Ethical Polyamory

Okay, I know this is a blog about later recovery from sexual abuse, and specifically waiting for my abuser to die so I can dance on his grave,  so what am I doing talking about polyamory?

Well, part of being a child sexual assault survivor, particularly once the flashbacks have died down a lot, is learning how to have an adult healthy sexuality.  Like many survivors, I have apparently picked a partner who is not going to make any sexual demands on me. Now earlier in my healing, this would have been great, ideal even. All the affection, love and support with none of the having to deal with trying to satisfy a partner (and remotely possibly even myself) without triggering a whack of flashbacks. Perfect.

However, now that I’ve done all the hard work of reclaiming my own sexuality and sexual desire, I’d really like to enjoy the fruits of my labours.  I have a lot to catch up on from all those years.

So why don’t I just divorce my wife and find someone who actually wants to make love with me?

Well, as a result of the abuse and neglect, I’m also what you’d call ‘insecurely attached’. This means it takes a long time to create a close mutual personal bond with someone else and as a result, these are priceless. I’ve been with my wife for over a decade. She loves me, she gets me. She’s almost the only family I have left. I want to keep her. She wants to keep me, and she wants it so much that my basically monogamous wife is willing to indulge what I admit has been a long time fantasy, having an ethical additional relationship with another woman.

My material life too, would be a lot simpler if I didn’t have to divorce my wife. We have a house neither of us could afford alone, and a lot of family connections on her side of the family. I help connect her to her family, and on a lot of levels, we work as a couple.

Is this non-mainstream choice another evidence of me being an abuse survivor? How the heck would I know? I had a really offensive commenter last year who said that I was gay because I’d been abused, and wrote a response on sexual orientation and sexual abuse that said that survivors often have difficulty figuring out what we want sexually, as a result of being forcibly divorced from our bodies and sexual autonomy at such a young age.

This, as they say, is not my first rodeo. I’ve been trying to connect with my true self, first my body sensations, my personal autonomy, my creativity and my right livelihood, my entire life. One of the benefits of having to work to connect with what is authentic and deconstruct the layers of slime put over myself by my abuser and upbringing, is that I get to dig a little deeper than most people, and to value my authentic reality more for having had to work for it.

I can say, honestly, that I’m not a jealous person. If my wife wanted to take a lover who treated her well and made her happy, I’d be happy for her. Of course, if she did take a lover, some of our other problems might be solved, as she’d have her sex drive back. I can also say, honestly, that I’m very Pagan/Wiccan in my sexual ethics, which means I support all loving, pleasurable sexual expression that doesn’t hurt anyone. I have strong reservations about BDSM, but I’m not going to oppose the practice, just stay away from it personally.

The BDSM thing is actually getting in the way quite a bit, strangely enough. It seems that most of the gay and bi polyamorists in my area, or at least the visible ones, are quite into what they call ‘kink’, which usually means BDSM. Sigh! Once again, I’m kind of unusual, apparently. I may be involuntarily celibate for a good long while longer.

I had a conversation once with a woman I was friends with, who considered herself a sadist top in the sack.  She was also, I knew, a child sexual abuse survivor. I asked her how she could participate in sex that recreated some of the activities and dynamics of the abuse. She said that by participating in them again on her own terms, she got to process them and get control of them. I still don’t think that’s a good idea, but that was her take on it. I think that acting out the abuse for pleasure gives some very dodgy messages to one’s inner child condoning the abuse. I also have said before and will say again that at the very least, we have a responsibility to ourselves to be our own abused child’s best allies. However, that’s my personal take on it, your mileage may vary and be equally valid.

So am I duplicating some aspect of the abuse here? Is my partner a stand in for my neglectful mother? Am I a stand in for my ‘philandering’ father? I can certainly see the mother end of thing, and that’s worth pursuing. However, I can’t see me trying, at this late date, to justify or condone any parts of my psychopathic father’s behavour to myself, seeing how I’m pretty sure I’ve worked out all residual needs to please daddy or pretend to myself that he actually loved me. I know from experience what bargaining to avoid accepting truth smells like.

Speaking of which, I’m more concerned that I’m bargaining with the inevitable end of my marriage by saying that if I just find a complementary second partner, I can keep what I have with my wife, by expanding it. A lot of people cheat on their partners in this situation, and that ends the marriage, or doesn’t. Some men have both a wife and a mistress for long periods. Obviously other people experience this kind of dilemma, but I am not willing to sacrifice my integrity or sneak around. I’m not going to cheat, and if my wife decides that me having another partner is intolerable to her, then we’ll have to break up.

And what about breaking up? Could we be friends and share the house if we got divorced? I think this time is a trial run for that too. It could go either way, really.

