BDSM/Kink and Navigating Polyamory
So, I was late to the poly game. And to be honest. I didn't come willingly at first. I'm an Aquarius sun, so I believe in FREE LOVE. But I'm a Scorpio rising so my possessive, secretive side would rather cheat in secret than do the REALLY HARD work of facing my own fears and insecurities so that I can operate in radical honesty and transparency. Not my finest moment. But ya boi is learning...hence this post!
My partner of almost 20 years is naturally polyamorous. She believes in free love and operates from a powerful place in loving people who come into her life. I've had to unlearn a lot of monogamist/sexist thinking to really be able to create a space for both of us to thrive. It's still evolving and I'm a work in progress but I'm proud of the work that I've been able to do. And like a good Dom, I want to share/educate/train others so that they can become their best and fullest selves in this area.
So...what's the difference between Polyamory and Ethical Non Monogamy??? And how are Black Queer/Trans folks getting down in this space??? Well (not to say we invented it) but the FIRST folks I ever knew who talked about loving and navigating that love with multiple people were queer and trans folks. When you live outside of the boundaries of gender normativity, you are much freer to carve out a space that is radically open.
Similarly, many Black folks (and people of color) have tremendous, and long histories, of consensual non-monogamy. Having a heterosexual relationship with one person, leading to marriage wasn’t even the norm until 1,000 years ago. Relationship styles like “walking marriages,” open arrangements, and polyamory in Indigenous communities have been documented all around the world.
You can think of Ethical Non-Monogamy (or ENM as it is often referred to) as the umbrella. It's really an approach to relationships where people can have more than one romantic and sexual partner at a time, and everybody involved is aware and consents to the dynamics (though you can be ENM and not be seeing anyone or be solo in how you engage). Polyamory on the other hand-is about love. It's a form of non monogamy where you love multiple people and can give and receive love freely. It actually requires a deeper commitment than Ethical Non Monogamy and reflects the desire to create meaningful, loving relationships with multiple people.
Recently, people have taken issue with the use of Ethical Non Monogamy. Arguing that we don't distinguish between ethical or non ethical monogamy and the ethical piece should be implicit when we say non monogamy. But it's not. And a friend of mine and I used to joke and call it follyamory because of the levels of drama and unethical engagement we saw. So I'm sticking with it. However you roll, let it be ethically. Do the work. Grow. Evolve.
And as a Black, Queer, Dom--navigating this space has been important to understanding my Dominance. Figuring out how to embrace my need/desire for very possessive engagements of Dominance while still leading with an open heart that is non monogamous.
Honesty and transparency are the cornerstones of ENM. But they are only possible if you increase your ability to communicate. When I stepped into this world I discovered that I was actually a pretty shitty communicator when my trauma or insecurities were triggered. And that I had been encouraged by our culture to avoid healthy communication. I was instead encouraged to be jealous, to create wild and ridiculous stories in my head. Phew. It was A LOT. Unlearning the shit we've been given is a journey but I wanted to share some of the best tools, books and articles that I think helped me along the way.
But it started with communication. This is my favorite article on communication. It focuses on understanding non monogamous relationships but it's great for ANYONE in ANY relationship. Among many things, it helped me to clarify what I want in connections by understanding the relationship escalator. I realized I was down with the first 3 steps on the escalator, and possibly the 4th level if I connect with the right person. But beyond that I am not interested in building intertwined lives with multiple people. Dominance allows me to nurture, support and connect with DOPE women without being tied to the natural progression of the escalator. But you have to HAVE THE CONVERSATION. Talking opening and freely about what we both desire, to understand where the intersections lie has led to powerful connections.
Being clear about your boundaries, limits, and expectations is ESSENTIAL when building a healthy connection. Beyond wanting to be married one day, our culture doesn't encourage us to talk about what we want/need from our relationships with prospective partners. Learning to talk about what you want or need is important. The second piece is developing coping skills for how to manage our emotions when the answer is not what you want to hear. Hahahaha....yes. That is where this work gets hard. But what's funny is that all these feelings, issues come up in different ways in monogamous relationships. We just don't talk about them. People have different dreams/wants from their partners all the time. Life does not guarantee that you will always have what you want. But we cause ourselves so much pain when we convince ourselves that's a reasonable thing to want.
