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One Cringeworthy Move I Wish All Writers Everywhere Would Stop Doing October 1, 2014

Posted by Ginny in Sex and sexuality.
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2 comments

1. Writing long, snarky lists about what sex acts all women, (or all men) secretly hate.

Seriously, is this not 2014? Have we not yet absorbed the radical notion that different people like different things when they’re doing The Sex? And not just, like, male-type people like These things, while female-type people like Those things, so all you have to do to please your lover is determine their gender, google a bunch of lists, and do exactly what the lists say.

Lists like this are useful for one kind of person only: the kind of person who has never realized that a potential partner’s sexual tastes might not be perfectly aligned to their own, or to what happens in the kind of porn they generally watch. For those people, a list like this may be a helpful awakening. Sort of like how, for someone who grew up eating burgers and hot dogs exclusively, spaghetti may be a good first step to the world of international foods.

For the rest of us, following a list of advice like this is only going to make you a worse lover. The quickest route to bad sex is to be absolutely, 100% sure that what you’re about to do is going to be mind-blowing for your partner, without bothering to check in with them or pay attention to how they respond. (Well, I guess a quicker route is not to give a crap about your partner’s pleasure at all, but I’m talking to people who are above that level.) It doesn’t matter what some list off the internet told you women/men like. It doesn’t matter what your best friend told you women/men like, even if your best friend is of the gender in question. It doesn’t matter what all your partners before this one liked. If you saw an internet list saying, “The one color no woman can resist!” would you believe it? Would you go about assuming that you now know what every woman’s favorite color is? If all of your previous partners happened to love purple, would you assume that purple is your new lover’s favorite color? What a person likes sexually is just as much a matter of personal preference as favorite colors, or foods, or movies, or music. The quicker we can all get that into our heads, the better everybody’s sex life will be.

If you want to be a good lover, talk to your partner. Listen to your partner. Pay attention to your partner’s non-verbal cues. Make “how do you like to be touched” a fun naked game you play together. And check in every few months to see how your partner’s tastes and preferences may have changed, or if either of you have new ideas for things you’d like to try. (I’m terrible about this, but it’s still good advice.)

And FTLOG stop writing articles like this. It makes me cranky.

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The turbulant seas between Philotes and Eros January 27, 2014

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: , , , ,
1 comment so far

Because I am poly polyamorous, having friends of the gender I tend to be attracted to can often be an adventure of uncertainty and transitions.  Some of them I am attracted to, some I am not, and sometimes that attraction leads to something.  Many times it does not.  But when it does, the transition can be, well, it’s a lot of things.

With attractive friends, and acquaintances, who are not already polyamorous, the issue is less uncertain as one learns to curb the attraction because it is not appropriate, and usually not wanted.  Sure, I might flirt, playfully, but I do my best to leave it at that unless the cues are overwhelmingly in my favor.  But then, inevitably, some of those people want to be polyamorous (Who wouldn’t?)  or they were already but for whatever reason things didn’t click at first.  And if they demonstrate interest in me, the flirtation and the relationship in general takes on a different tone.  Interest is communicated, and hopefully requited.  Suddenly I find myself in a place between friendship and something else (assuming we accept the distinctions and roles of those mainstream relationship types, of course).

From a Relationship Anarchy point of view, this transition is less significant.  Yes, there will be actual differences in how people interact when they stop being merely ‘friends’ and playfully flirting to being sexually affectionate, but if we were to reject the model of relationships of our mainstream culture (in which one is either a friend or a lover but not both) then that difference is less meaningful and often less distinct.  And while I have some affinities with Relationship Anarchy, the distinction between these two relationship phases is significant and important to me.  This is mostly for reasons having to do with my level of comfort of physical affection with friends versus lovers (something I’m open to being less dichotomous about, as I grow).

I have few non-sexual friends with whom I’m comfortable being affectionate with beyond things like hugging and basic body contact.  This is because sexuality is extremely powerful and often overwhelming for me, mostly as an emotional and sensual experience.  Being affectionate with a person I don’t have some level of sexual relationship with (especially women, being that I am heterosexual) can lead to spikes in desires which are inappropriate with some people.  There are quite a few women in my life with whom I have no sexual relationship, but am still attracted to, and so I minimize my physical contact with them because physical intimacy can sometimes lead to spikes in sexual desire which are uncomfortable for me to have when I don’t perceive them as reciprocated or wanted by those women.  Respecting other people’s boundaries is especially important to me, and the vast majority of times I will not initiate flirty touching without making sure it’s wanted.

Of course, one of the exceptions to that rule was the night I met Ginny.  And now we’re married.  I don’t know what to learn from that, exactly.  I do know that the lesson is not to just touch whomever I want in the hopes they like it, because boundaries.  Also, non-verbal cues are not always sufficient, because sometimes we mis-read them.  Nonetheless, I have chanced it a few times, and it worked out fantastically once.  I don’t plan on chancing it again, because some people really don’t want that and I don’t want to be that guy.

So when I find myself in a situation where I’ve communicated my interest, that interest has been requited, I find myself in a limbo between knowing those desires are appropriate, wanting to act on them, and still being somewhat nervous to touch those people affectionately, let alone sexually, it is tough for me.  And as the idea of future potential affection and sexual contact hovers over me, the beginnings of New Relationship Energy start to form (let’s call that pre-NRE).  And despite the fact that it is potentially premature to have those feelings, they happen (and sometimes they remain in that pre-NRE stage, which is also fine).  And for a borderline like me, those feelings are often overwhelming and cause days of anticipatory anxiety and anticipation.  I both love it and hate it.  I love it when it genuinely does become NRE (which I define as a multi-way magnification of emotions and desires between 2 or more people, and not personal infatuation towards another), and I fear that what I desire might not materialize at all.  If what I desire does materialize, but never reaches genuine NRE, that’s actually fine.

