Why Women Are the Catalyst & Foundation for Polyamory

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In the hetero-normative world, you say open relationship and most men think ‘threesome’. You’d have therefore thought that would be a popular option for many. But as it turns out polyamory, a truly egalitarian multi-partner ideology, is strongly vilified in our patriarchal world. Because what is sauce for the goose, is definitely not sauce for the gander. Relationships where women have as much power as men to own and share their sexuality, are dangerous and scary. But what would such a society look like? We don’t have to look far to find out.

The bonobos are arguably our closest genetic- and physiologically-related species. Unlike their chimpanzee ‘cousins’, much of their sexual behavior (including face-to-face mating, oral sex, tongue kissing, having sex for enjoyment, with perhaps the exclusion of their uncensored promiscuity) is similar to ours.

They are extremely egalitarian in nature and behavior. The females join together to nurture a cohesive, bonded community. One could say the females ‘gift’ themselves to the males to diffuse conflict and to encourage equal sharing. Food is often shared after sex. The males, who take their status from the status of their mother, are not competitive or warlike.

Bonobo groups are matriarchal in structure. The women wear the pants (metaphorically speaking…)! But not perhaps in the way we are used to in patriarchy, because there is no hierarchy. There is a sense of gender equality. While the males participate in gathering food, their peaceful lifestyle is possible because the females make sure no one goes without. The males have little to complain about.

Whilst debate continues as to whether early human societies were matriarchal, many of the tribal societies discovered by the Europeans as they spread across the globe were matriarchal in structure. And despite being slowly enveloped by patriarchal religions and culture, matriarchal societies still exist today. Examples include the Mosou of China, the Minangkabau of Indonesia, the Bribri of Costa Rica, the Nagovisi of South Bougainville, the Khasi and Garo of India, and more.

Heide Gottner-Abendroth has made the study of matriarchal societies her life’s work. The economic pattern of matriarchal societies is a gift economy, she says, where the giving of gifts is always intended as an entry into and a way to maintain good relationships and peace. Women usually control food and clan houses, so they facilitate the gift economy, which can extend over a broad geographic area and gift giving economics of matriarchal societies is deeply woven into a spiritual system.

The guiding image for the economy is Mother Earth herself, and as with earth, sharing and giving away out of an abundance are its supreme values. The gift is the lynchpin of the economy, patterned after the continuous gift giving of earth and sky.

This sharing aspect of spiritual, matriarchal gift giving extends to sexuality. Sexuality is valued highly, with satisfied sexuality regarded as a key to health, peace and culture. A form of open sexuality is often practiced, with the females engaging in multi-partner relationships. Jealousy, as with the bonobos, is almost non-existent. And not surprisingly, these societies are all very peaceful in nature.

In her book “For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange“, Genevieve Vaughan, contrasts the patriarchal ‘exchange’ economy with the matriarchal ‘giftgiving’ economy. Regarding sex, she speculates that women may be practicing a natural urge for “co-municative giftgiving” in their love relationships, including their ‘promiscuous’ ones.

Giving ourselves sexually allows us to feel the emotions of giving and receiving ‘on our own skin’. It allows us to do something for somebody else, satisfy a need without actually transferring goods from one to the other.

It is clear that gift-giving, sharing and nurturing are part of female human ‘wiring’. If given the primary ‘leadership’ role in community, women create an inherently peaceful egalitarian existence. This intrinsic and valuable nature, however, has been repressed by centuries of patriarchal culture.

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Thankfully there is change in the wind. Embraced by increasing numbers of men and women, polyamory (a word coined in the 90s, that only got listed in the Oxford Dictionary in 2006) has brought multi-partner, egalitarian relationships back into the spotlight.

Based on the tenets of what makes polyamory work, it is clearly a matriarchal structure. Here are some of the keys to the ideology:

  •     Authenticity, transparency and honesty.
  •     Trust and open communication.
  •     Consent and compersion (the opposite of jealousy)
  •     Non-possessive gifting of each other to each other
  •     Gender equality and a spirit of sharing equally (egalitarianism)
  •     Sex-positivity (modern, patriarchal society is sex negative)
  •     Agreement by consensus.
  •     Spiritual fulfillment.

This is definitely not a patriarchal construct.

Women will continue to become aware of how their role in multi-partner relationships is so key. Like the bonobos, the communication and bonding between the females in particular, form the ‘glue’ of such arrangements. Their nurturing wisdom can diffuse any conflict that arises in the males. Women also seem to better sense the spiritual connection that is critical to such open, egalitarian sharing.

