what the HELL is THAT?!
my name is Richard Elvin Berg-Andersson and I'm a "polyamoric"!!...
The term POLYAMORY simply means "many loves" (from the Greek, polys: "many" and the Latin, amor : "love"). In its broadest, most general, sense it means the ability of a person to- or a feeling by someone that he or she can- deeply love more than one person with whom he or she could, at least in theory, potentially be romantically/sexually involved (though it does not necessarily imply such romantic or sexual involvement!). In the more narrow sense in which the term seems to be most widely used of late, it means an actual lifestyle based on being a "polyamoric" and openly engaging in "polyamorous" activities: in this sense, Polyamory (capitalized in the lifestyle sense) is something of an institutionalization of the so-called "open marriage" or "swinging" (without the more sordid connotations of the latter term) with its own set of "rules" (for example, those in the polyamoric lifestyle are EXPECTED to never hide a sexual relationship with someone other than one's primary romantic "other"- whether spouse or not- from that very romantic "other" as something of a "regulation" of what might better be called "Polyamorism")... however, whatever happened to doing something simply because it's the right thing to do? and what is so wrong with NOT doing that which is wrong because the "not doing" is also right?? Putting polyamory through a series of organized arrangements- where not setting up actual contracts!- makes being a polyamoric not altogether different in kind (however different in degree!) from someone in a more conventional monogamous sexual relationship!!
As for myself, polyamory is hardly a "lifestyle"- though I see nothing at all wrong with practicing Polyamory as just such a lifestyle, if that is what "floats your boat" (hence the ribbon supportive of Polyamory atop this very web page!); however, I have no interest whatsoever in joining polyamoric groups or participating in online Polyamory chatrooms or engaging in polyamorous sex in the more or less organized fashion just such a term as "lifestyle" seems to imply!! Rather, polyamory (all small case) is- to me- merely a state of being: I simply AM, as I always HAVE BEEN-at least as far back as *I* can remember, perhaps even back to fairly early Puberty- a polyamoric (I just never had an actual word for my inner feelings until relatively recently!) Being, in my case, a heterosexual male, I have- especially as I have gotten older and learned more about the deeper meanings of Love and Sex- more and more found the ability, within my own heart, to feel rather deep love and quite amorous affection for more than one woman in my life at one and the same time and, frankly, see nothing at all wrong with this- so long as I do not, of course, break any promises or agreements I have made with any of the women in my life nor mislead them in any way, shape or form as to the actual status of my relationship with each of them.
And, yes, I HAVE come to find it rather easy to have deep and dear, close and caring, loving and giving and altogether sharing friendships with women other than my particular romantic "other"- greatly fulfilling relationships well short of full-blown romance: indeed, I am close enough to a fair number of these women friends of mine for me to honestly say that I would, in fact, be be able to have sex with them were they to even want to have sex with me as a friend in the first place- which I dare NOT assume! Further, I could- if I wanted to- even tell a couple of these women friends that I feel close enough to each of them emotionally to have sex with them (and, yes, those to whom I would, thus, express such feelings WOULD still be my friends- precisely because they would be women who are close enough to me to know me well enough and, thus, fully understand that I would NEVER use my friendship with them as some kind of nefarious means or underhanded method of pressuring them to share a bed with me!... if anything, my openness and honesty with these women on what could otherwise be a rather delicate matter between intergender friends would, indeed, actually make me a better and more trusted friend to each of them!! [and, besides, I don't have the foggiest idea as to how the subject of wanting to have sex with each other- were actually having sex (as opposed to discussing it merely as a hypothetical) to become even something of a practical consideration- would ever come up between me and either of these closer woman friends in the first place!!!])
In my less-than-humble opinion (as a long-time amateur historian who has also had an interest in natural history), human beings are naturally polyamorous: for, in the Primate world (and human beings ARE, after all, Primates), sex is a principal bonding mechanism within a society of monkeys or apes; it, therefore, cannot be much doubted that the same holds true for good ol' Homo sapiens. Therefore, in being a polyamoric, I am merely the very thing that God Himself intended me to be! The religious or political "sex police" who are largely responsible for much of the sexual repression within a foolishly prudish American Society might very well tell you otherwise, but- of course- they would be lying!!
