The following is a chapter from my book Polyamory: It’s Not Complicated. I’m currently writing a sequel and am publishing a few chapters of the original for free. — https://www.amazon.com/Polyamory-Its-Complicated-DeWayne-Lehman-ebook/dp/B00Y7ITG3I
In law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others. In ethics he is guilty if he only thinks of doing so. — Immanuel Kant
Polyamory is not based on rules, it is based on conversations.
It’s not even based on consent resulting from communication. Polyamory is an activity by grown adults, capable of making their own decisions without coercion.
We all still have hard limits, for instance, I may not wish to date a hard drug user, and I don’t. But I also might not date someone who is with a hard drug user as a partner. But I express this as a statement about myself, not a demand on another person.
They are fully in control of their lives, just as I am fully in control of my own life. I own my own feelings, and they own their own feelings. I take responsibility for my actions, and they take responsibility for theirs. Read more on this on the chapter about Codependency and why polyamory will not work for codependents.
Let’s clear the air with one final statement about rules. This is probably the least fun part of the book, but it needs to be said. It is the difference between a technical definition of polyamory and a modern definition of Ethical Polyamory as a very specific relationship philosophy.
Let me state that yes, some poly couples have hard rules to join families. Some people believe in polyfidelity, whereby you must stay within the family, and not date outside of it. Some poly setups allow the man to have many female partners, and the woman can have each other as partners, but the women are not allowed to have male partners.
I’ve seen enough documentaries, that such… how shall I put it… these “situations” are included under the banner of “Polyamory”. And technically, yes, that’s polyamory according to the dictionary definition.
But Polygamy is also technically Polyamory; that doesn’t make it any less completely fucked up.
So I’m going to be bold here. Any situation whereby one individual imposes rules on a second individual regarding how they act towards other individuals, they are not ethically polyamorous.
Absolutely nothing, not a marriage certificate, a Dominant/Submissive contract, nor having children together gives one individual the right to dictate what someone else can do with another individual.
That sounds controversial to some. “How can I not demand my wife use a condom with her boyfriend, I’m her goddamn husband! That puts me at risk! I don’t want her pregnant with some other man’s child or contracting HIV!”
I absolutely agree that you have a right to be safe. I absolutely agree that everyone should be safe, which includes family planning. However, nothing in this world, not the law nor ethics, gives you the right to demand this.
What option do you have then? Communication.
There is a difference between agreeing and demanding. You can demand monogamy and fidelity, but some estimates put marital infidelity at 50%.
Apparently, demanding doesn’t fucking work, now does it?
So just realize that ethical polyamory, which is “Ethical Polyamory” as its own term, is what I mean anytime I say polyamory. All other forms of polyamory, in which the demands of others are placed on individuals, is neither ethical nor tolerated by this author.
I don’t care if you and your five wives are happy with your situation.
I don’t even really care if you have signed and notarized documentation of consent. Consent by coercion is not consent.
You don’t own your wife, your husband, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, you partner.
The takeaway can be summarized in a statement: Ethical Polyamory is based on every individual’s informed active consent, with no other formal rules, period.
The moment codified or formal rules are established, you have immediately strayed from Ethical Polyamory, because you have immediately denied an individual the right to make their own choices.
This is why Swinging can never, and will never, qualify as a valid form of Polyamory in and of itself.
The same is true of Polygamy, Bigamy, Polyandry, and Polygyny. If you are looking for the use of force, emotional manipulation, coercion, or legalism, feel free to return to monogamy and join a fundamentalist religion. You’d fit right in.
Such tactics have no place in Ethical Polyamory or this book.
Learn to Respect Your Own Limits
Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual. — Thomas Jefferson
You must respect your own limits or nobody else will either. In all forms of non-monogamy you will learn that your own limits matter a great deal more than you ever have thought about before in your entire life. This will empower you more than you can imagine.
I won’t date a hard drug user, anyone more than 10 years younger or older than myself, or someone without their own transportation.
I can date an introvert, an extrovert, the gregarious, the timid, the spender, the saver, the sexual wildcat, and the slow gentle lover.
