Category Archives: Polyamory

Death Is Way More Complicated When You’re Polyamorous


By Simon Davis

death become her

Screencap via ‘Death Becomes Her’

In February, Robert McGarey’s partner of 24 years died. It was the most devastating loss McGarey had ever encountered, and yet, there was a silver lining: “I had this profound sadness, but I don’t feel lonely,” McGarey told me. “I’m not without support, I’m not without companionship.”

That’s because he has other partners: Jane, who he’s been with for 16 years, and Mary, who he’s been with for eight. (Those are not their real names.) And while his grief for Pam, the girlfriend who died, was still immense, polyamory helped him deal with it.

There’s not a lot of research into how poly families cope with death—probably because there’s not a lot of research about how poly families choose to live. By rough estimates, there are several million poly people in the United States. And while polyamory can bring people tremendous benefits in life and in death, our social and legal systems weren’t designed to deal with people with more than one romantic partner—so when one person dies, it can usher in a slew of complicating legal and emotional problems.

“Whether people realize it or not, the partner to whom they are married will have more benefits and rights once a death happens,” explained Diana Adams, who runs a boutique law firm that practices “traditional and non-traditional family law with support for positive beginnings and endings of family relationships.”

Since married partners rights’ trump everyone else’s, the non-married partners don’t automatically have a say in end-of-life decisions, funeral arrangements, or inheritance. That’s true for non-married monogamous relationships, too, but the problem can be exacerbated in polyamorous relationships where partners are not disclosed or acknowledged by family members. In her work, Adams has seen poly partners get muscled out of hospital visits and hospice by family members who refused to recognize a poly partner as a legitimate partner.

McGarey and his girlfriend Pam weren’t married, so the decision to take her off life support had to go through Pam’s two sisters. The money Pam left behind—which McGarey would’ve inherited had they been married—went to her sisters too, who also organized Pam’s funeral.

This kind of power struggle can also happen among multiple partners who have all been romantically involved with the deceased. The only real way to ensure that everything is doled out evenly is to draft up a detailed prenuptial agreement and estate plan. Adams works with clients to employ “creative estate planning” to ensure that other partners are each acknowledged and taken care of.

Adams is a big proponent of structured mediation as a way of minimizing post-mortem surprises, like when families discover the existence of mysterious extra-marital partners in someone’s will. It’s much better to have those conversations in life than on someone’s deathbed, or after death.

But many poly people remain closeted in life and in death, according to sociologist Elisabeth Sheff, who has studied polyamorous families for 15 years and authored The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families. A person might have a public primary partner—someone they’re married to, for example—plus other private relationships. That can make it harder to grieve when one of the non-primary partners dies, because others don’t recognize the relationship as “real” or legitimate in the way the death of a spouse might be.

Take, for example, something like an employee bereavement policy. Guidelines from the Society for Human Resource Management spell out the length of time off given in the event of the death of a loved one: a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, in-laws, aunts, uncles, grandparents. Unsurprisingly, extra-marital boyfriend or girlfriend is not on the list. (Actually, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” aren’t on the list at all.) It’s possible for an employee to explain unique circumstances to an employer, but in her research, Sheff has found that some poly people prefer not to “out” themselves this way. People still disapprove of extra-marital affairs and some poly people, according to Sheff, have even lost their jobs from being outed, due to corporate “morality clauses.”

It’s similar, she says, to the experiences of same-sex couples who are closeted. “It’s much less so now because they’re more acknowledged and recognized, but 20 years ago, it was routine for [the family of the deceased] to muscle out the partner and ignore their wishes—even if [the deceased] hadn’t seen their family for years and years,” Sheff said. “They would come and descend on the funeral and take over. Or when the person was in the ICU. That same vulnerability that gays and lesbians have moved away from to some extent is still potentially very problematic for polyamorous people.”

Legal recognition of polyamorous unions could provide some relief. After the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013 and legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, calls for legalizing plural marriage have only become louder. Adams noted that an argument put forth in Chief Justice John Roberts’s 2015 dissent may provide a legal foothold for legalization advocates. “As Roberts points out, if there’s going to be a rejection of some of the traditional man-woman elements of marriage… those same arguments could easily be applied to three or four-person unions,” she said in an interview with US News & World Report earlier this year.

