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Poly Architecture 201: Compersion Is a Threeway Street

…or: “how can I feel compersion when he keeps dating total assholes?”

Polyamorous folks often celebrate and idealize the concept of compersion, which has been defined as the “opposite of jealousy.” Compersion can happen whether you’re in a hierarchical dynamic, or an anarchical poly dynamic. The shape and feel of compersion changes, depending on which of those dynamics you’re in, but the overall idea stays the same. I would go so far as to say that the poly subculture tends to imply that if you don’t feel compersion, you’re not a twu poly. Since poly folks have a bad habit of not understanding jealousy well (more on that in a later post), it’s not surprising that they have a bad habit of not understanding the “opposite of jealousy” well either. People tend to mistakenly assume that the capacity for compersion is a characteristic of individuals, rather than a characteristic of a complex interplay of relationships.

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Let’s start with you. I’m not going to assume that you’re someone like me, who was born thinking monogamy was stupid, and who informed her first boyfriend when she was 17 that she didn’t think she could ever be monogamous[1]. I’m going to assume that you’re what seems to be an average polyamorous person, who comes in two types: 1. The person who’s only had one or two very serious relationships in their whole life, and somewhere in their late 20’s/early 30’s decides after a lot of discussion to “open up” with their partner (I technically also fall into this category myself) or 2. Someone who was never very comfortable with monogamy, but had several serious relationships that were ostensibly monogamous, usually with very poor results and has decided to kind of give up on monogamy (either as a single or as part of an existing pair). People arrive at polyamory from lots of different directions, but these seem to be the most common.

So as an average poly person with sense, you approach this whole poly endeavor with a certain degree of nervousness. In particular, you worry that your partner won’t have enough time and energy for you once they have someone else, that they might be more attracted to the other person more than you, and that you’ll get jealous (if you’re genuinely worried about them leaving you for their other partners, then just don’t even try this poly thing until you feel more secure. It won’t go well for anyone). You do the thing that naïve poly people love to do (I did it myself), and reassure yourself by getting “veto power” over your partner’s other potential partners. You tell yourself that it’ll be okay, and that they won’t date anyone that you don’t like.

Except that it turns out not to be that easy. Your partner meets someone on okcupid, and you’re nervous about it. You tell them not to have sex until you’ve approved the relationship, but they want to know what counts as “sex.” The other person is new to this too and feels awkward about the restriction, but goes with it. Finally, the three of you arrange to meet, and you feel pressured to agree to let them have sex, and so you do—even though you (correctly) felt like you barely know the person, and are feeling super-insecure about where this new relationship might be headed.

But it turns out that the new person is super needy, kind of obnoxious, and no one that you’d ever want to hang out with normally. You keep trying to get along with them, but it really doesn’t work. Nothing about the relationship seems to make your partner really happy either; they come home stressed from almost every date, but they insist that the relationship is going great. And you wonder: what the hell ever happened to compersion? You feel no inkling of joy at the idea of your partner with this annoying, clingy person, and you’re genuinely irritated that they spend so much time together. And whenever you express concerns about the other relationship, your partner gently dismisses your concerns as symptoms of jealousy, and assures you that you have nothing to be jealous of. And your protests that you’re not jealous don’t sound very convincing to either of you… and both of you wonder if you’re “really poly.”

You keep reminding yourself that you’ve got that veto card in your back pocket if this ever really gets to be too much for you, but eventually you learn the hardest lesson of hierarchical polyamory: “veto power” is nothing more than a brutal ultimatum where you say to your partner, “them or me.” Those aren’t words that wise folks say after their partners are in love and in an established relationship. Veto power really only works at the very beginning of a new relationship, but if your partner really wants someone, they’ll probably just try to talk you into giving it a chance. It turns out that the heart of successful polyamory is being able to trust your partner enough to believe they’ll make good relationship choices in the first place.

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It may sound like I’m voicing some sort of bitter personal experience here, but I’m not (knock on wood). I’m actually describing a pattern that I’ve seen over and over again among poly folks of my acquaintance (and that I feel I have inflicted on my poor dear husband a few times). Again and again, I hear people asking in hushed, and sometimes even skeptical or suspicious, tones: how does one manifest this elusive emotion known as compersion? Is its absence symptomatic of imminent poly demise?

The simple answer that people lose sight of over and over again is that compersion is a three-way street. It’s basically impossible for you to be happy about your partner’s new relationship if you think that relationship is crap. Also, you tend to end up feeling lessened because your partner is spending time with someone you perceive to be so inferior instead of spending time with you. The reality is that it’s really, really hard to experience compersion unless you feel comfortable with your partner’s partner and their relationship. If your partner seems unhappy and stressed about their relationship—and especially if that stress takes a toll on your relationship—it’s really fucking hard to feel happy about that relationship. It’s almost inevitable that you’ll end up feeling jealous over a partner’s bad relationship with someone else unless you view it in fairly condescending terms (“Well, they have to make their own mistakes.” “Well, at least they’re dating somebody.” “Well, I know I’m gone a lot, so they need company.” And my personal favorite: “Well, hopefully dating that crazy asshole will just make them appreciate me more.”).

In some ways, I think it’s easy to overstate the importance of compersion for successful poly dynamics. Generally speaking, cheerful tolerance of a partner’s other relationships is sufficient to maintain a happy poly existence. In my experience, cheerful tolerance rarely results in profoundly compersive feelings. Outside of my triadic experience, or some group sex experiences that I was actually present for, I can’t honestly recall ever feeling some strong sense of compersion. When they’re with people that I like who seem to be making them happy, I’m happy that my partners are happy. I have learned that the name for this general feeling of being happy at the happiness of others is mudita, and it’s a much better characterization of my experience of vicarious poly. There’s not a big difference for me between feeling happy about my husband being well fucked, or my feeling that he’s happy about being out to dinner with his friends. However, in general it feels more like the absence of jealousy, and I can’t really characterize it as a strong or even particularly meaningful emotion. I do think that compersion is essential for a successful triadic+ dynamic, however. In order to maintain a complex three+-person relationship, you’d damned well better be a lot more than merely cheerfully tolerating your partners’ relationships with each other.

At the same time, I don’t want to downplay the importance of constructing a cooperative poly dynamic. If you ever find yourself faced with the unlikely choice between the girlfriend you adore who your wife can barely tolerate, and the girlfriend you are quite attracted to who your wife gets along with great, pick girlfriend #2 every time. Compersion may not really be necessary for most poly dynamics, but it sure as hell makes them way easier. And if you’re wondering how you do that, the answer is simple but annoying: date people your partner(s) already like. And if you’re waiting for the answer to the question I posed at the start of this post–“how can I feel compersion when he keeps dating total assholes?”–the answer is: you can’t.

There’s nothing easy or automatic about compersion. Its absence should never be used as the litmus test for whether an individual is “really poly,” nor is it necessarily a sign that a relationship set is doomed. The appearance of compersion, on the other hand, is usually a good sign that everyone is doing well together, and that is undoubtedly our poly ideal. But I say: let’s settle for an absence of jealousy, and not try to demand its opposite to call our dizzyingly complex poly lives “successful.”

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[1] For purposes of simplicity, let us forevermore refer to all such people who are “innately poly” and who usually depend upon variety in some degree for sexual satisfaction and interest as “polysexuals.” This helps distinguish them from folks who are “polyamorous”—people who, for whatever reason, seek multiple intimate relationships. Polysexuals are often polyamorous, but polyamorous folks are only sometimes polysexual; polysexuals tend to be extremely highly motivated to make some form of ethical non-monogamy work in their lives in a way that most polyamorous folks are not.

Poly-Architecture 101: Building Hierarchies

It is one of the most often misunderstood truisms of hierarchical polyamory that stable and highly functioning primary relationships are essential for successful (hierarchical) poly life. It’s not the truism itself that people misunderstand; it’s that most people misunderstand *why* you need a stable and highly functioning primary relationship for a successful hierarchical poly life.

 

For the rest of this post, I’m going to rely on a metaphor of architecture and houses. In this metaphor, hierarchical polyamory tends to involve building a house with someone (your primary), and then coming up with ways to incorporate other partners (a guest bedroom; four guest bedrooms; a cottage in the back; a shed in the back; a dungeon in the basement… you get the idea).

 

Fact: You need a firm foundation so the house doesn’t fall down

When most people think about the idea that you need a strong primary relationship for your poly life, they think that it’s only for this reason. And Goddess knows it’s important. Almost any relationship stress will threaten to compromise an unstable relationship–from the death of a loved one, to a sick pet, to having a baby, to losing a job, to a partner getting a lover. (By contrast, lots of things that could be stressful—such as having a baby or a partner getting a lover–can become a bonding mechanism for strong relationships). If the foundation isn’t firm, then any outside pressures threaten the stability of the house.

 

In my experience, people rarely say to themselves, “Well, yeah, we’ve got some serious problems in our relationship, but we’ll be fine being poly together.” Far more frequently, people say to themselves, “Well, sure, we’ve got some problems in our relationship, but everyone does. We’ll be fine being poly together.” It’s easy to underestimate how big those small problems can become as those niggling insecurities and lack of faith and trust can erode the things holding your house up. Sure, the plumbing doesn’t work during the day, the floors are uneven, there are mice in the walls, and there’s duct tape on half of the windows, but none of that’s going to make the house fall down, right? I mean, it’s cozy, and it’s home. But bring someone else into the house, and you end up seeing it with new eyes. Suddenly, those small problems can start to feel a lot bigger (probably bigger than they actually are) when compared to the shiny glow of New Relationship Energy with another partner. You end up seeing the house through a stranger’s eyes, and all those comfortable imperfections start looking a lot less homey. And just to make it even harder, the guest room has carpets over the uneven floors, frilly curtains to hide the duct tape on the windows, and a canopied bed so it’s easy to ignore the rest of the house… Which only makes the rest of the house feel more derelict by comparison.

 

And of course, none of that even begins to encompass what you’ve done to the house by trying to build on that guest room/cottage/shed, etc. Some houses accommodate the additions easily, and others find that the cracks in the foundation were spectacularly compromised by the building process alone. I could keep elaborating on this metaphor, but I think it’s relatively intuitive: if you want to keep your primary, you’d better have a pretty fucking solid relationship with them if you want to do poly with them. The things that matter most here are a sense of real relationship trust—the belief that your partner loves you, is good for you, that you’re good for them, and that they know all of these things too. Everyone has occasional doubts, but anything more than that is likely to start nibbling away at the foundation of your dear domicile.

 

Fact: You need a sizable well-built house to accommodate those new people

It’s easy to see how having boyfriends and girlfriends could further de-stabilize a rocky marriage. What most people miss is the major problem that your unstable primary relationship will jeopardize your OTHER relationships. Oh, it won’t happen overnight. It probably won’t happen for several months or possibly longer, depending on how serious those other relationships are. But given time, any guest who spends long enough in your house is going to step on a mouse in the middle of the night, get annoyed that the damned toilet doesn’t flush half the time, and try to open those duct-taped windows. Tolerance on the part of guests is, of course, essential. However, you will probably notice over time that it gets increasingly difficult to attract partners with high self-esteem to stay for long in your derelict domicile. The people who will stick around in your guest room are the people who (at least feel like they) don’t have anywhere else to go.

 

You and your primary are the ones who build the guest room, but if you don’t clean it (sometimes together) between relationships, it can accumulate an astounding amount of junk. People are used to talking about “relationship baggage” as an individual property, but in Poly World, the relevant baggage can accumulate between you and your primary, not just you. A series of annoying and possessive ex-boyfriends can make your husband incredibly mistrustful of the newest one, because he just looks like another one in a long string. And if your husband is still mad about Boyfriend #2 and you’re on #5, you’d probably better do some spring cleaning. Constantly tripping over the open suitcases from your exes isn’t going to endear you to your new significant others.

 

I recently astounded a long-term poly friend with the observation that he couldn’t expect his girlfriend to get along with his wife better than he did. I pointed out that as long as he and his wife were arguing (especially about things that tangentially or actually related to his girlfriend), the girlfriend was bound to end up accumulating irritations and resentments at one or both of them. But as long as she actually liked him, most of that resentment was likely to end up at the feet of his wife (probably unfairly), since the wife came across as the person interfering with their relationship. Moreover, the girlfriend lacked the background to fully contextualize the arguments, and didn’t get any make-up sex either. And I further pointed out that if his wife didn’t trust him, is it really likely that she’s going to trust his girlfriend? It’s possible, but unlikely, even if she likes her. Succinctly put: if you try to build serious, close relationships with other people, your primary relationship is bound to affect and impact those other relationships. It’s a transitive property of relationship tension: if things are tense between you and your primary, isn’t that likely to make your secondary feel tense about your primary, too? And then to make things tense with your secondary too?

 

Put the house in good repair before you invite guests into it. Otherwise, their stay isn’t going to be very comfortable, is it?

 

Some people try to circumvent this problem by having a metaphorical cottage or shed in the backyard for guests—by trying to compartmentalize their relationships and shield them from each other. In some sense, this strategy can be pretty successful (it’s the only way to have any hope of trying to sustain relationships with other people if your primary relationship isn’t so hot). But usually, it turns out that the cottage is missing a few walls, or alternatively, that it’s so damned cramped in there that no two people—no matter how claustrophilic—could possibly fit. After awhile, this strategy a. this starts to feel a lot like cheating (“I know he has a wife, but he almost never talks about her… It’s weird”) and b. it usually seriously curtails intimacy and trust (“hey, it’d be great to be fluid-bound with her, but I’ve only met her husband once and I have no idea how he’d feel about it. Also, I’m not even sure they still have sex…”). (For a more humorous take on this arrangement, see my friend’s tumblr)

 

Fact: You need to respect the threshold

When it comes to both real and metaphorical poly households, threshold maintenance is a helluva tricky affair. You and your primary build the guest room, but your primary has to leave you and your secondary to mostly decorate it yourselves. If you and your secondary have a really different decorating style than you and your wife, that can require some major adjusting. The biggest problems arise if people are criticizing the décor on either side, or trying to deliberately rearrange things on either side of the threshold. It’s especially hard because one of the things that makes for successful poly is if your relationship with your wife is distinctively different from your relationship with your girlfriend, but that’s exactly the thing that can make it hard for everyone to get along unless they are all very respectful of those differences.

 

For primaries, there’s such a fine line between making sure the guest room is tidy, and interfering with the decorating scheme. For secondaries, there’s such a fine line between politely requiring that the room remain decorated to your tastes, and making unreasonable demands. And no one should be doing things that could damage the integrity of the structure as a whole!

 

Fact: You are very unlikely to be able to build your house over your guest room

It is one of the great puzzles to me of poly architecture that I have never even heard of anyone building a primary relationship (even one that quickly failed) around a stable very serious secondary relationship without the secondary relationship promptly falling apart (and I’ve rarely even heard of people getting that far. Usually the secondary relationships were a disaster before the primary relationship appeared). I know a lot of people with very serious secondaries who really want primaries… and all of them have literally been looking for years. It feels like the poly equivalent of “always a bridesmaid, never a bride.”

