Depending on your media diet, polyamory is anything from «the future of relationships» to «the harbinger of the end for all civilization» or, of course, «just another passing fad». After well over a decade in such a relationship, for me it is just… quite normal, actually – so I set aside my probably biased personal views and I did what any sensible journalist would do: I checked with an authority on the subject.
As one of the organizers of the largest Italian convention for polyamorists, Monica Preziuso was the perfect person for that. This is what she said when I called her up.
Hi, Monica! Before we move on to polyamory and conventions, would you tell us a bit about yourself and how you ended up dealing with these subjects?
Hi Ayzad, I love this opening question! You see, in the meetings we organize about polyamory I often talk about how I got into that, since I believe it is the most direct and empathic approach to address those people who are new to polyamory or who never took this world into consideration. Talking about my experience helps drive home a simple message: my relational and life choice comes from a deep need that emerged through the years, as I became more and more aware of what makes me happy in relation with myself and others. In other words, I got into this for love!
I have had relationships based on a clear independence since my childhood, and later I had the opportunity to experience gradually and consensually with sexuality outside of the couple (the mythical “open couple”)… and then, as it happens to many people, I fell in love with two persons at the same time. At first I didn’t know what to do: I didn’t want to choose nor renounce to any of them, so I worked on trying to understand what alternatives I had. Meeting the polyamory community felt like finally coming home. There I began a serious growth, we created a group and we founded R.E.ti, the association promoting ethical non-monogamous relationships.
Over the years I developed a rather strict idea of what polyamorous relationships are and what sets them apart from simple promiscuity. Provided that I believe that in this field there are no right or wrong opinions, but just different interpretations… What is your definition of ‘polyamory’?
A definition most people agree upon does exist: it goes “the practice (or possibility) of having more than one intimate, sexual or affective relationship at a time, with the explicit consent of every actual and potential partners. It is synonymous with ethical non-monogamy”. I like it because it is wide-ranging, fitting me as much as lots of other persons whose relations, partner agreements and interaction/intimacy/love networks take forms that are totally different from mine. Among activists, we say that polyamory is a non-model, so much that somebody talks about designer relationships.
For me, besides the definition describing the relational attitude, ethical non –monogamy is also a part of my identity and a cause for transformation. Ethics and consent are crucial concepts I have been reflecting upon for years: I agree that there is no fixed interpretation, but I think there is a common shared intent. In that sense, I would feel polyamorous even if I had only one partner, even if I was single and leading a promiscuous sex life; for me it isn’t about the momentary configuration I am in, but about how I approach relationships and the fact that persons are more important than the relationships themselves. That said, I see my affective network as a priceless treasure. I like to take care of my lovers and in turn I get support and closeness… In my daily life, polyamory is a “big family”, a “tribe”. Such richness and complexity lead me to keep the door open for new and interesting connections anyway.
Unfortunately there is no reliable data. Last April the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy published a survey asking whether the subjects had experienced consensual nonmonogamy, or CNM, which was defined as ‘any relationship where the partners agree that they can have romantic and/or sexual relations with other partners’. They used two distinct single adult samples of 3,905 and 4,813 persons from the US census, and more than one on five of them (21.9% in the first study, 21.2% in the second) reported they had. Looking closely, they were nonattached people that had no “structured” relationships when they were interviewed – and more analysis would be required on the concept of consent and its interpretations and implications.
However, the current need for alternative relational models to the monogamic ideal is clear, as the growing mentions of polyamory by the mass media attest. They also often picture it as a fad… The truth is that many people are experimenting how it is possible to have multiple intimate, sexual and affective relations while maintaining trust and respect between everyone involved. Those who approach the possibility of polyamory quickly realize that ethical or consensual non-monogamy doesn’t work for everyone. This research and my activism experience suggest me that many have at least tried it or are seeking to build a relational path closer to their desires, with all the difficulties that come with leaving the normative model behind.
I see the growing interest also in how lots of journalists from all kind of publications contact us for interviews or documentary projects: we get a new request every month or so. The events in Rome gather 80-100 persons. For these reasons in 2015 we felt the need to structure up the activities we started two years earlier founding the association that allowed us to organize larger events such as the OpenCon.
OpenCon that I didn’t manage to attend two years in a row, damn it! Can you explain what the event is and the features of the upcoming June third edition?
With pleasure! The organizing body is fantastic. Registrations are open, so the readers are invited to check out the official website and the Facebook page! The name stands for ‘open conference’, meaning that the organizers create the structure and the initial suggestions, while the participants – including the organizers themselves – bring their own contents as individuals or as groups. This year’s edition will expand the convention from two to three days, with mandatory attendance to the first one for first-time participants as it will all be about consent. We’ll start with an introductory plenary session, then we’ll have 90 minutes workshops running in parallel you can pick from. There will be much space for socializing and discussion… and for poolside relaxation. Also new in 2018 is the location, since we’ll have a whole hotel exclusively for the OpenCon, featuring many different types of rooms to better accommodate the different types of relationships and combinations. The place is beautiful, on the Trasimeno lake and featuring a private beach.
