It’s Always Open Season on “Unicorn Hunters”

By Maria Padhila

There’s a phenomenon in most tribes where there’s one kind of person or behavior that it’s OK to disparage. In poly, I think that position is occupied by the “unicorn hunter.”

Poly Paradise at Burning Man. Photo by Eric.

This usually means a male/female couple who want to form a relationship with a woman. If you are new to poly, and go online or to an event and tell people you’re part of such a couple and you’re looking for a third, you’re likely to get scorched by the responses. The flames and shunnings arise out of a collection of assumptions all around that are worth examining, and many in the poly community have.

Where does this angry reaction come from? I don’t want to link to the negative posts and blog entries on the topic, so I’ll just summarize the arguments against, then quote some who present a more inclusive and tolerant view, or who are trying to forge some kind of understanding.

It’s not the Unicorn part, it’s the hunting part: The name itself is a trifle pejorative, as it assumes predatory behavior. And that assumption is at the base of what most dislike about this practice. You have a specific set of qualifications that you’re looking for, and you overlook anyone else during the hunt, not bothering to make friends, cultivate community, or bring much to the table. I can understand why people would find this obnoxious. I’d just say it would be nice to give someone a chance before assuming they’re a devoted “hunter” and not simply expressing a desire.

Couple privilege: More and more people are beginning to recognize that this exists. Even without monogamy, there can be an unacknowledged privilege on the part of couples. The couple relationship (even same-sex couple relationships) is seen as the “real” relationship, with the others as “secondary.” Some are starting to turn aside the term “secondary” altogether. Solo polyamorists – people who like to have many relationships but not be part of a couple – are left out entirely in this world view. In this view, the unicorn becomes a plaything for the couple to take or leave as they choose — obviously not a fair or kind dynamic. Here’s a link from — hey! — the Solopoly blog that explains more if you’d like to learn more about this.

Unicorn privilege: The sign says: Single ladies always free! Nearly every play-party type event wants single women, and they’ll even go to some lengths to attract them. Single men? Not only not welcome — they usually have to pay a ridiculously large admission fee — but sometimes not allowed. There are some exceptions (lifestyle events where women want to enjoy several men each), but in general, single women are sought after.

I have to be honest: when I first started looking into poly life, with my ongoing pathology about being unwelcome and unwanted, I had a twinge of “oooh, here’s a world where everyone will love me, because I’m a bisexual woman!” Of course, I had to do the usual that one does with shadow material — laugh at myself, dig it out, process on my own, lather rinse repeat; you can’t rely on outside people or circumstances to fix this kind of thing. But in addition, it’s not true. I get the same amount of initial love, attention, and hit-upon-ness in the poly world as I do outside of it, which isn’t a hell of a lot. Being a bisexual woman hasn’t made me a hot commodity. Maybe thinking unicorns are so sought after is just an illusion?

Closed-mindedness: Why can’t you think outside the box you’ve put yourself in when it comes to what’s attractive? Men hunting unicorns: Isn’t it a possibility that you could be attracted to another man? I don’t know how practical it is to ask people to play against type. Aren’t we all entitled to our tastes, after all? When does a preference become dehumanizing? At what point does taste become closed-mindedness? Can you change your inclinations — and more important, should you ever have to? I don’t have any of the answers, but these are questions that come up for me when I think about the hostility against “unicorn hunters.”

OPP and denial of women’s autonomy: This one assumes that the woman in the couple is “just going along” with her man’s Playboy fantasy, and that if she suggested that she be able to have relationships with other men, the man would suddenly decide “oh, we’re not poly anymore.” (This is a.k.a. OPP, or the One Penis Policy.) That’s a mighty big assumption. What if the woman wants a relationship with another woman? It’s also a fairly easy one to test. Is the woman dating on her own, or only as an accessory to the man in the couple?

But there’s another element to this I think people don’t respect: It’s pretty scary out there when you first come out as poly, even if you’re heading into the nicest, most hippie-love-fest poly potluck community in the Pacific Northwest. I really can’t hold it against anyone that they might want a companion along for at least the first couple of forays. I’d lay bets that this is what’s behind a lot of couples being branded “unicorn hunters” — simple insecurity and protectiveness about trying something new.

An alternative might be for each individual in the couple to make friends online with someone you regard as trustworthy, through checking out their posts and how they’re regarded by others in the community, or to go solo to a community, not-sex-based event to start out. There are also plenty of woman-identified-centered poly events and workshops where a single woman might feel safe. YMMV depending on what makes you feel safe and comfortable — and neither men nor women nor anyone needs to explain or justify what makes you feel safe and comfortable.