One of my favorite poly thinkers is Evita Sawyers (@lavitaloca34)
So people ALWAYS ask about jealousy. And how someone doesn't get jealous if you are ENM. Some people really don't, they are wired differently and that is definitely an advantage for them. I am not those people. I get jealous as fuck. But I learned that jealousy is a temporary emotion, like anger, sadness or disappointment. More importantly, it's a secondary emotion (one that actually is an indicator of where we have trauma). When we get jealous it takes us straight to our fears and insecurities. What you might actually be feeling is fear, loneliness or heartbroken. My Aquarius sun and Scorpio rising makes me less likely to trust people and form attachments. Bit of a lone wolf. And that also means I'm much more possessive and fearful of losing those connections.
In the end I discovered that my jealousy was triggered by a very irrational fear that my wife would meet someone who would replace me. Part of that was my fear of being abandoned. And the other piece was a lack of recognition of just how amazing and unique I am. I'm literally irreplaceable. But it took time to unpack the stories in my head that were trying to convince me otherwise. Probably the best known site around polyamory is More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and he's written some great pieces about how to manage jealousy.
Some of the books I read that helped me to free myself from the hold jealousy had on me (and discover my own inner security) were: Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender (I often have submissives read this book if I take them on for a full summer), A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose and the Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom. I also had to develop some tools to release the worry I often felt creeping into my mind. Knowing my attachment style, where it came from and how it formed was also SUPER helpful. I've also found this very helpful as a Dom to understand my subs needs. When combined with their love languages it helps me to support them in doing their personal work too.
When a story took over my mind (in a VERY runaway fashion) I began to ask questions out loud. I would ask my wife, "I feel this way, I'm assuming...XYZ...is that true?" This helped me to ground in reality instead of being swept away.
I learned to sit by myself, without a phone or other distraction (I often do it near water). To just sit with my thoughts to see what comes up. Watching ideas and thoughts pass helped me to understand they are not permanent and therefore less critical than the weight I was giving them.
I cultivated grounding breaths as an initial response to being upset to give me a moment to pause before I was emotionally highjacked.
I began to take responsibility for things. Resist the temptation to blame others. That doesn't mean people are not also, or even more responsible for blame in a situation but I instead shifted my focus on the responsibility sitting on my shoulders. What lessons can you take from this situation? How can I respond differently? That forces us to look inside ourselves for solutions. We cannot change others. Ever. I've tried. But we can change how we see something and that requires we take ownership of the problem and our role in it.
This is wild but what if you're right??? Rather than try to ignore the worry, lean into it by asking yourself the following question: “What if what I’m worrying about were to actually happen?” Yo, this was a game changer. It's scary but it forced me to think through possibilities and usually I discovered they weren't as bad as I thought. I was able to develop a game plan just in case--and over time I worried less because so few of my "worst case scenarios" came true. Call worry's bluff!
Practice gratitude. I was introduced to Muditā, a Buddhist term that is the root of compersion, a concept the white poly community came up with in the 80's (reminder--all white things are stolen except colonization. They invented that.) Muditā is a beautiful framework. It is a meditation on someone else's joy. A practice of gratitude that reminds each of us we are filled with infinite joy that allows us to celebrate and revel in the joy of others. It challenges jealousy and envy which can creep into our hearts around love but also work and life experiences.
This is a regular meditation that I keep on a slip of paper in my wallet and it has been incredibly helpful to cultivate Muditā.
These books, concepts and revelations were combined with endless conversations with my partner that actually led to my transformation. The key is that you have to talk about them. Don't stay in your head.
Eventually I stopped dating others and spent a year confronting my fears and insecurities. It gave me the time to understand what I wanted in partners--what I had to offer them and why. It was really helpful to give myself permission to just step back and get grounded. Don't feel pressure to date others to prove you are ENM. Be ready.
