Doin’ It and Doin’ It and Doin’ It Well

Ruby Bouie Johnson responds to recent coverage of polyamory in the national news.

I’ve had several weeks to reflect on the recent coverage of polyamory in a few national media outlets, ranging from the very conservative to the center-left. Though the presentation and tone varied between them, they all managed to be grossly misinformed about the philosophy and practice of polyamory and consensual non-monogamy. Over the last 14 years in direct clinical practice, and the last 3 years in private practice, I can say with confidence that folks who come into my office for relationship therapy, love and care for each other. These individuals seek therapy to educate themselves, mediate their conflicts, and establish agreements to move forward within their relationships, whether they are in a monogamous relationship or a polyamorous relationship or anything else on the relationship continuum.

Let’s concisely dispel the myths.

1. Polyamory is not polygamy.

2. Polyamory is not polyfuckery.

3. Polyamory is not about subjugating monogamy.

4. Comparing polyamory to monogamy and monogamy to polyamory leads to frustration and insult.

5. Qualifying “natural” or “normal” to a persons’ way of loving, living, and being is bullshit.

6. Polyamory is not unnatural, barbaric, or savage.

7. Polyamory does not subjugate or oppress women.

Furthermore, what I read is highly unrealistic about how open relationships work in the real world. What I read was stories of irresponsible remedies to a marriage or partnership that was disconnected. These were stories of infidelity that segue into an open relationship. This is an infrequent way for healthy polyamarous relationships to begin. One of the core tenants of open relationships is consent; real consent, not “apology after the fact”. Clinically, I work with couples that have begun a non-monogamous relationship dynamic in an attempt to recover from an infidelity. The lack of confidence resulting from the deceit and secrecy often disrupts the relationship. In my experience a significant majority of these relationships have irreparable damage. This is not because polyamorous or non-monogamous relationships are unstable, but because deceit and secrecy are highly destabilizing to any relationship, whether it is a monogamous relationship or not.

Let me share with you some ways that healthy more-than-two relationships actually function.

1. Communication, Communication, Communication. Let me be clear, it’s not talking at the other person. It’s about being present, open, and willing to understand the wants, needs, and desires of the other.

2. The ability to negotiate. Negotiation is a skill and art. One must have a range of skills that they are bringing to the table. Some include: trust that the other person has their best interests at heart; genuine expression of needs; lastly, and for me this is the most important, a shared meaning of the end goal.

3. Commitment. Commitment is not a simple commitment to the other person; it’s a commitment to all that are involved within the relationship network. The commitment to be safe, responsible, and honor agreements.

4. Each person must recognize when they need to nurture their relationship with their own selves. For example, when someone starts to identify irritability and short-temperedness in themselves, they must check themselves before they wreck themselves.

5. It’s important to understand that this is about not about accommodating a perceived need for “equal sharing”, it’s about fulfilling the needs of everyone involved, which are never all going to be the same.

As I read this list, these suggestions for best practices with healthy relationships are applicable to lovers, friends, family, coworkers, etc. It’s not a mystery how to make relationships work best. These principles apply to and yield healthy polyamorous relationships just as much as they apply to and yield healthy monogamous relationships. As long as we treat each other with dignity and worth, let’s get it on, baby.

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.

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FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

What is polyamory? How do I get started? Read on for these questions and more!

What is polyamory?
Polyamory is the state or practice of maintaining multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships simultaneously, with the full knowledge and consent of all the people involved. It is not swinging, though both fall under the umbrella of consensual nonmonogamy.

Isn't this just cheating? 
The key feature of polyamorous relationships is that all partners have consented to the arrangement. Dishonesty and secrecy are not compatible with polyamory. Partners have various arrangements about how much they tell each other about their relationships, but everyone is aware of the others.

Is this going to save my marriage? 
No. If your existing relationship needs work, it's not helpful to add additional relationships. Couples often explore sexual permissiveness as a way to fix a distant marriage--however, it often leads to jealousy, resentment, and anger. Go to marriage therapy and understand the underlying needs that are not being met before you explore polyamory. The best way to start a polyamorous relationship is by having other healthy relationships.

