Polyamory and BDSM FAQ

FullSizeRender (1)Last night, I was a human “book” on polyamory and BDSM for Bastyr‘s Human Library event. It’s always fun to see what questions naturopath health care providers have about alternative lifestyles, and last night was no exception.

Here are a few of the most frequently asked questions from the four groups of students I had the pleasure of chatting with last night.

What is polyamory?

The practice of having more than one long-term, loving, committed relationship with the full knowledge and consent of all parties involved.

I don’t know anything about polyamory. What do I need to know?

  • Nomenclature You may hear terms like non-monogamy, polyamory, swinging, progressive swinging or open. In general, “non-monogamy” is the more encompassing term;  “polyamory” is general used to describe long-term, loving relationships; “swingers” are generally couples that enjoy recreational sex. However, many people find that those definitions and categories don’t exactly fit their self-identifications. Since these words mean different things to different people, you should ask for more information. “Tell me more about what that means” or “Give me the quick tour of your relationships” work great.
  • Relationship formations Relationships take many forms, so don’t assume anything. Ask, “what does that look like?” or “give me a quick tour of your relationships.” You might hear the terms triad (three people in intimate relationships with each other), vee (a relationship formation in which A and B are together and B and C are together, but A and C are just friends), W (an extension of a vee), quad (four people in an intimate relationship with varying configurations), polycule, network or tribe. Feel free to ask for more information, since no two people use these words the same way.
  • Sexual orientation Polys might be heterosexual, heteroflexible, homosexual, bisexual, bicurious or anything else in between. Don’t assume that all non-monogamists are bisexual. Rather than asking “are you bisexual” (assumes a stereotype), ask “what is your sexual orientation?” I once had a gyny who casually asked, “Do you sleep with men, women or both?” I said, “both,” to which she replied, “good for you!” It was refreshing to have a health care professional that wasn’t making the assumption that everyone was straight, monogamous and vanilla.
  • Sleeping arrangements People pair off or have three-or-moresomes according to preferences and lifestyle arrangements. Each relationship falls to its own level, so don’t assume that everyone in a network is sleeping with everyone else (although that may be the case), and don’t assume that all sex is group sex.
  • STIs The rate of STI occurrence is actually lower in non-monogamous communities than in the general public, primarily because the issue is addressed openly and honestly. So please don’t assume that the people involved are at a higher risk for STIs (although some are).

How can I get patients to give me this information?

Design a question on your intake form that asks about the relationship structure and offers the options of monogamous, non-monogamous and polyamorous.

Orally, keep in mind that most polys won’t bring this up with a doctor because (a) unless you’re a gynecologist, it’s not really relevant or (b) there is a stigma that can lead to uncomfortable questions. So try asking, “What is your relationship configuration?” or “What is your relationship structure?” Polyamorists are used to everyone (including health care providers) assuming everyone is monogamous and are therefore more likely to see the question as a chance to open up about their non-monogamy.

What is BDSM?

Four initials represent three word pairings: bondage and discipline; dominance and submission; sadism and masochism. Participants in BDSM enjoy activities ranging from impact play such as spanking, slapping or flogging to bondage to fetishes such as medical play or age play. Power exchange dynamics in which one person consensually asserts power over another (dominance and submission) is quite common. I prefer the encompassing term “kink” to refer to everything that mainstream society sees as weird or fringe.

How do I get patients to confide their BDSM proclivities to me?

In most cases, they won’t. And I’ve never discovered a good way to ask about kink affiliations without it sounding like a come-on.

What if they have bruises? How do I distinguish between consensual play and abuse?

Most of us are taught to either make sure bruises don’t show or to make jokes about them. I usually just tell people the truth–that getting them was a lot of fun on date night!

But you can use the opener, “Were those bruises consensual?” which signifies to a patient that you’re aware of the idea of consent in BDSM activities. As you’re aware, most survivors of abuse will make excuses, whereas a kinkster will most likely smile nostalgically at the memory of the kinky play.

PW 432: Navigating a poly vacation

kangaroovacationHow do you navigate a great poly vacation with three or more?

