swingset on a playground

I’m Poly AND Open

swingset on a playground

“Hey, who are you calling poly?”

Are those “fighting words” on the non-monogamous playground? Why, or why not?  Below I present some of my recent thoughts on this topic.  I’d welcome your input, should you choose to share either here, or in my FB Page.

Recently — both online and in person — I’ve become aware of a trend that I find deeply disturbing.  In the past week alone, I’ve heard multiple people say that while they identify as open, in open relationships, or in some other sort of ethically non-monogamous relationship, that they don’t identify as polyamorous in particular, “because poly people act as if they’re ‘better’ than swingers or those in other sorts of  ‘open relationships.'”  Honestly, I wish I didn’t know what the speakers meant, because I so much do not agree with this sentiment. Unfortunately, I’ve seen/heard it myself… and I’ve argued against it, ad nauseum.

For context, I strongly identify as polyamorous because that has been my community for 15+ years, as well as the way that I’ve felt about my relationships pretty much all of my adult life. I believe in the possibility and practice of multiple loving relationships, with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. One of the things that drove me off the poly discussion lists early on, though, was the damnable, interminable arguments about poly vs. swinging! I think that the struggles of the poly community to identify as “not swingers” are largely due to the fact that when poly was starting to cohese as an identity in the early to mid-90’s, that was the response that many “non-poly” people would have: “Oh, you mean you’re SWINGERS?” And that would come with a whole set of assumptions that just weren’t true: about key parties, wife-swapping, sex, love, and so forth. So given that context, I think it’s natural that poly-folk would respond with, “no, we’re not swingers, and here’s why.” It’s understandable.  I’ve even said it myself.  And I now see that this way of responding — at least without a lot of context — can cause unnecessary division amongst our communities.

I do think, as some folks have mentioned in some of these online discussions, that a large part of the problem comes from the US puritanical ideas about sex (as being bad, “dirty,” and/or “immoral” in any context other than procreation), and from accepting the frame that the “moral majority” has given us (see George Lakoff‘s work for more about frames.) One of the struggles of the poly community over the last 10-15 years has been to open the minds of others to the idea that we were creating a new (or arguably renewed) paradigm that wasn’t in opposition to monogamy,” NOR was it “the same as swinging,” “just a different word for polygamy,” or even the same as “open marriage” (which already had an established meaning as well.) We were trying to create something altogether different, based on fundamentally different ideals and thoughts.

So a large part of what I see some of the leaders doing here — in particular those who prefer not to identify as polyamorous, but instead as “open” —  is actually continuing this process–i.e., attempting to create an identity and form a community around the ideas of openness, honesty, and not limiting one’s number or kind of partners. I see the needs and struggles of people who identify in the manner that these folks have described — “open,” “open relationships” and/or “fluid”–as being more similar to one another (and therefore also to polyamory) than they are to the monogamous paradigm at large. It bothers me to see finger-pointing and division where I feel we should be sharing experiences and tools. I have always  felt this way, even when we were still arguing over poly vs. swinging in the late 90’s. This is nothing new, in my opinion; it’s just that now we’re having the conversation about “open relationships,” instead of “swingers.”

My personal experience of the term “open relationships” is that it’s a better term than “open marriage,” but that it’s still saddled with the history of the O’Neils’ book from the 1980’s. The farther we get away in time from its publication, the more the term “open relationship” can come into its own, discarding the older assumptions about marriage as the only legitimate context for a sexual relationship, for instance. That said, for a long time the only people I saw using that term “open relationship” were closer in practice and ideology to swingers: they had a dyadic relationship as the core assumption, which then was allowed to be “open” to other satellite relationships of some sort. In other words, first you had to have a relationship (singular) in order to “open” it.  It has been a very specific style of relationships that is NOT what I see as “polyamorous”, which involves more potential styles of relationships than a couple-centric model (e.g., a closed polyamorous triad marriage isn’t what I’d call ‘open,’ but it certainly does contain more than 2 people, which makes it not monogamous either.)

Of course, that is NOT the definition or practice of the open relationship community/ies that I see some of our local organizers suggesting, and it’s not what I’ve seen the people of this community actually doing either. What’s being developed here is a far more open usage of “open,” if you will. To reiterate, those I’ve interacted with in our local “open” community seem to be attempting to create an identity and form a community around the ideas of openness, honesty, and not limiting one’s number or kind of partners, as well as to create an atmosphere of openness in thought, and of questioning former limiting assumptions. I think that’s great, and appropriate, and I support it wholeheartedly.

