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Author Topic: Polyamory, Open Relationships and/or Swinging
Ecofem
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Hello! I want to hear about your experiences with polyamory, open relationships, and/or swinging for an upcoming Spotlight on Scarleteen on the topic.

We have some articles and many Sexpert Advice pieces that address the subject, but we could use some more first-person narratives about personal experience--good, great, best thing ever!, so-so, horribly gone wrong, you name it! If this applies to and you're interested, I'd love to hear from you in this thread! As always, please keep it Scarleteen-appropriate, which would be respectful and not too salacious. [Smile]

[Not quite sure what these things are? Here are the Wikipedia definitions of polyamory, open relationships, and swinging.]

Thanks in advance for sharing!

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Ecofem
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Any takers? [Smile]
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Heather
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I'd be happy to pitch in on the topic in general, but it'd probably be best not to use my words on this for a Spotlight piece since they'd not be at all representative of younger people.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Ecofem
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Thanks for the offer, Heather. [Smile]

Yeah, it seems that while this is something some teens and young adults do, it's not as prevalent as other relationship models. (Or those who do hang out at other online sites.) I think I may just address it from more of a informative, "Relationship models" angle although it'd wouldn't exactly be all-inclusive because it wouldn't be on monogamy! (Perhaps "non-monogamy" would be a more inclusive title but that isn't ideal either.)

I can definitely include some snippets from here or just the link itself Your Ideal Relationship Model and the new article on committed queer couples and open relationships.

What do you think?

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Starfire&Shadows
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I might be able to come up with something. It might be a little short.
But I am seeing both my girlfriend and my boyfriend at this time.

--------------------
We are all made of Star Stuff...
-Carl Sagan

...Their eyes beheld, first of all things, the stars of heaven.
-Silmarillion

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Ecofem
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That would be great, Starfire&Shadows! I'd appreciate hearing whatever you'd like to share. [Smile]
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AGirlCalledKill
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Hey - hope you're still looking for submissions, I've been reading Scarleteen for almost ten years now but only joined today when I read this thread. I'm 26 years old and have been in an heterosexual open relationship for the last 4.5 years. I hope I'm not older than you're looking for.

Would you like me to just post my story here on the board or private message it to you?

Cheers,
Erin.

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Ecofem
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Hello Erin!

Thanks so much for signing up and being willing to share your story! Yes, we are still looking for submissions: in fact, I delayed posting this Spotlight because I was hoping to hear from some more people, so it's perfect timing. If you were to post your story (whatever you'd like to share/feel comfortable with) right here, I'd really appreciate it. [Smile]

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AGirlCalledKill
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Ok, here's my ramblings - hopefully you can get something useful out of this [Smile]
______________________________________

I'm 26 years old and have been in a heterosexual open relationship for the last 4.5 years.

When I first got together with D, back when I was just 21, I had a shrewd idea that, as much as I liked him, I didn't want to be monogamous. D came into my life in the midst of a fairly selfish period - I was engaging in a lot of casual sex, partying three or four times a week, working alot and blowing all my money on the pursuit of fun. I was not looking for a relationship when I met D, but a relationship found me.

We'd been seeing each other for about a month or so when I proposed the idea that, should we continue seeing each other, I would like it to be an open relationship. He was a bit spun out by that suggestion (as I had expected he would be), and I told him to take some time to have a think about it, and let me know what he thought. I told him that I didn't think I could continue to be with him if he wasn't into the idea of an open relationship, but that I wanted to put the idea out there early on so we could go our separate ways, no hard feelings. He came back a few days later and said he'd thought about it, and liked me enough to ride the wave and see where it went.

So that's how I ended up in my open relationship. I had a inkling that physical monogamy wasn't going to be for me due to a few messy relationships I had in my late teens, and the period of promiscuity I had between 19 and when D and I got together when I was 21. I'd managed to draw a line between sex and feelings, so I could get my sexual needs attended to without having to get tangled up in complex relationship politics. I was having lots of very physically satisfying sex with strangers, acquaintances and friends, and getting all the love and affection I needed from my best friend, a guy I've known since we were born.

D and I sat down and had a big discussion that spanned a couple of days. We defined our roles in the relationship, what the rules of engagement would be, and kind of made a pact to never stop talking about it. D is not poly, and not interested in seeing other people, but I am. We're a mono/poly couple.

