Normalising Polyamory

In the comments under a previous post on the subject of polyamory, Tui noted:

Once trans issues become passé, poly living will be the hot new fashion. Gotta keep the sexual revolution chugging along, after all. I’ve seen a few more enthusiastic pieces over the last year or so trying to stir up interest.

Tui wasn’t wrong. The New York Times is but the latest mainstream publication to ask:

Is an Open Marriage a Happier Marriage?

Let’s see.

Daniel, then a 27-year-old who worked in information technology…

Now this may not be relevant, but both the former partners of the polyamorous woman I knew worked in IT. And it goes without saying that they, like the people in this article, lived in New York.

But as with any happy marriage, there were frustrations. Daniel liked sex, and not long after they were married, it became clear that Elizabeth’s interest in it had cooled. She thought hers was the normal response: She was raised by strict Catholics, she would tell Daniel, as if that explained it, and she never saw her own parents hold hands, much less kiss. It was not as if she and Daniel never had sex, but when they did, Daniel often felt lonely in his desire for something more — not necessarily exotic sex but sex in which both partners cared about it, and cared about each other, with one of those interests fueling the other.

So a man gets married and soon gets bored of banging his wife and wouldn’t mind sleeping with other women. How very unusual.

Elizabeth, baffled by Daniel’s disappointment, wondered: How great does sex have to be for a person to be happy? Daniel wondered: Don’t I have the right to care this much about sex, about intimacy?

Woman frets over whether she’s making her man happy in the bed. Man belatedly realises that getting married impacts one’s sex life. This is some groundbreaking stuff right here.

Occasionally, when he decided the answer was yes, and he felt some vital part of himself dwindling, Daniel would think about a radical possibility: opening up their marriage to other relationships.

Man fails to understand that being married is a trade-off.

He would poke around on the internet and read about other couples’ arrangements. It was both an outlandish idea and, to him, a totally rational one. He eventually even wrote about it in 2009 for a friend who had a blog about sexuality. “As our culture becomes more accepting of choices outside the norm, nonmonogamy will expand as an acceptable choice, and the world will have to change as a result,” he predicted.

Some of us are incapable of holding down a normal, functioning relationship and attempt to address severe self-esteem issues with meaningless sex. We demand the rest of society approves of our lifestyle.

He was in his late 30s when he decided to broach the subject with Elizabeth gingerly: Do you ever miss that energy you feel when you’re in love with someone for the first time? They had two children, and he pointed out that having the second did not detract from how much they loved the first one. “Love is additive,” he told her. “It is not finite.”

He’s using his wife’s love of their children in attempt to convince her to let him go and shag other women. Lovely.

He was not surprised when Elizabeth rejected the idea; he had mostly raised it as a way of communicating the urgency of his needs.

Man tells wife about his need to shag other women, wife doesn’t take it well.

Elizabeth did not resent him for bringing it up, but felt stuck: She was not even sure what, exactly, he wanted from her, or how she could give it.

Yes, she’s confused: that’s what happens when you’re stuck with a manipulative shit of a husband.

In the fall of 2015, Elizabeth met a man at a Parkinson’s fund-raiser. Joseph … asked her to tea once, and then a second time. They understood something profound about each other but also barely knew each other, which allowed for a lightness between them, pure fun in the face of everything. They met once more, and that afternoon, in the parking lot, he kissed her beside his car, someone else’s mouth on hers for the first time in 24 years. It did not occur to her to resist. Hadn’t Daniel wanted an open marriage?

Woman rejects concept of open marriage but cops off with a bloke offering her tea at a charity bash. Remember, these polyamory types are perfectly normal, just like you and me.

Elizabeth did not announce that the friendship was turning romantic, but she did not deny it either, when Daniel, uneasy with the frequency of her visits with Joseph, confronted her. That she intended to keep seeing Joseph despite Daniel’s obvious distress shamed him: He was suddenly an outsider in his own marriage, scrambling for scraps of information and a sense of control.

Man who wanted an open marriage fails to understand it’s a two-way street.

This was not at all what Daniel had in mind when he proposed opening the marriage.

No, he thought he’d be banging waitresses and cheerleaders. Instead he’s been cuckolded.

They had not agreed on anything ahead of time; they had not, as a couple, talked about their commitment to each other, about how they would manage and tend to each other’s feelings.

That’s because they weren’t in an open marriage: he suggested it, she said no, and then she went and had an affair. Hubby is now playing catch-up and trying to apply labels which don’t fit.

“It wasn’t like we had a conversation about it,” Daniel said the first time I met him, in April 2016, when they were just starting to put that painful period of their relationship behind them. “It was more like: This is what I’m doing — deal with it.”

Wonderful. What a lovely couple. I’m at a loss to decide who is the bigger selfish, narcissistic, shit here.

Elizabeth’s intransigence, and Daniel’s pain, had brought them back into couples therapy. After several months of surveying the situation, which seemed to be deadlocked, the therapist told them in early March 2016 that she thought they were most likely heading for divorce.

I wonder how much they paid their therapist before she reached this conclusion?

For several nights following that therapy session, they talked in their bedroom, with an attention they had not given each other in years, sitting on the strip of rug between the foot of their bed and the wall. The sex, too, was different, more varied, as if reflecting the inventing going on in their marriage. Elizabeth was still someone’s wife, still her children’s mother, but now she was also somebody’s girlfriend, desired and desiring; now her own marriage was also new to her.

Hmmm. I think the journalist ought to have expressed a little skepticism at this point, don’t you?

When I met Elizabeth and Daniel, Elizabeth had already received Daniel’s permission to keep seeing Joseph

She was seeing him anyway, IIRC.

Daniel was contemplating how he might, in turn, meet someone.

I bet he was. Like a lot of middle-aged men who bail on their marriages in the hope of getting hot and sweaty with pretty young things, he found the reality to be somewhat brutal. I only hope he didn’t grow a pony tail and start wearing hoodies.

Their marriage had already strained to accommodate another person, someone whom Elizabeth would meet while Daniel was at work, whom she texted in the car while her husband drove.