What I don’t support is the idea that somehow polyamory is NOT “open” by definition, and that people who identify as “open” or being in “open relationships” are de facto “more enlightened” than “poly” people. I think that’s just continuing the whole idea of “we’re better than you” (because we’re “newer” or because we’re younger, more open-minded or not stuck in the past, or because we’re open and you’re not, or whatever…) and I think that’s BS. My own reaction to reading “hey, who are you calling poly?” was to be pissed off at polyamory being cast as something bad to be — I heard it as an insult, and I heard it as tacitly assuming that because I identify as poly that I obviously would engage in these sorts of negative behaviors that these people had encountered in the past. (Just in case it needs pointing out, if that’s really what happened — and I certainly might have read more into it than was really there — then that’s prejudice, and it’s not ok.)

So to reiterate: while I emphatically do NOT think that poly people are somehow “more enlightened” or “better” … I don’t think that people who identify as being in “open relationships” are somehow “better” either.  We’re similar in some ways, and different in others, and that leads to diversity.  While that can be challenging sometimes (differences can lead to conflict!), it’s also good, in my opinion, since it allows for more thought, more questioning, and more challenge to the status quo, which means that at the very least we’re not doomed to repeat the past for ever and ever. It may not be better, but at least we won’t be bored. ;^)

Related to that, I also don’t happen to see poly as a “subset” of open relationships, though I can understand that perspective. I see it as an overlapping set. I guess I can agree with those who have suggested that polyamory is a subset of the whole idea of “open”, and that both “open relationships” and “polyamory” are different ways to be open about love and relationships.

Others in these conversations have suggested that “open” describes a relationship, and that “polyamorous” describes a person. And that therefore, one can be both “polyamorous” (have multiple loves–of whatever kind) AND “open” (open to new people in relationship — and possibly open to new ideas and ways of relating in general.) That works for me, too.

So… what works for YOU? How do you identify, here in the Uncharted waters of love and non-monogamy? Poly, open, swinger, or something else? Or do you prefer to Love Outside the Box(es), and love without labels? Whatever your preferences, I hope you find something of value here, and are happy in your choices.

With love,

~♥ Dawn


©2012, Dawn M. Davidson

20 thoughts on “I’m Poly AND Open

  1. Pingback: whats my problem with polyamory? | suggestivetongue

  2. Pingback: Savaging Dan: Some Thoughts on Poly as Identity — Uncharted Love

  3. Pingback: Definitions of poly/open relationships for therapists (and others) — Uncharted Love

  4. ScottT

    A few observations/opinions, for whatever they are worth.

    I was one of the people who had a conversation with Dawn about not personally using the word poly to describe my philosophy/behavior. I agree that non-monogamy is a poor way to describe the behavior and thing that we really do need a positive word. And poly could be it except for two things.

    One is the ‘classical’ definition as laid out by people such as Deborah Anapol. That seems to be the most commonly used definition, and many poly people use it to differentiate their behavior from others, such as swingers.

    The second, related and most important reason, to me, is the way that I have heard some poly people use the term. At one group meeting I heard someone say ‘My partner and I are poly, but we’re not sluts’. Now, I do not use the term slut as a derogatory one, but my strong impression was that in this context it was. I think that sometimes people who are ‘real’ poly people use their form of relationship, and lines like ‘it is not just about sex’ to make what we do more acceptable to the mainstream.

    I personally have no desire to do that, to make one particular flavor of non-monogamy more OK than others. To me it really is all about the sex. That is the core issue. The only thing that differentiates ‘us’, regardless of our chose relationship form, from the mainstream is that we agree that, in some form or another, it is OK to have multiple sexual partners. And until we all as a group support the idea that we as human beings have the right to have sex with whomever we want (consenting, of course), we, as a group, will have problems. Because there are real world life, financial, and legal issues involved with being openly sexually non-exclusive. The only reason your neighbors might have a problem with the family that has three adults living together and has a kid in the house is if people know, or think, that all three of the adults are having sex together. Take away the sex and nobody cares.

    I’d like to see people get on board with that idea that it being about sex really is OK. We have to embrace and defend sexual freedom as a basic human right regardless of your chosen relationship form. They are separate issues. After that we can choose to be in loving partnerships, poly households, open relationships, be swingers, poly-fuckers, or whatever we choose and get that having sex be part of it is completely OK and not have to sugar coat it to make us seem more like the ‘moral’ people who live next door.

