First, let me get a few things in the open (if you are not already familiar). One, I like sex. I like it a lot and believe it should be talked about, enjoyed and celebrated. Two, I have had a few slutty moments in my life, and I am not above a one-night-stand.
HOWEVER, I can’t stand the “sex first!” culture fostered in several communities I have been a part of. By sex-first, I don’t mean sex positive. Sex positive is enjoy, and embracing and respecting sex and sexuality. Sex-First! puts the emphasis on sleeping with people first, then getting to know and respect them later if you so deem necessary.
I see a lot of sex-first culture, especially in the poly communities I have been a part of. I have seen it in some of the kink communities (there is not as big of an overlap between the two as one might expect), but it tends to be much more prevalent in groups identifying as “poly.”
I have never identified as “polyamorous”for several reasons. I identify as non-monogamous and ethically so, but never poly. One reason for this choice of identification is that I have long-seen the emphasis on sex in poly. I know, I know, I see so many poly folks saying,”Poly is not all about sex!” then turn around and shun anyone not willing to sleep with someone in their polycule.
Poly and a Sex-First Orientation
Poly doesn’t have to be all about sex. And I know some poly folks who are not all about sex. I know poly folks who do poly the way I am comfortable with and focus on the amorous part – love and connection first. But the reality is, I know way more “poly” folks where sex is the primary focus of their discussions, their online rants, and what they are looking for in any relationship.
My home community right now is Sacramento. I tried to connect with poly folks there mainly because they share some of the same relationship philosophies I do. After attending events over the past couple of years, I really noticed the sex-first culture in this group. I posted about this issue on a women’s poly board and had several women chime in about never going to poly events and only connecting on line with other women because they often felt “like a piece of meat” at events. This quickly turned to accusations that I did not raise this issue early enough with event organizers, that I was somehow weak and stupid for not confronting each and every dick in the community who was treating me liek a piece of meat only good for fucking, and that taking time to notice how the poly culture was sex-first was really just not appropriate to bring it up “after the fact.”
You can’t tell people you are “not all about sex” and then expect someone to put out before they are accepted as part of the community.
Keep in mind, these were other women defending this sex-first culture. They could read posts by multiple women expressing discomfort about events because of the constant intrusion on personal space and the inability of community members to not see every person as someone who owes them sex. Several suggested it was “newbies” and I held my tongue instead of putting several of their husbands on blast for not understanding a “no thank you” response to offers to hook-up.
Ultimately, what came out of the conversation was a couple of things:
Local leaders, including women, are comfortable with a sex-first culture.
I withdrew from the local poly communities after being attacked for calling out this bad behavior and the vocal support of racism on the general board by moderators.
Quite a few women contacted me privately to say, “Thank you. I have been looking for connections that don’t assume I own them sex if I want to hang out!”
Simple Solutions for Better Behavior
So, what should poly communities do:
I think the solutions are pretty simple to make communities welcoming. First, when there are meeting and group events, have the organizers make clear the purpose of the group. If I am going to be social with other adults in a bar or similar space and the purpose is social, go ahead, hit on people. That is appropriate. If the event is a support or learning event, of a family-centered event, make clear that people are not necessarily looking to find sex or romantic partners and that hormones should be kept in check. Finally, recognize that when you put out a sex-first culture you make everyone have to say “No” and “Thanks, but no thanks” way too much and it is uncomfortable for many folks to have to do this ten or fifteen times during an event.
When it comes to “reporting bad behavior” realize that not all behavior requires a “bouncer” as several folks on poly boards suggested. Refusing to speak to new people you don’t want to have sex with is rude, but not worth calling you out on in an event space. Hitting on someone, then getting miffed and walking away while mumbling something makes you an asshole, but as an adult I am not going to “report” this to a bouncer. Being hit on by every other person in the room is not something I am going to report at an event. Especially if the moderators are some of the ones hitting on me.
People organizing poly groups need to know that this behavior, while not “reported” by adults is off-putting. I raised it on a board as a cultural issue and the moderators and leaders in our community lost their shit because they saw their own bad behavior and the behavior of their groups and wanted to defend it. I have tried to introduce multiple folks who wanted to explore poly to our local groups as a way of connecting, learning and finding support. None have come back because the culture is “fuck or leave.” This needs to change and people need to feel they can find education, support and community connection without having to suck a dick to get it.