I Have a Question

This is going to be short, because I’m just asking a question I’ve had in my brain for a while, and I’d be curious to have others’ opinions on it.

If you had to pick one barometer for whether a relationship, either yours or someone else’s, was healthy or not, what would it be?

I’ve had the same answer to this question in my head for quite some time, and I think it’s a decent one to take a step back and ask sometimes. If I had to pick just one, it would be this: how much more or less do you connect with the people other than the one the relationship is with?

I think good relationships help people connect *in general*, not just with the people they’re with, and that bad ones tend to, to a greater or lesser degree, not do that. What do you guys think?

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“The Friend Zone”, and Other Superstitious Beliefs

I remember reading a long time ago that superstitious beliefs are most prone to develop in situations, cultures, professions, etc., where there is a lot of dangerous and unpredictable risk. A high incidence of superstitious rituals and beliefs among sailors, for example, was attributed to this phenomenon because of the high level of unpredictability and risk associated with their jobs.

It struck me yesterday that this serves as a pretty decent model for why people hold so many different absurd beliefs about dating. Concepts like the friend zone or the three day rule are good examples of this. The friend zone is essentially a superstitious belief, and the three day rule is essentially a superstitious ritual–it is a prescribed type of action believed to bring about a particular result without evidence outside the anecdotal.

Dating is, let’s face it, pretty unpredictable, And is an activity that for most people is high-risk emotionally in that peoples’ dating lives can have a pretty significant impact on their emotional state and self-esteem. One might posit, therefore, that it is one of those situations of high risk and low predictability that are particularly conducive to superstition. Maybe that is the reason why whole books have been written to debunk the ever-growing list of superstitious beliefs that have popped up around them. One circumstance’s 13th floor is another’s collar-touching is another’s three day rule.

Food for thought.

Linkthing: When You Give Permission To Experiment, You Give Permission For Honest Mistakes

Stuff has been super busy forever. There is some possibility of them getting less busy soon, though, which may result in actually writing The Blogthings. Meantime, this is pretty good:

“What’s this?” you ask.

“It’s milk,” they say.

“That’s whole milk,” you say, hands trembling.  “I needed skim.”

“It just says ‘milk’ on the list.”

“How could you not know what kind of milk I needed?”

“I’m lactose-intolerant, remember?  I don’t drink milk.  And I thought you drank whole…”

“I’m on my diet!” you cry.  “The one I started two months ago!  And now whole milk tastes disgusting to me!  I can’t drink this!”

Now, look, it’s reasonable to be a little pissy about it, especially if you had your stomach set for a delicious glass of milk.  (Mmm, milk.  My favorite drink.)  And clarifying what you mean when you say “milk” is certainly an action item to be discussed on the endless list of Shit We Need To Get Straight.

But if it’s two weeks later, and you’re still sulking and snapping about the time your trusted your partner, and they came home with whole milk, then you guys have got some work to do.

—————————————–

But that’s often how it is when people are starting with beginning polyamory.

The grocery store is not a grocery store, but some new partner they’re unsure of.  And the worry is not that your lover is going to buy an extra box of cookies, but that they’re going to do That Sexual Thing That You’re Totally Not Okay With.

And the milk?  That’s the miscommunication.  That’s where they thought that “kissing” meant “making out” was okay, and stopped when it got too hot and heavy, yet what you meant was “a kiss goodnight.”  That’s where they thought “going out on a date” meant “they could hold hands in public.”  That’s where they thought “cuddling” involved sexual tension, and you distinctly did not.

That’s super-common behavior for a partner who’s not sure they’re poly yet: straightjacketing their partner’s every new interaction with a thousand rules.  And some relationships feel they need training wheels at first, so the other partner can be sure that their partner is trustworthy.  (Some small segment of of them even do need them.)

But here’s the thing: If you give your partner permission to experiment, you have to give them permission to make honest mistakes.

