Everything The L Word: Generation Q Got Wrong About Polyamory

I just finished my rewatch of The L Word: Generation Q. This follow-up from the hit series from the early-mid 2000s catches up with fan faves Bette (Jennifer Beals), Alice (Leisha Hailey), and Shane (Katherine Moennig) 10 years later as well as bringing in a host of new gay, queer and trans characters.

From here on out there will be spoilers for all three seasons of the series, so stop reading now if you want to avoid those!

It’s safe to say that, in many ways, Generation Q tries to fix some of the things that The L Word got wrong. Notably, there is significantly improved representation of Alice’s bisexuality (and bisexuality in general), much better trans representation (Shane’s apology to Max for “the way we were back then” reads to me as an apology from the producers to the entire trans community), and the addition of non-binary characters as well as butch women characters.

One thing it still manages to get horrendously wrong, though, is its representation of consensual non-monogamy and polyamory. The most notable polyamory storyline features Alice, her girlfriend of two years Nat, and Nat’s ex-wife Gigi, but I also have things to say about Shane and non-monogamy.

Back in 2018, I wrote about all the things You Me Her got wrong about polyamory (spoiler: a lot.) Let’s give The L Word: Generation Q the same treatment, shall we?

Most polyamory isn’t triads…

This is the eternal problem of polyamory in fiction: most writers seem to think that the default configuration for polyamory is a triad (or, to use a cringeworthily terrible word I wish would die already, “throuple.”) That is, three people in a relationship all together. In the vast majority of cases, this is the only representation we get.

The reality is that triads are fairly rare. Stable, healthy, functional triads are even rarer. It’s a really difficult dynamic to both find and sustain, with a very high failure rate, and is just not representative of how most people do polyamory.

The only slight saving grace here is that it’s three women rather than the “one man, two women” configuration we usually see.

…and even when it is, they don’t typically start from drunk threesomes…

I wouldn’t have had a problem with the threesome story if it had been handled differently. The show could have done something interesting with Alice, Nat and Gigi having the threesome and then having to deal with the resulting awkwardness and emotional fallout. Things happen, particularly when unresolved feelings and a lot of tequila are involved. And frankly it’s a fucking hot scene.

But for an alcohol-fuelled spontaneous threesome to transition to a full-on triad in the space of, seemingly, about two days is flat-out ridiculous.

…and even when they do, they don’t typically involve two ex-wives

Look, I understand that the point of this storyline was to show that Nat and Gigi aren’t over each other and that Nat genuinely loves Alice while also genuinely loving Gigi. But the bungled triad storyline was the worst possible way to do it. Anyone with a modicum of polyamory experience would have been screaming watching this.

Poor Alice never stood a chance in this situation. Pro tip: if you’re going to try polyamory, a triad is hard mode. If you’re going to try a triad anyway, doing it with your (or your partner’s) ex is the worst possible way to go about it.

Why does Nat give Alice false hope with a promise of monogamy?

After the triad falls apart, Nat turns up at Alice’s show recording to win her back and promises that she wants to love and be with “just her.” But they’ve barely reconciled when she’s coming out as polyamorous, and has apparently been thinking she might be polyam for a long time.

So why, then, did she make a promise she knew she might not be able to keep? This just seems exceptionally and needlessly cruel to Alice.

Does Alice have to be so judgy?

Alice has been subjected to a fair amount of bigotry and prejudice on the show, not least a lot of biphobia (including from her friends.) She’s also a fan favourite, and perhaps the character I personally relate to the most. So it was really, really disappointing to see this exchange:

Nat: “Monogamy isn’t for everyone.”
Alice: “It’s for most people. Except the bad ones.”

I can accept that Alice can’t handle polyamory in her own relationship. That’s fair – like monogamy, it’s not for everyone. But it makes me really sad to see her being so harsh and judgemental about it. When Nat goes and cries in the bathroom after this exchange, my heart broke for her.

When did Nat and Alice discuss… literally anything?

In a pretty tender and emotional scene, Nat comes out as polyamorous to a horrified Alice. Next thing we know, she’s coming back from her first overnight sex date. I hate that the show totally skipped over everything that comes in between these two points – the hours of talking, negotiating, processing, discussing agreements and boundaries and more.

Obviously we couldn’t see all of this, because the show only has so much time. But one or two scenes is, surely, not too much to ask for. Instead, it gives the impression that the opening up journey is a quick hop, skip and jump from “I think I’m polyamorous” to “overnight dates.”

How the fuck has Shane never heard of ENM?

After Shane inevitably cheats on her girlfriend Tess (played by the gorgeous and fabulous Jamie Clayton of Sense8 fame) and they’re trying to work things out, Tess asks Shane if she wants to do ethical non-monogamy (ENM.) Shane, the player and womanizer extraordinaire who also lives in a huge liberal city and has been part of the LGBTQ community for decades, has apparently… never heard of this concept.

It’s even implied at one point that Shane and her ex-wife Quiara had some kind of non-monogamous relationship when Quiara says something like “you and I have never done things the conventional way.” Yet later on, Shane’s somehow never even considered this possibility. It makes absolutely no sense.

And one thing the show got right: the heartbreak of incompatibility

I hate how it got there, but I actually think having Alice and Nat break up over their incompatible views on monogamy was a good and powerful storyline. Because in those situations, where one of you wants monogamy and the other doesn’t, breaking up is often inevitable and usually the best choice (even though it utterly sucks.)

Credit where credit is due, this was a far better choice than either Alice reluctantly going along with polyamory or Nat reluctantly going along with monogamy.

But seriously, when are we going to get better polyamorous representation on TV? When are writers and producers going to start actually, you know, talking to polyamorous people?

Is there anything that The L Word: Generation Q got wrong about polyamory that I’ve missed? Anything you think it got right?

4 Anal Sex Myths You Should Stop Believing

Anal sex is probably one of the most misunderstood sex acts of all. It carries an allure for a lot of people, whether they want to be on the giving end or the receiving end or both. However, it also scares a lot of people. This is, in part, due to incorrect assumptions and beliefs. Anal sex myths can scare people off who might otherwise be interested in trying this type of play. They can also lead people to engage in dangerous behaviours or take unnecessary risks due to a lack of knowledge.

Here at C&K, we’re all about fact-based and non-stigmatising information. So let’s bust some anal sex myths, shall we?

Anal sex always hurts

This is perhaps one of the most harmful anal sex myths, and actually likely leads to more avoidable pain and injuries. After all, if you think anal is supposed to hurt you’ll be more likely to push through pain, which can be dangerous. In fact, though anal can be intense and some mild discomfort can be normal, pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong.

With proper lubrication, warm-up, enthusiastic consent, and communication with your partner, anal sex does not need to be – and should not be – painful. If something hurts it’s time to adjust, add more lube, or stop for now.

And by the way: those “numbing” or “desensitizing” lubes designed for anal sex? Avoid them at all costs. The ingredients in them can be harmful, they increase your risk of injury, and (frankly) if you have to numb your body to engage in a particular sex act, then you probably shouldn’t be doing that thing at all.

Anal sex isn’t pleasurable for the bottom

This particular myth always strikes me as really sad, particularly when I see questions from people who are trying to grit their teeth and force themselves into anal sex they don’t want to please their partner.

Anal sex isn’t pleasurable for everyone and, if you don’t enjoy it, then you shouldn’t do it! However, if you do want to, it can be just as pleasurable for the bottom (the person being penetrated) as for the top (the person doing the penetrating.) Think about it: if anal sex wasn’t pleasurable for the receptive partner, why would anal sex toys such as butt plugs and prostate massagers be so popular?

One of the reasons that anal sex can feel so pleasurable for cis men and other people assigned male at birth is due to the prostate. Approximately the size and shape of a walnut, this gland is located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It is responsible for producing some of the fluid in semen and, when stimulated, it is incredibly sensitive.

However, anal sex isn’t all about the prostate, and can be just as pleasurable for receptive partners who do not have one. There are still tonnes of highly sensitive nerve endings in and around the butt, which can feel incredible. And, of course, it is located close to the genitals. According to a 2022 study on (cis) women’s experiences of anal pleasure: “[the anus] contains a dense network of sensory nerves that participate with the genitals in the engorgement, muscular tension and contractions of sexual arousal and orgasm.”

Yes, it’s even possible for some people to have an orgasm from anal sex without any direct stimulation of the genitals! Aren’t bodies awesome?

Anal sex is only for gay men (or: all gay men have anal sex)

Wrong on both counts! Many of the most common anal sex myths centre on sexual orientation, from who engages in it to what it means about your sexuality if you do.

Firstly, anal sex is for anyone who wants to have it. We all have a butt, after all! Liking or not liking anal sex doesn’t imply a single thing about your sexuality. Your sexual orientation is about who you’re attracted to, not which acts you want to do.

Also, not all men who have sex with men (MSM) have anal sex. One 2011 survey of almost 25,000 gay and bisexual men in the US found that only 35% of respondents had had anal sex during their last sexual encounter. Some queer men do it regularly, some do it occasionally, and some never do it at all. All of this is completely normal and awesome.

You can’t get pregnant, so anal sex is safe sex

It’s true, of course, that a person cannot become pregnant from anal sex. This doesn’t mean, though, that anal is a risk-free form of sex.

