Everyone is doing poly wrong and needs to die in a fire

Why we all need to do a self-check for tolerance and acceptance

There is a phenomenon I’ve noticed in many of the poly communities I’ve visited, and it’s time I brought it into the light so we can all take a good, hard look at how we’re treating each other.

cat_weidLet’s start from the basic premise: those of us participating in online forums, posting opinions on blogs or Facebook and attending conferences with poly tracks are all either practicing or interested in practicing polyamory. Or non-monogamy. Or swinging. Or open marriage. Some of us are into BDSM; some of us are into science fiction; some of us are pagan. Some of us have unusual fetishes. Some of us are disabled. Some of us are white; some are African American; some are mixed race. Some of us are wildly creative and spend our lives making beautiful art, music or film and living in humble abodes. Some of us have well-paying, 9-to-5 jobs and enjoy a traditional-looking, middle- or upper-class lifestyle.

We all have opinions, some of them quite strong. And those opinions are not all the same.

But every one of us has something in common: an interest in polyamory. And because of that, we’re weird. We are not 100% mainstream. Even those of us who have traditional jobs, traditional homes and traditional hairstyles are alternative by virtue of the fact that we are interested in, are enjoying or are openly practicing some type of ethical non-monogamy.

So why are so many of us so vehement in our desire to demean, judge and exclude others?

You’re not really poly

It’s alarmingly common during any given poly discussion group or meeting for someone to come out with a definition of polyamory that condemns, criticizes or excludes some other type of practicing polyamorist. We hear, “you’re not really poly if you don’t all live together” or “you’re not really poly if you practice don’t ask/don’t tell” or “you’re not really poly if your husband isn’t also dating as many people as you are.”

To be fair, I understand why we do this. Since polyamory is an alternative relationship structure, most of us have worked very hard at defining what polyamory is for us. We try poly once and make a mess of it. We try again, and it works better, so we decide that what we did the first time was wrong. We try again, and it works better for us, so we decide that we need to advise everyone coming after us that the way we are doing it now is the right way to do polyamory, and every other way is wrong.

But please, I beg of you, let’s stop judging others so harshly, even after we’ve discovered a brand of polyamory that works for us. Before critiquing others based on your personal definitions of what poly is or isn’t, first perform a quick self-check: would you like it if someone told you you weren’t really poly? Would you want someone telling you that your marriage wasn’t real? Would you like for someone else to define what love or commitment means for you? So let’s not impose our definitions and experiences on others.

Everyone gets to choose her own label

Having the right to self-identify is empowering to the individual. It is neither appropriate nor helpful to try to take that right away from others. We let people choose their own labels for their gender identity and for their kink identity. We don’t argue if a man who has never had sex with another man chooses to identify himself as bisexual. We don’t argue if a person who appears female asks us to use the gendered pronoun “he” for address. We offer people the freedom of gender and relationship identity; let’s please extend that same courtesy to relationship orientation as well. whhha

As individuals, it is our job to find the right relationship structure that works for us. I often say that there are as many types of polyamory (and monogamy) as there are people involved in those relationships. Everyone practices monogamy a bit differently; no two relationships look exactly the same when you delve under the surface.

The same is true for polyamory, for non-monogamy, swinging and open relationships. While there are some commonalities to those definitions, every person or group defines his own polyamory in a slightly different way. We each find a brand of non-monogamy that works for us, and we customize it to our specific situation.

So let’s please stop spending our time looking at other people’s relationships and telling them that they aren’t “really” polyamorous. Let’s give people the courtesy of self-exploration and let’s empower each individual to self-label however she sees fit.

In the BDSM world, there is a philosophy that folks are encouraged to embrace. Since BDSM involves exposure to a plethora of fetishes and kinks that we may only not share but may actively dislike, folks are encouraged to be accepting. Even when exposed to a kink that incites disgust, we are encouraged to embrace the notion of “your kink isn’t my kink, but your kink is OK.” Let’s please do that with polyamory as well. Let’s stop spending our time judging others and telling them they are doing poly wrong and simply agree to say:

Your polyamory is not my polyamory, but your polyamory is OK.