The rules I have to play by are pretty straightforward:
- Honesty is king. Infidelity only happens when there's dishonesty, so no lying about where you were or who you were with.
- No sex with anyone except each other in our home. We want to keep our home and our bed just for us.
- No graphic run downs of what went on. He's my boyfriend, not one of of my girlfriends, so he doesn't want to hear about how many times we did it, or what it was like the first time we kissed.
And those are about it. We constantly redefine our boundaries and comfort zones, and are always, always talking.

However, for the first three years of our relationship, I was monogamous, both physically and emotionally. I think we spent those years getting comfortable with each other, making sure we were serious about each other, and falling in love - getting beyond infatuation and superficial love and into that place where two people completely complement each other. It was only after I started feeling perfectly comfortable, loved and secure with him that I started stepping outside our relationship. Since then, I've had lots of wonderful, sharing, exciting sexual experiences with men outside of my relationship - all of whom have known I was committed to somebody else, and all of whom were satisfied with companionship and mutually enjoyable sex. I've also had lots of wonderful, sharing, exciting sexual experiences with D.

My friends are surprisingly cool about it. A few of them have said things like "oh, I could never do that, I'm too jealous" or "I really admire your security", but I try not to be too evangelical about how good I think I've got it, but I can't help it, because it's flippin' awesome! I know how lucky I am to be able to be in a committed long term partnership with a wonderful man, and to still be able to go out and share in the fun of sex, dating and affection. It's like there's this abundance of love, pleasure, fun and affection out there, and instead of being shut off from it, I am able to go out and splash around in the big pool.

That's not to say that our arrangement has been without it's issues. We have a lot of the same problems monogamous heterosexual couples have - managing the household accounts, doing housework, who's turn it is to wash the dishes, and so on. We just have the added bonuses of problems him not knowing if I'll come home from a night out with my girlfriends (I always, always text him if my plans change), and needing to be regularly tested for STD's.

I can't see myself ever wanting to take part in traditional monogamy. I just don't think I am cut out for it, at all. I have been one-hundred percent faithful to D for the last 4 years, and have never loved anyone aside from him (though I am not ruling that out), and have always been honest with him (which I think is far more important than physical monogamy anyway), and would one day want to marry him. I have also just started casually seeing a new guy, L, and it's been amazing. The other day I was fantasising about how awesome it would be if D, L and I shared a bed, and I could lay in between them and snuggle with them both (something I know and respect that both of them aren't into), and it gave me the warm fuzzies and I nearly missed my stop on the tram! About the only problem I have now is that Facebook only allows you to choose "In An Open Relationship", but doesn't allow you to specify more than one person that you're in it with!

I don't expect this bliss to last. I know that even traditional two person relationships take a tonne of work, but I also know that I want to be able to live the life I choose, and that to do that I have to work hard and make sacrifices. I love D and I really like hanging out with L, plus I like making out with randoms on crowded dancefloors, so i put in lots of effort to maintain my balance. And D and I never stop talking. Never. Communication is the key to a successful open relationship. And mine is rocking so hard at the moment.

_________________________________________

Hope that all made sense. It feels like it was a bit gibbery. Hit me up if you want any clarification.

Cheers,

Erin.

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Ecofem
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Hi Erin,

Thank you *so, so* much for your long, interesting and insightful reply about your experiences. [Smile] It sounds as if you have found something that works for you and that you and D have dealt with it like pros from the start! That's a really good point about the Facebook thing: you can list "In an open relationship" but you can only list one name, which seems quite short-sighted because it automatically means there's a hierarchy and/or limitations.

The amount of communication and openness in your relationship/s sounds huge and really positive: it's interesting to hear how it works for the other people involved, like how a mono/poly arrangement can and does work (of course!) or how the people you're seeing casually approach it. If you don't mind sharing, I have a question out of my own curiosity: how/where do you tend to meet people for hookups/casual encounters and how do you bring up having a partner?

I am still working on the write up and will definitely include much of what you have written, as well as link to your original post. [Smile] Do you recommend any books, shows, websites or other sources for people interested in and/or actively involved in open relationships? I'm seeing a lot of good stuff out there but it seems that people with open relationships in their late teens, 20s and 30s are underrepresented in online resources.

