Guest Blog: Great Sexpectations

Many assume non-monogamy is all about the sex. So much so, non-mono folks often avoid bringing it up as an aspect of relationships. But guess what? You should talk about sex!

This isn’t going to be a clinic on how to have safer sex because: 

1) I am not a sexual health professional

2) Everyone’s risk profiles are different

My main goal here is to help you foster autonomy and agency with some tips and tricks I’ve found useful. Ask yourself these questions to get a solid grasp on what your risk profile is:

  • Do you have specific concerns around contracting or transmitting certain STIs? 
  • Do you have a comprehensive understanding of STIs, their risks to you, and access to testing/treatment?
  • What are possible gaps in your knowledge with regard to sexual health?
  • Is pregnancy a concern? 
  • Do you have mental, physical, and/or emotional concerns?

Next up, you need to find a partner(s) who is interested in sexual activity with you. This is on you. Good luck!

After you have your profile/risk matrix figured out and a willing participant, it’s time to talk about sex. Everyone does this differently. HOWEVER, and I cannot stress this enough, EVERYONE needs to have some sort of conversation about sexual health with those they want to have sexy times with. I don’t care if it’s an old fuck buddy you’re revisiting after some time, a one night stand, or the first time in a long running relationship: TALK. And you know what? If you or your partner only want to say “I do what I want and that’s all you need to know?” Cool. At least the other person can consent (or not) to that level of information and plan accordingly.

Many often talk about “best practices” when it comes to safer sex. Having this conversation is a ‘best practice” as it helps cover so many bases. While not all encompassing, here is a list of things people should be sharing with potential partners as well as asking of them:

The frequency with which you tend to add new sexual partners

Find that balance between too specific and exaggeration. Specifically vague, if you will. For instance, I share that I may add up to [X] sexual partners in a year. Most years are less, but I’ve also had a year with [Y]. If I deviate a lot from my norm on a regular basis, that is a change I update my partners on. 

How quickly you are likely to become sexual with a new interest

Are you a fan of one night stands? Are you demisexual and tend to take awhile? I share that my norm is getting to know someone for a few weeks first, but I am not opposed to something happening right away. 

What you consider to be sex

Do you only consider genital to genital penetration to be sex? Unpack that. Sex comes in many forms (heh heh) so you should consider including things such as oral, anal, manual stimulation of genitals, etc.

How frequently you screen for STIs

The CDC recommends sexually active people get tested at least once a year. Personally, I get tested twice a year plus as necessary should an exposure present itself. A friendly reminder: testing by proxy is NOT effective.

What you test for

Don’t say “everything” because essentially no one is tested for everything. Penises can’t currently be tested for HPV. HSV strains are more prevalent than most realize and most doctors won’t test without symptoms . . . and so on. 

What your general attitude towards STIs are 

This can really vary. Some people are very accepting of risks since most STIs are easily curable while others may struggle with any exposure. This is good information to know about the person you’re having sex with.

Any past or current positive test results

Catch something 20 years ago that was cured and has no lingering impact? Not necessary to bring up. (But maybe you can bring it up to gauge how accepting someone is of folks having had an STI.) Last test was reactive to something, you treated it, but haven’t had a non-reactive test to confirm? Share that. FYI, terms like “clean” and “dirty” have fallen out of favor due to their problematic nature. Having what’s essentially a crotch cold doesn’t make one dirty. Please consider using positive/negative or reactive/non-reactive.

How you’re managing any current STIs

Have something like HSV-2 or HIV? Share how you are addressing it and what that means. There have been some amazing advancements in treatments. I learned in just the last couple of years that HIV can now become undetectable with proper treatment which means it can’t be transmitted sexually.

What your barrier (condoms, dams, gloves, etc) use looks like

Do you use condoms? Dams? Gloves? Only for penetration or oral as well? For all sexual contact? I’ve met a lot of people who aren’t aware that STIs and pregnancy can occur with just pre-cum. If you’re someone who goes completely barrier free with others, it’s good to share your approach with this, such as if you only do that with one person or are open to it with multiple people and how you make that decision. 

Keep in mind while having this conversation, your other partners’ private information, (such as their STI status or who they have sex with), is NOT yours to share without their consent.

It would benefit all involved if you had these conversations prior to someone new catching your attention.

There are a number of reasons I prefer a more comprehensive conversation when it comes to safer sex and the practices of folks I have sex with. More than anything, it helps me preserve my autonomy and doesn’t infringe on the agency of others to give myself an illusion of safety; boundaries vs rules, if you will. It lays out my risk profile, gathers information about theirs, and allows each of us to decide if and how to move forward. 

