Note: In honor of the start of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere — when things get hot and steamy outside, and many people hope for the same in their love lives — this seemed like a good time to run this column by Maria that first ran on Jan. 28, 2012. It’s full of valuable tips for negotiating poly and other alt-sexuality scenes. — Amanda
By Maria Padhila
“So you’re poly — doesn’t that mean you screw everyone?”
This is the kind of thinking I thought wasn’t being thought, but it’s apparently still a problem.
Recently, a group I’m in posted a notice about a sex-positive, BDSM weekend event that sounded fun, though it’s not really my thing and I don’t often get a free weekend to play. But the group had to post, on its FAQ, a certain question that still gets asked: “If I come to this, will I get laid?”
The answer, dear friends, depends on you — that was the gist of the reply. But in there was a lot of wisdom about expectations, behavior, and how not to be a jerk, male or female.
A leader of the local group then posted an extremely edifying link to the Freaksexual blog by Pepomint. It led me to a long article Pepomint created for men about how to make non-monogamy work better for you. (I corresponded with Pepomint and will be doing an interview in the future, but he was unable to do it this week because of mild illness. He told me to quote away freely.)
The article is well worth the time it takes to read it and think it over, whether you’re thinking poly or not. While it’s geared toward men, it gave me a lot of insight. It’s basically an instruction manual on how to deconstruct a lot of myths and expectations that do a number on men, women, and all points in between. It’s written with compassion, practicality, and good humor — Pepomint is, refreshingly, not a snarker.
I’m just going to hit on a few points here and how my experience has reflected them — or not. I’m very interested in your reactions to it. The comments section on Freaksexual is an education in itself.
People who are looking for relationships — new ones of any kind — are in a vulnerable space, and it helps to have some guideposts. I hear from men that it’s intimidating to venture into the dating world in any way. They don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. It’s like stepping into a minefield. And one’s need, desire or loneliness tends to perpetuate itself, and makes ‘doing the wrong thing’ even more likely, sometimes.
But you’re setting yourself up for a hurting if you go in shouting ‘Where the wild wimmen at?!?’ Pepomint writes that men are often set up to operate this way because of the myths perpetuated by porn:
There is a guy in the San Francisco scene whom I see every once in a while, who always asks me where he can find the play parties with the ‘hot young things.’ I am always speechless. … he will ask me this at parties that are full of very cool sex-radical women (and men — he is bisexual) who would probably be willing to do all sorts of nasty with him if he could take the time and get to know them a bit. But he cannot, because he is too busy chasing a dream and cannot see what is right in front of him.
There is no party you can walk into where strange women will just throw themselves on you. There is no ‘Oh hi! Wanna fuck?’ It is never that straightforward. There is always some effort involved, and usually it takes a lot of effort. Porn is lying to you.
Myth one: Getting with someone is effortless.
What actually happens is that women have sex with men because they are attracted to those men. … There is some level of negotiation involved, and women have input into that negotiation. The negotiation often takes time and energy, though other times it is quick. At sex or play parties the negotiation may seem fast and painless, but there is actually almost always some leadup, usually either people scoping each other out from across the party or some kind of shared history in the scene.
Make an effort, but don’t be pushy. Make an effort, but don’t do that stalker-y full-court press. I can’t blame men for getting vertigo under these conflicting directions. How does one finesse that kind of Catch-22? Making an effort can range from taking a shower before showing up to showing up more than once. The biggest payoff with the smallest effort seems to me to be to acknowledge that other people are human. That’s easy, isn’t it? But trapped in that desiring, vulnerable space, men (and women) can lose sight of that, and see others as props to help them feel good. People will draw back from that kind of vampiric vibe. It can take an effort to pull yourself out of the fear-and-desiring space and relax into the open-and-desiring flow.
Myth two: Women are scared of you and primed to reject you.
Men often say they don’t know how to approach women without seeming threatening. Pepomint offers some insight: “Our culture tells them [women] to be worried, as part of a general campaign of keeping women’s sexuality under control.”
It can feel even more confusing in non-monogamy territory. The message says that ‘these women’ are wide open to all comers. Yet the reality is, as Pepomint puts it, that because non-monogamous women tend to be rarer than their male counterparts, these women are more in demand, particularly at events and parties, and “they don’t have to put up with as much crap” as women do in default world. They have more power to exercise choice.
So if the fear of rejection is making the air quiver even in your average nightclub, imagine how much more so it would be at a non-monogamy-geared party or event.
“Non-monogamous men seem to be in a particular hurry, especially those who are new to it,” the article says. “This shows up in a number of different ways: too eager to meet someone in person, preferring to skip past the sex party negotiation and straight to the sex, not willing to invest the time to become part of a non-monogamous community, and so on.”
What’s the solution? Slow down. Let people get to know you. Come to a couple of events. Be willing to keep your clothes on and have a drink — especially a non-alcoholic one. I will risk a big generalization here and say that non-monogamous chicks love sober guys. And that women like it when they see that men have some friends and acquaintances. You’re less likely to be judged in these scenes by your car or your job (since people can often be anonymous).