This experience of pre-NRE (As well as NRE itself)  has another side effect, which I don’t think my current partners mind so much (and I might be wrong here, but I’m sure they will let me know…).  It gives my sex drive a huge boost.  For me, new sexual (requited) attraction has the effect of making me want sex with my current partners even more.  The spill-over effect of being sexually charged is not limited to the source of that desire, at least not completely.  In my experience, my desire for one person can only be fully quenched by them,* but that desire amplifies the already existing desire I have for other people.

Of course that level of excitement doesn’t happen always, but it does happen enough to be a thing worth thinking and talking about.  Those pre-NRE feelings don’t always become overwhelming in the beginning of meeting and conveying interest.  Sometimes, in other cases, the feelings grow slowly.  There are some people I grew to love and desire (more), when in the beginning the attraction existed but was not overwhelming, nor did an emotional attraction exist at first.  Sometimes, in the beginning I just saw us as incompatible, but later changed my mind about that.  I never know what to do in those situations. Mostly, I remain friends with them and wait for what I think will be the right time to say anything.  Sometimes that right time never seems to happen.  Like I said the other day, I’m not always great at communicating my desires.  

Writing all that makes me wonder if any of those friends of mine might wonder if they are one of the people I might have feelings for I’m not expressing. Gah! Blogging is hard! I’m trying to get better at that.  It’s scary.  No, it’s down-right terrifying sometimes.  I have issues. 

So, the times when I am swimming between the shores of one way of interacting with a person to the other is always overwhelming, scary, and exciting for me.  There is the nervousness of whether it will actually happen, the conversations which cross the lines between friendly and potentially sexual flirtation, and the feeling of fuzziness in my head and flutters of butterflies in my stomach as I think about it.  But in any case, I’m surrounded by wonderful, beautiful, sexy people who I love in many different ways.  But don’t worry, I’m not secretly restraining overwhelming sexual desires for all of you out there.

Not all of you.

All this makes it really hard to concentrate on tasks.  That reminds me, I have to change out laundry and eat some lunch.

*and if it doesn’t happen, that sticks with me for a long time.  This situation, which never came to be, still sticks with me now and that was 3-and-a-half years ago! Granted, that was a huge exception to my usual level of sexual attraction

When polyamory isn’t an option, is cheating an option? November 19, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: , , , , ,
9 comments

Nearly a year ago, Wes wrote this post on the blog about whether it is permissible, morally, to accept an offer of sex from someone in a monogamous relationship.  I was not in agreement with him when I read it, but my disagreement was based on a moral foundation I know Wes does not accept (primarily Kantian), so I didn’t argue since it would have turned into a meta-argument.  I find his logic sound, I just found the basic assumptions to be lacking somewhat.   I carry different moral foundations that the argument presented in that post, and so I realized that it would turn into a conversation about meta-ethics and moral foundation theory, rather than about the question at hand.

Over the last year I have thought about this issue a little, and I have come to agree with his argument, Kantian counter-positions or not, but only in some cases.   I agree that the point of harm is the decision to cheat, and that acting on it only adds the potential harm of STDs or pregnancy  (if precautions against such things are not taken, of course).  The emotional harm was already done, and it is this point where the other person should focus their attention on why they care if their partners wants other sex/romantic  partners, and possibly accept polyamory as another option.  

My reason for refusing the proposition of sex from a monogamous person, morally, has to do with what Wes Said in his post:

the fact that someone is a cheater raises all kinds of concerns about that person’s trustworthiness, character, compassion, and decency. I have absolutely no problem with categorically turning down cheaters for those reasons.

I think that everyone should have a negative response to such a proposition if the person asking is untrustworthy.  I think that a decent person would not even want to sleep with someone in a situation where you can’t trust their character, personality, etc.  I have trouble finding it possible to both be a decent person and wanting to say yes to such a person.  But if an untrustworthy person is still appealing to you, then I suppose you can do whatever you like, even if I don’t think it’s the right decision.  I would not will that maxim to be universal law, but I can’t make decisions for other people either.

However, not everyone who requests, or at least wants, to have sex with someone besides their committed and supposedly exclusive partner (married or not) is untrustworthy or a bad person.  Sometimes, they have good reasons to want and request such a thing.

Why am I writing about this now? Well, because I had a long conversation with a long-time friend today that both depressed and angered me.  It spoke to all the reasons why I advocate for non-monogamy, especially where it rubs against traditional and conservative (patriarchal) notions of marriage, relationships, and commitment.  I’m writing about this because this friend of mine needs and wants romantic, emotional, and sexual intimacy in her life, and is not getting it.

 

The occasional 2 minutes is not enough.

My friend, who will obviously remain anonymous, divulged to me today that she has been unhappy with many aspects of her marriage for a while.  Sex happens perhaps every month or two, and lasts just about long enough for her husband to be done.  The old squirt and snooze.

Now, she has talked to him about her lack of satisfaction with this amount of physical intimacy, and he had insisted that things are “OK” and that he’s just not going to change.  He’s happy, he’s not going to change, and with her not being able to support herself right now (she’s a house-mom), leaving is not much of an option.  She’s stuck in a situation where she is unhappy, stuck at home most of the time, and wants more from life.  He’s not going to give it to her apparently, and her transparently finding it elsewhere is not a realistic option.  Polyamory is not an option.

She does not want to hurt him, she does not want to put the kids in a situation of going through a potential divorce (her parents were divorced, which was hard on her growing up), and her kids are fairly young.  But she is also seriously considering accepting what she knows are open offers to receive some level of emotional, sexual, and possibly romantic intimacy from other people she knows. She’s thinking about the possibility of cheating.

I want to tell her to do it.  I want to tell her to find the happiness she wants, even if it means cheating.  Her situation, with a selfish and un-giving husband, is a situation where the chains of monogamy are most clear to me.  This type of situation is why Ashley Madison exists.  My friend would benefit from polyamory (ideally, if she wanted that), but that is not an option she can count on happening with any level of probability.  She wants real intimacy, and cannot get it because of this traditional definition of marriage which keeps too many people (both men and women) in unhappy situations, which lead to cheating.