Go read the rest: When You Give Permission To Experiment, You Give Permission For Honest Mistakes

My User Manual Part 6, In The Bedroom

Content notice: explicit sex talk

Let’s start with a basic list of activities I enjoy both giving and receiving: kissing, cuddling, scritches, biting, hand jobs, oral sex, anal sensation play (caveat: my ass is unfortunately sensitive in an often uncomfortable way, so with me it has to be kept light and/or mostly external), spanking, scratching, flogging, hair pulling, knife play, Hitachi magic wands, bondage, temperature play, sensation play in general.

I enjoy giving: PIV, anal sex, tit fucking (to be fair, the first and the last are more out of impossibility of receiving than preference against receiving).

I enjoy receiving: hot wax, fire (okay, I probably would enjoy giving both of these, but I am not experienced in safely giving either of them).

Now on to the nitty-gritty details, in no particular order:

Consent:

Consent is very important to me. Even with things I am explicitly into, surprising me with them is not generally encouraged. I try to be careful about asking for consent for things, and I expect partners to be similarly careful.

Technique pointers:

I don’t tend to like pinchy, stingy, or tickly sensations. I generally have a preference for sensations that are broad and deep. Do not tickle me ever. Don’t pinch me, don’t bite me hard on a small amount of skin – I prefer wide, deep bites to shallow or narrow ones. Suction-y bites are encouraged. Try to take care to avoid light touches around the lower half of the sides of my torso, and the area of skin between my navel and groin; these areas are particularly ticklish for me. Build-up is pretty important for most intense varieties of sensation play, and I am often somewhat of a lightweight with them.

Leaving marks:

I love to leave marks, and I love to have them left on me. Whether or not I’m comfortable having marks in places that are visible when I’m clothed will depend on my social schedule over the following days. I will ask you what your comfort level is with marks and if you have a preference for having or not having them in particular places.

Feedback:

I am very appreciative of feedback. “Stay right there”, “Stop that”, “Go faster”, “Slow down”, “Do it like this”, etc. Physically guiding my hands or body to move in a particular way that you like or stop moving in a way that you don’t is encouraged.

Anecdote: I have generally gotten positive feedback from going down on people, but I have only recently started explicitly requesting feedback on it. Generally getting good feedback when going down on people but not knowing what specifically what worked or didn’t has left me in the past feeling pretty insecure in spite of the positive feedback. Imagine if you were trying to speak a language you didn’t know, and whenever you tried to make sounds that sounded, to you, kind of like what the language sounded like, people complimented you on your fluency. Would you feel confident, or would you feel just as nervous, given that you have no idea what aspects of your random noises made the difference, and therefore no idea which to try to reproduce the next time?

Testing and STI knowledge:

Know your testing status, and have a decent working knowledge of the varying risks of different types of sex and methods of STI prevention and birth control.

STI prevention:

I always use condoms for PIV or anal sex. Otherwise, I generally don’t, but am entirely willing to if that is your preference.

Accidental pregnancy:

I am pro-choice, and I will probably want to know that you are, too. I keep Plan B in my desk just in case.

Dominance/submission:

I have experimented with power exchange almost uniformly as dominant. My experimentation has been pretty limited, because the idea of power exchange has only started being interesting to me fairly recently, and thus far I’m still not particularly curious about total power exchange or 24/7 power exchange, though they aren’t necessarily hard limits with a partner who wants to explore them. I have a lot more experience bottoming than being submissive. I’m not opposed to being on the submissive side of the scene, but getting the right vibe for it seems to be pretty rare for me.

Other things to know:

I often have trouble getting and/or staying hard with new partners the first time or two. It’s a performance anxiety thing that I am pretty used to, although still occasionally insecure about, and it’s not a reflection on you. I also generally don’t orgasm from people giving me hand jobs or blow jobs. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy them – I do — but you shouldn’t expect me to orgasm from them. I don’t always reliably orgasm from penetrative sex, either. I have, at times, the opposite problem to premature ejaculation (is anorgasmia an appropriate term in this context?).

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Thoughts On Being Excited About Sex

I’ve been trying to figure out how to just talk about sex.