 

But consider the construction process of hierarchical polyamory: you can imagine building a house over top of some pitiful shed in the backyard, but it’s pretty hard to imagine building your own house over the fancy guest quarters you have set up at someone else’s house. How do you have time and energy to build a house with a potential husban when you keep spending lots of time in your nice guest suite at your boyfriend’s house? There are a whole host of reasons why it’s hard to build a primary relationship over a preexisting sturdy secondary one. But perhaps the most salient of these is that your very hypothetical starter home with someone can look awfully pitiful compared to the comfy guest quarters you already have.

 

In conclusion, for better or for worse, hierarchical poly life is almost always a trickle-down affair. Successful hierarchical poly really has to start with a stable primary relationship (please, by all means, someone tell me how wrong I am, but I know of no examples), and the stability of that primary relationship is the groundwork for all the other relationships. Primaries come first, literally and figuratively, in hierarchical poly life, and all poly relationships have to be built with care. Of course, all relationships should come with a “Warning: Under Construction” sign, but I think we all know that some relationships have a lot more repairs and maintenance to do than others.

 

Build your nice, sturdy home. Then build your guest room(s). You and your guests will be very glad you did it in that order. Then make sure that everyone is committed to keeping it running well.

Barrier Protection

I love and hate the way poly people use condoms.

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Before I go any further, I suppose I should explain that I spent years theorizing and researching the way men and women around the world make decisions about and negotiate contraceptive use; it’s what my dissertation was on, and I have written several academic papers on the topic. Amusingly, my academic background makes me at best only slightly better at actually negotiating contraceptive (condom) use with real people than your average monogamous person, and I’m definitely less skilled at it than your average poly slut. I manage it, but without much finesse. Instead of being helpful, my academic background just makes me very conscious of how profoundly mediocre I am at it, and leaves a voice in the back of my head continually affirming a theoretical paper that I wrote in graduate school arguing that contraceptive negotiations are all about power, trust, and pleasure.

When my husband and I finally set out to become practicing (as opposed to merely theoretical) polyamorists nearly six years ago, we did so outside the context of the BDSM scene and its strictures about condoms. Neither of us had ever slept with anyone else, and we weren’t sleeping with people who were particularly slutty. Since he cared a lot about the idea of me getting pregnant by someone who wasn’t him, I got an IUD right before we embarked on this poly excursion. And after that, for years, we were relatively carefree about condom use with our partners. We weren’t hooking up, we weren’t dating casually, we were only having sex with people we really liked and were forming relationships with. I keenly remember the first time he had sex with another woman–who was my girlfriend at the time, in a threesome. He was having condom issues, and she said, “Oh just don’t worry about it.” And he didn’t. And I didn’t. And she didn’t. Because she and I had been in a relationship for months, she knew he’d never had sex with anyone else, and we all knew she was using birth control.

And even though I think that decision was completely reasonable (I certainly did at the time, and I still do in hindsight), I hesitate to write it here. Because I’m afraid of the judgments that might rain down.

But eventually, he and I got immersed into the BDSM scene, and became more accomplished sluts. For better or worse, at that point, we started absorbing the sense that Condoms Are Very Very Very Important. And they are. Please don’t think that I’m suggesting otherwise here. Condoms save lots of lives, no question. But in the process of saving lives, they’ve accumulated an irrational symbolic value in our subculture that I kind of hate.
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What I love about the condom culture of the (poly) Scene

There don’t have to be any condom negotiations. That’s what I love. Outside of this beautiful bubble, an astounding amount of heterosexual casual sex (I suspect the majority, based on my research) happens without condoms. Inside of the bubble, if a person with a penis says they want to fuck me, I really don’t worry much about whether they’re going to put something in between their dick and my pussy. I just take it for granted that they will. I think most people in the Scene would actually be a little insulted by any condom negotiation other than, “so which kind should we use?” I can just imagine the look on some guy’s face if he said he wanted to fuck me, and I said gravely, “well, you have to use a condom.” I think their response would be, “um, duh.”

I love that condom use for PIV/PIA is the norm in the scene, in public or in private. I love that it’s expected, and I love that it’s followed. I even, to a more limited degree, love the way that there’s some social pressure to enforce these norms. Responsible condom use feels like part of someone’s overall good reputation.

What I hate about the condom culture of the (poly) Scene

The default norm of condom use has some serious costs in the Scene, the highest being an anomic situation with regards to fluid-bonding. Anomieis just a fancy French sociological term for saying that we lack clear social norms to guide us in a particular situation, and that that lack of norms creates anxiety and uncertainty, often with a dollop of guilt and shame as well. Since I happen to have an extensive collection of fluid-bound kinks, I find it pretty annoying that my subculture of sexual deviance has so little social support for my kinks–kinks which aren’t even all that kinky, and are in fact shared by a lot of people.

People often create fluid-bound poly groups, but the social norms in favor of condom use are so restrictive that people almost never discuss those fluid-bound groups publicly. Indeed, people are often embarrassed to admit that they’re fluid-bound to multiple partners, even if they’ve been with those partners for years. As a result, there’s no sense of what’s “normal” in a fluid-bound poly group: how long/well do you have to know each other for it to be reasonable to become fluid-bound? How intimate should the relationship be? What rules should guide the behavior of people in a fluid-bound poly group? Without more open and honest discussion about poly fluid-bonding, I think we cause people a lot of undue stress as they end up constantly trying to anxiously reinvent the wheel. I posted my own poly contract long ago on fetlife in an effort to try to get more discussion going in the community, and I regularly get emails from strangers thanking me for providing them with something to go on.

I also hate the way that condoms become symbols of power and status in polyamorous dynamics (mainly through their non-use). The thing is, once you’re fluid-bound with someone, it’s reasonable to give them at least a little control over who you sleep with (in reality, they should probably have some say about your exposure to whatever pathogens you might transmit to them sexually, but people tend to lose sight of that fact). In hierarchical polyamorous dynamics, the norm is that primaries are fluid-bound (which is sometimes very ironic, since many poly people have more sex with people who aren’t their primaries). Consequently, a lot of fluid-bonding negotiations in poly life end up with husbands and wives trying to obtain the privilege of fucking their girlfriend or boyfriend without a condom. I’ve been privy to a lot of these conversations, and most of them are almost comically far removed from concerns about physical safety. Really, the real concern often seems to come down to primaries wanting to preserve their status as primary by ensuring that their partner doesn’t get to have unprotected sex with anyone else. Which is their prerogative, but I personally find it obnoxious.

The amusing corollary of this hierarchical power/status principle is that in anarchical polyamorous dynamics, people tend to assume that fluid-bound partners must be primaries–even if, in reality, you just happen to be fluid-bound to the person that was using birth control, or the person who hates condoms the most, or the person you have the most sex with. Anarchical polys often end up not being fluid-bound with anyone because they don’t want to give up or negotiate the kind of control that happens when you have to worry about someone else’s safety instead of just your own.

I hate the particular way that condoms are symbols of emotional intimacy (again, primarily through their non-use). Really, it’s the converse of this fact that I hate: if non-use of condoms is a sign of emotional intimacy, it means that using condoms is a symbol of emotional distance. Public health campaigns can tell us all they want that loving partners use protection, but we all know that not using condoms is a sign of trust… which inevitably seems to mean that using them is a sign that you don’t fully trust the other person. Or that your fluid-bound partner doesn’t (see above).

The idea that condoms symbolize trust is definitely prevalent in monogamous world as well, but in a very different way. It’s fairly common for monogamous couples to have sex about three times with condoms and then stop using them. But in poly world, that seems shockingly cavalier, since the relationship isn’t “serious enough” at that stage to warrant fluid-bonding. It rarely seems to occur to poly people that because condoms are symbols of emotional intimacy, not using them actually meaningfully contributes to the process of BUILDING intimacy and trust (whether we like that fact or not). Because of the way we treat condoms, we end up insisting that people try to establish relationships and then stop using condoms once they’ve trusted one another for a long time (with no norms about how long is long enough)… and we ask them to ignore the cognitive dissonance that emerges from trusting and loving someone and insisting that for some unclear reason, they still need to use this thing that not using would show that they trusted and loved the person. In short, I hate the way that we use condoms as symbols of emotional intimacy and trust and then try to ignore the implications of doing so, or just pretend that we don’t.

