Free for Everyone!

Most of the features are free, but you can become a Premium member to create groups and send unlimited messages per hour. Premium membership is just $2.99 a month!

Sign up now for Black & Poly Dating. Join 11,000 other members and find your future partners!

Representation Matters

When you talk to white middle class polyamorists, you get the viewpoint of white middle class polyamorists.

Olivia Goldhill recently wrote about polyamory and whether it is a political movement. While she acknowledged the existence of Black & Poly’s Facebook page, she concluded that the poly community was largely white and cisgendered. Unfortunately she did not reach out to Ron Young or any of the non-white leaders in the polyamory movement. As a result, her article demonstrates a narrow view of polyamory.

Missing from the article are people of color and queer people who struggle to live their lives in a culture that is not at all accepting. Despite the fact that black polyamorists face discrimination from family, potential partners, and work colleagues, non-monogamy has always been a part of black culture. The Black Panthers lived collectively and had multiple partners during the sixties, but the author is ignorant of this history. Black & Poly specifically takes a womanist view of the world that centers the experiences and desires of women in a distinctly non-patriarchal way.

The author also glosses over the LGBTQ community and their history of non-monogamy. Though she mentions some women and non-binary people who identify as queer, it’s clear she has only talked to bisexual women who largely operate in the heterosexual poly community. Ana Valens, responding to the article, writes: “Instead of suggesting polyamory began with hetero communes and ended up in Brooklyn bars, it’s much more accurate to suggest that queer poly people see their sexual and romantic interactions as part of a larger queer experience of challenging the norms that permeate in cis, straight relationships. In other words, poly queers are not looking for belonging. They’re looking to exist independently from straight people.”

Middle class whites did popularize swinging, where couples meet in homes or sex clubs for purely physical relationships. The author confuses these two flavors of ethical non-monogamy while trying to define polyamory. In doing so, she conflates sex and love in a way that many poly people dislike. The event she profiles in the article is not a poly meetup but a BDSM mixer. While the kink and poly communities overlap, they have many differences. The only black voice in the article talks about a common problem in the BDSM community, but it is not necessarily representative of black women’s experiences in the poly community.

Her description of polyamory also ignores the asexual community and those who include non-sexual relationships in their polycules. It was inaccurate and harmful for her to say that both men and women are “expected” to enjoy sex because consent is the absolute bedrock of polyamorous relationships. The couples new to non-monogamy that look forward to threesomes with single women quickly realize the reality of polyamorous dating: you can’t force sexual attraction.

Her article has an uncomfortable focus on the economic benefits of polyamory. Poly family homes are another stereotype that is not part of most people’s lived reality. For all her focus on marble countertops, she ignores the subset of black polyamorists that specifically seek to build black economic power outside of the mainstream economy. Once again, the black poly community is actually more political than the people she interviews.

While I know and respect the people at Chrysalis, none of them can be considered typical polyamorists. New Culture is a radical movement focusing on relationships and vulnerability, but it faces its own issues with race and LGBTQ representation. I was disappointed that Michael Rios, a respected leader, downplayed the effort required to maintain interracial relationships. Kevin Patterson’s book Love’s Not Colorblind deserves more than a casual reference as a guide to how people can deconstruct race and privilege in the poly community.

The benefits of polyamory, such as autonomy and self knowledge, are not limited to those who live together and have group sex. Polyamory requires not only openness but a desire to build interpersonal skills and work through tough problems. The author’s drawing of poly as a cozy, multi-family network doesn’t show the real work that people do to maintain their relationships. This is the reason polyamorists do not disparage those who chose monogamy. It’s not for everyone, and we certainly don’t expect everyone to move into family-friendly communes.

The author went looking for radicalism in the poly community, and she found middle class people who are using their privilege to live comfortably despite having an alternative lifestyle. She missed the people who are actively challenging white privilege and patriarchy through their relationships, and in doing so she did a disservice to the entire poly community.

If it feels like history is repeating itself, it is.

Couple’s Privilege

A listing of the best sites to find out more about unicorn hunting and couple’s privilege.

Unicorn Hunting: In dominant polyamory culture, almost always used of a hypothetical woman who is willing to date both members of an existing couple, agree not to have any relationships other than the ones with the couple, agree not to be sexually involved with one member of the couple unless the other member of the couple is also there, and/or agree to move in with the couple. So named because people willing to agree to such arrangements are vanishingly rare, whereas couples looking for a woman who will agree to these terms are incredibly common.

Couple’s Privilege: The presumption that socially sanctioned pair-bond relationships involving only two people (such as marriage, long-term boyfriend/girlfriend, or other forms of conventional intimate/life partnerships) are inherently more important, “real” and valid than other types of intimate, romantic or sexual relationships. Such primary couples (or partnerships that are clearly riding society’s standard relationship escalator toward that goal) are widely presumed — even within many nonmonogamous communities — to warrant more recognition and support than other types of intimate relationships.

How to Date as a Couple

Polyamory and Statistics or, “Why haven’t we found our third yet?”

https://www.unicorns-r-us.com/

https://www.morethantwo.com/coupleprivilege.html

https://hannahanthonia.weebly.com/blog/why-bisexual-women-dont-like-unicorn-hunters-aka-the-list-of-expectations-and-depressing-statistics

https://findpoly.com/blog/unicorn-hunting/

https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/dynamics-polyamory-couple-privilege/

https://medium.com/@walkerjd235/what-is-couple-privilege-be4c1ef14dac

http://solopoly.net/2013/02/05/couple-privilege-having-it-doesnt-necessarily-make-you-an-asshole-but-it-can/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-without-limits/201307/couple-privilege-and-the-ecology-intimate-relationships

https://medium.com/@thelolaphoenix/five-reasons-couple-privilege-doesn-t-exist-2bd2cf238c67

https://solopoly.net/2012/12/03/couple-privilege-your-thoughts/

https://polypretzels.wordpress.com/tag/couple-privilege/

http://www.criticalpolyamorist.com/homeblog/couple-centricity-polyamory-and-colonialism

https://www.elle.com/life-love/sex-relationships/news/a39126/open-marriage-secondary-partners/

https://supermelly.com/2015/06/22/shifting-the-paradigm-and-couples-privilege/

https://brighterthansunflowers.com/2016/06/10/can-polyamorous-hierarchies-ethical-part-1-tower-village/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/comment/reply/1092902/862836

https://polyinthemedia.blogspot.com/2016/02/calling-out-okcupids-poly-couple.html