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What straight couples can learn from gay couples

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When I embarked on the seven-year journey that would result in a trilogy of comedy shows and my first book, I had no idea what a huge part sexual orientation would play.

Yes, I’m a lesbian and that has influenced much of how I’ve socialised and dated for the 20 years or so since I came out. Yet, as I talked to more and more LGBT people – particularly those a little older than me who had experienced way more discrimination – I realised that being forced to think ‘outside the box’ around the concepts of love and family had resulted in some very self-aware, savvy and compassionate strategies for coping with the complexities of human relationships.

While I welcome the progressive legal changes that have seen a huge rise in acceptance for LGBT people, I worry that a blanket assumption that we all aspire to marry, have children and be ‘normal’ means that we might lose sight of some of the very best of these pioneering ideas.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin used the term ‘consciously uncoupling’

Open relationships can be incredibly successful. Gay men fairly typically negotiate sexually open partnerships and have done for many decades. However, what is less widely-reported is just how good they are at remaining emotionally faithful to a primary partner. Their separation rates are the lowest of any section of society. Figures from 2013, from the Office of National Statistics, showed that civil partnership dissolution rates were twice as high for female couples as they were for male. While early divorce statistics in the UK evidence that ratio increasing further still.

So what are the relationships lessons straight couples can learn from the gay community?

1. An ex can be a best friend

Long before American author and family therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas devised the phrase ‘conscious uncoupling’ and Gwyneth Paltrow made it famous, lesbians were the godmothers of the concept of compassionate endings.

Recently, Dr Jane Traies conducted the first comprehensive study of older lesbians in the UK. She told me, “It’s not uncommon for a lesbian’s ex-partner to be her best friend.” She described one couple, now in their seventies, one of who had previously been in a straight marriage. The other had always been openly gay and had many more significant exes, who they would regularly spend time with. The central relationship seemed to be richly rewarded by having this framework of other ongoing connections supporting it.

2. ‘Living Apart Together’ can be great

Although the idea of ‘LAT’ couples is now more widely discussed, it was the LGBT community who originally piloted this idea. As my friend, the gay poet Dominic Berry, points out, “Perhaps if people are doing something widely viewed as deviant, making another deviance from the norm isn’t too big a jump.”

A lot of the automatic assumptions that are made about relationships – that you must get married, be monogamous, have children, move in together – have been cheerfully dispensed with. In many cases, an alternative romantic framework suited the individuals in the relationship much better.

Some straight couples can be reluctant to talk openly about sexuality

3. Talking about love, desire and sex is good

When I conducted a survey for my comedy show, I asked respondents if they actually  discussed sex and fidelity with a partner. One straight woman wrote, ‘Good lord no! It’s one thing to do the deed but we’re too uptight to actually talk about it. Thank goodness.’

My gay friends, by contrast, tend to have spent so many years agonising about their sexual identity that discussion of it with friends and families has been essential as part of the ‘coming out’ process. In many cases, this had lead to a readiness to air other really important questions around desires, boundaries and consent once they were in an adult relationship.

4. ‘Family’ doesn’t have to mean blood

When I arrived in London as a young student in the Nineties, the LGBT community provided me with the strongest sense of belonging I have ever experienced.

In the face of prejudice and discrimination, gay people historically partied hard together and took more care of one another within the bubble of separatism. They cultivated a concept of ‘friends as family’, something the writer Armistead Maupin refers to as ‘logical family’.

5. Love isn’t like it is in the movies

Because films depicting same-sex relationships have generally been far-removed from the sugary rom-com ideal, gay people are more pragmatic and realistic about the extreme challenges of falling in and out of love and staying together.

In 2017, we may not be facing quite as much adversity as the characters depicted in Carol or Brokeback Mountain, but we know that the ‘fairy tale’ romance is a load of old hokum.

6. Rules are made to be broken

When the activism group Gay Liberation Front formed in the early Seventies, they gleefully celebrated their difference from the oppressive, beige ‘norms’ that most of society were having to follow. This resulted in an inclusive, embracing atmosphere and a sense of fun and freedom for anyone who wanted to reinvent and rethink traditional relationships and try out different models of being together.

