I’m in a few relationships right now, and because some of them are fairly new, I’m going to write a post about polyamory. Now please note that I am not saying the rules are the same for everyone. I’m just saying that this is how I do things, and I think these rules work well for me.
First: The most important thing to remember about the poly lifestyle is that STDs are a big deal. To explore this in greater detail, let’s think about how many people are directly effected by one partner getting an STD.
I am currently sleeping with my husband, as well as a man we’ll call Mr. Greyson, and a man we’ll call Mr. Slick. So on the first tier, all of those people are directly effected. (That’s 3 people.)
Now my husband is sleeping with two other girls. So if I get an STD, those other girls will have a problem as well. Mr. Greyson is also sleeping with two other girls. and so they are also effected. And Mr. Slick is dating two girls besides me as well, bringing the grand total of the second tier of people effected to six (adding first tier people this is a total of 9 so far).
AND if the girlfriends of my husband, Mr. Greyson, and Mr. Slick are sleeping with other people (and they likely are) then the effects spread even farther.
It can get confusing enough to need a white board…
Now let’s talk about how STDs spread, for those who are unaware.
An STD (or sexually transmitted disease) is a virus or bacteria that lives in your penis or vagina, and depending on the STD, also in your blood. (This is why for a full panel of STD tests they take both a swab and a few vials of blood.) Keep in mind that these viruses and bacteria are capable of being spread through a single cell. Just one cell getting from a sexual partner onto you can infect you. So even if you wear a condom, the skin to skin contact from more vigorous sex can certainly spread an STD from one person to the other. Not to mention that any oral sex can spread cells from one person to another as well. STDs are very contagious, and thinking “if I wear condoms everything will be okay” is crazy talk.
Now, another important thing to note is that many STDs are completely symptom-free. So if you have HPV or Clymidia (for example) you will not know it. You won’t have a rash, or strange smells, or any discharge. Many STDs present with no symptoms at all, and you can spread them even if you don’t know you have them.
So how do you keep from giving something to your partners, who will pass it on to their partners?
The very best way to handle this is simple: Every single time you add a new partner, you must require an STD test from them (and provide them one in return). Many places offer cheap testing based on your income, and colleges often have partnerships with health organizations to offer free testing a few times a year. You can go see your regular doctor as well, but I understand that some people are too shy to ask their family doctor for STD tests, and I respect shyness to a point (just go get tested somewhere else!!!)
It’s also necessary to have a honest and frank discussion with each partner, explaining that when they add a new partner, they need to require paperwork too. And if they refuse, then however attractive and awesome they may be, you have to go and find someone else who can handle a mature poly relationship. Because when you take risks on untested people who refuse to provide documentation that they are STD-free, you are risking a lot more than just yourself.
Just one tiny cell can ruin your entire life, and the lives of the people you love…
Thankfully, most STDs are treatable. A simple course of antibiotics will fix the problem, and then you’re free to go back to a slutty lifestyle.
Remember that trust is important, and that sometimes you place your trust in people that don’t deserve it. I have a friend who did that, and I am sad for her because she is now living with Herpes. There is no cure, and it has ruined her sex life and her hopes of settling down and having a husband and kids.
*This is because she’d have to find a partner that also had it, and that she liked enough- a very tiny intersection of a large ven diagram.
Every time I think that I’d like to just take a guy or girl home from the bar and have wild sex with them, I remember her and I know it’s not worth the risk.
Anyway, sorry for that. I know talk of STDs is heavy and no one ever wants to talk about it. I make folks uncomfortable all the time by forcing the issue, and I know that sometimes they wish I wouldn’t.
Alice’s chart, from “The L Word”
Second: Jealousy is a thing.
Look; I know a lot of people in poly relationships like to act like they are above jealousy. They pretend that they don’t care at all about who their partners sleep with. But there will always be little stabs of jealousy that crop up from time to time, because that is how humans work.