With people who know me it’s easier. I would venture to say that in day-to-day life I am more comfortable talking about sex than most people are. What I’ve been trying to figure out is how to talk about it on my blog and social media.

My dating life is busier than it has been in quite some time at the moment. Parts of this are complicated and parts of it are great. I’m getting laid more than usual, I’m learning new things about new partners, I’m having silly awkward sexual moments, and I’m getting the kinds of compliments I absolutely love to get — “You are very easy to talk to.”, “I like the way you ask for things.”, “You’re a good feminist.” (although, to be fair, that last one resulted out of a slight misinterpretation of something I’d said, so it’s possible I didn’t really deserve it).

Incidentally, talking about feminist stuff while in bed with people is super fun and I am never more weirded out by guys who say feminism is ruining their sex lives than just after I’ve done that.

Here’s the thing: I get excited about getting laid, and I get excited about the times when I feel I can be good at sex, and I like being able to talk about the good moments and the silly moments that happen around sex.

But.

But I’m in this culture of, for people who are perceived as male, Everything Is About Getting Laid And Demonstrating Sexual Prowess, and I don’t want to play into that culture when I talk about this stuff. I want to be able to be excited about having sex and the funny, interesting, sexy, or bizarre things that happen in and around sex, but I’m apprehensive about doing that because, in doing that, I don’t want to play into this Make Everything About Your Dick culture.

Maybe it’s one of those things I should just do unapologetically, and the manner in which I do it will bear out that that’s not the way I mean it. Then again, sometimes my responses to sex are as simple as “Oh my god, I got laid and it was awesome and I am awesome and everything is awesome!” and sometimes all I want to do is shout that to Twitter because I’m excited and I firmly believe that a world in which we can all let ourselves be excited about whatever random, silly things we’re excited about, whether Harry Potter or Dr. Who or cat pictures or sex or contra dancing or discovering the FedEx arrow, is a better world.

Without context, though, is such an expression of excitement playing into the more problematic parts of our culture? Is it harmfully perpetuating an unhealthy obsession with sex as conquest or social status? Is the way that I write about it, especially in a medium as brief as Twitter, sufficient to dissociate it from that culture? Is it necessarily even any different from their culture? Certainly, my own feelings on sex will have been influenced by the more harmful sexual attitudes I was surrounded by growing up just like the rest of us. Certainly, some of the ways that influences my opinions and behavior are probably still invisible to me.

So the question comes down to this: how do I allow myself to be fascinated and excited by sex in all the different ways that I am without playing into a culture that is obsessed with sex in some very unhealthy ways?

Right now I’m not sure.

How I Meet Poly People

I’ve been really busy the last few weeks, so haven’t had time to write, but a reader left a question about how to meet poly people in my inbox, so I figured I’d take the time to write a quick post in response.

My favorite ways to meet poly people:

First, OkCupid. OkCupid is a fantastic site for meeting other nonmonogamous people. It has a tremendous number of poly people on it, and aside from being a good place to find poly dates, this has been a great place for me to find poly friends. The last time I moved, I messaged a bunch of people who were high matches just to say, “Hey, I am about to move into this area and I’m trying to get to know some people before I arrive, would you be up for chatting a bit and then maybe getting coffee or something once I’m in town?”. I met several new friends that way, and almost all of them were poly.

Second, meetups. Meetup.com is an and I have found to be a great way to get to the site to find these — many cities have polyamorous meetup groups that meet weekly or monthly, and I have found these to be a great way to get to know local poly people.

Third, the BDSM community. If you’re not interested in BDSM at all, then this might not be the best strategy for you in particular, but for people who are interested in BDSM, the kink community is chock-full of nonmonogamous people in every style and configuration you can imagine. In my experience, it is nearly inevitable that you will meet poly kinksters.