Complete Article HERE!

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Straight men who have sex with other men

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Can a straight man hook up with a guy and still be straight? Girls can.

By Nikki Goldstein

IF A man is sexual with another man, is he gay? You can kiss a girl and like it and be straight, but man on man sex is quickly put in the category of homosexuality.

It’s a subject that has always fascinated me because I have many gay friends who bed these so-called straight (and often married) men with excitement, enthusiasm and frequency.

I’d heard of the term “men who have sex with men” (msm), but was confused as to why these straight men/gay men hook-ups were occurring so commonly, and what it was all about.

Are these men secretly gay and in hiding?

As it turns out, not all of them are. After investigating the issue and speaking to some of the men involved, I was surprised to find out that as well as some of these men being in the closet, there is also a population of guys out there who are hooking up with other guys just for the pure ease at which a hook up can occur.

It is not necessarily about sexual attraction to a gender, but sexual pleasure.

Finding a gay man who has experience in this was not difficult at all. Max* informed me that finding straight men to hook up with is not that hard. “It’s pretty easy to find if you know where you are looking. Probably any toilet you go to is a beat,” he said.

He also informed me of a recent encounter he had with a straight man at a sex on premises club who he thought was gay.

Towards the end of the encounter, his phone rang displaying a photo of the man he was hooking up with and his wife on their wedding day. This was later reconfirmed by a text message which said, “You give head as good as my wife does.”

I also spoke to another man who has a glory hole (a sheet in his apartment that has a hole in it which sexual acts can be anonymously carried out through) and puts out ads to have encounters with straight men only.

These men will walk in and walk away without knowing who the person is on the other side but understand that it is another man.

While some men might be experimenting with their sexuality and desires, Max explains that the glory hole encounters between men where one might not identify as gay could be more to do with the ease at which men can get off.

“The majority of straight men who are going to a glory hole are going because they don’t want to see who is on the other side. It is about just getting off.

“Is it that easy to find another girl who is just willing to give a blow job and say nothing more? Guys know what other guys are like. Guys just want to (get off). It sounds harsh, but it’s true.”

As much as gay men are willing to boast about their encounters with straight men, finding a straight man who engages in these same sex experiences to talk openly was like the hunt for Bin Laden.

After a call out I received a message from a man name Paul who identified as straight but admitted, “he had an occasional urge to have a different sexual experience, one you can have with a guy”.

His overall advice: “Try to understand it and embrace it. I think there are so many more men out than the world realises, than woman realise, that enjoy a different type of stimulation.”

Paul continues, “I would think that society would be amused by the number of men that are out there that seek a slightly different adventure and it doesn’t necessarily mean in any way shape or form that they are gay or bi. They are just wanting to experiment and have a bit of fun just like we see girls out there on the dance floor.”

And by girls on the dance floor, Paul is referring to the hypersexual behaviour of women towards each other, sometimes even sexual encounters, that don’t require any labels. The idea that two women together is hot but two men together is gay.

Paul wants to experience different sexual encounters and not be restricted by a label. He describes it as “going to a theme park and saying I haven’t tired that ride before, this looks like fun.”

Which begs the question: If you are a straight man who has sex with men, why identify as straight? If you enjoy it, why not call yourself bi or fluid?

It seems there are many issues when it comes to homosexuality that many men are not comfortable with, and these might stem from lifestyle, masculinity to cultural or religion.

“If you are attracted to sex with men and you are straight, do we have to put a label on it?” agrees Max. “There isn’t a straight forward answer, it’s a complex issue about sexual identity, labels, mixed with cultural expectations.”

The issue with many labels is they come attached with set assumptions and even some negative associations about how someone who identities with that label must be and live their life.

It can also be very confusing when someone doesn’t stick to stereotypically what that label says. We all have a right to change our minds and go with the flow. Isn’t that what being true to ourselves is all about? Why should we correct someone’s label if they are comfortable with it?