As multi-partner relationships continue to seed the world with matriarchal wisdom and leadership it is time to recognize the “feminine power” of polyamory and other egalitarian multi-partner communities. Let’s embrace and encourage their matriarchal principles and make our world a better place.

Originally published on Multiple Match, found HERE.

The Bonobo Factor: Sex and Food

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Read the introduction to this series of posts here.

Bonobo Love Secret 07 - Sex and food go together better than love and marriage—at least for bonobos.

“Sex At Dawn” co-author Christopher Ryan writes:

Nothing gets a bonobo orgy started faster than a feast. Give a group of bonobos a bunch of food and they’ll all have some quick sex before very politely sharing the food. No need to fight over scraps like a bunch of uncouth chimps!

What does this mean for us?

Of all of Christopher Ryan’s points, this made me chuckle the most. Can you envision it? At the next gathering of your friends for dinner or backyard barbecue? Everyone gets naked and stirs up the senses with some heated, loving sexual energy before eating. Like the bonobos, the group is not concerned about who touches who. Everyone joins in the sensual flow. Everyone’s senses get revved up, “egos” get shut down and the group floats on a cloud of mellow, satisfied, uncompetitive bliss as the food is served up. The meal is characterized by playful food sharing.

There has always been a connection between food and sex in human culture. Some of the most memorable erotic movie scenes show lovers feeding each other or playing with the texture and tastes of food.

9 1/2 Weeks 

Tom Jones  

Like Water For Chocolate 

Tampopo  

We often describe a delectable meal as being “orgasmic”. Whether it is the physical activity and energy required for love-making, or the activation of the senses, people often feel hungry after making love. Nothing like a tasty snack to prepare for the next round.

When we look at a lovely spread—think perhaps of a Christmas or Thanksgiving feast—it has a stimulating effect. The smells activate our senses. We can almost taste the food. Or eyes drink in the colors and textures. We enter a heightened state of anticipation. Bonobos seem to use this heightening of the senses—the excitement and anticipation of sharing a feast—to spur them into sexual interaction, almost like a natural progression. They ‘feed’ on each other’s sexual energy as an appetizer, raising their pleasure bar higher, and then enjoy the sharing of the food.

Type “sex and food” into Google and it returns 1.56 billion results. You would think “sex and love” would yield more, but in fact it comes up short, with only just over 1.4 billion results. “Love and marriage” finishes a far distant third, with just over 600 million results.

The bonobos aren’t the only great apes who think sex and food go together better than love and marriage.

The Bonobo Factor: Promiscuity

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Read the introduction to this series of posts here.

Bonobo Love Secret 05 - There’s Promise in Promiscuity

“Sex At Dawn” co-author Christopher Ryan writes:

All the casual sex among bonobos is arguably a big part of what has made them among the smartest of all primates. Until human beings came along and messed things up for them, bonobos enjoyed very high quality of life, low stress, and plenty of social interaction in hammocks. In fact, of the many species of social primates living in multi-male social groups, not a single species is sexually monogamous. Each of the arguably smartest mammals—humans, chimps, bonobos, and dolphins—is promiscuous.

What does this mean for us?

Whether said tongue in cheek or not, what Ryan is suggesting is that the bonobos show us that we can potentially enhance our ‘intelligence’ as a species by embracing a healthy multi-partner approach to sexuality. If that’s true, we have a long way to go. Most modern cultures consider women who openly sleep with multiple partners as “sluts”, or worse. And men, who seem to ‘get away with it’ more easily, do it mostly in secret, dishonoring their partners. Perhaps we humans are getting ‘dumber’ as a result.

Interestingly, Naomi Wolf, in her recent book “Vagina”, describes research that shows that women have a highly complex pelvic neural network that works with their brain to affect their consciousness, confidence, risk-taking and autonomy.

Clearly the female neural network is far more diffuse than the male and has a lot more going on: in women, there is a tangle of neural activity at the top of the uterus, at the sides of the vagina, at the top of the rectum, at the top of the bladder, at the clitoris, and along the perineum. ... [The female neural network] looks like the tangled skein of a hundred thousand golden threads that has been drawn upward.

What a beautiful description. She also notes how male pelvic neural networks are quite similar from man to man, but that “no two women are alike”. The pelvic neural network varies greatly from woman to woman. That is why each woman’s path to orgasm, and the type of orgasm she has, is so variable. It will be as unique as her wiring is.

The evidence shows that both male and female pelvic neural networks are strongly wired into our consciousness, and therefore affect our ‘intelligence’—the way we think about ourselves, about others and about our world. To have this wiring stimulated in different ways by different people, who each bring a different ‘energy’ and ‘resonance’, can only benefit us. While men can grow and learn from intimate interactions with a variety of partners, I believe women, with their far more profound and varied wiring, can benefit even more greatly from multiple, honoring, intimate interactions.

