From the Mailbag
Last time, I promised you, my readers, that I was going to cobble together bits of sex questions people had brought up when I asked for topics to write about, and answer them. I am answering one today. But I’d promised quotations, and honestly? They all overlap and they’re twitter DMs and they’re a grammatical mess written at 2 am… so I’m writing what they asked more neatly. This is a “Dear Laura” letter, and if you don’t like that I faked it, you can move on to another post.
I like casual sex, sometimes, whether with friends or just Tinder interests who don’t seem like a good relationship fit. I also want serious relationships out of my dating, I just haven’t met anyone serious in a while. My partner is judgemental about this because he thinks that the whole point of polyamory is avoiding casual sex- “that’s swinging. Why would you bother with that? That isn’t polyamory” He spends weeks getting to know people deeply before starting to have sex with them. I think we both just have different dating styles, but he’s turning it into a philosophical battle and we keep going in circles, because I think the way he says it is judgemental and slut shaming, and he gets mad about that but still holds firm. I think you can be polyamorous and still have casual sex, he thinks you can’t. Who is right and how do we stop having this circular argument?
The good and bad thing about relationship philosophy is that no one is ever really right. You and your partner, however, have to figure out a way to have this conversation that first, isn’t a fight, and second, includes what’s really bothering each of you about this situation. I only have one side to work from, but it sounds like you’re getting caught in a kneejerk reaction to being told what you’re doing “isn’t polyamory,” as well as needing your partner to be on board with the way you date, and like your partner has some baggage to unpack around casual sex and around a little bit of a superiority thing around polyamory vs. other kinds of ethical nonmonogamy.
However, him telling you you’re overreacting to his language and you telling him that he’s got a superiority complex are probably exactly how you end up having the same fight over and over. Let’s think about how to break the cycle. At a time when you aren’t having this fight, ask him if you can talk about it. Find out (if you don’t know already) if he has a history with swinging or other kinds of nonmonogamy that make him feel like he has to distance himself from that behavior or those stereotypes, or if he has concerns with making polyamory “look good” to family and friends as he’s hoping to introduce them to partners and thinks there will be discomfort around you dating around in the way you prefer. Try to use “I” statements around the parts of the conversation that involve your feelings; “I feel badly about not being ‘poly enough’ for your standards when you bring this up so often” rather than “you make me feel bad because you keep bringing this up” is a tiny difference that can make a world of difference in how a message is received. If it really is a “polyamory is better and this is how you do it” thing, then pointing out that this is an interpretation of a relationship style and it doesn’t obligate him to do anything he doesn’t want for you to seek sexual connection even in cases where you aren’t romantic is pretty much all you can do.
Be prepared that his answers might reveal some of the sex-negativity you accuse him of in fights - and just like you get mad at the implication you’re not polyamorous enough, but also are unsure enough about it to ask me my opinion just in case you’re wrong, he might be just a little bit caught in cultural sex-negativity. He doesn’t mean to be slut-shaming...but he’s got concerns about casual sex that include things that are kind of slut-shaming, like being worried about what people will think of you if you ‘get around,’ or not knowing much about STI risks but being worried overall, even if you test frequently.
And that’s where the two of you might have to look at your agreements. If, in theory, both of you have agreed you can choose when to start having sex with anyone you’re seeing without consulting, but he’s actually uncomfortable with how that’s worked out… it needs addressing, and not in a passive-aggressive, guilt you into a fight way. You need to figure out if he’s worried about STIs and if using different safer sex methods or getting him more information on real life risk levels “fix” that, if that’s a change you’re willing to make. He needs to find out if he’s making assumptions based on the wrong information, and if he has the right information but is still uncomfortable, he needs to figure out a boundary, an action he can take himself, that makes him more comfortable. Figuring that out might include “ask partner if they’re willing to use barriers for this additional action or test more often” but if his partner won’t, are there steps he can take that he isn’t (using barriers with you if he isn’t, for example) to feel safer? If not, the two of you might be incompatible in how you practice this, and depending on how long you’ve been together and how entwined your lives are, one or both of you might decide to change your behavior to make your partner happier, or you might decide that this incompatibility is The End for this relationship.
Love and good luck in all your conversations,
(Really though, to the handful of people who sent me variations on this, good luck! It’s a hard situation to navigate, and I hope you make it through with everyone happy with the result.)
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