Two powerful tools

When someone is kind enough to share with you his poly situation, it is our job to listen, to ask questions and to offer support if asked for it. Labels are the beginning of a discussion and an invitation to ask more questions, not the be-all and end-all. So when someone says, “I’m polyamorous,” my favorite tool to whip out is:

Tool #1: “Cool! So what does that mean to you?”

I believe it’s not anyone’s job (including mine!) to judge and tell someone she is doing poly wrong. Criticism like that only serves to puff up the speaker with a sense of power and to disempower the person sharing his story. If you truly believe that someone you’re speaking with is doing something horribly wrong, a good way to offer an option without judging is, “My experience has been… ” and share your story. See? No judgment necessary.

Tool #2: “My experience has been… “

One caveat, since I know someone will ask: yes, I do have a personal belief about a “wrong” way to do polyamory based on the dictionary definition involving the “full knowledge and consent of all parties involved.” So if, for example, a person self-identifies as poly and has an additional partner that his wife is unaware of, I personally am more inclined to label that “cheating” rather than polyamory due to the fact that his wife doesn’t have knowledge and therefore can’t consent. However, my response is not “you’re not really poly” but rather, “In my experience, poly tends to work best when everyone involved is honest, open and consenting. Have you tried talking with your wife about that?” to open up a conversation rather than impose a judgment.

Share stories, not judgments

story-lolcatI’m a big believer that sharing stories makes us all stronger. Sharing experiences of love, hope and failure in both the poly and monogamous world help all of us to understand what we are going through better and to feel, if nothing else, that we are not alone in our struggles to understand ourselves and the lifestyles we have chosen. So I believe in the power of sharing stories and asking questions rather than offering judgments.

I’ve read a few assertions from intelligent poly folk of late that claim that anyone who defines poly or poly family as [fill in the blank] is wrong and needs to “die in a fire” because that doesn’t match the writer’s or speaker’s own experience.

I don’t know about you, but I dislike it when someone who isn’t in my shoes and who hasn’t lived my life tries to tell me what my poly experience should be. It brings to mind right-wing extremists who claim that they have the right to define what marriage is for everyone else. Or what “family” or “family values” are for everyone else.

If we don’t want others to define marriage or family for us, let’s not do that to each other. The person who gets to define your brand of polyamory is YOU. No one else. And the ONLY person for whom you get to define polyamory is you. Share your definition with your loves, your partners and anyone who asks for it, but please don’t impose it on others or judge others who have chosen to do poly a different way from you. Offer to listen; offer support; offer discussion,;offer your own anecdotes. But please do not offer judgments or critiques. We have the aforementioned right-wing extremists for that.

If you don’t like it when others judge your lifestyle, maybe you should stop judging theirs.

What is right for you?

If you are lucky enough to have found a brand of non-monogamy, polyamory, swinging or open relationships that works for you, GREAT! Many of us take months or years to figure out what we need in order to be happy and healthy in our relationships. And please do share that with others when asked: many of us are looking for models, ideas and roadmaps that might work for us.

So please, share rather than critique. Listen rather than judge. And communicate your definition as an option rather than imposing it as a rule.

And as a final word, absolutely no person or concept should “die in a fire” or “burn in hell.” Let’s just say “My experience has been… “

How to Be a Part-Time Sex-Positive Educator (When You Still Love Your Day Job!)

The inspiration for this session came from the last CatalystCon, which found me envying full-time educators for their ability to focus on their mission. But surely I’m not the only one who loves my day job and doesn’t really want to be a full-time advocate for poly and kinky issues, right?

And thus this session was born: my tips and tricks for a topic I still struggle with daily and weekly: how to devote time and focus to sex-positive activism while working 9-12 hour days.

