aka Polygamy, Swinging, Sleeping AroundYou can fuck some of the people all of the time, and you can fuck all of the people some of the time. But can you fuck all of the people, all of the time?
That is the pressing question polyamory sets out to answer.
There's no clear consensus on whether humans possess a biological drive toward monogamy, but the anecdotal evidence would seem to point clearly to "Hell, no."
After all, humans have devoted more time, brainpower and ink to the topic of when and how to get some extra lovin' since... Well, since before we stopped swinging in the trees.
Tribal cultures took part in a bewildering array of love and marriage practices ranging from free-for-all to group marriage to monogamy. On a practical basis, all these approaches seemed to work pretty well. As society evolved from hunter-gatherer villages to war-mongering cities, however, things got ugly.
Violence became the path to success for males, and females became the spoils of victory. Humans invented the idea of property, then men designated women as part of that idea. Ownership is an inherently exclusive concept. Ipso facto, if a woman is your property, she fucks only you.
Variations were copious. Greek culture arose, and people got married but had sex with young boys on the side. Judaism and Christianity arose and favored the one-on-one approach. Islam and Mormonism reintroduced property-based polygamous practice on the theory that if a man can own one woman, why not own several? (Polygamy, as opposed to polyamory, generally refers only to marriage including multiple heterosexual spouses.)
The 20th century saw an empowerment of women, which led to more sex being better enjoyed all around.
The point is: Virtually every possible relationship configuration has been tried at some time in history by someone somewhere. None of them seem to be inherently better than any other (except as they affect gender equality). In light of all this, many people have embraced the concept of "the more, the merrier" and abandoned monogamy in favor of polyamory.
The power of the Internet has made polyamory much easier than it used to be (as it has virtually every nonstandard sexual practice). If you know what you're looking for, it's amazingly easy to google up a list of fellow sluts for chat and correspondence, exchange of naked pictures, anonymous encounters and/or relationships of every stripe.
There are several flavors of polyamory, depending on your hangups, kinks, social status, religious beliefs and the amount of work you want to put into it. Here's a primer on the major forms of polyamory, with some general guidelines that will help you find the right kind of fuckfest that your thoughtful, sensitive soul craves.
PolygamyIn practice, polygamy is the ugliest of all forms of polyamory because it's almost always a tool for men to have more women, without allowing women the corresponding luxury. Mormonism and Islam both practice forms of polygamy which tend to work out in a very oppressive sort of way.
Cons: Exclusively heterosexual (a con if you're not, or if you like threesomes or moresomes). Oppressive, not politically correct. Illegal in many jurisdictions. Concept frequently abused by cult leaders to take liberties with underaged girls. Not socially acceptable in most Western countries.
Pros: Exclusively heterosexual (if you are). Good if you're the man (and not stricken with conscience). Presumably OK if you're a woman who wants the security of being married without the full-time hassle of maintaining an exclusive relationship, but you don't hear a lot of women advocating this point of view.
Basic SluttinessThis is the tried and true form of non-monogamy, and the easiest on which to embark. You sleep around. You avoid long-term committed relationships.
Cons: You are almost certainly raising the odds that you'll catch a disease, although you can mitigate that risk by the usual means (discussing sexual history, using condoms 100% of the time, refraining from bloodletting, etc.). Sure, you might end up alone and embittered, but frankly that could happen anyway. At least your expectations will be low.
Pros: Low-maintenance. When you don't cultivate relationships, basically the only work you have to do is the actual pickup (and the occasional hysterical scene). Depending on your skills, appearance and personal hygiene, this may balance out in your favor. Also, there's no need to explain your quirky life to friends, families and coworkers, because everyone pretty much understands this approach.
The 'Understanding'This is another popular approach. When you have an Understanding with a committed partner, you basically reap the benefits of a steady relationship while occasionally scoring strictly casual sex on the side. Although they deny it, it's a pretty safe bet that Bill and Hillary have some sort of Understanding.
Cons: It doesn't count if you just sleep around without telling the other person, even if you're "pretty sure" they "know the score." The Understanding requires an explicit agreement, otherwise you're not really a polyamorist, you're just an asshole (adulterer). Things can get complicated and unpleasant if one partner brings home a disease or accidentally falls in love with a "casual" fling. May result in awkward social encounters at cocktail parties or the weddings of mutual friends. The process of picking up a partner may be complicated if you choose to explain your position, which is the correct ethical (and practical) thing to do.
Pros: Much less impactful and exhausting than having full-fledged relationships with more than one person. The Understanding is the easiest form of polyamory to conceal from your children, neighbors and parents.
SwingingSwingers are generally couples who jointly take part in sexual activities with other couples and singles. This can either be done within a context of group sex or as part of a structured "swap" in which the partners trade off with each other (either in the same room or separately).