In 2006, Melissa Hall’s husband Paul died at the age of 52. Both were polyamorous, but Paul’s death presented “no special problems,” since they were legally married and Hall had all the rights of a spouse. Instead, she found unexpected benefits in dealing with her husband’s death: In particular, she told me that “being poly made it easier to love again.” Since they had both dated other people during their life together, Hall knew her husband’s death wouldn’t stop her from dating again.

In traditional relationships, it’s not uncommon for people to impose dating restrictions on themselves to honor the desires of their dead spouses, or to feel guilty when they start dating again. Of course, you don’t win if you don’t date either, as people eventually get on your case to “move on with your life.” All this goes out the window when you’re polyamorous, where dating doesn’t necessarily signal the end of an arbitrary acceptable period of mourning.

More partners in a relationship can certainly mean more support. It can also mean more people dying, and with that comes more grief. In an article about loss among polys published in the polyamory magazine Loving More, one man wrote: “Those of us who have practiced polyamory through our lifetime must be grateful for the abundance of love in our lives. But having those wonderful other loves means we must accept a little more grieving as well, when our times come.”

Is the trade off worth it? McGarey certainly seems to think so. “There is more grieving, but… we are held and cradled in the love of other people at the same time.”

He compares his relationship to the Disney movie Up, which starts with a guy falling in love and marrying his childhood sweetheart. “And then [she] dies, and he turns into this grumpy old man because he lost his love,” McGarey said. “I don’t see myself turning into a grumpy old man. I don’t know if I can attribute that to poly, but maybe that’s why.”

Complete Article HERE!

Plays Well With Others

Name: Jim & Elaine
Gender: Couple
Age: 42 & 38
Location: Denver
We have been happily married for 15 years. We have a good, but pretty vanilla sex life together. We want to spice things up and are talking about maybe looking for other couples online. We’re both in good shape and have very outgoing personalities. Both of us have had one short affair in the past, now we think we want to play together. Thoughts?

You guys want to look for other couples online…for ummm sex? I mean you imply that but you don’t really come right out and say it, do you? I know you are new to this and you are just feeling your way through this unfamiliar territory, but unless you want to look like rank amateurs by other consensual non-monogamous couples, like swingers and polyamorous folks…and that’s what we’re talking about, right? You’d better get comfortable articulating precisely what it is you want, how you want it, and with whom.white on black

If you’ve already begun your online search, you’ve probably already discovered that there are several different avenues for you to pursue. There are, of course, dating and profile sites. There are also sites that feature ads from other non-monogamous couples. If swinging is what you are after, there are exclusive swing parties and more inclusive swinger clubs. And each of these outlets may offer special groupings for the fetish-oriented swinger.

Since you don’t actually say what kind of consensual non-monogamy you’re looking for, let’s talk swinging for now. Like I said, this isn’t the only kind of consensual non-monogamy, but it’s probably the oldest most established variety.

Before you swing, you guys need to decide what type of swing-set you want. If the vocabulary that follows is unfamiliar to you, you have some remedial homework to do before you launch your swing-capade. There is “soft” swinging and “hard” swinging. And bisexually may or may not be an option for you.

polyamory1If you assume that all swingers are open-minded about sex, consider this; lots of swing outlets prohibit male-on-male sex. Personally, I find this extremely bizarre and off-putting, but I suppose it only reflects the prejudices of the popular culture. There are some swing-sets that allow novice swingers to simply to be voyeurs. I can’t fuckin’ figure this out either. Maybe it’s a heterosexual thing.

If you gravitate toward the club-set there are 3 types to consider:

  1. SEX clubs — these clubs allow full-on sex, but only in designated areas.
  2. NO-SEX clubs — allow for lots of exhibitionism and voyeurism, including nudity, but no full-on sex. These clubs are great for meeting other swingers and to set up your own sex dates.
  3. Swinger parties are NO-SEX events, and are usually held in a nightclub or restaurant. Again, you can meet like-minded folks there and set up your own sex dates.