In fact, when it comes to the transmission of STIs, unprotected anal sex is actually riskier than most other kinds of sexual activity including unprotected vaginal sex. However, it’s easy to mitigate this risk with a few basic precautions.

The best way to protect yourself and your partner(s) is to use a condom every time you have anal sex. If you choose to go barrier-free for anal – which I only recommend in the context of an ongoing relationship with someone you trust – make sure that both you and your partner(s) are having regular sexual health screenings.

You might also want to ask your healthcare provider if pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is suitable for you. PrEP is a daily medication for people at risk of exposure to HIV, whether through sex or through drug use. According to the CDC, it reduces the risk of contracting HIV through sex by about 99% when used as directed.

Have questions about anal sex? Not sure if something you’ve heard is accurate? Let me know and I’ll try to answer them in a future post.

FYI: this post was sponsored. All writing and views are, as always, entirely my own.

Sex Toy Companies That Don’t Use Gendered Marketing

Gendered marketing is one of my biggest bugbears in the sex toy space, and it’s almost impossible to get away from. Everywhere you look, you’ll see sex toys categorised as “for men” or “for women.” But we should all know by now that body parts don’t define gender. Not everyone with a vulva is a woman, not everyone with a penis is a man, and myriad genders exist between and beyond those two binary options.

(If you think gender is binary or that physiology alone defines gender, then erm… you’re probably in the wrong place.)

And look, I even understand why companies do this, up to a point. For many, it’s primarily an SEO concern. “Sex toys for men” gets almost half a million Google searches per month at the time of writing, while “sex toys for women” gets close to 100,000. “Sex toys for penis” and “sex toys for clit” get a relatively paltry ~5000 and ~500 searches, respectively (and “vulva” doesn’t even get a look-in, but that’s a rant for another day.)

Even so, though, continuing to aggressively gender sex toys contributes directly towards exclusion and inequality in an industry that is already… not great on those things a lot of the time.

With that in mind, I wanted to tell you about some of my favourite adult retailers and manufacturers that do not use gendered marketing.

SheVibe

I love SheVibe’s playful, comic book-inspired aesthetic, and I love their gender-neutral approach even more. Toys are categorised by type and body part, not by gender. So you’ll find categories like “vibrators”, “dildos”, and “penis toys”.

SheVibe has a huge and extensive product catalogue so whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find something for you here.

Godemiche

This small, UK-based purveyor of colourful silicone sexiness categorises their toys by type – dildos, hump toys, masturbators, and so on – rather than by gender. The Grind Ring products (some of my all-time faves!), for example, are described as being for “anyone with a clitoris.”

If you’re looking for quality body-safe silicone sex toys in a bigger range of colours and blends than you’ve ever seen in your life, then look no further.

Peepshow Toys

Peepshow Toys logo

Peepshow Toys has been a major player in the body-safe sex toys space for a long time now, and their extensive range just keeps going from strength to strength.

They divide their toys by type and then sub-divide them below that. So for example, you’ll see “dildos” then sub-categories of “realistic”, “non realistic”, “suction cup”, and so on. It’s easy to find exactly what you want with no gendered marketing to be seen.

Arosum

Arosum logo

I’ve only recently started working with Arosum, and I’m a big fan. They categorise their toys by body part (vulva, penis, or anus) then sub-categorise them by type (“clitoris vibrators,” “masturbators,” etc.)

Arosum puts the LGBTQ+ community front and centre and designs their products with us in mind. It’s so refreshing to see diverse images of smiling queer people and blog content covering topics like the history of Pride and LGBTQ+ workplace discrimination.

The Pleasure Garden

The Pleasure Garden is a small business and the UK’s inclusive sex shop. They believe that everyone deserves pleasure and they only stock body-safe products. Products are categorised variably by type and by body part (“vibrators”, “cock and ball toys,” and so on.)

They even have a separate “gender expression” category filled with products designed specifically with trans and non-binary people in mind!

Le Wand

Le Wand understand that wand vibrators are for everyone, and sell wands (and their attachments) without gendering them. Their blog posts and guides are de-gendered for the most part, too – you’ll see topics like “Anal Play for Vulva Owners.”

In 2019, they were even awarded “Progressive Company of the Year” at the Xbiz awards.

Love Not War

Love Not War is an innovative sustainable sex toy company selling quality silicone vibrator heads that all work with the same interchangeable battery base. This means you only need one set of electronics to enjoy all their toys. They use FDA-grade silicone, recycled aluminium, and eco-friendly packaging.

Love Not War doesn’t gender their toys, instead indicating what body part they are most suited to – the clitoris or G-spot, for example.

Stockroom

Stockroom is actually primarily known as a BDSM gear supplier, but also offers an impressive array of sex toys in their catalogue. You’ll see wording like “cock and ball toys” rather than “toys for men.”

Annoyingly, some of their kink gear – most notably their extensive range of chastity devices and suction pumps – is categorised by gender rather than body part. For this reason, I debated whether or not to include them. But their sex toys, at least, are de-gendered.

FYI: this post contains affiliate links.

What Does Inclusive Sex Toy Design for the LGBTQ+ Community Look Like?

I believe, and have believed since the first day I started working in this industry, that sex toys are for everyone. Unfortunately, sex toy design and marketing often fail to live up to this ideal. Toy retailers are often unintentionally exclusionary at best, and outright offensive at worst.

But what does it actually look like to create and market inclusive sex toys? Today I want to look at this question specifically through the lens of LGBTQ+ experiences.

No Toy Will Suit Everyone

There are so many reasons I cringe when I see phrases like “best ever sex toy for women!” and “orgasm guaranteed!” in sex toy marketing copy. The main one, though, is that sex – and bodies – simply do not work that way. We’re all different. Our bodies, minds, and relationships have diverse needs. This means that it is absolutely impossible to create a toy that will work for everyone or to guarantee that a product will work for any particular individual.

With that in mind, let’s look at a few different ways that sex toy design can become more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. Hint: I love colourful Pride-themed things as much as anyone, but this issue is much more complicated than just slapping a rainbow on something during the month of June.

This post is by no means meant to be exhaustive, but includes some considerations for sex toy designers and makers who want to be LGBTQ+ inclusive to think about.

Design for Diverse Bodies and Preferences

LGBTQ+ people’s bodies can look and function in a whole myriad of different ways, and inclusive sex toy design accounts for this beautiful variety.

Arosum has recently released two new products, the G-Snuggle and the LushVibe, that are specifically crafted for people with tighter or narrower vaginal canals. This might include trans women who have undergone gender confirmation surgery, some intersex people, and cis women, trans men and AFAB non-binary people who suffer from conditions such as vaginismus. These toys feature a slim design with a unique hooked tip shaped like a bean sprout that applies gentle pressure to the vaginal walls.

To be honest, even as a cis woman who simply prefers slimmer toys for penetration most of the time, I think I’d enjoy these products. It’s really nice to see companies breaking the “bigger is always better” narrative when it comes to toys. (The LushVibe, by the way, is also suitable for anal use.)

Toys that are useable when flaccid are also popular amongst some trans women and non-binary people who take estrogen, which can affect erections. I’m eternally disappointed that one of the best toys in this category, the Hot Octopuss Pulse, is marketed with the cringeworthily-gendered term “Guybrator.” Wand vibrators are another great gender-neutral option, because high-powered vibration feels awesome for most genitals.

Highly versatile toys, in general, are wonderful and there should be more of them.

Sex Toys and Gender

Sex toys can play a role in gender affirmation, too. Simply de-gendering your toys entirely is a step in the right direction and can help you to avoid inadvertently causing gender dysphoria.

There are even toys specifically designed with gender affirmation in mind. For example, there are strokers designed specifically for trans men and transmasculine people who have experienced bottom growth due to taking testosterone. And pack-and-plays allow wearers to both pack (create the look and feel of having a penis) and have sex with the same cock.

Toy Kits for Couples

Something that’s tremendously popular in the sex toy industry is bundles or kits for couples. These typically include two toys, one for each person. Sometimes the two products will link up or work together in some way (such as through an app. Isn’t technology marvellous?)

But these bundles are, with very few exceptions that you really have to go looking for, incredibly cisheteronormative in their marketing and design. I’d love to see LGBTQ+ toy manufacturers designing sets and kits for couples with the same genitals… and for couples with different genitals but without the “his & hers” marketing.

Be Aware of Other Intersections

Privilege and oppression exists as a huge and complex system of intersecting identities. This means that, when designing products with the LGBTQ+ community in mind, it’s important to consider other intersections of identity and experience as well.

For example, the sex toy industry has a huge and ongoing racism problem. “Historically, “flesh” dildos and vibrators were the color of Caucasian skin,” writes Hallie Lieberman. This is still a common occurrence and, when toys are available in other skin colours, companies often market them using problematic or even outright racist language. In the same article Shani Hart, CEO of the Hart’s Desires boutique in the D.C. area, calls out the “racist and derogatory” packaging and marketing copy that still appears far too often in this industry.

Disability inclusion matters, too, and it’s important to remember that disability doesn’t look just one way. Disabled writer, advocate, and sex worker Ruby Rousson writes in this article that “Nearly every toy I’ve come across has not been designed with accessibility in mind. Whilst we’re slowly getting there, we’re not there yet.” Size, weight, shape, button size and placement, positioning, care and cleaning, and noise are just some of the factors you’ll need to consider when it comes to disability-friendly sex toy design. Even then, you should probably avoid claiming that your toy is “good for disabled people” without specifying what that actually means.

