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Polylove and Women

by Catherine Deville

I have been asked many times in the past to talk about my experiences as a woman who is polyamorous.  I am always happy to do so.  I feel that it is indeed important that women who practice this lifestyle explain to people that this is not a lifestyle that we adopt “for our men”.  Indeed, there is as much of a pay back for women in the system as there is for men.  The failure to recognize this is a mark of our cultural ‘double standard’ concerning sexuality.

The misconception that polyamory exists for the pleasure of men is bound up in 2 fallacies.  The first is that polyamory is primarily a sexual lifestyle, and the second is that men benefit more from open sexuality than women do because of their higher sexual drive.

To address the first point, one must realize that polyamory is concerned first and foremost with bonding and relationships, not sexuality.  Polyamory (and its sister lifestyle polyfidelity) is based on the concept that people are capable of having emotional relationships with more than one person at a time, and that sexuality is a natural extension of loving emotions.  Polyamory differs from “swinging” in that the basis for polyamory is the rebuilding of extended family or tribal families connected by loving bonds, and “swinging” has as its objective recreational sex.   The way that we see ourselves often reflects itself in our language.  “Polyfolk”, as we often refer to ourselves,often refer to primaries, secondaries and tertiaries, terms that refer to the level of emotional involvement, communal living and time commitment involved in a relationship.  We are much more likely to refer to a second primary partner as a “second husband” or “second wife” than we are a “mistress” or an “affair”.  Secondaries and tertiaries become “lovers”, and we refer to our interwoven extensions as our “tribe” or “family”, even when they live hundreds or even thousands of miles away.

Polyamory is not designed for people who just have high sex drives.  Polyamory, because it is concerned with building healthy and extended relationships, focuses much more on a person’s capacity to give and communicate than it does on their capacity for “bed hopping”.  Just as in a healthy monogamous marriage, sex is an important part, but it is not the sole drive, nor is it even the most important factor.  Community, companionship, building a sound home life ... these are more important than the sexuality.   The sharing of work and the fostering of children in a communal environment are also often an issue.  As an example, I belong to an open “tribe” of polyamorous folk.  Our interrelationships are complex.  Not everyone has sexual intimacy with everyone else.  Three of the “couples” involved have children.  Two of those “couples” are actually triads in their living situations.  As a community, those children may have two mothers to rely on, but they also have a whole slew of “aunts” and “uncles” who share childcare duties, who give love and support and attention when needed, who share different cultural perspectives and experiences.  As such, the children benefit from many of the advantages of the old, traditional “extended” family of the past.  In my opinion, this type of childrearing instills more of the traditional “values” of society than the broken nuclear family which is now prevalent.  The point is, however, that the focus is community, not sexual conquest.  The work is shared by the community.  The bonding and the care for the welfare of the children is communal.

Just as an aside, because it is of concern to people outside of the polycommunity who do not understand, no sexual activity goes on “in the presence of the children”, any more than it likely does in a monogamous marriage.  The questions of the children about sexuality are answered from the perspective of their parents' beliefs, just as they are with any married couple who has sexual relations.  It amazes me how the public opinion of people who are monogamous and/or heterosexual seems to be that people with alternative lifestyles have sex in the middle of the living room with the children standing over them going “what’s that?”  The only problems that I have seen with polychildren have been  in the stress they receive from outside bigotry.  The failure of our society to accept alternative lifestyles, whether they be polyamorous lifestyles or homosexual lifestyles or alternative religions, does more emotional damage to our children than any “alternative” belief system ever seems to.

Finally, to address the issue that polyamory is devised by men as a way to get their wives to accept their “higher sex drive” and need for sexual diversity becomes laughable once you meet some of the polyfolk whom I have met.   Most of the polyfamilies that I know have men who complain about how hard it is to keep up with us women, sexually.  People are often surprised when they find that I have “two” husbands, because they expect that it is unusual for a triad to be FMM instead of MFF.  It is also a humorous idea when I take into consideration the fact that the women generally seem to “run” or “organize” things in a poly community.  I am speaking from my own experience of course, but it seems to be a prevalent image that women have much more control of their own sexuality in polycommunity.  They also seem to have more balance in their own sex lives.   Most of the “activists” that I know, Deborah Anapol, Ryam Nearing, Morning Glory Zell, are female.  I know in my case that I chose a poly lifestyle for myself before I met my husband.  I find it doubtful that many women who are monogamous chose this lifestyle to allow their husbands to have mistresses and keep peace in the family.  My own experience says that such women tend much more often to take a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.  This is not polyamory.  This is a monogamous woman trying not to lose her husband.

Polyamory is not a sexual lifestyle, it is a sexualoving lifestyle.  It acknowledges the power of love and its part in sexuality.  It centers itself around community, not simply around recreational sex.  It is beneficial to all involved as long as it is chosen freely and as long as the participants “play by the rules”.  It is no different from any other relationship style in that its success is dependent upon the interaction of those involved.  It is no more functional or dysfunctional than a monogamous lifestyle.  It is often more complex in logistics and the outside prejudices that we have to overcome, but in that it is little different from an interracial or mixed religious marriage.  It is an alternate way to heal our broken families and our broken sense of community.  It is not, however, for those faint of heart or unwilling to work.   For some of us, it is the ultimate dream of loving family.

Catherine Deville © 1995

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