Remember when you asked if that more philosophical and less porny post from FOTB Max Rose was going to happen in your lifetime? Well here it is. Again, many thanks to Max for agreeing to let us exhibit his talents here.
I’ve long known that monogamy doesn’t suit me, but it’s only this year, after some personal changes and reading both Sex at Dawn and The Ethical Slut, that I decided to be open with myself and others about being non-monogamous. But if I’m not monogamous, what actually am I?
Polyamorous is the obvious answer, but I have some problems with both its connotations and the emphasis of some of its advocates. The Latin “amor” in there refers to love, and while from personal experience I know that it’s possible to fall in love with more than one person, I’m not actively looking for romantic love in the “being in love” sense that Emma recently examined. I know that the word encompasses a wide range of non-exclusive sexual experiences, but I get the distinct impression from some practitioners that they’re more approving of the polyfidelity end of the spectrum, and since I’m always going to want adventures, that’s not for me. Besides, I can’t stomach the cod-spiritual self-help language of much of it, and I can’t ignore the stereotypes of free-love hippies and suburban swingers.
Given my less romantic and spiritual approach to sexuality, I notice than some people use the term polyfuckerous in a half-joking sense. Well, yes, there has been and there will be a lot of fucking, but it’s far from the be-all and end-all with me. I don’t believe that you have to love someone, or even know someone’s name, in order to have blindingly good sex, and I thoroughly endorse certain articles that praise casual sex. But I’m not actually very good at one night stands. Most of my recent lovers had been friends before we slept together, and even with those who started as randomish hook-ups, we ended up as longer-term friends and/or lovers. Maybe that’s because I can’t stand most of the meat-market bars around here (I could pull much more often if I weren’t such a music snob); maybe my charms take a while to become apparent; and maybe I do actually prefer a degree of intimacy along with the sex.
So, is polyintimacy the right word for me? I have some very rewarding friendships that are more than platonic, but where the friendship takes on a physical dimension, it’s more sensual than outright sexual. And I love that. I also like the emotional intimacy that I share with several purely platonic friends, and I’ve found that BDSM relationships require a rapid breaking down of boundaries that, if not truly emotionally intimate, can be an astonishingly honest, tender and trusting experience. But in general, the word “intimate” is so ambiguous, used as everything from a euphemism for sex to something that excludes everything short of an exclusive long-term relationship, that it can be more confusing than useful.
Just to complicate things further, I’ve found in the past that I’m much more comfortable agreeing to a certain degree of monogamy if my partner doesn’t mind me flirting with other people, and that might make me polyflirtatious. I often feel that flirtation is more exciting and fulfilling for me than the prospect of actual sex, and I can take a while to warm to sex if there hasn’t been a prelude of playful social and intellectual foreplay (I’m definitely sapiosexual). But while flirtation without intent or possibility of follow-through (e.g. where work, geographical or relationship commitments would make it inadvisable) can add spice and glitter to otherwise platonic relationships, it could also become dangerously frustrating if one were barred from taking it further.
To sum up: I want intimacy, friendship, adventures, filthy sex, flirtation, sensuality and a lot more, but not only do I not expect to find that all with just one person for the rest of my life, I don’t currently want a “primary” partner in a romantic sense, even with external benefits. I’m happy being single, but living within a network of what Sex at Dawn calls “socio-erotic exchanges”, whereby friendships are strengthened through non-exclusive sexuality. I’m loyal to my friends, emotionally and intimately engaged with those I care for, and having a happy cluster of good people somewhere on a continuum from “friend” through to “lover” will be important to me. But I also have had, want to have and will have sexual experiences that are less cuddly and sociable: random pickups, porn, public group sex, paid sex, and unwise yet irresistibly intense love affairs.
So, if I need a label, what would it be? I’m definitely promiscuous, particularly in the etymological sense since I’m in favour of “mixing”, but it’s too loaded a term and it seems to imply I have no standards. While I support the reclamation of the word “slut”, and have jocularly called myself a slut on more than one occasion, it’s still not a useful word. And while I relish the air of dashing immorality that comes with words such as “rake” and “libertine”, they also connote heartlessness and deceit, which I reject.
“Non-monogamous” seems too broad and ambiguous a term, and worse, it normalises monogamy by defining itself in opposition. But on the other hand, I’ve made my way through most of Franklin Veaux’s Non-Monogamy Map, and I’m coming to the realisation that in lieu of a better term, it will have to do. It will tell people what not to expect of me, but not what to expect of me, and now that I think of it: I like it like that.