If you’ve been following this season of Polyamory: Married and Dating on Showtime, you saw what could happen when the wheels fall off the tricycle. It was painful for me to watch the machinations among the Hollywood triad. A married couple had both fallen in love with a woman, Megan, and then the legal wife, Leigh Ann, in the triad cheated with another man. The legal husband, Chris, and Megan then threw Leigh Ann out. But that’s not how things ended. From her perch at a friend’s house, Leigh Ann began quasi-dating Chris, and never missed a chance to remind him that she was “the wife,” after all. Chris did things like staying over with Leigh Ann without even asking Megan, just sending a text. Leigh Ann pretty much forced him to choose, saying that having a younger woman in the house, especially one interested in having children, felt like a threat to her.

Ow. You see something like that, and there’s no way you want to lose your heart to a couple. So tell me again how good unicorns have it, right?

But from a more trusting place, to me, it’s perfectly reasonable that a couple in which the man likes women and the woman is bi would be interested in having a relationship with a woman. I’d love to have a relationship with a woman right now — I miss it, and there are so many interesting women out there. My problem is that I fell in love with another man, then I got so crazy busy I have to go around with blinders on — no way am I going to try to start dating anyone new right this minute, with all the needs for babysitters and possible neglect of my existing relationships that would entail. If I found a less stressful and boundary-challenging job, I’d start looking at the OKCupid ads that regularly deliver intriguing profiles to my mailbox, but for now, I have to hit delete. Maybe someday I’ll be the oldest unicorn ever.

7 thoughts on “It’s Always Open Season on “Unicorn Hunters””

  1. Nilou, yes! sex takes practice, and lessons too! I was referring specifically to Eric’s comment on expanding one’s personal sex practice beyond 1 or a pair.

  2. DivaCarla, thank you for this perspective. I would add that sex for two takes practice, as does sex for one; but then what creative art doesn’t take practice? All best, nilou

  3. Sex for 3 takes practice. Thank you for this Eric, and for all your writings, Maria. I wonder about the role of a professional in helping people experiment with the first steps into sex for 3. Bringing a trained sacred intimate, sexological bodyworker, someone with somatic training in sexuality could be a way to explore the emotional territory, especially for couples who have the curiosity and desire, but recognize or fear the emotional minefield. How that might play out would depend on the professional’s boundaries and the way they structure their practice. It does involve a 3rd person in the room and some level of erotic touch, which opens doors of communication, and gives some experience so the next level of relationship play can go a little smoother.

  4. Great read (Eric and Maria). However, to perceive that f/m/m is atypical, or that there is a concern that it NOT be gay for the men just doesn’t ring true … at least not on the left coast.

    Being in a very long-term, on-and-off m/f relationship, there was a period of adjustment when I learned that my guy also liked men … then took 4 years for him to figure out his true preferences. He decided he was bi with a preference for women … which works out fine for a hetero-bi-curious me. And for all his wanting to do three-ways (f/f/m), one day I suggested f/m/m.

    Boy was he shocked … thought I didn’t love him … thought he wasn’t doing something right. Ummm … no. So then I turned on Queer As Folk and explained that watching Brian and Justin was a HUGE turn-on for me (OMFG ya!) as watching lesbian porn was for him. He lit up! And what I then realized was, that in a society which had found compassion and acceptance of homosexual men, lesbian and bi-sexual women … the acceptance of bi-sexuality among men was still very much rejected and they were kept in-the-closet.

    This was particularly true in the more conservative corporate world. If you were gay you could come out but, if you were bi, you were a deviant. And the whole thing could be tricky if he weren’t assured that he was loved. A large part of my offer was a communication to him that I was OK with his being bi and understanding that he needed those experiences, too.

    So indeed, it is a bit of a hunt when it comes to finding that very rare breed of unicorn … the bi-sexual male, in a committed hetero relationship … to f/m/m with you. And in this scenario, the woman usually does the initial scouting because the corporate male does not want to be exposed. Two bi men, each with a preference for women, and a need to occasionally experience m/m sex.

    It works! So I have come to find that these type of male unicorns are accepted; given the right approach (female), but sadly, may be the unaccepted holdouts in a world that has grown to accept the LGBT … so they operate in the shadows. But there are many!

  5. Hey, Maria!

    I shall be sticking with adventure ‘one plus one’ a nilou! After that, who knows? Didn’t use the ‘wok plus condom’ scenario but so far all is heading in the right direction.
    All best, keep laughing, nilou

  6. Thank you so much, Eric! This sounds like it could be really helpful to people. The only thing I’d add is I never want to sound like I’m saying men don’t have the right to set boundaries. I never want someone to feel pressured or worse, retraumatized (and this is real for some men; it’s not just knee-jerk homophobia). Poly can be done in so many ways, and sex among more than one isn’t a “requirement” but a possibility that all can decide about freely.

  7. You make a good point that ‘unicorns’ have relatively little interest in being with a couple, in most situations, particularly if they are perceived as a threat.

    So the very first thing you would need to do is identify open (non-threatened) people, and collect them. Keep in touch, keep the discussion going, and build relationships with them. Sooner or later you will be able to put a couple or few of your open, non-threatened friends together in the same space and see what happens.