So how do I navigate polyamory as a Dom? Very carefully. I've realized that the more I set expectations and offer clarity at the outset of an engagement, the less likely I am to cause pain, confusion or hurt for someone else. Which is important to me. For me, hierarchy and roles are not inherently bad (as some folks who are non monogamous feel). Like the author in this great article on the Tyranny of "No Rules", "knowing where the fuck I stand" is non negotiable for me. I need and want to know what role I play in someone's life. What I can count on them for and what I cannot. And for them to understand that as well. To have a clear sense of their vision for our connection to understand if we are aligned. I think in D/s connections this is easier as we set protocols, boundaries and expectations naturally that facilitate this knowing. But as long as you are operating with integrity and factoring in everyone's feelings hierarchy can be a healthy way to think about ENM in D/s dynamics.
The deeper my relationship with my sub is, the higher my expectations around their communication and my involvement in their dating others. But my baseline expectation, whether we are together one night or long term, is that you practice the safest sex you can, are comfortable talking about that and are regularly tested for STDs. If we are casually or short-term dating/seeing each other I don't have expectations/restrictions beyond that on who you date.
If I take you as mine beyond a summer or collar you, then my expectations shift. Not because of a need to control who you date or sleep with. But what's mine, is mine. What's yours is yours. Your body, desires and pleasure are all yours and you should be free to pursue them in ways that feel good to you. Being mine doesn't change that. You can date/sleep with who you want (I like to be in the loop when my sub is dating). But once you give me your submission, it's mine. And I don't share that. That means you can only play/scene/fuck other Doms if I give you permission.
Polyamory and open relationships are fairly common in the BDSM/Kink community. That's largely because of how open and honest the culture is in encouraging people to pursue their sexual desires, which tends to include their desire for multiple partners as well.
Lots of Doms Do Non Monogamy Differently
I've seen Doms who allow their subs to play with others, including Doms, but they then require retraining when they return.
Others who have more of a swinging dynamic, where in play spaces/parties there is free reign to be with whomever they want but outside of those spaces their subs don't play with other Doms.
In some cases Doms or subs may play with others but there is no sex or clear boundaries are set on how far that sex may go in any scene.
For some, they limit language. Like, no one else calls you Daddi because that title belongs to just one of your submissives, hence others must find another term like "Sir" or "Master", etc.
Others will share subs with Doms that they trust and respect. Often, the concern is less about territory and rather that there are very unethical Doms out there. Doms see it as our responsibility to protect our subs--which includes who they see. So sharing your submissive with a Dom you trust eliminates those fears.
I have managed my partner's Tinder account and I like to meet anyone she is dating. I want them to know I am present and aware of them and that I am not a threat to their connection with her, nor will I tolerate any foolishness. She's ultimately dates who and how she wants. Supporting her means learning to work through my feelings around control and possession, which is hard. But creative a free love not bound by ownership of one another is part of our life work. The point is that you can have lots of different kinds of non monogamous dynamics as a kinkcter. You get to decide what works for you.
I also think two Doms can share a sub if there is a clear understanding of where everyone falls in the hierarchies of Dominance. I know many Doms or masculine of center folks who would not share a partner with another masculine person. I would be fine with it as long as everyone is clear on my role. I want to fill any fantasy you have, as long as it doesn't cross a boundary for me, and that sometimes requires dynamic flexibility. This article highlights how these two Doms make it work.
Navigating multiple connections does not create any shortage of love and affection but it definitely can be a time management challenge. And Franklin Veaux's piece on polyamory as a zero-sum game offers some great insight. As a Dom it really helped me to understand why my partner's time did not belong to me. I then had to do personal work to keep myself busy, learn how to bring new energies into my life and release some of the toxic behaviors I had developed as coping mechanisms.
Dominance is sometimes used as a framework to justify unhealthy control of another person's time, energy or body. And I believe it's our responsibility as Doms to constantly push ourselves to walk with integrity. There is a fine line between submission and exploitation of patriarchal entitlement. We can do better. And we should.
It's also important to remember there can be LOTS OF DIFFERENT CONFIGURATIONS in non monogamy. And the goal is to figure out what works for you...and then find your tribe. I'm grateful for the hard lessons and personal growth I've done to get to this point. They make the joy of finding authentic connections so palpable. I am in no rush. What is for me, is for me. And it will arrive when I am ready to receive it. I need only commit to my growth to get there.