Whichever outlet you choose; make sure you understand the rules and regulations of the get together before you attend.

Like I said, it’s of the utmost importance that you guys decide, in advance, what your limits are. A good number of otherwise healthy marriages flounder at this point. Have a clear and frank exchange with each other on the ground rules of your swinging and then stick to them. Trying to negotiate a change to the rules of engagement during a swing is a very bad idea. That’s not to say that your ground rules won’t change and evolve over time; just don’t attempt to adjust them while they are in play.

Never push your partner into doing something he/she is not ready to do. Be open with each other before, during and especially after a swing. Effective communication is essential. This goes for communicating with your fellow swingers. Be sure to let everyone know that you are newbees to the scene. (Don’t worry, everyone will have figured that out already.) Novices stick out like a sore…hard-on.

Sexy people

Sexy people

Most clubs and groupings don’t allow single men. Most swing-sets are women oriented, to the degree that women set the tone for the swing. That being said, it’s still a man’s world. Men generally dictate the type of sexual expression that will be tolerated — thus the prohibition, stated or unstated, against male on male sex. Female on female sex is, of course, encouraged for obvious reasons. How’s that for a screwed-up double standard?

Most clubs expect full or partial nudity. My swinger friends advise that if you just want to attend so you can ogle others, stay the fuck home! Novice swingers, like you guys, ought to stay together until you feel comfortable being apart. But for Christ sake, don’t glom on to one another like the other swingers have the cooties.

Most of all, take responsibility for your eroticism and your sexuality. Be friendly and good-natured. And don’t try to pretend you’re a more accomplished sexual athlete than you are.

Be advised, you are about to embark on a sexual journey that will take you to the edges of what society regards as appropriate sexual behavior. Don’t be surprised if some of your more traditional friends discriminate against you when they find out about your new activities. Finally, swinging is far less about what you do (sex) and way more about who you are (a lifestyle). To that end, I’d like to turn you on to a fantastic resource. Check out my friends, John and Allie, at SwingerCast.  And be sure to listen to my two-part interview with them right here on my site. You’ll find Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE!

Good luck

Just In Time For Pride Month

LGBTQrstuv: Bisexuality & Transgender

with John Corvino

John Corvino

REVIEW: My Life on the Swingset

Hey sex fans!

Have I got some marvelous news for you! My friend and colleague, Cooper S. Beckett, has written a new book.  It impressed me no end so I thought, rather than keep this all to myself, I’d share it with you.

Ya’ll remember Cooper, right? OK, maybe ya don’t; it’s been a long time since he was last seen skulking around my site. Way back in March of 2011 I had the pleasure of welcoming Cooper and his ever so lovely sidekick, Ginger, to my Sex EDGE-U-cation show for a two-part interview. You can find both parts in the Podcast Archive HERE and HERE!

Cooper and Ginger are the hosts of the Life On The Swingset podcasts, where they discuss a wide range of topics, with a focus on consensual non-monogamy. swingset

Cooper’s new book: My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory, is a collection of essays on…wait for it…his personal journey through ethical non-monogamy. This is what he says about it in the Introduction:

You should read this book because it represents my journey. From starry-eyed newbie swinger, through my dealing with jealousy and conflict, through the triumphs of orgies and play parties, through the devastation of breaking up, through exploring polyamory, through divorce, through major life changes, through depression, through success and failure, through the rise and fall of new relationships.

Triumphs of orgies?? How you do go on, sir!

It’s no secret that Cooper is unabashedly biased when it comes to swinging, polyamory, as well as other forms of ethical non-monogamy. And why shouldn’t he be? As he plainly states he has grown in his appreciation of himself and his sexuality in the process. Now, how many of us can make a similar claim? However, in his enthusiasm, he doesn’t gloss over the difficulties. He speaks honestly and earnestly about this particular way to live one’s life. He describes the opportunities that allow for growth in terms of understanding one’s sexuality and one’s loving relationships through experimentation and self-reflection.