We need something to hang our impressions on — and what we’ll choose is whether you’re relaxed, whether you can take not being the center of the universe without falling apart, whether you’re kind, whether you seem like the kind of person who can have a good time, whether you’re capable of flowing to other people’s pleasure and your own. If you’re not strong enough in yourself to relax apart from all the usual props, how can you think you’d be strong enough to get naked and have sex in front of other people?
Myth three: Men only want the hotties.
This is the one that hurts all of us equally. I have to quote this next part of the article at length, and I wonder if I’ll be able to hear, as I drive my daughter to her various activities Saturday afternoon, the sound of people standing up and cheering as they read this:
Men are told all sorts of things about our sexuality. We are told that we are constantly voracious and ready for sex. We are told that we always say yes to sex with women when it is offered, to the point that men do not even think of the possibility that they might say no, resulting in a good deal of confusing signals and lackluster sex.”
Paradoxically, right alongside being told that we should be willing to have sex with anyone, we are taught to separate women into ‘hot’ and ‘ugly’ categories, with the hot women looking like the models in the magazines at the checkout stand. Of course, those women do not actually look like that: the pictures have been photoshopped to within an inch of total absurdity, and often beyond. …
So we are conditioned via two seemingly contradictory cultural/media myths: one which insists that men must be attracted to all women, and another that men are only attracted to a very particular sort of woman. … Both myths have a curious side effect on how men think: they prevent us from figuring out the type of women we are attracted to, because they paint men as being either hot for all women or almost none.”
He goes on to describe the liberating feeling given to men who, by opening up their minds (and more) in the non-monogamous world, get a unique chance to experience attraction to women who don’t fit the stereotypes of desirability. This was something of a revelation to me.
I hope it will be for men, too. Who are you really attracted to? Have you given yourself a chance to find out? I know there are true preferences — I have them myself. I really need a fit and healthy body to be turned on. The men I’m with now are handsome by any standard, but the men with whom I’ve fallen in love over the years have ranged wildly in terms of looks. Does this ring true to men, that you felt as if you had to be with a certain type of woman, then discovered that really wasn’t your thing at all? Do you ever practice saying ‘no’? Choose to be with yourself instead of with a woman, without thinking of it as a poor alternative?
I know there are stereotypes of beauty and desirability. I’ve never set much store by them. Just because the dominant images of ‘beauty’ are Victoria’s Secret models doesn’t really mean anything about me. I don’t look like that, and I don’t play ball like Michael Jordan did, and I don’t play cello like Jacqueline du Pre did. Extraordinary people are just that. I’ve been lucky to be with some pretty extraordinary people, some because of their looks, and some because of other things. I’ve never had an expectation that I would only be attracted to men that looked like something out of an advertisement (or had a certain kind of car).
This doesn’t mean I’m boundlessly confident about my looks. I actually so dislike my own face that I can’t stand having my picture taken, and at times, can’t abide having anyone look at me. This soul-crushing cycle has been my experience every time I have looked someone in the face, for as long as I can clearly remember. I just try to breathe, get over myself, and keep on going. Obviously, I’m not doing too badly. And yes, I have loved and fucked madly people with skin problems, missing digits, and other physical disabilities. Getting over oneself is a skill that takes constant exercise but generates great rewards.
So, men, get over yourselves. If I can do it, you can.
Whether you’re going into a play party, a date in a bar, or a social gathering, it helps to temper your expectations. The big thing I came away with after reading the article is the reminder that when it comes to humans relating, things happen that may not be ‘fair’ or ‘make sense’. Even when you’re highly aware of the reasons behind people’s behavior, these reasons may not ‘make sense’. You can beat your head against the wall, you can go around making yourself dreadfully tiresome trying to tell other humans how their way of interacting doesn’t make sense and isn’t fair (and guarantee no one will want to play with you), or you can relax and play with it, with a sense of acceptance and curiosity, I think. I like to choose the last reaction.
I am sometimes sought after, and I am sometimes left out. Over time I’ve learned it usually doesn’t have much to do with me — it’s more about what other people are looking for at any given moment. It’s what I tell my daughter when she auditions: “You can be the best dancer ever, but if you don’t fit the choreographer’s vision for the piece, you won’t get that part. But there are lots of parts out there where you’ll fit the vision. And you can always make your own show.”
All I really need is, as Dorothy Parker said, “a place to lay my hat and a few friends.” I love my close friends and lovers, and it’s with them that I’m most comfortable. I have the south node in Aquarius, so dealing with the large social group thing and how I fit in is the past karmic struggle, the old news. I’ve been given challenges in this so that I’ll learn the Leo lesson: Shine, be warm, be generous to others. It’s a hard task for a shy person who lives in her head. But from Leos I’ve also learned the importance of simply showing up. If none of the supporting cast arrives, that just leaves more of the spotlight for you, says a Leo I know, smiling like sunshine. That’s kind of my definition of a nightmare, but I’m getting over it.
A social group, a tribe, can be protection, but it can also be a place to hide. My life this time, with its perpetual, sometimes sought, sometimes imposed, outsider status, is not allowing me to get away with that this time around.
The realm of non-monogamy appears to promise an open-all-hours, open-no-matter-what, open-armed and -legged acceptance to all. But this is the biggest myth. We humans, from our fearful monkey brains to our broken-by-experience hearts and trust, can’t really take all comers. What we can do, monogamous or not, is be wide open to ourselves — and then see what happens next.