So perhaps, like the behavior of the bonobos suggests, we humans need to openly embrace the idea of healthy male and female promiscuity to continue to evolve as a “smart” species.

Neither male nor female promiscuity are currently conceived as a healthy practice, however. While male promiscuity is quietly tolerated, female promiscuity faces massive cultural barriers.  Research published this year by Zhana Vrangalova, at Cornell University, shows there is still virtually no tolerance for female promiscuity. Not even by females, who swim, like all of us, in the waters of patriarchy.

Perhaps this goes back to Ryan’s previous “sisterhood is powerful” point. The bonobos suggest that women need to rediscover the way they are naturally wired, to embrace desires they have been made to feel shameful for, to fully embrace the power of loving sexual energy, and join together to embolden a renewed, rich femininity. Change will not come by one woman acting in the face of the inevitable tidal wave of patriarchal judgment.

And enlightened men need to reassess their possessive tendencies. They need to see benefits to setting their female partners free, while still loving them deeply. And they also need to elevate their own promiscuous predispositions to a place of openness and honesty; honoring each woman they have the beautiful grace to be intimate with.

Read Part Seven HERE

The Bonobo Factor: No Jealousy

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Read the introduction to this series of posts here.

Bonobo Love Secret 04 - Jealousy Isn’t Romantic

“Sex At Dawn” co-author Christopher Ryan writes:

While bonobos no-doubt experience unique feelings for one another, they don’t seem to worry much about controlling one another’s sex lives. Nor do bonobos seem to gossip much...

What does this mean for us?

Jealousy. Whew, it’s a big subject. Too many times, sadly, I have heard someone say that their spouse/partner/lover’s jealousy makes them feel more loved, or that their jealousy indicates the intensity of their love.

This is so opposite to our deepest desire to be loved unconditionally. To be loved for exactly who we are.  To be loved even if we stray outside expectations.

Love is, by its very nature, not possessive. Enter the bonobos. They share everything, including sex. They are free to enjoy each other intimately in whatever combinations they desire, despite having unique feelings of affection for particular companions.

Do you know what the opposite of jealousy is? The word used to describe it is compersion. Wikipedia defines it as:

An empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy.

The word is largely recognized to have originated from the Kerista Commune
that formed in the Haight-Ashbury of San Francisco in the late 1960s, early 70s. Their community relationship model was described by another word they invented: “polyfidelity” (a group of equal male and female partners, all committed to be sexually fidelous within the group only). They used the word compersion to describe the happiness and joy experienced when one of their partners was sharing intimacy with another. (I’m sure the Kerista Commune will come up again as part of a future blog post.)

Just like bonobos, we have unique feelings of love for certain people. Within the framework of love, imagine not controlling your partner’s physical or emotional experiences with others.  Take a moment right now and imagine that you are watching your primary partner experiencing loving sexual pleasure with another. What are you feeling?  Most often, it is our worry about our imagined deficits that trigger jealousy.  We are scared to live without the traditional rules that appear to provide us with a sense of security.

But here’s what the bonobos inspire us to ask ourselves: if we truly believe our partner is a beautiful person, and we truly want whatever is best for them, why could we not watch them making love with another and feel compersion? That is, to feel joy and happiness that our partner gets to experience moments of beauty with another, and also to feel joy from sharing our partner’s wonderful traits with that other person.

The bonobos challenge us to look at a model of community that puts an end to jealousy.  They say, “Why not try open, loving sexual energy generated by the female sisterhood that keeps everyone deeply connected?” The bonobos tell us that compersion—not jealousy—is romantic.

Hmm... a community without jealousy and insecurity. Imagine that!

Read Part Six HERE

The Bonobo Factor: Sisterhood

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Read the introduction to this series of posts here.

Bonobo Love Secret 03 - Sisterhood is Powerful

“Sex At Dawn” co-author Christopher Ryan writes:

Although female bonobos are about 20% smaller than males—roughly the same ratio as in chimps and humans—they dominate males by sticking together. If a male gets out of line and harasses a female, ALL the other females will gang up on him. This sisterly solidarity, combined with lots of sex, tends to keep the males behaving politely.

What does this mean for us?

Our centuries of patriarchal culture have disempowered women and to some degree ‘separated’ them from each other. The result? A mess.

But wait a minute, you might cry. What mess? Look at our much better quality of life in modern human society. Really? Perhaps we don’t have to work so hard for ‘survival’ in this heady Oil Age, but at what cost to our planet and our longevity as a species? And what about the billions of people who still suffer below the poverty line?