Download the mp3 directly

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

1:00 Announcements

4:45 Poly in the news

6:10 Topic: Tips for navigating a poly vacation

  • Share your priorities What do you need to have a great vacation? Share your priorities in terms of restfulness, time with partners vs alone and sightseeing.
    • Do you have any emotional baggage about past bad vacations? Share it now.
  • Lay out finances Be brave and have full financial transparency. Lay out the expectations for who will pay for what, and make sure that everyone is comfortable with the level of financial commitment. Ask questions such as:
    • If three people share a room and two share a bed, does the third pay ½ or 1/3 of the bill?
    • If someone requires a four-star versus a two-star or three-star hotel, is everyone comfortable with the additional financial commitment? Do they want any financial considerations in return?
  • Consider biology We are our biology! What does each person need biologically to have a good trip? Consider
    • Eating schedule
    • Sleeping schedule
    • Sex schedule
    • Privacy schedule
    • Medications and backup medications
  • Sleeping arrangements Let each person voice their needs and concerns of privacy versus access (both physical and sexual).
  • Negotiate activities Then we get down to the meat of the vacation: what do you do every day? Have a discussion about whether each person prefers sightseeing or adventure; snorkeling or sunbathing; birdwatching or cliff diving; hiking or boat touring.
    • What are the expectations in terms of group/paired/ solo activities? Is the expectation that everyone will always do everything together?
    • Is there a need for people to pair off for activities?
    • Does anyone need solo time to do activities?
    • How will you decide on any given day what each person or the group will do?

39:00 Thank you!

Thanks to Yang for becoming our newest Poly Weekly Playmate!

40:00 Wrap Up

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Email polyweekly@gmail.com or call the listener comment line at 802-505-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!

How Polyamory Become More Mainstream Than Peanut Butter

Having a blast at Poly Living; thanks to everyone who gave positive feedback on my opening keynote!

Enjoy the audio slidecast of the talk. Peanut butter and slash fic; what’s not to love??

The slides are below:

PW 431: Takeaways from dating a dishonest monogamist

lion-lolcatMinx and LustyGuy cover the lessons learned from dating a dishonest monogamist 
Download the mp3 directly


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

1:00 Announcements

3:30 Poly in the news

6:40 Topic: What lessons to take away from dating a dishonest monogamist

SpiderGirl calls in to share a story and ask a question: when you date someone who doesn’t tell you he has a girlfriend/fiancée until after you hook up with him but really want the poly to work, what is the takeaway?

  • Date your species. Don’t date or fall in love with monogamists. Before you hook up, ask about other partners, and give yourself the option of passing if the person is monogamous and seeing someone else.
  • Don’t date someone who requires change. As I’m sure you’ve figured out, dating someone with the hopes of changing him is like trying to teach a pig to dance: it wastes your time and annoys the pig. It’s much wiser to date polyamorists or people already self-identifying as non-monogamous than to try to convert monogamists.
  • Don’t date someone who is lying to someone else. You may be “the only one he can be honest with” now, but lying to a partner is a character flaw that doesn’t tend to be person-specific. If he lies to her, he’ll eventually lie to you.
  • Don’t blame someone who has been denied agency. I don’t believe you fell into this trap, but it’s common in these instances to blame the girlfriend/fiancée/wife for not understanding him, not letting him be himself, and so on. It is remarkably unfair to blame the person who has been denied agency, so please, be respectful and don’t do it.
  • Do what you love. When it comes to dating, be sure to join dating sites that allow you to specify that you’re non-monogamous, but in general, the best dating advice we have is to engage in activities that you love. Live your life, have fun, be the best you you can be.

27:45 Wrap Up

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Email polyweekly@gmail.com or call the listener comment line at 802-505-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!

Three ways this relationship bill of rights will save your poly relationship

funny-cat-pictures-lolcats-classic-lolcatThe top three takeaways from the Relationship Bill of Rights

In episode 430 of Polyamory Weekly, Koe Creation and I talk about the simple brilliance that is Franklin Veaux’s and Eve Rickert’s Relationship Bill of Rights. This document began as a Secondary’s Bill of Rights to avoid secondary mistreatment, but Franklin and Eve quickly realized that these rights should apply to every relationship, whether monogamous, non-monogamous, polyamorous or anything in between.

And I’m so glad they did; it was sorely needed!

It’s a bit embarrassing to have to acknowledge that many folks, when trying polyamory, often throw common decency out the window. In trying so hard to define these newfangled relationships and their boundaries, we often throw agency, respect and inclusion away in order to attempt to gain control over unfamiliar situations. And we often end up shooting ourselves in the foot or treating others badly in the process.

I recommend that everyone read and print out a copy of this Relationship Bill of Rights. Tape it to your bathroom mirror. Live it!

