The generally accepted definition of fetishizing is to make something the object of a sexual fetish; To project one’s sexual fantasies onto somebody or something. Normally (not always) it is projected onto something that would not otherwise be sexual. School girls, leather, and discipline are common and obvious examples.
The simple assumption that Polyamory is all about sex is fetishizing Polyamory.
The assumption is so common and so pervasive in the world and even the Poly community itself that the idea that it might be damaging to people and relationships is rarely talked about. The phrase, “It’s not all about sex,” seems to be where the conversation begins and ends.
There are people that genuinely believe that Polyamory will help satisfy their high sex drives and plenty of us are getting laid a lot. I don’t have problems with fetishes being played out but nonconsensual fetishizing of a human being just because they are Polyamorous does not sit right with me.
Even those that don’t believe Poly is inherently sex-based can feishize it.
There are a few ways I’ve directly experienced this. For some context: I am bisexual and I primarily date men. That means the experiences I have had and will talk about below are a reflection of that and not at all an attack on men or couples. I see it as an excellent way to find the reasons behind these behaviors and heal them.
Also, I totally made all of this up based on my opinions and experiences so don’t take them as truth unless they feel right for you.
Is the most common way that Poly becomes fetishized. The term (mostly) refers to hetero couples “hunting” down bisexual women to become a part of their relationship for a while or the night. Admittedly, a couple being open to bringing in a girlfriend isn’t inherently wrong or bad. A couple seeking out, projecting their expectations onto, and expecting reciprocation from a stranger falls under creepy territory.
This behavior is rooted in the, “A threesome might be fun,” conversation. In pursuing a threesome above any other Polyamorous action couples can forget to include the preferences of the third party and simply use a person to have that specific experience.
Bait and Switch
Is the term I use when a person lies about being in an open situation with their partner. My personal experience has been with specifically several married men, but I imagine it can happen with any person. A good way to spot these types is that their “open marriage” or “newly poly relationship” is don’t-ask-don’t-tell.
That rule might not be my cup of tea, but it does exist. It is not a red flag when somebody mentions that as their relationship structure but it is a yellow flag at the very least. I try to ask follow up questions about how they came to that conclusion. If a lot of it has to do with their sex drive being way higher than their partner’s, the flag goes from yellow to orange. If they don’t want to talk about their partner or their love life, that flag goes red.
This is a personal preference that is derived from my own feeling. The feeling is that this person is fetishizing nonmonogamy and I am tool to help them do that. I own that this could be an assumption that is wrong, but I follow my intuition. A word of advice: If it feels creepy... that’s probably because it is.
Is a thing I made up to describe a specific kind of dark fetishizing that I’ve experienced with a few potential and practiced partners. It is loosely related to the Madonna-Whore complex in that the name is a play on those words.
Nonmonogamy or not, a lot of people carry around internalized shame about sex. The confusing messages about not wanting or needing sex sometimes ruin our ability to clearly see it how we would like to. This sometimes restricts people to being turned on by shame or seeking out promiscuity because they believe these are the only ways to experience their own sexuality.
How it has shown up in my life is being the tool for living out that sexual shame. Polyamory seems to translate to promiscuity for these creatures that have unhealed wounds. They use this kind of relationship to get attention on the wound and in doing so never get the chance to heal it.
This can manifest as the person slut shaming their partner, slut shaming themselves, and trying to work out their past instead of honoring the current relationship.
The Grand Assumptions
To maintain privacy and because it has happened with more than one man, I’m going to combine several men into one character. He and I both understand that expectations are not requests and, despite how valuable it can be to name them, are more important to let go of than to hold on to.
He revealed that there were things he thought would happen.
I might tell him that I was attracted to another man while we were out and decide to go home with that man. I might come home with him and his girlfriend would be there waiting. I might bring him home with me and surprise him with my girlfriend. I might ask for group sex.
None of these things were even closely mentioned by me and as I heard them from their respective sources I started to feel like they were plots of a porn video. Some of them came up more than once. There’s nothing wrong with expressing a sexual fantasy with consent BUT
None of these mean ever brought it up when were talking about sex. They didn’t say it was a fantasy. These things were almost always brought up as, “I thought / I think this is what our relationship will be like.” Some of them expressed disappointment at being wrong in their assumptions and some of them neutral.
All of them, however, were placing a sexual component of Polyamory that they had made up or heard onto the person they were talking to even when there was no implied sexual context.
Fetishizing Poly people and Polyamory is damaging and avoidable. The work starts in the individual that acts them out. Systematic sex shaming and a long tradition of Monogamy make it hard for us to expect everybody to catch up immediately. We can, however, expect to be treated as human beings rather than sexual devices for somebody else’s pleasure or emotional growth.