I don’t need any one single person to fulfill my needs, nor would I really want them to. Doing so puts a huge burden on the other person to be all things at all times.
But, you have to have limits that you hold to and respect. Then and only then can you start having healthy relationships.
When you do this, you will find that polyamory makes a great way of life for the picky. As I state to those I talk to and in this book, polyamory allows you to limit character flaws and heighten character traits you enjoy.
Rather, I want the partners that I have to be themselves. I want their willing participation, not participation by uninformed manipulation and trickery.
I enjoy the difference in all my partners. I enjoy experiencing them for who they are, without expectations or a laundry list of needs, wants, and desires. And let’s not forget baggage!
So what if you had an ex who used to chew with their mouth open and was bluntly rude to the waiter at times? Well, feel free to date that new girl who chews with her mouth open, and simply don’t make meals a big part of your relationship.
This is a silly example, but people honestly write in to people like Dan Savage about these silly quirks asking if they should dump their partner! He makes the correct assessment for such people to get the fuck over themselves. But I’ll go further, and say that polyamory allows you to simply avoid quirky behavior altogether in many situations. This allows for even more harmony without the need for psychiatric help.
Don’t go through the destructive monogamy methods of confronting them, cajoling them, reminding them, or berating them about a habit that annoys you but not them. In monogamy, they change or you break up. Because, as the thinking goes, if you can’t even eat with a person, they can’t be a long term life partner. And if they can’t be a long term life partner, you are wasting your time.
Informed Active Consent
What is informed active consent? Time Magazine described a similar consent in a story in relation to sexual activity, http://time.com/3211938/campus-sexual-assault-consent-california/ , “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity,” … “consent to sex as the presence of a “yes” rather than the absence of a “no,” … “Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent,” … “Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.”
This is a great definition of consent. But we often think about consenting for something to be done, and rarely think about consent for things which will not be done.
Informed Active Consent within relationship rules means that we can choose to agree on a per situation basis. It also means that we can choose to disagree.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem an option for many people. Swinging, for instance, allows a couple to have sex with other people. But, it also gives an ultimatum. Follow my rules, and you get to have other people. Don’t follow my rules, and our relationship is over.
This seems reasonable in some safety situations. Nobody can put you in an unsafe situation, such as exposure to HIV.
However, going beyond that, most rules are about making people feel comfortable.
Sure, your wife can’t force you to stay in the room and watch her have sex with someone else. On the other hand, you can’t force her to not leave the room and have sex with someone else.
Nor can we force anyone to tell the truth, but we can ethically expect it and should give it. This is where we add the “informed” part of Informed Active Consent.
Informed means that you must provide, and ask your partners to provide, all pertinent and relevant information to make an informed decision.
Informed active consent is a stream of conversation that doesn’t end. Active consent is talking about the status of relationships, and I’d like to use a past example to highlight how this is different.
I had a friend with benefits who was married and a girlfriend who was married. My girlfriend and I were fluid bonded at the time, which means that we felt safe not using a condom.
But, we’d discussed the issue of using condoms. I usually used them, but had an instance with my friend with benefits where we didn’t use a condom and that I had cum inside her.
I expressed the opinion that condoms were something I didn’t want to use. She expressed the opinion that she agreed, but that she felt there might be a threat to her safety.
I agreed, and hypothesised that I too might feel my safety threatened if her husband didn’t use a condom with his girlfriend. We decided that the safety concern was transmission between us and that we had two real choices. She could remain the only one without a condom if I would agree, each time, to use a condom with my friend with benefits, or I could start using a condom with her. She preferred the first.
I proposed a third idea, that I would consciously agree, each time, to use a condom from here on out with all partners.
In this way, I’d never have to choose which primary partner in the future would be the one to be unprotected with. In the end, this seemed like the safest option for everyone involved.
In this example we start with informing our partner.
Something changed from what she had expected as the norm, even though we didn’t have a prior conversation explicitly on this topic, and that it could impact her in some way. I informed her that I had had sex without a condom with another woman.
She, being informed, withdrew her consent to unquestioningly not use a condom when having sex with me. She provided alternatives that would regain her consent.