This must do wonders for the self-esteem, which likely wasn’t very high to begin with. I wonder how his “love is not finite” analogy is holding up at this point.

But Daniel said he was past the point of fear. “Basically you could say maybe we loved each other before all this — but maybe we were just asleep. And maybe being asleep is more dangerous and worse to you as a person than what’s going on right now. I want to be married, and I don’t want anything to happen to us. But I have no idea what would happen either way. Would you rather be asleep and have things fall apart? Or rather be alive and have things fall apart?”

Yeah, that therapist really helped, didn’t she?

“The new monogamy is, baldly speaking, the recognition that, for an increasing number of couples, marital attachment involves a more fluid idea of connection to the primary partner than is true of the ‘old monogamy,’  … Within the new notion of monogamy, each partner assumes that the other is, and will remain, the main attachment, but that outside attachments of one kind or another are allowed — as long as they don’t threaten the primary connection.”

In short, the “new monogamy” accepts “But she meant nothing to me!” at face value.

The spectrum of those attachments included one-night stands and ongoing relationships; as she understood it, honesty and transparency, rather than fidelity, were the guiding principles underlying the healthiest of these kinds of marriages.

I wonder just how healthy the healthiest of these marriages are?

The couples did not perceive their desire to see other people as a symptom of dysfunction but rather as a fairly typical human need that they thought they were up to the challenge of navigating.

Well, yes. Everyone would like the freedom to fuck whoever they want if the opportunity arises, but that’s something you give up in order to be in a relationship. You hope that the overall benefits of being with one person are greater than being single and free to do what you like. Nobody says monogamy is easy, but it’s a trade-off. If you could get the benefits of a monogamous relationship without the downsides, everyone would do it.

Terms have long existed for arrangements similar to those she was seeing — they could fall under the category of polyamory, which involves more than one loving relationship, or the more all-encompassing term, consensual nonmonogamy, which also includes more casual sex outside of marriage or a relationship.

Polyfuckery would be a better description for a lot of these arrangements. Or simply shagging around.

Divorce, or not marrying in the first place, might seem like a more logical response to a desire for openness. But even as marriage rates have declined in this country, the institution has retained a seductive status for Americans.

People still believe in marital arrangements that have gone on for millennia. Who would have thought?

And yet the tradition is nonetheless at odds, he argues, with the country’s emphasis on individualism, a tension that leads to high rates of divorce but also to remarriage, with worrisome outcomes for finances and children.

Ah, this old chestnut: traditional marriages often fail so polyamorous ones are worth considering. What nobody ever does is closely examine the rate at which polyamorous relationships fail, the mental state of the people involved in them, and the effect on any children unfortunate enough to be caught up in them.

And yet open marriages — and to a lesser degree open but nonmarital committed relationships — are still considered so taboo that many of the people I interviewed over the last year resisted giving their names, for fear of social disapprobation and of jeopardizing their jobs.

Here’s my own position: I have no objection to consenting adults doing what the hell they like, but don’t try to sell me polyamory as a viable option for those seeking a normal, functioning relationship.

It is no surprise that most conservatives would perceive the concept as a degradation of marriage, of a key foundation of society.

And you know what, perhaps they’re onto something?

But even among progressives I talked to, the subject typically provoked a curled lip or a slack jaw. The thought bubble, or expressed thought: How? How could any married person be comfortable with, or encouraging of, a spouse’s extramarital sex? The subject seemed offensive to many at some primal level, or at least ridiculously self-indulgent, as if those involved — working, married people, people with children — were indecently preoccupied with sexual adventure instead of channeling their energies toward, say, their children, or composting.

An admission, at last, that those who practice polyamory are rather different from the rest of us and are capable of mentally accepting things which most people would find abhorrent.

It was several months after he posted his profile that Daniel went on a date with a woman he met on the site, someone who was also in an open marriage. … Drinks flowed, and around midnight, Daniel found himself in a Ford Explorer, kissing a woman who was not his wife for the first time in 25 years.

Two middle-aged people copping off in an SUV on the first date after meeting online. Anyone who thinks polyamory lacks class better think again.

They were still making awkward conversation at a bar when a woman sitting nearby asked how long they had been together. Daniel and his date exchanged glances; Daniel shrugged, as if to say: “Go ahead.” “He’s married to someone else,” his date said. “I’m married to someone else. We’re on our first date.”

The first rule of polyamory: advertise it to the whole world.

Susan Wenzel, a therapist in Winnipeg, Canada … felt equipped to manage the arrangement, and she and her boyfriend cautiously agreed that they could see other people, so long as those relationships remained casual. Susan did not feel it detracted from the strength of their relationship when she started seeing someone who is, like her, an immigrant from Kenya. But when that faded and her live-in boyfriend started dating someone, she found that jealousy hijacked the relationship.

Meaningless extra-marital sex with African immigrants have detrimental effects on the marriage. Who knew?

She sought therapy with Nelson, working by Skype to identify the source of her own jealousy.

I have no words…

She also had two young children from a previous marriage who lived with them…

Lucky them. And let me tell you how surprised I am to find that a practitioner of polyamory has a feeble track record in holding down a lasting, stable relationship.

She eventually wrote her boyfriend’s female friend a note of apology, adding that she had resolved a lot of her own insecurities.

All perfectly normal, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

The chief adjustment she and her boyfriend made was the one that seemed the least likely: They married, a year and a half after they first opened their relationship. Her boyfriend felt, for the first time, happy to commit to a woman he loved, knowing he had the freedom he wanted; and the symbolism of marriage gave Susan enough security that she could grant him that freedom, and exercise it herself.

Or, more likely, it was a vain attempt to put  a veneer of respectability on a degenerate lifestyle that was causing them to be shut out of ordinary society.

In August, Elizabeth and Daniel made a road trip to a Lower East Side bar in New York to attend Poly Cocktails, a monthly event founded in 2007 for people who are interested in nonmonogamy, or practicing it.

A pickup party, in other words. Not exactly low-key types these polyamorists, are they?

For the most part, the socializing was studiously nonsexual, but a young woman with a retro look — red lipstick, baby-doll dress — was flirting with a tall man in a sleeveless T-shirt, a 45-year-old dad from brownstone Brooklyn, a musician with a corporate day job.