To summarize, what I hate about poly condom culture in the Scene is the barriers that it creates to normal sexual relationship building.

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What happened to safety?

I’m constantly amused when I listen to people go on at length about the importance of having safe sex, and then go outside to smoke. Or ride a motorcycle. Statistically speaking, if you’re not in a gay anonymous anal hook-up, smoking and motorcycle riding are much more dangerous. But I realize that in poly life, unlike smoking or motorcycle riding, the safety associated with fluid-bound decisions isn’t just about you. You end up having to make risk calculations for yourself and other people that you love. And that can be really intimidating and frightening.

Let me be very clear: I’m not suggesting some radical shift in how we as a subculture deal with condom use. Not at all. I just want us to be able to have honest and sensible conversations about the non-use of condoms in long-term relationships without so much baggage. I want us to be able to take power and status and nervous shame and bullshit emotional feelings out of decisions about fluid-bonding. I realize that’s a tall order, but when you come right down to it, fluid-bonding is about two things: better sex and trust. You need to want to have better sex with someone, and you need to trust that they’ll follow whatever rules you agree on for having safer sex with other people. That’s it. There are lots of other things that are optional (I personally have no desire to be directly fluid-bound with someone that I’m not romantically involved with, for example), but those are the only things that are necessary.

And when my partners come to me wanting to be fluid-bound with someone else (thus resulting in me being indirectly fluid-bound with someone), my only calculations are these: do I trust that person to follow our safer sex agreements? And if I don’t see that person much, do I trust that my partner is in a position to ensure that person will follow our safer sex agreements? Can I still easily calculate my web of risk if I include this person? And if the answer to those questions is yes, then I say yes.

Because I don’t think we should use condoms as barriers to intimacy, or security blankets of relationship status. I think we should use them to keep everyone as safe as possible from sexually transmitted infections (and pregnancy). And at some point, we should be able to agree that we’re safe enough.

The trick is learning what “safe enough” looks like. We just need more subcultural support to figure that out.

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

{Warning: this will take you off site to xtube}: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge… the kinky way

I’ve already tagged 3 friends here, but I hope that my kinky peeps will make more scenes for charity!

On Relationship Statuses and Labels

“Boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” “husband,” and “wife,” are really the only labels that we grow up learning a pseudo-intuitive meaning for in our culture. Of course, as it turns out, everybody’s definitions are different for those terms, so they’re nowhere near as helpful as we fantasize they are. That is, we think we know what they mean, but in reality, everyone has highly individualized notions, expectations, boundaries, and “meanings of relationships.”

Even in monogamous world, those labels have proven spectacularly inadequate. Young people tend to participate in a hook-up culture these days, which deliberately blurs the lines between “in” and “not in” a relationship. Even older friends of mine who have tried to date monogamously seem to have found that dating in our culture has become—to use sociological jargon–anomic. That’s a fancy way of saying that nobody knows what the hell the rules are anymore, and that dating tends to be accompanied by a lot of angst and uncertainty partly because the rules are so vague.

But as crazy as things are in MonoWorld, they’re a helluva lot more complicated over here in PolyWorld.

There are two basic types of polyamory that I’ve discovered: hierarchical poly and anarchical poly. Hierarchical polys try to simplify the mad complexities of poly life by labeling relationships and dynamics like crazy: husbands, boyfriends, friend with benefits, play partners, lovers… and then often surreptitiously layer labels like “primary,” “secondary,” and very occasionally “tertiary” on top of those (how often do you hear someone introduce someone with, “This is Beth, my secondary”?). Anarchical polys, on the other hand, try to disengage from the labels altogether and often pretend like there’s no real prioritizations happening between and among their relationships. They tend to eschew relationship labels and titles altogether, frequently just introducing people with the incredibly nebulous title “partner.”

For several years, I’ve been practicing my own form of pseudo-anarchical polyamory with a husband/primary and a collection of my own “partners.” Unfortunately, in spite of my current lifestyle, I don’t think that anarchical poly is my native relationship language. I like my world ordered and precise and I reeeeeeally like security and stability. All of these preferences are antithetical to the way that anarchical poly functions. And yet, I find that anarchical poly has seemed to be the best way to meet my own and my partners’ wants and desires for quite some time. The thing I find myself questioning regularly is does it meet my needs? How valuable is the security of a label?

Do you actually get more from someone because he calls you his “girlfriend”? There might be peace of mind in the label and the feeling of security that comes with it, but what does it ultimately really provide? If someone does all the things you expect a boyfriend to do, does it matter if you call him your boyfriend? Obviously, it matters to me on some level or I wouldn’t be writing this. But that doesn’t mean that it should matter.

The thing is, when you have a bad day, and you doubt someone’s feelings for you, the relationship titles give you something to fall back on. Sure, she got busy and didn’t text you this morning, but she’s still your girlfriend. At the same time, the titles can be expectation traps: it’s okay if your “play partner” didn’t text you, but it’s not okay if your “girlfriend” didn’t. In the end, what do those labels really give you except an illusion of stability and security?

I can get over the vocabulary awkwardness; but the real biggest challenges of anarchical poly life for me are 1. That it feels impossible to plan for the future more than two weeks from now (who knows what the “relationship” will look like in a month? Can we take for granted that we’ll spend time together at x event? How do we decide who’s staying with whom? Am I doing this wrong if I assume I’m staying with you?). And 2. That it feels so fucking hard to say “I love you” and have it mean the same thing to the person I’m saying it to that it means to me. At the point where you’ve abandoned all the standard social norms of relationships entirely, it’s like you need to invent a completely new vocabulary just to explain the way you feel about someone. Part of me imagines having this stupidly awkward conversation that goes something like, “I have very deep and intense feelings for you that in no way resemble the ones I have for my husband, and I would never under any circumstances consider living with you for more than a few days at a time, but I care greatly about your happiness, I miss you a lot when you’re not around, and I think being with you greatly enriches my life, so I think that means I love you.” Are you allowed to say that to someone?

In some ways, anarchical polyamory feels like a spectacularly immature way to do relationships—as if we’re bundles of hormones who are terrified of commitment because it might limit the number of people we get to fuck. In other ways, it seems extremely sophisticated and vastly more realistic than any other relationship system I can imagine. It acknowledges the ever-changing nature of humans and their relationship needs, and most importantly, I think it takes into account a truth which our society mostly just doesn’t get: love is contextual. Love—even romantic love—is absolutely not a one-size-fits-all proposition, and that was the truth which polyamory was supposed to encompass all along. You should take for granted that I don’t love you like I love my husband, because that just wouldn’t make sense anyway. You and I are what we are, and what we are is sexy and powerful and loving and special; trying to find a fetlife box to check to legitimate it in the eyes of other people or ourselves probably won’t make us even a little bit happier, and I seriously doubt that it will extend the longevity of our relationship by a day, and stressing about it is likely to shorten the length of the relationship considerably.

That sounds true, at least.

This comic is by me.

I came up with this in one of my more cynical moments

Advice for the Polycurious

I regularly have people who are contemplating polyamory with various degrees of seriousness ask me for advice on becoming poly, and for tales of my own polyamorous conversion. So here goes.