Eventually she will likely leave him (that’s my guess) when she is able to be economically independent.  Whether she would be better off doing now, I cannot say.  I’m leaning towards yes, but I don’t have to deal with all of the consequences of that decision.  But for now, she remains unhappy, unfulfilled, and there is a world out there full of people who would love her more and give her some of what she desires.

And I know there are many people like her out there.

Is cheating sometimes the only option?

So, what is she supposed to do? She has the option to cheat, if she wants it.  She has said that she has people who only need her “yes” to get at least some of her desires fulfilled.  She could do so in a way that would almost certainly not be found out.  She could do so with people she knows and trusts.  Does she have a better option?

Is it better to live with this lack of fulfillment while not breaking her marriage vows and possibly exposing her family to harm, or is it better to take the risk of having an affair and possibly having a secret boyfriend? In her place, I would be very tempted to take the risk and have some happiness, rather than live unhappily.  Of course I don’t have to make that choice, which is why polyamory is the shiznit.

I would not want to live a life of quiet desperation.  I would not want to hurt someone I loved, but in this situation that love seems to be mostly one way (I’m assuming she still loves him, and his actions clearly indicate he does not love her; at least not well).  I would want to broach the subject of polyamory with my partner, and if that didn’t work I would be very tempted to leave and/or cheat, if I were in a similar situation.

So, what would I suggest she do?

You are probably guessing that I would advise that she try to have a serious conversation with her husband about some sort of non-monogamous arrangement.  And ideally, I think she should do that.  But then I think that if she does that, he will suddenly look differently at her going out on a Saturday night to see friends.  He might, in fact, insist that she not do so.  That would make any cheating harder to pull off, even if she didn’t accept his (hypotheitical) insistence of not going out anymore, because he would be curious and prying if he suspected she wanted to do so.  So, given that, is it not only easier pragmatically, but in terms of her ability to find some happiness, just to cheat?

He seems to think that things are fine.  He’s happy getting his rocks off every several weeks, but she wants more and she could get away with doing so.  Probably.  So, in this situation, is it better to cheat?

In a world where polyamory is more mainstream, no it would not be better.  We, however, are not going to get to that world any time soon.  And yes, the idealist in me wants her to take a stand for her desires openly, and demand that he make a better effort to try and fulfill her needs (she has done this, somewhat, to no avail), and to demand that he either let her go find it willingly or share, and fly the polyamory flag.  Or, at least fly the find-a-partner-who-treats-me-well flag.  She has not said she wants to be polyamorous per se, but she has said that she wants sexual and emotional intimacy, and he will not give it any more than he already does.

So should she cheat?

Yes.  I think she should.  And when she can get away, she should.  Because in this case it is not the seeker of extra-marital sex who is untrustworthy or a bad person, it is the person she is stuck with who is.  And I am not convinced that such people deserve the respect of marriage vows.  I don’t think he’s given all he can give to their relationship, and she shouldn’t have to suffer because of that.

Polyamory is great, but it can’t solve this problem because polyamory requires the consent of her husband, and he almost certainly will not give it.  And if he should be hurt by any such cheating, he should take responsibility for being a terrible partner, both emotionally and sexually, and deal with it.  You can’t be an un-giving partner and also expect your partner to be happy just with you.

Relationship Agnosticism: process over teleology February 8, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

In conversations with people over the years, I have been asked, in a myriad of ways, if I think that polyamory is better than monoamory.  Do I think that being polyamorous is better (necessarily or generally) than monoamory?

I’ve dealt with the question before, but I want to take a different approach–a different perspective–on the question today.  I don’t think that polyamory, per se, is better.  I do think many of the skills and lessons that being polyamorous has taught me are superior, but those same lessons could, potentially, be learned while being monoamorous.  What I have come to see as superior is not the ends–not how many romantic, sexual, etc partners one has–but the process of how we get to those ends.

Process over teleology, in short.  Let me explain.

I’ve talked a fair bit about my annoyance that being with one person, even if that monoamory is not the short-term goal, is the mainstream default ultimate goal.  While young and dating, many people will date two or more people within the same time-frame, but the ultimate goal in our culture is to find one person to either settle with or to convince yourself that this one person is all that you need romantically and sexually.  And sometimes it ends up being true, whether for several years or a lifetime, but this model of relationships is not universally ideal.

The problem here is that this approach to relationships is teleological, which means it’s concerned with the ends, rather than the means or the process.  It views the purpose of relationships as being concerned with a set goal (or set of goals) which all current relationships should aspire to.  We should be tying to find a single life-partner, because that’s what real love is or something.  If you are not interested in that, then you might not find happiness, or you may even be doing something wrong.

Let’s take a couple of basic examples; Let’s say that you have been with someone for 5 years and are not married yet, and not considering marriage.   For many people you are doing something wrong, the relationship is a dead end, and you may need to find someone else you are ready to be serious with.  Marriage, monogamy really, is the goal for many people, and if that ring doesn’t present itself, then move on (that’s the wisdom, anyway).  Or maybe you don’t have a single partner for very long, whether serially monogamous or you keep dating more than one person simultaneously.  In this case, the common wisdom says that you might have commitment issues (which may be true), because if you were ready to commit you would stop playing the field and finally become an adult, or something.  In short, if you are not in a monogamous marriage, in a relationship moving towards monogamy, or even looking for that, then you are doing it wrong.

The problem here is not that finding one person to spend your life with is bad per se.  The issue is not about where you end up, the issue is how you were thinking about your desires, emotional and physical needs, and whether you were getting what you actually want from relationships rather than thinking about a default and expected end.

If you have read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, you will see this default set of relationship expectations turned on it’s head.  Here’s a snippet from chapter 3:

Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. But there were also husbands, wives, lovers. There were also monogamy and romance.

“Though you probably don’t know what those are,” said Mustapha Mond.

They shook their heads.

Family, monogamy, romance. Everywhere exclusiveness, a narrow channelling of impulse and energy.

“But every one belongs to every one else,” he concluded, citing the hypnopædic proverb.

The students nodded, emphatically agreeing with a statement which upwards of sixty-two thousand repetitions in the dark had made them accept, not merely as true, but as axiomatic, self-evident, utterly indisputable.

“But after all,” Lenina was protesting, “it’s only about four months now since I’ve been having Henry.”

“Only four months! I like that. And what’s more,” Fanny went on, pointing an accusing finger, “there’s been nobody else except Henry all that time. Has there?”

Lenina blushed scarlet; but her eyes, the tone of her voice remained defiant. “No, there hasn’t been any one else,” she answered almost truculently. “And I jolly well don’t see why there should have been.”

“Oh, she jolly well doesn’t see why there should have been,” Fanny repeated, as though to an invisible listener behind Lenina’s left shoulder. Then, with a sudden change of tone, “But seriously,” she said, “I really do think you ought to be careful. It’s such horribly bad form to go on and on like this with one man. At forty, or thirty-five, it wouldn’t be so bad. But at your age, Lenina! No, it really won’t do. And you know how strongly the D.H.C. objects to anything intense or long-drawn. Four months of Henry Foster, without having another man–why, he’d be furious if he knew …”

Some may think that this is the polyamorous ideal (and for some it may be), but this, as a societal norm, is equally problematic because it discounts the possibility that some people, few or many as they are, may not want more than one person (or anyone at all, for that matter).  This commits the same error as our current culture as being more concerned with the goal than how one gets to where we get.

 

Process-oriented relationships

What do you want?

I mean, what do you desire?

This may not be as easy a question as you think it is.  The reason is that many of our wants are a result of the acculturation we receive as we grow up.  We are guided towards the social and cultural ideals of the world we live in, if not out-right trained or programmed (in some extreme cases), which informs the kinds of answers that come to mind when asked what we want.  When I ask you what you want, here, I’m not asking you what your long term goals are, what you hope to achieve, and especially not what you think you should want.  No, in this case I’m asking what you desire, generally and right now, from people around you.

What types of interactions do you desire with people?

What we actually desire may conflict with the cultural norms around us, and when those things conflict we may find that we automatically, or possibly feel compelled to, lean towards the norm rather than the desire (and for many the opposite is true as well, but that’s an error I’ll not address right now).  People who find themselves attracted to their own gender may pretend otherwise, especially if they are bisexual, due to religious or cultural expectations which devalue homosexuality and bisexuality (especially for men).

If you find yourself desiring two or more people, in our culture the appropriate thing to do is to spend time with all of them, in order to determine which one you will pick, or to simply decide which to pursue so as to avoid conflicts or jealousy.  But this is absurd from a point of view where one is agnostic concerning where one ends up.

If you are not very concerned about what is expected of you from your culture, and you rather follow what you actually desire, then there is no reason to openly, un-apologetically, and unabashedly pursue all of the people whom interest you.  And you should then stay with the people with whom you share some mutually-pleasurable relationship, whether it be purely physical, purely romantic, purely friendly, or any combination thereof.  You should not be concerned about what expectations there are whether from your culture, society, religion, or family.   You should pursue what you want with concern only for the people with whom you have relationships.

In short, love each person as you actually love them, no more and no less.

And wherever that takes you, whether monoamoryy, polyamory, or some other non-monoamorous option, that’s fine.  If you end up being with one person for the rest of your life, then fine (that’s what I call “Accidental monoamory/ monogamy“) and if you end up being with 25 people (to varying degrees or not), that’s fine too.  The point is not to be perpetually strategizing what type of lifestyle you will have, but to simply allow your relationships to go where they naturally lead according to the desires that everyone involved has.

Of course, you should be transparent about this; you should not claim to be exclusive while not being exclusive, for example.  You need to pursue your desires with care and consideration for the people with whom you have relationships.

To sum up, polyamory is not better per se, although I think that what people can learn from polyamory might raise our cultural consciousness about the nature of desire and relationship possibilities which most people don’t consider.  I don’t necessarily want everyone to be polyamorous, but I think everyone should be aware that monoamory is not the only healthy option.  If we allow our actual desires to fuel our pursuit of love and sex, I think many more people will find options more like polyamory, rather than automatically and unthinkingly choose monoamory out of cultural habit.

Loving Authentically January 22, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Polyamory.
Tags: , , , , ,
2 comments

We should love the people in our lives as we actually desire to do so. We should not unnaturally inflate or deflate our feelings for anyone. We, speakers of English, suffer from the poverty of words to express the varieties of love.  The Greeks knew better, having multiple words for the various kinds of love we feel for people, and perhaps there is a lesson here. Not all love is erotic. Not all love is adoring. Not all love is brotherly. Sometimes we will only feel brotherly (or sisterly) towards a person, while other times we may feel the hot coal of Eros burning within us to touch, savor, and embrace another (or many others) with pure passion. Sometimes we will feel a deep sense of attachment and affection for a person, such that we could not imagine being without them in our lives.  Sometimes you have a little (or a lot) of each.

Whether we are monoamorous, monogamish (a term I’m somewhat annoyed with, personally), “exclusive”  but cheating, or polyamorous we can experience a phenomenon of either inflating or deflating the nature of a relationship based upon social or personal expectations. This happens because how we actually feel for people around us may not fit the categories our culture has for relationships, at least mainstream culture.  In recent decades we have invented new categories, such as friends with benefits, asexuality, etc, but there is still room for better defining what kind of relationships we want from people.