My Personal Attitudes toward Sex outside of Romance
Given what I have just written re: the natural polyamory of the human race, it should be no surprise that I think that, if two consenting adults are so closely bonded emotionally so as to be able to bring themselves to share themselves with each other in the most intimate manner two sexually mature human beings can possibly share themselves, then that is a most beautiful thing and is, in my opinion, one of the highest expressions of one's innate human nature. Certainly such behavior should be above reproach and immune from condemnation by others! (Alas!!- it is most assuredly not here in much of America!!! But it should be!!!!) Therefore, I see absolutely nothing wrong with two people who, for example, are just friends having sex with each other, so long as the parties involved have freely consented to the experience and are able to, thus, demonstrate that the sex between them happens to be a natural part of their expression of the bonds of that given friendship. I don't honestly think sex between friends is a problem per se: rather, I think any problems two friends might encounter when they have sex are caused by one or both parties either going into, or coming out of, that experience with altered perceptions of the friendship as a result of the two sharing, or having shared, a sexual experience with each other. But these altered perceptions seem to me to be, in the main, the result of problems they have- in a sense- brought with them into the sexual encounter itself, NOT a result of merely having had such a sexual encounter in the first place!
It seems to me that there are three main issues that can cause a sexual relationship between friends to ruin even the best possible friendship and I call these the "EFG pitfalls": these letters being the initials of things that, in my opinion, MUST be avoided in order for two friends who have sex to still be able to remain friends afterwards:
E stands for Entitlement- that is, the notion that, having had sex with a friend, a person is now- somehow- entitled to have sex again with that friend in the future. Nothing could be further from the truth! Friends who wish to have sex with one another must- first of all- be able to understand that, unlike in the typical romantic relationship, they each have no "hold" whatsoever over the other when it comes to the other's sexuality; a friend who has sex with you might never want to have sex with you again and this is, of course, your friend's right and privilege: if you are a true friend and wish to remain friends with the person with whom you so shared yourself most intimately, you WILL have to accept this and, thus, fully support your friend's decision that your having had sex be, forevermore, a one-time only experience (as you should fully support any other decision by a friend- that is, again, if you want to remain friends with that person!) While it is true that, even in a romantic relationship, one party has NO right to demand, or- even worse- force, the other to have sex against their will, there IS a certain amount of suggesting, cajoling, even pleading [!] for sex that might be permissible in a given romantic relationship where the couple is sexually active BUT which would be absolutely unacceptable in a friendship that includes a sexual component. A person who has sex with a friend MUST treat the experience as nothing less than a high honor, a distinct privilege, a very special moment shared between two true, caring friends who are loving of and giving to each other in such an intimate way!
F is for False Intention- that is, a case where one of the parties goes into the sexual experience with a friend with a different intention than that they have conveyed to that friend. It is- to take one obvious example- certainly unethical, if not outright immoral, for someone to pretend that they have no intention of seeking anything more than friendship with a person with whom they are about to have sex while secretly hoping that the sexual experience itself will, somehow, lead to- say- a more romantic relationship with that friend: yet, all too often, sex between friends causes grave problems between the two parties precisely because of just such a scenario! A friend cannot be lied to in general (and I would find it hard to believe a friendship close enough for the two people in that relationship to have sex could possibly have gotten to the point of their actually having sex without a great deal of trust having already been established between them!); a friend certainly cannot be lied to as part of an attempt to get that friend to agree to a sexual encounter in particular!! Trust is an essential element of good, caring sex- whether the couple having the sex be romantically involved or merely good, close friends: full openness and honesty, as well as respect for the dignity of the other, is here clearly necessary; nothing can so break that bond of trust and respect that is the hallmark of any good and true friendship than a situation where one friend has so misled the other as in the case of bringing such "False Intention" into a sexual encounter between friends!!!
