I’ll couch today’s post by saying that situations like the one I’m about to describe aren’t common in polyfidelity. It’s not even typical for me. I can only credit a strange alignment of schedules for the day’s events: a morning rendezvous with my new (albeit previous) lover, an afternoon tryst with my boyfriend, and evening hijinx with my husband.
I imagine most people’s reactions to a woman saying she had sex with three men on the same day would be ‘she’s either a pro or a whore.’ I’m neither of those things. What I am is a woman involved in three long-term relationships; an ethical slut.
Here’s why I make this distinction.
Whore (n), derogatory
Ethical Slut (n)
“A person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you.” (Easton & Hardy, 1997)
I’ll point out the apparent double-standard: a woman who has many sexual encounters is considered a whore while a similarly active male is called a stud. The idea of female sexual agency is somehow so threatening, yet the reality of it works to everyone’s benefit.
For me, sexual agency is about cultivating fulfilling relationships. As an introvert, especially, I don’t “do” casual. I keep a tiny circle of close friends. This holds true in romance, as well.
I suppose you could say my relationships are purpose-driven. This may sound cold or mechanical, but I assure you it’s the opposite, and in keeping with my character: I’m clear about my motivations and desires, I know what attracts me to my partners, and I know what I’m generally capable of bringing to my relationships. Sex is not an end unto itself, (except when it is), but a means for deeper non-physical intimacy, the enrichment of vulnerability and love.
And, yes, it’s also good, clean fun.
It’s a steep demand for one person to be everything to another, but this is an unacknowledged delusion perpetuated by a culture of monogamy. In such cultures, romantic commitment is tantamount to possession: spouses have a sense of ownership with one another. This is what makes jealousy so powerful and destructive.
If we’re really, really honest with ourselves, we recognize the danger in trying to be everything for another person. It’s potentially exhausting and can give rise to resentment, because no matter how much a couple loves one another, what one of them needs is not in the other’s nature to give. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. It’s not failure, just part of being human.
My situation is an almost perfect case study.
My husband is submissive. While I’m primarily dominant, I’m switchy. I especially enjoy bottoming for impact play, but I’m not a casual player. It’s in my nature to develop one strong connection. My boyfriend is dominant, and so our relationship satisfies my sexually submissive needs. (The basis of our relationship goes far deeper than the D/s dynamic, but this illustrates my point). I know my husband would do his very best to top me, and I love that he would place himself in that uncomfortable position for my sake. But asking him to behave like a dominant man when he’s submissive, asking him to be who he’s not, is unfair.
I also know I can’t be everything for my husband or my boyfriend. They have needs and desires I’m less capable or incapable of fulfilling, and I will be supremely happy for both of them when they find partners who push those buttons and fan those flames. I want that for them, just as they want it for me.
The fact I’m involved with three men and not two (and not four) has to do with physical limitations which take penetrative sex off the table with my husband and with my boyfriend. They’re both secure in themselves and in our relationships, so they’ve encouraged me to find a partner who can satisfy my desire for this kind of intimacy. Their excitement for me in connecting with an FWB is what’s known as compersion*. They’re also excited for themselves since they’ll be the beneficiaries of my increased sexual energy – which is an effect of the poly dynamic.
The culture of polyfidelity (or ethical slutdom) embraces freedom and symbiosis. It’s about giving each other the gift of ourselves, it’s about acceptance and personal growth.
Being an ethical slut is not for the faint of heart. While there’s growing social acceptance of alternative lifestyles, most people still struggle with the concept of multiple romantic partnerships. And, despite the efforts you make to keep your private life private, things inevitably spill over. You have to be willing to endure being judged, whispered about, and avoided. It’s hard at first, but eventually, you realize those opinions don’t matter. The best thing you can do for everyone is live your life as boldly and joyfully as possible. Be your best self, and don’t worry about the rest.
There are always a few who will surprise you with unquestioning acceptance. These people are gems; if we’re smart, we cherish them. By deepening these friendships, our lives are enriched, and we cultivate a strong support network, which is something we all need to stay healthy.
Authentic relationships take work: honest and open communication, boundary-setting, negotiation. Multiple relationships require a lot of work and balance. This can only be achieved through a combination of awareness, self-care, and self-articulation. By this, I mean it’s crucial to know how you’re doing – physically, mentally, and emotionally – and be able to not only advocate for and attend to yourself, but also convey these things to your partners. By helping your partners understand your current state (“I didn’t sleep well, and I’m grouchy”), you liberate them from anxiety and doubt, because without any context for your attitude or behavior, they’re likely to assume any negativity is their fault. (And on those rarest of occasions when it is their fault, you need to explain why in a manner that is respectful, loving, and fair). This is one of the hardest things to do well in any relationship, but these crucial conversations are the very keys to success.
When we can be vulnerable with others; when we can ask for what we need and trust it will be given, and when we can listen for the needs of others and give what’s within our power, we all flourish. We’re all better people when we can be ourselves, whatever that looks like at the moment.
As ironic as it may sound, I experience innocence in polyfidelity. Because I can be myself, I’m more spontaneous, playful, and optimistic. I’m more willing to give others the benefit of the doubt. And, even when I’m in pain, I’m joyful because I’m surrounded by acceptance, tenderness, and love. My life has been transformed in the best possible way. Who doesn’t want that?
Being an ethical slut is about all these things and much more.
On exceedingly rare occasions, it’s about having more sex than I know what to do with. Yes, I had sweaty, fun, fantastic sex with three men in one day, and I find no cause for shame.
I also spent two hours doing yard work. I slept like a baby.
* A feeling of joy when a loved one invests in and takes pleasure from another romantic or sexual relationship.
Photo Attrib: Aliaksandr Halai (alexhalay via depositphotos.com)