Again, thank you SO much, Erin, for your long and thoughtful reply! As soon as the Spotlight is up, I will post here to let you know. [Smile]

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Ecofem
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quote:
Originally posted by Heather:
I'd be happy to pitch in on the topic in general, but it'd probably be best not to use my words on this for a Spotlight piece since they'd not be at all representative of younger people.

Heather, if you're still interested and if you get the chance, I'd love to hear whatever you'd like to share about this. Namely, any trends or general observations you've made about teens and young adults and polyamory/open relationships. [Smile]
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PrismPet
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I'm brand-spanking new (maybe an hour old by now) and stumbled across this. If you still needed takers, I will share. If not .. well, it's there anyway.

I'm 22, and I've been in open relationships since I was 13, but did not understand what that meant until I was about 17 or 18. The bad ones were, just that, bad. I was not really old enough, or experienced enough, to grasp what an open relationship entailed. At 17 I met my ex, we started sleeping together (and I'm ashamed to report, unsafely, though again from ignorance more so than choice) under the pretense that we did not have a relationship and were welcome to sleep with others. He was 23 at the time. We had that horrible double standard where it was ok if I slept with girls, but the first time I had sex with a guy (even though we weren't dating!) it caused a huge fight. There were a lot of jealousies and insecurities on both our parts, and definitely not even honesty. Skip ahead to last year (cause that's all drama and bullhonkey), when I entered into a new relationship. He's a much older guy (older than my parents), and way more open and up front about this entire poly/OR/swinging thing. I've attended swinger events in my area, but never participated, mostly because a lot of them drink (at least here) and I'm not comfortable having sex after being intoxicated. The coolest thing about the relationship I have now is, I have a girlfriend, he has a girlfriend, and it's the same girl! Talk about lucking out there! She's been a great inspiration to us, and we're more like family than I can even begin to describe. I am also in a Leather Family, which my partners are in total support of. The head of the family is married and hand-fasted to two wonderful women, one of the those women is dating another member of our Leather Family who is married to -another- member of our Leather Family. I'm not yet sure where I fit in specifically, but we let it evolve as it goes. Confused yet? Eh, somehow it all works out. This last year I got really lucky in that when I started looking into the poly thing again, I ran across people who had experience with it and were extremely open and honest about mistakes and truths. That is the number one thing I learned, if you want to do poly, you have to be honest. And it's a great knowledge to carry with you to any relationship.

--------------------
"I tried so hard to be like you, that I forgot how to be like me."

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Ecofem
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Hi PrismPet,

Thanks for sharing! (And, no, it's not too late. [Smile] ) I'm sorry to hear things originally got off to a rough start but I'm very glad to hear that you've found a poly arrangement that works so well for you, one that even feels like family: I've heard that as a recurring theme from many people in the poly community. [Smile]

It's good to hear that you've explored a lot of options while sticking to comfortable boundaries--like going to swinger events but not participating because you're not comfortable with the alcohol+sex scenarios-- which is definitely good advice for everyone, regardless of the type of relationship. I hope you and your partners continue sharing in what sounds like such a happy arrangement for you.

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AGirlCalledKill
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quote:
Originally posted by Ecofem:
If you don't mind sharing, I have a question out of my own curiosity: how/where do you tend to meet people for hookups/casual encounters and how do you bring up having a partner?

In many of the traditional ways - at bars and clubs, as well as online dating sites. I met L (the new guy) at a nightclub, but have also met people in bookstores, record stores, etc, as well.

As for bringing up that I already have a partner, that's actually surprisingly easy. If I am making out with a random stranger on a dancefloor somewhere, there's usually no point mentioning it because it's unlikely I'll ever see that person again. But if I've met someone I'd like to see more of, it's usually something I mention right off the bat, in sort of the same way as I originally proposed the idea to D. I just lay it out there from the outset, no lies.

Most guys are kind of surprised: "Dude, really? I wish my last girlfriend had been as cool as you!", and are cool with the arrangement. Only once or twice have I had a guy not want to see me anymore because of it.

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AGirlCalledKill
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As for your question on recommendations of resources, I don't know of many online resources for young people negotiating open relationships, which is a shame. I have been reading Dossie Easton and Janet W Hardy's book The Ethical Slut, which is a great book exploring the politics and logistics of open relationships, as well as containing lots of really straightforward advice on managing jealousy, negotiating grievances and whatnot - which would be beneficial to people in monogamous as well as non-monogamous relationships.