Another thing I find valuable about sharing a complete version of my risk matrixes and decision making processes is that it removes the need for a “heads up” any time a new sexual partner is added because we know how each other operates. Any deviation from it would be shareable, of course. But in the absence of those changes, we have all the information we need. Feeling entitled to more is a super common expectation of non-monogamous people, particularly those new to it. If your partner is non-monogamous and enjoys sex, assume they’re going to be having sex with other people. Do the work beforehand. 

Following these steps will help you form a more complete approach to sexual health. It sets well-informed expectations for yourself and potential partners, facilitates productive communication, fosters personal agency and informed consent. It peels away the ownership and entitlement many feel toward the private information of others.

For a more complete understanding of your sexual health, I recommend seeking guidance from a local clinic that specializes in the sexual and reproductive health realm (e.g. Planned Parenthood) or sites like Scarleteen. Yes, that site is geared toward teens. However, most of our readers are from the US and our sexual education here is generally hot garbage. You can and should also speak with your primary care physician, but I highly recommend including the others as I’ve experienced and heard about too many problematic PCPs.

Since mid 2016, Adam (he/him) has been an educator and presenter in the ENM community. He realized he was polyamorous in high school and has practiced various forms of non-monogamy ever since. With a primary goal of normalizing a variety of relationship structures, he shows up as his authentic self: an egalitarian polyamorist who practices relationship anarchy.

Header Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash; bio photo by Rusty

5 Things Every Newbie Needs to Watch Out For

I’m in an obnoxious amount of non-monogamy focused groups on social media. So many, in fact, that the majority of activity online most days is speed-reading the same queries over and over from various newcomers. I do not attempt to answer even a quarter of them because there are plenty of folks out there with as much experience (or more!) doing the good work of sharing what they find helpful. 

In an attempt to address some very common problematic aspects of the larger non-monogamous community, I’ve created this short list of red flags, if you will.

Couples Seeking a “Third,” aka Unicorn Hunters

Oh, it sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? An established couple who wants to make you an equal part of their relationship where everyone loves everyone else and you’ll all ride off into the sunset together on three majestic horses . . . except that never happens, and really you’re just what two folks play with for a bit until their underlying issues surface, you take the blame, and end up with no partners while they of course stay together. These people are assholes, and they often have no clue that’s what they are because they are typically new to the idea of non-monogamy and think that “sharing” a partner will help them avoid doing the necessary work of growing as human beings.

Spoiler alert: the relationship structure known as a triad is essentially PhD level polyamory and no one at the preschool level is going to effectively deliver that dissertation.

If you are being recruited by an established couple, or if you are an established couple looking for your missing piece, please read this gift of an op-ed and fully digest it. You deserve better; we all deserve better.

OPP/OVP aka The One Penis [or] Vagina Policy

Oh gosh, it sure would make sense that someone who has the same sex organs as you partner would be an unholy threat to your relationship, right? Dear god, how in the world could you ever compete with someone else who had a similarly shaped body part?!?! 

I HOPE THEY DON’T HAVE A NOSE!! OR A TORSO!!

Look . . . I’m going to give you 10 whole minutes to have those feelings up front as a newbie. Go ahead. You’ve got a lot of unpacking ahead of you but you can have this 10 minutes to just grieve the abrupt loss of your toxic bullshit. I’ll allow it.

Okay, now stop.

OPP/OVP policies are bad bad wrong horrible not-okay and super problematic for a number of reasons, but most importantly because they’re both homophobic and transphobic. Not all penises belong to men; not all men have penises. Same goes for ye olde vaginas. Beyond that, your assertion that two women being in a relationship together is less threatening to your heterolovefest than another swinging dick in the pic means you see same-sex relationships as less valid than het ones. (That means you’re wrong, btw – and also, I think dudes should super be worried about my ability to both take a flattering candid picture of their female partner as well as fix her car.)

Okay, I’m kidding about that last part, but seriously – how fragile are you if this is something you feel you need?

