A piece in The Times reviewed my book. It started,
“Imagine sitting on your sofa on a Sunday afternoon hearing a couple upstairs having boisterous sex. The person making the headboard rattle is your husband with another woman, but that’s OK: there is no deceit or recrimination here. Because alongside you on the sofa is said woman’s husband with whom, for several months, you too have been having an ebulliently sexual, loving relationship.”
Before I read the piece, I was overjoyed at the prospect of being featured in such a well respected publication as The Times. But I don’t know how the journalist came to this conclusion. I mentioned nothing of the sort. I do nothing of the sort. I don’t particularly want to imagine my partner and his partner having sex boisterously upstairs. Or, indeed anyone having sex boisterously within my hearing. I love sex, but I put it in the same category as Wagner: I have to be in the right mood for it (and even for hearing it). It’s not the soundtrack to my life I want on a Sunday afternoon (it’s very distracting). If two people were boisterously having sex and I heard it, I’d probably go out to the nearest cafe with my mac and have a coffee. Later I would ask them to keep it down please. But no, the media, even The Times, prefers to cast me in their Deep Throat scenarios and there’s not much I can do about it.
Despite the fact the polyamorous community says it over and over again – polyamory is ‘not just about sex’ – the monogamously inclined media (and indeed anyone who learns about polyamory for the first time) cannot get past the fact that sex is a potential component in several relationships. Yet polyamory is by definition ‘many loves’. Sex might be a component and it also might not be. So what?
Mainstream media perception and focus on sex as the principle driver of polyamorous relationships, is not only incorrect, but it has damaged the inclusive meaning of polyamory to such a extent that I don’t know whether we can recover the word. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Many previously self-defined ‘polyamorous’ folk like me, are examining whether the term ‘relationship anarchist’ suits us better instead, which we feel allows us the freedom – for the moment untainted by media misconception – to build intimate non-hierarchical relationships and potentially a community based on trust, freedom and consent; where sex is only one of many forms of connection… and not by any means, an obligatory one. It’s a pity. Because for many this was the original intent behind the definition of polyamory in the first place. It’s not just about the sex.
Being a relationship anarchist – say the relationship anarchists – can includes LGBTQIA and non-queer folk. Monogamous and polyamorous folk. Highly sexual and asexual folk. It allows intersectionality which is so often ignored by biased mainstream reporting on polyamory. And as we look at supporting the evolution of non-traditional relationships, isn’t it useful to concentrate less on what form of connection people have, and more on supporting our changing community? To be relationship neutral? Let’s say three single Mums choose to live together and raise their children together, it’s really no one’s business if they have a sexual relationship. What they need, from a legal and society standpoint are the contracts and structures to cater to their chosen configuration. Our fictive three Mums are – at the very least – emotionally close, intimately involved in each other’s decision making and child rearing. Their intentional community, their tri-party relationship holds validity and importance, whether it involves sex or not simply because they have chosen it to be so. Sex is not the only thing that validates an loving relationship. It’s not just about sex.
After the massive publicity splash at the beginning of the year where, let’s just say, that the sex-focused Times piece was among the most complimentary, I withdrew for a time from the media circus which projected false layer upon false layer of objectification, slut-shaming and drama onto my loving relationships.
I have loving relationships with several friends and am developing a loving relationship with my new metamour (partner of my partner). I have a loving relationship with my partner of eight years, the father of my children. I have a loving relationship with my boyfriend of two years. And when I say loving, I (mostly) don’t mean sexual.
But people – even supposed friends of mine – can’t let it go…
But what about the sex? Who do you have sex with? How often do you do it with each one? Do you all have sex together? Is it better with one than with the other? If you don’t have sex with them, what holds you together? How can you be together without the sex! TELL US ABOUT THE SEX!!!
‘We are together,’ I say, ‘because right now, we choose to be together.’
But apparently my response is not acceptable. I am not allowed to choose. The validity of my intimate relationships is only judged according to the presence or absence of sex. Here’s the thing. Polyamory might not ‘just be about the sex’, but apparently that’s all the monogamous mainstream cares about.