No, You Cannot Get “Addicted” to a Vibrator

Anyone who has read my work for any length of time will know how I feel about the concept of “sex addiction” – in short, that it’s medically meaningless, so broadly applied as to be useless, and the sole criteria to diagnose someone seems to be “has sex more than the diagnoser or in ways that the diagnoser finds personally distasteful.” Read Dr David Ley’s amazing book for more information if this interests you.

Today, though, I want to talk about “sex addiction”‘s equally insidious little sister – “vibrator addiction.”

A close up of cocaine powder and a rolled up £10 note. For a post about being addicted to vibrators.

I have a variation of this conversation at least weekly, either online or occasionally in real life:

Them: “I want a good clitoral vibrator for me/for my female partner.”
Me: “Try the Doxy! It’s great because…” (*sends link*)
Them: “Oh no, that looks like something I/she could get addicted to!”
Me: *facedesks into next week*

I am here to clear up this myth once and for all, and also to have a central resource to point people to so I don’t have to have this argument on a weekly basis. S0:

You cannot get addicted to a vibrator.

Repeat after me: You. Cannot. Get. Addicted. To. A. Vibrator.

The fears here seem to fall broadly into three camps, so I am going to tackle each of them one at a time.

Fear the first: “I’ll break/stretch/loosen/desensitize my vulva if I use toys too much.”

Genitals are fucking cool, y’all. They do not “break” or “wear out” from overuse, and they are remarkable at bouncing back – for fuck’s sake, pushing an entire small human out of a vagina causes it more strain than even the most hardcore of sex toys!

I think this myth is closely associated with the (also false) narrative of a vagina becoming “loose” or “used up” if its owner has too much sex or has sex with too many different people. It fails to neglect the medical reality that the vagina is a muscle and muscles Do Not Work That Way.

You cannot break your vagina. You cannot stretch it out permanently in any kind of significant way. It won’t mold around a toy and become unable to enjoy anything else. It won’t break or become unable to have or enjoy sex in the future. Promise!

There is also no evidence whatsoever that prolonged or repeated usage of vibrators – even really high-powered ones like my beloved Doxy or the famed Hitachi – causes any long-term loss of sensation in the clitoris or vulva. At most, some people report feeling desensitized for a short while after a toy session – especially with buzzier toys – but these effects are really short-lived (typically minutes or hours) and cause no long-term damage or change in sensation whatsoever.

I’ve been using my Doxy for years – probably for ten orgasms a week for two and a half years, on average? – and other vibes long before that, and I still squirm at the slightest flick of my partner’s tongue over my clit. Vibes will not ruin the nerves or the sensation in your bits. I promise.

Tangential but related: I also see a lot of questions along the lines of “I used a toy and now my bits hurt, did I irreparably damage myself?” No, you probably used a toy made from a toxic material, or used a toy made from a material you’re for some reason sensitive to, or didn’t use enough lube, or didn’t warm yourself up enough, or it’s just your body’s response to a new stimulus that it’s not used to. (A bit like your muscles ache the next day if you do a new form of exercise!)

Fear the second: “But what if using a vibrator is the only way I can orgasm?”

I’m going to say something truly radical now.

If using a vibrator is the only or the most reliable way for you to achieve orgasm: USE THE FUCKING VIBRATOR, ENJOY YOUR ORGASMS, AND DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT.

Orgasms are great, and we should all be having as many of them in our lives as we wish to. There are countless ways to reach orgasm – from fucking, manual sex, oral sex, anal play, being punched in the butt (or is that last one just me?) And, of course, via the use of sex toys such as vibrators.

Here’s a secret: all these ways of reaching orgasm are equally wonderful, equally valid and equally real. ALL orgasms are wonderful as long as everyone involved in inducing them is consenting. That’s literally the only criteria.

I encourage everyone who wants to, to experiment with all different kinds of pleasure and see what works for them and what feels good. It’s also worth remembering that these things can, and probably will, change over time. I used to come reliably from clitoral fingering by a partner, but my clit got more sensitive as I got older and now this is a pretty rare feat. Conversely, I never used to have G-spot orgasms, but now I have them quickly, explosively and repeatedly. And my experience with using toys has been that it has broadened my experience of pleasure and the ways in which I am able to come.

However, no form of pleasure or orgasm is inherently any better than any other. Some vulva-owners spend their entire lives chasing the elusive vaginal-only orgasm, but the reality is that somewhere between 50 and 90 percent of vulvas simply don’t work that way. People often become deeply upset because they, or their partner, doesn’t reach orgasm from oral sex – even if they enjoy the sensation and the act itself. I think these beliefs are heavily tied in with the mistaken notion that we should be able to bring our partners to easy and explosive multiple orgasms with nothing but our hands/mouth/dick, and that anything else – whether it’s them masturbating themselves or using a toy or even just enjoying a session where orgasm isn’t necessarily the goal – is somehow lesser.

I am here to tell you that it’s not. If you come easily in fifty different ways, you’re beautiful and valid. If you only come with a vibrator or other toy or in some other super specific way, you’re equally beautiful and valid.

The overwhelming majority of the time, my answer to “Dear Amy, please help, the only way I can reliably orgasm is by doing this thing” is “….then do that thing.”