Becoming poly is a radically different proposition depending on your current relationship status. The easiest way to become poly is if you’re currently single and you decide to “try poly”; this decision usually is most successful if you’ve already made the decision and don’t become effectively coerced into it by a situation. For example, there’s a world of difference between thinking, “I don’t know about this whole monogamy thing” and falling for a married woman, versus coincidentally falling for a married woman and sort of stumbling into polyamory as a result. If you’re single and want to date poly, it’s pretty easy: get on okcupid and claim to be “available” even though you’re technically single. Voila. Go to kink or pagan events, which tend to be frequented by poly folks, to pick up partners. Go to poly meet-ups. Not too tricky.

Turning your happy long-term monogamous relationship into a happy long-term polyamorous relationship is a much trickier proposition, however. I’ll start by telling my story, I’ll review some common problems with this dynamic, and then I’ll offer some practical tips and advice, most of which apply for poly singles and couples.

My Story

Once upon a time, I was an 18-year-old high school student who scoffed at the “doomed institution of marriage,” and doubted my capacity for successful monogamy after spending the previous summer engaged in wild crushes and flirtations with at least three boys at once. Lo and behold, I met Bastard, another 18-year-old virgin high school student who was the sexy geek I never dared dream about. I told him before we ever started seriously dating, “I doubt I can be monogamous,” and he said, “Good, because I doubt I could be either.” Well, that was easy enough. Time went on, and as our relationship grew more serious, we sort-of defaulted to monogamy (neither of us was exactly drowning in options, anyway), but we were miles away from a traditional monogamous dynamic either. Eventually, after Bastard and I had been together about four years, I accidentally fell in love with a good (female) friend; although that didn’t work out, Bastard was extremely supportive, and I had great faith that we could do this whole non-monogamy thing. I eventually decided that marriage might be a redeemable social institution after all, but we deliberately wrote monogamy out of our wedding vows.

That was back in 2003, and we inhabited a different world back then. I had never been to a pagan gathering and never met anyone who identified as poly (I had only been introduced to the word the year before). I went to my first pagan gathering in 2005 and met a whole passel of practicing polys. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by people who were living my nervous fantasy. It seemed possible.

Bastard was always less nervous about embarking on a poly life than I was. We talked incessantly, processing the numerous possibilities and problems that might arise once we took the “poly plunge.” (I’ve discussed some of the necessary evils of poly processing here). Some of the issues I had to work through for myself were: worrying that if he fell in love with someone else, he wouldn’t love me the same way; being anxious about spending the night alone; believing that he was as okay with me seeing other men as he was with me seeing women; working through the fact that he has always harbored the desire to “share” a woman with me–a fantasy I find much less appealing. I was never worried about the prospect of him having sex with someone else. But neither of us found the idea of swinging appealing, so I knew I had to be able to deal with the prospect of him forming a relationship with someone else. I felt reasonably comfortable with all these things by the time we finally decided to finish being monogamous. Three things precipitated the timing of our eventual plunge into polyamory: (1) me finishing grad school, which greatly reduced the overall stress level in the house, (2) the two of us playing together in a public sex space, which we enjoyed very much, and (3) my increasing desire (bordering on need) to have sex with women.

Since taking the poly plunge, our greatest challenge has always been that I have a much easier time finding partners than he does. I don’t have any easy answers to that one; I wouldn’t say we’ve “solved” the problem. (For anyone reading this, my husband is an awesome catch. He’s just geeky and shy on first acquaintance). Our other big issue is the same one all poly people have: time. Our culture brings us up to believe you can’t be in love with more than one person at the same time, but I believe this is nonsense. We have an infinite capacity to love; what we don’t have is an infinite capacity to spend a healthy amount of time with an indefinite number of lovers (I’ve written more on that problem here). Again, this remains an ongoing problem that requires regular attention for us.

My Advice to Couples

As you and a partner consider polyamory for yourselves and your relationship, I would encourage you to think about some of the following things. First, what do you each of you as individuals hope to get by opening your relationship? Second, what do each of you hope that your relationship will get by opening it? Answering these questions will help you decide if you just want to “open” your relationship, or if you want to be polyamorous. This diagram (not mine) is both a hilarious and accurate depiction of the many varieties of “open relationship” forms. I don’t personally have any experience with open relationship forms other than polyamory. The term “polyamory” remains hotly debated, and in my opinion, the word “poly” is more of an identity and subcultural label at this point than a clear indicator of relationship preferences.

It’s important to discuss your biggest fears about polyamory with your partner beforehand. I think of becoming polyamorous as being very similar to the decision to have a baby: it needs a lot of talking about beforehand, and it works best when both partners want similar things. Also, much like having while it can solve some of your relationship problems, it definitely can’t solve most of them–and it can make many a helluva lot worse. The difference between poly life and parenting is that you usually have more role models for good parenting than for successful polyamory.

My Advice to All Polycurious Folks

Regardless of whether you have a well-established monogamous relationship or are a single embarking upon “poly dating,” it’s still important to try to get a sense for people’s “poly rules.” Everyone has different poly rules, and there’s no way to know what they’ll be ahead of time.
• One of the most basic has to be rules for safer sex (which I promise I’ll write a separate post about soon).
• Another common rule is that many people (including me) have primaries with “veto power” over their relationships–that is, the primary reserves the right to approve the other person’s relationships. While this rule might sound comforting to new poly couples in principle, my husband and I learned rapidly that it’s only really useful very early on in a relationship. You risk a lot less telling your partner that someone makes you uncomfortable after their first date than if you tell them after they’ve been dating for six months (at that point, you pretty much have to try to gently talk them into breaking up). If this veto power dynamic sounds appealing to you, I strongly recommend biting the bullet and introducing your dates to your primary ASAP. Yes, it’s often awkward, but not nearly as awkward as going forward with a relationship that (either) partner is deeply uncomfortable with. In short, don’t kid yourself. If you’re dating a married woman and think her husband is a douche, then your relationship probably has a quick expiration date, unless she also thinks her husband is a douche, in which case you’re going to get cooked in a hot mess.
• Try to get a sense for how much time you and your partner are willing to spend away from each other every week (both days and nights). When embarking upon a new relationship, never deceive someone about how much time they’re likely to get with you.
• Be alert for what I consider a Big Poly Red Flag: namely, extremely restrictive poly rules. Not only are these rules often very difficult to keep to (and thus a recipe for Poly Fail), to me they are also indicative of people who aren’t really comfortable with polyamory. That’s entirely subjective, but you don’t want to fall into somebody else’s poly trap, and you don’t want to create one yourself. Examples that I have seen include, “Monday night is my night with him. Period.” “No one else can call after 9 PM and on holidays” (no, I’m not making that one up). I have talked to many people, and the main reason these rules are so destructive (aside from being hard to remember) is that shit happens. People’s parents die, they fight with their best friend, they lose their job, they go to the hospital, etc. (And don’t think age negates these things. My friends are in their late 20’s, and in a single six month period, my husband’s girlfriend at the time went to the hospital, my boyfriend at the time went to the hospital, and I had to take a dear friend to the hospital. Trust me. SHIT HAPPENS). Even if they just have a really bad day, people need to be able to get (extra) support from their partners, or the relationship is doomed. (Of course, if shit is constantly happening, the relationship is likely doomed for other reasons). All partners need to understand that when shit happens, plans will fall through. If they can’t deal with that without getting sulky, angry, or depressed, they can’t deal with polyamory. Period.

After discussing angst, worries, and rules, I want to end this post on a more positive note. People tend to frame the decision to become polyamorous as one of loss and risk. They rarely consider the idea that monogamy also can be risky, as I pointed out here. Imagine if we lived in a culture where polyamory was the default and couples had to make the decision to be monogamous. Imagine the cautions and warnings we would give people: you’ll have to be really careful because most people admit that they’ve cheated on a partner at some point, you’ll lose the opportunity to enjoy and experience lots of other people, your social support network will be much more limited, you might end up trying to parent with only two people, and you’ll have to try to fulfill all of each other’s sexual needs. Put like that, does polyamory really sound like such a bad idea?