Correct response to someone attempting to tell you which genitals are acceptable for you to interact with outside of your relationship with them: NOPE

DADT aka Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell

This is a common arrangement in uncomfortably open relationships in which partners agree not to discuss any “outside” relationships they engage in. This creates a situation in which folks are unable to verify whether or not they’re enabling a dishonest member of a monogamous relationship who claims to practice DADT in order to cheat on their partner while having all the valid excuses for why they cannot interact with you at any given time. But even in situations where DADT is on the up and up, if you enter a relationship with someone who has agreed to keep all other partners a secret, you’re also signing up to *be* a secret, which can feel acceptable in the beginning, but if things grow and progress will most certainly become a pain point.

Lots of newbies come from a mononormative society that tells them they have to sacrifice their needs and wants in order to find a modicum of happiness. This is untrue. If you don’t want to be a secret, don’t be. Not even for a little while. I promise you someone else will come along who doesn’t need to keep you hidden if you want to be visible and acknowledged.

Note: DADT is sometimes (but not often) simply a boundary that is managed by the person who has it – meaning that if they don’t want to know about other partners, it’s their responsibility to not ask, not seek information, not show up at events where other partners might be, and not allow their boundary to limit their partner’s other relationships.

Relationship Libertarianism

Relationship Anarchy is a relationship ideology, but it’s become a mis-used term by folks who will attempt to convince you that they don’t need to care about you in order to have a relationship with you. A very wise person coined this type of approach “Relationship Libertarianism” and it is best explained by this essay.

Stay away from folks who are assholes, mmmkay? If it feels bad, it probably is. Guts are guts for a reason and you should probably trust yours.

Primary Partners aka Hierarchy

Ahhh yes, the answer to all our attachment issues and fears of abandonment is, of course, the promise that we will always reign supreme in the heart of our loved one and that no other person will every matter as much to them, OR DEAR GOD MORE, as we do. But feelings don’t understand fences, and in order for hierarchy to work there have to be a lot of rules in place to keep the other relationships less important.

You may think you want this for yourself, but a view from the other side (where you are the lesser being) might have you reconsidering. Or it may take an experience in which someone back burners you in favor of another person, but some folks need a heartbreak or two to figure things out. I sure did!

Why should you avoid these? Because it is a ranking system designed to keep one person at the top of the pile and everyone else below them. Comparison is the thief of joy, and hierarchy is a relationship structure based on comparison. 

* * *

We have a saying in the non-monogamous community: there is no one right way to be non-monogamous. That’s not wrong . . . but there are sure as shit a lot of wrong ways to be. They “work” for some folks, but those probably aren’t the folks you want to spend your time with. If you are those folks? Then you probably don’t like me very much, and I’m okay with that.

Photo by Seoyeon Choi on Unsplash

BIPOC Voices in Nonmonogamy

It hasn’t felt right to blog about relationships lately, but you know… many of us are still engaging in them, building them, ending them, seeking them. Today’s post isn’t going to be about me, or anything I’m doing or thinking. I’m not qualified to write about the intersection of race and polyamory, but I can learn and share what I’ve found valuable.

White folks actively marginalize people of color. In order to not participate in that, whites need to actively center people of color. Inaction supports the status quo, and the status quo is racist. My blog is not a very large platform, but I’m going to use it to elevate the voices of some of the BIPOC members of the non-monogamous community that I respect and learn a great deal from. 

You haven’t explored the ethically non-monogamous community much if you haven’t run into the name Kevin Patterson. A community leader and author from Philadelphia, Patterson has practiced ethical non-monogamy since 2002 and since 2015 has maintained the interview-based blog Poly Role Models. He also recently published the book Love Is Not Colorblind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and Other Alternative Communities.

You can check out his amazing blog here: https://polyrolemodels.tumblr.com

And purchase his equally amazing book, here: https://thorntreepress.com/loves-not-color-blind/

Patterson was also featured on a podcast I am rather fond of. Here’s the episode: Poly In The Cities – Episode 49

If you find yourself on Facebook exploring groups related to ethical non-monogamy, you may have had the pleasure of seeing content from Lavitaloca Sawyers. This woman’s emotional intelligence seems effortless, and I’ve never watched a video of hers and not learned a thing or two about myself and what I could be doing better.

Here’s her Facebook page. Check out the videos for sure!!

Black & Poly is an online magazine you should be reading. 

Other podcast episodes addressing the intersection of polyamory and race:

A Touch Of Flavor – Episode 72

A Touch of Flavor – Episode 41

If you have a resource you appreciate that you would like me to include, shoot me an email; will also continue to keep this list updated.

Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

7 Things Not To Say to a Polyamorous Person

Most of my friends identify as monogamous. They are lovely and caring and only want to see me happy! I am delighted to have them ask me questions about ethical non-monogamy, open relationships, and polyamory. 

