One of the problems with exploring polyamory and ethical sluttiness in a world where they aren’t commonly accepted is that reading your moral compass is difficult. We all absorb cultural norms about morality to an extent, even when those norms are fucked up. Cultural norms regarding polyamory and sluttiness are generally negative. Having more than one romantic partner is bad, cheating, selfish, destructive, unfaithful, immoral. Enjoying casual sex is shallow, disrespectful, immature, means you have no standards, etc.
For me, the problem is that when something I’ve done in the context of being slutty feels wrong, my first gut instinct is that the sluttiness is what’s wrong. That it feels wrong because (following the cultural narrative) I’m being shallow, disrespectful, immature, etc, to even be trying it. Forget that I’m being honest about it with the people I fuck, forget that I’m careful about consent, safety, and all that good stuff. The moral compass always beelines to familiar tropes. Every time something goes wrong and I want to try to figure out what, I have to first spend a bunch of time reminding myself all of the reasons why I know it’s not just that living the way I do is wrong.
If I feel uncomfortable about casual sex I had with someone, and want to figure out why, I first have to tackle the part of my brain that insists it’s because I’m having casual sex and casual sex is wrong. I have to step back and remind myself that I’ve had a lot of positive experiences with casual sex, and that as much as my culture may enjoy extrapolating about hook-up culture from negative anecdotal evidence, that’s a stupid way of drawing conclusions. After I’m done reminding myself of that, I can start on the work of asking, “So what might it have been that actually made this experience negative?”
When you’re monogamous and trying to figure out what’s going wrong in your relationship, you ask about the individual circumstances of the relationship. When you’re poly or slutty and trying to figure out what’s going wrong with something, the reflex is to attribute it to the ways you’re different, rather than looking at the individual circumstances of the situation. That reflex has to be grappled with before any useful introspection can get done.
It helps me to remember that this is something that happens often, and to talk about it out loud. It brings it out in the open where I can stare it down more directly. It helps me remember to ask the important question: