Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.



December 29, 2009

When does poly get too popular? "Hollywood's Latest Love: the Open Relationship"

ABC News online

Oh God, are we trendy yet? “Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Lindsay Lohan, ‘It's Complicated’ Highlight Open Relationships,” declared ABC News this morning, in the heading to an article in its Entertainment section. Why do I have a bad feeling about this?


Hollywood's Latest Love: the Open Relationship

By Shiela Marikar | Dec. 29, 2009

Hollywood and marriage have never quite gone together like a horse and carriage. But, lately, it seems like La-La Land's obsessed with the open relationship.

Angelina Jolie, the dark angel of the movie industry, recently told Germany's Das Neue magazine that monogamy, frankly, isn't all that important to her.

"I doubt that fidelity is absolutely essential for a relationship," she said. "It's worse to leave your partner and talk badly about him afterwards."

The 34-year-old mother of six added that she and domestic partner Brad Pitt never deny each other their freedom, even if that means being apart.... "We make sure that we never restrict each other."

It's the hot thing: relationships with few rules or restrictions, dating conventions be damned. The free-wheeling outlook need not be tied to one lover. After dabbling in a girl-on-girl relationship with DJ Samantha Ronson in 2008, Lindsay Lohan has moved back to men, reportedly hooking up with Gucci model Adam Senn and introducing him to her family before Christmas.

Lindsay Lohan had a sapphic relationship with Samantha Ronson; now she's reportedly with Adam Senn.

...Bee Gee singer Robin Gibb, 60... has an open relationship with his wife, Dwina Gibb, a bisexual former druid priestess.

..."It's Complicated," the new romantic comedy starring Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, features a baby boomer marriage turned divorce, turned hook-up, turned love triangle. Baldwin's character, Jake, realizes 10 years too late that he longs to get back together with his wife, Jane (Streep), whom he left for a svelte 20-something. Despite his new wife's hard body, Jake finds sex with his over-50, former wife enthralling.

"My character, I'm not even sure he knows what he wants," Baldwin said in a recent appearance on ABC News Now's "Popcorn with Peter Travers." "He wants out of it, he wants back into it."

For an industry that rarely knows what it wants, the open relationship seems ideal. Let's see if the trend continues into 2010.


Read the whole article (Dec. 29, 2009).

Elsewhere, the celebrity/entertainment site PopEater declares that 2009 Proves To Be the Year Of the Threesome, from Britney Spears' song "Three", to the much-advertised (but ultimately tame) threesome on the teen drama "Gossip Girls", to the fashion-design house Dolce & Gabbana — which, "because threesomes were already everywhere,"


filmed a commercial featuring a steamy ménage a trois in an effort to revitalize their brand and seem hip to the kiddies. The ad starts with a young couple getting passionate in a Parisian apartment. When a third man happens upon them, he joins in. As the girl's mother catches the menage in action she lets out a scream and covers her mouth with her hand, flashing the D&G watch on her wrist.


Read the whole article (Dec. 21, 2009).

People who take their life cues from celebs and TV ads are just the kind I hope won't try what passes for "poly" in these contexts — because they'll be liable to do it horribly and give it a bad name. And then blame us... for putting ideas into their heads. I hope I'm just being paranoid.

Another sign that we're becoming trendy, with unintended consequences, just crossed my Google News Alerts from the other end of the intellectual spectrum. At York University in Toronto, a PhD candidate in moral philosophy and relational ethics reviews Jenny Block's autobiography Open: Love, Sex and life in an Open Marriage. Marnina Norys writes,


Once I was part of a discussion with a pair of female friends bemoaning the increasing number of polyamorous women these days who were "ruining it" for women looking to settle down with one man. It would come as no surprise to Jenny Block, the writer of Open, that my friendship with said friends dissolved shortly after I admitted to them that I myself questioned the value of monogamy in my own relationships....

Arguably... the acceptance of polyamory in certain social circles is creating an environment that is increasingly inhospitable for those bent on cultivating a monogamous relationship. This is because there is greater social pressure to accept polyamory. The impact of the acceptance sought by Block, then, affects more than merely the interests of two consenting adults in a relationship, and a thorough critical analysis of polyamory would include an examination of the broader social issues at play if and when such relationships become more mainstream.


Read the whole review (in Metapsychology Online Reviews, Vol. 13, No. 53; Dec. 29, 2009).

As I have said before, but now with more urgency:


The people who push for years to get a bandwagon rolling are usually unprepared for what to do when the bandwagon finally starts to move. No longer is it all about a few devoted people grunting and straining from behind to make the bandwagon’s wheels move half an inch. When the effort begins to succeed, the bandwagon starts rolling on its own, faster and faster.

And unless the people with the original vision stop just shoving the rear bumper and run up and grab the steering wheel, pretty soon the bandwagon outruns them and leaves them behind. And their elation turns to horror as they watch it careen downhill out of control, in disastrous unintended directions.

Think of what happened to the psychedelic drug movement a generation ago....

So maybe it’s time for us to pay less attention to just pushing the polyamory-awareness movement, and more to steering it.

If we are to save our defining word from serious cheapening in the next few years, and steer this thing in good directions as it gains momentum, we should, in my opinion, be seizing every opportunity to do several things:

1. Keep stressing that successful polyamory requires high standards of communication, integrity, honesty, self-awareness, generosity, and concern for every person affected;

2. Emphasize that poly is not for everyone, and that monogamy is right and best for many, and that no one need apologize for the relationship model they want;

3. Insist on the part of the definition that stresses respect for everyone and the "full knowledge and consent of all involved";

4. Expand that to not just "knowledge and consent," but well-wishing and good intention for all involved. The defining aspect of polyamory, I'm convinced — the thing that sets it apart and makes it powerful and radical and transformative — is in seeing one's metamours not as rivals to be resented, or as neutral figures to be tolerated, but as, at minimum, friends and acquaintances – perhaps even family – for whom you genuinely wish good things. (And beyond that, of course, there's no limit to how close you can become.) This is what differentiates poly from merely having affairs. In this way it becomes a generalization of romantic love — into something wider, and more widely applicable, than the dominant paradigm of a couple carefully walling away their particular love from anything to do with the rest of humanity.