As the number of sexual labels increases and the complexity of how we identify grows, maybe the answer is to understand how someone lives their life, not try change or correct them if we don’t agree.

Complete Article HERE!

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What it’s like to be a male sexual surrogate

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The Sessions looked at the work of sexual surrogates

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For most adults, sex is an activity that can bring joy, frustration, contentment or disappointment – the full range of human responses. But for a few people, the very thought of sexual contact with another human being causes such anxiety that they can never get close to the act.

For them, psychosexual therapy is usually a good choice. And in a few cases, this can involve a particular form of therapy: use of a sexual surrogate.

Sexual surrogates are trained and professional stand-in partners for men and women who have severe problems getting to an intimate/sexual relationship. Normally, the client will be undergoing counselling with a psychosexual therapist, and then, in parallel with that, will have ‘bodywork’ sessions with a surrogate partner.

Andy, 50, is a psychosexual therapist who also worked as a surrogate for a number of years. Clients tend to be aged from their mid-thirties to around fifty and most came to him through word of mouth. “Some people have never experienced sexual intimacy,” he explains. “I had one client who had never gone beyond kissing.” Others have experienced abuse and have negative connotations around sex or have physiological problems.

“I would usually do between six and ten monthly sessions of three hours each. The first sessions would be about getting comfortable being in a room with a man. So I will say, ‘So you’re in a room with a man, how does that feel for you?’ And perhaps it reminds them of being a teenager so we’ll talk about what that teenage part of them needs – to be more confident, say.”

Although the sessions would build towards penetrative sex, it would be a long way down the line. But some clients want to take things too quickly, he says. “If they want to rush into sexual intimacy or penetration then I’ll slow them down and ask them where that comes from. Most of them do need to slow down because they’re rushing into what they think is the goal of sex.”

After a few sessions, Andy would bring touch into the sessions. “I would ask them what sort of touch they would want to receive. And they might like to receive some sort of massage, fully clothed or partly unclothed. Sometimes we would sit opposite each other on the sofa and find out what happens in her system if one of us leans closer. Does she get excited? Does she want to run away? Does she want to reach out and have more contact?”

Once the client was comfortable with touching, nudity would be introduced. “I might do an undressing process where I would invite them to take off one piece of clothing and each time to name a limiting belief that stops them really enjoying and celebrating their body and allowing pleasure in it. ‘One thing that stops me is my belief that I’m unattractive and my bum’s too big.’ They would take off that piece of clothing and that belief. Then I would offer feedback about what I see, so, ‘Your breasts feel very sensual and feminine to me’.”

Sexual surrogacy has been operating in Britain for a few decades, introduced from America, where it was also the subject of the Oscar-nominated film The Sessions, based on the true story of partially paralysed polio survivor Mark O’Brien and Cheryl Cohen-Greene, the surrogate he worked with to overcome his problems.

While most surrogates are female working with male clients, there are a handful of male surrogates in Britain who work with female clients. Male surrogates tend to be mid-thirties and older.

For many men, being hired to act as an intimate partner for a woman they barely know would be a strange situation. So how did Andy feel during these sessions? “Sometimes it was quite challenging, sometimes engaging, sometimes arousing,” he recalls. “And client reactions were very varied too. Some would feel ashamed, sometimes emotional or physical discomfort. Or they would feel excitement and confidence. It was moment to moment – it’s like how you feel in a relationship, you feel many things.

“It’s an interesting line to walk. There are many clients that I have worked with who I really liked and I enjoyed the work with them both sexually and emotionally but I’m also aware that I’m not there to be in a relationship with them.”

He is glad he did the job but it did cause him difficulties, not least in relationships with his own partners, whom he always made aware of his work. “I supported many women through a very challenging and sometimes life-changing process,” he says. “But I found that ultimately it took too great a toll – energetically, physically and emotionally. I was putting myself in situations of intimacy with a client that I wouldn’t necessarily have chosen. And I found that draining. I would sometimes ask, ‘Why did I do that to myself?'”

Overall he believes they key to sexual surrogacy involves being realistic about what will come of it.

