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What it’s like to talk to your doctor about sexual health when you’re bisexual

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There’s a misconception that bi people are just going through a phase — but what if our doctors believe it too?

“Are you sexually active?”

I’d been dreading this question since losing my virginity to a female friend a few weeks earlier, not long after my 16th birthday. Somehow, the harsh fluorescent lights in my doctor’s examination room made this query seem even more menacing.

“Yes,” I said, but there was an ellipsis in my voice. A hesitation. An unspoken “but . . . ”

“You’re using condoms, right? So you don’t get pregnant?” she prompted, and I didn’t know what to say, because we weren’t. We didn’t need to. It was the wrong question.

“Uh, I’m not having sex with a guy,” I managed to stammer.

My doctor peered at me over her wire-rim glasses, “Oh,” she replied.

There are a lot of things a teenager might be nervous to disclose to their doctor — a marijuana habit, some worrying mental health symptoms, a secret relationship their parents don’t know about. While we should all feel free to tell our doctors what’s really going on with us, it’s particularly egregious that so many of them are still in the dark about something so basic as sexual orientation, making these already-difficult situations even more challenging.

The day of my first difficult conversation about my sexual health, my doctor didn’t give me any medical advice on the sex I was having. She didn’t suggest my partner and I use dental dams or latex gloves. She didn’t suggest we get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). She didn’t ask whether my partner was cis or trans. She didn’t ask what sexual orientation I identified as (bisexual, for the record). She didn’t even ask me if I had any questions for her. She just moved on to the next part of our checkup.

I didn’t recognize these as problems at the time; I was too young and nervous to question the approach of my all-knowing doctor. Everything I later learned about safer sex — with the other cis girl I was seeing at that time, and with other partners later on — I learned from the internet. And while the internet can be a great resource for such information, doctors should be a better one.

Bisexuals are told all the time — both implicitly and explicitly — that we’re not queer enough to align ourselves with queerness, or that we’re too queer to align ourselves with straightness. I still find it hard to push back against these stereotypes today, at 25.

These presumptions are particularly upsetting in medical situations, where many of us already feel nervous and unempowered and, for many queers, apprehensive. The medical system has oftentimes failed us and our queer foreparents: inequitable health care access due to poverty, doctors’ lack of knowledge about LGBT identities and sexuality and the pathologization of queerness are just a few examples.

Two years later, in a different relationship with a person of a different gender, I returned to my doctor. I was a girl on a mission.

“I’m seeing someone new and I’d like to get an IUD,” I told my doc, with all the bravery and resolve I could muster as a meek 18-year-old still coming to terms with her sexuality.

“I thought you were a lesbian?” she replied coolly, barely looking up from her computer screen.

“No, I’m bisexual,” I clarified, my voice only shaking a little.

Medically speaking, it shouldn’t actually matter what word(s) I use to define my sexual orientation; my doctor should want to know, instead, what sexual activities I am participating in. I could’ve been a lesbian having sex with a man (they do exist!). I could’ve been having sex with a trans woman or a nonbinary person who had the ability to get me pregnant. There was no reason for my doctor to assume I was a lesbian in the first place, nor that a risk of pregnancy during sex meant my existing sexual orientation was being challenged.

I was reminded of a story I had read online. An American photographer I followed, Brigid Marz, wrote on Flickr that she and her girlfriend went to a hospital to get treatment for her flu symptoms. A staff member asked Brigid if there was any chance she might be pregnant, and she laughed, indicated her girlfriend, and said no. She’d dated and had sex with men before, but not recently enough that she could be pregnant. Months later, she received a $700 medical bill, $300 of which was for a pregnancy test she’d neither authorized nor needed.

“I am so sick of being treated differently just because I have boobs,” she wrote, but I would argue she was treated differently because she is non-monosexual – she is neither completely straight nor completely gay. Our medical system seems to assume everyone is one or the other, sometimes even when we’re loudly asserting otherwise.

In the end, my doctor refused to prescribe me an IUD on the basis that I was “just casually dating” and should wait until I was “in a serious relationship” before committing to a long-term birth control method that reflected my relationship status. She prescribed me the pill instead — the hormonal content of which exacerbated my mental health conditions for years, something the non-hormonal copper IUD may not have done.