The Words and Images You Use Matter

Okay, this is a sex toy marketing issue rather than a sex toy design issue, but it’s all intricately connected. Think about the language and images you’re using when you market your toys. Are you using a lot of images of cisgender, heterosexual-presenting people and couples? If so, your LGBTQ+ audience is unlikely to see itself represented and will probably feel excluded by your marketing.

Are you using gendered language? If so, that should be the first thing to go. For example, not everyone with a vulva is a woman and not all women have vulvas, so marketing a clitoral vibrator as a “toy for women” is exclusionary and alienating.

Think about language around sexual orientation and gender identity, too. I advocate against categorising toys by sexuality because, well, inanimate objects don’t have sexual orientations. You might think it’s inclusive to categorise a strap-on, for example, as “for lesbians.” But people of a huge array of sexualities, genders, and relationship configurations can and do use these toys.

If In Doubt, Ask

Remember that, when designing and marketing products for the LGBTQ+ community, you should actually ask us for feedback! Even if you and your team are part of the community, you probably don’t have every single identity under the LGBTQ+ umbrella represented and your experience won’t be someone else’s experience. Always seek the direct input of the individuals and communities you’re looking to serve.

Thanks to Arosum for sponsoring this post. Check out their range of products designed with LGBTQ+ people in mind! All writing and views are, as always, my own.

Sapphic, Lesbian and WLW Erasure in Polyamory, Kink, and Other Alternative Sexuality Communities

Today’s post topic was chosen by my supporters over on Patreon. Join today to vote on the direction of future blog content and get other fun perks too!

Those of us who are active in alternative relationship and sexuality communities such as polyamory, consensual non-monogamy, and kink like to believe that we’re operating in a utopia. We so want to think that our little bubble is apart and separate from the rest of the world, unaffected by society’s ills. It’s a seductive narrative, but it is a lie. Today I want to talk about one of the most pervasive and insidious issues I experience as a sapphic, non-monogamous, kinky femme in these communities.

A quick note on terminology: I can’t write about this topic without acknowledging the ways in which the the anti-transgender hate movement has co-opted the concept of “lesbian erasure.” Anti-trans activists often erroniously claim that to accept trans women as women is to erase or undermine lesbian identities and that cis lesbians routinely experience pressure to transition to male. I absolutely and unequivocally reject these ideas. Trans women are women. Trans sapphics are our sisters and are just as much a part of the community as their cis counterparts.

With that said, I want to talk about the systemic erasure and devaluing of sapphic, lesbian, and women-loving-women (WLW) identities and relationships within polyamory, consensual non-monogamy, kink, and other adjacent communities.

Who Counts as a Couple?

Let’s start with the obvious: many non-monogamous spaces, particularly those geared around casual sex and swinging, are simply not set up in a way that allows for any configuration of people that isn’t “one man and one woman in a relationship” or “a single cisgender person.” The most obvious example of this is gendered pricing. This has tonnes of its own problems anyway and completely falls apart when you account for anyone who isn’t straight, cis, and in a relationship that appears monogamous from the outside.

Many lifestyle events, clubs, and parties would class my girlfriend and I as two single women if we attended together. (Whereas, of course, if I attended with a male partner they’d class us as a couple.) Two women could be literally married to each other, and this would still be the case. Because in the eyes of those spaces, a “couple” is a man and a woman.

“But you’ll get in cheaper if they count you as two single women!”. Yeah, this isn’t the gotcha you think it is in this situation. I’d much, much rather pay the same rate as any other couple rather than have my relationship minimised, othered, and erased on account of our genders.

It’s often more insidious than these fairly blatant forms of discrimination, too. When people talk about “couples” in non-monogamous spaces, they will often casually refer to “the man” and “the lady” (or, worse, “girl”) as if that is the only configuration for a couple to take. If I refer to a partner without gendering them, most people will assume I am talking about a man. I really don’t believe this is malicious in 99% of cases. At worst, I think it is privilege-blind and clueless. But that doesn’t make it any more right or any less hurtful.

The Aggressive Gendering of Kink

I love the BDSM community in so many ways. I’ve been finding my home, my place, and my people within it for the best part of 15 years. But the longer I stick around, the more I see that the kink community still has a fairly pervasive gender-norms problem that we still need to address.

Absent very explicit context to the contrary, people will still broadly assume that men are Dominant, that women are submissive, and that kinky and D/s relationships will look broadly heteronormative. And sure, Femdom exists. But all my Dominant women friends have countless stories of men treating them as little more than fetish dispensers, expecting them to service those men’s needs and follow precise directions while pretending to be in charge and without regard for their own needs and desires.

There is very, very little representation of kinky sapphic relationships of any description in our media, our online spaces, our educational materials, or our event leadership demographics. Why is that? Because it sure as hell isn’t “because kinky sapphics don’t exist.”

I suspect it’s for a few reasons. First, a lack of imagination that assumes all kinky relationships must play out a sexy version of 1950s gender roles. Second, because cisheterosexism still means that – even in alternative spaces – men are more likely to hold positions of leadership and influence. And third, because certain parts of the community can be pretty damn unwelcoming and unsafe for queer people and especially for queer women.

More than once, when I’ve played with other women in public kink spaces, we’ve been interrupted by men either trying to give unsolicited advice or trying to insert themselves into our scene. On one memorable occasion, I was topping for an impact play scene with a friend (who, in her words, was “having a perfectly lovely time”). Out of nowhere, a man I’d never met came over and tried to physically grab my flogger out of my hands.

Because I was a woman, I was assumed to be incompetent. Because we were two women playing together, we were assumed to need a man. Our happy little play bubble was totally ruined by some random dude’s ego and entitlement.

This isn’t an isolated incident, either. Virtually every queer woman I know who plays in mixed kink spaces with other women has a similar story. Is there any wonder we’ve started making more and more of our own spaces?

To be fair, this does seem to be slowly getting better. But there’s some way still to go.

“But You Still Like Men, Right?”

When I mention my girlfriend to people who know I’m non-monogamous (or can reasonably make that assumption, such as at a lifestyle party or social), one of the first I’ve been asked on numerous occasions is whether or not I also date or fuck men.

My friend Violet calls this the “are you heteronormative enough for my comfort zone?” question. Which… no. No I am not. #toogayforyourcomfortzone.

My usual response to this, until now, has been to say yes but emphasise that it’s fairly rare for me to fancy a man enough to want to do anything about it. In the future, though, I think I might change my response. “Why do you ask?” or “well I’m not sleeping with you if that’s what you’re really asking” are currently strong contenders.

I want people who ask me this question to ask themselves why it’s the first place their mind goes on learning that I’m sapphic. After all, if a woman mentions a boyfriend or husband, almost no-one is going to ask her “but you still date women too, right?” Ultimately, what they’re asking is whether I am still sexually available to men – a thing that patriarchy both demands of women and villifies us for.

There’s a strong connection between all of this and the commodification of sapphic sexuality in service of the male gaze.

Sapphic, Lesbian and WLW Sexuality for the Male Gaze

People often believe that there is no sapphic, lesbian and WLW erasure issue in these communities because there are so many bisexual, pansexual and queer women in them. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s quite that simple. In reality, my experience – and the experience of many sapphic friends I’ve spoken to about this – is often not so much one of acceptance but of fetishisation, followed by devaluing when we refuse to conform to a safe, male-gazey idea of what our sexuality should be.

I’m reminded of the man at a polyamorous speed dating event about a year ago who aggressively quizzed me about what my former metamour-with-benefits and I got up to in the bedroom, and was then clearly bored and put out when I refused to engage. In the 16 years or so I’ve been out, I really thought we’d moved past men asking sapphics “but what do y’all do in bed anyway!?”. Apparently we have not.

I’m also reminded of the man who hit on me and my girlfriend in a gay bar on Pride weekend. Because apparently what two sapphics in love desperately needed in that moment was his dick. I have literally dozens of other examples like this that I can pull out with very little thought.

Expectations of Performativity

In sexualised spaces, people continually expect queer and bi+ women to perform their sexuality in a way that appeals to the male gaze. Two different male exes of mine became extremely upset or angry when my girlfriends were either not their physical type or not willing to sleep with them. This made me feel like my sexuality, my relationships, were only valid as long as they provided benefits to men. Which, of course, is a classic way that society devalues and commodifies WLW relationships.

One of these partners literally asked me what was “even the point” of me being queer if I didn’t perform it in a way that fulfilled his lesbian porn fantasy. Other male partners and male metamours over the years have tried to demand titillating details, photos, or even the right to “watch.” I’ve been hit on by so many men who want me to play with their wives. This is inevitably not because she wants a sapphic experience, but because he wants her to perform one for him.

Patriarchal entitlement to women’s bodies persists, even when we are tell you we are far more interested in each other than we are in you.

Unicorn hunting is another extremely common variation on this theme. In those dynamics, the original male/female couple will often pull a bait-and-switch tactic in which they use the woman to lure other queer women in, then spring the boyfriend or husband on the unsuspecting “unicorn” as a package deal. I hope I don’t have to tell you how grossly unethical this is. That’s why I now run from prospective female dates at the first signs that they’re going to expect me to be sexually available to their male partners.

And that brings us to…

Are Women Less Threatening, or Are You Just Homophobic?

