This article first appeared in Towards 2012 part III: Culture & Language (The Unlimited Dream Company, 1997).
BURN YOUR KARMA IN THE FLAMES OF SPIRITUAL POLYFIDELITY!
In August 1994 I attended PEPCON’s 8th annual conference at Harbin Hot Springs, California. PEP stands for Polyfidelitous Educational Productions and their conference was subtitled "Loving More: Transforming Relationships". Transforming relationships from monogamy and an often toxic family environment, to polyfidelity, which they propose offers "more love, more growth, more intimacy, more commitment".
Ryam Nearing of PEP has written: "Monogamy may be a valid choice for some people at some times, but we also need other legitimate options for intimacy and family life. Our goal is new kinds of relationships based on unconditional love, continuing spiritual growth, respect for our diversity, equality among partners, telling the truth about our deepest desires, and accepting personal responsibility … together we explore the total transformation of love, sex, and the family".
I had been exploring responsible non-monogamy for a while and wanted to meet others living this in their communities. The term "non-monogamy" is prefaced here by "responsible" to distance it from swinging. Honesty, communication and consciousness were obviously very much prized by those I met, and it seemed that many attendees had experienced living in an extended sexual family of some kind. There were a number of people from well known group-living projects such as Kerista (now defunct) and ZEGG (of which more later). We attended workshops on cross-cultural and sociobiological precedents for poly living; gender balancing; how to build a polyfidelitous family; queers in family; relationships as a vehicle for personal/spiritual growth; techniques to facilitate a transparency of communication (the need for honesty); financial options in group marriage; tribal Tantra; "coming out" as poly, and much, much more. It was enlightening.
The basic premise of polyfidelity propagandists seems to be that most humans feel attraction to a number of people and that to bring this to its logical conclusion of being sexually intimate with more than one person, and have them all get on as a family, has the potential to clear many blocks in the individuals’ paths to growth (many issues will have to be dealt with for it to work!), and also to build intimate, caring and therefore strong communities. Strong communities are also developed by those who share an interest in this way of living as we come together to share our experience and practice the technologies for growth often deemed necessary to this kind of relating. One of these technologies would be meditation/self knowledge. Dr. Deborah Anapol states in Love Without Limits: The Quest for Sustainable Intimate Relationships that she sees some kind of energy practice like Tantra as most necessary in dealing with both the emotional and physical aspects of multi-partner sexual relating. A spiritual practice, especially one that focuses on conscious relating and channelling sexual energy (such as Tantra, Taoist sexual alchemy or the Native American Quodoushka) will also increase overall health, stamina, equilibrium and happiness; hopefully bringing greater trust and acceptance of yourself and others.
Ryam Nearing’s polyfidelity primer Loving More states that studies are steadily shattering the myth of monogamy. "The number of mammal species believed to be monogamous is now down to 2%". Birds do it, elk do it…. Monogamy is going the way of the nuclear family in that it was held to be the norm, but in fact is the exception. Strictly speaking monogamy means one sex partner for life; which is manifestly uncommon. What most people do is serial monogamy—or what Deborah Anapol calls serial non-monogamy (lots of partners separated by linear time).
One of Deborah’s most powerful quotes is "We have as a people grown afraid to love when the Spirit moves us". While many people profess to monogamy, a very large number do have intimate and/or sexual relations outside of their primary relationship—and then lie about it! The clinched possessive partner does not allow their partner to have close friends, of any sex, because of their pathological jealousy. Most of us recognise that this is more than a little warped. The overwhelming characteristic of monogamy is dependancy/ ownership/ limitation/ repression of self and partner—often enforced by threats of abandonment and/or violence.
Modern "love" often proves to be an addiction, and one which bolsters the economy to boot. The relationship between sexual repression and authoritarian conditioning is clearly delineated in The Mass Psychology of Fascism by Dr. Wilhelm Reich (it’s no accident that communard groups like MOVE and the Diggers, and free love sects like the Adamites and Brethren of the Free Spirit have been ruthlessly, violently suppressed). Responsible non-monogamy demands that we recognise our profound connection to other people and truly honour it. To be able to do so we must heal ourselves. Shared loving accelerates this healing and close bonding of individuals. If we are to contribute to the planet’s clean-up, as we must to survive, this can only be an advantage.
It is natural to regard cultural conditioning as natural—however, that does not make it true. First off, we must realise that monogamy is not "natural". Over half the world’s population practice polygamy or other non-monogamous forms. The enlightened view might be that monogamy was enforced by men to keep track of "their" offspring; that it stems from patriarchal control processes instituted after male priestcraft had cracked the feminine mystery of conception (á la Riane Eisler’s The Chalice & Blade). It can also be regarded as a control process by the church and state, designed to contain the naturally chaotic energies of Eros. Other cultures enjoy different norms which work for them—for example the famous Eskimo tradition of offering hospitality sex to visitors, or the less well known Greek version of this custom which involved the husband orally stimulating visitors in anticipation of the wife’s delights. So, we can’t really be expected to take seriously the mantra that monogamy is normal.