Having been in a number of relationships (and most of the examples below has an analog in my experience), I have noticed that many people will artificially inflate or deflate the nature of that relationship in the name of having that relationship fit into the social context we are used to, or possibly to try and make the relationship look appropriate.  That is, the reality of a relationship may not always mach what it appears to be from the outside, often at the fault of those displaying their relationship.  This phenomenon, of falsely displaying our relationship one way or another, is inauthentic.

What I want to explore here are the implications of this phenomenon on a set of relationships, in order to start thinking about how and why we define our relationships the way that we do and how we might do better.

 

Inflating Relationships

Monoamory,* in some cases, will force us to inflate how we care for someone unnecessarily and unnaturally. Because people are insecure or afraid, we may have to overcompensate for moments when we may show interest in other activities, other people, and even other potential loves. If we err by having an affair, we try to soften the damage by saying things like “she/he means nothing to me” or “I only want to be with you, nobody else” which are obviously not true in many cases.  Except in rare cases, monoamory is based upon a lie, or if not a lie then an inauthentic approach to who we love.  We try to convince ourselves, and often we tell our partner, that we only want one person, and that we are happy only with them.  We create a mythology of happiness and fulfillment in exclusivity, when the actual behavior–cheating is rampant–says otherwise.

The result is that we try and inflate our partner to being all that we need, everything to us, and the object of all of our romantic and erotic desires. Now, there may in fact be cases where this is actually true, but I suspect that in most cases such claims are an exaggeration of the truth. We may, in fact, have a substantial amount of affection, respect, and attraction to our monoamorous partner, but there is always room to have similar affections, respect, and attraction to other people. To claim to not have such feelings for others is to either deceive or to be a very rare case, if not an unhealthy one.  There are times of course, when we do not lie about our other desires, but for various reasons agree to not pursue them.  This is not as inauthentic, but is perhaps absurd and an accommodation to our fears and insecurities.

When we are single, taking steps into the wilds of polyamory outside of our existing relationship(s), or even when we are in the beginnings of what might become an illicit affair, we may end up either inflating or deflating how we feel for someone. There are times when the way we care for someone is mostly physical. We may actually like the person, rather than hate or be annoyed by them them, but here the primary connection is sexual, sensual, and erotic. For a number of reasons, we may feel that this base desire is insufficient, disrespectful, or possibly immoral in terms of continuing a purely physical, but not emotional or “spiritual” (whatever that means) relationship with them. In such times, we may feel compelled to communicate a feeling of love and try to make more out of the relationship than which actually exists.

This inflation may result in a relationship that walks and talks like a serious relationship, but it does not feel that way inside, perhaps for either of you. You may call the other person your partner, you may be exclusive with them, but the relationship lacks an emotional, intellectual, etc depth that one of both of you may crave. Now, there is no necessary reason to discontinue the physical relationship because of this, because all you need to do is find someone with whom you share the other things you desire in a relationship. So long as the sexual connection lives and is reciprocated, then there is no reason to stop it, but there is also no reason you should pretend the relationship is more than what it is. There is nothing wrong with having acquaintances, friends, or even people with who you have no emotional connection to as a lover, so long as the arrangement benefits both people.

When we are polyamorous, something similar may happen. We may have an ideal that all of our partners should be of similar seriousness, that we should try and develop an emotional depth with all of our lovers or else a relationship will be inferior or unworthy. We may feel, in short, like promoting sex partners to the rank of full romantic partners, when what the two people want from each other is a good time now and then. We need to love the people we love as we actually desire to love them, even if that love is solely erotic in nature, or solely romantic in nature for that matter.

In short, no matter how many relationships we have some or all of them may be presented to the world as more than they feel like inside.  We may do so for all sorts of reasons having to do with the society in which we live, but all of those reasons are inauthentic.  We need to be honest with ourselves, our partners, and the world around us (insofar as it is their business) about what our relationships are, and not inflate them unnecessarily.

 

Deflating Relationships

Let’s say you’ve been committed, for some substantial amount of time, to a wonderful person with whom you share a deep affinity, share many enjoyable days and nights with, and with whom you share a healthy and active sexual relationship. You have decided to remain exclusive, whether overtly or by mere assumption or accident (based on cultural norms and such), and are happy with your partner.

Let’s say that through work, social circles, or merely by mere chance you happen to meet a person with whom you develop a healthy rapport, you become friends and find that not only do you respect and care for them, you are very attracted to them (or perhaps you are only attracted to them sexually.  If so, the following is equally true). This relationship is a threat to that exclusivity, and in many cases an affair will happen in such cases, often damaging or destroying the primary relationship.  But an affair and damage are not the only options.

In some such cases something different happens. Whether you and your new friend admit an existing attraction or not, it exists but it is suppressed, pushed away, and ignored. You decide to remain platonic friends (or to avoid one-another), despite the reciprocated desire for more. You deflate the appearance of the relationship from what it feels like, inside. You are pretending not to love them in a way that you very much want to love them, so you try and redirect that erotic love into brotherly or sisterly love or to a lack of any relationship at all.

Why do we do such things? The feelings already exist, why do we lie to ourselves about them? Is that love, which already exists, going to do more damage if actually acted on? Yes, you should be honest about your feelings, not only to your new friend but to your partner with whom you have had, perhaps up until then, an agreement to exclusivity. It is such circumstances which support my belief that the vast majority of humans have the inclinations towards polyamory within us already, we just need to be honest about them.  Thus, another option here is to explore non-monoamorous solutions, whether swinging, polyamory, or mere monogamishness.  One does not merely have the choice of either suppressing the desire or cheating, in such circumstances.

Of course, this does not happen only to people involved in a relationship. Single people deflate as well. Some people may have insecurities, fears, or etc which affect their ability to pursue their desires. We may have strong feelings for a person, but not communicate them out of fear of rejection. We may do so because they are not seen as good enough or socially appropriate for us, especially in view of peers or family. They may be single and interested in somebody who is already polyamorous, and be unsure about their ability to handle the emotional consequences of pursuing someone they have to share.