This particular trope is so common within non-monogamy that it’s now a cliché. A cisgender man and woman open up their relationship. The man then tells his partner he’ll allow her to date other women, but no men. (In practice, what this means is “no-one else with a penis“, which is also transphobic.) The reason? Women are just less threatening. They don’t make him feel emasculated or threatened in the way that a man (or penis-haver) would.

The subtext? His wife could never leave him for another woman. She could never like having sex with another woman more than she does with him. She could never gain more fulfillment from a sapphic relationship than from a straight one. A man could steal her away, but a woman couldn’t. So his place in her life is safe. Right?

This comes from a place of believing that relationships between women are less real, less valid, and less important than hetero-appearing relationships. In other words it’s straight up, common-or-garden, fucking boring homophobia.

These men, by the way, are often the same men who expect their wives’ sapphic relationships to offer them something in terms of sexual access or live-action lesbian porn on tap then get very upset if they don’t.

But of course, lesbian, sapphic and WLW relationships are just as deep, meaningful, and sexually satisfying as hetero ones. Hell, for many of us they’re often more so. If you believe your wife can’t possibly glean as much happiness or fulfillment from a relationship with a woman, you might be in for a very rude awakening. If you see another man as a threat but not a woman, all this tells me is that you believe men are inherently superior and hetero relationships are inherently more desirable or important.

The fact that this practice and way of thinking is so common tells me, in itself, that there’s still a lot of homophobia towards lesbian, sapphic and queer women within non-monogamy.

So What Can We Do About It?

I try to make these blog posts something more than just rants. So if we accept that sapphic, lesbian and WLW erasure are huge problems in these communities, what can we do about it?

Here are a few of my ideas for how we, as a community, can start combatting this issue within our spaces:

  • Stop all gendered pricing for events, now. If you want to limit numbers of single men, fine. You can sell only a certain number of tickets or vet them carefully or both. But pricing according to gender, and defining “couple” as meaning a man and a woman, is homophobic, cissexist, and exclusionary.
  • Vote with your feet and your wallet. Attend events that are inclusive and avoid those that are not.
  • Stop asking queer women whether we also sleep with men. Some of us do, some of us don’t. Either way, it is solidly none of your goddamn business unless we’re going to sleep with you. And unless we make it very clear, you should probably assume we’re not.
  • Stop asking queer women for details of our sex lives. This includes asking if you can “watch,” asking for pictures or details, or treating us as lesbian porn fantasies.
  • If you’re a man with a queer female partner, ensure that you are giving your wife or partner’s sapphic relationships equal weight to your own.
  • Do not assume that hetero-presenting relationships or marriages are “primary,” more important, or take precedent over queer ones in non-monogamous networks.
  • Push back against unicorn hunting and one penis policies wherever you see them. Let people know that they are fetishising, homophobic, transphobic, and all-round gross.
  • Use non-gendered terms when talking about kink roles such as Top, bottom, Dominant, submissive, and so on. Do not assume that all Dominants are men, that all submissives are women, or that all kinky relationships are heteronormative.
  • Uplift and support queer women as educators, speakers, organisers, and community leaders.

Of course, fixing this kind of stuff takes more than just a few steps. Sapphic, lesbian and WLW erasure is deeply ingrained and pervasive. Undoing it will require a massive cultural shift both within our little subcultures and in wider society. It won’t happen overnight, of course. But I do believe we can get there.

Sluttier in Theory: Swinging, Casual Sex and Me

I have recently been dipping a cautious toe back into some swinging spaces, albeit almost exclusively very queer ones. These adventures have brought up some thoughts and realisations about the ways that I operate in sexual spaces that I’ve been thinking about a lot. So, because blogging is cheaper than therapy, let’s talk about them shall we?

I’m not sure I was ever really a swinger, to be entirely honest. Years ago, I wrote about things I disliked about the mainstream (read: hetero) swing community, from the weird prevalence of sexual racism to the casual kink-shaming. And I don’t think I’m really a swinger now, either. Or at least, claiming that label feels disingenuous when the last time I did anything more than hand sex with a stranger was literally years ago.

I’m a polyamorous and consensually non-monogamous person who also enjoys some casual sex with lovely people every now and then. (Exactly where the dividing line between “swinger” and “whatever the fuck I am” lies, I am truly not sure.)

Thing is, I’d really like to be sluttier than I am. In theory, at least, I’m a huge Ethical Slut. I love flirting, giving and receiving sexual attention and interest. I love making connections, making plans, making out, that slow but certain escalation when it becomes apparent that yes, this thing is ON. And I love sex. I’m a high sexual desire person (it’s not a drive!), and in an ideal world I’d be having sex several times a week at least. Yes, I’m a horny fucker.

So why do I find it so fucking hard to actually make that leap and do the things in a more casual context?

I’m envious of people who can just dive in. People who can pull a stranger or leap into the centre of an orgy without thinking too hard about it. I wish that could be me. So why don’t I and why isn’t it? Well, that’s what I’ve been trying to untangle.

My Sexuality is Complicated

Being very sapphic certainly complicates things. The overwhelming majority of people in swing and casual sex spaces are cis man/cis woman couples, most of whom – as is typical in that community – do things exclusively together. This is tricky when I don’t fancy very many men, though.

I’m not going to fuck a guy I don’t fancy just so I can play with his partner, and I’m not going to tolerate hands wandering after I’ve set boundaries about who can and cannot touch me and where. Realistically, I’m also not going to fuck a woman for a man’s enjoyment. Performative queerness does nothing for me. Less than nothing – it’s an active turn-off.

So where does this leave me? Probably limited to playing one-on-one with other women, playing with very trusted friends, playing with couples where the guy will happily accept “I’ll fuck your wife with you but I’m not going to fuck you”, or waiting for the cases where I am attracted enough to both/all parties to also fuck the guy(s.) The last two scenarios on this list? Well, they’re rare. In practice, my sexuality limits who will be interested in me and how I can play simply because I don’t typically offer much for the guys.

Hitting on women is hard, too, for a simple reason: I don’t want to make other women feel the way that creepy men make me feel. (Yes, there’s a whole other post in this, too.) More than once I’ve noticed an attractive woman at a party and then totally failed to even talk to her. I always kick myself afterwards, of course, but I haven’t figured out a way to overcome this one yet.

Sexual Health Fears

There’s also the sexual health angle. I got an STI about a year ago (ironically, during a particularly non-slutty phase) and it really rattled me. Though it was dealt with, I have no desire to ever repeat that experience. I feel like I’d be absolutely furious with myself if I inadvertently contracted something and then passed it on to one or both of my partners.

I preach open communication about sexual health constantly, but in reality it can be really hard to be the person saying “hey when were you last tested?” when no-one else in the room has raised it.

The reality is that, if we are going to be sexually active, there is a risk of STIs. This is even true in monogamy, because people can cheat and people can have symptomless infections for years without knowing it if they’re not testing regularly. There is no way to be a sexually active human and totally eliminate this risk. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care. If anything, it gives us a greater responsibility to take the reasonable steps we can to mitigate the risk to ourselves and our sexual partners.

In some ways, this is probably the easiest issue on this list to solve. This one can probably be solved with practice and giving fewer fucks about seeming like a buzzkill for being the person to open the conversation.

“I Shouldn’t Be Doing This”: Internalised Shame

On a less practical and more cerebral level, I think I’m probably still dealing with some internalised shame around casual sex. Like so many of us, I grew up in an intensely sex-negative society and “slut” was one of the worst things someone could call you. (I got called it for having sex with my one boyfriend of well over a year when I was sixteen, but that’s another topic for another day.)

“But Amy, you’ve been polyamorous your entire adult life!” I can hear some long-time readers saying. And yes, I have. However – and this is also going to be the topic of another post soon – the polyamorous community has a massive slut-shaming problem.

Hang out in polyamorous spaces long enough and you’ll often hear phrases like “it’s polyAMORY, not polyFUCKERY” to deride casual sex. You’ll also hear derisive language used towards swingers (and anyone sluttier than the name-caller approves of), as well as assertions that casual sex “ISN’T REALLY POLY.” Mainely Mandy did a fantastic video on this subject. It’s over an hour long but I really urge you to watch it all if you can. Mandy is insightful, engaging, hilarious, and just so right about this topic.

I suspect there’s still some internal work – and probably work with my therapist – to be done on unpacking this shame. I find it so easy to celebrate others getting all the hot sex they want with all the partners they want, as long as it’s ethical and consensual. I’m not sure why I am finding it so hard to extend that to myself. But I do know that once in a while, I get hit with this overwhelming feeling of “I shouldn’t be doing this”. And that’s a mood-killer if ever there was one.

Vulnerability is Fucking Hard

Finally, there’s also the fear of making myself vulnerable. I know not everyone will agree with me here but to me at least, there’s an inherent level of vulnerability to sex (or at least to good sex.) If I stay completely detached, there’s just no point. I’m not going to enjoy it and will probably end up feeling used rather than fulfilled.

But as the title of this section says: vulnerability is fucking hard. Vulnerability, in my experience, often leads to pain.

Of course, on the flip side, vulnerability can also lead to some trancendently wonderful experiences. Vulnerability has brought me beautiful relationships, deeper communication and intimacy with my partners, hot sex, leg-shaking orgasms, the kind of memories that still get me wet when I recall them years later.

