The following content was written by DR. ELISABETH SHEFF, CNM relationship expert. Elisabeth is a trusted friend and contributor to the Leveled Up Love community. Portions of the content have been edited for relevancy and additional insight.
There is an overlap between kinksters and polyamous individuals. There are similarities among the people who participate in kinky sex and/or polyamory, including their personal attributes like race and education, as well as their shared social attributes that appear on both a personal and community level.We will continue to explore the intersections between BDSM and polyamory with a look at their practitioners’ shared attitudes towards relationships, including the importance they both put on negotiation, honesty, and self-knowledge.
What Is Polyamory?
Many people pose the question of “what is polyamory?”. Polyamory is the practice of or the desire for more than one intimate partner, provided the partners consent.
Polyamory is a form of a non monogamous relationship. It often coincides with open relationships and many people who are in polyamorous relationships feel that they are more loyal and trusting with their partners.
What Is A Kinkster
A kinkster is a person who enjoys sexual activities outside of the sexual norm. A kinkster is anyone who deviates from the sexual norm deemed by society and prefers different sexual connections that aren’t heterosexual or cisgender copulation focused.
Anyone can be a kinkster, the term is most often associated with people who prefer BDSM or polyamory. Considering both greatly differ from societal norms.
Polyamorous individuals and kinksters spend a lot of time and effort negotiating what they want in their relationships. This is in part because there are so few role models for kinksters and poly folks that they must create their relationships with discussions of how many partners they want, how to interact with each other, how to meet partners’ needs, and virtually every other aspect of their relationships. Kinksters and poly folks tend to value enthusiastic participation in their relationships, and one way to ensure that everyone is happy with what is happening is to give them a voice in creating the relationship. Negotiation is so important for kinksters and polyamorous folks that it frequently functions as a form of courting and/or foreplay.
As with many-long term relationships, negotiations among polyamorous individuals and kinksters tend to shift over time. Initially, they often have extensive and even exhaustive conversations about everything from their emotional boundaries to the extent to which they will intertwine their lives. Later, people in both relationship styles tend to have fewer and more intense negotiations because they have often settled the minor issues (i.e., please don’t ever tickle me, or, our safe-word is “red”) and moved on to deeper concerns: What about continuing the power exchange dynamic outside of the bedroom? Can you have a child with another partner?
Being honest and telling each other the truth is the most important thing in most relationships. Kinksters and polyamorous relationships are no different, truth telling is of the utmost importance for polyamorous individuals and kinksters.The reason for this is because polyamorous individuals and kinksters need to trust and have a strong relationship with their partners. Reacting kindly to each others’ honesty when people make mistakes is a skill many polyamorists and kinky folks use to sustain honesty in long-term relationships. Similarly, many poly and kink folks favor respecting partners’ boundaries and refraining from making the same mistakes continually by changing behavior and/or attitudes as a reaction to their partners’ honesty.
In addition to fostering trust and emotional intimacy, honesty protects polyamorists’, kinksters’, and their partners’ sexual, mental, and emotional health. As above, honesty is important in negotiations when establishing and living with safer sex boundaries that polys and kinksters can trust each other to respect—or a least admit it when they screw up and do better next time.
Both poly and kinky folks prize self-knowledge, in part because it is crucial to know oneself in order to construct authentic emotional, physical, and personal boundaries in concert with others who (ideally) are self-aware as well. Being honest with partners means first being honest with oneself, and knowing enough about themselves to communicate it clearly to their partners is a prized trait in kinky and poly circles.
Poly and kinky folks use a wide range of tools to seek self-knowledge, including meditation, deep thinking, journaling, conversation with loved ones, art, music, dance, mood alteration, intense sensation, ritual, and therapy. Many kinksters and polys aim to use this deeper understanding of themselves to improve their interactions in relationships with more effective and compassionate communication.
Self-knowledge can be tricky, though, and this search for deeper understanding sometimes has the unfortunate side-effect of people thinking or acting as if they know themselves better than they actually do. This tendency can be especially potent in kinky and poly scenes because folks in these social circles often value personal traits as much, or more, than they appreciate adherence to conventional standards of attractiveness. When self-knowledge has high social currency and can be manufactured convincingly even if false, it can present a shared temptation for poly and kinky folks to present themselves as personally “evolved” or enlightened.
Given their mutual emphasis on self-knowledge, honesty, and negotiation, it comes as no surprise that people in both polyamorous and kinky communities tend to be concerned with consent. Kinksters have taken the lead on consent for a few reasons, and the techniques they developed have influenced polyamorous and other sex-positive communities as well. The next blog in this series explores the reasons consent is so important to these communities, and the strategies they use to establish and sustain it.