Brooklyn. Where else? And what’s the betting the girl in question has some sort of severe Cluster B personality disorder and enough daddy issues to fill a book? Can we come back and see how she’s doing in ten years time?

Elizabeth and Daniel had ostensibly come to be among people who would not judge them.

Meaning, form opinions as to their chosen lifestyle and characters.

Instead he spent most of the evening talking to a married woman who complained that she felt underappreciated by the crowd at the bar.

Woman who goes to a party for those who practice indiscriminate sex feels underappreciated.

Conventional wisdom has it that men are more likely than women to crave, even need, variety in their sex lives. But of the 25 couples I encountered, a majority of the relationships were opened at the initiation of the women; only in six cases had it been the men.

Sorry but…

When I last wrote about polyamory I said:

It is almost a certainty that the men in a polyamorous relationship will be noodle-armed omegas of hipster persuasion. On the odd occasion this rule doesn’t apply, he will be an astonishingly ugly, middle-aged man with a pot belly and wearing bad knitwear.

Look at the pictures in the article then tell me I’m wrong.

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Lambing

There’s a thread over at Tim Worstall’s about sheep breeding, and I’ve thrown in my contribution as usual. The thing is, I know a bit about this (I grew up in Wales, after all) and this isn’t the first time I’ve described it. So just for the hell of it I’ll turn it into a blog post.

Firstly, to get sheep to breed you need both ewes and rams. With me so far? Good. A flock of a hundred or so ewes can be serviced by two or three rams, no bother. If you ever see a ram you’ll notice it has enormous bollocks for such a small animal. There are reasons for this. Normally you’d keep the ewes in one field and the rams in another waaaaaaaaay over the other side of the farm, otherwise your lambing season is going to be somewhat lengthy. When the right time of year comes around (autumn, I think) you send the rams in and they get to work. But before you do that you strap a large, rectangular crayon to their chests using a nylon harness, with each ram getting a different colour. This is for keeping score. When the ram mounts a ewe and starts humping the crayon leaves a mark on her back. At the end of a few weeks the farmer can see which sheep have been humped and which remain un-humped, and see which ram has been putting in the hard yards and which has been loafing under a tree snoozing. If a ram isn’t pulling his weight, chances are he’ll be replaced for the next season with one a little more enthusiastic. So if ever you wake up captured by aliens with an odd crayon strapped to your belly, you’ll have an idea what is expected of you to survive.

At some point later on, I forget when, the farmer may enlist the services of a guy who, for a per-sheep fee, uses one of those ultrasound machines you find in antenatal wards to determine how many lambs are inside each ewe. I’ve watched somebody do this and how he can determine anything from the grey mess that appears on the screen is beyond me, but we wrote down his predictions against the tag number of each ewe and his predictions were bang on. At this point the farmer will be paying close attention to which ewes are not “with lamb” and what colour mark is on their back. If too many ewes with red crayon marks are not carrying lambs, then that particular ram is out of a job for next season. If all the ewes with a red mark are carrying lambs except one or two, then those ewes might be barren. We’ll see next year.

Lambing season starts sometime in spring and you prepare a lambing shed which is warm, dry, and divided into pens. You keep your flock in a field nearby and when any is showing signs of imminent birthing (I have no idea what the more subtle signs are, but forelegs sticking out the back of a ewe is not unheard of) you catch them using a pickup truck and a young, fit, and slightly idiotic local boy who for some reason likes farms and get them into the lambing shed. You then wait for them to give birth, and this can take a while so sometimes the shed is rigged up to CCTV and fed back to the farmhouse. I should point out that all of this is what went on back in the early-mid 1990s, so perhaps things have moved on now and there is an iPhone app for all this. Anyway, when a ewe starts to give birth it usually needs human help.

This is particularly the case with multiple births: most ewes carry two lambs, three is common, four less common, and occasionally five. Single lambs are common enough but a little disappointing from the point of view of the farmer. Ewes often struggle to give birth and so somebody must assist by grabbing hold of the protruding forelegs and giving them a yank. If the lamb is facing the wrong way around then somebody must roll up their sleeve, wash their arm in soapy water up the elbow, reach in, grab the legs, and yank it out. I have never done this myself but have held the animal when this was being done many times, and I was about 12 or 13 years old at the time. No city boy, me.

Sometimes when you pull a lamb out it is not breathing, and you need to try to revive it. First you tip its head back and clear its airway of mucus, and then you stick a piece of straw up its nostril. This will sometimes cause it to sneeze and it will start breathing. If that doesn’t work you grab it by its hind legs and swing it in an arc (taking care not to smack its head against a wall or something) so that its head is flung back and air forced into the airway. I swear I’m not making this up, but don’t take this as a manual for what you should do: ask a vet. You do that a few times and then massage its heart. Sometimes it will cough into life, other times not. If not, you get the corpse away from the mother ASAP: you want her attention focused on the lambs that survived.

Even distribution of the lambs is important. A ewe may feel overwhelmed by more than two or three lambs and you’ll notice straight away if one is lacking attention. If so it stands a high risk of being abandoned, and ewes are prone to lying on top of their unwanted young and smothering them. So any that is looking like an outcast is taken away and an attempt is made to wean it onto a mother with only one lamb of her own. This is done by taking the afterbirth of the adopted mother and wrapping it around the foster lamb immediately after she has given birth in the hope that she will smell it and be tricked into thinking it is one of her own. This works surprisingly often and the lamb is adopted and looked after. If she doesn’t fall for it then you have an orphaned lamb, which is immediately thrown to a pack of hungry dogs you keep outside just for this purpose. Nobody has time or patience for orphaned lambs.

I’m kidding, you don’t do that. The orphaned lambs – nicknamed “mollies” on the farm I used to play around on – are kept in a separate pen under a strong heat lamp, and cared for by hand. If you have a farm dog that is female, chances are her mothering instincts will kick in and she’ll lie in beside them. When kids come around wanting to see the lambs, these are the ones you show them because there are no protective mothers and they are used to human contact. You might have to wrap them in towels for a while, and two or three times a day you feed them warm milk from a bottle of the exact type you use on a baby. These things are as cute as you can imagine and feeding them is a lot of fun with lots of “Aaaw!” sounds being made. You can put milk on your fingers and get them to suck so hard you can almost lift them off the ground (they don’t have teeth yet), and they are still so small you can pick one up in each hand easily. They can stand up within about an hour of being born, but they are very unsteady on their feet at the beginning. This only makes them cuter.