Fear the third: “Can toys become a replacement for partnered sex?”

The short answer is no. The long answer is this post in response to a worried reader who was afraid his girlfriend’s dildo would replace him.

A lot of people are afraid that they, or their partners, will find the stimulation they get from a toy to be so overwhelmingly amazing that they won’t have any need for partnered sex in the future.

Again, this is not only completely lacking in evidence, I’ve actually found the opposite is more often true. Exploring my sexuality through toys has increased my potential for erotic enjoyment and therefore improved the partnered sex I have. I am not the only person to have reported this kind of experience.

A toy, however much you love it, cannot be a substitute for a partner. Terms like “battery operated boyfriend” or “the perfect lover” to describe toys have a lot to answer for. Until a toy is sentient, there for me, makes me laugh, snuggles me at night, watches Netflix with me, takes me on adventures and brings me coffee, it is NOT a boyfriend/lover/partner – it’s an inanimate object, a tool through which to experience pleasure.

As I said to our friend who was jealous of his girlfriend’s favourite silicone dick:

Partnered sex is about so much more than just “does your body part satisfy my body part?” It’s about connection, about the feel and smell and warmth of a partner close to you, about the thud of body-on-body, about the rhythm and the dance and the responses between two (or more) people. Partnered sex is in-fucking-credible for so many reasons and a toy can’t fully replicate many of them. Pervocracy has a great article on some of the reasons people might love partnered sex.

So no. Your girlfriend isn’t going to dump you or stop having sex with you because she likes her vibrator more, and she’s not going to get so hooked on wanking with it that you never see her. (That stupid scene in Sex & the City also has a lot to answer for here!)

In short: “Vibrator Addiction” is a shaming tactic, and nothing more.

It shames people who struggle to achieve orgasm without a toy, people who don’t orgasm in socially sanctioned ways (i.e. by penetration with a penis,) people who need a lot of stimulation in order to come… and basically just adds to the stigma of vulva-owners masturbating and prioritising their pleasure.

It’s also sexist as fuck. If a cis man masturbates to porn two or three times a day, people will see him as a normal guy with a healthy sex drive. But if a woman or other person with a vulva uses a vibrator most days or every day, she may well face accusations of being addicted.

Addiction is a serious medical problem with causes major issues in the sufferer’s life and the lives of the people around them. No-one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever turned to crime, alienated their family and friends, lost their job or run themselves into debt because their Magic Wand just felt too good and gave them too many orgasms. Minimising the very real pain of addiction and co-opting it as a sex-shaming tactic is incredibly insensitive and harmful to anyone who has suffered from addiction or been affected by having a sufferer close to them.

So let’s stop with the “vibrators are addictive” bullshit and let people have orgasms in the ways that work for them, yes?

How Not to Punish

If you’ve just now found the blog, you may not know that October is #KinkMonth! Go check out the hashtag, and also don’t forget you can get 15% off at Lovehoney until 15th October when you spend £50 or more.

I’m celebrating by writing posts inspired by the topics in Kayla Lords’ brilliant 30 Days of D/s project. Today’s prompt was all about punishment and discipline. Kayla and John ask:

A white male fist punching downwards onto a hard surface. For a post on how not to punish your submissive.

As a submissive, are you willing to allow a Dominant to discipline or punish you in your relationship? As a Dominant, are you willing to require discipline or give out punishment? What kinds of punishments can you imagine for bad behavior?

First, some disclaimers:

Note the First: When I talk about punishment here, I am talking about the type that is genuinely intended to correct or admonish someone for perceived or actual negative behaviour. I am NOT talking about “funishment,” wherein the idea of “punishment” is used as part of a game, roleplay or kinky scene. In other words, “funishment” isn’t intended to genuinely correct any behaviour.

Note the Second: I’m going to admit this straight up: I’m skittish about the idea of punishment. Yes, even in 24/7 D/s relationships. I lean very strongly towards the side of “adults are not children and punishment does not belong in a respectful relationship”. However, I also acknowledge that this is largely as a result of my baggage from non-consensual “punishment” dynamics in my past. I 1000% respect the right of other consenting adults to feel completely differently and to include punishment in their relationships.

Therefore, here’s a short list of things to be aware of if you do decide to include punishment in your D/s relationship. This is aimed at the D-types, but I would implore submissives to please also be on the look out for these things happening and seriously reevaluate if they do.

Don’t Punish in Anger

Please never, ever, ever punish somebody in anger. Even if you’ve agreed you can punish your submissive when they fuck up, when you’re angry in the immediate aftermath of the mistake is not the time to be dishing out punishment. Being angry opens you up to the risk of going too far, hurting someone (physically, mentally or emotionally) in a way they haven’t consented to, breaking consent and permanently destroying trust. Just don’t do it. Ever.

Don’t Punish for Real, Serious, Possibly-Relationship-Breaking Transgressions

I’ll probably catch some flack for this, but if your submissive has (for example) cheated on you or something equally serious, that’s not the time to start whaling on their ass. Even if spanking is something you’ve explicitly negotiated as a punishment. A fuck-up, mistake or betrayal that epic requires you to sit the fuck down as equal adults and have a very serious conversation about the state of your relationship and where to go from here.