PW 344: Consent is sexy

Embracing Yes Means Yes and the fact that consent is sexy

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1:00 Announcements and host chat

  • No holiday chat here, just good kerfuffles of the week with LustyGuy cohosting

3:15 Topic: Nice guys rape, too

As part of the Good Men Project, Alyssa Royse penned this piece trying to explain that nice guys can commit rape, unbeknownst to them. The backlash against her piece has been significant. Our key objections:

  • Saying that women give off “mixed signals” is not only wrong but irrelevant; it can come off as a rape apology
  • Agreed that “no means no” does not work
  • However, “yes means yes” does work 100% of the time

Backlash pieces:

21:45 Topic: Pink loves consent

A group of feminists in Baltimore coordinated a masterful spoof of Victoria’s Secret PINK site, which is typically targeted at teen and college-age women and bears thongs sporting motifs such as “Sure Thing” printed on skimpy thongs. PinkLovesConsent was such a pitch-perfect spoof of the site (now bearing panties sporting “Ask First” and “No Means No”) that even VS employees believed it to be real and congratulated the company on its embracing of women’s issues.

Sadly, Victoria’s Secret had nothing to do with it. But wouldn’t it be great if they had?

26:35 Happy Poly Moment

  • Irina shares a happy poly moment about a kick-ass metamour
  • Alicia shares a happy poly moment of being welcomed into a relationship

30:00 Feedback

  • Joreth writes in to correct evolutionary assumptions in episodes 333, 336 and 340 on the upsuck theory
  • Jenny makes a point about compulsions in response to episode 309 on sex addiction

34:00 Wrap up

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Email polyweekly@gmail.com or call the listener comment line at 802-505-POLY (our new number!). And hey, why not attach an audio comment to that email? 🙂 Check out PolyWeekly at Blubrry.com. Share this with a friend or write an iTunes review!

iPhone apps for sex-positive educators

Be sex-geektastic with these nifty iPhone camera apps

Freshly back from CatalystCon, quite a few folks had asked for information on the camera apps I was using at the conference to keep the social media stream fun and lively. This post is for the social media geeks and geek wannabes. 🙂 Most of these apps are free or $.99, so, assuming you have the iPhone already, they’re pretty low-budget-friendly.

Of course, if you are at an event, always be sure to ask for permission before taking someone’s photo and before posting publicly to a social media site. Many of our favorite activists and educators can’t be photographed publicly in a sex-positive environment for fear of losing their jobs, so always check first!

Five iPhone camera apps for the con

IncrediBooth fun with Cunning Minx and SexNerdSandra

Incredibooth from Synthetic, LLC. Remember those photo booths that populated boardwalks and pizza restaurants of our childhoods? You’d squeeze in one with your best friend, press your heads together and take four wacky photos in quick succession. Why? Because back then, cameras were bulky and required skill to use, and we didn’t all carry them around with us all the time. Incredibooth is a fun iPhone camera app that lets you relive that childhood fun, minus the cramped, smelly booth. The red curtain swings back, the red light blinks, and you and your buddy take four shots in 20 seconds, all captured in good, old-fashioned black-and-white glory. Get your photos, grab some popcorn and cotton candy and then hit the Ferris wheel! (Thanks to SexNerdSandra for trying it out with me!)

CatalystCon Ptch

Ptch is the free app that I used to instantly create this one-minute CatalystCon video with music bed sharing my CatalystCon experience. It allows the user to mix photos from your photo album immediately with music and styles into a fun short video. Creating a Ptch is pretty easy: drag your favorite photos or video clips, add captions if desired and select a style such as “matte,” “epic” or “vivid” to personalize the video. Then choose a song from the app’s music list. Ptches can be shared by email or posted publicly to social media sites Twitter and Facebook (no Pinterest yet, sadly). Making a video in five minutes flat? Pretty amazing!


Megan Andelloux on Autograph This!

Autograph This Wanna be a star or just feel like one? Don’t laugh; someone at a recent event actually asked for an autographed picture, and my first reaction was, “I bet there is an app for that!” And indeed there is, for .99 from Vamp Apps. Autograph This allows the user to either use an existing Photo Album photo or take a new one and then sign it with a finger using light or dark “ink,” whichever has the best contrast to the photo’s background. The photo can then be posted to social networks or sent via private message. Run into someone famous? Snap a pic and ask him/her to sign with a finger. Someone thinks you’re famous? No more carrying those pesky 8×10 glossies around; just use your finger! (Thanks to Megan Andelloux for the demo autograph!)