When the weather gets warmer and the lambs a bit stronger, they’re kicked out into the field where you see them playing and my experience with lambs converges with that of everyone else. I did a lot of this sort of stuff when I was a kid, and you don’t forget it.

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Scarlett Johansson on Monogamy

Staying on the subject of sex and relationships and messed up women, I have been forwarded this article on Scarlett Johansson in which she is quoted as saying:

I don’t think it’s natural to be a monogamous person. I might be skewered for that, but I think it’s work. It’s a lot of work…And the fact that it is such work for so many people—for everyone—the fact of that proves that it is not a natural thing. It’s something I have a lot of respect for and have participated in, but I think it definitely goes against some instinct to look beyond.

So anything that is hard work is unnatural? As the opening line in a Universal Loafer’s Charter this would take some beating but it’s clearly bollocks. Pretty much anything worth doing requires effort, including getting yourself fed.

Well, some have gotten animal about insisting that monogamy is unnatural, pointing to examples in the animal kingdom.

On that basis eating one’s own turds is also natural. Should we be more open to this? Finding lunch partners might be problematic following adoption of such practices, but with enough education and a few Supreme Court rulings these issues can be overcome.

On the other side of the argument, people have pointed to the health benefits of monogamy, such as … offering more emotional and mental stability and comfort. Emotional and mental stability can in turn have a range of health benefits…

Who knew?

The final answer may be that monogamy is both natural and unnatural. Natural for some. Unnatural for others.

Ultimately, what’s natural depends on the individual and what fits the individual. It’s better to know where people really stand and let them choose the situation that works best for them as long as they are not hurting others (e.g., having multiple partners without appropriate protection and precaution can hurt others).

Well, yes. But that’s the issue, isn’t it? I am quite happy for people to engage in the wonders of polyamory and shun monogamy if it makes them happy, but I am permitted to be skeptical about those who, for no apparent reason, doth protest too much in telling me how great it is. Taking Scarlett Johansson as an example, I would have held her comments in higher regard had she said them when she was 21 and looked like this:

Than having been twice divorced at 32 and looking like this:

True, she now has the wisdom of experience under her belt but cynics might think that, having fucked up two marriages and is now staring down the barrel of middle age and diminishing professional appeal, by declaring monogamy as unnatural she is looking to shift the blame for her own failings and, perhaps, launch a secondary career as an angry, bitter celebrity with a lesbian haircut turning up at wimmin’s marches denouncing The Patriarchy.

Look, I get marriage and monogamy isn’t for everybody, and perhaps it isn’t “natural”. And I am quite prepared to believe that there are plenty of well-adjusted, normal people who are perfectly happy who have chosen to live in an alternative manner. Good for them. But it remains the case, at least in my experience, that most people are happiest in a normal, functioning, monogamous relationship despite all the difficulties involved in maintaining one. The vast majority of people would find the idea of their loving partner sleeping with somebody else to be abhorrent, and the jealousy and anger will bubble up from something deep inside them that has very much been put there by nature and not social conditioning. If celebrities want to make statements denouncing monogamy and authors want to pen articles assuring everybody that shagging around doesn’t cause friction with their own partners, then fine. But the rest of us are entitled to point out that their advice is hardly a universal blueprint for personal happiness and question their motives for imparting it.

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Polyamoric Patterns

Commenter Tui posts some links to articles praising polyamory under my article on the same subject here, noting:

Once trans issues become passé, poly living will be the hot new fashion. Gotta keep the sexual revolution chugging along, after all.

Let’s take a look at the first article:

Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins and I have plans to meet her boyfriend for lunch…Her husband, Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa, is out of town at a conference for the weekend

Before I traveled to meet her in Vancouver last June, she told me on the phone that most “mono” people misunderstand the challenges of polyamory — the practice of being openly involved romantically with more than one person at a time. “People ask, ‘Tell me about the downsides,’ ” Jenkins says. “They expect the answer to be that it’s so hard jealousy-wise. But the most common answer is timing and scheduling. I’m a fairly organized person, so I don’t find it super challenging.”

Okay, I’m seeing a pattern here. Every time I hear or read somebody explaining polyamory they stress that the main drawback is the logistical nightmare it represents in terms of scheduling, keeping everyone partnered-up, and presumably doing the laundry (although nobody ever mentions that). I have no doubt that this is true, that juggling multiple partners requires a lot of planning and organisation. But what I have noticed is this is usually thrust forward as the only drawback: issues such as jealousy, emotional stress, interpersonal conflicts, finances (who pays the rent?), communication, and adhering to the ground rules are rarely mentioned at all. Are we to believe these things – which exist aplenty in monogamous relationships – are not present and exacerbated in polyamorous ones? I’ve seen this gambit so many times that I am starting to believe it is thrown out there as a red herring: distract the readers with the “surprising” logistical problems and skirt around the rest.

“See,” says Jenkins, gesturing at the living room as she clips on Mezzo’s leash, “We’re a very boring and respectable couple!”

You see this a lot too: people in polyamorous relationships insist on telling everyone that their arrangement is perfectly normal and respectable. In my experience, such qualities in people do not need to be advertised and especially not by the individuals themselves.

Jenkins wrote about polyamory because she felt she had to: She and her husband were tired of living in the closet.

This is a common theme too: we live a normal, boring, respectable life but feel the need to go around with a megaphone telling everyone about it.

On the front porch are a swing and a coffee table with an ashtray on it. The ashtray is full, as if they have just had a party, or someone has been sitting out there, for a long time, thinking, while gazing into the street.

Or nobody has bothered doing any cleaning in a while.