    And, yes, it would be great to have a positive, non-exclusionary word to describe ‘us’, us being those of us who reject monogamy as a core value or a more moral behavior, because I think that language is important. And right now as I hear it used, poly just isn’t it.

  5. MikZ

    John: I disagree. People *are* poly (or not); they don’t *do* poly. Not that it matters—I don’t think ‘is it a choice?’ is a relevant question for other types of sexual orientation, either.

    But even if you’re right, my question still stands: do you think it’s possible for somebody to say they are/do poly but don’t swing, without it sounding offensive to swingers?

    1. Uncharted Love Post author

      MikZ and John: You are discussing the essence of one of the big questions I see in the poly/open/non-mono community today: Is it a choice, or is it an orientation? I think the view put forth at the end of the original essay is related to that, though not the same thing: Poly is something one IS and open is something one DOES. But all of this is speaking in dichotomies, and that may be in itself problematic. You can get a quick preview of some of what I’m discussing by checking this thought-provoking article from maymay: http://maybemaimed.com/2012/03/10/from-triads-to-triadic-relationships-polyamorys-superpower-is-not-what-you-think-atlanta-poly-weekend-2012-opening-keynote/

      MikZ: I’m not sure it is, at least not phrased that way! I do think it’s possible to say that one has multiple concurrent relationships (or partnerships, depending), and that one is not open to new sexual connections. That does, however, beg the label on the polys by the swingers of “really just monogamous by another name.” It gets back to the essence of whether one is “open” or not.

  6. John Ullman

    @Dawn – My allusion to swinging and poly not being religions was meant to emphasize that they are not mutually exclusive practices. I know people self identify as anything they can think up. I used to get cracked up listening to Dr. Michaelson’s Hebrew Christian Hour as we drove home after Saturday school.

    I think it is important to invite polys who put swingers down to be less publicly strident about it. Especially in media situations, they should articulate what they do, not what they don’t do. I absolutely don’t think that polys hold some sort of moral high ground over swingers. Blech!!!

    As far as how to make common cause with swingers I think it is best to find a larger tent, perhaps the sex positive movement. There is both safety and strength in numbers. I think we can make the point that all alternative life styles have a common struggle to be treated justly.

    On a personal level, my poly friends and I used to go to the wonderfu, large facility we have here in the Seattle area, New Horizons, and play by oursleves. We looked like fun to some people, and conversations started, and some of those people became good friends and got into poly.


  7. John Ullman

    @MikZ – You said “1. Do you think it’s possible to be poly and not a swinger, and to state this without causing offence? I’ve had little interest in casual sex of any kind lately, but I’m still definitely poly.”

    Formally speaking, I don’t think poly or swinger is something we “are.” Poly and swinging are things we DO. Calling ourselves polys or swingers means that we do these things, but in no way means we do poly or swinging exclusively. We would not make the assumption that someone who eats Chinese food does not eat Italian food.

    One of my long time sweeties says there is no such thing as casual sex, but I’m not all that interested in it either. I don’t see swinging as casual sex. The abstract concept of swinging is recreational sex with people who you may or may not have much of an emotional attachment to. The reality of swinging is that some people become regulars at a club or party and develop friendships with other regulars. Over the years these friendships can deepen. So what is the definition of love, anyway?

    I have no problem with people wanting their sex lives to be a certain way, including not wanting to do swinging. What I have a problem with is polys who make an invidious comparisons to swingers, the “We’re not like “those” people. We love people, sex is not part of it, blah, blah, blah.

    Sorry about number 4. Typing long columns in narrow boxes is challenging for my old eyes.

    As far as being offensive goes, my goal is to become the poly Lennie Bruce. The people who crack up when they read what I write are who keep me going. The people I offend, well, they are just into casual text.


  8. John Ullman

    @Jay – Saying sex isn’t an integral, essential part of the meaning of Polyamory because sex isn’t included in the label itself is like saying bats are not a part of baseball because only bases and balls are included in the label.

    It makes no sense to me to call all my loving relationships poly. Certainly not the non-sexual loving relationships I have with relatives, or even people I am sexually attracted to, love, but who have no sexual interest in me.

    The reason polyamory was coined was to have a word for multiple, concurrent, consensual, sexual, relationships. When newbies come along and want to slap the same label on platonic relationships, it offends me.