Every now and again during the course of these discussions, someone will say something to me that I’m sure feels benign or even complimentary to them, when really it’s offensive or harmful to me or the people I love.

So if someone you care about is polyamorous, or you find yourself in the casual company of a poly person, here are 7 things to avoid saying so that you stay awesome and everyone wins!

1. So who has sex with whom?

I think people ask this question out of a genuine curiosity. It’s probably natural to wonder how this whole exotic polyamory thing plays out when the lights go off! I know people assume I have sexual relationships with people in my polycule that I do not, and I don’t care. But the deal is, that is nobody’s business but mine and the people I’m in relationships with – both sexual and non. 

Plus, poly ain’t all about the sex! We do lots of stuff. With clothes on.

Mind your own beeswax!

2. You’re better looking than her other partner.

This is probably the most harmful of the bunch. This statement is just the easiest example I could think of, but I want to call out all comparative statements. What’s so crazy is that they come from a place of good intention; our society has us conditioned to compete for affection so people will attempt to be supportive by telling poly people they’re winning some imaginary contest.

But healthy poly doesn’t function like that.

I don’t care if my boyfriend’s wife is prettier than me or a better cook than me or has won more Olympic medals than I have! This is not a competition. I know my partners are with me NOT because I’m better than their other partners, but because I am my own awesome individual self.

AND – they won’t be seeking other partners because I’m not enough. They’ll fall in love with other awesome individual people for reasons that have nothing to do with me.

3. How can he do that to him?

This statement refers to the idea that if someone has more than one partner, the partner that is longer term has “given permission to cheat” for lack of a better analogy. 

It fails to give us credit for the ethical aspect of what we do. Abuses can happen in all relationship structures, but to assume poly is inherently abusive is insulting. Believe it or not, we have in-depth conversations about this stuff. You don’t get to successfully polyamorate (please appreciate my verb) without communicating.

What if I were to tell you I think it’s incredibly selfish of your partner to expect you to only ever love them? To rob you of the opportunity to connect with others like I do? You’d probably think I was a dick and didn’t understand your relationship. 

Yeah.

4. I just don’t see that working out long term.

Thanks? I mean, I know you care about my long term happiness and all, but in case you haven’t been paying attention… a lot of relationships don’t work out long term, and most of them are monogamous.

5. That problem you’re having is because you’re poly.

A close cousin to #4, this comment cracks me up because no one ever points to monogamy when those relationships are struggling. 

I am so tempted to flip the script sometimes and just offer up MoreThanTwo.com as a solution for all mono relationship issues – because if poly is always the issue in mine, it stands to reason that mono is always the issue in yours.

I won’t do that, of course, but I’m going to need people to stop blaming polyamory itself for all issues in polyamorous relationships.

6. Don’t you secretly wish she’d leave her for you?

No. I don’t wish any of my partners would leave their other ones “for me” because that’s selfish and ugly and awful and please don’t ever ask me that again because it makes me feel like I haven’t slept in six years.

You know what? It makes me disgustingly happy to see my partners enjoying their other relationships. I root for their exciting adventures as pairs, their hot sex lives, their futures together… I get a stupid smile on my face when they kiss or snuggle or say wonderful things about each other. 

And do you know why? Because I love them. Because their happiness meets a need for me. The very last thing on earth I would want is for them to have their heart broken in a break-up. If I wanted that, I wouldn’t deserve them.

I’m poly, not a home wrecker. Poly is pretty much the opposite of that.

7. I could never be a side piece.

Oh. TWINSIES!!! I could never be that either! High five! 

But I get this from people who see me as the equivalent of a part-time relationship. I gotta tell ya though, I am a whole person and as such, my relationships are whole also. Read: full time. 

You know what is also true? There are plenty of poly people out there for whom a less-than-full-time relationship is wonderful and amazing and meets their needs perfectly. Saying you could never do what I do or what they do is kinda judgey. It may be totes true, but saying it to a poly person is unnecessary. 

                                * * *

So look, I’m not one of those poly assholes who thinks my relationships are some evolved form of love that trumps monogamy. I don’t see any relationship structure as superior to another, but I do know what works for me.

I get excited about answering questions, dispelling myths, and talking about how happy I am with all of it. 

I only want people whose relationship structures are supported and encouraged by the majority of society to pause before commenting on ones that aren’t. Because that’s just how to be a good human!

Photo by Daniel Herron on Unsplash