Sex and the Media panel on FrameLens #ccon

FrameLens is a nifty $.99 app that creates an instant collage as you snap photos. It’s a great alternative to the “here are four people at a lunch table” shot. Choose a frame of three, four or more and tap each frame to instantly snap a photo! I found this app very helpful for shooting panels: use the bigger shot to show the whole panel and the smaller frames for close-ups of each speaker.  You can also pull photos off an album and even add captions and change the color or frame. Try it at your next lunch, dinner or conference for a more active and vibrant way to capture the spirit of the event.

PowerCam is a free iPhone camera app that enables the user to apply instant, live filters and effects to images and video BEFORE and WHILE shooting them. What you see on the screen before you snap the shot is what you get. What I love about this app is the ability to apply over 50 live filters (such as neon outline, sepia, watercolor sketch) to live photos and videos before you take them. It’s like having Photoshop on your phone for every picture and video. Also, the app allows for easy sharing to social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, and you can save the photos to your iPhone native photo gallery.

Content creation for the online activist

Social media content creation and strategy for sex-positive activists and educators

First, thanks so much to Dee for inviting me to speak at CatalystCon, and second, thanks to everyone who attended and participated in this amazing session. I had a blast and hope you all did as well!

PW 332: The reality behind Showtime’s polyamory

An interview with Anthony and Vanessa on the reality process behind Showtime’s Polyamory: Married and Dating

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1:00 News and host chat

  • I’ll be giving Content Creation for the Online Activist at CatalystCon September 14-16 in Long Beach

3:00 Interview: Anthony and Vanessa from Polyamory: Married and Dating

  • Anthony Christofani

    How long have you identified as poly and how did you come into it?

    • Anthony was always poly before he knew the word; Vanessa came to it from cheating.
  • Why did you decide to put your personal and sex lives on TV?
    • No one else raised their hands!
  • Did you have messaging goals going in and if so, are they being met?
    • Starting the conversation about an alternative to monogamy and the possibility of a functional, intimate relationship with more than one person
    • Coming across as happy and healthy
  • What was not included?
    • The rest of our lives: they cut out pretty much everything but the relationship (jobs, school, political activism, family issues)
  • What’s with all the sex scenes?
    • Vanessa posits that the sex shown is loving group sex, which is new
  • How do you respond to the community criticism regarding the lack of diversity in casting?

    Vanessa Carlisle

    • The show is limited to the few people willing to put their lives on TV, and there were attempts to show diversity, but none of those people agreed to be on the show
  • How much of the show is staged?
    • Yes and no to the staging question. They are not told to say anything in particular, but filming is scheduling in advance.
  • What do you want the polys and monogamous folks of the world to know?
    • Monogamous: thanks for the open-mindedness
    • Poly: thanks for the support and remember that we only represent ourselves; this is just the first foray

35:00 Feedback: how do I convey jealousy to my partner without him off?

A writes in to ask for advice. Her new partner was previously monogamous, and when A has occasional bouts of jealousy and insecurity, the new partner will just end the new relationship to make it easier on A. “How can I go about asking for the care I need without scaring him off?”

  • Edward: tell him you’re feeling jealous and explain it’s not a call to action
  • Ken: communicate the feeling of insecurity and ask him to help you understand it
  • Sarah: just say how you feel and reassure your partner that they don’t need to act
  • Scott: African masks and a voodoo ritual (to scare your partner off)?
  • Becky: admit feelings to yourself first and admit they aren’t rational; say “I don’t need you to change what you’re doing, but I just wanted you to know what is going on”
  • Dave: preface with “I feel kinda dumb bringing this up, but…” and share your feelings
  • Gigi: preface with “I realize this is really more about me and not about the situation… “ and share your feelings
  • Andrew: be responsible for your feelings and express them so that it’s clear to your partner that you know you are responsible
  • Lindsay: communicate root of your jealousy clearly and own your feelings

42:00 Thanks

Thanks to Joan for the donation this week!

43:00 Wrapup

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Email polyweekly@gmail.com or call the listener comment line at 206-202-POLY. And hey, why not attach an audio comment to that email? 🙂 Check out PolyWeekly at Blubrry.com. Share this with a friend or write an iTunes review!

PW 315: What would monogamists do?

#mconFreshly returned from MomentumCon, a recap of the sessions on feminism, sexuality and sex-positivism today. Plus, using “what would monogamists do?” as a guiding question.

