She had me at “polyf*ckery”. Dr Linda Kirkman was speaking in one of the talks I had attended in May, at SPARK Fest, Asia’s first sexual wellness festival. The sexologist based in Australia, who teaches, researches, facilitates workshops and runs a sex therapy practice, spoke about the various concepts and types of relationships and sexuality beyond monogamy and heterosexuality. She was tossing out terms like polyamory, social script, relationship anarchy and monogamish, to name a few, which blew my mind wide open — and I’m a pretty open-minded girl. So, what do these terms really mean, and how can one know what is for them or which type of relationship they’re currently in? Here’s Dr Linda Kirkman, in her own words:
“I study and teach sexuality, sexual health and relationships because I want to make sense of them. Human sexuality and relationships are central to everyone yet taboo, poorly taught and not well explained. They are a deep and mysterious undercurrent to human
THERE IS NO ‘THEM’, THERE IS ONLY ‘US’.
society that people have to navigate as best they can. Understanding the diversity of sexuality, sexual identity and sexual expression, and learning good relationship and communication skills will help us all be happier and healthier in all aspects of our interactions with others. That includes intimate relationships with family, friends, in workplaces and the daily exchanges we have. Yes, there is a difference between an interaction with our lover and one with the shop assistant, however, even in overtly non-sexual interactions assessments can be made about our sex and
gender, sexuality, relative power, relationship status — things not relevant to the exchange that are happening.
Those assessments come with judgements, value judgements that have the potential to be harmful. As long as sex and sexuality are taboo and poorly understood in the wider world, people are going to have limited awareness of the diversity that is out there; people who are not considered mainstream will be marginalised or will marginalise themselves. There is no ‘them’, there is only ‘us’. Having a limited understanding of ‘sex’ and the bigger picture of gender, sexuality and relationship diversity perpetuates a divide.
Exploring sex and sexuality is a bit like studying marine biology — there is so much under the water we don’t know about, and it is fascinating and mysterious. I have learned a lot and want to make the world a better place by sharing what I know.”
Human sexuality and relationships are central to everyone yet taboo, poorly taught and not well explained.
“There is no one relationship form that suits everybody, and all of the following relationship descriptions can apply to people of any gender or sexuality. Many people default to ‘heterosexual’ (attracted to the ‘opposite’ sex, assuming a binary) and ‘monogamy’ (having only one partner). This default is often the result of a ‘social script’, or expected custom, that assumes people’s relationships will all look alike and follow an expected path.”
“Social scripts are often faith-based and reinforced by family expectations. A heterosexual, monogamous social script might progress from casual dating to serious commitment, followed by marriage and children, expecting that there will only be one partner for life and you will grow old together. This is sometimes referred to as the relationship escalator. For some people, this works well, while others try it and are not happy, which may result in unfaithfulness and/or a break-up. Some people seek relationships that are very different from this social script.”
MONOGAMISH. OPEN RELATIONSHIP.
“Being ‘monogamish’ is being in a relationship in which the parties involved look and mostly behave like a couple, but they may have other sexual partners, usually on a casual basis. How each couple manages this will depend on their agreements. It may be a ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ situation where external sexual partners are permitted but not discussed, or it may be openly shared and acknowledged.”
POLYAMORY. SOLO POLY.
“‘Polyamory’, which means having many loves, is where people have a number of committed partners at any one time. How many partners and how the connections are configured is up to the individuals and their agreements. Sometimes one person in a polyamorous setup will only have one partner, while that partner might have two or more partners. Being ‘solo poly’ is a more fluid concept where a person is autonomous, might have partners, or is single yet philosophically polyamorous.”
“‘Polyamory’, is not the same as ‘polyfu*kery’— having several casual sex partners without commitment. Commitment and negotiation are key elements of polyamory. Do not confuse polyamory, which can take many forms and is usually secular, with polygamy, which often has a religious basis and means one man with more than one wife.
The relationship types listed above have recognised types of relationship structures, even though there is variation and fluidity.”
RELATIONSHIP ANARCHY. POLYFIDELITY.
“‘Relationship anarchy’ is different in that there is no predetermined structure or coercive power dynamics, and the relationship is decided by the people in it according to what they want, considering consent and boundaries. This usually means there is no formal hierarchy in the relationship. This is similar to ‘polyfidelity’, which is an equal relationship structure between all members and people do not have sex outside the group.”
SO WHAT KIND OF RELATIONSHIP IS RIGHT FOR YOU?
“It can be confusing to work out, and you are bound to make some mistakes. A useful guide is Make Your Own Relationship User Guide by Dr Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock. In it is a step-by-step guide for you to consider who you are, what your values and wants are regarding relationships, and to assist in deciding what matters to you. It is useful for you as an individual and can be helpful for exploring common values and aims with partners.”
Thanks, Dr Linda!