Risky Business

Monogamy is for suckers. This thought actually crosses your mind once you spend a few weeks talking to polys about the bliss of a crowded bed. I mean, what’s not titillating about polyamory? There’s the sex with multiple partners. The potential for sex with multiple partners at the same time. And, of course, the ability to express your wants, needs and desires to all of your partners, including the one you’re married to, without risking a sharp knee to the groin.

But orchestrating all these unleashed desires between wife and husband and their various boyfriends and girlfriends requires a great deal of juggling. Think it’s bad when one girlfriend feels neglected? Try having four, which Brian did at one point. They call polyamory a lifestyle. But to some polyamorists it starts to look like a job.

‘Polyamorists are always processing things. There’s this joke: Swinging is sex without the guilt—polyamory is guilt without the sex.’

“Members of the poly community prefer to view themselves as being different from those just looking to get laid,” says Theresa Reed, a 45-year-old Portland-based writer. She would know. Back in 2001, Reed was instrumental in galvanizing the local poly scene by facilitating low-key, nonsexual get-togethers, usually in her own home.

“Polyamorists are always processing things. Thinking about things. For days. Sometimes it seems like nobody has time to have sex,” she says. “There’s this joke: Swinging is sex without the guilt—polyamory is guilt without the sex.”

That explains why monthly polyamory discussion groups—which Brian now leads in his own home—can become a necessary outlet. Because even when all parties are willing, having a threesome simply isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are issues. Lots of them: time management, balancing the needs of a primary relationship with a secondary one, jealousy, how to bring up being poly in a conversation with the uninitiated, and even pondering how “out” one should be.

Still, despite all the processing and the bullet points, for most monogamists, polyamory may always be looked upon as somewhat depraved, a dolled-up whore sitting in the front church pew.

I know this because I feel the drill bits buzzing from my girlfriend’s eyes whenever I bring up the topic. For the purposes of my story, I’m just thinking out loud, rattling off the talking points in defense of polyamory—playing devil’s advocate. But each time I make a point, she shoots me down with a simple observation: Why get married if you know you’re going to want to sleep with other people?

It’s the one argument that poly apologists can’t shake. Not that they don’t try. “A lot of people end good relationships by going after a crush,” Reed says. “Something that’s forbidden is more attractive, but when you cheat you create all these horrible things. Divorce. Mistrust. Hatred. In a polyamorous relationship, if you have a crush, you say to your partner, ‘Let’s learn more about this person.’”

As Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt succinctly put it in The Ethical Slut, considered by many to be the bible of polyamory: “A ring around the finger does not cause a nerve block to the genitals.”