Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Ethical Slut

Polyamory is not for me. This became apparent when I read The Ethical Slut a few years ago and marveled at the rigorous personal responsibility and communication necessary to support a healthy, respectful open relationship. There's nothing inherently wrong with a person having multiple romantic partners at once. The problem I see arising as more people take to this relational model is that good communication and personal responsibility are not naturally occurring in most relationships, polyamorous or otherwise. I won't pretend to be some kind of ascendant master. I have made irresponsible choices in my romantic relationships...which is why I feel like it's okay for me to let you know that polyamory probably isn't for you, either.

Like so many things, polyamory is something that's worth doing well. We should strive to be excellent to one another in all our relating, but this becomes especially important the more intimate the relating becomes.
If you are uncomfortable having an honest conversation about feelings or boundaries, polyamory is not for you.
If you will not take responsibility for your own physical health and how it could impact your partner, polyamory is not for you.
If you are not sensitive to how your behavior affects other people, polyamory is not for you.
If you are having sex with multiple partners, do they know? If not, why haven't you told them? If you think it's none of their business, polyamory is definitely definitely not for you.

Sex is important and should be respected. Setting aside the emotional component, there are very serious possible physical implications from the act. My mama always said that if you're not comfortable talking about it, you shouldn't be doing it. Again, I don't necessarily see anything wrong with someone having a multitude of lovers but it becomes problematic, unethical even, if this has not been established as permissible with all the interested parties. It's childish and selfish to pretend that your partners don't have a right to make informed decisions about what they do with their bodies, particularly if you're participating in unprotected sex. In not telling your partners about your habits, you're making the choice for them, and that's not okay.

Open relationships are for the unabashedly honest, the courageously open, the deeply confident, the impressively flexible.
Can you communicate your feelings and boundaries in a clear, timely fashion?
Do you take total responsibility for your body and behavior, and how they can affect others?
Do you respect your partners enough to give them the relevant information necessary to make their own, well-informed choices?
If you answered yes to all these questions, congratulations! Polyamory may be for you.
If you answered no to any of these questions, here are some things to consider...

Perhaps you should stop having sex for awhile. Take some time to reflect on the motivation and intention beneath your sexual choices. Are you lonely? Are you empty? Are you angry? Are you grieving? How do you feel about yourself and your worth? Is sex a tool of avoidance or a way to connect? Do you feel comfortable and confident communicating your needs and boundaries with your partner(s)? If not, why?

These are worthwhile questions for any sexually active person to ask themselves, regardless of the amount of partners they have.

Any common animal can live from the groin on instinct. Living a mindful, conscious life requires seeking out the truth of who we are, and it is this mindfulness that makes us human. Humans have a vastly rich, complex communication system. We speak roughly 6,500 languages nuanced by tone of voice, cadence, inflection, facial expression, body language, context and culture. Communicating well, to positively enhance relationships, should be taught at every stage of development but it's not. We're left to fumble through exchanges, hopefully learning to be clear, honest and kind. So much of how we communicate is modeled by our parents and the other adults in our early years. What did you learn then and how does it affect your behavior now?

Regardless of whether or not polyamory is for you, healthy communication and a strong sense of personal responsibility are for everyone. These are vital skills and traits worth cultivating that benefit all relationships, including our relationship with our self. And it is the inner relationship, the inner conversation, that sets the stage for all others.

If you can be quite excellent to yourself and those you're in relationship with, then perhaps you can be in a conscious, healthy polyamorous (or monogamous) sexual relationship.

If not, please consider taking a period of celibacy and asking yourself some tough, honest questions about your motivations and intentions. Are you a human being capable of advanced cognitive functioning? Or are you an animal living from the groin on instinct? Ask the tough questions. Live a mindful life.

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