G represents Guilt- that is, where one or both parties- AFTER the sexual experience they have shared- then allow themselves to feel guilty about having had sex with each other. Each friend has to be able to know, deep inside their respective hearts, that their having sex together is as natural an expression of their deep love and caring, concerned fondness and affection for each other as friends as any other aspect of their friendship happens to be: if one or both friends cannot honestly feel this way BEFORE the fact, then they had better not even bother having sex with each other! It is better to not do something that could ultimately destroy a good friendship than to do that something without truly knowing- ahead of time- whether or not it will, indeed, enhance this friendship. Many friendships which have included sex as a part of that relationship have, later if not sooner, foundered on the shoals of subsequent guilt over whether it had been, indeed, the right thing to do: but that is an issue that should have been addressed well before the two had sex, not afterwards!!
Another- and, perhaps, more common- source of after-sex guilt occurs when one or both of the friends who have sex happen to be in a committed romantic relationship with another (whether marriage or something short of marriage). Obviously, if a person is going to feel guilty about having sex outside of their own romantic relationship (and it is usually rather easy for someone to know this ahead of time!-- if they DON'T know they might likely feel guilty later, it is almost always because they are in the deepest possible form of abject denial!!), then that person should not have sex with a friend, no matter how much they love and care about that friend (and, thus, wish to express that loving and caring sexually) and how willing that friend is to have sex in return with them. But my observation has been that the vast majority of problems involving this kind of guilt after two friends have had sex are caused by the OTHER person feeling guilty about having had sex with a friend who happened to be in a committed romantic relationship!
I will simply repeat that which I wrote above under the heading of "Entitlement": if two friends have sex with each other, they have to also understand that neither has a "hold" of any kind on the other's sexuality! If the friend you have sex with is- for example- married, you have to willingly accept the fact that it is the married friend's inherent right to handle the relationship with his/her spouse the way he/she most sees fit (and the same would be true re: sex with a friend in a committed romantic relationship short of marriage): you are not a party to the romantic relationship of your friend (just as your friend's romantic "other" is not a party to the relationship your friend has with you)-- thus, how your friend balances a romantic relationship with someone else and a friendship with you which includes however occasional sex with you is your friend's business, not yours... it is also solely your friend's problem! Unless you yourself brought "False Intention" into the sexual experience you shared with your friend, you cannot and should not make what is, after all, your friend's problem your own!!
A woman who, say, has sex with a married man as a result of her understanding that he plans to leave his wife and have a romantic relationship (perhaps including eventual marriage) with her when he, in fact, has no intention of doing so (an, unfortunately, all-too-common scenario-- in which case, the married man would be the one who has engaged in the "False Intention" of which I wrote earlier [only in reverse here, because he is pretending the sex is part of a romamce he himself does not really want]) has pretty much every right to demand that her lover tell his wife all about the sex they have shared (after all, if her lover's wife then divorces him as a result of his so confessing his infidelity, that would be in her interests!); however, a woman friend who has sex with a married man solely as a friend does NOT have that same right (otherwise, again, she can then be accused of "False Intention"!) and has to willingly accept the fact that he may or may not tell his wife about their sexual encounter (frankly, I would think it would not be in her interests that he do so, assuming she wants the man to remain her friend- for the resultant emotional stress on him, should he tell his wife and she not be all that happy about it, might well be enough for him to then be forced to break off the friendship with HER!!)-- unfortunately, a person who has sex with a married or otherwise romantically committed friend all too often DOES end up feeling guilty about having had sex with a friend in that situation and then, in a rather misguided attempt to assuage his or her guilt, puts pressure on that friend to tell his/her romantic "other" about their sexual experience(s) as a condition of continuing the friendship ("if you don't tell your spouse/lover, how can I then trust what you then tell me?"... so goes this quite fallacious- though comforting, nonetheless- argument).
But the basis of Friendship is (as it ever MUST be!) Unconditionalness!! Demanding that a friend with whom one has had sex tell another with whom he/she has a romantic relationship about having had sex with a friend is that friend then placing an unwarranted condition on the other in violation of this concept: it is, therefore, flat-out wrong for someone to put a friend with whom one has shared so deeply and intimately (and, thus, one can presume that there had been genuine caring and concern for that friend with whom one has so shared to begin with!) into such an untenable position!! Likewise, should one's romantic "other" find out about the sexual encounter one has had with a friend (I am here presuming an adverse impact on the continuance of the romantic relationship as a result of this discovery), it is equally as wrong for one to then- in an attempt to assuage any guilt that might then result on THAT end of the particular Sex Between Friends equation- blame the friend with whom one has had sex for the end of one's romance! In short, when it comes to Sex Between Friends, BOTH parties had best- and well before the act!- be able to live with the concept of "you made your decision? then deal with it and please stop whining!!", else they should not be having sex with each other in the first place!!!