Multi-partner sex appears to make good genetic sense too. It has become a pop psychology truism that many men rear children not their own, and that women are more likely to seek out "adulterous" liaisons when they are ovulating and most likely to conceive. On the surface it may appear that monogamy serves the cause of social cohesion, but surely it would be a better society that could accept the reality of our capricious freewill and freeform pleasures.
Many people interested in multi-partner relationships choose to live together and have pioneered experiments in shared property and wealth to the great advantage of others—monogamous or otherwise—interested in living together. The variety of arrangements is limited only by the imagination. At PEPCON I learned of a journal devoted exclusively to sharing the results of experimental finance/property arrangements so that experience is pooled and mistakes don’t have to be repeated! Communal living usually differs from whatever the alternative is called by promoting shared resources as opposed to private ownership. Responsible non-monogamy is in continuum with this aim. While direct experience must be regarded as having the greatest content, there remain valuable lessons to be learnt from the experiences of others. Not everyone will wish to explore this avenue personally, but for those who want to find out more resources are listed on these pages.
There is a wealth of data here which is not easy to come by so I will limit myself to providing a brief summary of a few of the larger polyfidelitous communities.
The nineteenth century Oneida community (1848-1881) in America is an example of a commune devoted to the practice of non-possessive love styles. Believing marriage to be oppressive and sex liberating, exclusive pair bonding was here forbidden in favour of sexual freedom. Children lived in a Children’s House and exclusive attachment to their biological parents was strongly discouraged (as in the early Israeli Kibbutzim). Housework and other work was collectivised and performed equally by both genders. "[T]he Oneida Community … practised the interchange of husbands and wives as a magickal practice, to give a greater unity and spiritual strength to the entire community group. This was excellent magick. The climax was forbidden in these "agape unions" to avoid offspring complications. Because this congress was held under both the rules of communal love and religious aspiration, there was no resultant frustration because of the absence of climax." (Louis T. Culling, Sex Magic). By the time Oneida closed they had two hundred and eighty-eight members and ran a highly successful business.
That sex and other intimate behaviour is a powerful bonding mechanism is recognised by the profusion of centres dedicated to training people in the tradition of Osho (a.k.a. Bagwan Shree Rajneesh). Here the ideal is to create a therapeutic and loving environment where rejection and jealousy are easily handled or cease to become an issue. This is because; first, one is given the space and emotional freedom to fully express and work through any considerations that do come up and second; one can bond deeply to such a number of people that the temporary "loss" of a lover is no great hardship.
The above is a vision of an erotic community dedicated to self knowledge and self expression. This model is also used by the "Actions-Analytical Organisation for conscious life praxis" or AAO who defined themselves thus: "an important social experiment with common property, free sexuality, common economy, direct democracy, collective children and spontaneous emotional self expression. The AAO is not a utopian vision of an ideal society, it is an existing model for a new social life praxis. The AAO is the practical proof that it is possible to live together without aggression and the use of violence, without sexual repression. the AAO has been in existence for 8 years and at the present  500 people live in the 12 AAO groups in western europe and the states" (The AAO Model).
One of the AAO’s slogans was "death to pairbonding!". Of course, even the AAO are not free of value judgements and ideology. They were (in 1977 at least) self-consciously identified with Reich and took on board much of his Marxist ideology. They also exhibit a degree of homophobia in some of their literature. However, in their prime the AAO were a radical and exemplary experimental community. Like the Oneida Community, the AAO were eventually shut down due to outside pressure, ostensibly relating to their policies of sexual freedom for children (see ‘The Night Before Charisma’ in HEAD 7 for more in-depth details of the AAO’s imprisoned founder, Otto Muehl).
If everything is to be put into question, this everything will include childhood, where much programming/ imprinting occurs, and sexuality, which is often a vehicle for programming, and concern for a society which can only envisage child sexuality in terms of abuse should not necessarily prevent this. Equally, we should not be surprised by society’s predictable response. Humans are sexual beings, be they babies, children, adolescents or adults. This is obviously a contentious area—however, we should never forget that each individual is to be regarded as their own supreme sovereign and sole authority over their own bodymind—a concept trampled on by knee jerk moralists and abusers alike.
