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Orkut Conversation on the Ethics of Slut-dom

2 comments

Recently, I have been part of a very interesting conversation in the Ethical Sluts community on Orkut. After some attempts at parsing the whole thing into a blog entry, I’ve decided it would be better to simply paste the posts here in order to maintain the conversational nature of the thread. Besides, it’s easier for me to do.

I’m in green, and William (the person I had the conversation with) is in blue.

Meitar:

I imagine that, inevitably, in the polyamory lifestyle, there will be sexual relationships that you choose not to continue, not necessarily out of a falling out – perhaps you find people you admire and love more or find more attractive, or any number of other reasons.

That sounds an awful lot like a starvation economy to me. “Love more?” “Find more attractive?” In what way? Physical, I assume? I thought ethical slutdom and polyamory was not “just about the sex.”

I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with “sex for sex, where looks matter most,” but it is not at all surprising that in today’s “modern societies” something like this is frowned upon by most people — even by many polyamorous people.

It is precisely the teaching of polyamory that just because you find someone new there is no need to break, stop, or otherwise suspend an existing relationship.

In my humble opinion, it is more ethical to stop a sexual relationship because of a falling out (a change in the nature of the relationship) than because you’ve found someone “better.” The former is inevitable, the latter is closed-minded, ungenerous, and decidely serially-polyamorous.

William:

“Find more attractive?” In what way? Physical, I assume?

Nope, in any way.

It is precisely the teaching of polyamory that just because you find someone new there is no need to break, stop, or otherwise suspend an existing relationship.

Unfortunately time is not a limitless resource for mortals and choices are made. All of the polyamorous people I know, it does seem like it’s mostly about the sex – they all have a main spouse. For example, they don’t live or take vacations with their other parters, though they might go to something like a movie or a music performance. Some of them ‘check’ with each other before having sex with another person, which I find rather odd, as I would not want to be in a relationship where I had to screen all my friends or check in with my parner. I wonder how common these traits are in polyamory or ethical slutdom.

Meitar:

Unfortunately time is not a limitless resource for mortals and choices are made. All of the polyamorous people I know, it does seem like it’s mostly about the sex – they all have a main spouse.

Agreed, time is not limitless. But if it’s mostly about the sex for you or the people you’re talking about then we’re discussing different things. The fact that there may be a primary relationship around which secondaries circle is beside the point.

From the link John Marquis provided me the other day: Swingers focus on recreational sex, though friendships and deeper bonds may develop. With polyamory, deep relationships are the focus, though the sex is often fun.

I request that we define “polyamorous” and “ethical slutdom” in this conversation. Specifically, define “amorous.” Dictionaries are unfortunately vague for this purpose.

Some of them ‘check’ with each other before having sex with another person, which I find rather odd, as I would not want to be in a relationship where I had to screen all my friends or check in with my parner.

You miss the point of a loving emotional connection. The single most important necessity to maintain a deep relationship, regardless of whether that relationship is monogamous or not, is complete transparency with your partner.

Transparency means, among other things, that you keep your partner informed and involved in the decisions you make. And this goes beyong the givens of safe sex practices.

I wonder how common these traits are in polyamory or ethical slutdom.

Again, you need to define your terms — at least for the purposes of this conversation. I could not feel very emotionally committed to someone who would not consider my feelings when choosing additional sexual partners.

Furthermore, you seem to me to have a decidely negative reaction to the thought that you you need to talk to your partner before you act on a lustful impulse. The language you use makes it sound like you percieve it as an infringement on your freedom. (In particular, the use of the verb “to screen” makes this clear.)

I am curious why you feel this way. What’s bad about talking with your partner about your other partners? Do you feel like it would hinder your ability to get with people? If so, how would it?

William:

But if it’s mostly about the sex for you or the people you’re talking about then we’re discussing different things.

The reason it seems mostly about the sex is because the sex is the main commonality with their main relationship; the other things that other partners share in their lives pales in comparison to what the main relationships shares.

What’s bad about talking with your partner about your other partners?

Probably nothing, screening is another matter.

that you keep your partner informed and involved in the decisions you make

I don’t believe a transparent relationship necessarily has to include spouses being involved in every decision another makes.

Do you feel like it would hinder your ability to get with people? If so, how would it?

If had to consider whether or not my spouse would approve of people I meet as friends, I think it would hinder my ability to make friends.

The language you use makes it sound like you percieve it as an infringement on your freedom.

Quite correct. I would consider the relationship restrictive if the spouse had to approve all of my friends. I don’t expect my spouse to like all of my friends or want to spend time with them, but I do not spend all of my time with my spouse, so for the times she is not present, I don’t see why she should have a say in who I spend that time with, outside of a concern for physical or emotional damage.

Again, you need to define your terms

I used polyamory or ethical slutdom because you made a distinction in your previous post, so I figured I should include both in my question. Feel free to define them.

Meitar:

What’s bad about talking with your partner about your other partners?

Probably nothing, screening is another matter.

