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A new way to love: in praise of polyamory

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Polyamory isn’t monogamy and it isn’t swinging, it’s being open to having loving relationships with different people of different sexes at the same time, and in that way learning to love yourself, too

‘It’s like any normal relationship, except with more time management’: Elf Lyons.

By Elf Lyons

I have never enjoyed typical monogamy. It makes me think of dowries and possessive prairie voles who mate for life, and historically all monogamous relationship models have owned women in some way, with marriage there for financial purposes and the ownership of property.

For the last few years I’ve defined myself as a polyamorist. Friends before defined me as a “friendly philanderer”. I love to kiss people. Friends usually, or women who wear polo-necks. Polyamory is consensual non- monogamy. It’s a philosophy. Rather than the active pursuing of multiple partners in a lascivious way, it’s the embracing and understanding that it’s possible to fall in love, and have relationships, with more than one person at the same time.

Alongside developing CEO-worthy skills in multitasking, polyamory is the most empowering way of loving that I have encountered. It gives women more autonomy than other relationship models ever have. Although monogamous relationship models work for many, they’re not the only way to have relationships in society. In non-monogamous relationships, their success relies on everything being on the table from the start. I believe that it could be the huge relationship revolution that the feminist movement needs.

Many think it’s about sex – it’s not. It’s not swinging. It’s not Pokémon Go, you don’t have to catch them all. It’s about the freedom to be honest about the evolving ways you feel. It opens up the boundaries between friend and lover in a safe and transparent way.

‘As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends’: Elf Lyons.

As a teen I questioned what it was to be adulterous. I saw infidelities on a different level to other friends. When partners mentioned they found other people attractive, I never minded. It made sense. “Why wouldn’t you want to kiss Stephanie? She’s a legend!” Apparently that was not considered a normal way to react.

If I had known as a teenager it was possible to love more than one person, it would have saved so much anxiety, guilt and time spent writing awful poetry. I spent years beating myself up about it. It often caused me to end relationships rashly, giving excuses like “I’m not ready to be in a relationship,” or “I have commitment issues,” or “I’m not into Warhammer as much as you think.” I didn’t want to end the relationships, but admitting how I felt seemed a worse betrayal, so I would lie, breaking friendships in the process.

I discovered polyamory when I was 23. I met a parliament of poly performers at the Adelaide Festival who were hippyish, liberal and kind. These performers spoke about their partners, children, poly-families. There were ex-couples who were working together on shows while their other poly families toured elsewhere, married couples who had live-in partners, triumvirates where they all balanced an equal partnership. I was entranced by their openness. It seemed symbolic of our changing global world, and most peoples developing nomadic lifestyles where we travel for work and find love with others on the way.

So when I went to study at theatre school in Paris (fresh out of a relationship with a 45-year-old French father of three), I decided to embrace my inner Barbarella. And the reality? Non-monogamy is rather ordinary and occasionally dull. Stereotypes of weird Eyes Wide Shut sex parties and Sartre/de Beauvoir/Olga ménages à trois aside, it’s like any normal relationship, except with more time- management, more conversations about “feelings” and more awkward encounters with acquaintances at parties who try to use you as their “Sexual Awakening Friend Bicycle”, ie that shy girl from book club will get drunk and put her hand on your leg, before leaning in to kiss you, hiccuping: “I really loved Orange Is the New Black…”

‘Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent’: Elf Lyons.

There are misconceptions – a date once grabbed me for a kiss unexpectedly despite the fact I had made it clear I was in no way interested (my words were exactly: “This is not going to work. We have entirely different opinions on the EU and you have just told me I am ‘very funny for a woman’.”) When I pushed him away he was shocked. He believed because I was “sexually awakened” he could do what he liked. Luckily my experiences have meant that I am more vocal and confident, and able to stand up for myself. Yes I am open about my relationships and desires, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s allowed to touch me without my permission. Sexual awakenings do not mean the absence of consent.