As in any group sex situation, it's not required that the participants be bisexual, but it does tend to make things go a lot more smoothly if everyone involved enjoys and is at least comfortable with each other's naughty bits.
Cons: Swinger subculture is still afflicted with a weird kind of '70s sensibility. It's exponentially harder to find TWO people that TWO other people like enough to share spit with than it is for one person to hook up with one partner. People who are insecure about their sexual performance may be disturbed by the sight, sound and smell of their life partner having a good time with someone else. VERY awkward if you try to pick up another couple you've been friends with for years, only to discover that they are appalled at the very notion.
Pros: The family that fucks together, stays together. No hidden worries about what the other person is up to, since adventures are undertaken together. Group dynamics can often be very energetic (this is a double-edged sword, of course). Out of all the forms of polyamory, swinging is probably the most likely to get you thrown out of the PTA or to be used against you during a murder trial.
Anything That MovesBoth partners just fuck whomever they want, whenever they want, however they want, with no particular regard for any of the abovementioned finicky distinctions. You can frolic with partners jointly or separately. At the end of the day, you come home to your partner. OK, maybe the end of the week. If you haven't come home by the end of the month, you're probably more "broken up" than "polyamorous."
Cons: Chaotic, confusing, often hurtful. Sounds better on paper than it actually works out when people's feelings are involved, unless both people are really, really, REALLY committed to the lifestyle (or if they just don't care about each other that much). Ironically, unstable people are very attracted to this approach, but it really takes a well-adjusted person to survive it.
Pros: If you can deal with the emotional roller coaster, the upside is you pretty much get to do whatever you want.
Structured PolyamoryWhat's life without rules? If you just can't deal with the insanity of the "Anything That Moves" approach, there is a recent movement toward creating new and theoretically improved guidelines for sexually expansive lifestyles. People who use the word "polyamory" are usually referring to this approach.
In a "poly" relationship, a couple (gay or straight) comes together in a "primary" relationship. Your primary is the person you come home to, and the person who comes first in the event of a conflict of interests.
After the primary, many poly people choose a "secondary," which is a person with whom you establish a regular and theoretically stable relationship that is less than the first. This basically means you don't live together. If your primary and secondary have their office Christmas parties on the same day, you go with the primary.
After the secondary, there's also the casual sex, which is just pretty much casual sex. Many poly couples do this, some don't. It depends on whether you come to the lifestyle out of a commitment to sexual freedom or to accommodate a sticky situation involving a relationship interloper.
Many poly participants are bisexual, but this isn't a requirement. It's extremely helpful if you can get along with your primary's secondary, especially if you can all get it on whilst you get along. Even then, poly relationships are often turbulent.
There are numerous variations on this theme, including three-way equal relationships called triads, and even four-ways. There are very few people with the discipline to make these approaches work, and virtually no one who can manage anything more than a four-way.
Cons: A lot of rules and jargon to learn. Waking up to find a stranger in your bed that you didn't invite. Sometimes poly people choose this lifestyle because they're so incredibly needy that one person can't possibly take care of them enough. (Two people usually aren't enough to take care of them either.) Polyamory is extremely difficult to hide from parents, neighbors and co-workers.
Pros: You get most of the benefits of the other approaches, while mitigating some of the negatives. On paper, this looks like a sensible mature way to go about having a sexually liberated lifestyle. Because it looks good on paper, however, sometimes people try it out when they really aren't up for it, and much angst results.
Ground Rules For AnyoneNeedless to say, if you're going to play the field, there are a few things you need to be careful about. For starters, there is the matter of disease.
Sexual diseases are an issue for anyone enjoying the fruits of promiscuity, and they're doubly an issue for people who are in an open relationship. There's nothing that will sour a relationship more quickly and deeply as someone bringing home a case of the crabs or something much worse.
Communication is by far the biggest issue in making any of these approaches work. The rules (or lack thereof) need to be spelled out in painstaking detail, and scenarios need to be discussed.
Etiquette counts, big time. It's just common sense. Think of it as another word for "consideration."
That means you should call if you're not coming home. You should discuss whose bed gets used for what, and always respect the rules of the house. You should not let your secondary eat your primary's chocolate ice cream. And you should always take a shower in between partners (unless specifically agreed otherwise as part of someone's fetish).
Honesty is key. Either that, or a firm and mutual commitment to lying about everything all the time. Living in denial is indeed possible, but only if both people are doing it with equal determination. And it's not pretty. In the final analysis, honesty is really a lot easier. It may not SEEM like it when you're in the thick of things, but painful experimentation has proven the premise over and over again.
The most important thing is that you absolutely must be honest with yourself. Think long and hard before embarking on a life of polyamory. Partners need to talk about their reservations in excruciating detail, because any reservations are absolutely 100% guaran-damn-teed to come out once the polyamory is underway.
And if you thought your last monogamous breakup was messy, you ain't seen nothin' yet.