Screening is a word with some unspoken baggage. Screening is, in fact, nothing more than a conversation, and so the reason to use the word “screening” as opposed to some other is to convey the unspoken, in this case negative, baggage.

I don’t believe a transparent relationship necessarily has to include spouses being involved in every decision another makes.

Me neither. I was careful to avoid use of the word “every” in my previous posts. The idea is not to become some kind of invalid, unable to make choices on one’s own, but rather to consider one’s partners’ emotions before you do make a choice that you think (or know) would affect them in some emotional context. Often times, the best way to do this is to actually ask a question like “How do you feel about x”?

This action of asking when you are not sure about the answer from your partner, it should be noted, is not screening. Rather, some emotion that is stirred inside of you makes you feel that you are “screening”/being made to screen when this happens. That’s an extremely important distinction to make.

If had to consider whether or not my spouse would approve of people I meet as friends, I think it would hinder my ability to make friends.

Doesn’t this imply that you are making friends your spouse does not want you to keep as friends? And doesn’t that deserve some discussion from the two of you?

More to the point of this thread, if you replace “friends” in the above excerpt with “lovers,” doesn’t that definitely deserve some discussion??

The language you use makes it sound like you percieve it as an infringement on your freedom.

Quite correct. I am not aware of any other way “if you want to be my spouse, then you can be friends with this certain person” would be perceived.

(You edited.)

I’m glad I interpreted that correctly. However, no one ever made mention of any sort of ultimatum such as the one you describe. Again, the point is not to say “Do this and not this or else we can’t be together,” but rather to say, “If you do y or if you do not do z, it will make me feel like x.”

The perception of the ultimatum, of the conditional action, is your interpretation of something rather than the reality of a situation. (Unless, of course, your spouse did speak those words exactly, in which case I think s/he needs to find more effective means of communicating her/his feelings.) This is another important distinction to make, and one I’ve only recently learned myself.

In the past, I have given my partner an ultimatum such as the one you imply, and it has only back-fired. I’ve since learned that such attempts at controlling other people are futile at best, and horribly destructive to a relationship at worst. I’ve never again made such a demand.

Another distinction is in order here: this is not to say that a hurtful action by a lover won’t induce me to end a relationship. It very well might if I judge that to be in my best interest. More often then not, and after I give myself some time for any hot-headedness to cool off, I find that I still want to be with that person, and that ending the relationship is not what I want.

In those cases, there is a need to express hurt and pain, and hopefully one of two things will happen. Either 1) my partner won’t hurt me again or 2) I won’t be hurt by the same action from my partner.

Polyamorous relationships, as I understand them, are most often derailed by something that falls under category 2, above. That is, they needn’t be derailed, and that’s my whole point here.

William:

Screening is, in fact, nothing more than a conversation, and so the reason to use the word “screening” as opposed to some other is to convey the unspoken, in this case negative, baggage.

Screening is more than a conversation, I do not understand what is so perplexing about this word. Screening is, in this context :

Me neither. I was careful to avoid use of the word “every” in my previous posts.

Your lack of specifics was noticed. I had thought that we were specifically talking about discussing other parners/friends, so when you had said ‘that you keep your partner informed and involved in the decisions you make’, since you didn’t specify and who you choose as friends or sexual partners is important, I assumed you meant all of those decisions.

Meitar:

Screening is more than a conversation, I do not understand what is so perplexing about this word to you. Screening is :

I do not approve of your friend, choose me or your spouse.

1) I’m not perplexed.

2) Please don’t get angry at me. I’m not angry at you. I’m merely discussing something with you — because I’m interested in what you have to say and in your replies to what I have to say.

3) “I do not approve of your friend, choose me or your spouse,” is part of a conversation. The fact that it’s an ultimatum is one thing to note (which I’ve talked about above), but screening in no way implied an ultimatum. It may have to you, but clearly did not to me. I’ve used the word in a variety of contexts, and never did I or the people I spoke with use it to imply an ultimatum. Hence my persistence in getting to the root of your semantics; you’re using it in a way I’ve never encountered before.

William:

“If you do y or if you do not do z, it will make me feel like x.”

To me, there seems to be an ultimatum here as I would not want to do things that made my spouse feel bad and I would expect (and hope) that if I kept doing them, my spouse would leave. You bring up a good point though, I have not heard a literal ultimatum spelled out by any of my polyamorous friends in these matters, and I assumed, perhaps falsely, that when said “it will make me feel bad”, they didn’t go ahead and do it. This also gets into that making the first spouse feel bad, and it seems to me someone will always left feeling bad if there isn’t complete agreement, and that does not sound like an enjoyable relationship to me.

I am not angry, however I find it quite strange if you have never experienced screening without an ultimatum behind it; in my experience, it is usually how it is used, like airport screening.. if you have a bomb, you aren’t getting on the plane, screening phone calls – if so and so calls I will pick it up, but not for anyone else. I can’t think of many examples of common usages of screening where the act screening doesn’t cause some decision to be made.

Meitar:

it seems to me someone will always left feeling bad if there isn’t complete agreement, and that does not sound like an enjoyable relationship to me.

