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The V-Spot: Jealous in a New Poly Triangle

Hi Yana,

I’m newly in a poly triangle with two dear friends. We’re all very open about how we view partnership and love in all forms, and I didn’t hold any jealousy for their relationship until recently.

Before I was a part of the relationship I wasn’t at all jealous that “Josie” was spending all her time with “Katie” and would hang out with me when convenient. Because to me they were in a relationship and I was a friend.

Now that they both consider me a partner, I feel like I’m a last thought. They have been setting up dates with other people for just the two of them. Hanging out together all the time without thinking to invite me, and only being truly affectionate towards me when they’re drunk or high.

I don’t know if I should be the one dealing with my jealous feelings and let them be, or if it’s something I should ask them to change. To add bonus complications, Josie is my roommate and we all three live in the same house.

None of us have sex because of some trauma stuff and my issues surrounding anxiety and control of my body, so our definition of a partner is someone who fulfills us in a way that other people don’t. So things are very fluid for us. I just don’t know if I have the right to be upset about this.

— Not Ready for This Jelly

Dear Jelly,

Have you ever heard of the phrase “Don’t shit where you eat”? Yeah, me neither. We do live in the Happy Valley, after all, where we keep our partners close, and our partners’ partners even closer. Is this is a bad thing? Not necessarily. But it sure does push us all to the limits of learning how to set clear boundaries and manage our stickiest emotions.

Made stickier by your close living quarters? Maybe. Impossible? Certainly not.

Managing the line between what are my emotions to self-regulate and what is in my partners’ jurisdiction to change is something that crops up in all relationships. However, this dilemma becomes especially apparent in non-monogamous relationships where management of one’s own jealously is considered part of the process.

Do you have the right to your feelings and emotions, Jelly? Of course. Feelings are feelings and stuffing them down or away typically just makes things worse. It’s what you do with them that counts.

There’s a tangible difference between “You better not do anything to upset me!” and “I’ve been feeling left out of our relationship lately and would like to discuss possible solutions”. If managing your jealous feelings looks like putting controls on your partners, that’s not the healthiest. If managing your jealous feelings looks like two-parts your individual work around the roots of your jealousy and one-part open communication with your partners about all three of your needs and desires, you’re moving towards a recipe for healthier coping!

Some of the issue here sounds like unclear expectations between the three of you. Have you told them that you want to be included in more of their couple dynamic? Has the topic of feelings about and hopes for their dates with others been properly sussed out or is it just something that’s happening willy-nilly?

Have an intentional sit-down where each of you can talk about what you want out of this relationship, where your boundaries are, and what you can say yes or no to in a way that feels like a balance between rewarding and challenging.

Sure, part of non-monogamy is facing the ick of jealousy, but no one should be gritting their teeth alone throughout their entire relationship.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.

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The V-Spot: Healing an Ex-Shaped Hole in the Heart

Dear Yana,

It’s been over a year now since I got my heart stomped by my ex-girlfriend. We were together for 11 years and our relationship ended very badly. Even after such a long term relationship,

I’m still pretty young — in my mid-30s — and I’m pretty sure I’m a catch. But, every time I go out with someone from OKCupid, I never want to see them again. They all seem totally unhinged and just not like anyone I would want to date, casually or otherwise. I’m not even sure that I can do “casual,” now that I think about it.

But I feel like I should be out dating people to see what else is out there and fill this hole in my heart that seems like it’s just never going to go away. How do I let the dating duds down easy while not being a total asshole? What if my heart NEVER heals?

Oh, Holey Heart

 

Dear Holey,

The good news is, heartbreak does heal. Well, at least the agonizing part does. When it comes to long-term loves like the one you describe (an 11-year relationship before you hit 40 runs you through some critical life developments!), the heal time will certainly feel slower. Plus, people’s major loves in life often forever linger. And that’s normal.

The first thing to do, HH, is to stop looking for a replica of your ex. And I don’t mean physically, but more in the way that your specific relationship made you feel when you were first meeting in your 20s, deepening your connection towards your 30s, and whatever you were desperately trying to save towards the end.