Despite the personal clarity that she has gained on these points, socially the relationship has not been easy. Even in liberal settings, where people might not blink at the idea of a friend sleeping around or dating someone of the same gender, Jenkins says that “mononormativity” persists: The ruling assumption is that a person can be in love with only one other person at a time.

Hmmm. I’d like to hear what was actually said. I don’t think anyone has an issue with somebody loving two people at once: love triangles have been a staple of literature since quill was first put to parchment. What people find odd is the idea that you can sleep with someone you claim to be in love with one day, cheerfully wave them off the next in the full knowledge they will shag somebody else, and be happy about it.

She recalls a colleague becoming extremely discomfited recently at her husband’s birthday party, when Hsu introduced himself as “Carrie’s boyfriend.”

“Hey! We have unusual sleeping arrangements that we just spring on unsuspecting guests in the middle of a party! Look how edgy we are!”

Still, Jenkins believes that we are in urgent need of a more expansive concept of love.

We?

Jenkins did not set out to become a love expert. After growing up in Wales…

What was I saying in my previous post about polyamorists often being people who have experienced severe childhood trauma? Speaking of stereotypes, here’s a photo of the happy three:

The second article:

When I met Emily Witt six years ago, I felt that touch of vertigo that comes when you realize you’re in the presence of a highly sophisticated and committed mind. Witt is an alumnus of Brown, the Columbia School of Journalism, and Cambridge. So she did not strike me as the sort of person who would get high and have sex in the “orgy dome” of Burning Man with a person she’d just met.

Ah yes, the Burning Man orgy dome.

We met for coffee last week in Brooklyn to talk about Future Sex and how to approach writing about female sexuality.

Brooklyn, eh? Now there’s a surprise!

In the book, you describe being on drugs in vivid detail, but you don’t describe actually having sex.

Drugs? More surprises!

You know, somebody could write a book about Burning Man, orgies, polyamory, and drug-taking and the sort of individual that emerges from the wreckage in middle-age. It could even be set in Brooklyn, at least in part. Thankfully for mankind I was born to shoulder this burden, but I’m beginning to worry that it’ll be irreparably clichéd by the time it’s finished.

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Brother Husbands

I’ve written about polyamory, the practice of having more than one sexual partner in a relationship, on this blog before: here and here. The interest I have in this subject is mainly one of morbid curiosity triggered by my having inadvertently gotten to know a woman who spent most of her twenties in polyamorous relationships and I became fascinated by the mental gymnastics required to maintain one.

The other night I was flicking around through Sky looking for some rubbish to watch and I stumbled across a show called Brother Husbands on TLC. The show concerns an American woman who lives with two men, one of whom is her husband and the other her lover. The title of the show is a play on the term “sister wives” which Mormon polygamists use for their multiple wives. I decided to watch it to see if any of it married up (‘scuse the pun) with what I already knew about polyamorists.

The first, and probably only, surprising thing about the show is that the woman, who goes by the name of Amanda Liston, is quite attractive:

Although I keep reading articles explaining that women engaged in polyamory can be young and cute (and the woman I referred to earlier was not ugly), most of the time they look more like this:

I suspect the general attractiveness of the leading lady in Brother Husbands was the crucial factor in the programme being made. If she was a warpig, it is unlikely anyone would have watched it for long.

But that was about it in terms of surprises. Amanda’s two lovers look like this (the husband is the one in the middle):

It is almost a certainty that the men in a polyamorous relationship will be noodle-armed omegas of hipster persuasion (note the similarity with those in the other photo). On the odd occasion this rule doesn’t apply, he will be an astonishingly ugly, middle-aged man with a pot belly and wearing bad knitwear. As “The Inimitable Steve” once put it at Tim Worstall’s:

The males – “men” would be over-egging it – mostly look like they came straight out of central casting for a 1970’s Public Information Film warning kiddies about paedos.

The sleeping arrangements insofar as Amanda’s relationship is concerned is for her to sleep with one guy for three nights followed by the other for three nights, and then all three of them climb into the same bed for one night (Amanda goes in the middle). Amanda is in her mid to late twenties and has two children from the husband and triplets from the other fella. They live in a large house somewhere in what I guess is flyover country (I doubt they could afford to live on the coasts).

Both of the men were whiny as hell, and it was obvious that Amanda wore the trousers in that household. I speculated early on that the husband, Chad, was actually gay as he appeared about as straight as Graham Norton. Both he and Amanda mentioned a Christian upbringing, and I understand he was raised in a foster home (probably run along Christian lines). Sure enough, thanks to further investigation carried out by my research assistant who guffawed along with me while we watched the show, it turns out he is bisexual. My guess is that Chad is actually out-and-out gay but his Christian upbringing doesn’t allow him to express it, and so he got married to somebody from his church group. This is probably why he had few objections when this other chap called Jeremy entered their lives and announced one day that he was in love with Amanda. As far as Chad is concerned, having another man in his bed is all fine and dandy and probably what he wanted all along.

Jeremy looks as depressed as hell and is as whiny as Chad. I expect he entered into this relationship, also via this church group, because he has no chance whatsoever of getting laid any other way. He didn’t smile once during the entire show and if I read headlines in a few years saying he’s slaughtered the entire family with a large carving knife nobody will be less surprised than me. If part of the arrangement is an agreement to be Chad’s top for one night a week, we can bring this butchery forward by a few months.

The last non-surprise came yesterday when my research assistant uncovered this article, which reveals that Amanda and Chad got married on an MTV reality TV show, and she had been on another reality TV show called King of the Nerds. In other words, she’s an attention whore.

Back in June when I was trying to get my head around this polyamory lark I entered into some online discussions with people who had some experience in the practice, mainly via friends and relatives who’d gotten into it. They said the attractive people who enter into polyamorous relationships are generally Cluster B types, possibly with a history of mental illness and childhood sexual abuse. For the rest, a combination of their personalities, physical appearance, and low self-esteem means this is probably all they can get. One of the points mentioned was that polyamory can work, but those who make a success of it practice it in a very low-key, very individualistic manner to the degree that nobody other than their close friends and relatives would know about it. Baring all on a TV show, writing about polyamorous lifestyles in columns (see Laurie Penny, who fits the bill on almost every measure), joining polyamorous “communities”, and having weddings in Central Park with all the various lovers invited for group photos appear more like acts of desperate attention-seeking than an alternative to a normal, functioning relationship.