In summary, then: Sex Between Friends SHOULD be something that- at its best- bonds those friends closer together- AS FRIENDS! However, if it can't do that (if, for example, ANY of the "EFG pitfalls" outlined above will potentially harm the friendship), it would be best that the two friends NOT have sex, no matter how much they each would want, or even need, to do so! This does not mean that they should necessarily hide the fact from each other that they are close enough in their friendship to be able to, at least hypothetically, have sex with each other BUT they both should also accept the fact that- if Entitlement, False Intention and/or Guilt are real issues between them- it is probably for the best that they not at all act on such feelings and, instead, enjoy the far simpler pleasure of their sure knowledge that their friendship is, in fact, as close as it actually is. Friendship must be- unlike Romance- based on unconditional love (the only conditions here being the minimum of trust, fondness, affection and caring concern that is the basis of any good friendship): if one or both friends cannot bring themselves to make sure that any sex with the other is also unconditional, then they shouldn't even be having sex, lest it wreck what is otherwise such a good and true friendship!
It's the LOVE... NOT the Sex, Stupid!
OK, I hope (however vainly I might, in the end, be doing so) that, by now, those of you reading this who are part of the "morality police" understand- at least a little, that despite what is likely your own argument, being a polyamoric most assuredly does NOT mean "Anything Goes"! Meanwhile, I also trust (though, perhaps, just as vainly) that those of you on ANY (note well that I did NOT write "either"- the bewildering array of possible interpersonal relationships being such a varied and complicated subject) side of the pro- or anti-Polyamory argument(s) reading this and who might also now be sorely tempted to wag your finger at me whilst shouting "Hypocrite!" (because I took on- in the very first paragraph of this piece- the concept of pre-existent "rules" and "regulations" regarding polyamorous activities and then, in the previous section, laid out my own "rules" and "regulations") will realize that there is certainly a rather important and altogether constructive distinction between a set of such "rules" and "regulations" more or less imposed on one because one is, upon being willing to follow them, supposedly accepted as part of a so-called "alternative lifestyle" (the adjective of which, by the way, MOST offends me-- as in: "alternative" to WHAT? Logically, two or more alternatives are each equally alternative! Calling something "alternative lifestyle", to me, implies that some other contraposited "lifestyle" not only is- but "was and ever shall be, World without end, Amen"- the better [or best] one... to my mind, in a truly Free Society, "you pays yer money and you takes yer choice") and any "rules" and "regulations" of one's own choosing: "rules" and "regulations" that- in my own case, by the way- I certainly do NOT seek to impose on anyone else-- even someone to whom I feel close enough emotionally to someday (whether this ever happens or, as is the much more likely scenario, not!) have sex with!! In other words, what you have already read in this piece are MY "rules", MY "regulations"- as it were, and no one else's: I couldn't care any less whether they would be yours or not were you to also happen to be a polyamoric and I certainly don't at all care if they are yours if you do not happen to like Polyamory in general or me- because I am so openly supportive of the concept- in particular! I am not writing this piece to at all proselytize (unlike at least some of you reading this, I am sure); I am only writing here to explain precisely what I am thinking re: this subject!!
Now that I have gone through THAT disclaimer, let me now turn to the essence of what Polyamory is all about. What did I write in the very first section of this piece? That "human beings are naturally polyamorous: for, in the Primate world (and human beings ARE, after all, Primates), sex is a principal bonding mechanism within a society..."; key word: "bonding", NOT merely "getting one's jollies" (though I see nothing at all wrong with two friends not in a romantic relationship so "getting one's jollies" with each other, again to quote from myself earlier, "so long as the parties involved have freely consented to the experience and are able to, thus, demonstrate that the sex between them happens to be a natural part of their expression of the bonds of that given friendship"; once more note the key words: "freely consented", "natural part of... the bonds of... friendship": I presume that there has already been such "bonding" between the friends [bonding that is strong enough to overcome any EFG pitfalls as outlined above] before they would, as friends having fun [let's call it exactly what it is: PLAYING!... after all, when YOU were a little kid (long before sexual maturation), what did YOU do with YOUR friends?!... during adulthood, only the toys (which might even include each other's bodies) are different!!], be able to utilize sex primarily as a pleasure-seeking tool!!)