Don’t Punish With Triggers

Triggers are things that evoke a serious and visceral negative emotion or “flashback” as a result of past trauma. They can take all kinds of forms and it’s your responsibility to be aware of these and avoid tripping over them as far as you can. Absolutely do not use them against your partner in punishment. For example, if your partner has an abandonment trigger, punishing them by not speaking to them is likely to be devastating. If they have childhood trauma from being spanked, throwing them over your knee and hitting them will cause real and genuine harm. Using triggers to punish someone is abuse.

How do YOU feel about punishment? Tell me in the comments or tweet me with your thoughts.

Kinky item of the day: I’m pretty anti-punishment in my relationship but I LOVE funishment, being bent over the bed or someone’s lap and thoroughly spanked. Therefore today’s item is one of my favourite tools and one of the easier impact play toys to use: a classic spanking paddle.

Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you shop with one, I may make a small commission. All opinions are and will always be my own.

Five Things I, a Swinger, Hate About the Swinging Scene

I consider myself a swinger, in that I’m in a committed Primary, living-together-as-married relationship wherein we have sex with other people outside of our relationship together. (We’re also polyamorous and form independent romantic/sexual relationships with other people – yes it is possible to be both, but that’s a topic for another day.)

A close up of a swing, for a post about the problems with the swinging scene

There are a lot of things I love about swinging – the opportunity to play with all different people with all different kinds of bodies, the voyeuristic fun of watching my partner playing with someone else, the exhibitionist joy of being watched, getting to indulge in different kinks and fetishes, the fact that swing clubs are more accessible to me in a variety of ways than ‘normal’ nightclubs ever were, the social aspect of meeting lots of new and interesting people, and much more.

But the longer I spend in the swinging scene, the more problems I see with it too – and that saddens me. Mr CK and me don’t intend to stop swinging any time soon, but we’ve certainly become choosier and choosier about the kinds of behaviour we’re willing to accept and the kind of venues and events we feel comfortable frequenting. So here are five things I see all too often in the swing scene which I do not love.

The racism.

I’m white. Mr CK is white. However, we’ve made a policy of blocking and not engaging in anyone who has any variation on “white people only!!” or “no blacks or Asians” on their swinger profile. (We are not looking for ally cookies here. This is basic fucking human decency, not some awesome selfless act of deigning to not fuck racists.) Our block list is ENORMOUS from this alone. Swinging has always been, and sadly still is, largely the realm of upper-Middle class white people. Unfortunately, huge swathes of this group seem to think it’s entirely reasonable to make a snap judgement on every single potential partner of certain races. It’s not “just a preference,” people. It’s racist.

The body shaming.

I keep my body hair fully natural and have done for a good couple of years at this point. My partners love it but, much more importantly, I love it. However, the number of people whose profile includes a line along the lines of “we’re clean shaven everywhere and expect the same” is astonishing. And it’s not just body hair – fat people, disabled people, men shorter than 6ft, men without big muscles, and non-gargantuan penises also get hate piled on them from people screaming “just a preference!!!!” all over their profiles. We block those people too. Are you surprised our pool is diminishing every time we log on?

The heteronormativity.

Holy shit, the heteronormativity! The assumption is that if you’re a swinger, you’re a cis person married to another cis person of the opposite binary gender. People who break this mold are few and far between, and often treated as some kind of exotic curiosity. Similarly, it’s often expected that women will play with other women, but only if their bisexuality is performed in a way that’s centred around men’s visual enjoyment. And as for the men? It’s still taboo at best to be a bisexual man in the mainstream swinging scene – some clubs even go as far as banning man-on-man action (we won’t go to those clubs.)

The vanilla-normativity.

At our first swing night, we asked about kink rules. The club owner, who knew us from fetish events we’d attended in the same venue, was hesitant. “Um, well, I guess light kink is probably okay. But don’t scare my regulars.” So, spanking? Floor-work bondage? Nope and nope. Turns out “light kink” translated to “sex that is maybe a tiny bit rougher than missionary-with-the-lights-out.” Okay then. When we did engage in a bit of rope play in a semi-private room at the same club, we gathered a crowd of sweet-but-clueless gawkers who thought they’d never seen anything quite so weird in their lives before. Obviously not everyone has to be kinky, and I understand vanilla swingers might not want blood being drawn in their nice clean clubs or bullwhips flying everywhere, but being treated like a sideshow because we like something a little different gets wearing really fast.

The toxic masculinity.

My above point about male bisexuality being taboo is relevant here – many of the men I meet through the swing scene are not just straight but aggressively straight – the idea of even being in proximity with another penis is terrifying and some couples even go as far as to say they won’t play with a man who has ever had sexual contact with another man. Bisexuality isn’t catching, y’all! But it’s more than just this. Comments about being/only wanting “a real man” abound. Aggressive hatred piled on men who cross-dress or otherwise don’t live up to masculine stereotypes. Excessive boasting about penis size and/or sexual prowess (honestly, I don’t care if you have a 12″ dick and love “eating pussy” (ew) if you can’t hold a conversation.) Borderline-rapey comments about “just knowing” what women want. It’s all there and it’s all gross.