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I encourage readers of this post to reply with their own stories in the comments section and post links to favorite posts and articles. I would love to create a resource here for polycurious folks.

The Self-Defeating Flirtation

My friends and I discovered a paradox of dating/picking up long ago, which I have discussed before slightly differently: essentially, humans have an ironic and disastrous habit of assuming the people they’re more attracted to aren’t attracted to them.

Let’s take a moment and dissect that. The people you think are hottest, the people that you reeeeally think you might click with, the people that you really fucking want are the ones who you’re most likely to think, “Aw, s/he’s just not that into me.” I’ve had many conversations with people where they readily admitted that they couldn’t tell someone was interested in them because of their own interest; behaviors that appeared flirtatious from someone they were not interested in immediately became ambiguous or neutral because they wanted that person.

WHY?

Why automatically assume that someone is not interested in you if you’re interested in them? It causes a disastrous cycle of dating failure; it’s spectacularly self-defeating in three crucial ways.

The first is that whoever the object of your attraction (OYA) may be, regardless of gender, they are less likely to be attracted to you if you believe that they’re not attracted to you. Don’t believe me? True story. They did an experiment where they didn’t let some poor guys bathe for 48 hours. Then at the end of it, they let some of the guys put on some scented body spray and some of them unscented deodorant, asked them to rate their feelings of confidence and then took the guys’ pictures and had them make videos. The guys who were scented rated their self-confidence higher than the unscented guys. Now here’s the kicker: they showed the pictures and videos to a bunch of women (who had no idea what the premise of the experiment was), and the chicks thought the guys who had on the scented body spray were hotter than the guys who didn’t. Now, unless women have developed some magical method of smelling men through photographs, the logical conclusion from this weird experiment is that guys are genuinely more physically attractive to women when they feel more attractive and confident (someone should try replicating this experiment with women). Which means that if you walk up to someone you’re attracted to, convinced that they aren’t into you, the chances that they’ll be into you are probably substantially lower than if you walk up to them, reasonably certain that they will be into you (overconfidence probably goes too far in the other direction).

The second problem with the conviction that the OYA isn’t into you is that you’re less likely to notice when they’re flirting with you, trying to make moves, or showing interest. Believing that they’re uninterested, you hesitate to interpret anything shy of, “Can we please fuck now?” as actual interest. (And I’ve even heard the insecurity extend past that point too! [Eeyore voice] “Well, she wanted me for sexxxx, but I doubt she wants to actually go out with meeeee”). If you get into a situation where both people are like this, then you have a fantastic recipe for a hookup or a relationship that is just never going to happen.

By now you should be able to see what the third problem is: if you continually “fail” to pick people up—because they’re genuinely less attracted to you because you think you’re unattractive, compounded by your failure to notice their cues of interest—then you end up “confirming” your own belief that you’re “not that hot.” Every time you fail to pick up someone you’re interested in, you become that much more insecure the next time you try… and less attractive to potential partners… and so the cycle of what we nicknamed “the self-defeating flirtation” goes.

But as obnoxious as this spiral of learned helplessness is, the thing I hate the most about the self-defeating flirtation is that it means that people often end up partnering with people that they’re less attracted to. If you’re terrified to approach the people you’re reeeeeally attracted to, and either don’t approach them at all or do so awkwardly, but more confidently approach people that you’re merely attracted to, you’re more likely to catch the people you’re merely attracted to than the people you’re really attracted to. And what a fucking waste. Go fuck the people you reeeeeally want!

“But how do I break the cycle?”

I’d be lying if I pretended like there was some easy way to just suddenly say to yourself, “I’m reasonably attractive. I might even be hot. There is a better than 50% chance that Person X that I am interested in wants me.” Me and my best friend realized that this cycle existed, and then pinky promised each other that we would try to always believe that people we wanted most found us desirable; in our cases, the pinky promise and Aphrodite worship worked. For some people, just being aware that they’re shooting themselves in the foot helps them try to change their thought processes and behaviors. If you genuinely, deeply believe that you’re unattractive, I don’t think any blog post will be enough to change your attitudes or behaviors on its own; that type of change requires something deep and powerful. But I feel like the majority of people that I know are insecure about how attractive they are in ways that are more changeable: the sort-of casual, everyday belief that one “just isn’t hot enough” has a hope of being overcome through practice, application, and the support of one’s friends.

Personally, I just find the reminder that the person is more likely to say “yes” if I believe they will to be a pretty damned good incentive.

In Praise of Female Condoms

They’re obnoxiously expensive. They’re awkward as hell. They’re so intimidating to put in that most people give up before they even try. They were someone’s misguided attempt to create female liberation on the safer sex front by providing women with a “female-controlled” method of sexually transmitted infection (STI) protection (sorry, folks, it didn’t really work out that way; female condoms definitely require a guy’s cooperation). They’re way too thick, and they occasionally make squeaky sounds when you’re fucking with them. I avoided them for years because they were so damned awkward-looking, and I only used them for the first time because I couldn’t think what else to do. I can’t for the life of me imagine successfully having sex in the dark with one (but that’s not really my thing, so whatever).

They’re incredibly poorly marketed.  They’re supposed to keep women in control of safer sex, but they require total cooperation from men in order to work effectively; the name “female condom” understandably pisses off genderqueer folks, who usually colloquially refer to them as “internal condoms” instead; and the damned things work better for anal than vaginal sex and should be selling like wildfire to gay men… who, of course, don’t realize that they could even be using them, because why would a gay guy use a “female condom”?  Worst of all,  they’re terrifying to try to figure out how to use (especially when the risks are high), and the instructions on the package are no help at all.  In fact, the instructions on the packaging are so crappy that I created a couple of internet videos to help people figure out how to use them.

And yet, after only a single personal use, I found myself online shopping for an affordable 100-pack of female condoms (your best bets are usually amazon.com vendors or condomdepot.com with a discount code).  That’s partly because my husband’s girlfriend/my play partner is allergic to latex, and the female condoms sold in the U.S. are all non-latex. But it’s also partly for me. Because I’ve discovered that despite their myriad disadvantages, female condoms can be extremely handy. And being able to use female condoms or male condoms depending on the sexual situation turns out to be quite advantageous.

In case you’re wondering what advantages could possibly outweigh all those negatives above, I figured I’d write out a list of their advantages.

  • They’re sometimes great for guys whose dicks are annoyed by male condoms.  Guys with large foreskins and guys who feel like male condoms are cutting off the circulation to their dicks often find female condoms more pleasant.
  • They’re not made of latex, so they can be great if either partner has a latex allergy.
  • You can put them in long before you have sex. No need to stop the sexy and make the condom happen. You can grind all up and down your partner before you ever fuck, and voila! There is protection.  I’ve (consensually) woken up a partner in the middle of the night, put in a female condom the bathroom, then sat on my partner’s hard cock in his sleep.  You can pull off a trick like that with a male condom, but it’s a helluva lot sexier to wake someone up by sliding your (protected) pussy down his cock than by putting a condom on him… unless you do it with your mouth.

  • You can (and in my opinion, usually should) get your partner to put it in for you.  Ignore those dumb instructions telling you the woman should put it in herself.  Moreover, unlike putting a condom on with your mouth, putting a female condom in with a finger is something that pretty much anyone can do. And thus the safer sex is naturally integrated with foreplay.

  • A guy can keep losing his erection, and your female condom doesn’t care.  Sucking a guy’s cock or giving him a handjob to get him hard again is much easier when there’s no latex in the way.

  • In general, it’s easy to pop back and forth between fucking and oral sex. Female condoms don’t really taste much at all (I can’t taste them anyway), so both people’s genitals will just taste like whatever lube you used, not latex. This also means that it’s a cinch for a guy to pull out and cum in the girl’s mouth, on her chest, or whatever.

