A Question Of Love Vs. Sex


A Question Of Love Vs. SexA few weeks ago I wrote about attending a wedding where I spent time with old friends and was happy to find that my fairly new, non-monogamous love life was met with interest and support, rather than judgement and disdain. A happy discovery for all! And I’m not going to complain about this state of affairs…

But, there is one aspect of the several conversations I had about non-monogamy that particularly struck me. Three times that I recall, but maybe more – I was quite drunk by the end of the evening; okay, the middle of the evening – when I said “I’m non-monogamous” the first word out of people’s mouth was “polyamory.” It seems that people are very aware of the term, and everyone claimed to have read an article about polyamory, or seen a piece on TV, or met someone who identified as polyamorous. Again, I am not going to complain about this! I know several people who do good work to get the word out there, challenging relationship norms and bringing the general public up to speed on the alternatives to monogamy. This is good stuff.

However… it then became a little more difficult for me to discuss my own brand of non-monogamy. I don’t call myself a swinger, or polyamorous; when it comes to the limited options I have on social networking sites I tend to go with “in an Open Relationship” because even I’m not sure what that means when I see it on someone else’s profile. But in general, I do use the term ‘non-monogamous’ in conversation, partly because I consider it to be an umbrella term containing many possibilities and therefore begging further discussion, and partly because people seem to hear it as an adjective rather than a label, which is always good.

Previously, in fact mere months ago, when I said “I’m non-monogamous,” the assumption that answered my statement was that I sleep around; that I just have casual encounters, and although I don’t have a problem with that at all – I’ve done it and enjoyed myself a great deal! – there is still a modicum of disdain from most people when they think you are just in it for the sex. Whilst it is not a particularly nice assumption to have made about you in this way, for me it did have one big advantage: I would say, “No, no; I actually have close friendships and relationships with these people.” and usually whoever I was talking to would then have their opinion of me raised. “Oh, she doesn’t just sleep around; she actually engages with these people – well, that’s less sleazy.” But now! I say “I’m non-monogamous” and they go “Oh! You’re polyamorous – you have deep, committed relationships with multiple people; that’s so lovely. All the love and, yes, very progressive.” at which point I have to say, “Well, no, not exactly. I suppose it’s more like progressive swinging; I have friendships and sex.” and suddenly their opinion is lowered again; “Oh, not so much love. Friendships, yes, good, but sleeping with your friends is a bit slutty.”

This game of comparisons does my head in.

And, of course, in the end, the problem isn’t at all to do with the visibility of polyamory. The fact that people are beginning to understand polyamory is a very good thing; and I do appreciate that relationships based on love are more palatable to a society that looks down on sex, particularly casual sex. As non-monogamy becomes more prevalent, there are many reasons why it’s a good idea to have polyamory lead the way. Not just because it is easier to argue for relationships based on love and commitment, but also because if you are polyamorous, it may be more important to you that society accept all of your partners, rather than just the one you’ve been with the longest, or the one you live with. For me, it’s not such a pressing matter. It’s important to me, and I certainly care, but it’s perhaps not quite as high a priority as it is for some. (Having said that, I’m beginning to feel that polyamory may be where my journey into non-monogamy is ultimately leading me, but we’ll see; watch this space.)

Furthermore, this entire discussion really does throw swingers under the bus; it’s all very well for me to take advantage of an assumption and raise myself – socially – above those who do only have casual, sexual encounters outside their primary relationships, but realistically, there shouldn’t even be the supposition of a hierarchy. Polyamory is not greater than open relationships; and open relationships are not greater than swinging. It may be a sliding scale, but it’s horizontal, not vertical. No one should have to use the sex vs. love argument to justify their relationship model.

Which of course brings us back to the age old problem of a society that doesn’t value sex, or even looks down upon it. A problem that goes so much further than just non-monogamy; whether you’re a sex blogger, or an erotica writer, or simply willing to talk about sex, the chances are you have encountered this issue. And I know it’s been said many times before, but this state of affairs is fucking ridiculous! Your parents, you, world leaders, the smartest people you know? Yeah – they’re all fucking. What’s the big deal? (This is, by the by, one of the many reasons I felt it was important to write and talk about non-monogamy and kink and sex in the first place; to do my part and stop pretending sex is so precious.)

I hope things continue to change, and I really hope they speed up, but for now I guess I’ll just have to keep writing and talking and I will stop using that horrible assumption to make myself appear better; I will learn to say “No, we’re not in love; but we have great sex!” without feeling apologetic. Because at the end of the day, if I met a guy tonight and slept with him and left without his name or phone number, it would still be just as valid a choice as the decision my friend made to marry his girlfriend.


Harper Eliot is a writer and podcaster whose work mainly centers around eroticism and social observation. You can find an archive of work, and links to all her other projects, on her website Harper Eliot. Harper lives in London, but rarely sees her own house, spending most of her time on public transport, listening to podcasts and tweeting too much. Her vices include cigarettes, lubricant, Earl Grey tea, opera, nail polish, and pinwheels.

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