But it’s really, really hard to be truly vulnerable and it does not come easily to abuse survivors in particular.

So… What Now?

I don’t really know, to be honest. Maybe I need to just be brave and take bigger leaps into the things I want before overthinking gets in the way and stops me. Or maybe some things do need to remain “in theory.”

I sent a draft of this post up to this point to my girlfriend, having no idea how to finish it. Because she’s brilliant, she made this suggestion: “Imagine someone has written that post and sent it to you asking for your advice.” A lightbulb went on instantly. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. The conclusion of this piece will take the form of an open advice letter from me to me.

Open Advice from Me to Me

Hey Amy. This sounds legitimately complicated and like there are numerous different factors at play.

First I want to validate something for you: this stuff is complex. I’ll also let you into a secret: it’s complex for almost everyone! Those people you see at parties, who seem to be having all the casual sex all the time without a care in the world? That’s probably not their reality. Behind the scenes they are likely thinking things over, considering their boundaries and desires, perhaps discussing things with their partners. They probably have many of the same insecurities as you, and plenty of their own unique struggles too. So first, please don’t think you’re alone or weird for feeling conflicted about this. You’re not. What you see at parties is, in all likelihood, the smallest tip of the iceberg.

Next I want to tell you that your sexuality is perfect as it is. We live in a deeply, aggressively heteronormative world and it can be hard when you fall outside of that. You never, ever have to have sex that you don’t want to have. If you want to have sex but only with a certain gender or genders? Awesome! If you’re open to other genders but only occasionally, sporadically, or circumstantially? Great! If some types of sex appeal to you but not others? Excellent self-knowledge, well done.

I would advise simply being very upfront with potential playmates about who you are, what you want, and what you can offer.

Will this mean some people aren’t right for you? Yes, absolutely. And that’s okay! No-one is everybody’s cup of tea, and having incompatible needs with some people doesn’t mean that your needs are wrong (or that theirs are.) If someone isn’t into what you’re offering, you can wish each other well and move on to more fitting connections. If someone deliberately breaches boundaries you’ve set or oversteps your consent? Get up and leave. You deserve better.

I hear your frustration that suitable connections seem to be relatively few and far between, possibly due to your low interest in men. But a small number of great connections is vastly preferable to a lot of bad ones. You seem to be doing this already, but continuing to prioritise explicitly queer and queer-positive spaces is much more likely to get you the kinds of experiences you want.

Your sexual health concerns are also valid and understandable. They particularly make sense with the context that you’ve had an STI in the past and do not want to repeat the experience. Sexual health is a sensible thing to be concerned with. Most STIs are not a big deal – they are treatable, curable, or manageable. However, some can have a significant or even life-changing impact, and antibiotic-resistant strains of certain infections are a growing concern in the medical community. Even easily curable STIs are, unfortunately, still heavily stigmatised.

I know you know this, but you are not being a buzzkill for raising this topic. If someone rejects you or gets annoyed with you for discussing it, they’re not right for you. By having this conversation before hooking up, you’re being a responsible partner and caring for both your own and your partners’ sexual health.

One possible way to become more comfortable with this conversation might be to have it in advance where possible. Are you chatting to people online prior to meeting them? If so, raise the topic during your pre-party flirtations. Are there online spaces, such as forums or Discord servers, where party or event attendees hang out? If so, why not get a sexual health discussion thread going in those spaces? This takes the “in the moment” pressure off. It also normalises the conversation and allows you to get a feel for people whose risk tolerance aligns with yours.

As a general rule, sexual health practices should default to the boundaries of the most cautious person. If you want to use a barrier, for example, then your prospective partners can either use that barrier or decide not to hook up with you under those conditions. What they cannot – or should not – do is try to talk you out of your boundaries. Trying to change your mind about sexual health protocols is a major red flag, and one you should not ignore.

Internalised shame and fears around vulnerability are, unfortunately, harder to overcome. You’re right that we live in an intensely sex-negative society. It also sounds like you have some personal experience of people weaponising sexual shame against you. Shame is complex, multi-faceted, and unpacking it can be an ongoing (even lifelong) process.

Next time they arise, I invite you to sit with those feelings of shame and ask yourself what they are telling you. Then hold those ideas up to your values and beliefs about the world. Do they align? And if not, where did they come from?

For example, perhaps you realise that your feeling of shame is telling you “people who respect themselves only have sex in committed relationships.” Do you really believe that is true? Presumably not, since you accept and embrace the fact that casual sex can be a positive and joyful thing (and that sexual behaviour is not correlated with self-respect.) Okay, so where did that belief come from? Perhaps it was your parents, your peers, school, the media, or the religion you were raised in. By unpacking the things shame is telling you, you can take more control over which of those beliefs you internalise and which you choose to consciously reject.

On your fear of vulnerability, I want you to know that it makes perfect sense. Existing as a woman or femme in this patriarchal society is hard, and doubly so for survivors of abuse. When vulnerability has been used against you or resulted in pain in the past, it can be incredibly difficult to let yourself go there again.

This fear is your body and brain’s way of keeping you safe. Try to remember that when you’re feeling frustrated with yourself. All those positive things you identified that allowing yourself to be vulnerable has brought to you? What do they all have in common? They all had to happen from a place of safety. This likely meant coming to vulnerability in your own time, not forcing it from yourself. If getting to that baseline of safety takes you longer than it takes other people, or takes you longer in some circumstances than others, then that’s okay.

One vital thing I want to invite you to do is just to listen to yourself. Your body is deeply wise and intuitive. Try to tune into what it’s telling you in any given situation. Try to learn what your personal “yes, more, this” feels like, as well as your personal “no” or “ick” or “I’m not sure about this.” What does safety feel like? What does it feel like when you truly, deeply want something?

Learning to follow those intuitive clues will teach you to trust yourself. It will also help you to come into a deeper understanding of what you really want and don’t want, both in the big-picture sense and in any given moment. In time, you’ll learn how to move towards your “yes” and away from your “no” more authentically.

Finally: remember that there’s no right or wrong here, and you’re not in competition with anyone. You are not less of a non-monogamous or sex-positive person if you’re slower to warm up and get comfortable with being sexual. It’s okay to be a “yes” on one occasion and a “no” on another. It’s okay to be choosy, to be selective, to make sure any given situation is right for you.

It is okay to explore, try things out, surprise yourself. To like things you weren’t sure you would, and do dislike things you were sure would do it for you. And it’s okay if some things need to remain “in theory,” for now or forever.

Breathe. You’re doing fine.

Amy x

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So You Want to Find a Unicorn?

Spend ten seconds on any polyamory forum or Facebook group, and this question will come up. “We’ve decided to be polyamorous! He’s straight and I’m bi. How can we find a unicorn to join our relationship?” (The hapless couple might also refer to the unicorn as “a third” or, even worse, “a female.”)

The community, particularly people who have been doing this for a long time, have little patience for this phenomenon. Commenters may be fairly harsh towards the couple in question. And I get it! I too roll my eyes every time I see yet another iteration of this.

However, yelling at and berating people doesn’t help to educate them. It just turns them off and pushes them away. And it’s not as though any of us learned how to have healthy polyamorous relationships during sex ed. (Hell, most of us didn’t even learn anything useful about how to have healthy monogamous relationships!)

So I thought I’d address this issue in depth here. What is this “unicorn hunting” thing all about, why is it problematic, and what options do you have instead?

What is Unicorn Hunting, Anyway?

A “unicorn”, in polyamory[1], is a woman[2] who is willing to join a pre-existing couple to form a triad[1] relationship. It is usually understood that the relationship will be closed (i.e. no additional partners outside the triad) and that the unicorn will be expected to conform to an array of rules that the couple determined ahead of time with no input from her.

The reason this phenomenon is called “unicorn hunting” is that it’s typically so hard to find this person that she might as well be a mythological creature.

___

[1] In swinging, the term is sometimes used more broadly to refer to single women who are willing to play sexually with couples. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

[2] There is some debate in the community over whether there is any such thing as a male unicorn. Some believe there is, others believe that unicorn hunting is a strictly gendered phenomenon. I have seen a male unicorn be referred to as a “Pegasus” or a “Dragon”, but these terms don’t seem to have caught on very widely. In this post, I will sometimes use “she/her” pronouns to refer to unicorns as that is by far the most common iteration of this trope. However, the advice here applies no matter the genders of the couple or the incoming partner.

[3] Three-person romantic relationship, also sometimes called a “throuple.”

Who Am I Talking To Here?

First, let’s establish who I am not talking to in this post.

Did you have two partners, who then met and also happened to fall for each other? Or maybe you were one of two partners to a hinge person, then you also fell for your metamour. Perhaps you and your partner made a friend or started a casual sexual relationship with a lovely someone, and romantic feelings developed between all three of you. Or possibly you’re currently partnered and just open to the idea of a triad or another group relationship, if the right person comes along.

If any of these situations, or something like them, match yours then I am not talking to you. Your situation (or hypothetical situation) is what I’d call an organically formed triad. There’s nothing whatsoever wrong with those!

If, however, you’re a couple who has recently (or not so recently) opened up your relationship and decided that what you really want is to find a unicorn – a bisexual woman to form a closed triad with you both, I’m talking to you. I’m going to be as kind as I can, but I’m also going to say some things you might not want to hear. I gently challenge you to make it to the end of the post with an open mind and consider whether you think I make any good points.