Tristan Taormino's Opening Up is another book I'd love to read. As well, it'd be great to find some more online resources - D and I had to figure out a lot of the politics of it on our own. I think we did OK but it would have been nice to have some resources to draw on.

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Ecofem
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Thanks for getting back to me with that, Erin-- I appreciate your responses. [Smile]
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Starfire&Shadows
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Here's what I've written, sorry it took so long:

My first boyfriend and I had an open relationship from the start. Even before we started dating, we would talk about what the ideal boyfriend/girlfriend would be. Neither one of us saw much point in putting limits on what we could do with other people on our own time.

I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t assume that everyone doesn’t think the same way.
I met a guy at college who was great to be around. He was liberal-minded and not jealous of anyone, but when we actually were in a relationship, his idea was that neither of us would so much as make out with anyone else. We would be sufficient for eachother. We both were hurt. He was hurt by me and I felt caged. It still was good, though, in a lot of ways.

So, don’t assume anything. If it hasn’t been talked about out loud, don’t count on it.

I went back to seeing only my boyfriend, we were going through a rough time.

At that time I met a wonderful woman. She was reading an interesting book and she and I started talking. We both like eachother a lot, so I was very nervous to bring up my boyfriend, because that might mean that she wouldn’t want to keep going out with me, but it was something I needed to do. I told her, and in fact she was fine with it. I arranged for the three of us to meet at a park. The two of them like each other as well, but right now they’re taking it slow and just talking and getting to know eachother. I’ve had sex with all of us, but weirdly enough, I’ve found that curling up together and talking is even more interesting. The group fuzziness of having three people who love eachother is absolutely wonderful.

-S&S

--------------------
We are all made of Star Stuff...
-Carl Sagan

...Their eyes beheld, first of all things, the stars of heaven.
-Silmarillion

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Heather
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Just a reminder that it always helps to recognize that EVERY model of relationship requires communication and negotiation. A lot of folks in monogamous models assume the "rules" are a given way without negotiating them, too, only to find out that both people didn't a) have the same rules or b) know what the other one's were.

This piece might help with all relationships, including open and poly models: Supermodel: Creating & Nurturing Your Own Best Relationship Models.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Starfire&Shadows
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Heather,

True, that applies to everyone.

--------------------
We are all made of Star Stuff...
-Carl Sagan

...Their eyes beheld, first of all things, the stars of heaven.
-Silmarillion

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Ecofem
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Thanks for coming back to reply, Starfire&Shadows. I'm glad to hear about and later include your experiences, too. [Smile]
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Heather
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Btw, Lena, not sure what I can really say about "trends" with this.

Open relationships certainly aren't anything new, so if I have seen anything with young people and this, it's that more young people seem to be recognizing a need to actively negotiate poly/open relationships, and certainly more than I think people in monogamous relationships do.

I mean, if I look back just to myself and my peers with these back in the 80's, our negotiation was often as noncomplex as "Oh, whatever." Which, suffice it to say, is no kind of negotiating at all. [Smile]

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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Just FYI, I feel like "swinging" -- a term I'm not even sure anyone under the age of 40 or 50 even uses much anymore -- is really a radically different model than polyamory is or open relationships in general are.

It also tends to skew to a pretty specific population most of the time, which is older male/female couples, and usually for those couples, partners either swap still staying with opposite-sex partners, or if same-sex sex is at all in the mix, it's usually exclusive to women being with other women. For most "swingers" male-male sex is completely off the table.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Ecofem
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Thanks, Heather. [Smile] This has been a big topic on my mind as of late, both in terms of personal interest and preparation for the write-up, so I've been doing a lot of research

I think the bottom line is that they're much more common than people might think (and really no big deal, as you indirectly mention, too) when modern society tends to really push monogamy. Erin, PrismPet and Starfire&Shadows all talk about being interested in open relationships from the start, which is cool; from talking to others off the boards, it sounds like open relationships can also occur unintentionally, such as one partner meeting someone else and the couple decides to open up the relationship.

I heard an episode of This American Life on monogamy, in which Dan Savage (mixed feelings on him) says at about 34:30: "With apologizes to Leo Tolstoy, monogamous couples are all alike; each nonmonogamous couple is different in its own way." While this may be true in terms of what people can do with others, the same really applies to monogamous couples.