    The question I have to you “everyone I love is in a poly relationship with me” guys is what do you get out of asserting this? I know it causes incredible angst among the people who want to assert this. But I don’t see anything is lost by saying “I have a poly relationship with A and a platonic relationship with B.”

  9. Jay

    Oh, and as far as labels go… I’m not “open” in the chaotic, anything-goes sense that seems to be the current usage of the term (as compared to the ’80s meaning). Nor do I see myself as particularly sex-positive, other than in comparison with the mainstream.

    My *average* relationship length, lifetime, has thus far been 9 years, including those that fizzled after a few dates or months. And I have kids, who need stability and a safe place at home. And I very rarely play casually or at parties, and even then it tends to be with long-term ongoing FWBs. So I self-identify as polyamorous…

  10. Jay

    With due respect to both John and Mik, I disagree with their #2… polyamory (despite mixing Greek and Latin) is about multiple loves, *not* multiple sexual partners. Otherwise, we would likely instead call it polysexual. Sex is… irrelevant to polyamory.

    That said, sex with one’s beloveds can certainly be fun and desirable, just like other activities together. But it isn’t necessary. Personally, I have a couple of long-term relationships where there is attraction and romance and love… and where we are unlikely to ever be sexual with one another. And other relationships where sex happens. Both sets are valid poly relationships.

  11. Uncharted Love Post author

    Hey everyone! Thanks for the great discussion here. Looks like I really got a lot of people thinking and talking with this one. That’s just great. 🙂 I’m really happy to see lots of people thinking about who and what “we” are, and how those different terms, umbrellas, and labels interact. How are they good? How are they bad? What changes if we change how we think about ourselves? Keep on thinking and writing!

  12. MikZ


    1. Do you think it’s possible to be poly and not a swinger, and to state this without causing offence? I’ve had little interest in casual sex of any kind lately, but I’m still definitely poly.

    2. Agreed. It pissed me off when the bisexual movement took a similar stance here in Sydney in the mid-90s, and it seems we didn’t gain much acceptance until we admitted that actually, we really like sex, just like everyone else. But It’s Not All About The Sex, and that’s important.

    3. I disagree. Whether nature or nurture, I think some people are essentially poly, and others essentially aren’t (and there’s a decent sized grey area). For those who are naturally poly, trying to be monogamous is probably as hard as a gay person trying to be in a straight relationship. And this is what happens for a lot of us, when we first try relationships.

    4. This is no rule four.

    5. Fair enough. I’ve been attracted to some people who talk ‘open’, because it looks a lot like the poly that works for me, as long as there’s room for more real connections too. More recently I stumbled upon a different ‘open’ community, and I found them more tedious because many of them were as hostile to critical thought as the ‘Jesus is the lord’ mob you mentioned.

    6. I agree that swinging and poly aren’t religions, but I know a couple of people who call themselves Jewish Christians, and even more Pagan Jews, and who am I to argue with them?


  13. MikZ

    I should’ve known this was written by you, Dawn—I kept thinking ‘this is excellent’ as I read through.

    To me, one of the most important aspects of polyamory is how fluid it is. Negotiating with your partners about what works—bugger how other people think your relationships should work—is the crux of it. One upshot of this is that people who say ‘that’s not how you do poly’ essentially don’t get poly, and this is also why I’ve always seen poly as an umbrella term.

    Not everyone agrees. I’ve met people who are uncomfortable with ‘all the negotiation’ in poly, and therefore prefer ‘open relationships’. Fine, call yourselves whatever you want, but my relationships these days are quite rules-light and generally don’t require much negotiation, because I choose partners who like it that way. My relationships are poly, but also about about as open as you can get.

    Whether swinging is part of poly depends, in my view, on the swingers in question. It’s a strong argument to say that those parties in San Francisco in the 90s and 2000s were swing parties, the ones where a couple of hundred people would turn up, mostly with their partners, and hook up individually (or with their partners) to a new person or two or seven. Few of the attendees would have identified themselves or the parties as swinging, though, and honestly, the crowds of attractive, upwardly mobile thinking people, including a sizable proportion of gay men and all kinds of expressions of gender fluidity (which helped scare the riff-raff away), weren’t what most outsiders think of when they imagine swinging.

