Role-Playing Polyamory

Polyamory is appealing to many and it is growing in popularity. But how can one explore this without actually opening their relationship, which can create conflict that is very difficult to overcome?

I had the honor of interviewing a couple who takes role-playing to the next level, essentially combining it with polyamorous sensibilities. Betsy and Sam’s inspiration for their frequent role play comes from people they encounter in their every day lives! So if Sam has a client to who he is attracted or Betsy finds herself turned on by one of their friends, that person is mentally brought into their sex play. Sam will pretend to be that friend, acting and speaking like him/her, so that Betsy can experience having sex with that person. *1 Then Betsy will return the favor on another occasion! How cool is that? It allows them to experience both themselves and each other in a variety of contexts and expressions.

One of the most powerful gifts of a polyamorous lifestyle is tied to the fact that different people bring out different parts of our personalities. This is something that most anyone can relate to, whether or not you have experienced having multiple partners at the same time in your life. Different friends and family members bring this sort of experience to our lives as well. Your brother might bring out your playful side where your best friend inspires your creative side, etc. The same applies to sexual partners. Think back through your partners. You had different types of sex with each of them, because they are each unique individuals. And, of course, some of the sex was the same no matter who you were with, because you are the common denominator throughout and you were bringing yourself to the table (or bed! or chair!) with each of them. So imagine being able to have that broad range of experience in your sex life right now. Anyone would want that! But polyamory is not for everyone (I realize some would argue otherwise), and opening your relationship can be a lot of work. Sam and Betsy have found a way to bring in that rich and wide breadth of experience with far fewer challenges and risks. Note: fewer challenges, not none!

In my work with clients who are interested in polyamory, one of the first things we explore is what might be keeping one person from experiencing themselves more fully with their current (or primary) partner. Sometimes this is simple: you want to try something for which you believe your partner will judge you, but when you voice it, you find out that you were wrong, and you get to go home and try it! More often, we find self-judgments or triggers in need of either removal or toleration. This part can take lots and lots of work. It can feel like so much work that one would prefer to just ignore their needs or get them met elsewhere. And sometimes that is perfectly fine. But I am a therapist and I advocate for expanding one’s abilities. I happen to believe this for a lot of things. Want some good jam? Why not try making it? Need a scarf? Knit one! Yes, it is more work. And sometimes you will end up back where you were: in need of outsourcing *2. But all the work you put in goes towards you becoming an increasingly awesome person.

Back to Sam and Betsy. Sam could wish forever that Betsy were as feisty as his client, because he loves how playful he feels with that person. Or he could (and does!) ask Betsy to try out being that feisty person. Then, Sam gets to feel more playful in their sex and Betsy gets to add a little feist to her expressions of self *3. This stuff deepens intimacy like crazy. Why? Because it takes both people making themselves pretty darn vulnerable. And it feels wonderful when you open up a part of yourself and experience someone being with you in that space. It is so worth all the work.

I have oodles of tangents on which to go off, because this is a complicated and topic. If you have questions, feedback or heated (but kind) arguments to make, please send me an email. I will surely be making future posts on this topic.

Find the interview in my next post, transcribed for your amusement, enjoyment, and inspiration.

My notes:

*1 Yes, pretending to have sex with someone is different than actually having sex with them. But we know (from science!) that conjuring up a context can be as powerful as the real one. Check out the recent empirical data stemming from research on the therapeutic benefits of theatrics.

*2 Outsourcing is a term I use for going outside one’s primary relationship to get an emotional need met, just like we do with products and services.

*3 While a large part of what makes it possible for us to express something is the context within which we find ourselves, I also believe it is necessary to expand one’s ability to express themselves the same way, regardless of their surroundings. In the case of Sam and Betsy, were they clients, I would challenge Sam to find ways to be playful even if Betsy is not being feisty. And I would challenge Betsy in the same way.