Hmm. Perhaps that’s the basis for some interesting differences between certain polyamorous folk. What, then, would comprise an enjoyable relationship for you?

As I said earlier, I could not be emotionally committed to any great extent to anyone who did not consider my feelings. Obviously, if they aren’t enjoying the relationship because of that, I doubt there would be any relationship.

That said, I have found it difficult to find a partner who would do this, but — and here’s the important catch — I think that’s largely because of my own concerns, regardless of how they were introduced to me.

In more specific terms, my current partner has hurt me greatly several times by specifically doing things that I informed her would hurt me. The most common example of this was calling a potential sex-buddy. (Note the absence of an ultimatum.) The reason it hurt was because she knew it would hurt me, but did it anyway. That seriously degrades my trust in her willingness to help me through some of the issues I need to work through in order to feel secure enough to know that she called this sex-buddy.

We’re still together, however, and after I re-clarified my hurt on the matter, she has not done anything that would severely hurt me again. (Category 1 of my two potential outcomes of communication, above.)

However, it should also be noted that she has called this potential sex-buddy again, but I was not particularly hurt by it. (Category 2 of potential outcomes, also above.)

It’s that give-and-take process that builds trust while at the same time allowing both partners to remain free to make their own choices and, ultimately, be polyamorous, be an ethical slut.

But it is only through the delay (and not sacrifice) of self-gratifying actions can this trust be built, at least in my view.

I would not want to do things that made my spouse feel bad and I would expect (and hope) that if I kept doing them, my spouse would leave.

This is the delay I was talking about above. The same things that hurt your partner now may not hurt your partner ten days, or 4 weeks, or 6 months from now. (This I know from experience, though sometimes it does take longer.)

So the choice of whether to keep doing the things that you know hurt your partner or not is yours and yours alone (if you’re not given an ultimatum, anyway, which I hope you’re not).

Yes, by not doing the things you know will hurt your partner, you are effectively giving up some “percieved freedom,” namely, the ability to do what you will when you will at your whim. That’s not easy to give up! But it should not be something you give up forever, only so long as it will hurt your partner, and only then if you calculate your desire to be with said partner as greater than your immediate desire to act upon your impulses.

Regardless of your final choice, I believe that to remain “ethical,” the choice you make must be one you inform your partner about before you act on it.

It’s only a sophisticated mind who can control oneself in this regard. Those are the minds which I find attractive.

I can’t think of many examples of common usages of screening where the act screening doesn’t cause some decision to be made.

The fact that some decision is made based on the information gathered from a screening process does not dictate an ultimatum. That is, the resulting decision need not always be black-and-white. For instance, I have screened calls for purposes other than deciding whether or not to pick up. Likewise, I would consider some sort of gray-area compromise between lovers a valid answer to a “if you do y, it will make me feel x” situation.

William:

I think that’s largely because of my own concerns, regardless of how they were introduced to me.

The concerns of not having a lover/spouse willingly do something that will hurt you or the concerns of wanting your spouse to have meaningful sexual relationships, or something else? If it’s the first, I don’t think you can be blamed at all. If it’s the second, I’m not sure.

Meitar:

Nono, the first of course! All my “rational” concerns, if I can call them that, revolve around my partner potentially hurting me despite the fact the she knows her actions are hurting me.

I’m afraid that she either miscalculates her desire for a whimsical action so that she does it, thereby hurting me, or that she honestly does not care enough for me to put off some whimsical desire for the “greater” purpose of not hurting me.

That’s in quotes because, of course, it’s from my own perspective. Naturally, my partner might feel differently. My hope, however, is that she does not.

The “irrational” ones are all concerns too, but I recognize that they have nothing to do with her and are thus all of my own making (and unmaking, hopefully).

My ideal world, I think I’ve said before (though possibly not here), is one where she gets literally everything she wants. But to get to an ideal, I need her support. At first, that support was sorely lacking.

Initially I felt bad about that need. That is, thought to myself, “I am a failure for needing such a hand-holding at times.” I’ve since stopped thinking that, both because it’s unhelpful and because (I now believe) it’s untrue. I may still need such support at times, but that’s no failing of mine. Rather, the willingnes to step forward with her support is a great strength.

Written by Meitar

November 21st, 2004 at 4:50 am

2 Responses to 'Orkut Conversation on the Ethics of Slut-dom'

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  1. I’m really sorry to say this, May, but I had a hard time following that. I’m having trouble concentrating in general today, but can you confirm something for me? You intellectually have no trouble (or little) with the concept of polyamory, but the closer t it comes to the possibilities of your own relationship with Danica, the more the intellectual doubts surface? I am not 100% sure if you’re all for it or not. Please forgive my clouded thoughts and help me understand.

    blondzila

    21 Nov 04 at 8:41 PM

  2. I suppose there’s a bit too much chatter there to have it make much sense. Don’t worry about the clouded-ness.

    Short answer: I’m all for polyamory.

    Meitar

    22 Nov 04 at 1:48 AM

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