As you know, I’ve been on a campaign to end avoidable relationship drama. The Kicking Poly Drama in Its Ass course is still the most popular one I teach; so much so that I’m working to expand it into an online course that anyone can take. The challenge of drama is that when things get rough, we often can have a tendency to clamp down and forget our principles–and that fear-based response is what leads to heartache, heartbreak and drama.

OK, enough on why we need to internalize the RBoR. Here are the three key takeaways to ponder:

  • Agency In the Relationship Bill of Rights, 90% of the content is acknowledging that every person in a relationship has agency. Regardless of position, every person has the right to decide what level of intimacy she wants and needs, to voice how he feels about the things that happen to him,  to set her own limits and boundaries and to be included in decisions that affect him. This is true for husbands, wives, lovers, paramours, fuck buddies, friends with benefits, submissives, dominants, tops, bottoms and everything in between. As LustyGuy often says, “the point of any relationship is to make the people in it better versions of themselves.” Each person has the responsibility to voice what he wants and needs free of coercion, and each person deserves full information to make informed decisions about her own actions. Depriving another person of  his or her agency isn’t cool–including when that person is you.
  • Respect for organic change Are you the same person you were when you first met your current partner(s)? Probably not. You’ve grown and developed over time, and so have your relationships. They might deepen, intensify, fade away or become untenable. Whatever happens, it’s important to acknowledge that people and relationships change over time. We all change, and we all make mistakes. Hopefully, we learn from those mistakes. While it’s important to communicate needs and boundaries, it’s equally important to recognize that it’s no one’s job to control anyone else. You will change. Your partners will change. Your relationships will change. The Relationship Bill of Rights does a good job of promoting communication rather than control.
  • seek-patience-main_fullBalance Every relationship is a balancing act of trying to accommodate everyone’s needs while respecting everyone’s voice. All partners, from brand-new ones down to a spouse of 30 years, have the right to have a say in decisions that affect them. Everyone deserves to have plans respected, to choose whom they want to date and when and to expect a balance in what they get from a relationship in relation to what they put in to it. It’s not far or balanced in any relationship to frequently have plans canceled or to be told when and whom you can date. Likewise, it’s not fair to expect one person to bear the brunt of initiating, forgiving or planning. Things happen, and that’s OK. But a pattern of one partner frequently bearing the brunt of initiations, cancellations or forgiveness does not make for a healthy relationship. In fact, the worst thing a poly couple can do is to end a new relationship in order to “focus on their marriage.” Making unilateral decisions isn’t healthy for any relationship, and it doesn’t play well in polyamory, either. Ditto for coercion and lying to “protect” someone.

The Relationship Bill of Rights is something that we have needed in print for a long time, and I’m incredibly thankful to Franklin and Eve for publishing it. What are your takeaways from it? Was there anything you disagreed with?

Open Letter to BudLight and BBDO: How to Apologzie

Bud Light’s “removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary” tagline merits a better apology

Dear Bud Light and BBDO:

Look, I get that alcohol marketing is primarily about marketing the promise of uninhibited fun. After all, alcohol’s key value proposition is lowered inhibitions, which allow many people the freedom do participate in activities they typically wouldn’t. And a lot of those activities can be quite fun. Much like the lottery, your job is to sell the best promise of your product, not to provide a balanced view of the full effects of your product.

The kerfuffle

That being said, referencing “removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night,” one of the tag lines of the Up For Whatever campaign, did more than “miss the mark.” It might as well have read “removing ‘no’ from her vocabulary for the night.” In a world where colleges and universities are struggling every day to prevent sexual assault by teaching the next generation to ask for and respect consent, there you are, back in the 1960s, teaching everyone that the only fun to be had is without consent. That tagline reeks of “boys will be boys” and throwing not only caution but also consent to the wind.

Basically, the reason you’re getting accused of being a little rapey is because your ad is a little rapey.

And your half-assed apology isn’t doing it for anyone. So let’s talk about how to apologize properly.

How to apologize

So what’s a corporation to do in this situation? Here’s the thing to do. It’s the same thing that every corporation (or politician or boyfriend or wife) should always do for building trust: cowboy/girl up and apologize.