“I think surrogacy is to be entered into with as much self-awareness as the client can muster,” he says. “While it can point them in the right direction, it’s not the answer. Ultimately, they have to find confidence within themselves. It can be a step on that journey.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How To Tell Your Partner You Have An STI

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By Cory Stieg

Early on in relationships, it can feel like you have to be careful and strategic about what information to divulge to your partner and when. This is particularly true when it comes to sexual health, because although your partner doesn’t need to know about every time you’ve had bacterial vaginosis in your lifetime, they may need to know about your STI status.

If you have an STI, it’s your responsibility to tell your partners before you have sex, says Kristen Lilla, LCSW, a sex therapist and sexuality educator. That way, your partner can make an informed decision that’s right for them. “There’s no law about discussing your STI status, but it is the ethical thing to do for your health and someone else’s,” Lilla says.

That said, no one has the right to judge you simply because of your current or previous STI status — so just because it’s important to share these health details, that doesn’t mean your partner is free to shame you. Each day, more than 1 million STIs are acquired worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, so there’s no reason to justify or apologize for your STI status, Lilla says.

There’s not necessarily a perfect time to tell your partner that you have an STI, because every relationship progresses at a different pace, but you should absolutely do it before having sex, Lilla says. “Some people prefer to have this conversation right away when they begin dating someone, and may not want to be with someone who judges them for having an STI,” she says. “Other people do not want to be judged, and may feel embarrassed or even guilty, so they might prefer to wait until they get to know someone and have established some trust before discussing it.” But if you wait to share your STI status after you’ve already had sex, then it can make your partner feel betrayed, Lilla says. Although you might be comfortable having sex and using condoms as a barrier method to reduce the risk of STI transmission, your partner might not be if they know you have a particular STI — and that’s okay, but it warrants a (sex-positive and shame-free) conversation to figure out where everyone’s boundaries are.

If someone judges you for having an STI, you deserve to be with someone else who won’t judge you.

Kristen Lilla, LCSW

So, how do you have the talk? Find a time and place that allows you and your partner to actually discuss the topic calmly — preferably out of your bedroom, Lilla says. “If you feel comfortable, it’s okay to talk about how you feel about your STI status,” Lilla says. For example, you can start by saying, I really like you, so this is difficult for me to talk about, Lilla says. Or, I know some people are freaked out by STIs, but I’m not ashamed to share my status. “It also helps to let the other person know if you are taking medications or not, and give them an opportunity to ask questions,” Lilla says. You don’t have to explain to someone how you got an STI, but you should be prepared to answer any specific questions that your partner has about the STI you have, and how that impacts their risk, she says.

Of course, the details of the conversation are dependent upon the people involved and the STI in question. If you have a bacterial STI, such as chlamydia, then your conversation will probably be different than one about a viral STI, like herpes, Lilla says. That’s because one STI is treatable, and the other isn’t. If you have an STI that’s been treated, Planned Parenthood suggests you say something like, I think it’s important to be honest, so I want to tell you that I got tested for STIs last month and found out I had chlamydia. I took medicine, and I don’t have it anymore. But it showed me how common and sneaky STIs are. Have you ever been tested? There are different implications for every type of STI, so this might not be exactly what you say. For many people, talking about getting tested can be a good jumping-off point.

This may all be easier said than done, since STIs can be a tough topic to navigate, especially if you already feel vulnerable, Lilla says. Unfortunately, many people feel embarrassed or ashamed about having STIs because of unfair societal stigma. But as long as you’re honest, you can’t go wrong — and again, nobody should shame you for having an STI. “If someone judges you for having an STI, you deserve to be with someone else who won’t judge you,” Lilla says.

Ultimately, you’re obligated to make sure your partner knows everything there is to know about your current STI status, so they can make the decision that’s right for them (and vice versa). And if you talk to your partner before becoming sexually active, then you haven’t exposed them to anything, so there’s nothing to apologize for. “What’s more important is to talk with your partner about how to move forward being sexually active in a way that feels safe and comfortable for both of you,” Lilla says.

Complete Article HERE!

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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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