So, then, what exactly IS Sex- regardless of whether it is with legal spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend or two people who are just friends- all about anyway? The answer is patently manifest- for it's all about LOVE and the innate bonding that comes of such love (even if the love is otherwise what is known as "platonic"). Don't tell me that you don't (or didn't- if they have already passed on [and, if so, know that my deepest sympathies are very much with the reader]) love your parents, any siblings and/or close collateral relatives you might have as well as your close friends! Do/did you not, thus, bond with THEM?! And WHY??!! Because you LOVE(d) them!!! (and love[d] them whether or not you could bring yourself to tell them this to their respective faces and even if- at times- you might have wished that any of these people would just leave you alone [or even, in fact, leave the country! ;-)]... but, of course, only for a while!!) I'm not, of course, at all suggesting that Sex is always necessary in order to love someone (I am not here arguing in favor of, for example, incestuous behavior between parent and child or between siblings); what I AM suggesting is that Love is necessary to develop the Trust (or, put another way, the bonding) that, in turn, is necessary (again, as I pointed out earlier) to good, caring sex, regardless of the actual status of the relationship between the persons so close to each other that they can even consider having sex!!
It is primarily for this reason that I myself would find it nigh unto impossible to ever have sex with a stranger, or even a woman I only knew casually- where not perfunctorily (take THAT!: all of you shouting at me "anything goes!!"- whatever side of this issue you happen to be on!!) After all, the human body itself- the physiology of which gives each of the persons having sex with each other the feelings of pleasure accompanying kissing, foreplay and, eventually, intercourse- is merely the "package" in which the whole person is contained: thus, while physical attributes- stirring raw human emotions as varied as simple attraction to out-and-out lust- are very important to the many aspects of sexuality involved (even between mere friends not at all bent on ever establishing a romantic relationship), there is much more to the concept of "whole person" than what the other looks like in the nude or exactly how the couple's genitals fit and work together. Concepts that are intangible, such as how the sex "touches" the soul, mind and spirit of the other or how sex can stir the emotions and the passions- as well as the intellect- of each person involved, are as important to the overall sexual experience as the physical, tangible act of sex itself. Love is the necessary intangible, noncorporeal and emotional companion to tangible, physical Sex-- and for Love to flourish to its fullest, an extant emotional bonding- even if it be "merely" the close, trusting bonds of a good and true, dear and loving intergender (obviously, I can only speak for myself and, thus, only from a heterosexual male perspective) platonic friendship (which, or so I would argue, can quite often be as hard, if not harder, to successfully maintain than a romantic relationship between spouses and/or lovers/significant "other"s)- must already either be in place or, at the very least, well on its way to soon being in place!
It, therefore, stands to reason that sex can be useful as a tool to bond even two people "merely" involved in a beautiful intergender- yet platonic- friendship, as the seeds of that Love which is- to my mind, at least- concomitant with equally beautiful Sex are clearly already well capable of potential future germination, should that- indeed- be what the friends in question would themselves want or even, perhaps, need! In ANY close intergender relationship outside the immediate family, the very presence of Human Sexuality itself cannot so easily be denied and, however much it be kept at bay by two close intergender friends, it is- in fact- always still there, lurking in the background of their relationship!! It is, thus, up to the two friends- and them alone- to make, or not make, of this unavoidable presence what they will: their Love (if they truly can continue to keep it as the Unconditional Love that Friendship, as I have already opined, requires) is what will guide them into making the right decisions (where not also avoiding the wrong ones!) regarding whether or not to bring Sex into their Friendship. That, to me, is Love's principal overall importance to Sex: the fostering and nurturing of the openness, honesty, trust and respect for the individual dignity of the other, regardless of the level of an at least potentially sexual relationship- a task of Love that, as specifically regards a platonic friendship, can best keep the EFG pitfalls at bay SHOULD the friends, in the end, decide to have sex with each other (whether for purposes of enhancing their friendship, having fun "getting their jollies" with each other or- even better!- BOTH!!).