The purpose of this post is to educate and encourage you to think more critically about this dynamic. It is not to berate you, scold you, or push you away from the polyamorous community.

Why Do You Want This Specific Dynamic?

I have often asked couples trying to find a unicorn why they are looking for this set-up in particular. I have rarely received satisfactory answers. So before you go any further, if you’re trying to find a unicorn, please ask yourselves this question and really interrogate it. Why can’t you date separately, if polyamory is what you want? Why don’t you try swinging instead if casual sexual experiences together are your priority? What is it specifically about a closed, three-way relationship with a bisexual woman that appeals to you so much?

“It’s just what we want!” isn’t an answer, by the way.

Let’s address some of the common answers I see to this question, and my responses to them.

  • “My wife is bisexual and wants to try being with a woman.” Okay, this desire can be addressed either by swinging/casual sex or by her dating women separately.
  • “My husband says other women only, no men.” This is called a One Penis Policy (OPP) and has so many issues that I’m going to write another entire post about it. In the meantime, read this.
  • “If my partner is dating someone else separately, what am I getting out of it!?” I mean… seeing your partner happy? Supporting their joy, pleasure, and exploration? The opportunity to also date people separately yourself? Viewing non-monogamy simply through the lens of “what’s in it for me?” is unlikely to lead to happiness and can lead to seeing your partner’s other relationships as comodities for your consumption.
  • “I’d be too jealous if my partner were dating someone separately/my partner would be too jealous if I dated separately.” Oh my sweet summer child. Virtually every polyamory newbie ever has made this mistake, including me back in the day! Dating together is not a cure for jealousy, which can (and likely will) absolutely crop up in a triad or other group relationship. Also, jealousy is a normal human emotion to be felt, processed, communicated about, dealt with, or just sat with until it passes. It’s not the enemy.
  • “I don’t feel safe dating without my partner/my partner doesn’t feel safe dating without me.” You may need to do some work on regaining independence, which is absolutely possible from within a relationship. It is healthy to be able to do some things separately! There are also healthy ways to keep yourself physically, emotionally, and sexually safe while dating, but doing everything together at all times isn’t one of them.

Whatever your reasons for unicorn hunting, you are likely to find that there are better and healthier ways of addressing those needs and desires.

So What’s the Big Problem with Unicorn Hunting Anyway?

“That’s all well and good, Amy,” you might be saying, “but we’re determined to find a unicorn and we’re willing to wait if necessary! What’s wrong with what we want? Isn’t this community supposed to be open minded!?”

I hear you. It’s not nice to be told that what you’re looking for is a problem. However, the reason experienced polyamorous people are wary of unicorn hunting is that we’re all too aware of all the ways it can go wrong. Many of us have learned from very bitter personal experience, on one side or the other of this equation.

So let’s look at a few specific things that are problematic about unicorn hunting.

Unicorn Hunting Dehumanises Bi Women

Bisexual women are already aggressively and often non-consensually sexualised by society. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve mentioned being bi and someone has either said “that’s hot!” or asked if I’ll have a threesome with them and their partner.

Unicorn hunting reduces bi women to a highly sexualised monolith. The reality is that we fall all over the sexuality spectrum. Some of us are very sexual, some of us are demisexual, some of us are asexual. Some of us are into threesomes, group sex, and group dating, while others are not. And yes, plenty of us are actually monogamous!

What bisexual women are not, though, is sex toys designed to spice up the bedrooms of bored couples. The idealisation of the MFF closed triad directly stems from the male gaze, the hyper-sexualisation of bi women, and the trope that sapphic love and sex exists for male consumption.

I’m a highly sexual person. I love sex, and I love folks of multiple genders. I also love group sex, threesomes, moresomes, and all that goodness when they’re in the context of a trusted dynamic with people I like. What I DON’T love is the assumption that I am available to couples in general, or the feeling that my being bisexual and having a vagina are the only reasons someone is approaching me. I’m a person, not your “two hot bi babes” fantasy.

A Person Cannot “Join” an Existing Relationship

A triad isn’t a single relationship. A triad is actually four relationships: three dyads (A+B, A+C, B+C) and the relationship between all three people. Seven relationships, if you count the relationship each person has with themself. (Which you probably should, because self-care and a stable relationship with yourself are even more important in non-monogamy.)

So an additional person cannot meaningfully “join” an existing relationship. If you’re in a relationship or married, you and your partner/spouse have a dyadic relationship that you’ve been building for however many years. That relationship will continue, though it will undoubtedly be changed, when you date other people either together or separately.

In the context of a triad, you will each be creating a new dyadic relationship with your new partner. You’ll also be contending with shifts and changes in your dyadic relationship with one another. And, of course, you’ll be creating a brand new relationship between all three of you. See how that’s much harder than just fitting someone into a vaguely person-shaped box labelled “insert bi gal here”?

Viewing the incoming partner as an “addition” to your relationship will not lead anywhere good for any of you. Treating them as an add-on can leave incoming partners feeling like little more than accessories or human sex toys. Which leads me on to…

You Can’t Expect Someone to Feel Exactly the Same Way About Two People

All the successful triad relationships I know have a few things in common, and this is one of them: they allowed, and continue to allow, the individual relationships within the triad to develop, fluctuate, change, and grow at their own natural pace. People don’t fall in love with two people at the same rate, in the same way, at the same time. Human emotions simply don’t work like that. To be in a triad, you have to be comfortable with the fact that each dyadic relationship within it will look different.

Another question I see a lot in polyamorous forums is a variation of this: “Help! We formed a triad but now it seems like our girlfriend is connecting with my wife more than me!”

In an ethical, organically formed triad, this difference in connection needs to be okay. You might have challenging feelings about it, of course. That’s normal. You may need to seek reassurance and extra affection from one or both of your partners. You may even need to renegotiate some aspects of your relationship. In a unicorn situation, this disparity in levels of connection – which is incredibly normal – can be enough to get the newer partner ejected from the relationship.

In addition, an ethical triad allows for the possibility that one (or more) of the dyadic relationships may have conflict, deescalate, or even end… without any expectations that other dyadic connections need to end as a result. If you have a rule that says your partner must date you in order to date your spouse, this leaves them a spectacularly shitty choice if they just don’t feel that way about you or if your relationship is no longer working: fake a connection to you that they do not feel, or lose their relationship with your spouse, i.e. someone they love.

Do you see how unfair that is? Do you also see how it lays the groundwork for coercion, abuse, or even sexual violence? I don’t know about you, but I would be horrified if I realised someone was having sex with me that they didn’t want, just because they thought it was the price of admission to get access to my partner.

Unicorn Hunting Centres the Couple

Unicorn hunting typically centres the original couple, even without intending to, by putting their desires and needs front and centre. Often, they’ve made the rules before a third party has even entered the picture, giving her no say in their creation. This means that the unicorn is seen as an add-on to the couple’s relationship, rather than an equal partner.

The couple often expect – even tacitly – the new partner to prioritise their needs and wants above her own. They also tend to expect that, in the event of conflict, their relationship will be the one prioritised. This is often the case even when the couple pays lip service to their new partner being “totally equal.”

The result? Once again, the newer partner ends up feeling like an accessory rather than a human being.

Think about some of the ways you’d like your relationship to look if you did successfully find a unicorn, or the rules you’d want her to follow. Will you permit her to have dates, sex, and so on with one of you without the other present? If not, will you also be refraining from any one-to-one intimacy with each other? (The answer to this is often “no” and “no”. That is, by definition, not an equal set-up.) If things go swimmingly, will you want your unicorn to move into your home? Would you ever consider moving into hers, or buying a new place all together? Will you introduce her to your family and friends, bring her home for the holidays, or tell your work colleagues about her?

When you start checking your assumptions about how your dream triad relationship will go, you might find that there’s a lot of inequality baked in. That’s because unicorn hunting is almost always couple-centric. Relationships that spring from unicorn hunting involve three people, but tend to only benefit two of them.

Most Polyamorous People Don’t Want Closed Relationships

There are exceptions, of course. Polyfidelity is a thing and can be valid! But the vast majority of polyamorous people are polyamorous, at least in part, because it enables them to be open to new connections of all kinds that may come into their lives.

If you’re seeking a closed relationship with your hypothetical unicorn, I invite you to consider why that is. Most answers will fall into one of two categories.

“I/we would be too jealous if our girlfriend was with anyone else.” Again, jealousy is a real feeling and it can be overwhelming. However, if you want to be non-monogamous, you can’t simply avoid it by setting up rules and restrictions for your partners. At least not if you want happy and healthy relationships.

If you’re not ready to confront and handle jealousy when it arises, you’re not ready to be non-monogamous. It won’t always be easy. Sometimes it’ll utterly suck. But it is necessary if you want to live this life. It is spectacularly unfair to ask a polyamorous person to cut off their chances to enjoy other connections just because you are trying to avoid a difficult feeling.

“I am/we are worried about STIs.” I’m not going to tell you that you shouldn’t worry about sexual health. If you’re non-monogamous, it’s absolutely something with which you need to concern yourself. However, having a closed relationship is not the only way to protect your sexual health. Everyone in your polycule and wider sexual/romantic network should be getting regular STI tests, communicating openly about their barrier usage or lack thereof so that you can all make informed choices, and incorporating risk-aware practices.