    But those who did identify as swingers were warmly welcome. They were what I would argue are the ‘better’ swingers, those that don’t buy into the patriarchy that sat like an elephant in the room at the majority of explicitly labelled swing parties I’ve attended. They were at the San Francisco parties as part of their agreement with their partners, and had made that agreement on equal footing. This is poly, and, in my view, not inconsistent with swinging as a concept. But it is inconsistent with the bulk of my (admittedly limited) experience with explicitly labelled swing parties, and certainly with the common perception of swinging.

    Swingers aren’t the only group with this image problem. BDSM is understood equally poorly by the mainstream community, and I’ve found some BDSM communities that have similarly rigid gender expectations and ‘this is how relationships should work’ attitudes. And let’s face it, the majority of organised religions that practise nonmonogamy aren’t very supportive of people who want do things differently, especially women.

    Writing this comment is shifting my attitude, and making me seriously question my stance that poly is an umbrella term. I know swingers and plenty of BDSMers in poly relationships, and plenty of people whose poly relationships are enshrined in their religion. All of the relationship agreements are a bit different, and they’re all based on what they agreed on with their partners through fair negotiation, even the 24/7 D/s relationships. They’re all poly. But I also know swingers, BDSMers and people in religiously sanctioned nonmonogamous relationships whose relationships operate to sets of rules that at least one partner has little say in, or are enforced by some outside authority. Those relationships definitely aren’t monogamous, but I wouldn’t call them poly, either. So much for the umbrella.

    This puts us polyfolk in a dilemma. We want to say polyamory is ethical and natural, and for political reasons, we need alliances with other groups who want their nonmonogamous relationships legally recognised. But we don’t support some of the values of those other groups. So this means it’s important to keep the focus on the rights of nonmonogamists (a true umbrella term?), and call out certain ethical concerns as smokescreens, even when we share those concerns. For example, if our opponents point to the patriarchy in Mormonism, we should point back at the patriarchy in religions whose marriages are legally recognised, including most brands of Christianity, and say let’s work together to eliminate the patriarchy, and by the way, what does this have to do with monogamy?

    I haven’t thought this through much yet, so I’m eager for your input, and thank you for the food for thought.

  14. TesFalcon

    Here’s my take on this whole deal:
    The main difference is who is involved, when, and what the permission structure is.
    “lines of relationship” is used a lot in the below description. Attempted clarification:
    Husband/Wife: permanent MF relationship, permission implied as given for sex between them
    BF/GF: short-term or temporary MF relationship, permission possible for sex between them, must get explicit permission before proceeding
    FF: variable permission based on each girl’s sexuality, common, but not to be assumed.
    MM: variable permission based on each man’s sexuality, uncommon and not to be assumed.

    1) “Open: i.e.’Permitted Adultery’. Couple is steady w each other as their primary relationship, but they allow the other to have various temporary dalliances on their own without the other member present. Example: Wife knows her husband is bonking his secretary on Friday nights, but she isn’t going to divorce him over it. The difference in calling it “open” is that husband would tell wife what he’s doing instead of hiding it. Wife might even talk to him about it when he gets home (‘vicarious swinging’). No argument. No “you better stop”. No “i’m outta here unless…”. They’re ‘open’ and honest about what’s going on. Wife does NOT get involved w husband’s outside relationships, but instead she may have a boyfriend of her own on the side as well.

    2) Swinger: Similar to ‘open’ except both are involved in the practice together at the same time with other couples, at parties, etc. either in their presence or out of view. Part of the fun is the ‘illicitness’ of having sex w another man’s wife or another woman’s husband near or in front of their spouse (hence wife-swapping). Not intended as a permanent relationship but a single night of “fun”. Permission implied as given for the night or arranged time period, but permission revoked after that time period. Each visit must be again permitted. Trouble is usually found when private meetings are arranged behind their back (unpermitted), private meet-ups without the other (unpermitted), etc. Swingers do things in the open, but they aren’t ‘open’ about what is done in private.

    3) Polyamory: Multiple long-term relationships simultaneously. Instead of a one-night-stand swinger-style, the woman has multiple husbands (no primary, equally long-term) and/or the husband has multiple wives (no primary, equally long-term) at the same time. Could start from two swinger couples who decide to make it a regular, if not ‘permanent’, situation. Permission is now implied as given by all according to the pre-established lines of relationship. Long-distance relationships are common in this situation since they see each other only when visiting their town. Can get complicated with multiple husbands (sexual), multiple wives (sexual), multiple add-on boyfriends (sexual / non-sexual) or girlfriends (sexual / non-sexual) for each person.