A new relationship will not scratch the same itch in the same ways and you as an individual are not the same person you were during the relationship with your ex. Open yourself up to new possibilities of what makes for an attractive partner in the here and now rather than trying to fill the ex-shaped-hole in your heart. Trying to fit an OKCupid date into that shape will prove to be fruitless, frustrating, and a painful reminder that no one will be your ex. And they won’t! And that’s okay. But fighting it makes the healing harder.

Instead, find a new lil’ neighborhood in your heart and let your casual dates hang out there — see if they like it, see if you like it, see what parts of you they challenge, excite, or even point out to you for the first time ever!

Rope off a little place where casual dates are allowed to roam and if you find someone that sticks, you can expand the territory…continue reading…

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Am I Mono or Poly?

Hi Yana,

I always thought of myself as a monogamous person who sometimes dabbled with non-monogamy, but lately I’ve really been struggling to determine just what my “relationship paradigm” is. It started when I was in a non-mono relationship that transitioned to a mono one. We tried to get our conflicting needs met, but ultimately we made the painful decision to part ways.

I then started some casual relationships and developed real feelings for two people — which I didn’t think was possible for me. This was so surprising that I stopped dating to process this new self-discovery.

I’m struggling to figure out what relationship type I should be doing. Online forums and books make it sound like everyone has this stuff figured out, to the point that I wonder what I’m missing that makes it so difficult for me to determine my own relational nature.

I’ve consulted the usual sources of information available: I’ve spoken to friends that identify as non-monogamous, and since relocating last year I’ve been going to a non-mono meet-up group. My friends all seem to have just instinctively known they were not mono. The meet-up experience has been somewhat mixed — I’ve met some really helpful people, but I’ve also run into blatant distrust from those who think that, as a heterosexual cis-gendered male who is currently going it solo, I must be there for less-than-honest reasons. I need to figure this out before I start dating again. Someone suggested I might be a “switch,” able to be happy in either a mono- or poly-type relationship with the right partner(s). To me, this sounds about as realistic as a unicorn, but is it possible? Am I missing or not seeing something?

— The Mono-Poly Guy

Dear Mono-Poly Guy,

Who am I? What does this mean? What the fuck was that? These are the big ol’ life questions that come up for all of us when it comes to sex, love, and relationships — monogamous or not. Your epic confusion is entirely normal. And so is your desire to sort it all out.

When it comes to non-monogamy, and to polyamory specifically, folks tend towards one of two categories: they either see “polyamorous” as a personal identity that describes them in much the same way as being male, or bisexual, or Christian might. Or, they identify non-monogamy as a relationship style — it’s something that they do, but isn’t necessarily who they are…continue reading…

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Your Campfire Sex Life: Rekindling Desire

Hi Yana,

I love reading all of your stuff. I was wondering if you had any advice on getting back into a sexual relationship. My partner and I have been together for over four years and our sex has fizzled out a bit. I think now we feel really nervous about it and don’t know how to get back into it even though we both really want to! If you have anything to read or any advice to give that would be amazing.

— Rekindle Our Romance

 

Dear Rekindle,

It’s perfectly normal for long-term partners to feel their sex life fizzle a bit. While mainstream sex culture seems to embrace the notion that sexual flames between partners may falter, we don’t have as much acceptance of how rekindling those flames means that you might have to do some fanning. As in, that sexual fire certainly isn’t going to stoke itself!

Lust, sex drives, and turn-ons carry the narrative that they must be spontaneous in order to be acted on or “real.” Waiting for two people to both fall into The Mood at the same time, in the same place, at the right time, and the right place, is a great recipe for waiting around for your sex life to happen … for … quite … a … while.

Creating blazing, amazing bonfires in long-term sexual relationships takes kindling, fuel, tending, and intention. Don’t wait for lightning to strike. Make it happen. On purpose.