When looking through the message boards before posting this (and then while waiting for responses), I wasn't finding many threads on open relationships, save for a few where people in not-so-stable relationships (as in, lacking the strong communication and negotiation skills necessary.) This made me think: there aren't a lot of people in poly relationships on the message boards, which could mean: it's something that older people do, i.e. not something your average Scarleteener is interested in or ready for, or that people in poly arrangements have found what works for them and don't need outside support (or have their own support networks.) However, while all of those could be true, it seems that people *are* coming out and sharing their experiences with time. [Smile]

As I asked and Erin said, there just don't seem to be too many online resources/communities for young people in poly arrangements. Perhaps this is because people don't feel the need for such organized online community but I can't really say why or why not. It's interesting how paper-based books still seem to reign supreme in terms of resources, like The Ethical Slut.

Something else I've come across is how there seems to be mainstream acceptance of queer relationships than poly or open relationships. I think it really depends on the people and place but it's a good point; legally, same-sex couple cannot marry in most states and face discrimination in other ways. Poly people are also discriminated in similar legal ways, like in terms of marriage being limited to one person (as in, so are corresponding partner benefit, adoption, etc.) I've now watched 34 episodes of Big Love (eek!) and while I definitely dislike their patriarchal version of polygamy, it does raise good points of how society and the government can get negatively involved in what is essentially a private matter so that it becomes something people feel they need to keep secret.

Something I also want to mention the Spotlight is how while dating multiple people and being polyamorous aren't one and the same, dating around is really wise before deciding on any type of relationship. Again, they're certainly not the same thing but notable. That also makes me think of some comments in the thread on ideal relationship models where someone mentioned: "I think that once you've found that one special person, then you don't notice anyone else." I disagree with that, of course; that's not what polyamory or open relationships are about but I can see how for some, less experienced or less self-aware, being interested in others can be a sign that their current partner is not an ideal match for them. However, for someone in an open relationship, it would be a very different story.

I guess the bottom line is that any and all relationship arrangements depend on people's individual needs and desires, that there's no one-size-fits-all model, which is totally what Scarleteen's about anyway. However, it might be helpful to make a list of what polyamory/open relationships *aren't* to help explain to newbies what they are.

Those are a lot of various thoughts there: I'm still working on pulling it all together but it sure helps to get feedback and hear people's experiences. [Smile]

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Ecofem
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quote:
Originally posted by Heather:
Just FYI, I feel like "swinging" -- a term I'm not even sure anyone under the age of 40 or 50 even uses much anymore -- is really a radically different model than polyamory is or open relationships in general are.

It also tends to skew to a pretty specific population most of the time, which is older male/female couples, and usually for those couples, partners either swap still staying with opposite-sex partners, or if same-sex sex is at all in the mix, it's usually exclusive to women being with other women. For most "swingers" male-male sex is completely off the table.

Yes! I originally included it because I saw it used in a number of non-site article as well as addressed in ATasteOfPurple's polyamory article and wanted to cover all my bases, but I've realized over time and with research that it's, exactly what you said, a bit specific or outdated. So when I label the blog entry, I plan to call it "Spotlight on Scarleteen: Polyamory/Open Relationships" although, even then, open relationships would probably cover all bases. [Smile]
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Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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My sense on why there are few resources for young people about poly or open relationships is that there is a VERY strong adult bias that only either a) exclusive/monogamous relationships are acceptable for young people (or all people) or b) only very casual dating is what's considered an acceptable way for young people to be nonmonogamous.

In other words, if you look around, you'll rarely see organizations framing relationship models like we do here, in the way where we don't presume there to be any ideal "default" model, but instead presume every relationship is unique, and what works for a given person or relationship at a given time can be any number of things. Rather, what you'll more often see is a strong push for serious relationships to be monogamous, clearly coming out of the idea that that's ideal for everyone, including older adults.

Heck, I've even felt/experienced some of that bias being a sex educator for young people. Not only has it been suggested by some people in the past that as a queer person, I shouldn't be advising anyone but queer youth (if that), but I've also seen suggestions that as someone who is unmarried and/or who has been in nonmonogamous relationships I'm a poor role model.

[ 02-14-2010, 03:05 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Ecofem
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[Hey TasteOfPurple, I see you're around! If you'd like to add something to this thread to be used in the Spotlight blog -- I love your In Your Own Words piece -- I'd really appreciate it. [Smile] ]
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