What rankled me was that I was in a serious relationship at the time. My doctor may have assumed my relationship was casual because I was now with a man and I was previously with a woman, or she may have simply thought I was too young for the IUD — but I think it was because of negative stereotypes about bisexual people.

Bi folks’ relationships and attractions are often written off as “just a phase” or “just for fun.” We’re told we don’t know what we really want or who we really like — or, worse, that we’re intentionally playing with partners’ hearts, never intending to pursue commitment or depth in our relationships.

In my experience, this is about as true for bisexual people as it is for straight or gay people — some folks are looking for serious relationships and some just aren’t — but this assumption weighs most heavily on bisexuals. Whether or not my doctor was consciously aware of the stereotypes she was affirming that day, it’s clear to me that my relationship would not have been written off as “casual” if I identified as straight or gay.

If I could go back and talk to myself when I was a shy and shaking 16-year-old in my doctor’s office, I’d tell her to advocate for herself. I’d tell her to ask the questions she wanted answered, and double-check the answers on Scarleteen later. I’d tell her it was okay if she didn’t even know what questions to ask.

I’d tell her to be unashamed of her burgeoning bisexual identity, because it’s nothing to feel shifty about. But mostly, I’d wish I didn’t have to tell her all these things. Her doctor shouldn’t have made her doubt all this in the first place.

Complete Article HERE!

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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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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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Personal Inventory

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By Susan Deitz

Relax your body before you start this questionnaire. It’s important you start this with shoulders loose and mind clear. Don’t rush through the following questions, because chances are they’ll lead to still more probing. (For now, jot down those additional questions on a separate sheet of paper for future reference.) The best way to do these justice is to read them through in one sitting, let them “marinate” awhile and then reread them and give your answers. Some of them may trigger an immediate response; others take more thought. Please don’t give a fast pat answer; the whole point of this exercise is to search deeper for your real belief.

—How do you feel about sex outside marriage? Does your religion, upbringing or personal morality make it out of bounds? Would denying those controls upset you so much that you wouldn’t enjoy yourself if you did become sexually active?

—If you can enjoy sex outside marriage, how do you feel about sex outside caring?

—Can you imagine having sex on the first date? If you can, what sort of “ingredients” would have to be present? If not, when do you feel is a reasonable time to begin sexual involvement?

—Would you get involved with someone even if you knew it was to be for a very short time — perhaps only for one night? Under what circumstances?

—Can you imagine having a married lover? Why or why not?

—Would you consider having a sexual relationship with more than one person at the same time? (This question deals with plural ongoing relationships, not with group sex.)

—Ideally, how often would you like to have sex? How long can you go without sex?

—Do you enjoy periods of celibacy? For how long can you remain celibate? Are you ever concerned about losing your sex drive?

—What are your thoughts about giving yourself pleasure? Masturbation is still a taboo issue, but your own thoughts on the subject should be very clear because of the episodic nature of sex as a single person.

—If you are sexually active, have you settled on a safe and effective method of contraception? If you answered “no” or are unsure of your answer, are you clear about the range of options open to you and which one is best for you?

—Do you know enough about sexually transmitted diseases — such as AIDS and herpes — to protect yourself? If not, do you know how to get information about them?

—Do you/would you ask a new partner about his or her history of sexually transmitted disease before becoming intimate, even though it might be awkward?

—How do you plan to handle pressure from a date or partner to have sex when you’d rather not?

—If you’re a single parent, are you clear about having sleepover lovers when your children are home? Are you clear about separating your personal needs from your parental role? How honestly do you speak with your children about your sexual relationships?

—What do you appreciate most about sex? What makes it wonderful for you?

—Do you feel comfortable speaking with your partner about your likes and dislikes in lovemaking? Is your partner comfortable talking with you about them?

—How strongly do you feel about the answers you’ve given here?

—What, if anything, would make you change your mind about them?

—Do you have an idea about handling your sex life if you were to be unmarried for a lifetime?

—Do you feel you could adapt your sexual attitudes to make yourself, as a single person, more comfortable? If yes, how would you accomplish this?

What other questions can you ask yourself now that you’re thinking along these lines? If you’ve come up with more of them, write and answer them. Remember, please, there are no rights or wrongs here — only clear thinking on some murky issues. Best to clarify them now rather than be faced with that murkiness totally unprepared and therefore most vulnerable.

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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