And, 5. Warn people that, while poly can open extraordinary new worlds of joy and wonder and may help to humanize the world, its benefits must be earned: through hard relationship-honesty work, ruthless self-examination, sacrifice when necessary, courage to do tough personal growth, and a quick readiness to (as they say in the Marines) "choose the difficult right over the easy wrong."

With the bandwagon now moving, let's not let it run away from us in the next few years to the point that "polyamory" goes mass-market as something careless or trivial, or in any way less than what we know it to be.


This February, the Polyamory Leadership Network is having another all-day "summit" meeting following Loving More's Poly Living Conference, in the same hotel outside Philadelphia. The PLN (74 people worldwide now) formed about a year ago with big ambitions for creating a variety of poly awareness and education projects. But its various committees have been very slow to make much of anything happen. I'll be there. I hope we can organize to get ahead of the pop-culture curve as described above, and steer this accelerating bandwagon.

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December 28, 2009

Poly and the Unitarian Universalist Church

Survive and Thrive Boston

Four years ago, I took my Unitarian Universalist minister out to lunch and bent his ear about polyamory for more than an hour. He took me seriously; Sparkler and I have been active members of our church for many years, and he knew both of us well. His first concern was whether this meant something was wrong between Sparkler and me. Once reassured on that score, he accepted my enthusiasm well.

As a UU minister he already knew of the poly movement. He's involved with the UU national headquarters in Boston and knew of its touchy relations with the independent Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness (UUPA). The UUPA got started in 1999, when several UUs realized that roughly a quarter of the people they met at poly conferences identified as Unitarians — even though this small, liberal denomination amounts to only 0.1% of Americans overall.

For several years the UUPA gave public talks at the UU General Assembly, the annual convention and business meeting attended by thousands from around the world. In 2004 the San Francisco Chronicle published an article on polys and on UUPA in particular, declaring "Unitarians from Boston to Berkeley have opened another front in the liberal crusade to expand the definition of marriage and family in America."

That was back when media attention to polyamory was rare. The right wing seized on the story as exposing a UU plot to subvert marriage. Many UU churches, especially those already dealing with local hostility in places like the Deep South, objected to being associated with something they'd never heard of and didn't like the sound of. The national church headquarters felt obliged to issue a statement that polyamory was not on the denomination's agenda, though people are free to sound off as they will, and it probably hoped that UUPA would just quietly go away.

Didn't happen. As an "independent organization" UUPA can no longer give presentations at General Assembly, but we run a booth there every year that serves the same purpose, advertise in the denominational magazine UU World, run an internet discussion list with a few hundred members, distribute literature, and arrange talks and sermons. Every year more UUs seem to get it.

From the UUPA site:


Our vision is for Unitarian Universalism to become the first poly-welcoming mainstream religious denomination. We look forward to the day when a polyamorous family or individual can walk into any Unitarian Universalist congregation with confidence that their full participation is welcome.


So, how will your triad or quad be received when you walk into your town's UU church of a Sunday, and start explaining yourselves? Maybe with welcoming and understanding, maybe not. Attitudes vary from one congregation to the next — as a journalism student from Emerson College found out, when she interviewed people for a feature article recently posted on "Survive and Thrive Boston":


Polyamorous community seeks more support from Unitarian Universalist Association

By Lynette Suazo

..."There are many UU's who are polyamorous or who are kinky and have difficulty expressing that," said [Boston activist Desmond] Ravenstone. "I know people who are very much in the closet about being poly or kinky and don't feel comfortable telling their ministers. When people separate their church and sex life, it is soul damaging."

Rachel Walden, Information Assistant at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), said in an email reply, that the UUA has not taken an official standing on polyamory. She explained that "while UU congregations strive to be safe and welcoming spaces for families of all kinds to come together to worship, they are independently organized and often vary quite a bit in their overall theological perspective, style of worship, and demographic makeup."

Dina Johnston recently experienced hostility from a UU church that she does not want to name. Johnston was a part of this congregation for five years. For the first three and a half years, Johnston attended alone, leaving her three partners at home.

"I am a very reserved person," said Johnston. "I wanted to get spiritually fed and leave my sexual preferences separate from my church life, at first. As long as I was getting spiritually fed, I saw no need to reveal my sexual orientation. Once I got comfortable with that congregation, I opened up and I regret it to this day."

Johnston said she is Christian and first practiced her Christian faith at a traditional church. She was forced out of that congregation when others learned of her multiple partners. After hearing from a friend that the Unitarian Universalist church would accept her lifestyle, Johnston made the move to the UU church....

After the shock of being kicked out of her former Christian church, Johnston was even more upset when her UU congregation also proved unwelcoming....

[Valerie] White, on the other hand, has had a different experience at the Unitarian Church of Sharon [Mass.]. She even wrote a song entitled "One Place," where she talks about her church being the "one place where it is safe" for her to be herself....


Read the whole article (archived copy).

It also has a cute video of White, a close friend of mine who's living in a long-term triad raising kids.

White adds that out of about 1,000 UU churches in North America, "there are 70-some congregations represented on the UUPoly email list, and we know of at least two congregations that adopted 'Welcoming Congregation' bylaw amendments with language specifically referencing alternative families, including poly ones."

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December 26, 2009

Speaking Up on BBC radio: "World, Have Your Say"

BBC World Service

On its worldwide radio call-in show, Great Britain's BBC posed the question "Is fidelity overrated?" and took listener calls from Siberia, Kenya, India, Nigeria, Uganda, Egypt, Jamaica, Texas, and elsewhere. The host picked up on actress Angelina Jolie, who's been in the news about her longterm open relationship with Brad Pitt.

"She’s not talking about dishonesty, she says open romances can work just as well as monogamous relationships – if both partners agree to it," said the host. "Is she right? Do we set too much store by being faithful? Or isn’t being loyal a fundamental part of any relationship – or why bother to have a relationship at all?"

Many guests and callers — coming from the old-school paradigm in which loving (or boinking) more than one can only be callous, cruel, shallow, and destructive — spoke eloquently against being callous, cruel, shallow, and destructive. Then on came our own Jenny Block (author of Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage) to say it doesn't have to be that way. She's a fine talker and bold in the face of opposition, especially the clueless variety, and especially when describing the arrangement between her, her husband, and her girlfriend.