Sometimes it makes us despair and makes us want to withdraw from the whole game for a while. But just occasionally, we do meet awesome, genuine people who are on the same wavelength as us, and then it feels more worth it. But the mainstream swinging scene still has a lot of growing up to do.

I want to keep slutting it around with lots of lovely sexy people and share these experiences with my partner, but we want something a bit… more body-positive. Queerer. Kinkier. Different. Even if it takes longer to meet our people and build our sexy little community.

Did you enjoy this post? You can help me out by buying me a coffee to say thanks! <3

Can the Concept of Foreplay Just Die in a Fucking Fire?

Controversial opinion time: FOREPLAY IS NOT A THING.

The lower half of a woman's face, sucking on a strawberry in a seductive fashion. For a post about foreplay

There’s a big problem with the concept of foreplay. I don’t mean the acts it entails – fingers, tongues, mouths, toys, making out, massages, undressing each other and more. All of those things, and many more, are wonderful and valid expressions of sexuality.

But those things? They are not foreplay. They are sex.

Let’s break this down. ‘Foreplay’ implies that it comes before something – namely, of course, penis-in-vagina (hereafter PIV) sex. And this is problematic on a number of levels.

First of all it’s heteronormative as fuck. Not everyone is straight and cisgender. Not every sexual pairing consists of one penis and one vagina. The implication here is that only heterosexual, cisgender people have Real Sex (TM) and everything else is ‘merely’ foreplay.

Secondly, and this may come as a shock – not all straight, cisgender people like PIV sex! Even pairings of one penis-owner with one vagina-owner does not necessarily imply that PIV will be their favourite sexual activity or even part of their sexual repertoire at all.

Personally, I love PIV sex. I come really fast and repeatedly from g-spot stimulation and Mr CK’s cock hits that sweet spot just perfectly. But there was a time – a long time – when it wasn’t my favourite sexual activity, because earlier in my development intense g-spot pounding did very little for me.

I’ll let you in on a secret – even though I love it, loads of the sex I have isn’t PIV focussed. Plenty of the sex me and the Mr have together doesn’t involve penetrative fucking – just last night, for example, he caned my ass then watched and talked dirty to me while I got myself off with my Doxy. And it was a wonderful and fulfilling session. For various reasons relating to non-monogamy agreements, the Ace spectrum and people’s boundaries, I’m only quite rarely having PIV sex with anyone other than Mr CK right now. The sexual relationships I have with other people are still amazing, hot and fulfilling. And sometimes, this queer girl even fucks other people with vaginas! (Shocking, I know.) Those sexual encounters with other vagina-owners are not, I promise you, any less amazing than those with penis-owners.

When a guy bends me over his lap, spanks me until I’m dripping and then fingers me hard while telling me what a dirty slut I am? That’s sex. When I pin a girl down while Mr uses the Doxy on her until she comes and he doesn’t even take his pants off? That’s sex. When I’m playing with another woman and I go down on her and she finger-fucks me until we both come? Sex. When he holds me and reads a filthy story to me or talks me through a hot fantasy while I wank? You guessed it… sex.

That’s why I want to kill the idea of foreplay forever. It places PIV as the pinnacle of sexual experience and everything else as something lesser, something not quite real, something before.

There is no such thing as this thing called ‘foreplay,’ because there are a million things under this amazing, huge umbrella that we call ‘sex.’

This was my final post of #Smutathon2017. If you’ve enjoyed it, please donate to the amazing charities.

The image featured in this post was offered for use via Creative Commons Licensing. It’s the pic that came up when I searched “foreplay” on Pixabay and it amused me, so it stays.

[Toy Review] Satisfyer Pro 2

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly: I wrote this review with ‘Satisfied’ from Hamilton going around in my head and now I really want a musical theatre parody about sex toys.

[NOTE added 15/10/2017: I’ve since tried two other suction based toys including the Pro 2 Next Generation, and have since revised my opinion on this toy somewhat . That said, if you’re going to get a Satisfyer, the Next Generation is genuinely a huge improvement.]

With that out of the way: this is not the review I wanted to write. I really, really wanted to say that all the hype was deserved, that the Satisfyer Pro 2 (the latest edition to the Satisfyer range of toys) gave me the “screaming orgasm in under a minute” I’d been promised. Alas, it was not to be.

The Satisfyer Pro 2, for a product reviewThe Satisfyer Pro 2, for a product review

For those not in the know, the Satisfyer Pro 2 (and others in the range) are essentially  copycats of the much-hyped and more expensive Womanizer toys, which boast something called PleasureAir technology for “touch free orgasms.” Essentially, you put the nozzle end around your clitoris to create a kind of seal, and the toy provides stimulation via rapid air pulses.

Being one for new and exciting things, I couldn’t wait to try it. However, I just couldn’t get any meaningful stimulation from it! Somehow, this much-lauded toy did absolutely nothing for me. I like to think I gave it a good go – I tried it on three separate occasions in all. With lube and without. From cold, and when I was already turned on and half way to orgasm. On the low settings and the high settings. In the end, after my second session of over forty minutes, I threw the damn thing aside in frustration and reached for my trusty Doxy to finish the job.