Pardon my cynicism, but do the participants really share this enlightened spirit? Does anybody mistake the event for a swingers festival?
I know some enlightened swingers I would have loved to host at the last OpenCon, possibly in place of a few other guys who actually attended. Our association doesn’t do invitations: we welcome a slice of humanity as they come in. We try to create a safe, or at least as safe as possible, space at our events; you are an event organizer yourself and you surely know what I mean. Trying to create such a space possibly is the most important focus of the staff, so much that we explained it in a behavior code everyone is bound to sign.
As I said, we gave the topic of consent ample space in debates and experiential workshops. I can reveal that last year those who expected something else rightly felt out of place, uninterested and they left early. This also happens at our Rome events: some people get in, realize the founding concepts of our activity such as consent culture, feminism, self-determination, nonviolent communication and non-judgemental listening, and they simply do not come back.
Let’s go back to the more intellectual contents. What were the most interesting discussions last year, in your opinion? And the most populated workshops?
I love the variety of the participants’ proposals, so let me check my notes: ‘Polyamory Foundations’; ‘Rationally Safer Sex’; ‘Co-creative Massage Laboratory’; ‘Animalesque – Experiential Workshop’; ‘The Wheel of Consent’; ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’; ‘Jealousy Management’; ‘Secular Relationships’; ‘Polyamory, Feminism and Politics’; ‘Naturism as a Tool for Deeper Self-Acceptance’; ‘Contact Poly – An Improvisation’… It was a very dense and intense weekend! From these titles you can guess there were discussions, but also workshops, and we touched upon many areas. People loved the physical workshops, and I believe that sometimes living a certain sensation on your own skin can be very important and helpful to support your intellectual understanding. For example, even merely living simple interactions between more than two persons or working on your body self-acceptance can be hugely helpful.
Equally interesting were the discussions, especially ‘The Shadow, the Secret and Transgression in Ethical Non-Monogamies’ analyzed honesty within a relationship, how everyone declines this abstract concept differently and how agreements can vary between different relations. The discussion of jealousy is an evergreen that keeps offering new insights. I personally loved the sharing circle about polyamory, feminism and politics, with a female majority who made me realize how rich and creative can be a space where women feel free to express themselves and their desires.
More in general, do the topics discussed in events like yours reach the larger polyamory community, or do they remain restricted to the “convention hounds” clique?
I kinda feel a certain permeability between the larger community and these moments of deeper discussion. I am under the impression that there are some important basic concepts and that ideas can travel back and forth, growing, informing and becoming something different. The polyamory community is very young after all, and this may be a plus, at least for the enthusiasm and vitality.
What other events are there in Italy for those wanting to approach the polyamory culture, or further delve into it?
Every region of our country has gatherings: on a regular basis in some cities, and more sporadic in smaller towns. The most active groups are in Bologna, Genua, Milan, Padua, Rome and Turin. There also are two main Facebook groups with 3,000-3,500 members each: Poliamore e altre non-monogamie etiche: discussione, confronto e supporto and Policome – Gruppo di confronto e supporto sul poliamore.
Our R.E.ti association in Rome organizes two monthly events. One of them is focused on discussion and circles where the participants share their themes and life experiences, while the other is a more informal polycocktail more oriented towards newcomers, a bit like munches are for the BDSM community. You can find them announced here.
How do you see the future of polyamory?
Wow, this is a heavy question! I could answer saying that polyamory is the type of relationship that is going to take the place of monogamy, like somebody actually wrote (LOL). The truth is that I don’t believe at all that any model is better than another, nor that any evolution is required in any direction. What I can say is the future I am wishing for: to me, polyamory is an opportunity to create a new narrative in a range of cross-fading relational modes. The Kinsey scale taught us that heterosexuality and homosexuality are extremes, with bisexuals on the midpoint… and anyone lies somewhere on this scale. Similarly, in a range or map of possible relationships we have monogamy and polyamory as the extremes. And in the middle? So many possibilities: closed triads, open couples, swingers, “don’t ask don’t tell” couples, libertines, couples seeking for a common partner, unstructured intimate networks, cruising singles… and the truth of the matter is that anyone is somewhere in there.
Promoting the awareness that individuals, together with their partners, are the only ones with the right to draw (and redraw over time) their boundaries and their relational identity on this map would be a great future for polyamory.