During some of my online discussions (which David Thompson generously hosted in his comment section) somebody mentioned a documentary made in 2002 called When Two Won’t Do about polyamorous relationships in Canada and the US. I haven’t yet seen it, but I am contemplating purchasing it from Vimeo (this discussion on polyamory forms part of the book I am writing, hence all of this is research in a way). The producer is a woman from Montreal who covers who own polyamorous relationships as well as others. Here is how I saw it described:

People in the poly community praise it as a realistic and positive treatment of the lifestyle. Normal people see it for what it is: a collection of deeply dysfunctional people with severe self-esteem issues desperately self-soothing with meaningless sex. One of the subjects commits suicide during the filming; that’s included in the film with virtually no impact or comment despite it being directly related to the stress of trying to maintain the fiction of the non-monogamous relationship.

Back in April I had barely heard of polyamory, but as I said, the subject was kind of forced on me one evening. Since then, nothing I have seen has convinced me that the following statement, offered by the same person who I quoted above, is untrue:

Broadly, the best way to describe polyamory is that it’s a coping mechanism, not a lifestyle choice.

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The Myth of Russian Prostitutes

Even rabid lefty journalists seem to think that these latest allegations regarding Donald Trump are bollocks of the first water, but I’m going to put in my two cents anyway:

In the document, a source says Mr Trump hired the presidential suite of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Moscow, where he knew President Obama and Michelle Obama had stayed on one of their officials trips. The source goes on to say that Mr Trump asked prostitutes to perform lewd sex acts on the bed where the Obamas had slept.

“According to Source D … Trump’s perverted conduct included … defiling the bed where they had slept by employing a number of prostitutes to perform a ‘golden showers’ (urination) show in front of him.”

Ah yes, of course.  One can’t possibly have a story taking place in Moscow without prostitutes being involved, be it a poorly-written Hollywood film or what looks like an internet hoax being passed to the CIA who then took it seriously.  Whenever anything slightly dodgy is happening involving Russians, prostitutes must be shoehorned in there somehow.

It seems to be a reputation Russia cannot shake.  I wasn’t in Russia during the 1990s, but from what I heard from those who were pretty much everything that was there was for sale – women included.  During this period the former Soviet Union saw an exodus of young women who went abroad to be mail-order brides, prostitutes, and strippers and thus the reputation was born.  I don’t know when this peaked, but when I arrived in Dubai in 2003 certain clubs were packed with “Russian” prostitutes.  Only they were almost all from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and to a lesser extent Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Moldova.  About a quarter of them were ethnic Russians, the rest Central Asian or mixed.  By the time I left in 2006 their numbers had dwindled and they’d been replaced by Africans and Chinese.  I never went back so I don’t know if there are any there now.

When I went to Sakhalin in 2006 I found a lot of young women who were keen to form relationships with expatriates, and some of those expatriates were two decades older than the girls and sported large beer bellies.  However, even these women were in the minority: most girls on Sakhalin wanted to marry a Russian guy (or Korean if the girl was part of that community).  But I never saw a prostitute the whole time I was there.  I heard there was a kind of brothel catering to Filipino workers somewhere out on the airport road, and there were certainly banyas where prostitutes worked, sort of like the massage parlours in the UK.  And the local paper and presumably websites had plenty of adverts featuring women who promised to show you a good time, but this is hardly unique to Russia as a brief glance at Craigslist would reveal.

I went to Moscow on a business trip once in 2008 and ended up with a group of guys from Gazprom in some high-class strip bar where girls my height wandered around in spangly bikinis and high-heeled shoes made from clear plastic.  By the time I arrived I’d been sick twice thanks to ferocious drinking which took place earlier that night, after which they’d dragged me to a place where I’d drank a whole pot of tea to get me on my feet again.  I must have stayed all of thirty minutes in that strip bar and whilst the girls were undoubtedly for sale, they were hardly throwing themselves at the customers in the manner one sees in gangster films.

In other words, whatever happened in the 1990s is a long time ago and prostitution in Russia – from what I can tell – is not much different from how it is in any European country.  Contrary to what many people think, a trip to Russia will not see eighteen year old stunners throwing themselves at you; the closest you’ll come to that is when one walks into you while uploading photos onto vkontakte.ru on her mobile.  True, the women there are pretty and there are plenty of single ones with whom a relationship is possible (although perhaps not always advisable) but prostitutes they are not.  Nor are Russians particularly into group sex, lewd acts, and other weird stuff that Hollywood likes to portray.

By contrast, I saw a lot of prostitution in Nigeria and in Thailand.  I saw a lot of strip clubs in Melbourne too, which made Blackpool Pleasure Beach look as classy as the US Masters.  Having lived in Russia and France, I don’t see much difference between the two in terms of prostitution, weird sex, and the propensity for wealthy, successful men to like attractive young women.  Nobody would have written about Trump visiting Paris and getting prostitutes to swamp on a bed, but if it takes place in Russia seemingly this is quite normal.

A decent journalist would have known this is a crude, inaccurate stereotype and declined to print the story.  To their credit, most of them did.  Apparently the CIA has taken it seriously though.  Doesn’t that just fill you with confidence?

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Gay Men: A Problem After All

Owen Jones reports on what happens when a game of victimhood poker takes place when normal people have long left the table:

Racism is a serious problem within the LGBT community and needs to be addressed. Despite the determination of many minority ethnic LGBT people to do just that, it is not happening. “How can I be a bigot when I am myself a member of an oppressed minority?” is a prevailing attitude among some white LGBT people.

An attitude which prevails because of years of browbeating people into believing bigotry is based on who you are and not what you do or say.

But another far more pernicious reason is that the LGBT world revolves around white gay men to the exclusion of others.

So white gay men are a problem now? Here’s what I said the other day:

And that will be their downfall: they are so mainstream they won’t be able to maintain this minority, victim status for much longer and it is a matter of time before they come into conflict with the feminists and transgender lobbyists in the victimhood stakes.  Give it a few years and we’ll see gay men being discriminated against and passed over in favour of other designated victim groups simply for being men – gay or not.