I nearly didn’t write this review at all, as these toys are so popular and to say I didn’t like it feels a bit blasphemous. But different views are important, so there it is. I fucked a Satifyer and I didn’t like it.

So what didn’t I like about it?

Firstly, I couldn’t get it to stay in place! In my experience, once you’ve got it on the right spot and angled it just correctly, you pretty much can’t move at all – which doesn’t work for a girl like me who likes to move her hips and buck against a toy.

Secondly, the actual stimulation didn’t feel like anything special at all. To me, it just felt like an annoyingly weak and buzzy vibrator. (I am utterly baffled by the descriptions of Satisfyer and Womanizer toys as “oral sex simulators.” Not any oral sex I’ve ever had, I can assure you.) And after a while, having the nozzle stuck around my clit started to hurt.

Thirdly, this thing is fucking LOUD. Seriously, it sounded like a swarm of bees around my clitoris, which is not a sentence I ever thought I’d type and not something I find even remotely appealing. Not one for you if you’ve got nosy roommates, kids asleep in the next room, or any embarrassment about other people knowing you’re wanking.

My Ratings (all scores out of 5★)

Price: ★★★
The Satisfyer Pro 2 retails on Lovehoney for £69.99, which is a pretty standard price for a high-end toy and a lot cheaper than the similar Womanizer toys (which start at £84.99 for a basic model and go all the way up to £149.99.) If you’ve never tried a suction toy and aren’t sure if it’s for you, Lovehoney have a superb returns policy.

[EDIT 15/10/17: all retailers I regularly check seem to have replaced this model with the Next Generation model, which is much better.]

Materials: ★★★★
The nozzle, i.e. the only bit that actually makes direct contact with the genitals, is silicone. The body is ABS plastic. This makes the whole toy body-safe and non-porous.

Appearance: ★★★★
It’s quite pretty, I’ll give it that! The body is a lovely rose-gold colour, which is classy and a step away from endless, endless neon pink.

Ease of Use:
The Satisfyer Pro 2 is quite bulky and surprisingly heavy for its small size. The buttons are a pain to press. At least 50% of the time I had to press the ‘off’ button more than once to turn it off. As I mentioned above, it’s also really difficult to hold in place if you’re a person who moves a lot while being pleasured. Worst of all, the settings are SO ANNOYING. It has eleven speeds but once you’ve gone up a speed, you have to cycle all the way through – there is no ‘turn down’ option other than going through all 11 settings. Distracting and offputting to say the least.

Ease of care & cleaning: ★★
The head is detachable and you can purchase replacements on any retailer’s site, which makes this part at least easy to keep hygienic. However, the nozzle is bound to trap some lube, sex fluids and germs. That said, it is waterproof so you can submerge it for a thorough cleaning. You cannot put a condom on a suction toy or use it with any other barrier protection. For this reason, I would recommend ideally only sharing this toy with a partner you’re fluid bonded to. At the very least, change the head between users.

Versatility: ★★
It can really only be used in one way. It does have different speed settings, which is something, and is advertised as waterproof so could be used in the bath or shower if that’s your thing.

Intensity:
As mentioned above, this thing just felt like an annoyingly light and buzzy vibrator. Even on the highest settings, it was too weak to get me anywhere near to coming.

Overall Score: ★★
Sadly, much as I wanted to love it, the results for Satisfyer Pro 2 just didn’t live up to the hype (or the price point.)

A note: This is not exactly a bad toy. It has some significant flaws but it’s body-safe and well made. All bodies are different and suction toys clearly work really well for lots of people, which is brilliant. When considering a toy, particularly an expensive one, please look at lots of reviews and don’t base your choice on just one. I have a pretty small, fairly hidden away but VERY sensitive clitoris, and certain toys will suit my anatomy while others won’t. And that’s okay.

I bought the Satisfyer Pro 2 from a fellow blogger and chose to review it for informational purposes. Was this review helpful to you? Please consider saying thanks with a virtual coffee. Affiliate links are contained within this post.

The Tyranny of ‘No Rules:’ in Defence of Polyamorous Hierarchy

Buckle in, folks. This has been a long time coming and it’s gonna be a long one.

Three red hearts arranged diagonally across a tic tac toe board. For a post on polyamory and hierarchy

Hierarchy is the subject du jour in current polyamorous discourse – mainly how it’s evil and we should avoid it. Polyamory educators I deeply respect and admire have spoken out as being largely against hierarchical structures. And that’s fine – as with any information providers, I draw from the many pieces of their work I find useful and don’t worry too much about the rest.

But I’ve been feeling for quite a while that a major piece of the picture is missing from the conversation around hierarchy in polyamory and that it has become somewhere between unfashionable and downright shun-worthy to tell enlightened polyamorous folks that you practice a hierarchical structure. The voices of people who have been hurt by hierarchy or power structures carelessly wielded have been amplified – and this is a Good Thing without a doubt. But what is largely absent or drowned out or shouted down, now, is the perspective of people who are very happy within a hierarchical structure. I am here to provide one small piece of that perspective.

Firstly, what do we mean by hierarchy?

The dictionary defines hierarchy as ‘a system in which members of an organization or society are ranked according to relative status or authority.’ In polyamory, though, it’s more specific –  polyamorous hierarchy refers to a structure in which one relationship, or one partner, is ‘Primary’ and other relationships are ‘secondary,’ ‘tertiary,’ ‘non-primary,’ or other similar terms. Exactly what these words mean will vary between people who use them. Sometimes it’s as simple as “my Primary is the person I own property and raise children with,” and sometimes there are elaborate systems of rules with pages-long documents outlining them all.

My own structure falls somewhere between the two. Mr CK and I are Primary partners and we do have a written relationship agreement, although it’s quite short and in practice hardly ever needs to be referred to. We have a system of guidelines for acceptable behaviour and some hard-and-fast rules. Every rule or guideline we agree to abide by is thoroughly negotiated, everything applies absolutely equally to both of us (read more about why that’s important to us here) and is open for renegotiation if necessary.

Why is hierarchy supposedly bad?

Like so many things, it’s bad when it’s misused and it can be wielded to cause great harm. Some Primary couples certainly have a habit of running roughshod over secondary/non-Primary partners’ feelings, needs and boundaries and asserting power in inappropriate ways. We’ll tackle the specifics later in ‘Towards Ethical Hierarchy.’

There are many examples of this – veto (also discussed later,) one partner in the Primary couple unilaterally closing down the relationship, messing secondaries around with plans and so on. These things happen. They’re shitty and they’re totally not okay. They’re examples of power imbalances used to deliberately cause harm or to get what one person wants at the expense of hurting someone (or someones) else. This is not ethical hierarchical polyamory.

The things is, non-hierarchical systems can also be abused. Relationship Anarchy (which I am not well qualified to talk about but you can read a basic definition here) is fine in and of itself, but just think about the following phrases (I’ve heard all of these):

“I’m a relationship anarchist which means I do what I want, when I want. If my partners are upset because I broke my commitments to them, that’s their fault for expecting me to keep my commitments.”

“I don’t have to consider your sexual health because I’m RA, that means no rules. By insisting on knowing my sexual health status you’re oppressing me.”

“Lies and cheating don’t exist in relationship anarchy.”

Suddenly, those statements make RA look super unhealthy and scary, don’t they? But it’s not, in and of itself. It’s just a relationship philosophy that can be used for good, evil or indifference. The same goes for hierarchical polyamory.

I think the question of whether someone’s acting unethically is also often approached in a really problematic way. A major problem I have with so much of the current discourse around hierarchy is it seems to forget this one fundamental truth:

Not Getting What You Want Does Not Necessarily Mean Someone Else Did Something Wrong.

Say it again for those in the back: not getting what you want does not necessarily mean someone else did something wrong.

I’m sorry*, but take this hypothetical scenario: you got into a non-primary relationship with a married man, knowing he’d never leave his wife for you or offer you a nesting relationship… then, two years down the line, you decide you want to live with him (either with or without his wife.) If he repeats what he said earlier, “my wife and I do not want anyone else living with us, now or ever, and I have no interest in leaving my wife,” he’s not doing something wrong (and neither, it bears stating, is the wife in this hypothetical.) He’s stating their boundaries. What would be wrong is if he’d said “you can probably live with us in a couple of years” at the beginning of your relationship, knowing full well this was never going to happen or was tremendously unlikely. Lying or omitting important information to get someone hooked in (also known as the “bait and switch”) is never okay.

Defending your boundaries, reasserting your position, and not giving somebody something you never promised to give (even if they really really want it) is always okay.

Take another scenario I’ve actually been in from all three positions, at various times in my life: A might want to do sexual acts with their partner B, that is currently a boundary or limit for B’s Primary partner C. This does not mean that C is doing something wrong in having that boundary. Nor does it mean B is doing something wrong in taking C’s boundaries into consideration and placing limits on what sexual activities they will and won’t engage in. What would be wrong is if C changed the rules on a whim, didn’t communicate the agreements clearly to A, or were totally unwilling to enter any kind of dialogue about it at any stage. What would also be wrong is if, at the beginning of that relationship, A was told “we don’t really have any rules” only to have the bait-and-switch pulled on them once they were invested. See the difference?

Boundaries and Choice

This is what it boils down to, really. Primaries (particularly wives or female nesting partners, I’ve found, which probably carries a hefty dose of unexamined misogyny) are vilified again and again and again for daring to have, set and maintain boundaries.

Mr CK and I agreed a long time ago that nobody else will move into our shared home. This was a condition of moving in with him for me, and one that worked well for him too as he prefers to live with only one person. This is a boundary we get to set around this shared space that we alone own and inhabit, and we’re not harming anyone by having it. Someone might really really really want to live with us, and in that instance I am sorry that this is going to be hard for them to hear, but… the answer is no.

Yes, it’s a rule. It’s a rule that if either of us broke it, our relationship would almost certainly end.

We have also agreed since the beginning that we will not engage in sexual activities with a new person until the other has had a chance to meet that person (a Skype meeting is acceptable if there’s distance involved.) This is because we both have baggage around being lied to, kept in the dark, or deliberately kept from meeting a metamour in order that direct metamour-to-metamour communication be rendered impossible. This a boundary we get to set around our relationship and our bodies. If someone doesn’t want to date me because they don’t want to meet my partner, that’s their choice, but the answer is that they don’t get to date me.

