If thousands of hours of conversations as a phone sex operator have taught me one thing, it’s that for many folks, strict monogamy is tremendously stressful.
Those who have sexual desires or kinks that their partner disapproves of or doesn’t want to participate in feel shamed and limited. Those who love their spouse but feel a strong desire for emotional or sexual connection with another person feel guilty. Those who simply desire variety but feel pressured by the culture to monogamously couple feel conflicted. And because there is such a strong stigma against non-monogamous relationships, most of these folks don’t know who to talk to, or how to negotiate their desires.
A local group, Poly in Pittsburgh, is working to create a community that supports poly folks, and to normalize polyamory as a practice. Morgan Hawkins, founder of Poly in Pittsburgh, described polyamory as simply “opening yourself up to the possibility of more than one loving relationship.” She tells me that not everyone practices polyamory the same way, adding, “the beauty of polyamory is the freedom you have to form relationships in a configuration that works for you and your partner(s).” This could mean anything from having several partners in one household raising a family together, to having a primary partner, but the freedom to have secondary sexual and emotional connections, to having several concurrent relationships, none of which are central. Importantly, while there isn’t one way to be polyamorous, one of the key principles of polyamory is that all partners enter into these relationship configurations with full knowledge and consent.
Learning to negotiate consent and communicate well is central to poly relationships.
When Poly in Pittsburgh started in Aug. 2016, it was just a Facebook group with a dozen of her friends and former partners who wanted to connect to explore polyamory. But soon those folks started adding their friends and partners, and now the Facebook group has 900 members. Active members not only participate in online discussions, but also meet for monthly socials, and attend other events together. Hawkins describes the community as serving a really important function for poly folks.
“Like many other countercultures, it's comforting and validating to have a community where you don't feel like you have to defend yourself and your way of living and relating,” she says.
The rapid growth of the group points to a shift in our cultural attitudes toward monogamy, more expansive understandings of relationships, and more forgiving attitudes toward sexual exploration. It is hopeful that with communities such as Poly in Pittsburgh, folks will feel less alone in their desires, and more comfortable honestly and openly advocating for them.
As for me, I’m sure my clients and I will find other things to talk about.
Those interested in finding out more about Poly in Pittsburgh can find them online at polyinpgh.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/polyinpgh.
This week on the Peepshow Podcast we had the pleasure of speaking to Andy, the owner of The Growth Arc, a consulting and coaching practice to help people work to be more honest with themselves and in all of their relationships. The Growth Arc is a trauma informed, sex-positive, relationship and sexuality education-based coaching program.
Andy talked to us about her own history of sexual trauma and secrecy that led to the normalization of a lot of unethical sexual practices in her marriage. Working through some of that trauma in therapy, as well as reading Janet Hardy’s The Ethical Slut (a text many deem the poly Bible), allowed her to rethink the way she was living her life.
In this episode, she reflects on her own introduction to polyamory at that time in her life and says, “I had been lying forever, and I needed this way to live to stop this pattern about being secretive.” After doing this work she reflected, “Holy shit, this way of communicating is so much better for the world than what is happening right now.”
Once she changed her relationship to polyamory, learned to listen to her own desires and more honestly communicate those to her partners, she was inspired to start the Growth Arc in order walk others through this process of discovery.