Poly Means Many: Assumptions about polyamory and sex

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at www.polymeansmany.com. This month, our topic is “assumptions”.

Out of the many assumptions made about polyamorous people, assumptions about sex seem to often be expressed the loudest. It’s now a cliché that in virtually every media article written about polyamory the headline photo is a photo of several pairs of feet (all white!*) in bed together (*but that’s a blogpost for another time). Of course, we don’t see such photos in articles written about monogamous couples, even though they obviously also have sex with each other too. Broadly the assumptions about poly and sex can be categorised as follows:

– Wow, you’re poly! So I assume you must have a lot of sex.

– You must have sex with a lot of your friends/You must not have non-sexual friendships.

– You’re just afraid of commitment. One day you’ll want to settle down.

For this month I will address each of these assumptions in turn.

Wow, you’re poly, so I assume you must have a lot of sex.

I certainly know polyamorous people who do seem to have a lot of sex, but just like monogamous people they have “floods” and “dry spells”. I’ve certainly had those myself! But I’ve never heard anyone link being poly to having a higher sex drive (anecdotally or otherwise – although please correct me if I’ve missed something). The “you must have a lot of sex” assumption also erases people who have naturally low libidos and who are asexual. There’s certainly a segment of poly people who talk a lot about the sex they have with various people, but that could just as easily be a product of them being more open and unashamed about their sexuality than most people. I’ve gone from monogamous set-ups to polyamorous set-ups and can say from my own experience that whether I’m poly or not has no bearing on the amount of sex I have at any given time. My ebbs and flows have largely transpired for different reasons (e.g. hormones, medication, mental health, etc).

In addition, poly people don’t all want to have sex with loads of people, or loads of threesomes and orgies. Some of us do, and some of us prefer to keep our sexual encounters one-to-one. Sometimes it varies from week to week and year to year. Some of us prefer to not have sexual encounters (with partners or otherwise) at all. We’re all still polyamorous. We’re just people who have complex and differing preferences.

You must have a lot of sex with a lot of your friends/a lot of people.

You know what? Not really. I definitely have friends who I sleep with (or have slept with), but I have a far far FAR greater number of friendships that remain platonic. I *gasp!* even have many poly friends – many who I find attractive – who I choose not to sleep with. I have relationships and friendships that have a strong D/s dynamic but maybe we don’t engage in a lot of activities most people would label as “sex”. I know poly people who hold regular orgies with groups of their friends, and I know poly people who’ve had one or two sexual partners, fullstop.

This particular assumption is underpinned with what I think is an even more sinister assumption: that sex inherently defines a particular hierarchy in our relationships. For me, whether I’m having sex with someone has very little to do with their importance in my life. It can often overlap, but that overlap doesn’t indicate a causal relationship in terms of the relationship’s importance.

You’re just afraid of commitment. One day you’ll want to settle down.

I probably hear this one the most from well-meaning friends who just don’t get it when I tell them I’m polyamorous. These are the people who think they aren’t so crassly focused on the sexual aspects of polyamory, but rather the emotional aspects, when actually, sex is at the core of this assumption. If I’m having sex with several people, I’m obviously not committed to any of them. No, not right at all. Commitment doesn’t equal sex or vice versa. My relationships are important (and committed!) based on emotional closeness and trust, not necessarily whether I’m having sex with them, and certainly not whether I’m having sex with *only* them.

In terms of “settling down” (whatever this means?!): well, since I was a small person I dreamed of one day having a wife and a husband. Now I’m less focussed on the genders of my partners, but having more than one co-parent/partner is certainly my ideal. This is subject to change once I actually have children, of course, but I can’t imagine wanting to raise the next generation in a standard nuclear family set-up, particularly since my own parents tried and failed so hard at it. If anything, polyamory makes me commitment-philiac, not commitment-phobic. I want to commit to more people as part of my family, not fewer.

Beyond this, more and more I see myself committed to a community of friends and partners who are building a life together, regardless of who in that community or out of that community I’m having sex with. I’m not sure if or when I’ll know I’ve found this “community” (I suspect it looks more disparate than, say, a commune). However I do know that whatever that community looks like, I’m likely to have non-sexual relationships with most of the people in it and that my sexual relationships will undoubtedly re-configure over time. Some of the most important relationships in my life have never been sexual, or they used to be but aren’t anymore, but I am more committed to them than ever. This is a trend I intend to continue.