The positive pioneering communard aspect of the above ventures is presently being vigorously expressed in Germany and elsewhere in the shape of ZEGG (Centre for Experimental Cultural Design). ZEGG is a commune of 88 adults and 12 children that has been developing for the past 15 years. "We need to find the main causes of fear and violence between people, understand them, and develop a way of living together on a new basis. At ZEGG, living together itself is a process of research and development, where new social structures are put to the test. Anything can be tried that might make life more interesting, more lively, more sensual.
"There cannot be peace between nations as long as there is war between the sexes. We are not free, and no society is free as long as love and sexuality are surrounded by so much pretence, phoniness, silence, and lies. No one is free as long as our greatest longing is permanently linked to our greatest fear. A person is free when he or she is able to love and allowed to love freely. In fact. there can be no such thing as ‘unfree’ love. Love is always free and everything else is a misunderstanding."
An American project which has developed out of ZEGG is called Balthiel, "named after the angel Balthiel from the Testament of Solomon; the only angel of the 7 planetary angels to overcome the entanglements of the evil genius of Jealousy" and ZEGG have named their newsletter "compersion" after the word coined by the Kerista community meaning the opposite of jealousy.
As well as focusing on issues of personal growth, transparent communication, open sexuality and innovative community building, they research areas of energy physics; healing; resonance technology; they have designed their own non-polluting heating system; water treatment facility using marsh plants; and a "non-chemical self-powered antennae swimming pool cleaning system". They keep an organic garden and have a dolphin research ship which explores human-whale-dolphin communication off the west coast of Africa. Thus ZEGG is not a "single issue" concern in the way some places of sexual healing/experimentation are; unless that single issue be wholism.
ZEGG provides an excellent model of free sexuality working harmoniously in a community, itself developing and at the same time providing energy and incentive for development of other related areas of human experience. In this way free sexuality can be a powerful source of individual and group empowerment.
The energy of the 1970’s may have led to groups like the AAO being quite pushy, as in the Osho commune’s extensive use of catharsis and highly confrontational encounter therapy. Most Osho centres (especially at the commune in Poona, India; less so at the Holland & UK Multiversities) now concentrate on energy work and meditation. It remains to be seen whether we have got over the absurd inadequacies that led people into authoritarian structures like guru worshipping.
Of course, the situations we are most likely to encounter will probably not be in communes dedicated to sexual freedom, but between a small number of voluntary acquaintances. I really think that before we can get on with others with less of the trips, ego and unconscious programmes, we need to have a sense of not NEEDING them; which comes down to self reliance and self knowledge. I suspect that groupings of people where things go badly "wrong" are groupings of people who are afraid of and fleeing self knowledge. Personally, I’m less into organised communities and more into an organic/ fractal/ chaotic model which accepts that what happens happens (although functional communities may form therefrom). Where ideologies and interpretative frameworks are dropped as far as possible in favour of direct experience. Where beLIEf, morals, expectations etc. are recognised as occasional operational necessities to be pared down to the minimum so we can come as close as possible to what is.
However, whether polyfidelity is practised in an organised group or amongst more disparate individuals; whether it is followed as a lifestyle choice or as one option out of a range of lovestyles which are adopted as and when appropriate; responsible non-monogamy can empower us as individuals and communities, promoting a sense of love, security and personal empowerment.
Living this lifestyle has brought much learning, pleasure, healing and ecstatic sex. Like any life path it has also brought a fair deal of pain and disappointment.
I find social conditioning & the monogamy virus strong in myself. But when I try to live monogamously I notice my reality shrinking. I become defensive and insecure, I lose my self-reliance and become unhappy and despondent—even tho’ I may think monogamy is what I want. I don’t think I’m reducing everything to a sexual level, because it’s more than that for me. Feeling open and relating sexually can be present without necessarily manifesting physically. Feeling sexually open to other people is, for me, a metaphor of feeling open in other ways, of feeling free to be myself without limits on how that openness may manifest; just as for the possessive partner, non-sexual intimacy can trigger their feelings of sexual jealousy. I see these levels of intimacy mirroring each other.
Sometimes when I’m seeing more than one person sexually I feel jealous, anxious and/or guilty. The only way I know of dealing with this is by focusing on my here & now experience of what’s happening, as opposed to mind-fucking about possible outcomes which may never happen (but which I could manifest by obsessively worrying and giving them energy!). Jealousy can be a reality, but there’s no reason to make it all-important and give it power over one’s life. I do have a fear of abandonment and have to push through that to be myself; a constant process which ebbs and flows like the tides. I can usually keep sight of the fact that it’s better for someone to "leave" me than for me to make myself miserable by limiting and sacrificing myself to fit in with what they want or my interpretation of their expectations—which could be misinterpretations anyway.
