“I never meant to brag, but I got him where I want him now
It was never my intention to brag, to steal it all away from you now
But God, does it feel so good, ’cause I got him where I want him now
And if you could then you know you would, because God, it just feels so…
It just feels so good…–Paramore, “Misery Business”
Hey, my kinky, polyam peeps! To say this past week has been something else would be an understatement. I’ve had this post “In the hopper” for quite some time, but knew it was going to require a lot of research. I had a vigorous debate with Penguin Saturday night about this piece where I thought about throwing it away altogether.
Then the news broke on Monday about the Suprement Court.
As I mentioned on our Facebook Page, the Bratty Cat fully stands behind expanded healthcare options for vulva-owners, including the right to an abortion. To quote the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg:
“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being, and dignity. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices”–Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Kink is about equality, for people of all genders, and without access to safe family planning options, vulva-owners will never achieve full equality. It’s for that reason that I felt it was important I move forward with this piece, even if it’s not my best work, because I want to give women a voice and highlight their contributions to the community.
Before I get started, let me also warn you that this post is going to be incredibly cisheteronormative. It’s one of the reasons I almost decided not to write it. For reasons that I’ll share later on, what I’m about to write about ignores large swaths of the polyam community, specifically those who identify as queer. Despite this, again, for reasons I’ll get to in a minute, it’s an issue that effects the majority of the polyam community. I say this not to minimize issues faced by the queer polyam community, and just because something doesn’t affect 100% of the group doesn’t mean it doesn’t warrant discussion.
Last thing: Let’s do the resource dump. For this week’s post, I’ll be referencing this article from The Good Men Project, these two articles from Poly Land, this article from the Washington Post, this article from Rolling Stone, a 2017 study by the U.S. Census Bureau, this 2012 study from The Loving More Nonprofit, and finally this 2012 study from the National Institute of Health
A little refresher about Panda and I’s history, we entered the world of Ethical Non-Monogamy just a few months after we got married. We signed up for Swing Lifestyle, basically the Amazon.com of swinger dating sites. Unlike most cishet men who open their relationships, it wasn’t to “fuck as many women as I could find”. True, the reason we signed up for it was because we had we both had three other sexual partners between the two of us, so we thought this would be a good way to “sow our wild oats”. However, this wasn’t a way for me to “get laid”. I always saw marriage as a journey of equality, and I looked forward to sharing this new experience together.
Or so I thought…
If you’re a cisterhero man who’s ever opened their relationship, you’re all too familiar with what I’m about to talk about next. Go on any Reddit thread and search for “Polyamory”, “Swinging”, or “ENM” and you’ll hear story after story of how women are the “gatekeepers of sex” and how men suddenly find the tables turned on them as their dreams of sexual conquest are quickly dashed.
While I wanted so badly to find actual data on the amount of sex cis women in open relationships have as compared to cis men, I couldn’t find a scratch, so everything I’m going to relate is based on my personal experience as well as anecdotal evidence. If someone has actualy figures, please e-mail me as I would LOVE to hear more.
While things started out great initially with Panda and I (we put up a joint profile on SLS and started to get e-mails from couples looking to play), before too long, we would get requests from single men, or even couples, looking to play with Panda separately. My initial stance was a hard “No!” because we had agreed that we were in this together. Plus, as someone who was very self-conscious and suffered from low self-esteem, I didn’t feel comfortable approaching women separately, plus many of them had in their profile they only play with couples.
After a while I did what most men in my situation did and relent. Not much, just enough to have a compromise, to show that I wasn’t a complete monster. I let her play with one guy by herself and she had to clear it with me first. I put her on a tight schedule of how frequently she could do it. Then one guy became two, and two guys became three. The anger in me started to reach a boiling point. The interesting part was that I wasn’t mad at her. I was mad at the situation. I was mad that she was getting all the attention and I wasn’t. In a perverse way I was still kind of happy for her, but I felt like a discarded piece of garbage, something somebody threw away. I even had a name for it: “Diet Coke Syndrome”.
I remember less than a year into our journey, Panda and I were at a house party hosted by some swingers we met on SLS. It had gotten late into the evening and I had been drinking QUITE heavily. I was so drunk, I don’t even remember the party host driving me back to my house that night. It was a warm June evening, and we were sitting in the back yard enjoying drinks and a campfire. Panda had gone indoors and upstairs to have sex with the owner of the house. The windows must have been open because we could hear the two of them loud and clear all the way outside. I looked around the campfire and said:
“This is my life. Right here. She’s upstairs getting fucked and I’m down here, drunk. You know how when you go to McDonald’s and you want a Big Mac and fries, and it’s like $4.00, but if you get the value meal, you get that large Diet Coke and it’s only a quarter more? You don’t really want the Diet Coke, but you’re like ‘yeah, what the Hell! It’s only twenty-five cents.’ That’s me. I’m the Diet Coke. I’m just here because it only cost somebody a quarter to tag along.”
In hindsight, probably one of the most depressing things I’ve ever said in my entire life, and I’ve been hospitalized for suicidal ideation, so that’s saying a lot. It’s how I felt, and it’s how I imagine a lot of cishetero men feel when they first get exposed to Ethical Non-Monogamy. What changed? Two things: First, I got my confidence up. I started to think of myself as an asset and not a liability. Panda saw worth in me, so why wouldn’t other people. Second, I embraced compersion. There was so much “score keeping” in the early days, I couldn’t be happy, and when I say score-keeping, I mean LITERAL SCORE KEEPING. I would actually make notes of how many play dates Panda had as compared to me and if I saw her body count getting too high compared to mine, I would cut her off. It was toxic and gross and I recognize that now. At the time, I was too stuck in my own head to see it. I had to embrace the whole “When you win, we win” mentality, which is also what led us to polyamory. We both recognized that what was important to us was both our own and the other person’s happiness, so we were going to let each other be happy no matter what.