The sex isn't really the important issue, it's the lying part....

What's really at issue here is what is the agreement between the couple. I absolutely believe that trust is of the utmost importance. But the question is what is the agreement between the two people. If monogamy is the agreement, then breaking that would be betrayal. But couples make agreements about all sorts of things — about religion, about how they're going to run a household, about how they're going to raise children — and whether they're going to be a monogamous couple should be up to them.


Listen to the show (53 minutes; Dec. 23, 2009). Jenny comes on at 35:15 and stays to the end.

Here's the BBC's blogsite for this episode. Read comments from the far corners of the world, and add yours.

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December 21, 2009

"Poly and Jolly for the Holidays"

Xtra (Canada)

Happy solstice-season holidays, whatever your version of them may be! Winter begins at 12:47 p.m. EST today (Dec. 21), the shortest day of the year.

Last night we went to a big, kid-oriented Christmas service at our Unitarian Universalist church. Then at 7:12 this morning, a bunch of us stood in the snow and freezing wind at a lakeshore to sing up the solstice sun. It rose right on time to our call.

How do you and your partners handle the holidays with each other, and with your families of origin? This little article snuck by me last year, so here it is now. It appeared in Canada's gay-newspaper chain Xtra, "where queers conspire."


Multiple partners doesn't have to mean more stress

By Liz Stembridge | December 23, 2008

'TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY (AND POLY). Competing demands from multiple partners can certainly add to holiday stress, but there are plenty of ways to make it work.

..."I plan on spending equal time with both of them. I planned something special with A and planned something special with B. As far as actual Christmas Day, which I celebrate, I plan to be with my family.... It is just a way to make things fair and to avoid hurting feelings."

Maggie, who has been in polyamorous relationships in the past, says competing demands from multiple partners can certainly add to holiday stress.

"Oh, was I ever dreading the holidays," she says of her holiday experience while dating two women a few years back. "First off, my parents are not thrilled about my being gay... so one girlfriend is awkward, I couldn't imagine them knowing about two...."


Here's the full article. The illustration and ads may be NSFVG (Not Safe For Visiting Grandmas).

If you live in a multipartner home, are you affected by people who don't know how to address their Christmas cards and letters to you all? (Or who pointedly choose not to?) Some people are — as is being discussed right now on LiveJournal. Posts tehuti:


I am one part of a quad. We're about as out as you can get without tattoos or neon signs. :-) Some cards have come addressed to all four of us, some only to the legally married couple, one even came specifically to only one of us. In at least one case, a card sent to just the married couple was from people who know better. These cards are actually quite useful. We're getting a really good idea of which of our family and friends "get it" and which ones don't. Mostly, it's family that's the problem.


Here is Mistress Matisse, — a high-end professional dominatrix, member of a longterm poly vee, and columnist for Dan Savage's alternative newspaper in Seattle — with a thoughtful piece on bringing her partners home to her relatives' traditional gatherings in Georgia: Bringing Poly Home:


...I suspect that having me show up with Monk instead of Max is going to be challenging to my kin.

...My biofamily is quite clear about the fact that they don't wish to know about the kinky side of my sexuality. But my observations of other people's coming-out experiences make me think that some families actually have an easier time accepting kink than they do polyamory.

...I suspect the difference is that kink doesn't seem to reliably make vanilla people question their own relationship choices. At least, not to a point of discomfort. But rare is the person in a long-term monogamous relationship who hasn't been attracted to another.... Too often what I've seen is someone more or less saying, "If I have to suffer, you should, too!"


Don't miss this sweet classic from 2007: a jingly-bell quad from Poly Victoria in Australia singing The 12 Poly Days of Christmas. The final verse (copyright Anne Hunter):


On the Twelfth Day of Christmas my true loves gave to me
Twelve minutes alone (sigh)--
Eleven Christmas dinners
Ten jealousy cures
Nine long discussions
Eight dozen condoms
Seven GoogleCalendars
Six-handed massage
Five Ethical Sluts!

Four sandwich hugs
Three-way snogs
Too much attention
And a quick course in polyamor-y.


Polyfulcrum offers some holiday thoughts and experiences:


...I am strongly in favor of not coming out at major family events!!! There is a certain sick draw toward dropping the poly nuclear bomb at such occasions. Resist the temptation! ...Tell people in smaller groups, answer the questions, deal with the shock and awe, and be prepared to have people tell you that they always knew there was something different about you/ going on. Then, by the time the next family gathering comes along, it's part of the family fabric; weird fabric, but hey, there's always got to be an eccentric, right?

...We finished [Thanksgiving] weekend by hosting a meal here that was open to our friends in the poly community, as they often stand in as our family of choice (particularly for me, as I don't have relations close by). It was much more satisfying than the mandatory family event, because it was a conscious choice.


On the same site, s1m0n posts about polyday gifting. If you think it's already hard enough buying presents....

Citi Kittie, who's in an equilateral QQF triad, has tales to tell:


...The next people we told were Alexis's parents. They were both stunned. Her father said, "I'm going to need another glass of wine." This from a man who only drinks beer.

But they seemed to adjust quickly. Seeing how happy we are together made it easy for them to accept our triad. Then they proceeded to tell the rest of the family and suddenly I had a whole new set of people to buy birthday presents for.

When her grandma heard she giggled and said, "Oh, I didn't know you could do that." When she thought about it some more and said, "Well, I don't think it's for me." But she's been sending the three of us Christmas cards ever since.

Later, at a party for her parent's thirtieth wedding anniversary, we met Alexis's entire extended family, over 10 aunts and uncles and cousins by the dozens. Most made no mention of the fact that we have a different kind of relationship. Except Aunt Sadie. After talking with my wife and I for a while she said, "Well, I wanted to meet you and make sure you weren't creepy."

...My mom said it's not a good idea for my wife and I to have someone else living with us. She said, "What if you need to fight?"

Surely we can fight while living with someone. Growing up I had a brother and a sister and we fought all the time. So I think "fight" might have been code for "make a baby." And "why do you want Alexis to move in with you?" might have been code for "when are you going to give us some grandchildren?".