People often seem very attached to their limitations and/or pain, and would rather avoid responsibility for this by blaming others. So if their partner/lover performs actions that remind them of their hurt (i.e. fear of abandonment), they blame the other person for "hurting them" and often avoid dealing with the flipside of why it hurts. While it may be true that the other person has some responsibility, it’s also likely that the present situation is resonating with something inside/in the past, the resolution of which could be profoundly healing. Sometimes I see myself & others avoiding these hidden treasures by forming (usually unspoken) agreements based on denial, to avoid anything which brings up pain. A truly partial approach. In my experience things work best when I’m willing to risk losing everything for the sake of being honest. Especially to risk losing the picture I have of myself, and the expectations I’ve built up of someone else and the reactions I think they’ll have to things I say or do.
I like to see pain, like jealousy, as a wake up call showing where to bring more consciousness-awareness. Where it hurts is where it needs healing. For example, a disappointment can lead to identifying the unspoken expectations that led to that specific hurt. Being involved with multiple partners means there’s more intensity so, with honesty and awareness, problems surface quickly and can be quickly cleared. This path can be hard work, and it’s definitely worth it. Deal with it, innit. If I’m not dealing with it; if I’m using relationship(s) to avoid myself, it doesn’t work. Which is how it should be, methinks. I get the feeling that I’m articulating the obvious, but these are things I keep having to remember and relearn.
I don’t really want to say all monogamy is bad (do I?). If we choose monogamy consciously sometime, it should be fine, of course. The key issue for me is choice. Are we really choosing our sex lives, or are we being run by programmes as usual? How much choice can we create? If jealousy or fear is running your or my life—why? I like to raise these questions for myself by experimenting and seeing what comes up. After all… I have little idea of who I am, what I want, where I’m going etc. Might as well play!
"People doing it say ‘There is something magical about this lifestyle to me…because it is living an alternative, it’s living a contradiction to all the standard programming and the way that everyone expects you to be. Whenever you are doing something that is different from the norm, there is a magic to it, a freedom and a sense of power. I always have a feeling that if we can do this thing that is so delicate and complicated, even for a few years, we can do anything.’" (from Loving More: The Polyfidelity Primer).
Happy lovin’ now!
Books: Essential Reading!
- The AAO Model, trans. Brooke Skopik (AA verlag, Nurenberg: 1977). See also Ottoismus in Holland by William Levy @ The Invisible Language Society, Fokke Simonszstraat 28-1, 1017 TH Amsterdam, Holland. An updated version appears in HEAD 7.
- Cohousing: A Contemporary Approach to Housing Ourselves, Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett (Habitat/10 Speed Press; 1989). £23 from: Head, BM Uplift, London, WC1N 3XX.
- The Devil & The Goddess: Meditations on Blood, Serpents and Androgyny, Gyrus (Norlonto; 2000).
- Diggers & Dreamers: The Guide to Co-operative Living 96/97, Ed. by C. Coates, J. How, L. Jones, W. Morris and A. Wood (D&D; 1995) £10.50 from: Edge of Time Ltd, PO Box 1808, Winslow, Buckingham, NK18 3RN.
- The Irrational in Politics: Sexual Repression & Authoritarian Conditioning, Maurice Brinton (See Sharp Press, AZ; 1993) $6 from PO Box 1731, Tucson, AZ 85702-1731; or £4.95 from: AK Distribution, PO Box 12766, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH8 9YE. Tel# 0131-555-5165.
- Love Without Limits: The Quest for Sustainable Intimate Relationships—Responsible Non-Monogamy, Dr. Deborah Anapol (Intinet Resource Centre, CA: 1992). $16 from I.R.C, above; or £12.95 from The Private Case, POB 23, Royston, Herts, SG8 8DT, U.K.
- Loving More: The Polyfidelity Primer, Ryam Nearing (PEP Publishing, Captain Cook: 1992). $12. Contact: PEP (see listings).
- ‘Pasiphae: The Woman Who Fucked Bulls’, Will Tracy in Ritual Sex (RhinocEros: NY, 1997), ed. by T. Taormino & D. A. Clark.
- Sex Magic, Louis T. Culling (Llewellyn, MN: 1988) £8 from: Head, BM Uplift, London, WC1N 3XX.
- Sacred Land, Sacred Sex: Rapture Of The Deep: Concerning Deep Ecology And Celebrating Life, Dolores LaChapelle (Kivaki Press, CO: 1988). $25 from/ enquires to: Kivaki Press, 585 east 31st Street, Durango, CO 81301, USA.
- Safer Planet Sex: The Handbook, massive listing of everything to do with sex, in Britain & worldwide. Directions, playing, travelling, shopping, performing, looking, reaching, talking. £8 from Tuppy Owens, PO Box 4ZB, London, W1A 4ZB.