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The pleasures and perils of polyamory: Some questions answered

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Polyamory – the practice of loving more than one person poly (many) amory (love) – has been a cultural practice in many cultures across history but as a modern urban phenomenon, it has been largely a US phenomenon, coming out of the sex-positive feminist movement in that country. Sex positivism is that part of the women’s movement (in that otherwise deeply conservative hellhole of a country) that affirms sex and sexual pleasure and makes of it a feminist project. The dominant movement in the US is conservative, anti-pleasure, anti-porn, the sex negative brigade. There’s a wonderful book on the subject for those of you who are interested called The Sex Wars: Sexual Dissent and Political Culture edited by Lisa Duggan and Nan Hunter).

The classic book on polyamory where you need to begin if you are interested in the subject is The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. It is a wonderful book, written by two kickass women and it lays out many of the problems and possibilities in the world of polyamory but its context is the US.

What about polyamory here? As someone who started two polyamory groups in Madras and Hyderabad, I can tell you things are difficult. People are tentative, scared, inhibited and unsure. There are several questions (apprehensions, actually, fears even) that people have about polyamory. These include: how does one deal with jealousy? How does one manage time with multiple relationships? How does one know if someone is looking for plain sex in the garb of polyamory? How does one be ethical in polyamorous relationships? How do you raise children in a polyamorous set up?

Let us answer just these five questions for now:

  1. How does one deal with jealousy?

Jealousy is an emotion based on ownership, possession and control. Because monogamy is the dominant norm for the last few decades in so-called modern, industrialised societies, we think it is has been dominant through human history (wrong) that it is the only form of organising amorous relationships (wrong) and that jealousy is a sign of love (wrong). Most crimes in so-called modern countries are based on jealousy where partners kill each other (usually men killing women, of course), ‘crimes of passion’ they are called and implicit in law and culture (law comes out of culture anyway) is a legitimacy for such crimes. ‘He was emotionally distraught because he loved her and so he did it,’ is the argument. Romance in popular cinemas across the world celebrate jealousy as the signature of love. This makes us forget that jealousy is a stinking, rabid thing based on thinking someone belongs to you, like your underwear or your favourite tshirt. The question of jealousy does not arise in polyamory because polyamorous people believe we love many people at the same time and that that only increases the enchantment of our lives and the world, does not diminish them.

  1. How does one manage time with multiple relationships?

Just like you manage several friends, relatives, family members. By making time time for each of them and by meeting many of them together as well. Implicit in this question is another myth we hold dear: that the only meaningful relationships we have must be exclusive, must be one-on-one, monogamy again. This is nonsense. Collective relationships can be equally if not more fulfilling and beautiful and the communitarian quality of them bodes well for the future of the world and humans as a species.

  1. How does one know if someone is looking for plain sex in the garb of polyamory?

Such a jerk would be clear enough to spot. Polyamory is about relationships which may or may not involve sex but they definitely involve amor or love. So if some tharki guy is just looking for sex, he should be given the boot. The groups I started began with reading The Ethical Slut together and setting ground rules. No place for priapics there.

  1. How does one be ethical in polyamorous relationships?

This is the most difficult question and one on which many polyamorous relationships and groups founder. There is no template but the ethics is drawn up by people and groups together. There is no one map. However, there is a foundation. That is that you have to be open as a person and as respectful of others’ desires, their dreams, their hopes as you are of your own. You can’t make demands because you fee emotionally needy or you are insecure and rules can’t be re-drawn by you unilaterally. All rules are formulated in dialogue with the others in the relationships. You have to remember that you a person and all persons are in process, evolving, and you have to give yourself a chance to evolve.

  1. How do you raise children in a polyamorous set up?

You raise them like people usually do. Badly, that is. Except that you have a chance to bring them up better because there are so many people involved. As the saying goes, it takes a village. Again, implicit in this question is the stupid myth that children need one father and one mother or otherwise they will be traumatised for life. Never mind that 90% of the world seems to have one father and one mother and are definitely fucking traumatised for life, so fuck that theory.

That’s it for today! Have a lot of polyamorous fun!

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