  • They’re extremely useful for multi-person sex. If two women want to fuck one guy, both the girls can use female condoms and he can pop back and forth between them with ease. And they turn out to be pretty fucking fantastic for coitalingus–which is where a guy fucks a girl’s pussy and someone else goes down on the pair of them simultaneously. Again, there’s no taste of latex, his dick is mostly exposed, and her clit is easily exposed.

  • They’re great for giving girls hand-jobs, especially if you’re trying to give multiple girls hand-jobs. You don’t have to keep changing gloves, because the girls pretty much already have gloves in their pussies! So handy! (Pun pun)

  • Unless you mess them up (which admittedly a lot of people do), they’re better disease protection than male condoms, because they’re somewhat better at protecting against skin-transmitted STI’s like herpes.

  • They are the only thing I’ll use for protected anal sex.  Whereas male condoms have a terrible habit of tearing in tight poorly lubricated asses, female condoms are much less likely to break (although you do have to worry about them bunching up).  On top of that, you don’t really have to worry about the santorum experience so much until you’re already done with the sex and have to pull the condom all the way out.  It makes the whole anal sex experience waaaay cleaner, and it’s safer to boot.

They’re definitely not perfect. I’ve heard guys complain that they’re like fucking a plastic bag and they look weird. But they’ve got their uses.

Two cheers for female condoms 😉

Advice for the Bicurious

Thinking about hanging with the other side for the first time?  Whether mostly gay or mostly straight, here’s some tips on how to smoothly transition into the wonderful world of bisexual pleasures…

First of all, let me start with some quick definitions of terms. A bisexual is someone who is approximately equally attracted to members of both sexes. (Apansexual, for those who are wondering, is someone who is attracted to allgenders and all sexes. No one’s tried to come up with a word yet for people who are pan-curious, just like no one’s come up with a word yet for people who have a sexual preference for transpeople. “Transsexual” was already taken). I do not believe that a person actually has to have had sex with people of both sexes in order to “qualify” as bisexual. They just have to (1) badly want to, (2) fantasize about both sexes fairly often, and (3) actually be attracted to real-live human beings of both sexes. In my book, bicurious people, on the other hand, are people who do not fulfill one or more of the criteria above, but are interested in sleeping with someone of the Unknown Sex (i.e., the sex they’ve never fucked). In my experience, bicurious people most often fail on criteria #3 (they often drool over celebrities of the Unknown Sex, but are rarely actually attracted to people in real life) and #1. Instead of “badly” wanting to sleep with the Unknown Sex (it’s the faraway look that most people who actually enjoy sex get when talking about it that we’re looking for here), they have a look of interest and, well… curiosity. To be bisexual, you need to have the same kind of drooling expression on your face at the prospect of fucking the Unknown Sex that you do with the Known Sex. The rest, until tested, are bicurious.

Since it’s relevant to that “drooling expression,” I want to take a moment here to rant about some of our culture’s stupider ideas about what constitute “sex.” Somewhere along the way, our culture developed this incredibly obnoxious idea that “real sex” between men and women was intercourse, “real sex” between two girls was oral sex, and “real sex” between two guys was anal. This notion is so pervasive that I frequently hear hetero-leaning bicurious girls admit that they find the idea of fucking girls appealing, but they just can’t work up enthusiasm for eating one out–therefore they must not be bisexual. My favorite example was a bicurious friend who confessed that she fantasized about fucking girls, but only “doing things that weren’t physically possible.” When I probed this comment a bit, it turned out that her main fantasy was tribadism, which she had no idea actually existed (also known as tribbing or scissoring. It involves two girls wriggling their genitalia against each other.  It’s fucking hot, people). She laughed, telling me that she felt like her bisexuality had just been “validated.” If we’re going to disqualify people based on their taste for specific acts, I think a lot of “straight” people who aren’t that into oral sex just lost their straight cred, and the something like 25% of “gay” men who don’t do anal sex just lost their gay cred. Don’t listen to your culture: if it’s arousing, involves genitalia, and you do it with another person, it’s sex. Okay, rant over, back to talking about sex 😉

When it comes to bicurious cherry popping, it’s important to try to place yourself in one of the following categories: people who have had great sex with their preferred gender and people who have not. If you’re one of the “bicurious” folks who’s contemplating switching sides because you’ve been unimpressed with the cuisine thus far, you need to approach things very differently from people who have had awesome sex with their Known Sex and are looking for the Next Great Time. Indeed, your experiences are so different that I’m going to exclude the first group of people from my “bicurious” category and label you “questioning” instead. Why the difference? Because “bicurious” folks are wondering if they’re bisexual; “questioning” folks are wondering if they’re actually gay/straight. There’s a world of difference in how you go about trying to answer those questions, both in terms of your own personal identity and in terms of your relationships with others.

I’m basically assuming that if you’re calling yourself “bicurious,” you’re mostly out looking for a good time. If you have a very good time, you might decide to change that identification to “bisexual” and approach sex with the Unknown Sex more seriously. Given that you’re really not sure how this is going to go, you have to be careful about your partners. In my not-so-humble-opinion, you should ideally try to “test” your bicuriosity in hook-ups or friends-with-benefits situations, because less is at stake. Since you really don’t know how this is going to go, you want to be in a situation where there isn’t too much pressure for a repeat encounter. If you’re the kind of person who just can’t do sex without some semblance of a relationship, then at a minimum, be absolutely open and honest that you’re exploring and you’re not sure. There are plenty of gay/bi/straight people who just lovvvvvve cherry popping, so you shouldn’t have a shortage of offers by telling the truth.

Although I advise bicurious folks against experimenting with bisexuality in a relationship with the Unknown Sex, I also think it’s important to avoid the other potential pitfall: fucking whomever. Many of the bicurious people I know regularly (even constantly) get propositioned by the Unknown Sex–it’s part of why they became bicurious in the first place. Once you’ve decided to pop your cherry, it’s very tempting to just accept the next offer that comes along, since you’re not looking for anything serious anyway. Despite its intuitive and practical appeal, this is actually a very bad idea. As someone who has had sex with both guys and girls she is not attracted to (never without an orgy!), you should take my word for it: having sex with someone you’re not attracted to is no way to test out any theory of your own sexuality. Having sex with someone you’re not attracted to of the Unknown Sex will be at least as unexciting as having sex with someone of your Known Sex that you’re not attracted to–and awkward to boot. (Really, all other things being equal, having sex with anyone you’re not attracted to is generally actually a step down from masturbating). At a bare minimum, you should be turned on by the idea of kissing the person in question and seeing him/her/hir naked. In sum, save your cherry for someone who makes you horny. Otherwise, your experiment is guaranteed to fail from the start.

Of course, many times the opportunity to “test” your bicuriosity emerges without much planning, frequently in the context of a drunken threesome. While it might be lots of fun, if you’re looking to evaluate your potential bisexuality, this kind of scenario is less than ideal. By all means do it! Go forth and fuck with joy! But do not assume that this is all the information you need as you try to determine whether you’re bisexual. If you are bisexual, you don’t need intoxicants (although starting out, they might be very useful in small doses…). Also, there’s still a world of difference between screwing the Unknown Sex with your partner of the Known Sex versus all by your nervous self. All enjoying a drunken threesome tells you is that you enjoy a drunken threesome.

