A very drunk acquaintance approached me at a public function last weekend with this: “Hey! I have to talk to you later. There’s something I think you’ll be really interested in.” From the way he lowered his voice and said this into my ear, and from the tone of his voice, I knew instantly that whatever it was he wanted to talk about, it had something to do with sex. Intrigued and a bit nervous, I sought him out later and asked what was up. He told me that he had recently attended an orgy and that it was amazing — that everyone was really cool and they all hung out the next day. He thought I’d enjoy it and wanted to see if I’d be interested in joining the next time they met up. I asked some questions: Did everyone discuss sexual health and STI checks beforehand? Yes, he said. How do you know these people? They were random strangers who approached him on the beach last summer and wanted to hang out. A tad dodgy, but I said I’d give it a think.
And I did. I thought about it a LOT. And the conclusion I came up with is: I’m just not up for it. Immediately after I made the decision to pass on the orgy, I felt the weirdest and most unexpected feeling: reverse sex shame (shame for choosing not to do the sexy thing). I’m someone who has talked about sex more than anyone really cares to hear about it my whole life, much to the chagrin of some partners and some of my more conservative friends. I’ve encouraged everyone I know to me more open and experimental sexually; here was my opportunity to try something I’ve never done before with someone who is not only a person I personally know, but who’s also really attractive. I’m going to say no, and I feel ashamed for it. I feel ashamed for passing on a new sexual experience because I’m that girl that talks about sex all the time. Even though the idea of attending this orgy makes me uncomfortable for several reasons, I feel like I should go and that something is wrong with me for not wanting to. Reverse sex shame.
Why the discomfort? I’ve managed to spend five years in this country without sticking my dick in the neighborhood. For five whole years I have not fucked one single person who hangs out in the expat bars I hang out in, so I’ve avoided small social circle drama (at least that social circle) and being the subject of locker room talk. I feel completely comfortable being myself there because I’m not worried about getting into anyone’s pants or anyone trying to get into mine; it’s a safe space where I can just bro out.
Also, I’m just not an exhibitionist (at least not in groups / not while I’m sober). I cherish my privacy and don’t even feel comfortable speaking in front of a room of my peers, let alone comfortable fucking in a room full of people! Not much of a voyeur, either. My kinks — and there are many– lie elsewhere. I enjoy sex for the connection; even if it’s with a stranger (or two), even if it’s only for a night, I savor the feeling of closeness that comes from learning in depth about someone’s body and desires. But even as I type this, I’m experiencing a very strange reactionary response to my own feelings and desire for intimacy.
I compartmentalize my life and spend time with a lot of different social groups; doing so gives me a sense of emotional security. I deeply respect and admire polycules and people whose lovers and friends are the same people and who can be all, “We’re a totally fluid community and we have no labels or separate spaces and just transition seamlessly from one type of relationship to another,” but it’s not my jam. I’ve hooked up with friends who I was incompatible with sexually and just went back to being friends, no problem… and I don’t look at these people every time we hang out and think, “Eek! You’ve seen me naked!” But because of where I know this guy from (sports bars where we hang out with a bunch of dudes), it feels different.
Maybe it’s because I read so many books and listen to so many podcasts about sex that I’m feeling unnerved both that I don’t want to participate in this orgy AND that I’m feeling shame about that… I feel like there’s a giant question mark floating over my head asking “Where is this coming from?”
Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert
This book has changed the entire way that I look at and talk about relationships, and I honestly believe that the philosophy behind it has the power to radically transform societal relationship narratives. It is a long, thorough, and complex book to be considered carefully, while simultaneously being engaging and fun to read — quite an amazing feat!
Although ostensibly about polyamory, the ideas and lived experiences that went into this book are applicable to anyone who’s in a relationship. Any kind of relationship. In fact, it applies to everyone who cares about another human being. The focus of the second section of More Than Two is self-care, nurturing relationships, communication strategies and pitfalls, and jealousy. Chapter nine, regarding boundaries, is also beneficial for anyone in a relationship. Even though the rest of the book focuses on polyamorous frameworks, structures, transitions, and community, the threads of section two are woven throughout the book, and the authors continuously come back to them, which makes the entire book a beneficial read for all people, regardless of their chosen relationship model.
As this book is largely about building and maintaining ethical relationships within a polyamorous framework, Veaux and Rickert present two axiomatic ethical principles that underlie the content of More Than Two: First, don’t treat people as things. Second, the people in the relationship are more important than the relationship. Within these axioms are the ideas that all relationships should be consensual (which requires a lot of honesty; you can’t give consent without being informed), that we shouldn’t sacrifice the self for the relationship or expect others to do so, that seeing partners as need-meeting machines dehumanizes them, that one partner’s needs are not more important than the other’s (the needs and desires of everyone involved should be recognized), and that we are not entitled to anyone’s time or love — that being in a relationship and giving our love and time is a choice. The Relationship Bill of Rights included in chapter three is invaluable as a conversational springboard.
Some things that I absolutely love about this book:
- It doesn’t present polyamory in a Utopian or ideal way; in fact, the introduction lays out that polyamory is hard fucking work, that it’s not inherently safe, that growth often includes pain, that it means being vulnerable and giving things up, and that we can’t control and shouldn’t try to prescribe how relationships will grow and change.
- It presents monogamy as a legitimate relationship model and specifically claims that polyamory is not more advanced, enlightened, or progressive than monogamy. There are people on polyamory discussion boards who disagree with this interpretation because Veaux and Rickert criticize the relationship escalator and the socialization of Oneitis that stems from fairy tales and romantic comedies; however, I don’t see a critique of the way we’re socialized to believe that we have one true soul mate and that if we don’t find that person we’ve failed as synonymous with a critique of choosing to be in a mindful and ethical monogamous relationship.
- At the end of each chapter are self-reflection questions to guide the reader through applications of the theories and themes of that chapter to his or her (or hir) life. I’m bringing a bunch of these questions with me on vacation and am planning to actually write out answers. It’s like therapy, but for the cost of a book.
- More Than Two espouses compassion and non-judgment in all of our interactions with people we care about; it advocates the use of active listening; and it encourages readers to own their choices (and feelings) and acknowledge that our choices have real-life consequences. It tells us to assume good intention on the part of our partners, which is an incredibly valuable relationship skill.
- It presents the idea that self-worth cannot come from another person; it has to be built from within. That it’s very difficult to have agency within a relationship unless you feel secure, and security is something that has to be practiced. That you must have compassion for yourself in addition to being aware of your needs, value, limitations, and boundaries.
- The authors write about their own experiences and how they’ve learned from them. They don’t present themselves as perfect experts; they present themselves as people who have fucked up, have learned from their mistakes and the mistakes of others, and are in the process of continuing to learn from their relationships and the relationships of others in their communities and networks.
I consider myself ethically non-monogamous; before reading More Than Two, I never would have considered myself a polyamorous person, even though I’ve had the experience of being in love with more than one person at the same time. In fact, I often joke that I’m barely amorous, so how can I be polyamorous? As an intensely introverted person, the idea of committing the kind of time it takes to make a romantic relationship work with more than one person while still maintaining close ties with friends and family and working and having hobbies scares me a bit. Or at least it did. I didn’t realize until reading More Than Two that a lot of poly people have long-distance relationships in which they only see their LDR partner(s) once or twice a year. Or that relationships can be what you choose to make them, which although it seems fairly obvious, is kind of a radical idea. So maybe I am poly. Still figuring that out… and very glad to have Franklin and Eve supporting me along the way.