Fourth, being out. Obviously there are environments and circumstances where it is dangerous to be out about non-monogamy, and I don’t intend this as blanket advice to be out in all places and circumstances, but where it is possible and reasonable, being out as poly can sometimes result in meeting poly people where you least expect them. I have gotten pretty comfortable being out as poly in social situations if the subject comes up. I don’t try to force it into conversation, but if it’s a comfortable space, I also don’t deliberately keep it out of the conversation. This has resulted in it coming up in conversation with people at dances, at get-togethers at friends houses, even at one point with coworkers (though the safety of it with coworkers depends on the type of workplace you are in).

Fifth, online. There are forums, Facebook groups, blogs, and subreddits dedicated to ethical non-monogamy. A number of the poly people I now know in real life I originally met online in discussions of polyamory. Meeting people online does make it less likely that the people you meet will live anywhere near you, but you still have an online community to connect with, and your paths may cross in real life more often than you expect.

Sixth, poly conferences. These can be expensive to attend and travel to, so not my first choice, but they can also be incredibly fun, and they are, of course, chock-full of poly people.

Hope this is helpful!

A Fantastic Piece About “Casual Love”

I’ve been a little bad about writing lately; busy and stuff. In the meantime, you all should read this absolutely fantastic blog post about love. Here is the intro as a teaser:

The truth about love is: it happens. A lot. It happens at appropriate times (like, when you’re in a long-term relationship with someone great), and also inappropriate ones (like, when you meet somebody at a party and have a weirdly awesome conversation and then make out in a bathroom). Love is just not all that concerned with appropriateness.

We have a mythology surrounding romantic love that says it’s a special, rare feeling, reserved for just a few people in your whole life. It says that love takes time to develop, and that the feelings you experience at the outset of a relationship are not love, but something else (“infatuation”, “a crush”, or my favorite, “twitterpation” (see Bambi)). It also says that love is generally constant and reliable, and that falling in love is A MAJOR LIFE EVENT, about which SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!

In summation, the plot of every romantic comedy: if you fall in love with somebody, you better go out and get ‘em – even if they’re already married and they don’t really like you and you’re their stepsister and you’re leaving for a six-year residency in Mongolia in the morning – because you’ll probably love them forever and you might not ever love anyone else.

We are so enamored with this idea that we tend to round some feelings up to love (when you first met the person you later married), and others down to not-love (your weekend fling with a Spanish dancer). The thing is, those experiences feel remarkably similar from the inside.

Ten Responses To “But Don’t You Get Jealous?”

“But if your partner can have other partners, don’t you get jealous?”

  1. Of course.

  2. Yeah, but it’s not like I didn’t get jealous when I was in monogamous relationships. Monogamy isn’t a cure for jealousy, it’s just a different set of circumstances in which to experience it.

  3. Yes, but I also open myself up to situations that can cause jealousy when I have friends who are friends with other people, when I have coworkers and project collaborators who work with other people, when I know writers who write and share writing ideas with other people. The thing is: although all of those situations open up the possibility that I might end up feeling jealous or inadequate or insecure, they also enrich my life in enormous ways that I would never in a million years trade away.

  4. Yes I do, and certainly there are some situations I’m going to get into as a result of being poly that are going to be really difficult, and be a potentially stronger trigger for jealousy than most situations I might get into while being monogamous. For some people, myself included, that comes with the territory.

  5. Yes, and yes, sometimes it really bothers me. It also means I get more opportunities to face it head-on. The times when jealousy is really bad are the times when I am forced to examine where it comes from, and to learn about it, and, in the process, to learn about me.

  6. Yes, but it also means I get to unlearn one of the worst root causes of jealousy for me. For me, poly provides an opportunity to unlearn this culturally ingrained habit of thinking oppositionally. When I was monogamous, and someone I was interested in decided they wanted to go out with someone else, it was easy to feel like that was because I wasn’t good enough — that I wasn’t as attractive or interesting as that other person. Being poly, though, means that when someone decides they don’t want to date me, it isn’t because some other person is “better”. If they’re poly, it means that they could date me anyway, which means that I don’t have to think about my rejections in the frame of “I’m just not as good as that other person is.”. I get to practice thinking about them in the frame of “Something just didn’t work between this person and me.”.