Non-monoamorous people can do something similar as well, especially when they are relatively new to polyamory, or who are involved in the swinging community. Poly people who pursue others may deflate how they feel for a partner in order to protect the feelings of others they are with; to defend jealousies. Jealousies need to be addressed, not merely accommodated to or coddled. We should not pretend that our new love is merely a mild interest, or that our mild interest is merely a friend. Be direct about what what people mean to you, and encourage them to do the same for you.

Swingers, in some cases, ignore or avoid romantic feelings for sexual partners because most swingers become so because they are seeking, primarily, new sex partners and not romantic partners. They may realize that an emotional connection might be destructive to their primary relationship. There are some people inthe swinger community who, if they start to have feelings for their sex partners, stop hanging out with those people. They may decide to suppress those feelings, much like the hypothetical you did above with your new friend, except in this case it is the romantic love which is suppressed, rather than the erotic.

In short (again), no matter how many relationships we have some or all of them may be presented to the world as more than they feel like inside.  We may do so for all sorts of reasons having to do with the society in which we live, but all of those reasons are inauthentic.  We need to be honest with ourselves, our partners, and the world around us (insofar as it is their business) about what our relationships are, and not inflate them unnecessarily.

Concluding thoughts

I encourage all of us, especially myself (as I struggle with this phenomenon as well), to have the courage to admit how we really feel, or to allow ourselves to find how we really feel about the people around us. We may be suppressing feelings without being aware of it, leading us to miss out on a relationship or to remain in one we may not wish to continue.

If the way you feel about a person is erotic, let that attraction be known. If you feel an abiding reverence, deep affection, or romantic impulse for someone, then express that as well. If you see someone as like a brother or sister to you, and while you may not be attracted to them you want them as part of your life, your family, etc, then let that relationship grow as well. And if you feel all of these things, whether in abundance or not, let that relationships—let those relationships—be what they are, informed by your desire and authentically pursued..

Love each person according to your reciprocated desires, and do not artificially inflate or deflate that love out of respect for any cultural, religious, or psychological expectation. In short, love authentically.

 

—-

*I use the term ‘momoamory’ and the correlating ‘non-monoamorous’ in the interest of being aware that not all relationships are marriages.  Monogamy is an exclusive marriage, technically, and while it is applied to cover all exclusive relationships between two people, I prefer to be more precise and inclusive with my terminology.

Coming out poly in light of mainstream images October 2, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: , , ,
10 comments

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.

Yuck

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 polyskeptic.com!

😉

Where polyamory is needed; relationship advice blogs. September 11, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory.
Tags: , , ,
5 comments

Occasionally I check out the blogs at wordpress (which is the software this site is run on) for tags like “religion” or, in today’s case, “relationships,” to see what people are writing about.  And most of the time I find a bunch of crap, but occasionally I find something interesting.  Today, I found a couple of posts that touched on polyamory.

Over at Emilystarz, we have a post simply called “My Life” which is about a fairly common situation of a woman who has a man in her life who has been, and wants to be, sexual with other people.  The added complication of a baby between them makes the situation more frustrating to see, and it is obvious to me that this is just one more situation where monogamy is not working for at least one person in the relationship.

Now, all I know from the post there is what is written, so any advice I have is most-likely crap.  But I think people in such situations should be aware of polyamory, even if they ultimately decide against it, part ways, or whatever.  I think that this issue of responsible non-monogamy needs to be part of the conversation, not only in specific cases such as this, but in all similar cases with relationships.

I think it needs to be part of our cultural conversation about relationships.  With that in mind, let’s move onto the next post I found.  In this case we have a writer asking for advice, and getting an awful response.  It’s over at lovejays.com, and it is entitled “Playing the Field.”  here’s the gist:

Q: Dear Love Jays,

Is it okay I’m dating one guy (we aren’t exclusive) and sleeping with another?

A: Dear Double Dippin’,

Non-exclusive dating gives you the freedom to date, sleep, or hang out with anyone your little heart desires. Dating is a time when you get to explore several options and decide which person (if any) has the potential of becoming more serious.

So, is it okay that you’re dating one and sleeping with another? Technically, yes. Would I recommend continuing this behavior? No. Sex embodies much more emotions than just the physical exchanges of pleasure between our “money spots”. Sex was designed to be shared between two people who are committed to each other and share something special. Casually having sex with people will eventually take its toll on the mental psyche of woman or man. I’m sure there are several of you who want to rebuttal my last statement, but rest assured – you will have your “aha” moment one day. Long story short, sex simply makes things complicated – physically and emotionally.

Easy advice – pick one and stick to ‘em! It’s much much easier to focus your attention on one person and will save you from emotionally damage, even if you are unaware of it at this moment.. If you get bored of him, on to the next one. That’s the beauty of dating!

Sincerely,

Mr. J

This, quite frankly, is the poly equivalent to reading a creationist argument for an atheist.  Reading this is like looking at a train wreck of relationship advice.

To deconstruct what is wrong with this advice, I would have to start from page one of polyamory.  I’d have to link so many posts from this blog in the past…I just don’t have the energy to do it.

Oh fine…here a couple of examples:

  1. The Bachelorette and Polyamory
  2. Poly lessons I learned from cheating while monogamous

But, onto the post.  Let’s do it a piece at a time:

Non-exclusive dating gives you the freedom to date, sleep, or hang out with anyone your little heart desires. Dating is a time when you get to explore several options and decide which person (if any) has the potential of becoming more serious.

This is not awful.  If I were to try and be fair to this, I could even partially agree with this.  The first sentence, in fact, is spot on.  It’s a statement of fact, but then with the following sentence it takes a turn for the worse.

Where it says “…and decide which person (if any) has the potential of becoming more serious,” it could be read to mean that we use this time to decide which people are worth keeping around, which is true for polyamory as well.  But the “more serious,” as we shall see, implies exclusivity.  Exclusive does not mean more serious, nor vice-versa.