And finally, here is Noel Figart with one of her Polyamorous Misanthrope columns, on the meaning of the holidays beyond any lovers-and-relations problems: The Holiday Spirit:


Mama Java, she loves Christmas. A lot. It’s her birthday, and she was named for it, after all....

I have always thought of Christmas as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


Cheers!

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December 18, 2009

Ken Haslam on "Sex and Sensibility"

"Sex and Sensibility"
"In Bed With Dr. B and Ted" radio shows

People who've gone on mainstream media to carry the poly-awareness banner say that TV is the hardest to do well and the easiest to do badly; print is much better; and radio is the easiest and best. On the radio you're generally having an unedited, back-and-forth conversation seemingly between equals. And if you get snookered by prankster disk jockeys or the like, it's easy to just walk out or hang up.

Ken Haslam did a fine radio appearance on a weekly show in the Philadelphia area called "Sex and Sensibility." Haslam is a 75-year-old retired anesthesiologist in Maryland who's been a poly activist for a decade. He has spoken at many poly gatherings, written many articles (a favorite of his is "The 12 Pillars of Polyamory"), has helped introduce the subject to academic, medical, and therapeutic professionals, and co-founded Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness. Today he's best known as the founder and organizer of the Kenneth R. Haslam Polyamory Collection at the library of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. This is where, in the coming decades and centuries, scholars will turn to research the early history and growth of the poly movement in our time.1

Ken was also involved in forming the PolyGeezers Yahoo Group and is delighted to be living the hippie life he missed out on for more than a half century of living as a respectable physician. A quote for which he's become famous: "If I'd known how much fun growing old would be, I would have done it long ago."

The show was hosted by Jill McDevitt on WCHE in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Listen here, or download it as a podcast (24 minutes).

A few bits:


It occurred to me three or four years ago that no one was recording the history of polyamory. It's becoming fairly widespread internationally. So I put together a collection and went to Kinsey, and Kinsey indeed liked the idea of an archives of polyamory history.... And now it's growing and growing and growing.

...To say it facetitously, "With swinging you get sex, with polyamory you get breakfast." [per the late George Marvil]. Swinging primarily revolves around sport sex. Polyamory, we like to think, revolves more around relationships.

...It's always difficult to introduce the concept of multipartnering into a monogamous relationship. Because we have no training, there are no templates, no paradigms, for becoming multiple-partnered.... But people in the poly commmunity do talk a lot. And sometimes fight a lot. It sometimes takes years to figure out how to do this correctly. Nobody knows how to do what we're doing, yet for us, the poly people, it works better than monogamy works.

...Poly is a touchy topic because it pushes buttons in people who might want to do it.... More people than you might think, want to do it.

...Generally speaking I like the people in the poly community. They're intelligent people mostly, they're open, they're communicative, they laugh, they touch, they're affectionate, they're fun to be with, and they're not judgmental.


A little later he did another radio interview, on "In Bed With Dr. B and Ted" on KCAA in San Bernardino, California, by phone (Oct. 16, 2009). He comes on a little more than halfway through the recording.

You can tell he's having fun. And that's what listeners will remember. Feel inspired to try it too?

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1. The Kinsey Institute archive especially wants materials relating to the history of the poly movement before the internet. Don't leave this stuff in your attic to be thrown out after you're gone! To donate materials contact the Kinsey Institute's librarian, Liana Zhou, at zhoul (AT) indiana (DOT) edu, or phone 812-855-3060.

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December 11, 2009

Jenny Block on Tiger Woods and unchosen monogamy

Newsweek online

"First they wrote about me. Now I've written for them," e-mails Jenny Block. The author of Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage got an opinion piece accepted at Newsweek online (with a headline on the magazine's homepage), on the elevated subject of Tiger Woods.

In case you've been living under a rock, the champion golfer got caught cheating on his wife; she apparently chased him with a golf club, he took off from home and crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant and a tree just outside, and she used the golf club to smash out its windows.

Utterly stereotypical unevolved mono/cheater drama, yeah; a New Yorker cartoon from the 1930s. The whole world is gossiping — but do people even imagine there might be another way? This begs for a poly perspective, and Jenny provides it:


The Case Against Monogamy

Why is everyone so surprised about Tiger Woods? When it comes down to it, monogamy doesn't always work.

By Jenny Block | Newsweek Web Exclusive

...I'm not saying cheating is OK. I'm saying it shouldn't be a surprise. I was a cheater myself once. Three years into my marriage, I had an affair. She was blonde and freckled and made me blush. Yes, she was a girl — but that was beside the point; I'd been open about my bisexuality for years. My husband, meanwhile, was crushed when I told him — and I hated myself for not being strong enough to say no. I figured surely this must have meant I'd married Mr. Wrong: why else would I have the desire to step out?

As it turns out, desire is exactly what's at issue here. Human beings desire variety. We desire multiple partners. It's a simple fact that's built into our biology. And while some choose monogamy simply because it feels right, I think many more of us choose it because we think it's what we're supposed to do. You don't want to end up an old maid or a lonely bachelor, do you?

Monogamy just isn't always realistic. There's nothing wrong with admitting that. It simply doesn't work for some. And just as people choose different religions, eating habits, and places to call home, I believe we should be able to choose different ways to live out our relationships.

Several years after my affair, my husband and I jointly decided that monogamy just wasn't for us. We love each other and want to be together, but monogamy is not the cornerstone of our partnership — trust is. So we decided to open up our relationship to other people.

First we both dated the same woman. Then my husband dated her and I saw other people. And then they broke up and I dabbled until I met a woman who, like my husband, I cannot imagine being without. And so now it's her and me and him and me, and we are all fabulous friends. Everyone gets their needs met. No one feels left out or guilty, and the only time any of us questions our lifestyle is when we let those Disney movies come creeping back into our heads.

Let me be very clear here: I have no problem with monogamy. I think conscious, honest, true monogamy can be a wonderful thing. What should not be tolerated is hypocrisy — and that's where Tiger’s vow of marriage got him into trouble. If you want to be monogamous, great — but don't think you can claim it while you sleep around. It's not fair and, quite frankly, it's exhausting.

Monogamy is a choice. But until it's treated like one, cheating scandals will continue to pop up and the public will continue to eat them up. Because misery loves company. And in the end, that's the only thing cheating will bring you.


