Sex, sex, sex, it’s as if that’s all anybody thinks about. Granted, lawmakers in Texas and Virginia would have us never consider it outside the holy matrimonial bonds of rigid social structure, but alas to ideological demagogues, biology smirks and keeps our minds quite amply filled with lasciviousness.
Getting definitions out of the way. Polyamory: a relational style with an intention towards and creation of multiple emotional relationships that may include a sexual connection. Sex-Positive: an ideological stance advocating free and open sexual behavior within the bounds of mutual safety and respect.
At first glance the question of the connection between poly and sex-positive is an exclamation of “well duh!” All one has to do is look at the common media portrayal and it’s quite clear that the poly desire for multiple relationships is truly all about the sex, with relationship often being defined almost entirely within that context. This isn’t entirely without just cause and am reminded of my initial inquiries into what poly is. I remember agreeing with much of the ideas behind emotional intimacy and resonating with the reality of loving multiple people in line with the particular connection that each individual makes. However, when faced with going any further I would declare “yes, but why does it have to go to THAT?” That of course being sex.
Particularly in American society, intimacy tends to be synonymous with feelings of sexuality and if not actual practice at least discussion concerning the so-called pull of sexual energy is assumed must be a part of the situation. The constant articles and debates being posted concerning whether men and women can “just be friends” is an indication of this mindset. Noting the hetero-normativity here, I in no way wish to diminish the legitimate pressures with the gay and lesbian communities that may exist, but given my lack of knowledge and personal experience in those groups I do not wish to assume anything out of a place of ignorance and very much hope those more intimately acquainted will voice their opinion as to whether a similar social pressure exists or not.
Intimacy, as any person practicing polyamory knows, (just as frankly anybody who spends more than a moment considering the various levels of intimacy in relationships) is much more than sexuality and encompasses a feeling of contentment, acceptance and the intentionality of creating a connection. That connection may incorporate physicality in the actions of cuddling, hugs and touch, but none of those things are of a necessity conflated with sexuality (considerations of general “sexual energy” is for another discussion). However, considering the societal bipolarity with which sex is treated, both explicitly promoting an explicit sexuality in advertisements and cinema and yet being afraid of talking about sex with teens under the hubris of abstinence, intimacy becomes intimately linked with sex. Therefore those who are explicit in their intention of creating intimate partnerships with any number of people are going to be assumed to be engaging in sex.
That polyamory for its practitioners does not assume this is clear through discussion though ultimately not the point. In noting the connection between poly and sex-positive, we have no option here other than to acknowledge how intimacy is often conflated with sexual acts. Time and energy spent attempting to dissuade people from the assumed link seems to me to be better spent embracing the identity with sex-positive and using our lives as examples of what it means to view sex as a means of intimate practice that is respectful, open, honest and honoring of the individual. And let’s face it, poly relationships do most often involve some sort of sexual play. Denying the link seems a tad disingenuous or just silly. 🙂
Accepting the connection between sex-positive and poly, leads to, as noted above, an empowerment concerning our role in promoting a new social mindset. Being sex-positive is not about actually engaging in any and all forms of sexuality regardless of desire or personal sympathy, it simply, like poly in connection with relationships, has the intention of honestly pursuing interests to their fullest potential (see Joys Of The Flesh). The synonymity of poly and sex-positive is a good one, though of course one can be sex-positive and not poly. The relational context in which sexuality is expressed is not of concern in being positive towards sexuality, indeed a great many monogamous couples would likely find themselves happier if they were to explore more and shame less. That the absurd 50 Shades of Grey is flying off the shelves and soon to come to a theatre is a testament to society’s barely-contained need for sexual exploration and freedom.
In our appreciation for varied people, dedication to personal authentic expression, responsible action concerning safe sex practices, holding people in their wants and needs whatever they may be and having a conversation about how they can or may not be met by any particular relationship configuration, polyamory stands for the essential aspects of a relational dynamic that allows being sex-positive to flourish. Notice that none of the elements just mentioned require multiple partners or even any emotionally intimate partners at all. These pieces are part of any sound and healthy relationship, whatever the form it may take.
Given the prevalent immediate connection between intimate relationships and sex and how polyamory is so often seen as, embracing this reality allows all involved to actively promote these qualities to those around us and in whatever means we can for society at large. Perhaps when sexuality is seen less as something to be hidden in overt or covert displays of shame and uncertainty, we will then be ready to see how intimacy is so much more than a sexual thing and embrace the many varied levels of relationships human beings can create when barriers are to be reached across rather than built higher.
© David Teachout