Some further thoughts on the distinction between orientation and polyamory.

So, I read the comments on reddit.  I know, I know, comments are the realm of trolls and other unpleasant beings, but when we post things there, I’m curious what people have to say.

Wes tends to get a number of comments there (I wish they would just comment here, but alas…), and his last post is no exception.

Click on over if you want to read the comments there at reddit, as some of them are not terrible, but what I want to highlight was my latest reply to one commenter, which I think is worth posting on its own.

The issue is whether polyamory can be thought of as a choice or not.  Many people feel like polyamory is an orientation; they feel compelled to be polyamorous (to not be exclusively sexual/romantic).  This was my comment:

Of course, my opinion may differ from that of Wes (the author of the OP, but we both write for that blog), but I can address some of this.

I think that the hard distinction between choice and orientation is not the best model to use here, and I don’t think Wes meant it as a digital relationship. My post, which is linked to in his, claims that the orientation part comes in either being interested in intimacy (sexual, emotional, etc) with varying kinds and quantities of people. Who, and how many, people you are interested in maintaining relationships with is not something you choose, and can be described as an orientation.

But you have some choice about how to act on your inclinations. So, you can choose to have a mono relationship and cheat (or not), stay single and sleep around (or not), maintain multiple relationships with sexual contact with many people (or not), etc. The distinction is between the inclination, the desire, and the deciding how to act on it. For people who want to live authentically, the desire leads to an act (done ethically), and so they don’t really see the distinction because it flows so naturally.

I get that for many people what distinguishes poly from mono is the inclusion of sexuality in relationships. I get that some people simply cannot imagine being exclusively sexual with one person. I get that it feels like an orientation. It feels that way to me too. But when I examine the idea of what polyamory is, I have to recognize that there is a difference between my inclination (my ability to love many people, including sexually) and my acting on it. Polyamory is not coterminous with the desire (the orientation) itself, but is an expression of that desire.

The desire is the orientation. The distinction here is that when I willingly enter into relationships with people to express this desire; that’s polyamory. Now in some ways this is not really a choice; we feel compelled to do so, but it is an act, based upon a related orientation.

That feeling of being oriented towards sexuality, emotional intimacy, etc with many people, the thing that makes being mono seem impossible, is not the polyamory part per se. The polyamory comes in when we decide, or are compelled, to act of our inclinations openly, transparently, etc.

I think that Wes agrees with this distinction, and whether he does or not, I think the distinction is important.  I am not sure that people who “reddit” always read closely enough to pick up such ideas.

Which is why I think it should be….




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