If males had behaved more politely, would our world likely be a better place? Yes.

‘Sister solidarity’ was much easier to sustain in a tribal world. Today, our species is so numerous and so spread out that any kind of global solidarity is a challenge. Perhaps impossible. But that doesn’t mean the principle isn’t worth giving attention to and encouraging within smaller social contexts.

Given the right environment to bond together, women can be a powerful force for interpersonal connection, creative community life, inspiring leadership, more sustainable economics and better attitudes toward our planet. I believe men today need to encourage women to ‘stick’ together and lead. And if the women need to “gang up” on one of us men for getting out of line, like the bonobo females do, so be it. I have no doubt it would work. : ))

Read Part Five HERE

The Bonobo Factor: Sexy Feminism

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Read the introduction to this series of posts here.

Bonobo Love Secret 02 - Feminism Can Be Very Sexy

“Sex At Dawn” co-author Christopher Ryan writes:

When females are in charge, everyone lives better (including the males). While male chimps run the show, among bonobos, it’s the females who are in charge, with much better quality of life for everyone involved (see #1 -- more sex = less conflict).

What does this mean for us?

Well, first off, it means we have things seriously backwards.

Today our world is almost completely patriarchal in nature. It wasn’t always this way. Human beings, after all, have been around for a very long time. A common number that archaeologists use for the existence of “modern humans” is about 200,000 years. By our current measurement of time, we call it 2013. Hmm... so that means we’ve been around for almost 1,000 times as long as the period from Christ’s existence to the present. Yes, we’ve been here a very long time.

In her book, “When God Was A Woman”, Merlin Stone looks beyond our 2000 years of Christianity to find lots of evidence of Goddess worship throughout pre-history. While some of her findings have been hotly debated, she shows that female divinity was recognized, worshipped and integrated into societal structures throughout pre-history.

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Ryan and Metha in “Sex At Dawn” cite work by early anthropologists, who described the lifestyles of newly discovered indigenous peoples and tribes as Europeans spread across the globe, which supports this. Many of these peoples, absent of any influence for multiple millennia, were discovered to be matriarchal in worship and social structure, fostering a peaceful, prosperous and egalitarian way of life guided by the wise intuition of the women.

In a recent conversation with a Deputy Chief of a First Nations tribe in British Columbia, Willow and I were moved to hear about their peaceful matriarchal ways that lasted until the government intervened in the middle of the last century.

Indeed, Heide Gottner-Abendroth, in her seminal work “Matriarchal Societies”, describes in detail many peaceful and prosperous matriarchal societies that still exist to present day. Ironically, they are almost completely ignored by social scientists exploring human social behavior. Her extensive work identifies the many benefits these societies enjoy with women in charge.

What is interesting is that ‘women in charge’ looks very different from ‘men in charge’. In other words, matriarchal social organization is not just patriarchy with women at the top instead of men. It takes on a completely new type of power structure that is based on collaboration, egalitarianism and prosperity for all.

While our current patriarchal societies have proven to disempower women, matriarchal societies not only empower women to utilize their nurturing wisdom, they also empower men. We hope to touch on many of the reasons why this is so in future posts.

What does this mean for us? The bonobos urge us to look more closely at matriarchal societies throughout history and begin to explore how matriarchal community living might help us shift stale male-centric social paradigms.

Read Part Four HERE

The Bonobo Factor: More Sex

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Read the introduction to this series of posts here.

Bonobo Secret To Love 01 - More Sex = Less Conflict

“Sex At Dawn” co-author Christopher Ryan writes:

As the great primatologist, Frans de Waal put it, “Chimps use violence to get sex, while bonobos use sex to avoid violence.” While chimps victimize each other in many ways—rape, murder, infanticide, warfare between groups—there’s never been a single observed case of any of these forms of aggression among bonobos, who are much sexier than chimps. As James Prescott demonstrated in a meta-analysis of all available anthropological data, the connection between less restrictive sexuality and less conflict generally holds true for human societies as well.

What does this mean for us?

From a personal standpoint, when I think of times that I have been angry, or prone to irrational emotion, I know intuitively that if a woman companion started to insistently touch and flirt with me, and perhaps erotically expose herself (all bonobo tendencies), to the extent that I could not resist engaging in sexual activity with her, my mood would completely change. My potentially conflict-causing emotions would rapidly dissipate.

This is consistent with scientific findings that show that the area of the male and female brain that generates “ego” shuts off during orgasm. This video by AsapScience, called “The Science of Orgasms” presents a good, quick summary of what happens with the mind and body during orgasm.