Often, when I hear “we want a closed relationship because we don’t want STIs”, what’s at the root of it is actually just good old-fashioned slut-shaming. Did you know that consensually non-monogamous people actually have lower STI rates than supposedly-monogamous people who cheat (which is a huge percentage)? They are also more likely to use barriers and to practice regular testing. (Source: Dr Justin Lehmiller in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.)

Ultimately, you have to be okay with some risk of contracting an STI if you are going to be non-monogamous… or if you’re going to have sex at all. No prevention mechanism is bombproof. People lie, people cheat, and people make mistakes in the heat of the moment. You can mitigate the risk but you cannot entirely eliminate it.

If you want a closed relationship, stay monogamous or date other people for whom polyfidelity is their ideal choice. Don’t try to push people who would prefer an open dynamic into a closed one. Polyamory isn’t just monogamy with an additional person.

It’s Just Statistically Unlikely

Back in the days of Livejournal, Emanix wrote this article outlining some of the numbers involved in unicorn hunting. Not being a numbers person, I have no idea how mathematically sound this is, but the message is clear. Unicorn hunting is damn hard, with seeking couples outnumbering interested bi women by 100 to 1[4]. There’s a reason couples sometimes pop up complaining that they’ve been looking for a year, five years, ten years, and still haven’t found their “one.”

Remember: we call these people unicorns because it is so hard to find one that they might as well not exist!

[4] I pulled this number out of the air. I have no idea what the actual figures are but suffice to say that if you’re a couple trying to find a unicorn, the odds are hugely stacked against you from the beginning.

You’re Probably Not the Exception

“We’re not like that!” you might be saying. “We’ll be different! We’ll treat our unicorn like a queen!”

I hate to break it to you, but you’re probably not the exception. This is because the inequalities, objectification, and mistreatment that make unicorn hunting so problematic are baked into the very structure.

The assumptions, beliefs, and practices that underpin trying to find a unicorn come from a place that causes harm. The only way to unicorn hunt ethically is not to do it.

So What Can You Do Instead?

If you’ve got this far and you’re still with me, great! So you want to be non-monogamous and you want to be ethical about it. Amazing! So what now?

Luckily, there are loads of ways you can enjoy consensual non-monogamy without unicorn hunting. Here are just a few for you to consider.

If your priority is enjoying sexual variety and you want to do this together, try swinging. This enables you to enjoy different bodies, different kinks, and fun experiences together with other people who want the same. Many swingers do form friendships with their playmates, and sometimes these connections can turn romantic. Be clear about what you want and can offer upfront, look for others whose desires match, and you’ll minimise the chances of hurting someone.

If you want to build more romantic connections with other people, try dating separately. It might be more emotionally challenging, but it’s also tremendously rewarding. You’ll have far more luck finding dates, particularly with experienced and skilled polyamorous people. When you free yourselves and your prospective partners from restrictive expectations, you’ll allow things to flourish naturally. You’ll also most likely treat other people, each other, and yourselves better.

It’s also important to make sure you’re not using “dating separately” as a way to find a unicorn without seeming to be looking for one. Presenting yourself as available for solo dating, only to spring your partner on your unsuspecting date with a view to getting them together too, is not ethical.

Like the idea of both these relationship styles? Yes, you can be both polyamorous and a swinger! Plenty of people do both, or a mix of the two. There’s not even always a strict delineation. Polyam people can have casual sex, and swingers can have deep and romantic attachments. Non-monogamy is a spectrum and a world of options to choose from, not a set of rigid boxes into which you have to cram yourselves.

There’s even the possibility that you can have a triad relationship without falling prey to these pitfalls and hurting someone in the process. Plenty of people do. “No unicorn hunting” isn’t the same thing as “no triads.” But it won’t happen for you by going out with a laundry list of criteria and looking for a bi woman together. If it happens, it’ll happen organically while you are out there doing your non-monogamous thing.

And if it doesn’t happen? There are numerous other wonderful, fulfilling, and healthy ways to enjoy this thing we call non-monogamy.

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Naming My Sexuality: What is Sapphic?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the words I use to describe my sexuality.

I have identified as bisexual since I was 17, and known I had attractions to folks of more than one gender since much earlier than that. I later realised that I could also consider myself pansexual, since I’m pretty sure I have the capacity to be attracted to people of any and all genders (and none.)

Even so, I’ve always liked the term “bisexual”, and continue to identify with it for a number of reasons:

  1. It feels extremely important to claim a label that is so often dismissed as “not really queer” or “queer lite”, despite being the third letter in LGBTQ+.
  2. It’s an easy shorthand that most people outside of the LGBTQ+ community have at least some understanding of.
  3. Claiming an expansive definition of bisexuality (“attraction to two or more genders”) is important in pushing back against the false narrative that bisexuals only fancy cis people or that bisexuality is a trans-exclusionary sexuality.

Even so, taken on its own, I haven’t found this term entirely satisfactory and I’ve played around with a few different ones. And the term I keep finding myself drawn to again and again is “sapphic.”

So What is Sapphic, Exactly?

Sapphic is a term “relating to sexual attraction or activity between women” (Oxford Languages.) As a sexual orientation or identity, the LGBTQIA+ Wiki defines sapphic as referring “to a woman or woman-aligned person of any sexual orientation who is attracted to other women and/or women-aligned individuals.”

Fun fact: the term “sapphic” derives from the name of Sappho, an Archaic Greek poet who lived circa 630-570 BCE and whose work described erotic desire and romantic love between women. The word “lesbian” comes from Lesbos, the island where Sappho lived.

Why Identify as Sapphic?

As I said, I’ve played around with a lot of labels over the years and particularly over the last few months. Though I’m definitely somewhere on the bi spectrum, I’m also definitely not a Kinsey 3. I’m probably somewhere between a 4 and a 5 – that is, much more frequently attracted to people with similar gender identities and presentations to mine (i.e. women, femmes, and women-aligned folks) than to those with very different identities and presentations (i.e. men, male-aligned, and masc-of-centre folks.)

In truth, if I told you ten people I fancy right now, at least nine of them would be women, femmes, or women-aligned. The men I love, fancy, hook up with, and date are wonderful… but they’re also the exceptions rather than the rule.

Sapphic is an umbrella term. It can encompass people who identify as lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer, and in various other ways. What I love the most about this particular label is that it doesn’t necessarily mean exclusive attraction to women (in the way that the term “lesbian” does). It does, however, centre that attraction.

As a woman and as a femme, most of the world would conceive my sexuality primarily in relation to men. Specifically, the assumption is that I will be exclusively or primarily attracted to them and that, even when I am not, my interest in other women will be performed in a way that centres men. In fact, one of the most common biphobic tropes is that bi+ women’s sexuality primarily exists for the titillation and enjoyment of men. (See “can I watch?” and “that’s hot” and “so if you’re bi, can we have a threesome?”)

I’m assumed to be “straight really” or just dabbling in queerness for funsies because my nesting partner happens to be male. I recently told a man who was trying to pick me up that I was “wayyyyyy towards the gay end of bisexual” and somehow, all he gleaned from that revelation was “so I still have a chance?” (Reader, he did not.) Even – perhaps especially – when you’re loudly and proudly queer, heteronormativity can seem very very pervasive sometimes.

So yes. I think “sapphic bisexual” is the most succinct and accurate way to sum up my sexuality right now.

Choosing a term to describe my sexuality that specifically places my love for and attraction to women at its heart feels like a small act of reclamation and celebration for my queerness. Every time I think about referring to myself in this way it makes me smile. I think that means I am on the right lines.

So what is sapphic? Right now for me at least, it’s pride and it’s joy and it’s queer as fuck.

[Guest Post] “Silly Rabbit, Toys are for Everyone!” by Velvet Divine

Velvet Divine (fae/faer) is back again with another fantastic guest post, this time about transition, sex toys, body image, and lots more good stuff. Don’t forget to follow faer on Twitter!

“Silly Rabbit, Toys are for Everyone!” by Velvet Divine

“Hey, I’m really flattered and hella down but it’s been a while since we talked and there’s been some new developments. I’ve been on HRT for a bit now and it’s started to affect my downstairs equipment so things don’t really work the same as before.”

“That’s fine, we can still have amazing BDSM sex without a dick or even any kind of penetration.”

“You’re absolutely right, I guess I’m just still getting used to the new situation and never really thought I’d be here, ya know?

– A snippet from a conversation I had recently with an old flame about being physically intimate again. 

I was born with a penis and although knowing I was trans femme and being out socially and professionally, for the most part, I was not able to begin the medical portion of my transition until around five months ago. I shan’t bore you with the minutia of the HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) process but want to focus on one aspect of my experience: the loss of libido and erectile dysfunction as a result of the low blood pressure from Spiro and the Estrogen.

It’s not a bad thing in any capacity, mind you, I was never particularly attached to my bio dildo, to begin with, but it’s different – for the entirety of my sexual history up until these past few months, it was largely the main event or performing a duet with various accoutrements. That’s not the case anymore.

Now, I find myself in the process of learning how to make sensuality, foreplay, and various accessories the headliners of the experience. This isn’t a problem in and of itself but I have noticed that it can get tricky trying to navigate expectations, both mine and others. I’m typically physically and sexually intimate with other femme-coded people and more often than not those people have vaginas and, in the case of my last few encounters, came from mostly if not exclusively being with cis men.