When embarking on this experiment with bisexuality, you have to think back to the early days of your first sexual explorations. I sincerely hope you didn’t immediately follow up your first real kiss with your first real fuck. I know some people do, but I’m also pretty sure it doesn’t usually result in mindblowing sex. You can–and probably should–take it slow with the Unknown Sex. Make out. Pet. Give handjobs. Exchange oral sex. It’s generally not a recipe for good sex with either the Known or the Unknown Sex to have all of these things happen in instant succession on the first try. If you manage stellar sex with someone you just kissed for the first time–well, you got lucky in multiple senses of the phrase. You know less about what you’re doing with the Unknown Sex (yes, even if it’s your own), so don’t try to move things along at breakneck speed. Even if you feel like you’ve had a crazy opportunity that is unlikely to be repeated, don’t feel obliged to go “all the way.” At the same time, you don’t want to be kicking yourself for weeks/months/years to come for not taking advantage of a chance you’d been longing for. As with any sexual exploration, you have to find a balance between what’s comfortable, what you want, and what you fear.

Now, once you’ve gone and popped your cherry, there’s an unfortunate temptation to compare your sex with the Recently-Known Sex to the best sex you’ve had with your Well-Known Sex. Don’t. You’re much better off comparing your recent bicuriosity exam to the first sex you ever had with the Well-Known Sex. That’s not an entirely fair comparison either, since presumably you’ve learned something about the Art of Sex since you were an innocent virgin. But you can’t expect sex with the New Sex to re-make your world the first time you try. What you’re looking for is to see if it’s hot enough that you want to try it again, and if you find yourself fantasizing both about the experience and/or improved versions of it afterwards.

If so, welcome to the wonderful playground of bisexuality. If not, what the hell. At least you gave it a shot.

“Can I get two sluts, please?”

Peter: What would you do if you had a million dollars?
Lawrence: I’ll tell you what I’d do: two chicks at the same time.
Peter: That’s it, two chicks at the same time?
Lawrence: Yeah, I always wanted to do that, and if I had a million dollars I think I could hook that up too. Chicks dig dudes with money.
Peter: Well not all chicks.
Lawrence: The kind of chicks that would double up on a guy like me do.
From Office Space

******

I’m going to say this at the beginning, and I’m going to say this again at the end: guys, you don’t need a million dollars to get threesomes. I mean, a million dollars will almost certainly get you a threesome with a certain kind of girl, but you can get regular threesomes for a whole lot less if you have something cheaper but possibly just as rare: a slut fetish. Allow me to explain.

******

Neither kink culture nor vanilla world often let me forget just how much straight men (and apparently many bi men too) fantasize about the idea of having sex with two women at once. I’ve spent the last six months or more playing a lot in a crazy triad with Capt and VirginSlut, and being hopeless exhibitionists, we tend to play a lot in public. I’m regularly amused, a little flattered, and occasionally slightly annoyed by how often guys comment to Capt that he’s “winning” or how lucky he is to be playing with both of us. The annoyance arises because (1) the reverse is pretty much never true–neither women nor men come up to me and VirginSlut and tell us how lucky we are. (This is especially funny since women and men both hit on Capt constantly). And (2) because it feels like there’s an implicit belief that this is somehow all for his benefit–like VirginSlut and I aren’t getting something out of this. I think both of these points get to the heart of why most straight men never get what they seem to spend a spectacular amount of energy fantasizing about: regular threesomes with two women.

So, guys, I’m going to let you in on three really important secrets. Okay, are you paying attention?

1. If you want regular threesomes with two women, you have to not think that it’s all about you. Oooooh, I’m sorry. Did you think that girls just had sex to please you? That’s what subs and sluts do, right? Maybe some of them do; I don’t. Sure, we scene where it looks like that’s the case. Actually, we stage scenes like that all the time. We dirty talk that way. But it’s not really true; it’s not really true at all. As it happens, we sluts still like to cum. A lot. And you have to be willing to put effort into that. A lot.

And you have to realize that two girls fucking each other on top of you might actually–goddess forbid–enjoy fucking each other when you’re not there too, and that they might not be doing it just so you can get a good view. Something about straight male culture tends to freak the fuck out when women enjoy fucking each other because… they enjoy fucking each other. Yup, sorry, both of my grilfriends’ hands are bigger than your dick. Get. Over. It.

Connected with that, you’ll get better at threesomes with women if you think outside the box, as it were. Spending all your time trying to figure out how to get your dick into two women’s pussies may be a fun exercise for jerking off, but it’s often a very impractical reality. You make a much better impression if you’re willing to use all your assets–hands, tongue, and dick (and even better if you add your ass to that)–to please us. “My ass???” the stereotypical straight male dom says in panic. Oh, yes, I said your ass. This is related to the second secret.

2. Sometimes, your best bet is to offer yourself up as a sacrifice for our pleasure. Good luck finding your idyllic threesome arrangement if you don’t find the idea of two women using you for their pleasure to be wicked hot. Remember I said that we want something out of this too? The sacrifice of your body is a rare and precious thing you can provide us with. I’ve actually used my husband’s cock to fuck women with on several occasions, always to great effect, earning him the nickname “the human dildo.” (We described the scene to a vanillaish friend who said seriously to my husband, “That sounds traumatizing!” [To be used like that]. He quipped, “I know. It was so traumatizing that I’ve been fantasizing about it ever since.”).

You want to drown in pussy? Then beg for a girl to sit on your face while another one sits on your dick and they make out. Let us gangbang your willing ass. Put a hand in each of us while we grind against each other. Then maybe you’ll get that two-girl blowjob you’ve been fantasizing about… some of us having actually been trying to really work on the fine art of giving one.

3. Get a slut fetish. This one’s really the heart of the thing. Other than the simple reason that triads are incredibly unstable relationship dynamics, the real reason most guys can’t get a threesome lasting longer than a night (if that long) is because they don’t have what it really takes to get and keep two women: a slut fetish. Yes, it’ll do if you don’t mind the fact that we’re going to fuck other guys too, but if you’re actually into it, then your chances of keeping us go way up. Ahh, now I really heard the straight male dom panic sputtering again in the background. “But, but, my cock isn’t good enough for you? You want other guys too??” Um, yes.

The thing that neither vanilla culture, nor kink culture (to a lesser degree) seems to fully appreciate is that the “kind of girls” who will gleefully threesome a guy tend to be 1. prostitutes 2. sluts and 3. not straight. If you’ve nixed the prostitute part of that equation, you’re left with “greedy sluts who like to have their holes filled by an array of genitalia, random body parts, and other assorted objects.” We’re sluts. Which means that we probably have (or at least could have) a number of guys with a variety of impressive sexual assets in our contacts list, under our skirts, on a leash, or in a cage in our house. But we’ll keep coming back to you in pairs or more because you accept us for who and what we are and are turned on by it. And if you don’t freak out at the idea of us sleeping with other guys. And girls. And assorted other genders. And if you’re actively turned on by it, then you get major bonus points.

Oh shit! It turns out that sluts are also people, not just a greedy collection of holes (even if we like to be dirty-talked like that’s all we are)!

The thing is, it’s not hard for two girls who really want to fuck a guy together to go out and find a guy to screw. In reality, even if the girls in question are only moderately attractive, there will probably be a long line of men volunteering for the position. So women who want that can afford to be pretty picky about the guys they take, even if their slutty dispositions disincline them towards selectivity. Which in turn means that if it’s something you really want, you really have to stand out from the crowd. Real, live, socially well-adjusted, slut-fetishizing men are about as common as… well, they’re not common. So if you can condition yourself to get a slut fetish, you can vastly improve your chances of making your fantasy a reality (no promises, though).

The point is, you don’t need a million dollars. You just need a slut fetish (which is probably even harder to come by for some people).

*****

For my birthday, a dear friend AliceInKinkland searched for “slut” on etsy. She found a woman who makes cute matching necklaces that are usually sold in pairs, with one saying “slut” and the other “master.” Knowing VirginSlut’s and my relationship dynamic, she wrote to the woman and asked, “Can I get two sluts?” The woman said “sure!”

It usually isn’t that easy. Sorry, guys.