Carrie Jenkins, a polyamorous philosophy professor with a book on the way, wrote a brilliant essay at theestablishment.co on how polyamorous relationships and sexuality (especially in women) are insidiously denigrated. There will be quotes below, but you need to go read the whole thing.
If you read about polyamory in the media, you’ve probably seen The Photo: an image of three (or more) pairs of adult feet at the end of a bed, poking out from under a white duvet.YES! That seems to be the image used more than any other. The other one is looking at three people sitting on a bench, from behind, with the two people on the end holding hands "behind the back" of the person in the middle, in a way that implies cheating.
The Photo is supposed to provide a glimpse into the lives of those naughty non-monogamous people having their naughty non-monogamous sex; while only slightly risqué, it gets its point across—the point being that polyamory is all about having sex with lots of people.That can be the message people take away.
This hypersexualization of polyamory might be normalized, but it’s far from harmless. Because we live in a sex-negative society, presenting poly relationships as “just” sex is a powerful way of signaling that these relationships don’t deserve to be taken seriously.There's something to this. We need visibility for polyamory (and other so-called "alternative" relationships) and we need to promote sex positivity.
Jenkins went on to give an example of an article to which she contributed that ran in Cosmo, and the disappointing imagery, quotes, and title that were attached.
It’s what makes strangers feel okay about saying that my partners and I are trash, that our relationships are hopeless, that I’m only pretending to be married, that they hope I get STIs, that I already have STIs, that I’m disgusting.It's appalling what prejudiced people say to polyamorous people.
Being poly doesn’t necessarily entail having any sex (never mind nightly orgies!): It’s also consistent with being asexual, not being in any relationships, or just, you know, not having sex—like how monogamous people are sometimes allowed to be not having sex. But that’s irrelevant to how stereotypes and stigmas work. The assumption is that if you are poly, you are having sex and liking it—and, what’s more, you are constantly doing it with lots of people.And that there is something wrong if you do.
Jenkins went on to write how polyamorous women are targeted. Men are targeted differently, often in a way that questions their masculinity or accuses them of "taking advantage" of women or "not protecting" their partner.
Strategically devaluing disfavored relationships by “reducing” them to sex is nothing new. The same strategy has long been deployed against same-sex relationships and interracial relationships.Yes, and it it's done to consanguinamorous relationships as well.
It’s effective not only as a way of inciting disgust and disapprobation, but more insidiously as a means of othering—making the people in those relationships seem weird and alien and not like us. We fall in love and have serious relationships, but those people are lust-driven animals. It’s okay to treat them like garbage.Thank you for writing so eloquently what we've been thinking!!!
It’s a battle that needs to be won on both fronts. We certainly need to end the stereotyping of polyamory as hypersexual, and the concomitant stigmatization of poly people and relationships. But sex-negativity has also got to go. Sex can be valuable, and sexual relationships are worth respecting—even for women—and until that message is received, someone or something will continue to be denigrated for being “too sexy,” even if it’s not always polyamory in the firing line.So, so good. This essay should be printed and framed.
There are some polyamorists who have a lot of sex, including frequent threesomes or group sex with their polycule, and sex is a major focus of their relationships and conversations, but that can hardly be called the norm among polyamorists. Most polyamorists have sex one-on-one, at least almost always, and usually, as with any other relationship, the sex is just a small part of the relationship. There is nothing wrong with people, whatever gender, enjoying sex, including group sex. And there's nothing wrong with people having relationships that are ethically nonmonogamous or are otherwise different from the intraracial, extrafamilial, hetero-monogamous, rigid-gender-roles stereotype that is heavily marketed to us as the ideal or even the mandatory and only acceptable relationship.