Here is my three-step PR apology kit:

  1. First, apologize. For real. Heartfelt. Sincere. Acknowledge that you fucked up. Do not use the passive voice. Do not let your lawyers write the apology. Use the active voice, and write like you’re speaking to your grandmother. Do not “regret any inconvenience” and for heaven’s sake, don’t “regret that some took it badly.” Just admit in so many words that you made a mistake. Your audience will forgive you, but only if you actually apologize.
  2. Acknowledge your audience (including the women). Reaffirm what your brand stands for and that your audience is what makes your brand strong and successful.
  3. Show you’ve learned A wise brand learns from its mistakes. After the Superbowl debacle, GoDaddy fired its CEO and used more inclusive ad campaigns. We all grow and learn. Promise to be more conscientious in the future, and we’ll begin to trust your brand again.

Here’s an example:

Recently, we included a tagline on some of our bottles as part of the Up For Whatever campaign. This campaign is designed to encourage a spirit of adventure and light-hearted fun, but this particular tagline did just the opposite.

The “removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night” tagline was a mistake. We want everyone who drinks Bud Light to both have fun and be responsible. And this time, we failed to convey that.

We’re sorry, and we will work in the future to earn back your trust in Bud Light’s ability to provide a fun and safe night for all our fans.

PW 430: Don’t try polyamory before listening to this

Minx and Koe Creation review the absolutely essential Relationship Bill of Rightsbillofrights Download the mp3 directly

1:00 Announcements

3:25 Poly in the news

5:35 Topic: What you need to know about poly relationships before trying one

Koe Creation and Minx highlight one of the most important pieces for you to read, review and integrate before trying a poly relationship. No, it’s not about jealousy. No, it’s not about dating. No, it’s not about safer sex. This is a topic that very few people discuss before trying polyamory and is usually the cause of the demise of the first poly relationship. What is it? The rights that every person has in every relationship, regardless of the structure: Franklin Veaux’s and Eve Rickert’s Relationship Bill of Rights.

37:30 Thank you!

Thanks to Shelby for the donation!

38:30 Wrap Up

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Email polyweekly@gmail.com or call the listener comment line at 802-505-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!

What do you NOT know about sex with girls?

An interview with Allison Moon about her new book, Girl Sex 101

allison-moon-d7ffe235What is your background?

I’m a sex educator and the author of four books, most recently Girl Sex 101, which is my most sex-ed book to date. Prior to that, I released a series of sexy memoirs called Bad Dyke, which came out last year. And prior to that, two lesbian werewolf novels.

Girl Sex 101 giveaway: Tweet your favorite quote from the podcast interview before May 10, tag @polyweekly and @thallisonmoon, and we’ll give away a copy of Allison’s beautiful new illustrated book, Girl Sex 101 for our favorite Tweet!

What was the motivation for writing this book?

There was a real dearth of quality queer sex-ed out there right now. Most young people are learning about sex from the internet–for better or for worse–and I really wanted to create a book that was fun to read and spoke to a slightly more queer sensibility than a classic old-school lesbian sensibility. There is a lot of great content out there for people of all sexualities and gender identities, but I wanted something that could be both inclusive and at the same time speaking to the experience of girls with girls. So I wanted to write a book that was fun and easy to read and colloquial, not a textbook, but something a little more fun that you could flip through, read the stories, see the pictures and have a good time reading.

Is this a how-to manual or a narrative?

It’s both! It’s a genre-bending kind of a book. Each chapter starts with an actual fiction story that usually includes an erotic interlude with the two main characters, who are ex-girlfriends on a road trip, and sometimes with characters they meet along route 101. So it starts with a sex story that introduces a new technique or idea that the rest of the chapter illustrates in non-fiction. So, for example, in the hand sex chapter, there is a story between one of my main characters and a girl she’s been wanting to get with for many years, and whom she has hot hand sex with outside of a club. And the rest of the chapter is non-fiction explaining how to do the things you saw them do in the story.

I know a lot of people look to erotica for how-tos, and sometimes those sexy stories are a little too ambiguous about what actually happens, so it’s kind of like edu-porn. I wanted to show people how hot it could be to, for example, negotiate consent, while at the same time giving you actual information you could take to the bedroom.

Are you the solo author of this book?

I’m the primary author, but I did solicit pieces from 15 other sex educators. Nina Hartley, Giz Lee, Sophia St. James, a lot of people that have different specialities. I’m only one person, and I only do certain things in my personal life, and I only teach certain things. But I wanted to have more diverse voices represented in the book so people feel like they can find themselves.

Were you trying to clear up misconceptions about queer sex?