Let me just swap out “a few years” for “a few months”.  Back to Owen:

According to research by FS magazine, an astonishing 80% of black men, 79% of Asian men and 75% of south Asian men have experienced racism on the gay scene.

This manifests itself in numerous ways. Some are rejected because of their ethnicity; on the other hand, some are objectified because of it. On dating sites and apps, profiles abound that say “no Asians” or “no black people”, casually excluding entire ethnic groups.

People have physical preferences when selecting a sexual partner?  Who knew?  Of course, this has been known for years in relation to heterosexual dating sites, but by implying it is unique to gays Owen Jones can get paid to write a column on it.

It’s like a “bastardised ‘No dogs, no blacks, no Irish’ signs”, as Anthony Lorenzo puts it. “On apps like Grindr,” writes Matthew Rodriguez, “gay men brandish their racial dating preferences with all the same unapologetic bravado that straight men reserve for their favourite baseball team.”

Grindr is an app for gay men to hook-up with one another for meaningless one-time sex.  How odd that this should not only contain users’ preferences but also boorish behaviour.  But here’s what I wrote the other day:

I genuinely think within five years we’ll have seen a case where an escort or prostitute is sued for discrimination, and dating apps and websites are being put under pressure to remove preferences based on race and other criteria.

We’re moving in that direction, aren’t we? Back to Owen:

Homi tells me he has Persian ancestry, and is “sometimes mistaken for being Greek, Italian, Spanish, etc”. Once, at a nightclub, he was relentlessly pursued by a fellow patron. Eventually, he was asked: “Where are you from?” When Homi answered India, the man was horrified. “I’m so sorry – I don’t do Indians! Indians are not my type.”

This suggests it is not appearance or skin colour that is the issue, but cultural background.  Presumably this isn’t important in homosexual relationships.

And it is not simply a western phenomenon. Luan, a Brazilian journalist, tells me his country has a “Eurocentric image of beauty” and there is a “cult of the white man, which is absurd, given more than half the population is black or brown”.

Thanks heavens this is not true of heterosexuals and Owen is able to provide us with a rare insight into race relations in Brazil through the prism of gay dating.

Others speak of their experiences of being rejected by door staff at LGBT venues. Michel, a south Asian man, tells me of being turned away because “you don’t look gay”, and being called a “dirty Paki”. He says it has got worse since the Orlando nightclub massacre, where the gunman was Muslim.

The gunman was Muslim?  I’m glad that’s been cleared up.

And then there’s the other side of the equation: objectification. Malik tells about his experiences of what he describes as the near “fetishisation” of race. The rejection of people based on ethnicity is bad enough, he says, “but it can be just as gross when someone reduces you to your ethnicity, without consent, when dating/hooking up”. His Arab heritage was objectified and stereotyped by some would-be lovers, even down to presuming his sexual role.

I can sympathise.  Coming from Wales, everybody assumes I prefer sheep to women.  That they are wholly correct on this point does not negate the fact that I am nonetheless subject to appalling racist bigotry based on where I was born.

When the Royal Vauxhall Tavern – a famed London LGBT venue – hosted a “blackface” drag act, Chardine Taylor-Stone launched the Stop Rainbow Racism campaign. The drag act featured “exaggerated neck rolling, finger snapping displays of ‘sassiness’, bad weaves” and other racial stereotypes, she says.

Whereas they should have just stuck to limp-wristed mincing and avoided mimicking stereotypical behaviour.

LGBT publications are guilty too. Historically, they’ve been dominated by white men, have neglected issues of race, and have portrayed white men as objects of beauty.

How dare they.

There has been positive change in recent months, one leading black gay journalist tells me, but only because of the work of ethnic minority LGBT individuals “holding magazines to account, setting up their own nights across the scene” and using social media, blogs, podcasts and boycotts to force change.

That rumbling sound you can hear is the bus under which white gay men are about to be thrown.

While LGBT people are much more likely than heterosexuals to suffer from mental distress, the level is even higher among ethnic minorities. Undoubtedly, racism plays a role. As Rodriguez puts it, seeing dating app profiles rejecting entire ethnic groups causes “internalised racism, decreased self-esteem and psychological distress.”

Trawling dating apps doesn’t bring happiness?  Who would have thought?

Many of the rights and freedoms that all LGBT people won were down to the struggles of black and minority ethnic people: at the Stonewall riots, for example,non-white protesters. The least that white LGBT people can do is to reciprocate and confront racism within their own ranks. Shangela, an actor, tells me that racism from the LGBT community “hurts more because it’s coming from people that I’m meant to share a kinship with”.

That’s the problem with expecting people to share your values based on their subscription to various victim groups.

The far-right movements on the march across the western world are consciously trying to co-opt the LGBT rights campaign for their own agenda.

Beware the rise of the Queermacht!

This week, Milo Yiannopolous – a gay attention-seeker who has become an icon of the US far right – was at the centre of a media storm because a platform to speak at his old school was withdrawn. In the Netherlands, the anti-immigrant right was led by a gay man, Pim Fortuyn, until his assassination. In France, reportedly a third of married gay couples support the far-right National Front.

Why, it’s almost as if a person’s sexual preferences don’t define their politics.

Being oppressed yourself does not mean you are incapable of oppressing others: far from it.

And the basis of 99% of Grievance Studies courses in American academia collapses in a heap.

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What’s the opposite of a rose tint?

From the BBC (which considers this front-page news):

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres was praised by the US president for her influence on the gay rights movement as she received the country’s highest civilian honour.

Barack Obama said it was easy to forget the risk Ellen DeGeneres took to come out as gay in 1997.

He said her bravery helped “push our country in the direction of justice”.

“It’s easy to forget now, when we’ve come so far… just how much courage was required for Ellen to come out on the most public of stages almost 20 years ago,” he said during the award ceremony at the White House.

“What an incredible burden that was to bear – to risk your career like that – people don’t do that very often. And then, to have the hopes of millions on your shoulders.”

It is probably easy to forget how far we’ve come in twenty years because it’s equally easy to remember what 1997 was like, and a hotbed of homophobia the western world was not.