Metes and Bounds
After all, Love (and all that it implies) is all about setting boundaries and respecting the boundaries set by others (as, hopefully, others will respect YOUR boundaries!): this happens to be true, of course, of ANY interpersonal relationship- whether or not it includes (potentially) having sex, whether it be a romantic, platonic or familial relationship!! Despite what some in the "monogamy only because only monogamy is- and should be- the norm" crowd might say, a polyamoric such as myself well respects the boundaries of all of those with whom he or she might have an interpersonal relationship not any the less than a non-polyamoric (like I said near the beginning of this piece, "I dare NOT assume" that a close woman friend of mine would necessarily want to have sex with me; if I am not told that she does OR if she tells me flat-out that she does NOT, then it should be well obvious to ME just what her boundaries are and, if I wish to remain friends with her, I MUST respect those boundaries: my women friends [so I think and HOPE!] should know that I would NEVER cross that barricade labeled "POLICE LINE-- DO NOT CROSS" once either that barricade is in place OR, perhaps more importantly, I cannot possibly know whether it is in place or not!)
By the same token, my "Liberty" (one of those "unalienable rights" "endowed" to all human beings [at least all those who have reached the adulthood "Age of Consent"] "by their Creator", as per the American Declaration of Independence)- as well as that of all those with whom I DO have interpersonal relationships- gives both myself and they the inherent right and exclusive privilege to negotiate such boundaries with each other and, further, without any interference from anyone else who might not very much like the boundaries we might have set with each other. If what two friends might do in bed in so sharing themselves with each other as intimately as possible at a given moment does no harm to any but themselves (and I, for the life of me, have never heard any good reason why their so having sex inherently SHOULD do harm even to themselves [assuming the aforementioned EFG pitfalls are mitigated by their own negotiation of the "metes and bounds" of their friendship and, therefore, successfully avoided]... truth be told, I HAVE heard reasons, mind you- but none that are, in the end, any good!) then why is it at all even the business of the larger community? Sex, however one engages in it and whatever one's beliefs about when it is and is not appropriate behavior, is one of the more fundamental (I would argue the MOST fundamental of) human experiences: it is, thus, most highly personal and can, in the end, only BE negotiated between the two persons involved in it at any given time. Thus, sex, for me- along with any due "metes and bounds" within which it might be engaged- is NOT within the purview of the State nor that of institutions of Religion (except insofar as one's OWN religious beliefs might come into play in determining one's own boundaries) and those who would criticize what I myself have written in this piece about Love and Sex in general- let alone Polyamory in particular (again, regardless of which side[s] of the issue the reader might be on)- should worry much more about their own boundaries and the relationship of these to the boundaries of all the others in their lives rather than how I and the loved ones in my life (regardless of the status of any given interpersonal relationship I might have) have/will- or have not/will not- set our own boundaries and then operate our respective interpersonal relationships within them!
After all, my name IS Richard Elvin Berg-Andersson and I AM a polyamoric!! 8-)
For yet another interesting perspective on what I would call "personal polyamory" (the very subject of my essay above, as opposed to Polyamory as a lifestyle!)- though the woman who wrote this would, so obviously, prefer the simpler term "non-monogamy" (and there IS, after all, an inherent beauty in one's ability to so simplify!), please see How to be Not Monogamous. I don't necessarily agree with EVERYthing Alison has written therein but it IS well worth a read in light of what I myself have written above on this page. I very much like her conclusion that "my sex life belongs to me, not to the law, not to the church and not even to my partners, except incidentally" and I especially like the last line: "My ethics, and my promises, are mine to make and to keep"... if you don't much mind me using a church-based term here, Alison ...
Amen to THAT!-- REB~A 8-)
For a different perspective, from someone who disagrees with me from a somewhat religious point of view, please see an e-mail I received from JENNIFER from OREGON, along with my response to Jennifer's comments underneath!-- REB~A