I taught Girl Sex 101 as a workshop and taught it all over the country. I started teaching the class aimed specifically to lesbian and bisexual women, but found over time that men–more and more straight men started coming to the workshop because they wanted to learn how to get their wives and girlfriends off without using their penises necessarily. I was so surprised when that started happening! So I started emphasizing things like hand sex and how everybody can use their hands in bedroom; it’s a hot thing that many people overlook once they start having genital sex. Sex isn’t just one thing, and I wanted to give credence to the various ways we can generate pleasure for each other.

To hear more about girl sex with Allison Moon, listen to the entire interview here.

PW 429: OMG Girl Sex with Allison Moon


Download the mp3 directly (new audio file 4-27-15)

1:00 Announcements

  • I’ll be speaking at Rocky Mountain Poly Living May 7-10
  • Working to offer Kicking Poly Drama in the Ass as an online course—stay tuned!

3:00 Poly in the news

8:00 Interview: Girl Sex 101 with Allison Moon

Girl Sex 101 is an innovative and unique project created and spearheaded by Allison Moon and illustrated by kd diamond. Described as “a road trip in a book,” Girl Sex 101 seeks to combine fiction, comics and sex education as a resource for queer women in a way that no other sex education tool has done before.

Want to win a copy of Girl Sex 101? Tweet your favorite quote from this interview before May 15 and tag @theallisonmoon and @polyweekly to be entered to win!

33:45 Feedback on 426

Tre writes in to ask for more happy poly moments!

35:55 Thank you!

Thanks to Sidney for joining the Poly Weekly playmates!

36:00 Wrap Up

Questions? Comments? Feedback? Email polyweekly@gmail.com or call the listener comment line at 802-505-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!

Rachel Lark: “I’m a relationship anarchist”

rachel larkHow did Dixie de la Tour lure you into writing ridiculously bawdy songs?

It was an accident. I’ve only written bawdy songs for the past two and a half years. I wrote tortured, angsty songs for years, and that was my thing. I’ve always been a kinky weirdo sort of person in the sex-positive world, but I never expected to be writing this kind of music.

The accident was that Dixie had a cancellation for Bawdy storytelling (a tremendous storytelling shows with live storytellers telling stories related to poly and kink, a powerful and loving experience). Minx: it’s like the Moth Radio Hour with sex. She always likes to have a music guest, and she was supposed to have Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It was the night of the show, and someone I’d met at Harbin Hot Springs had a hunch and told Dixie, who asked if I had any dirty songs about fucking. At the time, I had one dirty song that I wrote as a joke called “Fuck My Toe.”

I played this funny little song that I’d never played before, and everyone freaked out. And I proposed to Dixie I write custom songs for her themes. And two years later, it’s most of what I do.

How do you self-identify?

The only reason I hesitate to self-identify as poly is that I don’t know if I have enough experience to say I’m poly. I’m good friends with people who are so well-versed. And also, to me, polyamory is about having multiple relationships, not just having an open relationship, and that’s not an experience I’ve had. I’ve identified as a “relationship anarchist,” and someone told once me, “I think that’s just single.”

What appeals to me about polyamory is that it’s about recognizing that things change and we figure out how we continue in this world relating to one another. And with relationship anarchy, promises are virtually impossible to keep. Intentions, yes, but “I will love you this way forever” is hard to fully commit to. So with relationship anarchy, you can accept that this could change, but you’re not attaching your identity to this outcome.

It’s not that I don’t believe in commitment; I do. But when we say “forever,” does that mean sharing a bed or a bank account for the rest of our lives? When we attach lifestyle stipulations to what that means… there’s some level of love that might be there forever, but we might want something different in the future.

The relationship I’m in now is unique. I’m dating my best friend of the past nine years. We have such a solid basis in friendship, and we both feel so confident in the friendship being the priority.

I think what stops a lot of people from dating their best friend is fucking up the friendship. But with lots of things, you kinda have to go with the momentum and can’t get too intellectual with your pros and cons list and just go with what’s happening.

Are all your songs bawdy now?

rachel lark hungIt gets the most attention. Dan Savage took an interest in my music and commissioned a song, which prompted a Christmas album called Hung for the Holidays. It’s also pay-what-you-want on my BandCamp page–you can download for free. I do have another set that is electronic live looping that is dancey and experimental. I also have a song that I wrote for Bawdy called Flowers Fuck that is all about flower sex.

What is your favorite song from your sexy sets?

I just wrote a new song called “Shut Up and Hit Me,” which was a custom song about spanking that was a reward for one of my Kickstarter campaigns.

To hear the full interview with Rachel Lark and a special performance of her song Born This Way, listen to Poly Weekly episode 428.

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