I must admit, when I first dipped my toes into polyamory I misunderstood, went overboard with Tinder. The experience was stressful and would involve me asking awkward questions like: “Do you think crabs think fish can fly?” while wandering around the National Gallery for the third time that month. (There is no denying that polyamory suits the self-employed schedule). I learned that when people don’t know what polyamory is, they misunderstand it as another term for “hook up”, which it’s not. So previous partners have usually been friends I trust.

People often ask: “How can you truly love someone if you want to be with someone else?” and “Don’t you get jealous?” I think these statements enforce unhealthy relationship ideals. I feel it’s dangerous to think that you’re the only person that can complete someone else’s life, and be their confidant, their friend, their support network and their sexual partner. It’s too much pressure! When you take a step back, drop your ego and realise you’re one unique component of someone’s life, it’s liberating and freeing. Jealousy ebbs away and you realise that, of course, they may find another person attractive, because we’re all different pieces of a puzzle. This has made me more comfortable about myself – I am not holding myself up to standards about traditional female beauty, because I can experience it in a hundred different ways.

Of course, there have been tears, heartbreaks, existential crises and moments when I felt left out. I’ve wondered if it was actually making me more free, or more insecure, with jealousy popping up at the most inconvenient times. I’ve dated people who have lied and I’ve had relationships that have ended because they didn’t trust or believe in polyamory.

But, despite the downs, non-monogamy has revolutionised the way I view love. First, it made me less ashamed of my sexuality. I fancied girls way before I fancied boys. But as a teenager at house parties I remember being made to think that female sexual relationships were purely to turn men on. We’d all seen that scene in Cruel Intentions. I remember girls kissing at parties and the guys cheering. It was performative. Except, I wanted to kiss girls because I liked girls.

When I started getting to know people in the poly community it was as liberating as taking off an underwired bra. I have had partners of both genders. I didn’t have to “choose”: the people I met understood that it was possible to give infinite, equal love to both sexes. My confidence soared. I wasn’t hiding. Men and women had equal place in my life. I no longer felt like a pendulum, swinging from one to another. This refreshing awakening did result in many awkward conversations with my mum and dad though, which would go something like this:

Elf: “Mum and Dad, I am queer.” [Mum puts the hummus down.]

Mum: “What does that mean?”

Elf: “It means I have relationships with men and women”. [Mum picks the hummus up.]

Mum: “Oh! Well, I’m queer. Your father’s queer, your grandmother’s queer, we’re all queer darling!”

Elf: “No you don’t understand. I mean I have sex with men and women.” [Mum drops the hummus.]

Mum: “Oh Elfy… No wonder you’re so tired.”

Although I love sex, because of past unpleasant experiences I’m also mildly afraid of it. So when I started experimenting with non-monogamy the idea of being intimate emotionally as well as physically with more than one person was a challenge. But, the choice gave me a power and ownership over my wants which I felt I had lost and been made to feel ashamed about. I’m not saying I jumped in the sack with everyone I met. God no. I’m too busy. But through being less judgemental on myself, I relaxed, opened up to the people I trusted and started loving myself again. It forces you to be really honest, to live life with an undefended heart.

It’s not been plain sailing. But to quote RuPaul: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell can you love anyone else” – this is integral to non-monogamy. You can’t use multiple relationships to fill the void and give you the gratification that you should be able to give yourself. More love doesn’t mean better love. If you are dating multiple people in order to enhance your self-worth, you end up feeling like out-of-date hummus, feeling jealous anytime anyone chooses to spend time with anyone else, resulting in you treating your partners badly and without respect.

We shouldn’t feel ashamed about being socially and sexually confident. Women have been made to feel embarrassed for their desires for too long. It’s about having the trust to speak our minds and behave the way we want to. The moment you start to crumble you need to stop and ask exactly what it is you want and if it makes you happy. Being loved and loving multiple people should make you feel stronger, not weaker.