I was in university in 1997, the year Tony Blair won the General Election for Labour with no little help from Peter Mandelson.  Julien Clary was a household name and Graham Norton was getting there.  Diana died in 1997 and Elton John – who came out of the closet in 1976, when times really were different – wrote a song for her which reached number one on the singles chart.  The Mardis Gras was a mainstream event in Manchester, and Canal Street was as much a feature of the city as Maine Road.

Perhaps New York was different, and perhaps women coming out as gay was less common, and hence more difficult, than it was for men.  I just get the feeling there are vested interests out there trying to convince people that twenty years ago the world was a darker place than it was, and any progress is due to the benevolent actions of our enlightened political classes.  So we must grant them more power and allow them to intrude more deeply into our personal lives, of course.

Obama would have had a stronger point had he said 1987, and definitely 1977.  But 1997?  Nah.  Sex and the City hit the screens in 1998, and the (many) references to gay life and culture in there were hardly shocking.  Philadelphia came out in cinemas in 1993.  Things have improved to some degree of course, but I think any changes in public attitudes towards gays in the last 20 years have come almost exclusively from the older generations dying out and being replaced by people for whom homosexuality is unremarkable.

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Social Engineering

Staying on the subject of gays:

A bill that would have wiped clean the criminal records of thousands of gay men has fallen at its first parliamentary hurdle.

The private member’s bill would have pardoned all men living with UK convictions for same-sex offences committed before the law was changed.

Mr Nicolson says he was motivated by his work as a BBC journalist in the 1990s: “I made a documentary in the 1990s looking at the discriminatory laws which criminalised gay men.

“There were some shocking injustices. Men were arrested aged 21 for having ‘under-age sex’ with their 20-year-old boyfriends,” he said.

Section 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 concerned buggery.  Which means 60 years ago politicians sat down and decided what two grown men of sound mind could and couldn’t do to one another, and how the rest of the country should treat them.  Does this sound reasonable to you?  It doesn’t to me.  There is an argument that this is what the majority population wanted, but I don’t see any reason why the wishes of the majority should be taken into account when two independent adults decide what they’re going to do behind closed doors.

Had the principle of individual freedom and liberty been in force in 1956, this law would never have come into being.  This is why the war cry of the gay movement was “Get the Government out of the Bedroom!”, implying what two men get up to is no business of the government’s or anyone else.  On that basis, the gays of the day would have had my full support.

Across the Atlantic there is a parallel: pre-Civil Rights Era laws requiring blacks to be segregated from whites, and the two treated differently.  At some point legislators sat down and determined that blacks should be treated differently from whites, and anyone breaking these laws – be they black or white – would be subject to criminal prosecution.  Regardless of whether a free individual of one colour wanted to interact with a free individual of another, this was prohibited by law, which in turn was justified on the grounds that this is what the majority wanted.  Only if individuals are truly free then they can associate with whomever they please, and it ought not to be a matter to be decided by the majority.

My point is that not so long ago legislators put severe restrictions on supposedly free individuals as to how they could interact with each other based on rather arbitrary criteria beyond the individuals’ control.  They justified these laws by saying that this is what the majority wanted and it was for the greater good of society.  These laws, the majority agreed, made for a better, safer society.

Only now we look back and most people are in agreement that these laws were an abomination and ought never to have been passed.  Hence the attempt now to pardon those in the UK and the rioting and looting in the USA.  I’m being ironic about that last one.

Fortunately politicians and the voting public learned their lesson that individual liberty and freedom is paramount and governments have no business passing legislation as to how free individuals should interact (short of causing actual physical harm or loss of property, reputation, etc. covered by laws that have been in place since Man first wandered out of the Great Rift Valley).

Oh wait.  No, actually they didn’t.  With breathtaking hubris they determined that although the last lot of politicians and voters were catastrophically wrong, they are much smarter and hence are able to write laws setting out exactly how individuals must interact in a hideously complex society to achieve the absolute optimum outcome in terms of happiness and security for all.  Clever folk, eh?

So now we have laws which actively discriminate between people of different skin colours and religions, insist that gender – which can be changed on a whim – should be both ignored and acknowledged simultaneously, maintain an ever-growing list of sexual orientations all of which deserve special treatment, allow grown men to wander into women’s toilets a fundamental human right, and make formal (and even informal) criticism of all of this practically illegal.

Whatever happened to the principle of all humans are equal?  Or the principle of individual freedom?  Well, that’s the problem: there are no principles being applied, it is simply a small group of people deciding this is what they want to do, claiming a democratic mandate, and forcing it on everyone else.  Just as they did when they criminalised gays and made blacks drink at a different fountain.

Some people call this Social Engineering, and it’s a good term.  But engineering is all about the application of principles, not doing whatever a gaggle of people fancy doing this week.  If you tried to build a bridge like this it would collapse.  As will our society if we keep this up.

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Owen Jones: Gays are Mentally Disturbed

This is an odd thing for Owen Jones – an openly gay journalist – to write:

[Author Matthew Todd] identifies a number of problems that most gay men, if they were honest, would at least recognise: “Disproportionately high levels of depression, self-harm and suicide; not uncommon problems with emotional intimacy … and now a small but significant subculture of men who are using, some injecting, seriously dangerous drugs, which despite accusations of hysteria from the gatekeepers of the gay PR machine, are killing too many people.” He lists a disturbing number of gay friends, acquaintances and people in the public eye who struggled with addictions and took their own lives.

The statistics are indeed alarming. According to Stonewall research in 2014, 52% of young LGBT people report they have, at some point, self-harmed; a staggering 44% have considered suicide; and 42% have sought medical help for mental distress. Alcohol and drug abuse are often damaging forms of self-medication to deal with this underlying distress. A recent study by the LGBT Foundation found that drug use among LGB people is seven times higher than the general population, binge drinking is twice as common among gay and bisexual men, and substance dependency is significantly higher.

Hasn’t it traditionally been the religious nutcases that insist homosexuals are mentally disturbed and in desperate need of help?  Now it’s Guardian journalists.  We live in strange times.

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