To my mind, there is nothing more compelling than a “coming out” story. It’s one thing to quietly self-identify as a fellow big-fat-pervert, as I am apt to say on my podcasts, it’s quite another to tell the whole world. I am pleased to welcome Cooper to the Out-There-Come-What-May club.  It’s good to have you here, my friend.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is titled: Bi The Way – Male Bisexuality and Swinging. Cooper, Ginger, and I talked about this very thing, at length, in our podcast together. So it was delightful to find him exploring this concept in print as well.

There is a huge double standard in the swinging lifestyle when it comes to acceptance of bisexual males. We all know this, it’s endemic. As swingers we seem perfectly happy that our women are bisexual. We encourage and expect them to be so often. Some more than others, but by and large, definitely bisexual. Now don’t jump down my throat here, I’m well aware that straight swinging females exist, and probably in a decent sized number, but wouldn’t we all agree that the VAST majority of females in the lifestyle are bi? This fact isn’t really shocking, as even the mainstream vanilla world has embraced girl-on-girl dalliance action in the past ten to fifteen years. So when a lifestyle such as swinging presents itself as an option, affording them the opportunity to play with girls, well, there ya go, that’s where the bi girl inside comes out. Many of the swing couples I’ve met said that this was one of the prominent reasons they got into this lifestyle in the first place. So Mrs. could play with another woman. You raise the call for bisexual males, however, and tumbleweeds blow by. Invisible because it’s been made very clear in club and party rules and pricing that a man who wants to play with another man is an unwelcome addition to the scene. This doesn’t make sense.

See why I like Cooper so much?

Another thing I liked a lot about the book, and I think every reader will echo my feelings about this, is Cooper’s thoughtful addition of a glossary of pertinent lingo. If you don’t know the difference between a Full Swap and a Soft Swap or don’t know PIV and PIA from a hole in your head (someone’s gonna appreciate that pun, don’t cha know), not to worry because Cooper takes great pains to spell it out for you.

On a personal note, I want to say a special thanks to Cooper for his chapter titled: Podcasting Can be Lonely. I thought I was the only person who thought this way.

Podcasting can be a lonely pursuit at times. You predominantly interact with people that don’t have physicality in your world. They’re avatars, they’re ones and zeros. They exist for real somewhere, of course. (Most of them, there are the bots after all.) But few exist beyond text on a screen. Writing for a website is the same way. It’s a lot of work, and a tremendous output of self. We sex bloggers reveal so much to so many people (at least we hope for “so many”) and can often get to wondering if we’re just shouting into the void.

Funny, erotic, thought provoking, authentic, and true. My Life on the Swingset: Adventures in Swinging & Polyamory raises the bar for all of us who are trying to live honest ethical non-monogamy and talk with others about our experiences. Cooper Beckett, you are an inspiration!

My Life on the Swingset is available exclusively as an Amazon Kindle e-book. A print edition will follow later this month. And be sure to look for the audiobook release in the spring. Check it out, sex fans; you’ll be so glad you did.

Open Hearts, Open Minds, And Open Relationships

Name: Deborah
Gender: female
Age: 36
Location: Rome
I like your site very much. Thank you for some much honesty. I have a question; do open relationships really work?

Well gee, thanks for your kind words, darlin’; I appreciate it.

To your question about open relationships, I guess that depends on the maturity level of the people considering opening their sexually exclusive relationship. And how much work they are willing to put forward to communicate with one another through all the details that such a decision relationship

That being said, there are a few things us sex researchers know for sure. In most cultures, people claim to practice sexual exclusivity, which is commonly referred to as monogamy. Although I think that’s a misnomer. Monogamy literally means having one union, which, as we all know, tells us nothing about sexual expression of either or both partners.

Lifetime sexual exclusivity (being sexually involved with only one person for one’s entire life) is rare. Serial sexual exclusivity (having a series of exclusive relationships over one’s life) is much more common. And despite knowing that we humans do not mate for life, we continue to presume that sexual exclusivity, or monogamy is the only legitimate kind of coupling.