There is no easy cure for this problem. I can’t give you some quick-fix advice for how to avoid being jealous. But I can share with you the way I like to look at my partners other partners, and maybe that will help just a little.
So when I sleep with someone I bond with them to some extent, because oxytocin (a bonding hormone released during sex) is a powerful thing. And you can assume that bonding with someone means caring at least a little bit about their well-being. So I like to look at things from their point of view.
Let’s take the example of Mr. Greyson, who I have been seeing for a few months now. Prior to dating me, he had been single for 3 years following a somewhat painful divorce. So, when he tells me about a girl he met or someone that he plans to sleep with or has slept with, I am proud of him for being gutsy enough to put himself out there are take risks again. I am happy for him, because each new person he adds to his life helps him build up his confidence and self-worth. When I look at it this way, how could I be jealous? I am happy that he is happy, and that tends to drown out any other emotions.
Every situation is different and every bond is different. No two relationships are ever the same. So obviously the bond I have with Mr. Greyson is different than with other people I am seeing. But in each relationship, I can look at things from the other person’s point of view and find reasons to be happy because they are happy. So, that usually makes the jealousy melt away.
If you do end up feeling jealous, take some time to think about why.
One of my husband’s girlfriends bothered me and I wasn’t sure why at first. But over time I came to realize that it was because she wished he was married to her, and she wanted me out of the picture. Because of this, I found myself uncomfortable with the relationship, and my husband ended things with her.
Talk to your partners about feelings that you have and be open and honest. It is the only way to solve your problems and to make sure everyone is happy.
Yes, you should use whatever term you want to describe it.
Third: Logistics are a bitch, and that is never going to change.
I hate Valentine’s day. I hate it so much that I really have no words to describe my utter loathing for this stupid fucking holiday.
Do I spend Valentine’s day with my husband? Do I spend it with whatever partner is most emotionally needy? If I want to spend it with one partner, but they want to spend it with someone else, am I allowed to feel hurt about that?
I usually solve this problem by spending it at work, or by myself. I just give up.
But there’s a lot more to logistics than who you should spend holidays with. For example: Do I want my partners to meet each other? Would they react well to one another? What happens if they don’t like each other? Or what happens if they REALLY like each other and they both forget about me all the time and hang with each other instead?
Everyone tackles the problem of logistics differently, and they should because everyone feels differently about this issue. I can tell you that for me personally, I find it easiest to keep things as separate as possible. This is mostly because I am seeing people both 10 years younger than me and 10 years older than me, and I think 20-year ago gaps can make things a little weird.
I also am seeing people who are pretty new to the poly lifestyle, and I am afraid they would start trying to compare one another. I don’t need my 21-year-old boy feeling insecure because my 42-year-old lover might know more about sex than him, nor do I want my 42-year-old lover feeling insecure because my 21-year-old boy-toy has a better body. And I don’t want any of them comparing penis size because that would make me break out in hives! YOU guys know how much I hate guys who measure their worth by the size of their cock.
In the past, with a different set of people, I did introduce one to the other. And they all became friends and never fought over my time because they liked each other and wanted to share. Sometimes this can lead to wonderful friendships and amazing leather families forming. Love can multiply so much between two people, and it seems it can multiply an order of magnitude more between three and an order of magnitude more between four.
I guess the moral of the story is to take it one day at a time, and be willing to accept change and evolution of relationships over time.
These are just some of the key points. Obviously I could write a book about the poly lifestyle because, for those who are new to it, there is an overwhelming amount of information to process. It is a whole new way of seeing relationships and of seeing the world. But for now, I feel this blog entry is long enough. So, I’ll leave you with one final thought on the lifestyle:
Poly relationships require a great deal of responsibility. You are responsible for the health and love of many people, and it is important to realize what kind of a commitment that is. The lifestyle is not for everyone, and it’s okay if you try it and realize it’s not for you. Lots of people feel safer and happier in a monogamous relationship, and I will never judge them for that.
Until next time, be safe and happy all you crazy kids!