Religion and Sexuality
A Bouquet of Lovers: Strategies for Responsible Open Relationships
An additional complication can arise with the variable of alternate sexual preference. A bisexual woman I knew who was partnered to a man had to terminate a relationship with one of her female lovers because the Secondary lover was a lesbian who objected to the Primary relationship for political reasons. Another bisexual couple had a system whereby they were heterosexually monogamous and all their satellite relationships were with members of the same sex. This elegant solution underwent considerable stress and eventual alteration with the advent of AIDS.
Venereal diseases have been the thorn in the rose of erotic love for centuries, but recently the thorn has developed some fatal venom. If open relationships are to survive, we must develop an impeccable honesty that will brook no hiding behind false modesty or squeamishness. We must be able to have an unshakeable faith in our Primary partners and a very high level of trust with any Secondary or other satellite relationships. This demands a tight-knit community of mutual trust among lovers who are friends. A recent study yielded some sobering statistics: over 80% of the men and women queried said they would lie to a potential sex partner both about whether they were married as well as whether they had herpes or other STDs. All it takes is one such liar and the results can be pathological to all. Nowadays, anyone who feels that total honesty is "just not romantic" is courting disaster and anybody unfortunate enough to trust a person like this can drag a lot of innocent people down with their poor judgment.
In order to cope with this level of risk, a system has been evolving that we call the Condom Commitment. It works like this: you may have sex without condoms only with the other members of your Condom Commitment Cadre. All members of the Cadre must wear condoms with any outside lovers. The Condom Commitment begins with the Primary relationship where trust is absolute. Long-term Secondary lovers can join by mutual consent of both Primaries and any other Secondaries that already belong. If a person slips up and has an unprotected fling then they must go through a lengthy quarantine period, be tested for all STDs, then be accepted back in by complete consensus of the other members of the Cadre. The same drill applies if a condom breaks during intercourse with an outside lover.
Adherence to the Condom Commitment and to the other Rules of the Road may seem harsh and somewhat artificial at first, but they have evolved by way of floods of tears and many broken hearts. Alternative relationships can be filled with playful excitement, but it is not a game and people are not toys. The only way the system works is if everyone gets what they need. The rewards are so rich and wonderful that I personally can't imagine living any other way.
I feel that this whole polyamorous lifestyle is the avante garde of the 21st century. Expanded families will become a pattern with wider acceptance as the monogamous nuclear family system breaks apart under the impact of serial divorces. In many ways, polyamorous extended relationships mimic the old multi-generational families before the Industrial Revolution, but they are better because the ties are voluntary and are, by necessity, rooted in honesty, fairness, friendship, and mutual interests. Eros is, after all, the primary force that binds the universe together; so we must be creative in the ways we use that force to evolve new and appropriate ways to solve our problems and to make each other and ourselves happy.
The magic words are still, after all: Perfect Love and Perfect Trust.
This article was first published in Green Egg and is reprinted with permission.
Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart coined the term "polyamory" in this pioneer article, which originally appeared in 1990. She has been a priestess of the Church of All Worlds since 1974, travelling extensively to teach about C.A.W., Paganism, Polyamory, and the Goddess. She currently hosts "Great Goddess Weekend Retreats" in her home in Northern California. For the past 37 years she has been in a happy poly-relationship with her husband, Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, with whom she forms a triad with her dear friend and lover, Julie Epona. Morning Glory and Oberon sell their God and Goddess statues and jewelry through their website Mythic Images