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Under-18 warning and redirection to Scarleteen

1:00 News and host chat

20:45 Topic: What would monogamists do?

A listener writes in to ask how to act around her partner’s OSO (metamour) and challenges the What Would Monogamists Do guiding question. How much flirting is OK around your SO and OSO, and how should you act towards your metamour in social situations?

29:30 Happy Poly Moment

  • Summersnake shares a moment of compersion when sending his wife off to spend time with her sweetie
  • Don writes in to share compersion and joy at his partner’s meeting the metamours

33:25 Feedback

Taylor on controlled male orgasms through controlling the flow of chi

Wrap up

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Email polyweekly@gmail.com or call the listener comment line at 206-202-POLY. And hey, why not attach an audio comment to that email? 🙂 Check out PolyWeekly at Blubrry.com. Share this with a friend or write an iTunes review!

PW 283: Building a poly community

Building a poly community – thoughts from Polycamp Vancouver Island

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Under 18? Stop listening now and visit http://www.scarleteen.com

3:30 Topic: Live from the Pillow Palace

Live from the Pillow Palace at PolyCamp Vancouver Island, a nine-day camping event within a caring and giving community. Pierce, Quentin, Cora, Kiki and Scott talk about sex education vegetables, Kiki’s new head shaving and the birth of the poly community in Vancouver.

25:45 Feedback

Anne brings up and defines the “Joey Potter effect.” The Joey Potter = a person trying to live monogamously while romantically attracted to more than one person. The JPE involves frequent breakups with one love interest to date another, relationship sabotage and overanalysis of one’s own motivations.

28:00 Wrap-up

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Email polyweekly@gmail.com and attach an audio comment or call the listener comment line at 206-202-POLY. Friend us on Twitter or Facebook, leave a comment here or discuss your own topics at the forums. Check out PolyWeekly podcasts at polyweekly.libsyn.com. Share this with a friend or write an iTunes review! Want Poly Weekly for your very own? Get the Best of Poly Weekly collection from PodDisc.com Our intro and outro music is courtesy of Pacemaker Jane, “Good Suspicions.”

PW 269: The Modern Poly Movement

Jessica Karels of Young Metro Poly

What’s up with the young modern poly movement: interview with Jessica Karels

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Introduction and host chat

Intro, under-18 warning and re-direction to http://www.scarleteen.com; friend us on Twitter or Facebook, call 206-202-POLY with comments or discuss your own topics at the forums.


  • Shoutout from Mako Allen of the new Big Little podcast on age play
  • Seeking pregnant poly women for cable documentary: IPA2Casting@sirensmedia.com – Call Poly Media Association before you go!
  • Casting company seeking “those who feel comfortable sharing personal and sexual details of their relationship lives—including their fears, secrets, unmet needs, and the ways in which they connect & disconnect in relationships.” Send name, age, occupation, brief bio, relationship goals, contact information to relationshipcasting2011@gmail.com (and call the Poly Media Association first!)

Interview: Jessica Karels of Modern Poly


Raven wrote in regarding episode 266 on Charlie Sheen’s polyamory and another listener gave another insight to the reality show Sister Wives from the same episode


Questions? Comments? Feedback? Email polyweekly@gmail.com or call the listener comment line at 206-202-POLY. And hey, why not attach an audio comment to that email? 🙂 Check out PolyWeekly at polyweekly.libsyn.com. Share this with a friend or write an iTunes review! Want Poly Weekly for your very own? Get the Best of Poly Weekly collection from PodDisc.com Our intro and outro music is courtesy of Pacemaker Jane, “Good Suspicions.”

Personal Branding at MomentumCon

The MomentumCon iteration of personal branding for the sex-positive educator/activist using the social web. A GREAT session with great questions from the MomentumCon crowd! Thanks to everyone who attended, asked questions and kept me honest. I had a blast!

A few additional notes that came up:

Browser and iphone application for managing Twitter and Facebook accounts, including analytics and scheduling: HootSuite

Design and brainstorming graphics tool for Mac and iPad users: OmniGraffle

Social media analytics dashboard across properties: Unilyzer

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