I withdrew my consent in such a way as to satisfy her safety and my relationship sanity and personal belief in fairness.
We made an active, informed decision of consent based on the changing situation and with respect and honesty.
What made the consent active was that both of us had equal rights and say in the discussion and process of coming to agreement. Nobody threatened to leave. Nobody made demands. Nobody resorted to manipulation or emotional language to play upon the other person’s love for them.
Finally, after actively coming to similar terms, we both consented without further discussion needed. Because, and this is key, you can’t consent if there are items still left on the table. Consent is black and white, yes or no, not maybe.
That, my friends, is Ethical Polyamory, not some bullshit list of rules, nor arguing over who was right, nor making demands of the other person.
We didn’t write down specifics, but rather, discussed the issue until we were both satisfied that we understood each other.
Contrary to how we discussed contracts, there is a downside to a contract. When you write rules down, you look for loopholes. Writing rules is simply begging for this, because each word is scrutinized rather than using the sane understanding spirit of understanding achieved by effective communication.
We didn’t argue over who was right.
She felt her safety was at risk. I believed that my other partner had no other partners outside of her husband, who had no other partner.
I believed that there was no chance of any transmission or pregnancy. However, I agreed that it was possible, and that a possibility was enough to warrant concern.
When you argue about who is right, you are trying to win rather than trying to figure out a real solution that makes everyone happy.
We didn’t make demands.
She didn’t demand that I stop seeing this woman. She didn’t demand that I use a condom with the other woman. She decided that she needed protection within the sex between us, but that it could be satisfied if I actively chose to make a change with the other woman.
I didn’t demand anything in retribution, such as forcing her and her husband to use a condom, which they’d never done their entire marriage.
In fact, by making the choice I had, I found that I could reserve the right to not use a condom with any relationship as I felt the need to bond or if I chose to have children, not that I would or have.
And I could do so while keeping everyone else safe. Having sex without a condom could now be reserved as an ultimate gift of love that I could give, which made me feel good about myself as the often unmarried one who doesn’t have a ring to share with my partners.
We thus found mutual benefits through Informed Active Consent that no rule or contract could ever achieve.
We were fully informed, fully active in discussion, and fully consenting on what was right for her and I in our own little piece of the larger poly family picture.
After I made my decision, I then went to my other partner and informed them of the decision that I had made, and the process continued, informing, discussing, deciding.
Again, this is what Ethical Polyamory is as opposed to a single person or couple led polyfidelity family whereby each new member is interviewed by all other members, voted on, and asked to agree to a ten page set of rules.
So, what do you do when you just can’t agree?
Well, that is simple. Polyamory is not about permanence or impermanence, but the universe certainly has an opinion on the matter. All things change, entropy is the only constant. It’s ok to not agree and go separate ways.
If my partner and I had not agreed on the condom issue, we could have dialed down our relationship until an opinion changed, we had more information, further discussions resulted in new ideas, or we discovered that we couldn’t come to terms and parted ways.
Certainly, if we were married and living together, this might not have been easy. But a quick fix list of rules certainly wouldn’t change the fact that we would disagree.
It would have made things worse. Strife, disputes, lying, and rule breaking all lead to the biggest problem with all relationship styles, be it monogamy, swinging, polyamory: drama.
You don’t have to love everyone you have sex with, nor have sex with everyone you love. I certainly have sex without love, and I certainly love without sex.
I love one of my ex’s that I barely see very much and don’t sleep with, with all the love that I can give a single human being. And I have sex with several friends of mine, who I care about deeply, but am not in love with. And I have sex others that I am in love with.
Emotion, then, is tied to respect and honesty. Sex is also tied to respect and honesty. But emotion doesn’t not depend on sex, nor sex on emotion. So don’t associate sexual agreement on emotional agreement. You and a wife might stop having sex without divorcing.
The world of monogamy as with swinging generally has more issues surrounding emotion rather than sex. Monogamy pairs sex with emotion, while swinging attempts to remove all emotion from sex.
When a man cheats on a woman, her main concern is whether or not he loves the other woman. When a couple in a sex club plays with another couple, they restrict kissing as a way to restrict forming emotional bonds.
Polyamory doesn’t make the same distinctions, making emotion dependent on sex or vice versa. This isn’t to say that individuals don’t make this distinction.
With ethical positions like informed active consent, we don’t force our distinctions on others. I can choose to only have sex with people I love, or I can chose to have sex with people I find really good at the act of sex. I can chose to love the people I have sex with, in so far as emotion is any type of choice, or I can chose to love people who I don’t have sex with.
I find that the longer I am polyamorous, the more diversity of relationship type I’m exposed to. So long as it is done ethically, I can drift into and out of relationships without drama, allowing each relationship to run its natural course, to grow or to fade as the relationship itself leads us.
The Last Decision You Will Ever Make
The last decision you will ever make is the decision to choose people who share an ethical lifestyle. Whatever lifestyle you choose, be it monogamy, swinging, polyamory, or some other form of relationship, you must stay within that.
If you are monogamous, it makes no sense to date a swinger if you want them to only have sex with you. If you are polyamorous, it makes no sense to date a monogamist who doesn’t have the emotional muscles to feel compersion, or lack of hard jealousy.
Similarly, I will make the point that it makes no sense for a polyamorist to date a swinger, or more to the point, for a poly couple to date a swinger couple. The swinger couple is not prepared for the time when one or both of the poly couple falls in love, nor will the poly couple be prepared for rules.
When someone says, “We have a no kissing rule,” the poly couple simply will not understand the reasoning. I’ve been both a swinger and polyamorous.
I still hold open the possibility of group sex situations. However, I reserve this to people who are emotionally available. In other words, I’m talking about people who are actually poly or poly-compatible, and only call themselves swingers, not because that’s who they are, but because they identify with what they do; going to clubs, having group sex, etc.
Having been both, though, I know that I can tell the difference whereas most people from just one or the other or neither might not.
And finally, it makes little sense for an ethical polyamorist to date an unethical one. If you believe that acting in personally responsible ways and direct communication is more effective than a list of rules, you shouldn’t accept the contract to sign simply because it opens you up to a community of women you want to fuck. Thank them for the offer, and move on.
As an Ethical Polyamorist, you will find yourself saying no more often than yes. I turn down dates with monogamists, even if they express acceptance for what I do.
I don’t want the drama that will unfold if they fall in love and are then shocked when I refuse to stop dating my other girlfriends.
Say no, often and easily, until you find what you want. Do not say yes for half of what you want or almost what you want. If you want communication, don’t date people who lie.
This is the dilemma of poly people dating cheaters. Are we responsible if they are cheating? Are we responsible for their other relationship? Both of these questions don’t matter as much as the real questions. Do we want them treating us like they treat others? Do we, who are almost entirely supported through communication, want to invite a liar into our lives?
Decide, once and for all, to be an Ethical Polyamorous person. For further study, please read The Ethical Slut. This is a great resource for ethical non-monogamy of all shapes and sizes.
Control vs Consent
No man is good enough to govern another man without the other’s consent. — Abraham Lincoln, On Slavery
No man is good enough to govern any woman without her consent. — Susan B. Anthony, Response On Women’s Rights
I have an issue with some married poly couples.
Often, the poly partners of a marriage believe that they can speak for one another. I’ve had a husband speak to me on his wife’s behalf.
Often, the partners of a marriage believe that they determine the feelings of one another. I’ve had a husband tell me when his wife would love me.
Often, the partners of a marriage believe that they can give or withdraw the consent of the other. I’ve had a husband tell me that when and where his wife would be unavailable for sex.
These beliefs and those that come from it are based on the principle of exacting control over another human being, granted by a slip of paper.
But it does not require marriage to be stuck with a controlling partner or metamour. And it can be visible by many signs. Control manifests as:
- Access to friends.
- Access to time.
- Access to transportation.
- Access to communication.
- Access to birth control.
This access can be controlled either directly or indirectly, by limits, threats, passive aggressiveness, monitoring, or abuse.
Passive aggressiveness can take the form of playing sick, feigning plans, jealous depression, sarcasm, condescension, talk of being unfair, and, of course, cock blocking and attention seeking activities.
In their extremes, passive aggressiveness is a threat to commit suicide, and abuse is a threat of murder. None of these behaviors are to be taken lightly, because the emotions behind it are very irrational and easily escalate.
The results come from insecurity manifesting itself as control over another human being. While the control of a BDSM scene is consensual and for mutual benefit, control in a relationship is for selfish benefit at the price of another’s will.
I get along just fine with people. I am strong willed and strongly opinionated with regards to myself, and don’t impose my will on others. However, when they attempt to impose their will on me, I take grave issue. Rather than push back, seek revenge, get vindictive, or negotiate, I leave.
Others have told me that I should negotiate more, and this is a valid stance. However, when I am not approached in a spirit of negotiation, not considered, and liberty is taken with me, I am not in a negotiating mood.
I negotiate my needs, and I negotiate the needs of others. What I don’t do is sit attacked and negotiate for peace.
Thinking on a recent break up, I reflect on the core values of Informed Active Consent. In the situation, the male metamour of my partner informed me that my role was as facilitator of his sexual activity with my partner. By being with her just a few times a month, it drove him into sexual competition with me, which he liked. He then said that I may have more time with her under certain conditions.
My Informed Active Consent looked like this:
- Becoming aware of the motivations and nature of a relationship that is imposing on me.
- Making a choice in my own best interest that does not ask for sacrifice from another.
- Withdrawing my consent from the relationship.
I told her I could not continue. I told him to go fuck himself.
I could have negotiated, told him that I was not comfortable with the situation, did not like his control, and asked for a conversation.
I chose not to. I chose to tell this little shit to fuck off. Because he was married to my partner, I simply, and respectfully, told her that I could not continue.
I believe in treating people with respect and honor so long as they don’t violate that implicit respect which I freely gave. Once they do, I owe them nothing.
Too many poly, in thinking they need to keep calm and cooperation among everyone, don’t stand up for themselves. And some take advantage of this. I’m not that guy.
I believe in a small, core set of rights that every individual has in a relationship. Let’s take Informed Active Consent to a second level of logic, which is what rights this infers on individuals.
- I have the right to give or withdraw consent at any time for any reason or no reason. (Consent rights)
- I have the right to think and feel as I choose without needing the approval or valuation of anyone else. (Active rights)
- I have the right to know all information that affects me or could influence my decisions. (Informed rights)
Your rights as an individual in a relationship are exactly the reverse order of the words Informed, Active, and Consent. You have the right to your consent. You have a right to your own active thoughts and equal input. You have a right to be informed of all information that affects you or could affect your decisions.
Anytime I discover that I’m not informed on information, I can withdraw my consent.
Anytime I am informed of something that crosses a boundary, I can withdraw my consent.
Anytime I feel uncomfortable, I can withdraw consent.
Anytime I think I’m in a bad situation, I can withdraw consent.
I do not need agreement to validate my feelings.
I do not need agreement to change my mind.
I do not need agreement to withdraw my consent.
On the other side of that are positive actions.
I am free to feel any emotion for someone. I am free to love anyone. Nobody is free to tell me how to feel.
I am free to think my own thoughts and to speak them. Nobody is free to speak for me.
I am free to consent to any relationship. Nobody is free to consent on my behalf.
All this, and more, comes from just three rights, and those rights all rest on the first right; the right to give or withdraw consent at anytime for any reason.
And the right to consent comes, ultimately, from the basic right of all humanity, the right to refuse.
You do not exist for the amusement of others. You do not exist for their torture, either. Nobody can exact their happiness at the expense of yours. Nor can you exact your happiness at the expense of others.
You exist for your own happiness, and you are the only person responsible for it.
I refuse to let my rights be violated, and I refuse to stay in a relationship that violates another’s rights. This includes leaving a woman who will let another partner violate her rights or mine.
Remember, your ultimate right from which all other rights you have as a human being come from is the right to say, “No.”
Read the entire book on Kindle! https://www.amazon.com/Polyamory-Its-Complicated-DeWayne-Lehman-ebook/dp/B00Y7ITG3I