Here are some tips:

First: Learn how to build a bonfire. Each of you do some homework — whether that’s watching porn (see my earlier column “Gimme That Grass Fed Porn” for my suggestions), doing one of Emily Nagoski’s great turn-on and turn-off worksheets (thedirtynormal.com/worksheets), or reading an excellent how-to book about sex in general (Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon, for example). Reacquaint yourselves with what turns you on and share that info with each other once you know.

Gather your kindling. What’s going to fuel your fire? New sex toys (Oh My Sensuality in Northampton, Adam and Eve in Greenfield, babeland.com online)? A fancy lube? Just a nice afternoon of self-grooming and a new pair of jockeys? Get ’em!

Build your fire pit…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: He’s Afraid to Cuddle / Different Sex Drives

Hi Yana,

My partner and I have different sex drives. I could have sex four to six times a week, while he feels more comfortable with about two. In the beginning, we had a lot of sex and I was ecstatic thinking that our sex drives were more matched. Now, not so much.

I feel like I’m constantly rejected and he feels pressured to have sex. He’s said he’s afraid to cuddle and kiss me because then he feels he’ll be expected to take it further. To make it even more difficult, I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and feel like I have been hardwired to feel loved through sexual intimacy.

So, when he says no to sex, I feel like my whole world drops from under me. I’ve worked on the sex-equals-love piece in therapy to no avail. I feel at a loss.

Any advice for two people who love each other fiercely, but need help figuring this out?

—Pedal to the Metal

Dear Pedal,

Childhood sexual abuse impacts many people and leaves survivors with a steep check to pay emotionally, physically, and mentally. And though you’re doing great work with your therapist, that hardwiring will still fire.

No couple is perfectly matched in their desire for sex at all times, especially after the hormone-fueled honeymoon phase. If you were to label your sexual desire on a scale of 1-10 (10 being gimme, gimme more!), maybe you would be a 9 at baseline, and your partner, a 4. Factor in relational conflict, hormones, outside stress, and health fluctuations, and the chances that you both will be running at a compromised 7 are rather slim. And that’s normal!

Normalizing this and reminding yourself that his sex drive is a Him issue and not a You issue is important here. A Him issue may be related to a You issue, but is certainly not Your Fault.

He’s feeling wary that once he gets on the intimacy rollercoaster there’s no slowing down or stopping the ride until after sex. His hesitance I’m sure in turn adds to your feelings of rejection. This cycle traps you both in a black-and-white viewpoint of your sex life leaving him on one side and you on the other.

So, where can you collaborate?…continue reading…

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The V-Spot: Do I Talk Too Much in Bed?

Hi Yana,

I recently started going out with this girl, but it already feels like we are magnets to one another (both inside and outside of the bedroom). But the last time we had sex an issue came up that broke up that magnet-like feeling for me.

I’m someone who really wants to communicate about sex so I know how to make partners feel good in all the ways they want. So I was really confused when, during sex, my communication caused her discomfort. I was trying to ask her what she was into or if she wanted me to do this or that to make sure that she was comfortable, but she told me she was uncomfortable with all the talking.

I feel myself in a strange double bind here. On the one hand, I want her to feel comfortable during sex and she has told me that quieting-up will do that. On the other hand, we just started seeing one another and I really don’t know what kinds of sex she likes and dislikes, how she likes to be touched, etc. The prospect of having sex without communication seems unethical to me.

Do you have any suggestions? Looking to get that magnet-like feeling back, but I’m not sure how to do that in a situation where communication is a turn-off.

— Don’t Talk Dirty to Me

Dear Don’t Talk,

Striking a balance between constant communication and losing ourselves in the pleasures of our bodies can be a tightrope, especially if our partner’s preferred ratio of Talk:Action is different than ours. I tour colleges teaching workshops about just this. It can be complicated.

What’s not optional is getting someone’s verbal permission to touch their bodies before you do it, especially sexually. However, what happens next is where many get stuck. Some might think, “Hey, I gave you my consent to have sex with me, why are you still asking me so many questions?” Others, like you, may want to have a more continuous checking-in process.

