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?

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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 
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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?

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!

PW 427: Poly geezers with Ken Haslam

kenhaslamWhat you need to know about poly in your 60s, 70s and beyond from poly geezer Ken Haslam

Download the mp3 directly

1:00 Poly in the news

3:45 Interview: Ken Haslam on poly geezers

Ken Haslam, founder of the Poly Geezers email list and of the Kenneth R. Haslam Polyamory collection at the Kinsey Institute, talks about how polyamory works after the age of 60.

28:50 Feedback on 423

  • Raven writes in response to episode 423 to ask how to feel special when being an introvert with chronic depression?
  • George writes in response to 423 about her disability and her need to stop punishing herself for being “wussy sometimes” due to it
  • D calls in about 423 on the real loss of being someone’s “one and only”

39:05 Happy Poly Moment

Ariane shares a happy poly moment about her metamour, when marrying Ariane’s partner, insisted that Ariane spend the night with her partner

40:15 Thank you!

Thanks to Alan of the Poly in the News blog for his donation!

41:00 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!

What I learned from 10 years of poly podcasting

What y’all have taught me about polyamory, community and myself

minx speaking ccon west 2013

Minx at CatalystCon West 2013

It’s hard to believe that Polyamory Weekly has been going strong for 10 years! When I started, it was to try out this new technology called RSS and to test this new content delivery system. But what topic should I cover for that test? In 2005, I’d been polyamorous for all of two years, and my partner, metamour and I had hit every relationship land mine in the book. As a result, the first year or two of our poly adventure was fraught with drama, tears and intense relationship discussions. So why not podcast about the drama we’d experienced and the lessons we’d learned? And so Poly Weekly was born. Over the years, both my own relationships and my awareness of poly’s place in society matured. When I first started the podcast, the only media mentions were thrilling tales of swing clubs being infiltrated and busted by undercover cops and juicy exposés of the crazy sexual libertines who might be living next door to you. Nowadays, coverage of polyamory in the media typically takes the form of a personal essay describing the lifestyle with a representative configuration, almost more like a how-to article, presented more as a life coaching piece than sensational journalism.

What I’ve learned from 10 years of poly podcasting

So for our anniversary episode, I thought it would be fun to both find out what others wish they’d known before diving into polyamory as well as what I’ve learned from engaging with podcast listeners and seminar attendees over the last 10 years. Listeners called in with a variety of lessons learned, from the hilarious “always buy twin sheets for the king bed so the person in the middle can get out in the middle of the night” to the heartbreaking “I wish I’d known that treating everyone equally is impossible and unfair before it destroyed our relationship.” As far as what I’ve learned from being your podcast host for the last 10 years:

  • Many voices are more powerful than one While my experiences are common and relatable, not everyone is like me, so the more voices we share describing both poly joy and poly issues, the better.
  • Respect and tolerance win the game While it’s not uncommon to run across intolerance and politics in poly forums and discussion groups, that is not representative of the community. When you treat others with respect and a tolerant mind, you get respect and tolerance in return. In 10 years of podcasting and blogging, I have never once received hate mail. Never!
  • Joy should be celebrated Despite the fact that much online coverage relates to relationships in the midst of implosion, happy poly moments flourish and should receive as much attention as the relationships in need of advice.
  • There is a lot I don’t know My fans have made me aware of a plethora of trends, communities and phenomena ranging from slash fic to transgenderism to asexuality. I hope to learn exponentially more over the next 10 years.
  • There is a lot I DO know Like many people, I suffer from the self-worth syndrome of “if I know it, it must not be that valuable or difficult.” Developing podcast and seminar content over the last 10 years has taught me that there is a lot that I do know that is worth sharing. For example, the key to happy relationships lies in four key skills: the ability to know yourself and explain your reactions to others, emotional intelligence, the ability to own your own shit and the ability to ask for what you want.

So, after 10 years, I have to thank all the listeners who kept it real. You have taught me far more than I ever taught you.

PW 426: What YOU wish you’d known about poly

For our special 10-year anniversary, what you wish you’d known–and what I’ve learned from youLol-Cat-picture-Party-On

Download the mp3 directly

1:00 Topic: What do YOU wish you’d known about polyamory?

To celebrate 10 years of Poly Weekly, what do YOU wish you’d known about polyamory?

  • David shares that if you sleep three to a king bed, put twin sheets on it so the middle person can get out in the middle of the night! J Also that your fears are usually worse than reality, so just talk about them.
  • Amber Love shares that PW inspired her to get off her butt and write more and publish her first book!
  • CageyCate shares that you fall in love with real people, not theories or convenient ideals
  • Eve Rickert learned that every experience is new and never to make assumptions and a lot about boundaries and consent
  • Franklin Veaux learned that OK to be poly and you don’t need to conform to every rule as a concession for this terrible lifestyle
  • SpiderGirl learned that you don’t have to do poly and kink and everything all at once
  • Poly is real—congratulations!
  • Thanks for 30 years of monogamy
  • Jackie wishes she’d known that poly doesn’t’ mean everyone needs equal time and shares a happy poly moment
  • Guillaume learned that trying to convert people to polyamory is not the way to go and that he’s better off going to the poly community instead of converting from the general population

14:00 What I have learned from YOU

  • While my experiences are common, not everyone is like me, and I need to be more thoughtful about language and inclusion
  • With respect to community, the intolerance and politics you see in the poly forums is not the only way–when you treat others with respect, you get respect in return. Never once have I received hate mail. Never!
  • Happy poly moments abide, despite the fact we read the opposite online all the time
  • There is a lot I don’t know
  • There is a lot I DO know
    • knowing yourself, emotional intelligence of owning shit and asking for what you want
    • 90% can be solved with “did you tell/ask him/her that?” be honest about your feelings
    • typically it’s a concern about someone else acting a certain way, when all you need to do is ask yourself what you want and need and then ask that person for that

22:00 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!

PW 424: My suggestion backfired! Now what?

lolcat_no_waiWhat to do when your well-intended relationship suggestion backfires

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1:00 Host chat and announcements

1:45 Poly in the News

4:00 Topic: My well-intended suggestion backfired. Now what?

A listener calls in to share what happened when he suggested Google Calendar as a solution to a relationship challenge. His partner, however, didn’t take the suggestion so well. So what does one do when a well-intended suggestion backfires or isn’t received in the spirit in which it was intended?

  • Focus less on finding better tools and more on improving communication.
  • Try listening rather than fixing.
  • Ask what she needs to be happy and healthy in the relationship.
  • Tell her what you need to be happy and healthy in the relationship.
  • Negotiate together—whoever turns down one suggestion has to offer the next one.
  • Slowly and sensitively explore her past baggage and yours.
  • Write your own user manual and encourage your partner to write hers.
  • Erin writes in response to episodes 420 on disabilities and identity to share a lifetime of dealing with disabilities while struggling with a poly/queer identity.
  • Doug writes in to share his preference for describing his son, who is on the autism spectrum.

12:05 Feedback on 420: Poly and identity

  • Erin writes in response to episodes 420 on disabilities and identity to share a lifetime of dealing with disabilities while struggling with a poly/queer identity.
  • Doug writes in to share his preference for describing his son, who is on the autism spectrum.

18:10 Happy Poly Moment

S writes in to share how episode 360 on crowdsourcing jealousy helped spawn a happy poly moment!

22:30 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!

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