In a time of censorship on women, increases in assault and constant critiques on how we should behave, polyamory and its manifesto of embracing our evolving feelings, sharing responsibility and communicating and working effectively with people from all around the world could help revolutionise the way we tackle privilege, inequality and control of women’s rights.

I have an authority and a voice that I didn’t feel I had before. My friendships are better, my health is better. Through being polyamorous and being a part of the community I have been made aware of issues, both personal and political, that need to be uncovered and addressed.

The world would be a better place if everybody was more open to polyamory. As well as that traditional idea, that it takes a village to raise a child, it would mean we’d all love more, and love better. Loving different people at the same time is like learning a different language. There are different rules every time and it’s always open for discussion. You start to realise that love is infinite. Every time you say “I love you” to someone it takes on a new meaning. It’s retranslated, and it’s wonderful.

Complete Article HERE!

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Furries aren’t fetish freaks, they want to fit in with fun fuzzy friends, study finds

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More than a decade of research by social psychologists suggests that members of the furries community are just looking for a place to belong, be accepted and to have fun.

If you’ve ever given a second thought to furries – largely known to the public as people who dress up in giant animal costumes – you might have thought of them as freaks or wondered whether their costumes are some kind of kinky, freaky, fetish thing.

Perhaps the media put those thoughts in your head.

But after spending more than a decade studying the furry subculture, an international team of social scientists has concluded furries are not so different from the rest of us.

Researchers found that members of this “geeky, nerdy subculture” aren’t simply indulging in fantasy. They’re forging lifelong friendships and building a social support system in a community where they are not judged for having an unconventional interest, researchers found.

Furries are passionate, like sports fans, but with get-ups a lot more elaborate than jerseys and face paint. They find one another primarily online through furry forums or message groups where they talk and exchange information like other fan groups do.

Many know what it’s like to be made to feel like an outsider. Furries are about 50 percent more likely than the average person to report having been bullied during childhood, this research discovered.

“Perhaps the most fascinating thing that a decade of research on furries can tell us is that, in the end, furries are no different than anyone else — they have the same need to belong, need to have a positive and distinct sense of self, and need for self-expression,” social psychologist Courtney Plante, the project’s co-founder and lead analyst, writes this week in Psychology Today.

“Furries, in other words, are just like you — but with fake fur!”

Plante does not assume that everyone is familiar with the world of furries, or that they’ve heard accurate information about them.

“Depending on the media you consume, you may also know them as ‘the people who think they’re animals and have a weird fetish for fur,’” writes Plante, also the author of “FurScience!,” which features the findings of these studies.

“Or, just as likely, you have never heard the term ‘furry’ before outside the context of your pet dog or the neighbor with the back hair who mows his lawn without a shirt on every Saturday.”

Put simply, he writes, furries are fans like Trekkies or sports nerds. They’re “fans of media that features anthropomorphic animals — that is, animals who walk, talk, and do otherwise human things,” he writes.

“At first glance, it seems like anthropomorphic animals are a bizarre thing to be a fan of. That is, until you realize that most North Americans today grew up watching Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny cartoons and reading books like ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ and ‘Charlotte’s Web,’ and continue this proud tradition by taking our children to see the films like ‘Zootopia.’”

The characters in “Zootopia,” Disney’s “Robin Hood,” the books “Watership Down” and “Redfall,” and video games “Night in the Woods” and “Pokemon” have lots of fans in furry circles, Plante and his fellow researchers found.

The community is predominately young, male and white, largely dudes in their teens to mid-20s. Nearly half of them are college students.

They get above-average grades, are interested in computers and science, and are passionate about video games, science fiction, fantasy and anime, researchers found.

The community is very inclusive – furries are seven times more likely than the general public to identify as transgender and about five times more likely to identify as non-heterosexual.

“This fandom embraces norms of being welcoming and non-judgmental to all,” Plante writes.