A few of these people I was intimate with prior to HRT and then during, which became an interesting exercise in shifting expectations and accommodating material realities. Those liaisons did not last but they were incredibly affirming and I could not have asked for more at the time. The ones that followed were less affirming and a bit more awkward. There was disappointment that my equipment did not perform to expectation and trepidation about trying toys for the first time. They weren’t bad experiences but they were not repeated.

Orgasms are different too, they’re not quite as jolting as they used to be and I no longer feel the mounting pressure to like climax like I did prior. They’re rad enough but they’re no longer the ritz. I could take them or leave them. And I leave them more often than not nowadays since penetration used to be my main vector for climax.

I’m sure you’re about to say, “Velvet, that’s a barrel of bananas if not a whole jungle. There are so many other forms of stimulation you could receive or do for yourself”. And you’d be correct, dear reader – but here’s the kicker:

I do not want other people touching me any more than they have to. Or more accurately, by the time the trust and foundation needed for me to feel safe being touched intimately, my Fraysexuality has usually kicked in and the liaison plateaus platonically. (Fraysexuality being on the ace spectrum and characterized by a loss of sexual attraction as a platonic relationship is established and cemented. Think of it as the opposite of Demisexuality.)

Despite the complexity and frustration of the present situation, I’m making a concerted effort to approach it as an opportunity to heal and better conceptualize the relationships I have with intimacy, both the one I provide myself and the one I get from others.

I do not like my body, never have, but for the first time, I don’t actively loath it. Sure, there’s hair in all the wrong places, I feel like I’m built like a titan from the eponymous anime, and I still cringe if I catch the wrong angle in the mirror. But I’m growing boobs. That hair is growing back slower and it’s more manageable. The hair on my head (the one I actually like) is the longest it’s ever been and when it cooperates – my curls are fuckin’ hot.

(Note on the breast development: for the first twenty-four years of my life I was pretty unaware that I had nipples. Now I’m entirely too aware and they’re sore more often than not. But, boobs. So I’m pretty damn stoked.)

Inhabiting this mortal coil usually feels like being stuffed in an iron maiden two sizes too small and trying to provide myself with intimacy feels just as unwelcoming. Self massages, oils, and most spicy toys don’t quite hit the mark but hugging squishmallows, breaking out a weighted blanket, and even taking those extra five or ten minutes to pop a hoodie in the dryer for a warm treat on a cold night, have been baby steps that I can stomach.

Getting intimacy from other people, however, has proven more Icarian than Herculean. Not the least of which by virtue of the fact that being some flavor of aro/ace (Aroflux and Fraysexual in my case), at least for myself, makes it extremely difficult to discern the exact kind of attraction I feel for certain people and harder still to know the way I would prefer to express or receive that attraction.

In the event you may not be aware, there are different forms of attraction besides the classic romantic and sexual. Aesthetic revolves around enjoying a person’s appearance or style, without any desire for more. Sensual refers to wanting to touch and be touched by that person, in as far as hugs, holding hands, kissing, cuddling, etc. Alterous attraction means the lovely limbo north of the platonic but not quite romantic, you’ll often hear it in reference to queerplatonic situations.

Some people I find incredibly and even frighteningly attractive, but the buck stops there. I’m just happy they exist and I can respectfully look at the insta feed. Others are a little trickier. They might have beautiful hands that I’d like to hold and kiss, maybe I want them to hold me and play with my hair while I get lost in their eyes (no, you’re thinking of specific people right now, don’t project onto me), and some I’d be cool with having them ride my face for an evening.

And once or even if the mode of attraction or vector of affection is identified, how the fuck do you make that known. I mentioned in previous pieces here that approaching femme-coded people as a trans femme, especially still looking as masc as I do, can be pretty frightening but there’s even less of a script for bringing up niche topics outside of those niche communities.

Amatonormativity has set such a draconian binary between platonic and romantic affection that even among LGBTQIA+ people it can be difficult to ask for intimacy or establish connections outside of this script imposed upon us. Thus, we may end up in situations that often don’t serve us or that are downright uncomfortable because we don’t know other ways to fill those needs.

You might settle for a romantic relationship even if you’re not interested in romance because it might be the most convenient way for you to get a nesting partner, co-parent, or a source of emotional closeness when a queerplatonic situation might better serve you. For me, I engage in a lot of casual sexual intimacy not necessarily because I want sex but because it’s the most socially acceptable and convenient way for me to get the sensual intimacy I need.

And sure, I could ask. I won’t, but I could.

Besides the fact that I would rather be dead than vulnerable, there’s this tremendous fear that opening that Pandora’s Jar would irrevocably change those friendships. 

Would they understand that my sensual attraction isn’t sexual and a testament to how safe I feel with them or would they be uncomfortable around me moving forward?

Would they reciprocate or be at least comfortable with my alterous attraction to them or just consider me the latest in a line of friends that ruined the connection by burdening them with my confession?

People are complicated. Try, if you have the spoons and the patience, but toys are always an option too.

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Four Fun Queer Quotes for Pride Month

Hey everyone, happy June! And more importantly, happy Pride Month! I wondered what I wanted to write about for the beginning of June. I considered delving into The Discourse about kink at Pride, or writing something about rainbow capitalism and corporate sponsorship and arms dealers pinkwashing their murder-corporations, but all those things have been said many times and much better than I could.

So instead I thought I’d bring you a little queer joy in the form of four of my favourite TV and movie quotes about being LGBTQ+ and tell you a bit about what they mean to me.

This post may contain plot spoilers, so proceed with caution if you haven’t seen any of these things yet.

“Any queer space is your space” – Oliver Grayson, The Bold Type

Oliver Grayson and Kat Edison at a queer party in The Bold Type

Kat Edison on Freeform’s The Bold Type is one of my favourite bisexual characters (and YES they actually say the word on the show!) Her ex-girlfriend, Adena, asks her not to attend a queer event because “some lesbians take issue when other people infiltrate their space.”

Adena eventually realises why this was shitty, biphobic behaviour and apologises. But in the meantime, Kat seeks advice from her gay colleague and friend Oliver, and this is what he tells her.

It’s a truly heartwarming moment of queer POC solidarity and it’s something I think all bi+ folks need to hear. We’re often erased from queer spaces, even by our own communities, and told we don’t belong because we’re “not queer enough” or can “pretend to be straight.”

This is for all my bi, pan, omni, ace, aro, trans, non-binary, and other pals who have ever been told Pride isn’t for you: any queer space is your space. Everyone’s favourite Gay Fashion Dad said so.

“Terrific. Let’s bring down the government.” – Steph Chambers, Pride

Steph in the movie Pride

Pride (2014) is one of my all-time favourite movies. It gives me hope and makes me cry all at the same time. It reminds me of all the things our queer elders fought for, struggled for, died for – and why it is so vital that we keep fighting.

Steph says this line in her typical sardonic, bordering-on-deadpan fashion just after the Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners group has been formed, and to me it sums up the spirit of the whole film. Pride is about two disenfranchised groups, queer people and striking miners in a poor village, joining forces to support one another and fight back against oppression. And in a world of more hate and division than ever, this is a message and an ethos we need to remember.

Pride is a protest. Pride has always been a protest. It isn’t about assimilating into respectable white middle-class cishet land. Pride is about being who we are unapologetically and without backing down, no matter what the government has to say about it.

“It’s not a phase, I’m not confused! Not indecisive, I don’t have the “gotta choose” blues!” – Darryl Whitefeather, Crazy Ex Girlfriend

Darryl Whitefeather "Gettin Bi" from Crazy Ex Girlfriend. For a post about queer quotes.

I know it’s got some problematic elements but CXG broke a lot of new ground. It handled a lot of difficult issues with the mix of humour and sensitivity that is so, so hard to get right.

And one of the things it did amazingly well? Representing not just bisexuality, but coming-out-later-in-life male bisexuality. Gettin’ Bi is Darryl’s coming out song, and it’s the “middle aged man dancing and singing to celebrate his sexuality” anthem I never knew I needed.

The song dispels many myths about bisexuality, including that we are inherently promiscuous (some of us are, some aren’t) or that we’re going through a phase and will eventually “pick a side.” It’s fun, it’s joyful, it’s charmingly awkward (this scene takes place in a workplace meeting) and it’s just delightful.

“Sexuality is fluid. Whether you’re gay or you’re straight or you’re bisexual, you just go with the flow.” – Shane McCutcheon, The L Word

Shane from The L Word, sexuality is fluid queer quote for Pride Month

A lot of things about The L Word have not aged well, sadly. Its treatment of trans character Max was deeply problematic, as was its erasure of bisexuality (and occasional outright biphobia) after season 1. I hear the new Generation Q has fixed many of these issues, but I haven’t watched it yet because I promised to watch it with my bestie and we haven’t seen each other in a year and a half because *gestures at the pandemic.*

But before The L Word went sideways into biphobia and occasional complete batshittery, it gave us some great moments including this wonderful quote from Shane.

I was 17 and just starting to peek out of the closet when I first saw this show. I didn’t really know if I was straight with a little idle curiosity, or gay while having inexplicably fallen for a man, or (*gasp*) actually bisexual. This line felt like permission to accept that my sexuality might change over time, and that it was okay and normal if it did.

What are your favourite queer joy quotes for Pride Month, loves?