Written by Jessie Sage, originally Published in Pittsburgh City Paper.
If thousands of hours of conversations as a phone sex operator have taught me one thing, it’s that for many folks, strict monogamy is tremendously stressful.
Those who have sexual desires or kinks that their partner disapproves of or doesn’t want to participate in feel shamed and limited. Those who love their spouse but feel a strong desire for emotional or sexual connection with another person feel guilty. Those who simply desire variety but feel pressured by the culture to monogamously couple feel conflicted. And because there is such a strong stigma against non-monogamous relationships, most of these folks don’t know who to talk to, or how to negotiate their desires.
A local group, Poly in Pittsburgh, is working to create a community that supports poly folks, and to normalize polyamory as a practice. Morgan Hawkins, founder of Poly in Pittsburgh, described polyamory as simply “opening yourself up to the possibility of more than one loving relationship.” She tells me that not everyone practices polyamory the same way, adding, “the beauty of polyamory is the freedom you have to form relationships in a configuration that works for you and your partner(s).” This could mean anything from having several partners in one household raising a family together, to having a primary partner, but the freedom to have secondary sexual and emotional connections, to having several concurrent relationships, none of which are central. Importantly, while there isn’t one way to be polyamorous, one of the key principles of polyamory is that all partners enter into these relationship configurations with full knowledge and consent.
Learning to negotiate consent and communicate well is central to poly relationships.
When Poly in Pittsburgh started in Aug. 2016, it was just a Facebook group with a dozen of her friends and former partners who wanted to connect to explore polyamory. But soon those folks started adding their friends and partners, and now the Facebook group has 900 members. Active members not only participate in online discussions, but also meet for monthly socials, and attend other events together. Hawkins describes the community as serving a really important function for poly folks.
“Like many other countercultures, it’s comforting and validating to have a community where you don’t feel like you have to defend yourself and your way of living and relating,” she says.
The rapid growth of the group points to a shift in our cultural attitudes toward monogamy, more expansive understandings of relationships, and more forgiving attitudes toward sexual exploration. It is hopeful that with communities such as Poly in Pittsburgh, folks will feel less alone in their desires, and more comfortable honestly and openly advocating for them.
As for me, I’m sure my clients and I will find other things to talk about.
Those interested in finding out more about Poly in Pittsburgh can find them online at polyinpgh.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/polyinpgh.