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I had a partner once, who insistently gave me three successive rounds of orgasmic oral sex, about 15 minutes apart. Each time she assured me she expected nothing in return. Just enjoy. I was surprised, at the time, by the profound effect it had on me. I have no trouble saying that she turned me into male ‘putty’. That is, aggression of any kind was the furthest thing from my mind. I was in a state of very agreeable, euphoric relaxation.

I have no doubt that female-inspired, loving sexual activity of all forms would rapidly diffuse male aggression within a group. Can we imagine a community where open sexual energy is lovingly employed by the wise female ‘community core’ for conflict resolution and bond nurturing? Obviously, we would have to get over our developed predilection for possessive monogamy and feelings of jealousy (more on this in later points), which is easier said than done based on our cultural conditioning, but, as Christopher Ryan alludes to in his closing comment, there have been interesting examples of successful, peaceful, abundant communities with an “open loving sex” dynamic similar to bonobos, past and present (more on this in future posts).

It is sad that we are conditioned to think that more sex equals more guilt and shame, and likely, therefore, more violence. The bonobos show us that exactly the opposite might be true and challenge us to shift our thinking and the way we live.

Read Part Three HERE 

The Bonobo Factor: Intro

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“It’s humans that have the hang ups. Sex in bonobo society is a mechanism to reduce tension. Sort of like a handshake!” Quote from a Youtube video posting. Here’s a quick view of bonobo sex.

Bonobos. Have you heard of them? More and more of us have. In Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha’s thought-provoking book “Sex At Dawn” we read this:

“Genetically, the chimps and bonobos at the zoo are far closer to you and the other paying customers than they are to the gorillas, orangutans, monkeys, or anything else in a cage. Our DNA differs from that of chimps and bonobos by roughly 1.6 percent, making us closer to them than a dog is to a fox, a white-handed gibbon to a white-cheeked  crested gibbon, an Indian elephant to an African elephant or, for any bird-watchers who may be tuning in, a red-eyed vireo to a white-eyed vireo.”

 

Pretty amazing… and sobering at the same time. Bonobos have only been studied fairly recently. When they were first discovered they were considered a ‘sub-group’ of the chimpanzees. For a long time most scientists considered the chimpanzee hierarchical, power-focused model of ‘society’ most like humans. Ryan and Metha point out that with more study of the bonobos and early human matriarchal societies, and deeper understanding of human physiology, comes evidence that we may in fact be much more closely related to them than chimps. Their book includes this passage:

Crucially, human and bonobos, but not chimps, appear to share a specific anatomical predilection for peaceful coexistence. Both species have what’s called a repetitive microsatellite (at gene AVPRIA) important to the release of oxytocin. Sometimes called “nature’s ecstasy,” oxytocin is important in pro-social feelings like compassion, trust, generosity, love and yes, eroticism. As anthropologist and author Eric Michael Johnson explains, “It is far more parsimonious that chimpanzees lost this repetitive microsatellite than for both humans and bonobos to independently develop the same mutation.”

 

Oxytocin is worthy of a blog post on its own. Maybe several. But for me this is a significant find.

So what if we are more closely related to bonobos than chimps? What does this mean? Well, first it means a lot of resistance. Why? Because bonobos are notoriously free and open in their sexuality. Bonobos have been observed to, “engage in sex to ease tension, to stimulate sharing during meals, to reduce stress while traveling, and to reaffirm friendships during anxious reunions.”

In other words, they have sex a lot. And it is primarily female-driven, because their societal construct is matriarchal in nature. They even have sex with males from neighboring communities, or tribes, when they cross paths. Make love, not war. This does not sit well in our ‘modern’ patriarchal world, with all its embedded hierarchies, where loving sexual energy is extremely ‘narrowed’ and constrained and often becomes power exchange rather than honoring union. The paradigm shift required to embrace a “bonobo-like” human existence would be huge! But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask ourselves the question: would life be better if we embraced our bonobo-like nature?

Here’s a quick preview of that list:
1. More sex = less conflict.
2. Feminism can be very sexy.
3. Sisterhood is powerful.
4. Jealousy isn’t romantic.
5. There’s promise in promiscuity.
6. Good sex needn’t always include an orgasm, and “casual” doesn’t mean “empty” or “cheap”.
7. Sex and food go better together than love and marriage.

You can read Christopher Ryan’s original post here, or here.

Over the next few blogs posts I will reiterate Christopher Ryan’s comments about each point, and then follow with a response as to what I think that means for us, if we, indeed, embraced the ‘Bonobo Factor’.

Read Part Two HERE