“Mr. J” continues:

So, is it okay that you’re dating one and sleeping with another? Technically, yes. Would I recommend continuing this behavior? No. Sex embodies much more emotions than just the physical exchanges of pleasure between our “money spots”. Sex was designed to be shared between two people who are committed to each other and share something special.

Sex does often involve many emotions, and should be dealt with responsibly, both in terms of physical safety and emotional maturity.  My experience with sex with many people over the years in serially monogamous, polyamorous, and group sex environments has shown me that we are capable of sex in more ways than most people have imagined.

Sex is great between two people.  It has the capability to draw them emotionally close, bring great pleasure, and is even good exercise.  But there is no necessary damage to that relationship just because you have it with other people.  The only way this is possible is by not being safe (and thus subjecting yourself to potential infections) or to not developing your emotional self such that you deal with emotional issues such as jealousy.

Things like jealousy are real issues that need to be dealt with, and it is fortunate that they can be dealt with.  And let’s not forget that some people are simply not prone to it in the same way.  But jealousy is not, in itself, an excuse not to pursue our desires.  Rather, it is a challenge to work on.  Like fear, it stands against us and makes us dip into the well of our baser instincts.  It makes us act irrational, possessive, and petty rather than mature and rational.  Jealousy is not something to be proud of; it is something to try and heal if we can.

Sex can be shared between two people who share something special, sure.  It’s great when that happens.  But it does not imply that at some other time those same two people might also have some special sexy time with some other people with whom they share a close and special relationship.  Further, sex can also can be shared between three or four people who share something special, or even between some people who just sort of like each other a bit and like each others’ bodies.  This conservative view of sex espoused by “Mr. J” is simply not true in general, and so it should not be espoused as general advice.

It may be true for Mr. (and/or Miss.) J, but if it isn’t true for many people, then it’s only true by accident and not by necessity or generally.  Nonetheless, he continues:

Casually having sex with people will eventually take its toll on the mental psyche of woman or man. I’m sure there are several of you who want to rebuttal my last statement, but rest assured – you will have your “aha” moment one day.

I, and many other committed polyamorous (and swinging) people out here in the world have a different experience.  My “aha” moment was realizing that the mythology of the ideal “one” that exists for each of us was the problem.  Mr. J needs to check his assumptions about the very nature of relationships before proclaiming general truths about love and sex, because there are many of us who find his view, well, parochial.

Still, he persists:

Long story short, sex simply makes things complicated – physically and emotionally.

It sure does.  How does this imply that we should have to limit ourselves to one person, ultimately? Because it’s easier? It might be easier, except when you are in love with two people, when you have to repress your natural sexuality in favor of a cultural construct which asks us to repress much of that sexuality, etc for the sake of an ideal.  There is a real existential agony that can exist in moments when we yearn for two loves, and feel like we have to choose.  How awful to be told that you, in fact, should choose rather than consider other options, such as polyamory, swinging, etc.  How trite.  How small-minded. How limited—and limiting!

Why, for the sake of all that is not holy, would anyone have to choose simply because it is superficially “easier”? It’s only easier because it conforms to the narrative you, Mr. J, are drowning in.  Swim to the surface, Mr. J, and breathe pure air.

So, my advice to Double Dippin’; Love who you love, how you love them (even if it’s just dirty, fun, sex) openly, honestly, and with consideration and respect.  Don’t let Mr. J’s conservative views on sexuality ruin your ride in life or force you to choose when you may not have to.

That’s all I can stomach, today.

‘Alain de Botton’ and ‘sex’ should never be in the same sentence! July 31, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

…oops!

So, PZ Myers’ blog just alerted me to Alain de Botton’s new book How to Think More About SexNow, regular readers very well know I am no fan of Alain de Botton.  I find him to be an example of everything that is wrong about intellectual society, and would gladly play his arch-nemesis in any movie or real life.  I cannot articulate how much I dislike this man.
In any case, PZ’s post links to some reviews of the book, and they are worth looking at.  All I feel the need to say is that nobody needs to take de Botton seriously anymore.  If you liked his previous work or see him as insightful and often right, perhaps you should re-evaluate your worldview because you are probably wrong.

Godless Perverts June 22, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

I don’t really have anything to add to this.  Watch these videos.

 

Part 1

 

Part 2

 

(H/T Greta Christina)

 

 

 

Harassment and sex-positivity June 19, 2012

Posted by shaunphilly in Culture and Society, Polyamory, Skepticism and atheism.
Tags: , ,
26 comments

So, Wes put this post up about how honesty is hard a couple of days ago. And, as usual, people seem to get pissed off about what Wes says.  No news there.  It’s one of the things I like about Wes; while I don’t always agree with him, he does not sugar coat his opinions.  He has strong and often unpopular opinions and he does not veil them, and I find this attribute respectable.

Speaking of which, a commenter of that post embedded this video, which I shall put here because it is quite good, and creates a language to talk about communication in this context:

Speaking of comments; since Wes linked to a post by Jadehawk in his post, Jadehawk has subsequently posted a response to Wes.  I read it today, and my impression is that emotions are getting in the way of clear communication and understanding (it happens), and I posted this comment (currently awaiting moderation):

Jadehawk,

I think that there is a bit of misunderstanding occurring here.  I know Wes fairly well, and I think you may be misunderstanding the message intended in his post.  I cannot speak for him, but being around him frequently and sharing more than a few opinions with him, I can say that your representation of him here is at least partially in error.  Libertarian? lol….

In my view, lack of clear communication is indeed a form of dishonesty.  What seems clear to a communicator is not necessarily clear to the listener.  And while I personally try to be generous with interpretation, sometimes a follow-up direct question is relevant to make sure I am getting the intended message.  I didn’t see you asking for clarification above where ambiguities in language could have led to you understanding Wes’ intentions better.  I saw you running with less-than-ideal interpretations.  I don’t think you did so intentionally.