Do we have to date the same person?
A couple dating the same person is called a triad and is assumed to be common in polyamory. It's not. Polyamorous couples usually date separately so each person can meet their individual and unique needs. Often a married couple will want to find a bisexual woman who can meet both partners' need for sex. These women are called unicorns because a woman rarely is sexually and/or emotionally attracted to both halves of a couple at the same time. It's so unpopular it's called unicorn hunting in the poly community.

Where do I find dates?
It's recommended to be open about your status when you start dating. You may get negative reactions, but you'll go into new relationships with the honesty and transparency that's important to polyamory. That said, you can find dates the same way you date as a single person. OKCupid is well-liked for its ability to mark yourself as nonmonogamous and link your profile to one other person.

What happens when she/he feels jealous?
Jealousy is a natural emotion, and it's not an excuse to lash out at a partner or end a relationship. Jealousy is a clue to unmet needs that must be examined before you take action. Experienced polyamorous people know they will feel jealousy, but they also know it's their problem, not their partner's. Rules imposed based on jealous feelings are likely to cause hurt and resentment.

How do I protect against STIs?
Barrier usage (such as condoms and dental dams) and regular testing will protect you from the most common sexually transmitted diseases/infections. Use up-to-date resources to gauge your comfort level with different sexual practices. Have an open and honest conversation about your history with new partners. Honor agreements with current partners and don't lie about unprotected sex.

What will the neighbors think?
They will probably give you the side-eye if you bring your new partner to the cookout. Nonmonogamy is not new, but open and ethical relationships are often seen to be the same as cheating. Do your community a favor and be honest about your relationships. The more visible we are, the more accepting the world will be. If you have children, consider your legal situation before outing yourself.

Is this against my religion?
Both the Bible and Quran endorse forms of nonmonogamy. Their shared patriarch, Abraham, famously fathered children with two different women. That doesn't mean your local congregation will welcome your new status. Reconciling your religious beliefs (if any) and polyamory is a personal journey that is well worth it.

Where do I find a local community?
Polyamorous people are everyone! Search on Meetup or Facebook to find groups in your area. Read the group guidelines to know if it is intended for meeting new partners or just for community support. Definitely join the Black & Poly Facebook Group to connect with black polyamorists and their allies worldwide. We're happy to meet you and support you in this lovestyle.

Do you have more questions? Comment below and check out our other posts!

Poly Reading List

Find out what books are popular for learning about polyamory. I'll tell you who should read them based on your situation.

More Than Two

More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory

Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert

Everyone! Covers the basics of polyamory and goes in depth on relationship styles, agreements, jealousy, and more. It's the book I wish I'd read when I started my poly journey, if it had existed back then.

Love's Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities

Kevin A. Patterson

People of color and those who love them. Learn how to navigate polyamorous relationships while being a member of a minority group. Read our review.

The Polyamorists Next Door

The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families

Dr. Elisabeth Sheff

Everyone! Dr. Sheff is the premier researcher on polyamory and presents an in-depth view of the ways people practice polyamory. She admits she did not get enough voices from people of color--maybe the next edition? Read our review.

Sex At Dawn

Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships

Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

Science minded folks who want to prove that nonmonogamy has been common all along. The authors take an anthropological view of human relationships and assert that the modern view of marriage is unnatural.

When Someone You Love is Poly

When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous: Understanding Poly People and Relationships

Dr. Elisabeth Sheff

Your mono family and friends. This is a short volume that explains the basics of polyamory and hopefully encourages a longer conversation about how and why you chose to be nonmonogamous.

Opening Up

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships

Tristan Taormino

Couples looking to explore together. This book goes over the basic forms of nonmonogamy and offers tips specifically for couples already involved.

The Ethical Slut

The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures

Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton

Baby boomers. This book was revolutionary when the first edition came out, but anyone born after the birth of MTV will find it underwhelming and obvious. It's required reading if only to learn how far we've come.

Ask Me About Polyamory

Ask Me About Polyamory!

Kimchi Cuddles

Poly and queer lovers. Tikva Wolf is a delightful cartoonist and her comics give an overview of all the aspects of polyamory with funny and realistic characters.

Local Black & Poly Meetups

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What is Polyamory?

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Confused about the difference between polyamory, polygamy, swinging, and more? Check out the definitions below for clarity!

Polyamory

Literally, poly (many) + amor (love). The state or practice of maintaining multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships simultaneously, with the full knowledge and consent of all the people involved.