Here's the whole article (Dec. 10, 2009). Near the beginning Newsweek has put in a big video insert of its film of Terisa Greenan's poly family in Seattle — great stuff, watch it if you haven't already. And there are links to Newsweek's online feature article about polyamory as "America's next romantic revolution" that appeared last July 29.

Also: see Anita Wagner's take on the Tiger affair on her Practical Polyamory blog (two posts):


Whatever way people arrange their intimate lives, committing to monogamy by rote because it's what we are "supposed" to do is clearly a bigger risk than most people realize....

Though we polyamorists are often vilified for our choices, I am proud to say that I will never cheat on a partner, and neither are any partners likely to cheat on me, because none of us has to. We make relationship agreements we can stick to, and if we find we no longer can, then we talk with our partners and renegotiate the rules of the relationship. In this way trust is maintained.


Also see Jay Michaelson's commentary at the Huffington Post: "It's Not Just Tiger: Monogamous Marriage Is An Anomaly".

And here's a cute post at an adult sexuality education website on honest poly as the way to do non-mononogamy.


This requires a very high level of relationship skills, as it takes an ongoing commitment to clear communication and the ability to negotiate to discover win-win solutions, often including compromises. Conscious relationships are not for cowards. To do it well takes balls! (And great skill if you’re going to use your putter properly and safely.)


The argument always goes that a sports star with lucrative corporate sponsorships, or a politician who has to appeal to voters, can't afford to be openly poly. I think the day is coming (or could be here already?) when being forthrightly poly would be less detrimental to careers and public images than getting caught cheating.

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1 The reported statistics for cheating in marriage are actually all over the map, so I don't believe any of them. Except I suspect that the higher numbers are more likely true — because I bet more people will lie to a pollster and say they're faithful when they aren't, than will lie to a pollster and say they're cheating when they aren't.

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December 6, 2009

Seven poly books upcoming

To continue our poly books theme: Several new ones should be hitting the shelves in the foreseeable future. I've heard of seven that are in the pipeline, at least to the extent that their authors have talked about them in public.

1. The academic publisher Routledge will issue a hardbound collection of papers titled Understanding Non-Monogamies on December 22, 2009. It's co-edited by Meg Barker and Darren Langdridge. Barker is a well-known psychologist in England who specializes in researching BDSM, bisexuality, and polyamory. She's also a co-organizer of London's annual PolyDay event. Recently she did an interview with Mind Hacks:


How do you think open or polyamorous relationships differ psychologically from monogamous relationships?

This is a difficult question to answer because over the years I've come to realise that there isn't really one kind of polyamory, or non-monogamy, just as there isn't one form of monogamy. That is why Darren and I called our new book 'Understanding Non-Monogamies' — plural.

In fact, the first contribution to that book (by Katherine Frank and John DeLameter) even questions the distinction between monogamies and non-monogamies. They present research which suggests that similar conversations about relationship 'rules' are currently happening in monogamous and non-monogamous relationships of various kinds (e.g. swinging, polyamory and open relationships).

Some people have non-monogamous relationships for political or spiritual reasons, because they feel that monogamy is rooted in capitalism, or because they don't want to 'possess' another person in any way. Others recognise that they can be attracted to more than one person at a time; they want to act on their attractions, but not in a dishonest way like with infidelity. Some are in it for the exciting sexual possibilities. Some feel that being non-monogamous is an inherent part of their sexuality (perhaps along with the gender/s they are attracted to). Others feel that it is a choice they have made....


Unfortunately this is a typically high-priced academic hardcover ($95 list price, $88 at Amazon), but maybe you can ask a college library to get it.


2. Deborah Taj Anapol is finishing up her new Polyamory in the 21st Century. Rowman and Littlefield has scheduled it for release in June 2010.

Anapol was one of the founding mothers of the modern polyamory movement in the 1980s, and she wrote the first book to be called its "bible": Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits (1997; 1992). In recent years she has retired to Hawaii, where she grows coffee, and she teaches occasional workshops and retreats. She published the small book The Seven Natural Laws of Love in 2005.

Here's her short description that the publisher requested for the new book:


Deborah Anapol’s Polyamory in the 21st Century provides a perceptive overview of the whole gamut of intimate relationships that don’t conform to our culture’s monogamous ideal but endeavor to be honest, ethical, and consensual. Polyamory is now a global phenomenon which crosses generational, socio-economic, racial, and national boundaries — all of which are sensitively explored. The author frankly shares a perspective on polyamory gleaned from nearly thirty years as a participant/observer who helped bring polyamory into the public eye.


In her monthly newsletter she writes,


[The book] is going to be fantastic and very different from anything that’s been written so far on this very complicated topic. As part of my research, I’ve been emailing with Oberon Zell whose primary partner, Morning Glory, invented the word polyamory. Never mind that polyamory now means so many things it’s lost its identity (similarly with Tantra). It’s been fun talking story with fellow movers and shakers from an earlier era.

...We all had a dream of sustainable intimate relationships that would transform the culture in a Utopian direction. I’m pretty sure this hasn’t happened, but the journey sure transformed us. Polyamory is difficult because it challenges all of our genetic programming. Humans are not naturally monogamous, but they’re not naturally polyamorous either. Our DNA wants to survive and if deception, manipulation, and domination serve to further that agenda, then that’s what will shape our relationships unless we are conscious enough to make other choices.

...Now that I’m on a roll I may just jump right into the next book once this one is finished.... I think the most fun part of the whole project was discovering that there are young people out there who have rejected the polyamory movement because it’s too mainstream!... They’re calling [what they're doing] Relationship Anarchy (RA). It will be interesting to see where that’s gone in twenty years....


(The glossary at Polyamory.org.uk gives this definition: "Relationship Anarchy (RA) - A non-monogamous philosophy originating in Sweden with many ideas in common with polyamory. However, a relationship anarchist does not make a special distinction between friends, lovers and other forms of relationship." Here's a longer description.)


