A case for non-monogamy

An online cheating site, Ashley Madison, has been hacked. The hackers demand that the site be taken down, or they’ll release the data they took, which includes the user data of some 47 million people. Combine that data with what was released during the OPM hack, and this could get interesting fast. Blackmail of federal employees is the obvious thing to think about.

Now, the world as we know it isn’t ending. Of those 47 million user accounts, an estimated 1-5 million would be active US users. And of those, a fraction will have used identifiable data, rather than creating a “John Smith” account with a throwaway email address. It’s not like a searchable database of the ALM data would mean that “1 in 10” people in the US would suddenly be exposed as adulterous.

The problem I see isn’t with the hack itself, or these records getting leaked. It’s with the culture that makes a site like Ashley Madison successful in the first place. We can’t discuss non-monogamy openly within our social circles, or with our partners. It’s such a big taboo that there’s legitimate fear of losing one’s job or client base if it becomes known someone lives in a non-monogamous relationship.

Because of the societal stigma around non-monogamy, good data about the interest in consensual non-monogamy is hard to come by. By one study released in 2014, such interest among men is between 23 and 40 percent, and among women between 11 and 22 percent. I’ve seen some higher numbers as well, 57 percent for men and 47 percent for women. That seems way higher than expected, but the exact numbers are not that important for people who don’t study society for a living.

What these numbers say to me is: It’s very necessary to discuss relationship models with a potential partner, and do this openly and in a non-blaming way. If anywhere between one in five and two in five men have an interest in consensual non-monogamy, and anywhere between one in ten and one in five women, then not knowing how compatible your model of a desirable relationship is with that of your partner is a recipe for heart-ache. As is denying an interest that is very real.

I find the taboo around non-monogamous relationships even makes its way into kink and leather, to a degree. Wait a second, you might say, you are out of your mind. Kink and leather is about non-monogamy.

Yes, it is. And it took me forever to find that out. There is a lot of talk about the “leather community.” I don’t doubt that community exists, particularly between people who know each other well. To a large part, though, the leather community isn’t a community, it’s a network. For finding partners with like interests. That, however, is not readily discussed. Instead I find language such as “someone new to kink should not keep this to themselves, but engage with the community to learn and grow” – and when I ask what that means, I get no answer. What that means, I think, is “go out and find play partners.”

I’ve been encouraged by friends that know that Bear and I are very exclusive to go to a “leather event.” It would be more social than anything else. And I am sure that this is true: It was still way too cruisy for our liking. Not looking for play partners, we didn’t fit in.

My attempts to discuss this with leather men have led to not much more than exasperation. This is not a topic readily discussed. I am pretty sure I’ve gotten on the nerves of a few friends by now.

The point I’m trying to make is: Be more open. In a discussion on Fetlife, someone said “I don’t know anyone in the leather community who is completely exclusive even in their BDSM play.” That would have been good to know early on. I’ve never heard “you know, you’re more than welcome to come to an event, but you’ll likely not fit in too well. Hooking up is a big part of it.”

Don’t be coy around that part of leather and kink. Celebrate it.

I get that consensual non-monogamy is fraught with pitfalls, particularly for women because there still is a very real difference in power between women and men. That gap is shrinking, and I am relying on feminists to help shrink it further, to the benefit of all of us.

I’d like to see a society where it’s perfectly okay to have a spouse and fuck someone else. As long as that arrangement is completely consensual.


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