The polyamorous strike back

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Sometimes I kick the proverbial hornet’s nest intentionally—“bullshit in the Bible”, for instance—and sometimes I kick the hornet’s nest accidentally. I honestly didn’t expect the outraged response I got after I wrote that poly wasn’t a sexual identity in the “sexual orientation” sense of the term. Some people identify as poly, of course, just as some people identify as, say, dominant or submissive. While I recognize that poly (or D/s) can be central to someone’s sexual identity, I’ve never viewed it as a sexual orientation and I didn’t think this was a controversial point of view.

Many poly people disagree. I’ve received a ton of impassioned emails from polyamorous readers, most of whom see themselves as poly-oriented, not just poly-identified. And while some seem confused—I’ve never denied the existence of polyamorous people, I never said that people couldn’t or shouldn’t identify as polyamorous—I’m turning the rest of this week’s column over to the polyoutraged.

I’ve been poly all my life, since well before I knew there was such a possibility. As far back as grade school, I’ve generally had a crush on more than one boy/guy/man, and as an adult, I can’t imagine a life where I’m limited to one man, even though I love my husband deeply. When I was with someone before I knew about polyamory, I’d cheat. I wouldn’t want to, but sooner or later I’d meet someone else and fall in love so hard that I had to be with the other person, too. I hated cheating. I hated dishonesty. I hated myself. Reading Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy’s book The Ethical Slut changed my life. I finally understood the person I had been my whole life. I’m poly. I’m not monogamous and I can’t choose to be monogamous. I will always have the capacity to love more than one person and the incapacity to keep myself from falling in love with others—the way you will always have the capacity to love men romantically and no capacity to love women. It’s a choice whether I act on that capacity, just like it’s a choice whether you act on your attraction to men, but it’s not a choice whether I fall in love with more than one person at a time. Some people might just flirt with the lifestyle, but some of us are built to love more than one person at a time.

> Poly Of Long Years

To enshrine the homosexuality/heterosexuality spectrum as the one sexual motivator around which individuals can choose an identity seems strange to me. I’m a hetero-identified man, but I could be in a homosexual relationship if a situation forced me to choose a partner from outside of my preferred sexual-gender-orientation. (Jail, for example.) It wouldn’t change how I identify, but it would change the relationship I’m in. However, the fact that closeted homosexual men operate in hetero relationships and fuck their wives, or hetero guys fuck other hetero guys in jail or submarines doesn’t make the identities of gay and straight any less valid.

> Thinking Straight

I believe sexuality exists on spectrums. Not just one spectrum from gay to straight with bi in the middle, but several spectrums. One spectrum is how sexual you are, from those with little to no sex drive to people who have very active sex drives. There is also, perhaps, a spectrum from monogamous to polyamorous. You say that monogamy and polyamory are things people do, not things people are. However, I feel some people can be innately one or the other. My husband and I decided to have a three-way. My husband could barely keep his dick hard when fucking our third. He couldn’t get into it until I got involved directly, and even then it didn’t really do much for him. (Believe me, our third was any straight guy’s dream. The only reason he wasn’t into that is because he’s really only into me.) When he’s in love with someone, all he wants is that person. He’s very one-person-and-one-person-only oriented. In contrast, although he satisfies me and I love him, I want other partners. I feel that I’m polyamorous innately. I feel I am wired to be like this. I didn’t choose it. Likewise, my husband couldn’t choose to be polyamorous. He can practise polyamory, and he has for my sake, but naturally he’s a monogamous person. I appreciate that you advocate nonmonogamy. I credit you with helping to save my marriage. We married as virgins and were clueless about sex. But my husband and I have a great sex life—and I’m free to pursue people on the side—because we read your column.

> I Am How I Am

Hetero/poly guy here. I’m part of a live-in quad, and we all raise our kids together, so I’m pretty far down the polyamory rabbit hole. Figured I’d add my two cents to the discussion. I don’t think that polyamory can really be defined as an “orientation”, because that’s an improper way to describe what polyamory is. I can still be attracted to monogamous people, and being poly doesn’t change or alter that fact. I do, however, think that polyamory—or, by contrast, monogamy—can be defined as a sexual identity, and that’s where I think your advice to PP went astray. Consider: a gay man can be attracted to a straight man, correct? Similarly, I can be attracted to people who identify as monogamous. But that attraction doesn’t separate individuals from their identity. Gay men tend to date other gay men and would generally be advised not to go chasing after straight men. In the same way, I try my best to stick to other people who identify as poly. Poly is very much an identity, Dan, and poly people form communities around that identity. We face some unique challenges (how do you raise kids in this environment? How do you balance time between partners?), while some other life challenges are made easier (four parents makes getting kids to soccer easier). I’m not saying that we need to add a P to LGBTQQIA, but I don’t think we can just be written off, either.

> Poly Identified Emailer

I’m a bisexual, polyamorous 24-year-old woman. From the very first time I was faced with a cute boy who wanted to date me, I knew that I couldn’t be in a closed/exclusive relationship. I knew it as instinctively as I knew that I found women attractive as well as men. I had never heard of open relationships or polyamory. I was a virgin, so it wasn’t about sex. I didn’t have anyone else on the horizon and I really liked the boy, so it wasn’t about keeping my options open. And yet I knew—I knew—that I couldn’t agree to be his girlfriend without the freedom to date, flirt, sleep with, and love other people. Six years later, I started dating someone I think might turn out to be the love of my life. He’s a match for me intellectually, sexually, and emotionally. We make each other so happy, it’s silly. Even so, even in the best relationship I can possibly imagine, I know monogamy is not for me. Incredibly, he feels the same way. Maybe there are very few people like me—I think most people fall somewhere in the middle, with probably more oriented toward monogamy than not—but poly people like me exist.

> Poly Like Me


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Comments (13) Add New Comment
Christ the LORD
Whatever happened to just "fucking other people"? Christ, either you're satisfied or you're not. Does everything need a bizarrely rigid label? Does anyone notice that people who "identify" as "poly" are also, usually, of middle-class background or higher? And from a - more often - sexually more rigid cultural background?

I guess you can call yourself whatever you want, but it's awfully contrived and redundant. People been fuckin'!
Rating: -1
B**ch Please!
There's no high sex drive orientation, you just have a high sex drive. Congrats you're an "ethical slut"!
Rating: -1
Slut Groupie
What a fucking boring Savage Love column. Who the hell cares.
Rating: +5
What ever happened to just fucking whoever you want to fuck? Should I have a label for ever thing I do in my life? How many ways can I take a shit or walk?
Rating: -12
To all those who want to be dismissive about the label... just because you don't understand it and just because it doesn't apply to yourself doesn't mean it is any less valid. Humans are complicated as fuck. Even if we don't want to use labels and categorize because it feels like it creates division and separation, we have to admit that as humans we label and categorize absolutely everything. It's like saying, "Why is this MUSHROOM soup? Soup is soup!" Self-identity is no different. If you can check off a box that says "male" then why can't others add more boxes that they feel more closely explain them? Labelling is a part of identifying, and identifying is a part of understanding. When we understand ourselves better we can accept ourselves better, and when we can accept ourselves then we can actually learn how to take care of ourselves and our needs.

If it bothers you that much, I suggest you never walk into a supermarket where absolutely everything has a label describing why it is different from the other.

It's one thing to label people or other things, but it is a wholly different process when you label yourself.
Rating: +1
Megan S
Polyamory is an euphemism for horny. It's not a sexual orientation, it's a red-blood-pumping sex drive.
Rating: +3
Tammi L. Coles
I'm with Dan. Is "being human" a sexual orientation??? Polyamory is, in my opinion, a label we've had to take on because our fellow human beings are living their lies under a lie. The science does not support our political and religious claims of monogamy.

We poly folks are living our lives closer to our humanity, shucking off the ridiculous finger-wagging that presumes One Man, One Woman, For Life is the natural order of things. (Despite all the reports of infidelity! Despite all the serial monogamy! Despite everything that shows, nope, that's not who we are!)

Polyamory is a social label to define the choices we others have made in the face of enormous social pressure and backlash to live EXACTLY WHO WE ARE.

Unless you are going to assert that monogamy is a sexual orientation, you can't assert that poly is one.
Rating: +17
Has anyone ever dated someone who "identified" as "poly" and had that horrible feeling of "Jeez, I really like this person, I might even love her, but she could leave me at any time - she doesn't need me." How do you build a future with someone like that? How easy is it to have a family? Not too fucking easy, I bet!

As for people who are "always" falling in love, guess what: that is INFATUATION. The reason it doesn't last is because it is not TRUE LOVE, which is much DEEPER. I get the sneaking suspicion that poly = shallow or afraid to dig deeper. Some people like their emotional eggs in more than one basket, I guess.
Rating: -11
Mark Ragnar
"POLYAMORY IS WRONG! It's either Multiamory or Polyphilia, but mixing Greek and Latin roots? Wrong!"
Rating: -4
Jeez is 100 perfect right.. some people live in denial!
Rating: -8
Sam Weerdo
Wow, are there ever a lot of judgmental and closed-minded comments on here! I'm not sure why I'm bothering with this, because I recognize commenters who have already made up their mind, so it feels like wasted typing, but whatever.