3. Franklin Veaux, of great xeromag poly pages renown, continues to shop the proposal for his much-awaited book, tentatively called Practical Guide to Polyamory, to publishers who are too clueless to snatch it up while they can. Last year he said (on the Polyamory Weekly podcast, Episode #156):


The approach I want to take with this book is a lot more practical and a lot less theoretical than a lot of the other books I have seen... practical, hands-on advice, that is divorced from tantric sex or BDSM or any of the other subcultures. I want to talk for example about poly-mono relationships. We need a lot more about that.... Building polyfamilies, doing poly without primary-secondary hierarchies.... A lot of the books seem to be couple-centric, but a lot of poly relationships are not couple-centric.... There's very little about people who are coming into an existing relationship, or about creating an intentional family or a polyamorous tribe....

I'd really like to focus on practical problem-solving, practical day-to-day tools for dealing with communication — for constructing relationships that are healthy and functional....

I want to talk to a lot of people in the poly community, particularly people who have either made a lot of mistakes and figured out ways to solve those problems, or people who are in successful long-term poly relationships.


Interested? Email him at tacitr AT aol DOT com.


4. Kamala Devi, tantra teacher and poly activist in San Diego, writes that she "is currently working on a book and a reality TV show with Reid Mihalko entitled Free-Love, Can You Really Afford It?"


5. Jenny Block, author of Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, is reported (in her old hometown paper) to be "working on a book about cheating, which will be less autobiographical and focus more on the dynamics and psychology of infidelity." (Yes, I know cheating isn't poly.)


6. In the Netherlands, Leonie Linssen and Stephan Wik are co-authoring Love Unlimited: The Joys and Challenges of Open Relationships. The book is due out from Findhorn Press in spring 2010, in both Dutch and English. Linssen is a relationship and stress-management trainer and coach. At last September's Loving More conference, she explained that the book will be based on 12 case studies from her practice involving people in open relationships and "people dealing with the fact that they have feelings beyond their own partner." Earlier this year she published her poly autobiography in Dutch, and she is a well-known advocate for polyamory awareness in the Dutch media (see her descriptive list as mangled into English by Google Language Tools).


7. Also in the Netherlands, Ageeth Veenemans (with whom Linssen has collaborated in the past) intends to get her 2007 book Ik Hou Van Twee Maanen (I Love Two Men) published in English and Spanish. And she has written, "my second book is nearing completion."


8. This doesn't really count yet, but I've been bugging Pepper Mint to expand his Practical Non-Monogamy Tips II to book length (at 10,000 words it's not far from that already), and he said he may do it when his current book project is finished.

Do you know of any others? Add them to the comments below.

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December 4, 2009

Poly Books of 2009:
2. Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly Planet

In my last post I reviewed The Ethical Slut, 2nd Edition, the first book about polyamory to come out in 2009 (in English). Here is the other:


Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly Planet, by Serena Anderlini-D'Onofrio (North Atlantic Books).

This book is a very different animal. Rather than a practical guide, it's an ethereal, philosophical polemic for multiple love as a means to save the world — from the predations, imbalances, and overall bad vibes that we unfulfilled humans are inflicting upon it.

The title refers to the Gaia Hypothesis of James Lovelock. In the early 1970s Lovelock pointed out that Earth's systems (atmosphere, temperature, etc.) seem to be self-regulating like those in a living organism, governed by feedback processes in the biosphere. This interesting observation, of Earth as a homeostatic organism, has sometimes been exaggerated by New Age enthusiasts who treat it the way fundamentalists treat Bible stories: as flat literal truth, rather than as useful metaphor.

What's the poly connection? Serena Anderlini-D'Onofrio, a professor of humanities at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, argues as follows (in the book's description on her website):


According to [Gaia] theory, humankind is the most powerful species in this web and also its biggest threat. This provocative book explores ways to minimize and ultimately eliminate this threat with love and intimacy. Controversial Italian author Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio has authored the first global ecology study based on an analysis of human health. Anderlini-D’Onofrio identifies her remedy within the context of Gaia theory, re-envisioning it as a more inclusive philosophy that positively impacts not only relationships, but world ecology under duress. The author links human sexuality to the global ecosystem, claiming that freedom from fear will stimulate a holistic health movement powerful enough to heal relationships and restore planetary balance.


Not quite clear how that works? Here's from the book itself:


A new politics of love is a new way to think of love in the arena of public life. Love, who has been maligned as a disease, in this new politics resurrects as an art. The arts of loving are ancient and postmodern at the same time. They are a branch of the arts of healing, and when humanity is humble enough to recognize the pranic forces that interconnect all the parts of our living planet, the practice of these arts will turn scarcity into abundance, fear into hope, hatred into love.... Above and beyond identity politics, this new presence of love in public life amounts to an appreciation for the knowledge in the arts of loving that comes to us from communities already familiar with the practices of sharing emotional resources, including those embracing polyamorous and bisexual lovestyles.

Learning the arts of loving allows emotional resources to multiply and become abundant on a planetary scale. This amounts to invoking the arts of loving as a form of ecological science... the science of turning one's life into an experiment in living as if the new planetary consciousness we humans need, to get out of our multiple current crises, was already a reality.


Okay, I want to be sympathetic to this. In my own scientific-rationalist way, I do think that the polyamory paradigm could help to humanize the world — that it might generalize the magic of romantic love into something larger and more powerful than the isolated couple-love where society has safely walled it off. I think that freedom from sexual repression would reduce irrational hatreds and war-hysterias worldwide. And that poly could help people lead rich, rewarding lives without chasing the fruitless, Earth-killing, debt-and-dependency-making Consumption Of Ever More Stuff.

But I'm sorry. The whole book reads like the section above. Too much of it lives in the outer reaches of New Age academic woo-woo where reality need not apply.

-----------------

Which brings me to the horrible elephant in Serena's otherwise lovely room. No one wants to talk about it, but someone has to. I've met Serena several times and like her personally. She has a wonderful, joyous, visionary spirit. But she has allowed herself to be seduced by the crackpot movement of AIDS denialism. And it pervades the book.

How could such a thing happen to an intelligent, well-read academic? Here's how.

Central to New Age ideas of the "woo-woo" variety is a rejection of so-called "Western linear objective thinking." The reason for this is simple. Woo-woo, by definition, is whatever crumbles to nothing under honest, objective testing and inquiry. Therefore, it has evolved its own protective philosophy — its own immune-system defense — that rejects the very concept of objective facts and testing.