I’m having a hard time figuring out whether to tell anyone about our reasons for opening the relationship, seeing how my wife is clearly not at heart a polyamorist. It makes me look bad, like I’m the big slut who needs other lovers, even though I’m doing it really as a result of her inability to have sex with me. If I can’t provide that second bit of information, I’m going to look like I’m if not cheating on her, at least taking advantage of her.

To that I guess I have to thicken my skin. Guard your honour and let your reputation take care of itself.

Am I deliberately hurting her? I know we have discussed this and she’s in favour of our current plan, but we both know and have discussed that she may feel differently when it’s more than theoretical. In her heart of hearts, I’m sure she sometimes wishes I’d just give up and go back to how things were.

It was her decision to live and at times sleep separately in our house, even knowing that it might be a deal breaker for me, and to be clear that she has no sex drive. She thought that maybe having her own space would help her get it back, but so far that’s not happening.

It was my decision to stop waiting for her sex drive to come back, even though it might be a deal breaker for her.

I think both choices are the right ones and ultimately lead us to our correct path.  If it turns out to be a slower, gentler breakup instead of a new life together, then so be it. As long as we continue to behave honourably to one another, I’ll be able to accept whatever happens.

7 thoughts on “Ethical Polyamory”

  1. About BDSM:

    I am not a survivor of sexual assault, so I’m not saying my experience is the same, and probably it’s not even comparable, so I can’t say I fully understand and know what you went through. But you probably can understand to some extent what I experienced:

    I suffered from abuse as a child, both physical and emotional. It took me years to realize that what happened was wrong, and even more years to put the name “abuse” on it, because my abusers now seem to act normally with me and my brother.

    Yet I am still watching their every move, and I still flinch and feel angered when they use violence with my brother (never with me, not anymore since I first defended myself) because the wounds never closed, inside me.

    It definitely wasn’t something I was able to shrug off. I haven’t gotten over it at all. I still have huge problems with trust, promises, self-guilt, and pain…

    You see, one of the things about the abuse I suffered, was that I was a Bad Child because I did Weird Stuff. Amongst other Weird Stuff, I… well, I basically discovered ways to experience sexual pleasure by myself. But I didn’t know that at the time because I was 6 when it started and I only realized what it was all along when I was around 13.

    Nobody explained it to me. Instead, I got hurt everytime they caught me doing it. The problem was also that I did it in public, but I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know why it couldn’t be done, and no one explained it to me because you can’t Talk About That Stuff with kids.
    It is instead totally ok to beat them to cure them out of it, apparently.

    I guess you can imagine where this is going…

    Maybe in part it was an in-born thing. Maybe I was already wired this way. I think it might be the case, because I had clues just like I had clues about my sexual orientation.
    But maybe I would not have become that much of a masochist if I hadn’t been hurt like that, if I hadn’t come to associate sex with pain and humiliation.

    And it is such a strong, physhical, instictive thing that I can’t control it. It cannot “be cured”, I tried, I tried everything because I was scared of becoming “a monster”, of becoming someone like the man who hurt you, and I thought that’s what “freaks” like me end up becoming. I even decided that I would kill myself if I were convinced enough of the risk of it.

    I thought I could never fully experience my sexuality because of my fantasies, of pain and of being hurt and sometimes of hurting others, because “good” “healthy” sex does not involve pain or domination or anything like that, even if you fantasize about receiving it.

    I thought maybe it would be too dangerous for me to even have sex because I might become a “freak”, a “monster”, a predator; keep in mind that I too am queer (and queer people are always linked to things like pedophilia and rape and serial killers by hateful bigots) and I am male (which means that I am already seen as dangerous, as a potential walking nightmare, as a potential abuser), so I was *really* scared about this.

    But then I found out about LGBT* people, which helped me feel better about my sexual orientation.
    And then I found out about BDSM, and discovered that what I believed to be a sign that I was destined to become an abuser was instead something that other had experienced and that could be done consensually and in an healthy way. It helped me feel less broken, less disgusting, less of a Bad Child.

    I still do not know if I will ever actually do BDSM things, I don’t even know if I will ever have sex because sometimes I still feel Bad and disgusting and I feel like I don’t deserve to be loved, but I am glad that it exists because it makes me feel less f****d, to know that I am not going to be some bastard who kills and/or abuses people just because of my fantasies, to know that if I wanted I could experiment in a safe way.

    I do not want to convice you to do “kinks”, I just wanted to try and explain from my perspective why someone who suffered abuse (though not of the same degree) would want to do that.
    In my case it is mostly a physical thing (I react to pain in a different way than most people) but it is also psychological, because a very important part of BDSM is TRUST.
    Trust is something that is VERY important for me: due to the abuse I suffered and to some other painful experiences, I rarely trust people, and it hurts like hell when that trust is betrayed.
    So finding someone to trust so deeply that I would give myself fully to that person, that I would let that person be in control of my body, almost like a gift, I think it would be beautiful.
    Maybe it’s a romanticized view, but that’s a huge part of what attracts me towards BDSM. I want that trust. I want to be powerless and yet being able to regain that power with just a word if it goes too far, because I am *that* SAFE with that person.