    Anyone interested in any form of group erotic exploration would do well to start with masturbating in the same space. If you can get to the point where you’re comfortable sharing this most basic form of eroticism, and even being naked, with two or more people, that is a good start.

    The traditional, if you can call it that, way that an m/f couple finds a woman to play with is a) the woman in the couple needs to be comfortable with her bisexuality, which means either no issues around it, or preferably have some real experience, and then b) she circulates socially all she wants, exploring her attractions, and if she meets someone, and that someone is interested, she introduces her to her partner for an energy/attraction check.

    I cannot recall if I’ve experienced this one. In two instances, I introduced my female partner to another female friend and we had a lot of fun, and an authentic relationship.

    One dynamic men need to be aware of is how it will feel to have the women fall in love, experience things that you cannot experience, or want to explore without you there. In one such experience (to those who’ve known me that long, with Sabine and Michele, with whom I discovered the Grandmother Land) I did a LOT of learning compersion — get ready for that. To put it mildly, it’s either compersion or hell.

    Several times, I’ve been invited to observe two women having sex, as an intimate witness. This seems to happen every few years and is a very nice occasion when it does. I let my friends know I am into this, and if they invite me I assume it’s because they think it will feel good to have me be there. If you’re a man and you’re invited into such a situation, you will be leaving what you think of as your ‘maleness’ or your ‘masculinity’ or whatever at the door, and experience something entirely new.

    In terms of f/m/m arrangement and men being attracted to other men — for most people this would require a series of steps. You would be amazed the gyrations that (for example, swingers and even some poly people) go through to have such an experience “not be gay” for the men. There are swing clubs that will ban a man for life if he so much as expresses sexual interest in another man. Male homophobia and homophobiaphobia are so prevalent these days that it really takes a stretch of the imagination to visualize…my preference at this point of my life is to explore with m/f couples (though I am unlikely to turn down a wholesome invite from two women) I find it pretty rare that anyone is bold enough to go there. It has happened and I am sure it will happen again.

    When this kind of situation gets going, there are a number of dynamics that must be accounted for, most of which involve jealousy. There are many ways this can shake out. They all require experience and sensitivity. One person in the equation has to be experienced, imo, or it’s not going to be easy.

    There is some old tantric wisdom that I learned from Joe Trusso about how three people can get together and share sex if everyone’s heart is open. I would note, however, that with three-way sex and relating, we are well into the realm of adepts. It raises the necessity for mindfulness, and the experience is taking place a few orders of magnitude above what people encounter in ordinary one on one situations — and most people can barely handle those.

    One book on the Kama Sutra that I respect describes the m-f-f configuration as the ‘secret daliance’ — something not available to people working with ordinary consciousness and ordinary values (which for us would include being conditioned by porn); it’s for people who are aspirants on a path of mastery. This may be disappointing to those who are seeking casual encounters.

    Way back in 2001, I wrote an article on this topic for I ended with a few suggestions, which I will repost here, as originally written.

    Sex-for-three takes practice, just like anything else. If it doesn’t work out great the first time, please don’t let that deter you, even from getting together with the same people. I’d like to leave you with some suggestions for what you can explore.

    <> Share your fantasies. Share out loud with your lover, if you have one, and see if they are turned on by what you want. Maybe you want to watch someone fuck him or her; maybe you want to take part; lay down your cards and see whatcha got. See how your partner responds to you expressing erotic feelings and images for other people. If it turns him/her on, that’s a good sign.

    <> Role play. Try being another person to your partner, or let them be another person to you. Many people imagine their lover is someone else but don’t say anything. Let it out; make it a game. See how this feels.

    <> Set your purpose. For example, let’s say you’re a woman and you want to have sex with another woman, but you want your partner there. That’s the purpose. Or, if you want to have sex with a woman without him there, that calls for a one-on-one experience with a woman, not an experience of three-way-sex. It’s not a good idea to mix the two orders of reality. State your needs and desires honestly.

    <> Try an evening of erotic massage with a close friend you would consider sharing sex with. See how it feels when you touch one another’s bodies. See how it feels the next day.

    <> Invite a friend to watch you and your partner have sex. Check out how it feels when another person is there. See how it feels to speak or interact with this person while you’re being sexual with your lover.

    <> Get together with people you’re turned on by and masturbate together. If you can masturbate together, you can probably have good sex together.

    <> Get into your partner’s pleasure. If someone else is fucking or going down on your partner, hold his hand, listen to her voice, make eye contact, stroke her hair.

    <> Watch someone make love to your partner while you masturbate.

    <> Try two couples having sex together, that is, in the same room. You don’t need to swap; just explore being sexually open with other people in the room being sexually open. It’s a world of its own.

    <> Keep your heart open. Feel what you’re feeling. If you feel any desire to “take control,” just breathe into it. It’s worth letting go. ++

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