So, why are we discussing the experience of women in polyamory and ethical non-monogamy in general? As I alluded to in the preface to this post, the experiences I’m about to describe are probably more common that one might think. While the data is sparse, and granted, underreporting by the polyam and queer communities is almost certainly an issue in data collection, according to the studies I was able to locate and vet, cishetero individuals still appear to make up the largest, if not majority sect of the polyam community.
I had several conversations with Penguin over this matter, and it got to be quite a heated debate. The last thing you want to do is project your own experiences on to the world in general, because that can result in significant biases and hence, cause one to draw poor conclusions. Again, accounting for underreporting, even the most “aggressive” measures I found show that the LGBTQ+ population makes up, at most, 15-20% of the general population. Some figures have it as low as 5%. As the “Token Cishetero White Guy” in my circle of friends, I found this hard to believe. In addition to this, the studies I referenced that discuss the prevalence of the LGBTQ+ population inside the polyam community put it anywhere from 20-40% of the population. This means that anywhere from 60% to as much as 80% of the national polyam community is cisgender and heterosexual. While these numbers were certainly a surprise to me, and I don’t take them as gospel, I do have an education and training in statistical analysis, and usually when there’s smoke, there’s fire. Do I believe that 80% of the polyam community is cisgender and heterosexual? Absolutely not. Based upon the studies I read and the methodologies they used, I do feel comfortable saying that the cishetero portion of the polyam community is “greater than 50%”, as much as I personally still find that hard to believe.
IF (and that’s a big “if”) we accept the assumptions underlying the argument I just laid out, we now recognize not just the similarities the polyam community has with the cishetero monogamous community, but how polyamory and ethical non-monogamy has turned many of those concepts on their head. While women have made great strides towards equality in just my short lifetime, it’s a hard argument to make that the playing field, particularly in relationships, is level. While women have exceeded men in areas such as post-secondary education, they still lag in income, personal wealth, and other financial security measures. In the cishetero world, their physical, financial, and emotional security is still largely dependent on what man they “hitch their wagon to”.
The polyamorous woman (and I use that term in the cisgender sense) has many more opportunities open to her and seems to be holding most of the cards. From the “sexual liberation” standpoint, once we untie sex from monogamy, all bets are off. It’s said that men pull women into ENM and women keep men in ENM. The story I laid out about Panda an I’s early experience is pretty typical from others that I have spoken to in the community. It’s unfashionable to speak about women as “the gatekeepers of sex”, and I understand and respect that argument. It belittles women as nothing more than mere sexual service providers and minimizes the sexual act as merely transactional (which, don’t get me wrong, it CAN be, it just doesn’t HAVE to be).
On the other hand, as someone who has two Bachelor’s degrees and two Master’s Degrees in business and finance, I can tell you that a of of life can be boiled down to simple supply and demand curves. To paraphrase Penguin, because of pregnancy as well the biology of cisgender women that make them more susceptible to STIs, UTIs, and other infections that can arise from sexual activity, women have a different cost-benefit analysis than men. It’s not that women’s appetite is any less voracious than men’s, rather, the stakes are just higher. I’ve been told by my cisgender women friends that their sense of sexual frustration runs deep as well, not because they CAN’T get laid, but rather, because they know the smart thing is NOT to get laid. What restrains men in the sexual hunting ground is monogamy, and once that is torn back, is it any wonder demand greatly outstrips supply?
It’s more than just sex, however, in which polyamory opens previously closed doors for women. In the cishetero world (and the queer one to some extent, as I’ve been told) Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs still runs through men. If a woman wants a safe home, a secure future, and the emotional stability that goes along with both of them, her fortunes are still tied, more often than not, to a man. But what if we threw the idea of the nuclear family out the window? What if, instead of a Mom, Dad, 2.3 kids a dog, and a picket fence, we redefined family altogether?
While kitchen table polyamory has never been my cup of tea (I’m an introvert, and a messy one at that. I don’t “live well” with other people), I can understand it’s appeal. The idea of extended or multi-family homes and support networks is an advantage to all genders, and especially women. Rather than relying on A man, what if that woman could rely on TWO men? or TWO women? Or two partners and a meta? Or two partners, a meta, and a family member. Whenever one of my partner’s feels guilty about asking for help (I won’t tell you which, but several of them, like me, are determined to make it on their own, no matter how much help you offer them), I tell them “Family is like a spider web. The more spiders weaving the web, the stronger it becomes, and the better it is to catch you if and when you fall.” It’s important to note, that while I have spoken about this concept in terms of the polyam community, it’s a concept that can benefit even monogamous families. I remember when I was in grade school, my best friend lived down the street from me with his Mom, Dad, brother, sister, and cousin. There were always friends and family members coming in and out of that house. It wasn’t so much a home for his immediate family as it was for everyone they loved, and it was one of the places where little eight year-old me felt the most safe.
So, in conclusion, to quote Page Turner in her Poly Land article: “Is Polyamory Matriarchal?” I would have to say it’s not. Is it feminist? Well, I think that depends on what your definition of “feminism” is. I know a cishetero white guy defining feminism is probably the epitome of mansplaining, and from what I’ve observed, a lot of “feminism” is really just about equality. It’s standing up to the Patriarchy and saying “Excuse me! We would like some of those sweet equal rights too!”. In that sense, yes, I believe polyamory is feminist. While I don’t believe it ultimately tips the scales in favor of women, it absolutely tips them away from men, and for the life of me, I’ll never understand what that’s so controversial.
Until next time, stay kinky, my friends…
–The Bratty Cat