  7. Absolutely, but although I may sometimes feel jealousy about my partners’ partners, I also sometimes meet them, and talk to them, and make new friends. Sometimes my partners’ partners become my friends, and sometimes they even become my partners.

  8. Of course, but the same situations that sometimes cause jealousy can also teach me things about sex and relationships that I never would have learned otherwise. Maybe my partner has a kind of sex with one of their other partners that they’ve never had with me. On the one hand, something like that might end up making me feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, it also means I get an opportunity to learn how to do that kind of sex. Maybe my partner communicates with one of their other partners in a way I haven’t tried. On the one hand, that could make me feel insecure, but on the other, it gives me an opportunity to learn a new way to communicate, too.

  9. Yes, but this is what I want. This is the way that I want my relationships to look, and if dealing with jealousy is something I’m going to have to work on in order for my relationships to look the way that I want them to look, then it’s something I’m going to have to work on.

  10. Yes, and it’s worth it.

 

 Author’s sidenote: every single one of these answers is true for me. The “I don’t get jealous” answer is not true for me, which is why it has not been included, although I readily knowledge that it is true for some people.

Jotting Down A Few Miscellaneous Proto-Posts

Lately, I’ve had several things I wanted to write about, but nothing I had the energy to write a complete post about. In lieu of writing full posts, I’ve decided I’m just going to empty the backlog with some short summaries of some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately.


I just had a conversation with a friend of mine about a partner of hers. A few weeks ago we had a lot of conversations about this partner, and she had expressed to me a few times that she was nervous about not being very attracted to this partner physically. I noted to her, today, that she hadn’t mentioned that issue in a while, and asked if that was because it had changed or not. She responded that, yes, it had changed, and that she was now finding this partner incredibly attractive all the time. It was really cool being witness to a change like this as it happened.


I’ve been wanting to write something just to remind myself that this happened: the woman I have most recently started dating gave me a very distinct first impression over about 30 seconds of conversation at the beginning of our date. Over the course of the rest of that date, I got a stronger and distinctly different impression — one that was much more compatible with me than the first impression had been. Then, over the course of the following date, my impression changed again (not to a negative impression, but to one that was markedly different from the second impression). It’s not a particularly interesting story except that I tend to have a very high opinion of my ability to develop highly accurate snap impressions of people I meet in person, and this particular dating experience has somewhat flown in the face of that. Data about my brain I wanted to write down so I remember it.


I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy recently. At some point, I want to write a full-length post about this, but for now just a short summary: I’ve been mulling over this idea that empathy is, like all those other things I wrote about in the brain skepticism post (pain, depression, etc.), a model. Roughly: that empathy is a mental model of the state of another person’s brain that can cause us to experience emotions. That is, when someone else is sad, and you recognize the visual cues that signify sadness, you form a mental model of them as a person experiencing sadness, and whatever process creates that mental model also produces a corresponding emotional experience in you.

I find this idea intriguing because it presents an interesting perspective on why certain groups of people have so much trouble empathizing with other certain groups. For example: why are so many religious people convinced that atheists are just angry at their god? I think this model for empathy implies a fascinating explanation: if someone lives in a world where, in all of their experience, the existence of a deity is self-evident, then maybe their system has no idea how to simulate the mind of an atheist. Maybe the best it can do is to posit things like “angry at God”, and, as a result, not only is that the explanation that seems plausible to them, they might even experience an emotional reinforcement in the form of an “empathetic” emotional experience of being angry at God produced by their inaccurate model.

In a nutshell, what I find interesting about this is that it reframes my concept of the idea of “failing at empathy”. When people assume completely inaccurate things about other people, by this model, it’s not that they aren’t experiencing empathy — the very same process is happening as when empathy works — it’s just that their empathy engine isn’t producing accurate results.

This is obviously a hypothesis formed out of purely anecdotal speculation. It’s the worst kind of just so story. I just think it’s fascinating as a hypothesis, and I would be curious to learn about reasons it might or might not hold any actual evidential water.