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: 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: 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 

Call For A Vagina-Centric Society?

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So, given this chemical bath, it is fair to say that the vagina is not just a sex organ at all, but a powerful mediator of female confidence, creativity and the sense of the connections between things.

So commented Naomi Woolf as she discussed her recent book “Vagina” in an article in The Guardian. Her book explores the latest scientific discoveries about the brain-vagina connection in women. Among other things she shows:

  • Female orgasm is much more than just pleasure. It produces specific, positive states of mind.
  • Based on the powerful brain-vagina connection, there is no such thing as non-violent rape.
  • The clitoris and g-spot are likely part of the same neural structure.
  • Understanding women’s anatomy and pleasure should lead to more satisfactory sexual experiences for women.
  • Stimulating different parts of a woman’s vagina will activate different brain functions and trigger different emotions.
  • Women have many more “neural termini” in their pelvises than men. Therefore their sexual response is different than men.
  • Beyond the realm of culture and value judgments, experiments show the importance of unfettered female desire in evolutionary process.
  • The vagina powerfully affects female consciousness, confidence, risk-taking and autonomy.

Her book is a needed call to action for women to “rebel” against patriarchy. She concludes that these discoveries make it clear why “female sexuality, and the vagina in particular, have been controlled, abused, targeted, derided and shamed” for centuries.

Rather than focus on the wrongs of the past, as difficult as they may be, I would prefer to look at how they can spur us onward, as men, to honor the amazing capacity of women in a new societal vision. Men, after all, are probably just as ignorant about the benefits of a society where women are fully activated, honored, loved and ‘enlarged’. We need to explore a new model, where the shackles of the past (reflected in the embedded shame and guilt of our modern cultures) are broken, where female desire is fully embraced, where the loving sexual energy men share with their women is seen as a form of divine worship, where we all embrace the power of the vagina to give rise to a more connected and loving world.