This rejection of "linear thinking" leaves even otherwise intelligent people defenseless against infection by all sorts of ridiculous mind viruses, because such people are self-blocked from examining incoming ideas critically. In Serena's case, her mind virus is a nasty one: the meme that, against overwhelming evidence, the HIV virus is a hoax — or at least an exaggeration — perpetrated by evil, linear-thinking Western medicine.

Supposedly, Serena repeats, the real reason people get AIDS is because our immune systems are weakened by pollution and our awful modern way of life. The HIV virus is only a small part of the process at most (HIV "dissenters" differ on exactly how small). Dire warnings that you should protect yourself from HIV infection are, we learn, a conspiracy by sex-negative, linear-thinking haters to keep you from having your God-given, Earth-healing fun. Apparently without a condom, even when, as Serena described in an earlier book, receiving anal sex from a man from sub-Saharan Africa, the most HIV-infected part of the world. (She wrote in that book that she was happy for him not to use a condom anally "since I don't really believe in HIV infection."1 )

HIV denialism is on a factual par with Holocaust denialism, in its imperviousness to evidence, except it's worse because it kills — by the hundreds of thousands so far2. On October 5, 2008, in the Bluestockings Bookstore in Greenwich Village, Serena gave a crowd of 70 a public reading from her previous book in which she denounced the sex-negative "AIDS scare" promoted by the medical HIV conspirators. I was there. The reaction from Polyamorous NYC (which had unwittingly sponsored the reading) was explosive. There was denunciation at the microphone and sobbing outside on the sidewalk by another scheduled speaker, who had lost her father to AIDS. In gay Greenwich Village, it was like a Holocaust denier giving a surprise public reading at Yad Vashem.

Amazingly, Serena seemed to have no idea that she would get such a reaction. She was devastated, apologized profusely to Polyamorous NYC for upsetting people, and offered to return her travel-expenses check. Since then she has been radioactive in the poly world.

Yet now, again, Gaia dwells at length on AIDS-denialist theory and how she came to believe in it. She extols Peter Duesberg, the chief architect of the movement and author of Inventing the AIDS Virus (1996), as one of the "'dissenters' whose fierce logic and defiance of the establishment have been my guide".

My friend Michael Rios has written:


One entire section (43 pages, a full 25% of her writing [in Gaia]) is devoted to AIDS denialism. She quotes and references extensively Peter Duesberg, who has been discredited by the rest of the scientific community, and who has *never* done a single experiment with HIV, nor ever done any work with *any* retrovirus....

As it happens, I have a personal friend, well known in the poly community, who worked with Duesberg at the time he was formulating his theories, until quitting in disgust. This person considers him to be fundamentally unethical, and describes him as "racist, sexist, homophobic." Duesberg is primarily supported by extreme right-wing organizations, which, like Duesberg, are strongly anti-gay.

When Serena read this material at [the] Polyamorous NYC event, it created extreme reactions. An extensive document summarizing the issues [was prepared by Polyamorous NYC], which was sent to all the people involved, including Serena. So she has published [Gaia] knowing full well that the main "authority" she relies on and quotes extensively is unqualified and likely dishonest, and that there is no significant scientific support anywhere in the world for her positions.

AIDS denialism claims that HIV doesn't [primarily] cause AIDS, that AIDS is caused by environmental and diet factors. This leads people not to take proper precautions against AIDS, and not to get proper treatment when they get it. [This] not only has immediate and disastrous effects on the lives of individuals [and their partners], it propagates even more confusion as to what science is, and how it proceeds. This kind of slanted pseudoscience creates a context where large numbers of people hear a competing claim for every real piece of scientific information that comes out, and, lacking the ability or training to distinguish between real science and profit- or politically-motivated pseudoscience, leads them to dismiss all sources of scientific information as biased and mere opinion.

Wikipedia has an article on AIDS denialism well worth reading: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aids_denial.


I can't recommend Gaia. That one of poly's public figures has been caught up by this pernicious nonsense is an embarrassment.

------------------

1 Plural Loves: Designs for Bi and Poly Living (2004), page 213.

2 The HIV denialist movement got the ear of South African president Thabo Mbeki when he was in office (1999–2008). As a result, his government blocked the use of anti-retroviral drugs for people with HIV at public hospitals and clinics. (Mbeki's health minister urged people to eat garlic and beetroot instead.) This policy — based on pseudoscience and conspiracy-mongering from California, and spread around the world by well-meaning New Age anti-rationalists — was estimated by a Harvard study to have caused 330,000 preventable deaths in South Africa over a decade. See New York Times articles here and more recently here. Here's a recent update on the new government's change of policy. Also see the recent book Denying AIDS: Conspiracy Theories, Pseudoscience, and Human Tragedy by Seth C. Kalichman.

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December 1, 2009

Poly Books of 2009:
1. The Ethical Slut, Second Edition

We're only a month from the end of the 00's — pronounced "the Uh-ohs," the best name for this awful decade I've heard. Let's hope 2010 is the start of something better.

Two polyamory books appeared in English in 2009 (as far as I know, as well as one in French), following three in 2008 (those were Opening Up by Tristan Taormino, Open by Jenny Block, and The Polyamory Handbook by Peter J. Benson). The 2009 crop consists of the new, enlarged edition of The Ethical Slut and a rather different item, Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly Planet.

Here's my review of the first. The second will be up next.


The Ethical Slut, 2nd edition: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures (Ten Speed Press).

"Many people dream of having an abundance of love and sex and friendship," begins Chapter 1;


Some believe that such a life is impossible and settle for less than they want, feeling always a little lonely, a little frustrated. Others try to achieve their dream, but are thwarted by outside social pressures or by their own emotions, and decide that such dreams must stay in the realm of fantasy. A few, though, persist and discover that being openly loving, intimate, and sexual with many people is not only possible but can be more rewarding than they ever imagined.


The Ethical Slut is often called "the bible of polyamory," but it's really the bible of one poly model: the "independent agent" model, basically poly singles — or pairs or groups of singles. This model sees individuals as ultimately responsible only for their own lives and choices, at least in some deep philosophical sense. Authors Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Catherine A. Liszt, "cat-a-liszt") come from the urban kink scene; perhaps this influenced them to speak to readers who see themselves as independent agents in a big wide sexy world.