Yes, it’s a rule. It’s a rule that if either of us broke it, it would be considered cheating.

Yes. We have rules and we expect of each other that they will be kept. Anyone who tries to make us break them will receive a firm and resounding “no.” I can’t believe any of this is up for debate, but the number of times I’ve been told that if a secondary wants me to break a rule/agreement made with my Primary that I should do it, is frankly ridiculous.

Crucially, non-Primary partners get to set boundaries and expect them to be respected too! In all the relationships I’m in where I am a secondary partner, for example, I have been crystal clear from the beginning that none of those partners will exert any kind of control over what I do with my body outside of our relationship.  (More about this under ‘Towards Ethical Hierarchy.’) I have set boundaries around my time, my availability and the sexual acts that are and are not available. All of my partners get to set similar boundaries for themselves too, and those boundaries are as valid and important as mine or my Primary partner’s and must be respected.

At the end of the day, my Primary partner is my Primary partner because he chooses to be, just as I am his because I choose to be. He does not control me and I do not control him. We make mutual agreements that work for both of us, and we both stick to them out of choice every day because we love each other, prioritise each other’s happiness, and value our relationship. If you want to view making and keeping agreements as controlling each other then I think we have very different definitions of what control is.

“No Rules” is a rule.

A rule to not make or follow rules… is still a rule. An expectation to be able to do whatever you want without any responsibility to your partners… is still an expectation. An agreement to have no agreements is… still an agreement and still one that you get to opt in or out of.

I simply could not live this way. Because:

Structurelessness is a special kind of hell.

Some people value fluidity, ever-changing situations and no certainty. That’s beautiful and valid. I am not one of those people. I am a person who – while a certain degree of flexibility is essential – values structure, a level of predictability, and Knowing Where The Fuck I Stand. That includes knowing where I am in the hierarchy with each person I’m involved with.

I need to know that the person I share my home with will prioritise me consistently. I need to know whom I can rely upon in a crisis (all my partners, I hope, but it is right and expected that a Primary will put more time and effort in than a non-Primary.) I need to know to what degree my relationship with someone can grow and the point at which it can go no further. I need to know exactly what’s allowed and what isn’t in order to be sure I’m not trampling on any boundaries or breaking any consent.

I would go mad in a system with no rules. I could not function in a system where I am not allowed to admit that there is a single person who, when it all comes down to brass tacks, I am likely to prioritise over all else.

Towards Ethical Hierarchy

Despite what some people would like to believe, hierarchical relationships aren’t going anywhere because they work too well for so many of us. So instead of shaming people out of having hierarchical structures (or worse, shaming them into pretending not to have hierarchy while still practising it, which tends to lead to head-fuckery all around,) let’s look at how we can make our hierarchical relationships happy, considerate and ethical.

Don’t restrict your non-primary’s freedom. The only person apart from myself who gets a say in whether I go to sex parties, have lots of casual sex or start new relationships is my Primary. (I was once in a situation where my secondary forbade me from going to sex parties with my Primary. Yeah no.) If a non-Primary partner has concerns about these things, of course I will listen to their concerns and talk things over with them, reassure them where I can and consider if their reservations have merit. But putting their foot down and saying “no?” Not a chance. And I wouldn’t expect to have that power over them either.

You do not get to forbid your secondary from having their own Primary. Ever. I can’t believe this needs stating, but this was a reality I lived with for four years before I realised how fucked up it was. If your secondary doesn’t have a Primary and is happy with the situation (maybe their job, child, pet or hobby is their Primary partner, maybe they just like a lot of their own space,) then obviously this isn’t a problem, but if they don’t have a Primary and want one (which includes not wanting one previously but changing their mind and deciding that now they do,) you have no business being anything but supportive.  “You’re my secondary but you don’t get to have a Primary of your own” is some bullshit that will not fly with me.

Don’t use veto. One example of hierarchy being used to the detriment of the people involved is through an agreement commonly called ‘veto power,’ wherein one member of the Primary couple has the power to order the other to end an outside relationship with the reasonable expectation that they will obey. Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert put it well in More Than Two when they state that [paraphrased slightly] ‘the problem with veto isn’t that it can be used inappropriately but that it tends to cause major problems however it’s used.’ Which it certainly does. If you veto someone your partner loves, you’ll hurt them both but it will also bite you in the ass when they resent you for it down the line.

Use your words, not a kill switch. Talk about what you’re feeling and why. Listen to each other. But please don’t do this, it won’t go well.

I’m actually in favour of the ‘screening veto’ at least in theory. We don’t practice it in an “I forbid you to date this person case closed” sort of way, but Mr CK and I certainly give an awful lot of weight to each other’s opinions on the people we’re looking at getting involved with. If he’s interested in someone who would make me utterly miserable for whatever reason, it’s better to raise it at the beginning before anyone is invested. My metamour The Minstrel and I had a discussion about veto not long after I got together with The Artist, our shared partner, and I was worried I might fall in love and then find myself suddenly vetoed. They said this:

“I think I had the veto the first time you and I met? Like, if I had had an, “erk” reaction then, I’d have said, “I’m sorry, love, I can’t with her” to The Artist. But once I’d given my consent for the two of you to be together? That’s it. No veto from then on. Your relationship may not be a [Primary] relationship but it is a real and valid thing in itself, and I neither want nor should have the power to make it end at my whim.”