    I don’t know if this explains anything or not, I hope it makes sense, sometimes I am not too good at explaining myself.

    Sorry if my grammar is bad in some parts, because I’m not English.
    Also sorry if I used wrong, offensive and/or upsetting words, I really hope not, but sometimes I am not fully aware of all the implication and possible meaning of English words 🙁 please do tell me if this happened so I will make sure I never use those words again!

    1. Hey D(d),
      I think all survivors of physical and sexual abuse (myself included) have fears of becoming like their abusers, particularly early in healing when the feelings are so intense and the coping mechanisms are still those developed during the abuse and not the healthier chosen ones that replace them.

      Stockholm syndrome was conceptualized to describe the situation where, as a very sensible survival technique, the person’s mind adopts the belief system of the abuser. The fear that you will become like your abusers is healthy and normal. I’m not sure how old you are, but I strongly recommend you find a way to stop living with your abusers and get out of their control (financially, emotionally, physically) as soon as possible. Things will look a lot differently when you are truly safe. Yes, they’re not abusing you now, but your inner child cannot feel safe around them. This makes a huge difference, that you won’t fully appreciate until you are out.

      As for sex and BDSM, like I said, people make their own choices about it. However, if you think you might want to have a sexuality that has nothing to do with the abuse you suffered, something that is your birthright and you deserve, you might consider trying not to reinforce that connection by explicitly associating sex and pain or degredation. Yes, I know it already is, and that feels pretty intense right now. Of course it does, you’re in a very stressful situation, which intensifies coping mechanisms.

      I’m not suggesting that you not do BDSM ever, but to thoughtfully consider waiting to wire the messages the abusers put in your nervous system in deeper, by attaching them to orgasms, until you’ve had a chance to:
      a) get away from your abusers for a year or more (I left and didn’t even give them my location or contact information, which I highly recommend),
      b) get qualified therapy for the whack of feelings and memories that will come up once you’re safe
      and c) avoid using anything mood altering to squash those feelings down such as drugs, alcohol, or compulsive behaviours.

      Then it will be a choice and not a compulsion. BDSM is about choice and consent, right?
      If you *have* to do something, it’s not a choice, it’s a compulsion, and compulsions are not going to be healthy for you.

      All the best and good to meet you. You’re not damaged, you’re injured, there’s a difference. Injuries, you can recover from.

  2. @Kate – Good and healing thoughts to you too! And happy holidays/Merry Christmas!
    @Butterfly – Thanks for ‘getting’ it, I’m grateful you’re ‘here’. Happy Hanukkah to you!

  3. Hi SDW,

    As always your thoughtful, reasoned, and caring post shows the sort of person you are and the sort of life of integrity you lead. You have done a lot of hard work in healing and reclaiming your life and your sexuality. You have a lot to be proud of in all that you are doing through this process. I wish you only the best. Good and healing thoughts to you.


  4. Hi Warrior – I really like this post. It really resonated with me, as is the usual case with your beautiful writing.
    – Butterfly

  5. Sounds like you have a good plan. Your wife being mainly monogamous and your wanting polyamory is not the road block so many in the poly community seem to think it is. My girl friend is totally monogamous to me and has been for 13 years while I’ve been poly forever. Married 40 years ago as free love hippies, my wife and I are still married.

    1. Good to know, thanks for the perspective. We’ve been together over a decade, and it’s looking more and more possible we might be able to make it work. If you have ‘other significant other’ style partners other than play partners, how do you let men you’d like to date know about your situation? Do you use the ‘primary/secondary’ terms or something else?

      I checked out your website and I see how you’ve structured things – it sounds like you’ve found something that makes sense, although being in a different ‘niche’ so to speak, my mileage is going to vary. I have several friends who are or were radical faeries – they’ve always been allies. Merry meet!

      What I’m finding is that whole kinky/vanilla dichotomy doesn’t seem to be as binary a classification as it’s often expressed. Just saying I’m ‘vanilla’ isn’t particularly descriptive or accurate, depending on what people imagine that means for a lesbian. I’m perhaps more of a creamy organic full-fat french vanilla ice cream :-). The closest I’ve so far come to articulate that is ‘pagan’ and ‘sex positive’, although sex positive implies some libertarian views on pornography, for example, that as a childhood sexual assault survivor, I have much more nuanced views on, as is clear in my post on the Bountiful debate. Pagan will have to do, I guess.

      Nice to meet you.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: