Coming out poly in light of mainstream images

I’m out.  Anyone who knows me personally and socially who does not know that I’m polyamorous (or an atheist, for that matter), is either not paying attention or is just saying that they know me to look cool to their friends.  OK, that last thing never happens.  But that fact is that not everyone who is polyamorous is open about it, and they often have anxieties about if, when, and how they should come out to people around them, especially family.

The “pod” from Showtime’s Polyamory: Married and Dating

Recently, I started watching the Showtime series, Polyamory: Married and Dating.  It’s a fairly good show, and this issue of coming out is dealt with, but I’m concerned with how the show will effect coming out for the rest of us.  I have a hypotheses that when a fringe or minority  idea, group, etc comes into the mainstream, it is almost always has serious misrepresentations attached to it.   Anyone serious about understanding the minority worldviews, upon its being portrayed in the mainstream, needs to do some personal research to get to the reality beneath the sexed-up mainstream presentation.

And that is true here, as well.  The people in the Showtime series are not “bad” representations of polyamory; in fact, they seem at least mostly realistic and genuine.  But what I think most people will take away from watching the series is that polyamory is a lot of sex with young, hot people all the time.  And, I’m sure, for some people it is just that.  At least, it is for a little while.  I certainly had a lot more sex, with more people, in the beginning of my polyamorous life.

I’ve been around many polyamory meetups, a few parties, and have talked with poly people form various backgrounds over the last several years.  The Showtime series, while somewhat good at presenting the open and honest form of communication between the people, is very focused on sex.  I cannot think of too many times when an episode goes more than 5 minutes without some kind of sex being displayed.  It’s not that I don’t like seeing hot, naked people enjoying each other, it’s that in my poly life nakedness and sex are not ubiquitous, and I think that’s probably true for most polyamorous people.

But I’m not here to analyze the saturation of nakedness in mainstream portrayal of polyamory, but rather the effect that such things have on other poly people, especially those who may be thinking about coming out to their family, friends, etc.  My thought is that while such shows may give some context and grounding of what polyamory is to a larger audience, it also creates a stereotype with which we will be associated.

It’s not all about the sex, right?

It is somewhat common, in some poly resources, to emphasize that it’s not all about the sex.  And this is true! Because while we do share some overlapping lifestyles with swingers, we are not swingers.  The emphasis of polyamory is, obviously, love.  And without getting all cheesy and hippy about it, the relationships we have with people around us are what are most important, and sex is often a part of that (but not always).  So now when people I know see me, especially if they have seen Showtime’s presentation, they will associate  that overly-sexualized perpetual orgy with what I mean when I say I’m polyamorous.

According to some people Gina knows, she has like 15 husbands (and she has not introduced me to 14 of them!).  My mom (hi mom) thinks, or at least thought, that I was just going to keep adding women to my life.  She says that I’m just using this as an excuse to sleep with many women (but at least I’m doing it openly, unlike say, my father when they were married).  And when I have 500 lovers, my wife will leave me, knowing her turn won’t come around for a year and a half, or someshit.  I, after all, will eventually have my own compound with thousands of adoring subjects, and watch over them as the great prophet of polyamory.


The fact is that I actually have less sex partners than some of my monogamous friends (who are single), and that my life is not actually a perpetual orgy. (This is not to say that orgies are bad).  I would actually not want 500, or 50(!), lovers all at once.  Relationships are work, and while I am open to having more lovers if they come around, I’m not looking.  This is not to say there are not people in my life I’m attracted to, only that so far nothing has come of it, because my life is not a perpetual pursuit of pussy.  I’m afraid that a series like Polyamory: Married and Dating might give the impression that my life is such a persuit, when it is more about loving who I love, as I love them, without artificial constraints.

Getting Perspective

Soon enough, we here at the polyskeptic compound will have a chance to get a little piece of our life out to the world, and what they will see is that we are actually pretty normal most of the time.  We watch movies, have dinner, and go out and get drinks together, just like monogamous people.   It’s just that we have sex, with consent and knowledge of all involved, with more people rather than just go home and wish we could, like monogamous people often do.

When I was monogamous as a 20-something with a job and disposable income, I would go out with my girlfriend to meet up with male friends and their girlfriends, and everyone would flirt playfully as part of being drunk, young, and horny.  We’d make jokes about how much we wanted to make out with the other people there, would steal sexy glances at each other, and then we would go home with our allotted partner.   But many times, and this was true for a few of the girls I dated as well, I would sometimes be thinking of this other awesome person I met that night, and what I wanted to do with them.  I would find myself wishing I could go home with them instead of, or perhaps in addition to, my girlfriend.  It never meant I didn’t love my partner, it just meant I was capable of more and wanted more.  And I’m sure some people out there didn’t think about that or want that, but I doubt that that this is true for the majority of people.

My hypothesis is that most people are potentially polyamorous, swingers, or cheaters.