Preach. (Did I mention my metamour is pretty great? They are.)

Be upfront about the rules, agreements, boundaries and what you can offer. As discussed above, it’s really not okay to pull a bait-and-switch, where you hide the truth about yourself/your relationships/what you can offer until after someone is already emotionally invested.

Anyone who wants to date me will know right at the beginning that I have a Primary partner I’m very happy with and will not leave for anyone, that living with me or having kids with me is permanently and non-negotiably off the table, and what I can and cannot offer in terms of time commitments.  If that doesn’t work for them, that’s their right. It’s also their right to be told the truth and make an informed choice. (And if you think no-one will date me with these stipulations, you’re so wrong – I’ve found multiple wonderful people it works really well for, many of whom are in similar situations with their own Primary relationships.)

Be flexible. Mr CK and I were once both out on a date on the same night and had agreed to both be home by 11pm. When he phoned me and said his partner had had a medical emergency and may need to go to the hospital, meaning he might be home later than planned, I didn’t say “you said 11pm so you have to stick to that.”  I said “take as long as you need and I hope she’s okay.” This is flexibility. This is kindness where it’s needed. This is also not the same as rocking up at 3am when you agreed 11pm and going “oh sorry we were so busy having sex we lost track of time.” Keep your commitments wherever humanly possible, and give flexibility when it’s warranted. Yes, you can have both.

Don’t wield rules capriciously. Just because you could demand your Primary partner cancel a date at a moment’s notice (Note: me and Mr CK actually have an agreement that we CAN’T do this unless there’s an emergency, because it’s dickish) does not mean that you should. “Because I’m your Primary and I said so” is not good enough. Make agreements that work for you and stick to them. Don’t pull rank in a situation that really doesn’t call for it just because you can.

If your Primary fucks up, it’s (probably) not their secondary’s fault. If your husband stayed out until 2am when he agreed to be back by midnight because he lost track of time, that’s on HIM. It’s not on the partner he was with and it’s not her fault (unless she knew the agreement and deliberately and willingly flouted it with him – then you’re totally okay to go ahead and be pissed at them both because they’ve both behaved like assholes.) Similarly, if your wife lies to her hot co-worker and says that you’re cool with their fling when actually you know nothing about it, that’s HER fault – it’s not on the dude who was being lied to as well. I know it’s tempting to blame a third party when your partner fucks up and hurts you, but they’re an adult and responsible for themselves.

The bottom line to consider when making rules: does this agreement infringe upon anyone’s reasonably-assumed rights in this relationship?

Dating me does not give you a right to live with me, to meet my biological family, or to do every sex act you can possibly think of with me (three things I do not and will never offer to non-Primary partners.)

What it does give you is the right to open and honest communication from me, kindness and support and respect, to be told the truth, to get a place at the negotiating table on things that affect you directly, to know what the deal is from the beginning and all the way along.

Therefore, “I will never allow you to move in with me” is a valid boundary to hold in a secondary relationship. “I will lie to you randomly and switch the rules at a moment’s notice because my Primary said so” is not.

“Oh, but Amy! You’re only defending hierarchy because you’re top of the heap!”

Right, except in all the instances where I’m not. Yes, I come first with Mr CK, as he does with me. But my metamour The Minstrel comes first with my partner The Artist. Fondlebeast and Twistergirl prioritise each other over me. Evil Genius’s wife, other serious partners and children are way higher in the hierarchy than I am. ALL OF THESE ARE GOOD THINGS and it would be absurdity of the highest order to try to pretend these relationships were all equal. I don’t feel oppressed or diminished in any way in these relationships. I went into them all with eyes open, knowing what the scenario was, and I’m happy with the way things are. If that ever changes, I am allowed to leave the relationships. I am not allowed to trample all over their Primary partner(s) to get what I want.

Say it again: I am happy being a secondary and I would much, much rather this was openly acknowledged than that we lived some kind of lie where no-one is more important than anyone else in a romantic relationship. We’re so saturated with stories of abused unicorns, that we forget:

Being secondary is not necessarily a miserable place.

I created the hashtag #HappySecondary on Twitter and asked people to weigh in with their experiences of being a happy non-Primary in a hierarchical arrangement, because I couldn’t believe the experience was unique to me. I got some amazing quotes and I’d like to share just some of them.

“I’m a #HappySecondary in an LDR. Solopoly with no desire to build a home with anyone, don’t want what his wife has. Every visit is vacation!”

“Being R’s #HappySecondary is great! I get to plot with their Primary and things.”

“Very #HappySecondary in 2 relationships here.”

“Being a #HappySecondary gives me space when I need it but contact when I do. Helps that our schedules let us get together 2-3x per week.”

Stop assuming we’re all miserable if we’re secondaries. Stop assuming we’re all treating our partners badly if we’re in a Primary couple and practice hierarchy. Lots of us are very happy where we are, and our experiences are valid too.

[*No I’m not.]

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