Why We Need To Talk About Sex: How Anti-Poly Advice Feeds Rape Culture

Photo by Joe Gardner on Unsplash

I haven’t told too many people I’m polyamorous. I’ve told a few friends, my long term, (previously monogamous) partner has told a few friends, and through the grapevine, most of our mutual friends and acquaintances have found out. They learned the info in a way that was comfortable for all involved: for them, they didn’t have to provide a polite or supportive reaction to the news that might have challenged their own values, and for me, I didn’t have to offer an explanation or defend myself from their judgement — real or imagined.

Safe because we wouldn’t hear all the ugly questions that might emerge from our unconscious programming, questions like “why can’t you just appreciate what you have?” or “who do you think you are, sleeping around, letting guys take advantage of you?” Safe because I wouldn’t have to rethink my decision, this expression of my identity, based on these questions.

After experiencing more than one sexual violation since starting my poly journey, it’s hard to not wonder why the hell I wouldput myself in that situation… just as, after being mugged, assaulted or raped while walking home late at night, a woman might ask herself why she was out walking alone late at night.

My reason for polyamory was obviously not because I wanted to be violated. It was because I have the desire to experience deeper, authentic connections with people. To express the love I feel for others in a way that feels right with that individual, including, sometimes, sexually. Consensuallysexual. And I have had a number of these fulfilling and nurturing experiences too.

These are both examples of rape culture. The question: why would you walk around late at night? being placed on a woman who was assaulted blames the woman. Why would you be polyamorous?is the same thing, when the question comes after a story about sexual assault that happened during a date. I shared such a story at a reading which a friend and I curated on the topic of Power.

No one actually asked that question that night, but I have heard it a number of times before and it is ingrained in me deeply enough that I imagined that this was what people might be thinking. In reality, there wasn’t a lot of response to my piece or the topics raised by it. The conversation afterwards focused on different elements of power — the power of community vs individuality, ownership, money etc. Worthy topics to discuss, but I was still disappointed that none of the questions we posed to the audience such as “what is the difference between power and empowerment?” and “What is empowerment to you?” — combined with my reading about sexual consent — didn’t lead to a discussion about sex.

Only one person spoke on this topic. In response to that second question, “What is empowerment to you?” she said, “for me, my sexuality is empowering.” I was impressed by her openness. Perhaps not coincidentally, she was the only other poly woman in the room (as far as I knew — and I knew most of the group fairly well). But again, no one picked up on the thread.

While the #metoo movement opened some lines of communication about sex, consent and assault in a detached, political way, I feel like talking about our own personal experiences with sex is still difficult — and this can have dangerous consequences.

If we don’t know how to talk about sex, the abuse of male privilege and power remains hidden behind closed doors, women doubting their experiences or feeling too frightened, uncomfortable or embarrassed to voice them. In Christine Blasey Ford’s opening statement, she says, “For a very long time, I was too afraid and ashamed to tell anyone the details.” She voices what so many women and girls feel after sexual assault or rape.

It’s no surprise that a woman would feel grateful to have a “good guy” in her life, and feel that it’s little or no sacrifice to give up sex with anyone else given what is, sadly, likely to happen. But from this standpoint, monogamy doesn’t seem like a choice to me as much as it’s a symptom of the patriarchy.

I don’t have problems with monogamy as a rule. I have a problem with it when people think it’s the right choice simply because it appears to be safer than any alternative. I know that for myself, for a very long time, I would sometimes have the thought “I’m glad I have so-and-so” simply because it was better than the alternative — dating and having such a direct interaction with the entitled, violent, manipulate and abusive men that litter the world — and I wonder how many women are in monogamous relationships simply because they feel safer from these men. Just look at how often the line “I have a boyfriend” is used to communicate “I don’t want to date you.”

Girls are raised with the message — from our parents and from every rom-com out there — that the goal in dating is to find a “good guy” and hold onto him!because there are so few “good guys” out there. That is sad.

Women’s experiences of rape, assault and feelings of “this didn’t quite feel right but I can’t put my finger on why” are all too common. Through sharing these stories more openly, talking about these subtleties, we can 1. Get a better understanding of what is wrong and 2. Empower ourselves toput our finger on what is wrong, band together and find solutions. And for all the truly good guys out there — you are more than welcome to participate in this dialogue too.

Dissing polyamory isn’t going to fix the problem, and in fact, my experience with poly people is that they are much more comfortable and open about talking about these issues. We’ve already acknowledged that sexuality is part of our identity.

Whether you choose polyamory, monogamy or anything in between, it should be a safe choice. You shouldn’t have to wonder which choice will lead to a lower likelihood of rape.