This, unfortunately, leads to our culture’s obsession with cheating — that is, having sex with someone outside of a monogamous relationship. And frankly, what I know about humans, human relationships, and human sexuality; I can say for certain that fidelity is not necessarily a genital issue. One can indeed be faithful to someone else and still have the freedom to express him/herself sexually with others. It happens all the time. In these cases, fidelity is to the relationship and the agreements, parameters, and boundaries mutually agreed upon by the partners. Which get me back to my opening comment about the need for communication. Of course, it’s much easier to presume that everyone in a relationship is working under the same rubric, but that kind of presumption is a fool’s paradise.

polyamory1Another shortcoming of setting up sexual exclusivity, or monogamy as the only legitimate kind of coupling is that it diminishes all the other types of relationships that flourish albeit in a more covert sort of way. And here I’m talking about an array of open relationship models and polyamory. The fact that we don’t hear a lot about these non-traditional relationships shouldn’t suggest to you, or anyone, that they don’t exist or that they aren’t practical or practiced my a lot of people. They are! It just means that most people in non-traditional relationships know not to go public in a society that would denigrate them for their lifestyle choices. That’s how things are here in the good old US of A; and I’ll wager it’s also true for you Italians. Am I right, or am I right?

Open relationships and polyamorous relationships work because the people in them adhere to some basic tenets about how to conduct themselves.

First among them is the notion that these alternative relationships must be chosen; they can’t be mandated. If one or another of the persons considering an open or poly relationship is being pressured to go along with the flow, or is fearful that he/she will be alone if he/she doesn’t comply with the will of the other(s), that kind of duress is not gonna work.

Each person in the relationship needs to take responsibility for the choices he/she is making. If you’re not up for the task, or if this kind of arrangement is not compatible with your personality type, don’t attempt to override that. You will only jeopardize the relationship for the other(s) involved. However if the idea appeals to you, give it your best shot. I can guarantee it will be a learning experience. Just remember, exploring something and having it carved in stone are two very different things.

Second, communication is key. The more complex the relationship structure the greater the need for open lines of communication. Know your boundaries and express them clearly. Ask questions; never assume you know something when you don’t. If you will allow me some shameless self-promotion, I’d like to direct your attention to my latest book, The Gospel Of Kink — A Modern Guide To Asking For What You Want And Getting What You Ask For. It’s a communication and relationship-building workshop, for folks in nontraditional relationships, in workbook form. I think you will find it most enlightening. GOK small cover

Third, know yourself! You must be able to deal with your emotions, particularly jealousy, in an up-front, adult way. This is often much easier said than done. If you need to be the center of attention just so you can feel good about yourself, or you have serious territorial issues — this is mine, this is mine, and this is mine! Alternative relationships are probably not for you.

Know what keeps you even keel in terms of what you need and what you are able to give. There has got to be a healthy tension between these two things. If you’re the kind who gives too much and resents not being rewarded for your gifts, stay away from alternative relationships. Or if you are so needy that you can’t stand it when someone else is enjoying his/her time in the sun; open or poly relationships are decidedly not for you.

You should also know that alternative relationships, of whatever stripe, are, for the most part, on the fringes of what society will accept. And some are outright taboo. This doesn’t mean you will have to slug it out on your own, in a vacuum of support. On the contrary, you will no doubt find that the people who are living contrary to the expectations of the popular culture are often a whole lot more generous with their support and compassion then those following all the rules.

You will find that your support system will shift from more traditional sources like family, church, and community to alternative sources like clubs and social groupings of other like-minded individuals as yourself. A common mistake made by those in non-traditional relationships is to take their problems and issues to their traditional support systems. This rarely works because the traditional support system will inevitably blame the non-traditional relationship setup for the problem. This is not true, of course, but how would those in traditional relationships know otherwise.

I always suggest that those in non-traditional relationships bring their issues to their non-traditional support system. Here you are less likely to encounter judgments about your life choices and more help with overcoming the problems at hand.

Good luck

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