He takes aim at misconceptions spread largely by the media, which, researchers charge, routinely mischaracterize furries as fetishists or, though unproven by data, somehow psychologically dysfunctional. (Not surprisingly, then, furries are often shy about speaking to the media.)

Take the idea that furries get sexual gratification out of dressing in mascot furs.

“About 15 to 20 percent of furries wear elaborate costumes called ‘fursuits’ in much the same way anime fans cosplay as their favorite characters,” Plante writes.

“However, unlike anime, furries are often assumed to engage in fursuiting for sexual reasons, despite the fact that this is very rarely the case.”

Many furries interviewed by Plante and his colleagues described the fandom “as one of the first places where they felt like they could belong,” he writes.

“So while most of us would look at a person who watches cartoons or costumes as an anthropomorphic dog and ask ‘what’s wrong with that person?’, the data suggest that these very same fantasy-themed activities are a fundamental part of that person’s psychological well-being.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Taboo-busting sex guide offers advice to Muslim women seeking fulfilling love lives

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The Muslimah Sex Manual: A Halal Guide to Mind Blowing Sex is praised for empowering women

Many Muslim women enter into a life-long commitment with little knowledge of sex.

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It was a confession by a newlywed friend about her disastrous sex life that gave Umm Muladhat an idea for a groundbreaking book.

Published last week, The Muslimah Sex Manual: A Halal Guide to Mind Blowing Sex is the first such guide written by a Muslim woman. The author has chosen to stay anonymous, using an alias.

Candid advice is offered on everything from kissing to cowgirl positions – with the core message being that Muslim women can and should enjoy a varied sex life and take the lead in physical relationships.

While some critics have accused the author of fetishising Muslim women and encouraging promiscuity, the book has been welcomed by readers who have lauded her as a Muslim Belle De Jour, bringing a taboo subject into the open. “I’ve received encouraging feedback, but also a significant number of demeaning and disgusting messages,” said Muladhat. “One woman said it’s not needed, they learn everything from their mothers. I doubt any mother speaks in as explicit detail as I have.

“I put an emphasis on having sex only with your spouse, but having the full range of sexual experiences with that spouse. Islamically, there’s an emphasis on enjoying physical relationships within the context of marriage, not just for procreation. It is the wife’s right that her husband satisfy her sexually.”

Muslim women’s organisations have praised her, saying the book will empower Muslim women and protect them from entering into sexually abusive relationships. Shaista Gohir, chair of the Muslim Women’s Network UK which runs the Muslim Women’s Helpline, said: “I’m all for women talking about sex. Why shouldn’t they? Talking about sex in Islam is not new, and past scholars highlighted the importance of sexual pleasure for women, which included advice for men to ensure this happens.

“However, in practice, sex seems to all be about men’s pleasure. Cases often come up on our helpline where women’s complaints range from being forced into participating in unwanted sexual acts, rape, to being treated like a piece of meat with zero effort made to ensure the woman has an orgasm. I suspect the problem is much bigger, as most would feel too embarrassed to talk about it.”

Muladhat said she felt compelled to write the book after she discovered women were entering into a lifelong commitment with little knowledge about sex other than snippets gleaned from the back of guides to marriage, with an emphasis on what was forbidden, rather than what was allowed, and with little from the perspective of women.

“I saw many Muslim women were getting married with no real avenue for learning about sex,” she said. “Couples knew ‘penis into vagina’, but little on how to spice up their sex life. Different positions, different things to try in bed – it’s all absent in contemporary Islamic literature. For those in the west, certain things permeate through osmosis, so women have heard about BDSM and doggy style, but only in a vague sense.”

Many misconceptions that the book deals with stem from cultural attitudes that decent women don’t enjoy sex and should “lie back and think of morning prayers”. Gohir said: “Guilt associated with sex is drummed into women from childhood. It’s portrayed as something dirty where women’s sexuality is often controlled. This does result in women going into marriages not having the confidence to say ‘I am not enjoying this’ or ‘I want this’. It’s time this topic is spoken about more openly.”