It is not a lack of impulse control that is at issue here, as I see it.  What is at issue here is that we need to be honest with ourselves with what we actually want, and if we are going to seek a desire that involves another person, we need to be unambiguous about it. That is, once we have decided that this is not a time to reign in an impulse we have (assuming, indeed, that we have free will), we need to be direct about it because veiling our intentions is a form of lying, even if it a common and socially accepted form of lying.  The question is whether this socially accepted form of lying is something we, as rational, skeptical, people, should perpetuate or not.  I think the answer is no, and you may or may not agree with me. That is a discussion worth having.

So, I think we all need to be direct and honest, to not veil our interest, and to learn (as a society) to get used to hearing and answering that honesty (Have you sen The Invention of Lying?).  And while this does not have to include cold hitting on, it may include that.  And I agree that a conference about atheism/skepticism is not be the best place for such cold approaches, if that is indeed what a person wants there is nothing disrespectful about doing it.  It just is unlikely to succeed, so a smart person may put off, temporally, that expressed desire  That is, they do not pretend to have another goal, they just might put off communicating it until introductions and other conversational things are established.  I personally would not coldly approach someone for sex, as my desires do include to get to know someone a bit better before asking for such a thing, but I certainly would not think less of a person for doing otherwise than what I personally want.  I find such directness refreshing, mature, and very respectable.

Some people’s boundaries exist elsewhere.  Some people WANT or even DEMAND direct and blunt questions, and others want some issues to be rarely if ever addressed.  The issue of whose boundaries we accept as the default is not so easy as you seem to argue above.  Why defer to a lower threshold of boundaries, which infringe on those with higher thresholds?  A case needs to be made for that (And I accept that such an argument may exist.  I just have not seen one I find convincing).

The issue is this.  There is a real tension between the important issue of harassment by disrespectful people and sex positivity.  The reason this tension exists is that there is a continuum that stretched from assault on one extreme and enthusiastic consent on the other.  In the middle are things like harassment, being extremely annoying, being amusingly annoying, finding the proposition interesting but not compelling, considering the proposition seriously, accepting it, etc.  The line between unwanted attention and wanted attention will differ, greatly, for different people.

For example, a person coming up to me and putting their arm around me, telling me they think I’m cute, and inviting me to their room for sex crosses no line for me.  It does not matter their gender (I’m heterosexual and male), attractiveness, etc.  I will either say no, perhaps (and discuss what we’re into to see if we’re compatible), perhaps some other time, or “yes! let me get my stuff and I’ll be right with you.”  (Yes, yes, I have privilege which makes this situation non-threatening to me, but I know many women who feel the same way).  For other people, this situation would be harassment.  That’s a problem.

Because leaving out extreme examples, there will be cases where what I find acceptable is considered unacceptable by others.  Clear, unambiguous, blunt questions and answers are the only way to be sure.  And because of our social values of politeness, this is, indeed, hard.

But I am not Wes, so I cannot speak for him.

And, indeed, I am not Wes.  I imagine that he would have a different answer than I would, and we may ultimately disagree about this issue. Disagreement is not bad, however.

My major concern here is that in this larger discussion about how to implement harassment policies (and I think that the OpenSF policies Greta linked to there are quite good), we may possibly run into a real tension between harassment and healthy sexuality.  For example, in the G+ hangout video from a few days ago, the question was raised about whether speakers at conferences should be encouraged or even barred from having sexual relationships with attendees:

You don’t have to watch he whole video, but you should if you are interested in this topic.  The relevant bit starts around 53:10 of the video, where Dan Finke raises the issue about Jen McCreight’s suggestion about having speakers be “out of bounds” (Dan’s wording) for sexual activity at conferences.  Watch the conversation for yourself, and you will see that some people agree with this suggestion.  I agree with Rebecca Watson’s view, that there should be no barrier between any adults at conferences about sexual activity, while others (namely PZ himself), seem to agree with Jen.

This demonstrates, for me, that there is a real tension in this conversation about where the practical and possibly ideal line between harassment and appropriate sexuality in the skeptical/atheist community exists.  This conversation is not just about dealing with harassment–although that issue is the primary and essential issue which needs to be addressed.  But this conversation is also about the line between appropriate and inappropriate sexual activity even where harassment does not exist, and we need to admit that this is part of the issue.

Do I have any certain answers? No.  Do I think that this discussion will lead towards a de-sexualization of conferences? No.  Do I think there will be continued issues about where the line between inappropriate/appropriate sexual activity is? Yes. Do I think sex negativity and sex positivity are relevant issues to discuss in relation to the larger issues? Yes.

Harassment needs to be dealt with unambiguously, swiftly, and as openly as possible without unnecessarily naming specific people.  If and when we successfully deal with implementing harassment policies, there should be more conversation about the problem of sexual activity, appropriate times and places for it, and the issue of differing boundaries and how to deal with them.

I think that the skeptic.atheist community is full of smart and capable people, but  I also think that our culture is rife with ideas about communication which are compatible with conservative (or at least out-dated) modes of sexuality.  We need to think about how the relationship between how we communicate and how we think about relationships affects us.  The conservative hetero-monogamous model of sex is steeped in polite, veiled communication which is quickly becoming obsolete, and I don’t think the atheist/skeptic community is fully aware of this.

One of the first things I learned about how to be polyamorous (which is true even if you are not), is that you need to communicate your needs and desires directly, and that you need to be able to say yes or no clearly, according to your desires. We need to practice saying no, saying yes, and asking for and hearing what is wanted.

Saying “no” can be hard for some people.  Saying “yes” can be hard for others.  Asking for a clear yes or no is hard for most people.  We need to get over this value of ambiguity as a society if we are to grow up, whether we are privileged or not.

As I keep saying, the atheist/skeptic community has a lot to learn from the polyamory community.