Established partners, on the other hand, may have a greater understanding between them of what activities don’t require a check-in (example: It’s always okay to pull my hair!) or definitely always do (example: Whoa! No backdoor exploring without talking about it first!).

Active, continuous consent isn’t a one-way arrow, but is more like the recycling sign, with several processes looping back into each other. Meaning, keeping sex consensual between the two of you also includes your views of what makes for consensual, enjoyable, pleasurable sex — not just hers. You do not feel comfortable performing silent, check-in-less sex on this person’s body (Yeah! Makes sense to me!). So, you shouldn’t.

Does this mean you can just run your mouth, continuing to make her uncomfortable in the name of your personal consent crusade?...continue reading…

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Poly Role Models / My interview with Kevin Patterson

Poly Role Models

My interview with Kevin Patterson

Educator & speaker Kevin Patterson recently interview me for his blog Poly Role Models.

Everyone should check him out, I always learn new things from his work. You can listen to him on Dawn Serra‘s podcast Sex Gets Real and sometimes even catch him speaking near us in NYC!

And consider supporting his patreon!

Thank you for including me in your work, Kevin!

1. How long have you been polyamorous or been practicing polyamory?

I have been in and out of non-monogamous relationship structures for 10 years. I typically move between monogamous structures and non-monogamous structures depending on what else is going on in my life and how much emotional time and energy I have to devote to the process of non-monogamy.

I actually don’t identify as polyamorous, but more like non-monogamous as I often see polyamorous as an identity and non-monogamy as a relationship structure.

2. What does your relationship dynamic look like?

Currently, I am married to my husband and we have a girlfriend that we see primarily together (sexually). Our girlfriend has sex with and dates other people outside of my husband and I. I have occasional sexual partners outside of my husband and girlfriend. And my husband and I both have sex together with people who are not our girlfriend.

My husband and I consider ourselves primary partners and our girlfriend as our primary secondary partner and other partners as “green-lighted” on a case-by-case basis between the two of us though our girlfriend sees whoever she wants to as long as she just lets us know and keeps the communication open.

3. What aspect of polyamory do you excel at?

I think I excel at viewing my partners as their own people entitled to their own relationships, feelings, and sexual pleasure. This is typically what I fall back on if/when I’m feeling jealous or insecure. And it’s then really helpful to remind myself that I also benefit from being my own personal with my own entitlement to my desire, sexuality, and relational experiences.

4. What aspect of polyamory do you struggle with?

I used to be very low-jealousy and very trusting. But when I got divorced, there was a lot of lying and heartbreak around our non-monogamous arrangement (amongst other things that weren’t related to our non-monogamy) that resulted in my feeling a little more hesitant to take things at face value regardless of how much I trust my partners. This has thrown a wrench in the way I process jealous feelings and can be really challenging.

5. How do you address and/or overcome those struggles?…continue reading…

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How Does a Shy Girl Ask for the Sex She Wants?

Hi Yana,

I’m a bisexual woman in a LTR with another woman. My issue is that I’m super bashful when it comes to asking for what I want during sex. I’ve been partnered for a while now and even though I’m really comfortable with her and trust her, it’s hard for me to drum up the confidence to speak up.

She’s great at asking me what I want from her but in the moment I freeze up and don’t even know how to start answering her questions! I get nervous, I get anxious, and I can barely say much at all. Any way you can help me spit it — anything! — out during sex?!

— Bashful Babe

Dear Bashful,

The modern sexual revolution has been fueled by anti-slutshaming, the freedom of popular hookup culture, and being outspoken about taboos (getting-more-formerly-by-the-day) such as birth control, genuine sexual pleasure, the gender spectrum, and designer relationships. So much open space to move around in! So many rules to bend and break and disregard so that you can make your own! So many things on the sexual menu to pick from! How is a bashful babe to choose?

No but really, how is a bashful babe to choose?

Though part of the battle is finding the bravery, freedom, and permission to ask for what we want, the other part is figuring out: wait, what the hell do I even want to ask for?

