Questioning the boundaries of love and lust.

“I believe in trying to break down power hierarchies in society, and that means breaking them down in my personal life as well,” he says. “If I wish to try to allow others to be free, why would I want to control the people I love and care most about?”

Owen Briggs is a political poly, someone who engages in polyamory: having relationships with more than one person at once. He is quoted in this thoughtful piece in The Independent on Sunday about the development of polyamory in the UK.

And I think he has a point.

We are socialised into believing that engaging in sexual activity or developing romantic attachments to someone other than the partner we are already with is the deepest possible betrayal of that person. It’s ‘cheating’. For the most part, when we start a new relationship, it goes without saying that we have now ‘committed’ ourselves to that person, that we will not get up to any sexual mischief with anyone else, and should we be drawn to another person, we will do all we can to fight off those feelings and remain ‘loyal’. But no one ever seems to stop and ask why.

Is there actually anything essentially wrong with kissing someone else? With having sex with someone else? Most people, of my age at least, no longer view sex as some kind of sacred act between two people who love each other and have made the commitment to be with each other for the rest of their lives; many of us engage in recreational sex with no deeper meaning than a desire to get ourselves and each other off. So why should engaging in this kind of activity with someone who isn’t your partner be any more hurtful to said partner than playing tennis or going for a meal with someone else? Why should we prevent the people we love from essentially just having a good time?

Equally, why should we prevent someone we view as a wonderful, loving, caring, valuable person extending that loving attitude to others? Loving another person does not necessarily reduce the love one has for one’s original partner; we’re perfectly capable of building and maintaining a number of separate relationships with our friends, so why not with our lovers?

There are probably as many answers to those questions as there are people – personally I don’t know that I’ve got sufficient time management skills and self confidence to be in a poly relationship! – but what I want to suggest is that more of us need to start considering these questions if we want to build truly egalitarian relationships. It seems to me that the presumptions we make about appropriate sexual and emotional conduct within relationships are strongly rooted in patriarchal notions of possession, control and sex, and that the jealousy many of us experience is linked to these and can be overcome, should we have the will and determination to do so. By talking about these issues with our partners, we can enter into and build a relationship / relationships on our own terms rather than those set out by a society which has historically oppressed women by controlling our sexual expression.

And whatever conclusions we come to – be it that we are happy for our partner to have casual sex with others, that we want to love and lust after each other exclusively, or that we want to engage in multiple loving relationships – we can better respect each other’s freedom and personal boundaries and perhaps eliminate some of that pain and heartbreak that occurs when society’s unwritten terms of sexual and emotional engagement are broken.

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