A lot of people, however, make their way to poly as already committed-up couples who do not see themselves as acting and deciding on their own. These people may find that Tristan Taormino's Opening Up speaks to them more directly — though the new edition of Slut does add a new chapter on opening an existing relationship.

Regardless, Slut is packed with ideas and wisdom for anyone who is interested in ethical nonmonogamy among good, sex-positive, emotionally healthy people.

A little history: when the first edition came out in 1997, it hardly mentioned the word "polyamory"; the word itself was only a few years old. Easton and Hardy published the book through Hardy's own Greenery Press, a tiny outfit that specializes in kink and BSDM titles. But even without much advertising or bookstore placement, sales of The Ethical Slut spread by word of mouth. By 2007 more than 75,000 copies were in print, according to Hardy, and it was reportedly selling faster than when it was new. A lot of people (my friends say) were buying second copies because they'd loaned out their first one so many times they'd lost it.

Last March Dossie and Janet brought out their long-promised second edition. This time the word "polyamory" is right on the cover; while the first edition was subtitled "A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities," the second is subtitled "A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures."

So, how is the new Slut new?

It's 35% longer, by word count. It's reorganized to reflect the poly community's changing nature and concerns in the last 12 years, as well as the authors' increased experience. Dossie is a counselor by profession, and since gaining poly stardom she's seen a lot more poly clients and their problems. The book has two new chapters ("Opening an Existing Relationship" and "Lifestyles of the Single Slut") and much more about jealousy. New sidebar boxes throughout the book offer real-life psychological exercises to improve your skills in handling the situations being discussed.

Dossie says that she and Janet are better writers now than 12 years ago, and a line-by-line comparison shows lots of little improvements to the smoothness and flow. The book's design is more professional. It now has an index and a glossary. And it's in mainstream bookstores.

But in reaching out to a larger audience, has it become a bit... tamer? Here's a snip from the old edition, in the "Group Sex, Public Sex, Orgies" chapter, that says more than any abstract advice:


A young roommate of Dossie's once wound up in bed with both her current and her previous [male] lovers in an unplanned episode of lust run amok. Courtesy of inadequate soundproofing and a good imagination, Dossie knew what was going on and was wondering how they were doing when Kenny, the current boyfriend, staggered into the kitchen. "Dossie!" he pleaded. "I don't know what to do! Help!" She said, "Don't forget to breathe. This is not a contest, this is about doing what feels good." He muttered it like a mantra, "Breathe, no contest, feel good, breathe, no contest..." squared his shoulders and gamely returned to the fray.


The passage is gone from the new edition.

But never mind. If you're interested enough to have read this far, you need this book. It's liberating, fun, and well worth loaning out until you lose it. Maybe by then there'll be a third edition!

Some excerpts:

From the new "Group Sex" chapter (yes, I know you're interested):

Most people approach their first group sex party in a mental maelstrom of fears, fantasies, and wild expectations about what might, or worse yet, might not happen. We strongly recommend that you get a grip on yourself, acknowledge that you don't actually know what is going to happen, and go to the party with the expectation that you will be proud of yourself if you manage to walk in the door. If you stay for an hour and watch, you get a gold star....

Couples at the orgy: Deal with your relationship before you go. This is important. Are you going as a couple, to show off your incredible sexiness? Are you cruising for thirds and fourths? Or are you going as two separate individuals, to meet people and share sex with them? If one of you connects with a hot number, is the other welcome to join in? Do you need your partner's agreement before you play with someone? If you need to pause in a flirtation to check in with your partner, experienced sluts will admire your thoughtfulness and integrity.... The reason you decide all this in advance is that it is way too ugly to have a disagreement about this sort of thing in public, where if you do disagree, you are likely to feel embarrassed and angry and make a big unhappy mess.

...We like to watch couples make love with each other at parties — you can see the intimacy, and how well they know each others' ways, how beautifully they fit together, how exquisitely orchestrated lovemaking can become with years of practice. We like it as a fine experience for the voyeur and because we can learn a lot from people who are experts on each other.

...Play parties can also offer you the opportunity to process fears and jealousies about your partner. How does it feel to watch your partner make love with another person? Is it really awful? You might be surprised to find yourself feeling pretty neutral, like "Gee, I thought that would bother me but actually it doesn't!"


Elsewhere in the book, on asking for what you want:

The important thing is to be aware of your needs and wants, so you can go about getting them met with full consciousness.... Do not commit yourself to a lifetime of hinting and hoping. When you figure out what you want and ask for it, you’ll be surprised how often the answer is "yes."


On gender roles:

What we can all learn from transgender people is that gender is malleable.... If you think this doesn’t apply to you, that you are certain of your gender and that it’s immutable, please consider that a great many people are born with characteristics of both genders.... And a great many people whose genitals and chromosomes are all lined up with biological norms nonetheless feel strongly that they would live more happily and appropriately when presenting as a different gender than the one the doctor assigned them at birth.... Gender-queer people — those who choose to live their lives somewhere between the usual gender roles — are softening the boundaries of gender and demonstrating what life without binary gender might look like.


On monogamy:

We believe that monogamy will continue to thrive as it always has, a perfectly valid choice for those who truly choose it. (We don’t think it’s much of a choice when you are forbidden to choose anything else.)


On "earning your slut merit badge":

The people we know who succeed at ethical sluthood usually have a set of skills that help them forge their pathway cleanly, honestly, and with a minimum of unnecessary pain. Here are some of the skills we think are important:

[Each of these gets two to four paragraphs:] Communication... Emotional honesty... Affection... Faithfulness... Limit-setting... Planning... Knowing yourself... Owning your feelings... Going easy on yourself... Telling the truth.


In conclusion:

We want to create a world where everyone has plenty of what they need: of community, of connection, of touch and sex and love.... We dream of a world where no one has desires they have no hope of fulfilling, where no one suffers from shame because of their desires, or embarrassment about their dreams, where no one is starving from lack of sex.


You can read much more of the book (including the table of contents) in this free preview.

Reid Mihalko has just put up a 90-minute video interview he did with Dossie about the release of the new edition: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Here's a print interview with her that appeared in The Daily Beast.

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