    4) Polygamy: a single person of one gender with multiple spouses of the opposite gender. Permission implied as given between the single gender and all member of the opposite gender he/she is married to. BF or GF are non-sexual relationships under consideration for addition to the marriage (sexual) relationship.
    4a) Polygyny: historically the most common w one husband & multiple wives. Each wife is exclusive to her one husband. The husband is exclusive to his wives. Relations by husband outside the marriage is strongly discouraged. Relations by the wife w other men is unpermitted adultery and grounds for divorce &/or execution. Preferred to grow the population w traceable heredity since one male can easily inseminate multiple females.
    4b) Polyandry: rarest, one wife w multiple husbands. The wife is exclusive to her husbands and the husbands are exclusive to their wife. Relations outside the marriage are not allowed. Preferred to keep the population small.

    1. Uncharted Love Post author

      Hi again TesFalcon: Sorry it took me so long to get to this comment. I agree with much of what you’ve written here. I don’t see “open” as the same as “permitted adultery,” however, and accepting that label would tend to ruffle a lot of feathers. I don’t think most people I know that ID as “open” have rules about NOT getting involved with their partners’ partners, for instance. It’s certainly not a *requirement* either, though.

      I also don’t see “polyamory” as being mainly about “marriage partners” as you described. Certainly what you described is one way of “doing poly.” I also see a lot of poly people who DO have multiple “one night stand” situations, “swinger-style.” They just tend to focus on the relationships, rather than the sex, and thus, polys *tend* to have longer-term relationships than that. But one form of longer-term relationship can be “in community,” and that can mean what might look to outside eyes to be a “one night stand,” when I might view it as “the one time we chose to express our ongoing friendship and relatedness in the sexual realm.” More… friends with option of benefits, I guess.

      I agree that one of the distinctions that I see in practice is that swingers tend to be couple-centric, and “open relationships” might or might not be.

      Thanks for your contributions here!

  15. RunSilent RunDeep

    My wife and I use “ethical non-monogamy,” perhaps for the same reasons that some LGBT people use “queer:” “polyamory” sounds specific but is actually vague, in terms of the actual relationship structures it comprises. So it can confuse the listener about what kind of relationship(s) the speaker is actually describing.

    For example: Do the “loving relationships” involve sex? Exactly how much “knowledge and consent” is involved — for example, do all partners know exactly which positions everyone else used, the last time they had sex? How open is each member to additional “loving relationships”? How open to additional sex partners?

    I have heard these poly people assume that all poly people do what these ones do. I have heard non-poly people assume that all the poly people are eagerly having sex with anyone who is faintly willing.

    Therefore, I think that in practice people are taking the word to be more specific than it actually is.

    “Ethical non-monogamy,” like “queer,” *is* a vague term in terms of relationship structures. And, like “queer,” it can lead to questions that can lead to lots of interesting conversations!

    1. Uncharted Love Post author

      While I sympathize with your use of “ethical non-monogamy,” there’s a school of thought that says it’s best to frame your thoughts in the positive, rather than in the negative. So in other words, it’s generally best to be a SOMETHING, rather than a NOT-somethingelse. The problem is that the brain doesn’t respond well to the “not”, and tends to respond more strongly to the very thing you’re trying not to emphasize. So “turn off the lights when you leave the room” is a better Agreement to make than “don’t leave the lights on,” for instance, because the brain just hears the second part of that second sentence, and unconsciously has you “leaving the lights on.” That’s the basic concept that George Lakoff (whom I referenced in the original post) talks about in his work, e.g., “Moral Politics,” and “Don’t Think of an Elephant.” Unfortunately, the concept of “ethical non-monogamy” necessarily contains “monogamy.” That’s why I — and others I’ve talked with at length over the years — have been working to find something else that describes the ideas without referencing the very thing we’re trying NOT to be, to the point of INVENTING a new term (polyamory) when nothing else quite seemed to fit.

      I absolutely agree that people are taking the word polyamory to be much more specific — both positive and negative — than it actually is. That’s one of the reasons that I keep writing about what it means to me. I think a lot of people have very different ideas about what it means. (Obviously, MINE are the CORRECT ideas! LOL. Kidding, as I’m sure you know.)

