During our recent trip to Frolicon 2015 in Atlanta, Trevor and I attended a panel called Polyamory 202, in which the presenter outlined some of the issues that crop in “long-term” poly relationships. Although she had good things to say about all the usual topics of time, jealousy and compersion, I was sorry not to hear a discussion about sex in poly relationships.
Not one to wait for someone else, I thought I would start the conversation. Poly relationships can be a mixed bag when it comes to sex. On the one hand, you have the opportunity to get sexual and sensual needs met by more than one partner. If you enjoy something alternative that one partner doesn’t, for example kink, you can get that need met by one person, and have your needs for sweet slow sex met by another. Obviously, the sex is going to be different with each of your partners, and if you have multiple lovers, the possibility exists that you will get more sex than you might if you only had one. Or not.
Sharing Partners and Sexpectations
Because when you share a partner with others, complications around sex can arise. I’ve coined the phrase sexpectations. For example, if I only see a particular lover once a week, I often find myself expecting to have sex every time we are together, in order to establish that connection and intimacy between us. He on the other hand may have just come from another woman’s bed, and has no desire or energy for sex. Another issue that comes up is the sexpectation I have of myself. I can become insecure if I don’t feel like having sex, with a partner. What if I’m not as much “fun” as the other partners? Will he begin spending less time with me, loving me less? In a poly relationship, it is easier to compare and despair. This one is a squirter. That one has an insatiable appetite and no refractory time. It takes a strong sense of self-worth to be in a polyamorous configuration. Another issue that comes up is withholding. My partner may want to save himself for another partner that he is seeing later or tomorrow, and not ejaculate, or not have sex at all. It’s good to remember that sometimes, he will be holding back with someone else for you.These issues are unique to poly relationships.
Sometimes in my poly relationships, I initiate sex even if I am not feeling aroused because, hey, I might be horny tomorrow, and they won’t be available then, so I have to stockpile orgasms now. This can come up in a monogamous relationship too, if it is one where you don’t see each other every day. I have to be watchful for when I am acting out of a fear and not love. Obviously, some of the most intimate and fun times I have with my partners has nothing to do with sex. With Trevor, the bond we have through our work is deeply intimate, and sapio-sexual. We have braingasms creating new workshops, or interviewing potential coaching clients. The thing is, my clitoris appears to be connected to my brain, and that kind of turn-on leads to me wanting some genital loving that isn’t always available due to time or other variables. With my submissive partner, the pleasure we had together was often created by mutual attention and devotion, and that sometimes resulted in sexual contact between us, and often not. I think in polyamory, as in all relationships, intimacy is created in many ways, and sex is just one of them. But it’s an important one.
What Lurks Behind Sexpectations
In looking at my sexpectations, I am forced to confront how much of my self-worth I still can attach to whether or not I am sexually desired. As a recovering child who experienced premature introduction of sexuality by an adult, I have a small part of me that believes my value to the world is only in my being a sex object. When my partner doesn’t want to have sex, I can take it personally. When I am feeling seen and loved, it doesn’t matter. If I experience playfulness and foreplay with a partner that doesn’t lead to orgasm, if i am in good headspace, I can take pleasure in the fact that I have sent my partner away turned on, so that he has amazing sex with one of my metamours. Honestly, sometimes that really turns me on to think about. It makes me feel generous, and included in their fun. But if I am needy or depleted in any way, I can feel gypped, like I wound him up, and she got the benefits I wanted. Then I have to look to my own self care. Am I overworked or tired? Have I been meditating, eating properly, having enough fun?
When I am not getting the sexual attention I say I want, I have to look at the needs that I have, and decide which ones I must take responsibility to meet myself, and where I might be settling for less than I desire from a partner. If a partner is not meeting a basic need (as opposed to a demand or expectation) what am I going to do about it? I can change my mind about it. I can do what it takes to change the situation in a way that is a win for all parties involved. Or I can choose to do neither of those things and just plain sulk, which does nobody any good.
Handling Issues Around Sex in Poly Relationships
In the end, I think tackling the issues that arise around sex in poly relationships requires a four pronged approach.
1) Self-reflection and honesty – Ask yourself, what do I expect and why? Am I trying to bolster my self-esteem, or share love? What need am I trying to meet through a sexual act?
2) Communication and vulnerability – Can I speak my desires to my partner without demand or expectation, but merely to be seen and heard? Am I willing to ask for 100% of what I want 100% of the time and be willing to negotiate the difference? Am I willing to ask my partner what is going on with them and what they need, rather than living with my own assumptions and fears?
3) Focus on appreciation and gratitude – it is a spiritual discipline to keep one’s attention on what is good, and celebrate that, rather than focus on what isn’t happening. From that already pleased place, more fun and pleasure can be gone after.
And finally. . .
4) Be pro-active – waiting for a partner to change, or expecting them to always provide for you, is a recipe for disappointment. Once you have looked inside, figured out what you need and why, it is up to you to find a way to satisfy the sexual desire. If you can engage your partner in being an ally to getting the desire met, even if it is not by their hand or body, it will bring more intimacy.
I hope that by sharing the intimate details of what goes on between my ears and my legs I have helped you see that you are not alone. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below what issues arise in your poly sex life and how you handle them. Let’s get this conversation out in the open so we can all keep learning and loving better and better.