SATRC: Along came poly

Welcome to Sex and the River City: your progressive, sex-positive sex and love advice column.

Kenna Cook

Dear Kenna,

My partner and I aren’t sure if we’re monogamous, and I’m curious about polyamory. I was once told it’s not an excuse to cheat so I’m super wary of doing that. I just want to date other people, especially because I want to rediscover who I am sexually and I feel like I’d feel safer doing that with people I know less well than my partner. But I would want him to be my primary–if that makes sense. I don’t even know if polyamory is something I would want all the time or not.

We’re both sort of dating someone together, informally, for the last year, but I’m afraid that I’m misunderstanding what polyamory means. Is it different for everyone?

-Pondering Poly

Dear Pondering,

I totally understand your concern that poly could feel like an excuse to cheat on your main partner–or primary. The difference between cheating and being polyamorous is that poly is ethical non-monogamy. This means that everybody in the relationship(-s) knows what’s going on, there are no secrets, and everyone is consenting to the relationship(-s).

There can be many different layers to how you approach a poly relationship. It can be open sexually but closed to other romantic relationships outside of the primary partnership. It can be sexually closed and only looking for intimate, personal connections. Everybody’s poly looks different, but the core similarity is that you are being open and honest about what you’re doing and how you’re feeling about what you’re doing.

If you want some excellent ethical resources, my go-to podcast is Polyamory Weekly, hosted by Cunning Minx from Seattle. The books that have been on my bookshelf since the beginning of my poly journey are The Ethical Slut by Janet Hardy and More Than Two by Eve Ricket and Franklin Veaux.

I’m bisexual but haven’t been with a woman yet. I’ve had sex with men, but not the ladies. Do you have any tips for my first time with a woman?

– Bi Curiosity

Dear Curiosity,

Sex with men and sex with women are very similar when it comes to asking for what you want and making sure you have consent. You might be very excited and eager to try “all the things” when you do have your first same-sex experience, but you need to make sure that both you and your partner are enthusiastically consenting to every act. The golden rule of consent is not “No means No.” It’s “Only YES means Yes.” Don’t forget to check in with each other during and after to see what works and what doesn’t.

You know your body best, so make sure that you have clear communication about what sex acts are a hell yes, a maybe, and a hard no.

Remember that there is no right way to have girl sex. It’s a conversation that two (or more!) people are having with their minds and bodies about what feels pleasurable. For more “hands-on” info, check out Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon.

My partner of four years and I have been on the topic of kids lately (do we want them, when, how, etc.) and one thing came up about polyamory.

We were discussing, hypothetically, if your relationship is a poly relationship and you have a kid, when would the best time be to introduce the whole concept of polyamory to them?

One scenario we came up with is that you introduce your kids to poly so that they can understand the situations that may arise through their younger life when you and your partner have multiple partners and they see that. But then what do you do and how do you handle it if your child then says they want to also be poly as well when they get into late middle school/high school?  

We know that poly is a very small circle of the dating world as it is, but to have someone wanting to be non-monogamous in high school could result in a lot of issues–such as bullying, slut-shaming, being misunderstood, not being able to find anyone who wants to date them, or anything else you could imagine.

So, what could repercussions be depending on when you tell them? And how do you handle those?

-Parenting while Poly

Dear Parenting,

Oh, how you’ve hit my sweet spot with this question! Parenting is in no way an easy gig just by itself. Then throw in trying to manage being in multiple loving relationships with partners who have mismatched schedules and the whole thing adds another layer of expert planning skills.

My kids know that I’m poly (they are 7 and 4) and they sort of understand what that means to me. They still tend to think that the “right” way to be in love is only between two people in a monogamous relationship. We have finally overcome the hurdle of them seeing heterosexuality as the default norm, so now they more willingly accept the idea of boys loving boys and girls loving girls. But that default monogamy setting is deeply ingrained in them, thanks to the Disney Channel.

I have told them that as long as everyone agrees to and knows what their boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife is doing, you can love as many people as you want. There is an awesome poly educator and blogger, Koe Creation, who was raised in a poly family and has great insight into how it shaped her life.

When you are raised around healthy relationships, you understand them to be what is “normal.” Kids will recreate what they are raised around as adults–or they will avoid it if it left them with pain or trauma. Truth and openness and acceptance being passed down to the next generations will hopefully breed more of the same.

I think kids now and in the future will be much more open to accepting poly as a viable option. They are already so open about varying sexualities and genders that relationship orientation is just the next phase of acceptance. Bullying, slut-shaming and being ostracized will always exist in high school–it’s par for the course–but I don’t think that being poly will exacerbate this. The poly kids will, hopefully, be the ones who stand up for themselves and to the bullies because they have seen what it looks like to exercise your autonomy and ask for what you deserve.

Got a burning desire, a burning sensation or an issue that’s about to burn down your house? Email Kenna for sex & love advice at kennac.se@gmail.com.

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Kenna Cook
Kenna Cook is a pansexual, polyamorous, pun-loving pleasure professional and single parent born and raised in the River City. Whether you're inspired or mystified by all those nouns, send your sex and love questions to her for deep-dive discussion each week.