      With regard to the word “queer”–I definitely choose to identify as queer, for some of the same reasons that those discussing the concept of “open” have said they like to call themselves that: both mean something that is not restricted to the norm, in essence, with Queer having the tradition meaning of “unusual,” and Open meaning “not contained within the rigid structure.” I think Queer is gradually becoming that “umbrella term” that we have been seeking. In order to do that, though, queers had to “reclaim” the word from being an epithet. I’ve heard others use “slut” in the same way… but so far, that isn’t de-fanged enough to have the same effect for all non-monogamists, in my opinion. There is still too much inherent negative baggage for many people to wear it comfortably… AND it doesn’t necessarily FIT everyone who is in an open or poly relationship. “Open” may be evolving in that direction, as meaning “open to possibilities,” as well as “open to new thoughts on relating” and “open to more than one partner.”

      Thanks very much for your contributions to the discussion here!

  16. John Ullman

    Since I don’t have time to write a book here, I’ll just give my opinions:

    1. “I-am-not-a-swinger” polys give me a royal pain in the ass, and I think piss off swingers who are our natural allies in the struggle to advance sex positive culture.

    2. “Sex-has-nothing-to-do-with-it” polys give me a royal pain in the ass. The word polyamory was first used to describe multiple, concurrent, consensual, SEXUAL, loving relationships. Sex and love. We needed a term for what we were doing, something better than nonmonogamy or consensual adultery. We had people who we loved and fucked and everyone knew what they needed to know.

    3. Poly essentialism gives me a royal pain in the ass. “I’ve always known I was poly” is right up there with “I just know Jesus is the lord.” People are likely born with sexual desires for anything that moves, but not with the desire to practice the complex, learned behavior that is polyamory. Polyamory is an invented means by which we channel desire for multiple partners into a practice that is ethical and respectful of all involved.

    5. I try to stay away from “open” because of its historical baggage, but I’m OK with people using it because you can’t stop them.

    6. Swinging and poly are not religions. You can practice swinging and poly, but you can’t be a Catholic and a Jew. I’ve known people who had poly, swinging, and adulterous relationships, or where poly and patronized sex workers. (I draw the line at adultery for myself.) I’ve met some of my favorite long term poly friends at swing parties. Some of my poly lovers and I used to go to swing parties to enjoy the erotically charged atmosphere. Sometimes people where attracted to us who we found interesting.

    My 2 cents.


    1. Uncharted Love Post author

      1. “I-am-not-a-swinger” polys give me a royal pain in the ass, and I think piss off swingers who are our natural allies in the struggle to advance sex positive culture.

      Sure. But “Swinger” carries a lot of assumptions with it that don’t match what a lot of poly folk do. So how DO we become better allies to each other in advancing sex-positive (or at least not sex-negative…) culture? How DO we understand that we’re all ALLIES in this?

      2. “Sex-has-nothing-to-do-with-it”

      Sex DOES have something to do with it… it’s just not ALL of what goes into poly. As I’ve said before, I generally see polyamory as focusing on relationships, which may or may not include sex. I generally see swinging as focusing on sex, which may or may not include relationships.

      3. Poly essentialism gives me a royal pain in the ass.

      Hey, who are you calling essentialist?? 😉 Seriously, I knew in my teens that I felt something different about my relating, and that I didn’t fit the boxes I’d grown up with. It was, of course, YEARS before I understood WHAT what different, and had a word to use as shorthand. I think that people can understand pretty early that they’re not in line with the monogamous cultural stories. Whether that’s actually “knowing you’re poly” at that point is, I’ll agree, up to interpretation.

      Polyamory is an invented means by which we channel desire for multiple partners into a practice that is ethical and respectful of all involved.

      I’ll agree with that. 🙂 I think it’s akin to the shorthand I mentioned above.

      5. I try to stay away from “open” because of its historical baggage, but I’m OK with people using it because you can’t stop them.

      Right. I think that the historical baggage is starting to fade, though. These days, most people identify as “open” before they’ve heard of that book, for instance. The language is evolving.

      6. Swinging and poly are not religions.

      I guess I’m curious why you think that the fact that poly and swinging “aren’t religions” means that you CAN be both at the same time, whereas you think you CAN’T be both Catholic and a Jew (see MikZ’s comment for more on that one! I know plenty of “Jews for Jesus” and “Jewitches” myself…). Why can you only be one religion, but practice multiple types of non-monogamy?

      Thanks for the short story (as opposed to the book…)!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *