Saturday, January 22, 2005

Another email question…

I read your blog the other day. I began the experience as an innocent, with no knowledge of BDSM whatsoever, and finished with an understanding of some of the motivations of the people who follow the lifestyle. You are in a polyamorous relationship that you find very satisfying. I get some understanding of why that is in reading your blog. What I don't understand (and I don't mean this in a judgmental way) is why you have chosen this kind of a lifestyle over a monogamous one. What are the benefits of a poly relationship for you that have lead you to prefer it to a more conventional one? In my admittedly naive view, a poly relationship would seem to entail a large number of costs - jealousy, a large commitment in terms of time, work and emotional support to multiple people, societal disapproval, interpersonal relationships that shift between friendship and being openly sexual, greater STD concerns, and greater vulnerability to being hurt emotionally. For you to undertake such a relationship with your primary partner, there had to have been some benefit beyond having more varied and enjoyable sex. In my experience, I have had very close and satisfying relationships with people without having sex with them. So I don't see the non-sexual reasons for polyamory. Could you enlighten me?

I've heard this kind of question before, and while I'm not offended by it – uh, yeah, it's pretty naive. What this questioner is essentially saying is: why do you have to have sex with anyone besides Max? Why can't you just be friends with other people?

In some ways, I think this is rather like asking a gay person why he/she can't "just be friends" with people of the same gender instead of having sex with them. I can't be truly happy being monogamous because I'm not wired that way. I haven't "chosen" anything – it's just the way I am.

The strange part of the way this question is presented, however, is that the writer takes a position that both over- and under-emphasizes the power and importance of sexuality.

He over-emphasizes it by setting monogamy up as the gold standard, giving me arguments to show how much better it is – safer, easier, more time-efficient – and by questioning why I'd risk all those supposed benefits.

Yet simultaneously, he under-emphasizes it by acting as if having a sexual love relationship is just like having a good buddy with whom you also like to do the wild thing. This writer talks about sex like it's going bowling or something - he seems to think that Roman and I could have built exactly the same type, and the same level, of affection, intimacy, trust, closeness and love, without having had sex with each other.

Now, I have a good friend – Miss K. We've been good friends for about ten years. She and I know each other in certain ways that no one else understands, and I love her dearly. But I'm here to tell you: it ain't the same. Friendship is a vitally important part of being fully human. But a sexual love relationship is a whole different thing. You cannot substitute one for the other.

(Yeah, I've had casual sex with friends before, and while it's not on par with an intense sexual love relationship, I still consider even the most no-strings of sex to change the nature of a platonic friendship. But polyamory means "many loves" and sexual love relationships are what we're talking about here. Casual sex is a whole other discussion.)

Poly is complicated, no question about it. But if one is going to argue strictly on the virtues of minimizing risk and maximizing efficiency, one could say: why have sex at all? Remaining a virgin would eliminate all the concerns that the writer brings up. Jealousy, STD risks, the possibility of being hurt emotionally, loss of time for other things – they all become non-issues. But I'm guessing he wouldn't advocate that. Nor would I.

In a sexual love relationship, you open your heart to your partner. You expose yourself, you make yourself vulnerable, and you do that because you want to. You want to be seen and be known in the most intimate of ways, and part of that intimacy is physical. But - I know I don't really need to explain this, I know that the writer must understand the power of physical intimacy, because he's essentially saying that it's so important it should be reserved for Max. But at the same time he's saying that it's so trivial he doesn't understand why I can't just subtract it from my relationship with Roman without altering that relationship's essential nature. I don't think one can logically hold both those positions at the same time.

What I say is: there is a connection that only happens when your body and your heart move as one, and I call that love. I am actively polyamorous because I have the ability and the desire to share that kind of love with more than just one person at a time. And because of that, I have a life that's filled with love. I happen to think that's worth a few inconveniences.

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