Muladhat also found that confusion about what sex acts were permissible in Islam was inhibiting women from experimenting in the bedroom. “Outside the house, culture varies a lot. Inside the bedroom, the concerns and desires of Muslim women from around the world were strikingly similar,” she said.

After holding informal workshops, she set up a website to ascertain interest in a book. Such was the response, that Muladhat is already considering a follow-up, after being inundated with emails from men also looking for advice. “I didn’t find any guides to sex aimed at Muslims, women or otherwise. There are plenty of books already on marriage, but spicing up a Muslim’s sex life while staying halal? There’s nothing.

“I’ve received dozens of emails from men asking if I had any plans to write a companion book to teach them how to please their wives in bed. I’ve taken that into consideration and plan to write a follow-up if this book is successful.”

The author chose to stay anonymous, partly for fear of a backlash but also because she didn’t want to be known in her tight-knit community as the “sex book aunty”. “Initially, I thought my real name would add credibility, but it’s a sensitive topic,” said Muladhat. “Whether it’s ethnicity, socioeconomic status or religiosity, people who want to attack the book will invariably do so by attacking the author. By separating my real self from the book, people are forced to deal with the content.”

What she will reveal, though, is that she is an American-born psychology graduate and much of the book is based on her personal experience of keeping the spark alive within her own marriage, along with tips picked up from friends and old copies of Cosmopolitan.

“My biggest qualification is the knowledge which comes only with experience. A doctor can explain the biology, but if you want an attractive physique you’re better off learning from a bodybuilder than an overweight doctor.”

Complete Article HERE!

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‘I finally felt like one of the guys’

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How toxic masculinity breeds sexual abusers

By Jane Gilmore

“I’m a guy. I’m supposed to have sex. I’m supposed to be like every other guy. And so I’m like them, but [when I did this to the girls, I thought] I’m even better than them [dominant popular boys], because I can manipulate. They don’t get the power and the excitement. They have a sexual relationship with a girl. She can say what she wants and she has the choice. But the girls I babysat didn’t have the choice.”

This was Sam* explaining why he abused two girls, aged six and eight.

Sam, 18, was a foster child, abandoned by his biological parents and adopted when he was five by what he says was a loving, affectionate family. His adoptive parents both worked, but his mother did all the cooking, cleaning and caring for the children. His father “mowed the lawn, loafed around and worked with his tools”; he was in control of the family.

Sam was never the victim of physical or sexual violence at home, and he never committed any violence against his family.

School was a very different experience for him. He was short and heavy, and was subjected to constant bullying by the “popular dominant boys”. They told him he was “fat” and a “wimp”, that he would never fit in. He couldn’t play sport nor fight back when he was beaten up at school; the boys he perceived as popular and dominant shamed him by feminising him.

Sam understood this as his failure to be a “real man”. He wasn’t masculine enough for the “cool” boys to accept him. His body “served as an antagonist in his construction of masculinity”.

In his early years at high school when Sam started learning about sexuality, most of his understanding came from listening to the boys’ conversations there.

“Kids were talking at school about blow jobs and getting laid, telling dirty jokes and about having sex and stuff like that,” he said.

His understanding of sex and his own sexuality was that he had to have sex to be a proper man.

“Well, I’m a guy, so this is something that every guy does, that I want to be part of. I want to be like the other guys. I want to know what it feels like. I want to know what goes on.”

He didn’t think he could have relationships with girls his own age because he believed what the popular boys had told him for years – that his body and personality were not acceptably masculine, and therefore no girls would like him.

So at 15 he started babysitting for local families, and sexually abused the little girls in his care. He deliberately chose girls he saw as quiet and vulnerable. He didn’t use physical force, he used coercion, fear and control to manipulate his victims into submitting to the abuse.