Polyamory is not necessarily related directly to marriage or polygamy; 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."

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.

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.

Open Marriage

A 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.

Monogamish

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's relationship.

The term was coined by columnist Dan Savage to describe committed relationships that still allow some "outside" sexual dalliances.

Polygamy

The state or practice of having multiple wedded spouses at the same time. Polygyny (multiple women married to one man) is the most common form of polygamy (the obverse being polyandry). Polygyny is associated with many religious and ethnic subcultures, with Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas recording 850 of 1170 societies as being polygynous. Modern religious traditions, including Islam and Fundamentalist Mormonism (FLDS) allow polygyny. For this reason, many people confuse polygamy with polyamory.

Consensual Nonmonogamy

Any relationship which is not sexually and/or emotionally exclusive by the explicit agreement and with the full knowledge of all the parties involved. Consensual nonmonogamy can take several forms, the two most common of which are polyamory and swinging, and it is distinct from cheating in that everyone involved knows about and agrees to the activity.

Consensual nonmonogamy often explicitly spells out the conditions under which it is permissible for one person to take on additional partners, and often includes some form of safer-sex agreement as well.

Call for Submissions

The Black & Poly magazine is live! We are looking for your experiences in nonmonogamy to share with the community. By sharing our stories, you are helping others learn about this lovestyle and to bring the black family closer together.

As a special incentive, the first ten authors who submit approved posts will receive a Black & Poly signature t-shirt!

Submission Guidelines
We accept fiction and nonfiction posts relating to nonmonogamy and black identity. You do not have to be black or polyamorous, but your submission should be relevant to the community. If you are new to polyamory, feel free to submit your transitioning story or questions for upcoming Q&A. We accept all forms of media (written word, pictures, video, audio) as long as they are original and do not infringe on existing copyright. You are welcome to submit non-original content for consideration as long it is properly attributed.

Click here to submit your post or idea.

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We are also seeking an experienced Production Artist to be responsible for layout of news articles/blog pieces using InDesign and Photoshop and web posting utilizing WordPress.

Confidentiality Notice
The Black & Poly website is publicly accessible on the internet. If you choose to use your legal name in your submission, you are responsible for safeguarding your personal information and relationship agreements in your posts. Please be cautious when discussing your location, marital status, job, children, other partners, social media profiles, illegal activity, and any other personally identifying information. Even when using an assumed name, you are ultimately responsible for what you post.

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New Editor for the Black and Poly Magazine

Welcome to the Black & Poly magazine! I am your new editor. Simply put, my job is to bring to you the voices of the black community who are practicing consensual nonmonogamy. In these pages, you will read about love, relationships, and identity. We will share what we do in our lives, how we see ourselves, and what we want for the world.

Why is there a need for Black & Poly? I have long had this theory that nonmonogamy is familiar to the black community. Mainstream polyamory has an accepted history that is centered on white, middle-class experiences. Our goal is to highlight the experiences of others who have lived before and after the term was put in the dictionary. There's no one way to do polyamory, and the diversity in styles you'll see will be just as diverse as our community.

What qualifies me to edit the blog? I have considered myself polyamorous for nine years. I will expand on my experiences in future posts, but for now I have healthy relationships that meet my needs. I am a leader in the local polyamory community and I draw on my life history to help others. As far as writing, I have been a word nerd for all my life. I edited our high school literary magazine and a regional newsletter in college. I have written fiction published online. I currently manage three websites and I wrote my senior thesis in an entirely different language (Russian).

If you are interested in contributing to the blog, contact us and submit your ideas. We are interested in hearing from people who identify with the black community and are pursuing non-monogamous relationships. You can be single, married, solo-poly, relationship anarchist, straight, or queer. We welcome fiction, essays, interviews, poetry, audio, and video that are about your experiences in this life. Even if you are new to polyamory, we welcome your questions and stories of exploration. Everyone has a voice that can be shared with the community.

Through the work of Ron Young and others, I see the Black & Poly community growing from local meetups and a Facebook group to a global, interconnected community of lovers and activists. Our online presence may be your first view of these relationships, but real learning comes from interacting with experienced practitioners and, of course, making your own mistakes. I hope to continuously encourage you to live your truth and embrace love despite the criticism and judgments you will see in the mainstream world. The Black & Poly community will be here to support you.

-Crystal
image of Crystal Farmer

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