Many people are not naturally monogamous, and it is absolutely possible to be deeply in love with more than one person. Monogamy is a social construct, built around traditions, religion, and the idea of a stable normal family. That does not mean it is human nature for everyone - it seems than many religious ideologies are attempts to suppress human nature, and that isn't always a good idea.

There is a vastly more extreme negative stigma regarding polyamoury and related things (monogamish, open-relationships, etc.) than against the LBGT community nowadays, and naive intolerance doesn't help. I'm sort of poly, but both my partner and I know very well that if we were gay, our parents would be supportive. Not so if we were public ally poly - our parents would be extremely upset.

How is this different than LBGT issues? Poly people choose to live a life in a way that's mostly private and doesn't harm society at large, yet there are still all kinds of judgmental shitheads to deal with who insist that poly people have some kind of mental disorder or deeper issues or poor relationship skills. I assure you, that is completely absurd and false. Most practicing poly people simply realize that blindly following social norms can run counter to living a happy and fulfilling life. Just as closet gays in straight relationships may end up being self-loathing and miserable, some people just aren't cut out for monogamy, and if they force themselves to remain monogamous, they are holding back themselves in life.

Comments like "they're just horny" or suggestions that relationships or "true love" will be difficult just illustrates how much intolerance is out there and how much progress still needs to be made.

Please, don't be a hater, and don't be so quick to dismiss or judge that which you can't relate to or don't understand. With issues like this, it's the stigma that causes social issues much more than the lifestyle itself.
Rating: +4
I share a lot of things, but definately not my partners. That's my choice, but I'm not going to think less of people that are poly. I just won't date or sleep with them. I believe as long as you're honest with yourself and your partners about what you want and need and whether you're monogamous or poly than what's the problem.
We don't need to live in little boxes but I agree that sometimes it helps people to understand. We live in a world that no matter what it is, sexuality, clothing brands, the phone you have, the car you drive, the neighbourhood you live, you will be judged by others about something. I think just live your life, if people don't like it too bad. The most we can do is try to educate people and get everyone reading Savage Love. Maybe it will open their eyes and minds.
As long as you're not out there purposely hurting people and you're being honest to yourself and to those you're having a relationship with than all is good. Identity or not, people educate yourselves. Stand up for what you believe and don't hide behind fear. Band together and say we're here, we're awesome and we're not going anywhere. If you want to be identified I think you should stand up and fight like the rest of the LGTB communities, rather than hide behind the fear your parents will disapprove. It might be more acceptable to be gay now, but gays had to fight for that and are still fighting for their rights. Join the fight poly's!

Also I think a lot of people think of certain poly religions that force their children to marry relatives and live in communes etc, Rather than adults having real relationships with other consenting adults. Again Education and open minds people!
Rating: +6
When, I saw Dan's statement I was like "wow, that's so off, I don't need to write in... He's nuked"
Glad to see I was right.
I've known some folks (like the one husband mentioned) that are mono - strong sex drive, just not interested in multi.

I've known others that pretty much screwed whatever came by. I tend to call them swingers (sorry if I stepped on your label).. Think glory holes.

But, polys are the ones that want to love (or at least get to know) their partners. With honesty.

Re the folks who think polly = horny. I know a polly marriage (polly fidelity group) where I don't think they have any more sex than most later middle aged folks. It's about fixing the kitchen light & why is that dog throwing up - not nightly (or weekly) orgies. I've been around these folks enough to be pretty sure: It's for family not for sex.

Yea, they wake up next to more than one person. Then they get ready and go to work while finding a Hello Kitty backpack and trying to get cereal out of their briefcase. Just like Mr. & Mrs. Vanilla down the street.

As to the labels vs identity thing: I think the letter above hit it "...polyamorous innately. I feel I am wired to be like this. I didn't choose it..." sound familiar? So I go with "identity".

That being said, it's all BS: There is no such thing as "gay" "straight" "polly" etc. It's all words. Dan Savage is Dan Savage, Sue Smith is Sue Smith. You may be / act / choose some set of things that earns the (human contrived) labels we find so significant. But whether by choice or a bump on the head next week you can be / act / choose some other set that will get you a whole new label. The label is not the object.

It's like that chunk of material out in space we call Pluto. It isn't any different because ape mouth noises changed from planet to dwarf planet. We may treat it different, we may treat each other different because of labels... But, it and we are not the labels.

I hope this posts easier than on the Stranger website.
Rating: +4
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