Maintaining your own independent sex life, even when you are in relationships, is a crucial aspect of having a great and satisfying sex life. Just because you are partnered, doesn’t mean that the solo sexplorations needs to or should end. Reading books about sex, talking about sex, finding porn you actually like, masturbating, trying new sex toys out, or even just fantasizing on your morning commute are all great ways to discover and build on your own independent sexuality.

Being unsure about what you like, if you like something, or even if you want to try to see if you like something is an intensely personal process that doesn’t necessarily need to be done in front of an audience — even if that audience is your wonderful, trusting, long-term mate…continue reading…

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He’s Monogamous, I’m Polyamorous — Can This Work?

Hi Yana!

I’m currently in a mono-poly relationship. My primary partner is monogamous and has no interest in being with other people. He is reading More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert and is searching for resources when feelings of jealousy or envy come up. We’ve known each other for two years and have been dating for three months. I was already dating my current girlfriend when he and I started dating, and I have also ended a relationship with a boyfriend while we’ve been together. He says his biggest fear is what might happen when I meet someone new and fall for them, since that hasn’t happened yet. But I know it will, and now I’m afraid of it happening, too.

How do I stop freaking out about hurting my amazing partner while still being my autonomous, polyamorous self? We love each other and we want to put everything into making this last.

In a Poly Predicament

Dear Poly,

True: monogamous/polyamorous relationship structures can be extra tricky and take a lot of work.

False: they never work.

However, they certainly thrive stronger and longer if built on a sound, ever-updated structure.

It sounds like your primary has been (very naturally) struggling with jealousy for the short few months that you have been together. It also seems like he’s developed enough jealousy-coping strategies to at least manage these strong feelings about partners who were already on the scene when he arrived.

The idea of having a new person show up can rock the boat even with seasoned non-monogamous folks, and can definitely feel like you’re waiting for a huge, catastrophic other shoe to drop when you’re unfamiliar with non-monogamy or are naturally monogamous like your primary is. Will he be replaced? When will this happen? What will happen when this happens? Who will it happen with?

First, validate these scary feelings he might be having. It’s important for each of you to confirm for the other person that the differing, but intersecting fears you have are natural.

Then, reinforce the power you have to handle change in your relationship by making some plans to support each other before, during, and after that change…continue reading…

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Should I Date Someone I’m Not Attracted To?

Dear Yana,

I met a girl on a dating app. It was sort of an accidental swipe, but we started chatting and met up. She was really cool to hang out with, but physically, I didn’t find her very attractive. We kept talking and started spending time together.

Now it has been a couple of months, and I’m having some reservations. Even though we really enjoy spending time together, I’m just not attracted to her physically, and it is starting to take a toll. She’s getting more attached, but this is becoming more of a mental block for me. I feel like Shallow Hal, and if it wasn’t for the lack of physical attraction, things would be great.

How do I get over this? Am I just being shallow?

— Getting Too Deep in the Shallow End

Dear Too Deep,

For most people, attraction is an instant, uncontrollable urge that tends to be physically motivated. Emotional attachment and intimacy, however, is usually a slower burn. If your initial attraction sticks as you get to the know the person, it can fan those emotional attachment flames, or perhaps your automatic attraction will fizzle and fade over time.

Or maybe you’re like so many of us in the Happy Valley, and you sleep with a lot of your friends, as friendship ripens to sexual attraction — the kind of attraction that creeps up ivy-style between you and your bros when you least expect it (even though, let’s be real, everyone else around you totally expected it).

Let me get to the point: It’s okay not to be attracted to someone. And it’s okay to feel attracted to a person initially and have that desire grow or fade over time.

But there is something inside of you that’s not sitting right, Too Deep, a little piece of you that feels like maybe you’re being an asshole. I’m guessing that this woman you speak of does not nestle neatly into the box labeled “beautiful” by conventional standards?

Are you an asshole if you dump this girl? I’m not sure if that’s for me to decide. But I can tell you how I make sure that I’m not being an asshole…continue reading…