And those people who accept that and are honest about it often become polyamorous or swingers.  Some of them have tons of sex with lots of people, like they do in the Showtime series, and some take different routes.  There are many ways to approach polyamory, and I wish that the mainstream presentations were more balanced.  What I think Showtime should have done was to include a family who are less sex-driven, and more about focusing on relationships.  Or at least de-emphasized the sex.

But then, of course, less people would watch it, right?

But this way, we are likely to attract people who just are only looking for tons of sex.  Because while the relationships, discussions, etc are dealt with, they are overshadowed by sex.  Monogamous couples watching the series might become intrigued by the idea, but get the message that the sex is prominent, which may cause them to jump in too fast and get hurt, which is the story of people who have tried polyamory and didn’t find it to be “for them.”  It’s sort of like trying a relationship, not having it work, and then giving up on relationships.  Thus, if people are truly going to try and challenge themselves to open up and be honest with what they want with their relationships, sexing it up and getting hurt will only damage the image of polyamory in the long run for many people.

Sex with as many, or as few, people as you want is a good thing.  But making it look like sex is the thing that polyamory is about will cause people to overlook the emotional work that needs to be done, not just for the sake of having more sex with more people, but for the sake of becoming a more mature and capable adult.  That’s what this culture needs right now.

If we as individuals and as a culture improve ourselves and our current relationships, the sex will come.  It’s not like we humans don’t already want the sex, we just need to do the work to be ready to do it well.  What Showtime’s series seems to leave out is the work it takes to get where those people are; it gives a glimpse of where we all could be, but not how to get there.

For that, everyone obviously needs to be reading!


10 thoughts on “Coming out poly in light of mainstream images

  1. You said: “It is somewhat common, in some poly resources, to emphasize that it’s not all about the sex. And this is true! Because while we do share some overlapping lifestyles with swingers, we are not swingers.”

    I think this is not good way to conceive of poly, it hurts communicating about poly, and it may be seen as insulting by people who identify as swingers, who should be natural political allies of ours. So there are two things that ring false for me in your statement.

    1. It is also not just about the sex for swingers. Swinging involves a commitment to honesty, communication, and consideration with both primary partners and “swing” partners. For people who swing in a particular club or community over time, long term friendships do form which look very much like poly relationships. And in the poly community, for every long term, loving relationship that forms, there are a number of shorter lived attempts at relationships or flings that look similar to swinging.

    2. I don’t see either poly or swinging as being something we “are” but something we do, with a social technology that allows us to do it. I, and many of my friends do both poly and swinging. They are not mutually exclusive behaviors. I have met some of my longest lived and meaningful poly partners at sex parties. Yes, I know there are people who “always knew they were poly” just like there are people who “always knew Jesus or Allah or whoever is the Lord.” Whether that is true or not is beside the point. The point is that it is wrong both in terms of tolerance and strategy to try to position poly as in some way morally superior to swinging.

  2. @Si,

    I did not mean that to sound disparaging to swingers. I have no issue with swingers nor do I see polyamory as superior to swinging. But the fact is that they are different things, even though they often do overlap in practice. My comment was in the context of people conflating polyamory with swinging, but was not intended as derogatory towards swingers.

  3. Thank you for posting this. I was starting to wonder if I was alone (or one in a minority) regarding my concerns about the show.

    While I agree that our culture needs a message of sex-positivity, and that we shouldn’t be weirded out about discussions on polyamory that also include discussions on sexuality – having sex as a primary focus on the show has led to some confusion and misconceptions that those of us who are “out” as polyamorists (especially poly activists) have had to address. I touch upon some of this in my review of the social media reaction to Polyamory: Married and Dating 3 episodes into the series –

    In areas that are sexually progressive, I see the show having a positive impact upon those that want to come out. In areas that are a bit more sex negative culture-wise, I see the emphasis on sex as adding an additional hurdle.

  4. The irony is, we (the triad on the show) are NOT actually very sex focused– we spend most of our time nerdily reading and writing, doing music (Lindsey) and community organizing. But of course it comes across that way because we have sex on the show.

  5. acristofani,

    I am glad to hear that, even though it confirms my cynicism about the media in such regards. I was the only one to watch the entire season in our polycule, and I saw a lot of good in the show, especially the message that there are some that need to step out and take the risk for the sake of us being seen, understood, etc.

    We have recently done some filming with a documentary crew (more about that later, when we can give details) about polyamory, and my wife and I have done a talk show in the past as well, so we have some experience with the media. I am glad to hear that my criticisms were of Showtime’s portrayal, and not other poly people.

    Thanks for stopping in.


  6. I was in a doc recently too! Was yours Tao Ruspoli’s as well? Great article, btw.

  7. I actually cannot say who’s documentary it was. At least, not until it airs, or something like that.

    Thanks for the compliment, and stop by again if you liked it. I am often curious how similar my worldview is to other poly people, and from what I saw we might have some overlapping views.

Comments are closed.