“I felt that I was No.1. I didn’t feel like I was small any more, because in my own grade, my own school, with people my own age, I felt like I was a wimp, the person that wasn’t worth anything. But when I did this to the girls, I felt like I was big, I was in control of everything.”

This terrible and tragic story comes from a paper written by James Messerschmidt, a professor of criminology at the University of Southern Maine. It’s a summary of several books and papers he’s written about the relationship between violence and masculinity, or at least the twisted version of masculinity too often imposed on boys and young men.

Zack*, the other boy in Messerschmidt’s paper, had very similar experiences. He was bullied for being short, overweight, bad at sport and wimpy. Zack, like Sam, decided that sex was a way to prove to himself and others that he was a “real man”, and he started sexually abusing a vulnerable young girl.

“It made me feel real good. I just felt like finally I was in control over somebody. I forgot about being fat and ugly. She was someone looking up to me, you know. If I needed sexual contact, then I had it. I wasn’t a virgin any more. I wanted control over something in my life, and this gave it to me. I finally felt like one of the guys.”

It would be comforting to think of Sam and Zack as aberrations: tragic, but unusual in their experiences.

Sadly, the truth is that they are likely to be typical of the boys and young men who turn to violence to confirm their male identity and align with what they think is a desirable masculinity.

Study after study after study after study after study has found that domestic and sexual violence is usually based on a need for control, based on toxic misunderstanding of what gender roles should be.

These studies include wide-ranging research, surveys and interviews with both victims and offenders. They all show that violence is most likely to occur in cultures that strongly enforce gender roles and unequal power relationships between men and women.

The notion that “real men” are sexually powerful, dominant, strong and never to be rejected does enormous damage to boys and men, which in turn leads to them doing enormous damage to girls and women.

Boys who fail the masculinity test suffer excruciating rejection, and this doesn’t just reinforce toxic masculinity in the boys seen to fail, but also confirms it for the boys who pass.

Anna Krien’s 2013 book Night Games was a searing insight into the world of “successful” masculinity in Australia, where the young men who achieved all the “real man” targets of being tall, strong, powerful and excelling at sport lived in a culture of sexual entitlement and an expectation that everyone would see women as objects, not people.

Sam and Zack’s stories are the ones we need to tell people who think anti-bullying and respectful relationship education in schools is a waste of time, or worse, a means of diminishing men.

Our schools are littered with potential Sams and Zacks, and with the boys they thought of as popular and dominant. All of them are damaged by the ideas they teach each other about being a real man.

And all of them damage women when they carry those ideas into adulthood.

* Not his real name

Complete Article HERE!

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The 55-year-old newlywed

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It’s not just about technique – it’s about being with someone who cares enough to invest the time

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I had a few relationships in my 20s. In some, the sex was OK, in others just boring. I blame it on the fact that I was brought up to believe sex was functional, that men wanted it and women put up with it.

In my early 30s I married a man with limited sexual experience. He was from a religious background and wanted to wait till we were married: boy, was that a mistake. Sex was focused only on what he wanted. We were together for over 20 years and had three kids, and I can probably count the orgasms I had in single figures. Trying to talk about it caused angry outbursts. It was horrible and led to our breakup in my early 50s.

At that point, I decided to figure out if there was something wrong with me. I read Becoming Orgasmic and bought a vibrator, terrified my teenagers would hear me experimenting. I found that, like many women, I just needed sufficient time and attention to reach orgasm.

I began seeing a man, also just out of a sexless relationship, and we talked a lot about what we enjoyed before we did anything. For me, it’s not just about technique – it’s about being with someone who cares enough to invest the time. Sex is finally fun for both of us and we have been quite adventurous – even al fresco. We’ve been together for over two years, and recently married.

My message to other women is: you can start over in later life. This might involve a new partner. Take time to get to know your body after childbirth, breastfeeding and menopause. Do this on your own, if you prefer, then bring what you’ve learned into your relationship(s). And don’t settle for boring sex.

Complete Article HERE!

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