Psychology
07 Aug 2018

Polyamory -- Women’s answer to what men have been doing secretly for years

With polyamory, women can choose sex based on plain rules, friendly relations and honesty, not secret affairs with co-workers or prostitutes.

Wysokie Obcasy
Paulina Reiter Wysokie Obcasy, Global
Polyamory -- Women’s answer to what men have been doing secretly for years - NewsMavens
Locks and keys, Flickr Commons

The following is a selection of fragments from Paulina Reiter’s interview with Polish sexologist Alicja Długołęcka which appeared in the Polish weekly “Wysokie Obcasy” in October 2015.

Paulina Reiter: What is polyamory?

Alicja Długołęcka: It refers to what we often call "free love" -- a concept which appeared in the 1960s in opposition to the institution of marriage. Ironically, neither the new liberal movement nor marriage in its conservative form had much in common with love. To me, “free love” sounds redundant, as freedom is and has always been the essential ingredient of love. Perhaps it relates to a kind of moral liberty within the relationship?

PR: In the introduction to The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities, the authors claim that being openly sexual and intimate with many people is a rewarding experience and they strongly believe in people’s natural ability to love more than one person at a time.

In my opinion, polyamory is more about sex than love.

I’d also like to stress that the word “ethical” in the title has a very crucial meaning. It emphasizes the fact that all people involved in the polyamorous relationship are fully aware of the arrangement and they agree on certain rules and ethical standards.

PR: What sort of rules?

Rules preventing anyone from getting hurt: maintaining honesty, the equality of each relationship and clear boundaries. As well as rules about keeping one partner's secrets safe from the others, respecting the privacy of each relationship and treasuring the rituals we share with individual lovers. It’s difficult, as things might get out of control, but with the right perspective and emotional superficiality, it can work out.

PR: Emotional superficiality?

I instinctively associate polyamory with a specific phase in life when, as young people, we seek new social and sexual adventures, test our limits and try to get to know ourselves inside or outside various relationships.

It doesn’t mean that mature people lack that adolescent urge to experiment and enter unexpected situations. I’m only saying that we’re more sensible. We value the quality and depth of relationships  and no longer throw ourselves into flings and affairs, as years of experience taught us they can cause more pain than pleasure.

But if the bond between us and our current partner is not particularly close and the desire for sexual connection with other people occurs on both (!) sides, then polyamory seems possible.

Sex without love can be enjoyable if it’s based on mutual warmth and fascination. Although I would probably classify it more as a “friends with benefits” arrangement and wouldn’t call it love. Such relationships don’t seem to last long either.

Unfortunately, polyamory can also serve as a perfect excuse for those with extremely selfish attitudes: “I love everyone (two or three people, in fact!) so I’m entitled to everything they offer. After all, that’s what they are asking for!” If you are narcissistic and cunning enough, using polyamory to manipulate your partner is a piece of cake.

 PR: Men have been indulging themselves with sexual liberty for ages, but always secretly.

Many of them keep doing it to this day.

If you question one of these men, he will undoubtedly say that he loves his wife dearly but that he’s also seeing one, two or three other women in different cities and will claim to love every single one of them in his own way.

More often than not, these women are completely oblivious to the situation and even remain faithful to their seemingly monogamous partner. I’m fairly sure there’s a reason the polyamory movement was founded by women and I’d venture to say -- even though it might sound stereotypical -- that women are more emotional about sex than men.

PR: Is polyamory an emancipation movement?

I would say so. It’s no coincidence that most textbooks on polyamory, including The Ethical Slut, were written by women -- hippie women -- who were associated with women’s emancipation in the 1960s. Polyamory is a female response to what men have been doing behind our backs for years. The difference is: women decided to play fair. They chose free sex based on plain rules, friendly relations and honesty, not secret affairs with co-workers or prostitutes.

PR: Let’s say that having switched to polyamory, I meet a man (also polyamorous) with whom I seem to have an excellent sexual connection. I’m fascinated and rather keen. After a few weeks he starts seeing another woman, who makes him feel equally special. It might hurt a little, right?

A little? It’s like a slap in the face. Men’s most effective method of seduction is making a woman feel special. Each of us has this strange, inborn need to hear from a partner that she’s unique. If a man realizes it and he knows how to play his cards right, he could seduce almost every woman. Nevertheless, according to polyamory, the fact that your partner is attracted to someone else doesn’t mean that your relationship stopped being special. It’s as exceptional as your partner’s new entanglement, but in a different way.

PR: Can we observe any analogy between the situation in polyamorous relationships and the famous quote in George Orwell’s Animal Farm: All [partners] are equal but some are more equal than others?

Absolutely. In a network of relationships there is always a stronger feeling between ourselves and one of our partners. But what are we going to do with the rest of our lovers?

I don’t believe in the permanence of polyamory. Nearly all of us go through phases in life when we generally feel more open to other people, sexually or non-sexually.

Consider that the word “slut” used in the title has an extremely negative connotation mainly because it relates to sex. If we take away its sexual aspect and refer to someone sociable, outgoing, having many friends, then...

PR:...they’re suddenly seen in a good light.

All social relations, romantic or not, undergo a small reshuffle from time to time. Sometimes life validates the situation for us: something unexpected happens -- a death in the family or a terminal illness -- and we’re left surrounded by only a few, close friends. The same mechanism applies to polyamorous relationships; it’s very likely that this one partner, who comforts us and firmly stays by our side in the face of tragedy, will become special and more precious than the others. The equality ceases and the network falls apart.

PR: As a monogamous person, what could I learn from polyamory?

As I was reading The Ethical Slut, I thought that it’s the perfect guidebook for female victims of infidelity, even though I’m fully aware that the authors would probably not be pleased with my interpretation. The book teaches how to deal with our jealousy, reduce the pain after a partner’s affair  and stop generating emotions that destroy us. It explains that we’re all valuable and the fact that our partner chose to have sex with someone else, doesn’t reduce our value in the slightest. It might for some time “disconnect” us sexually, but it won’t and never should deprive us of our identity.

***

Alicja Długołęcka is a Polish sexologist, and author of numerous books including: Seks na Wysokich Obcasach (Sex on High Heels) and a lecturer at the Department of Psychotherapy and Sexual Rehabilitation at Jósef Piłsudski University of Physical Education in Warsaw.

--Translated from Polish by Martyna Kardach

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