Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Menage versus Polyamory

By Melodee Aaron (Guest Blogger)

Right off the bat I want to thank Lisabet for letting me share her blog for a time. Hopefully, it won't be too disappointing. My husband Jack and our kids say that I'm nothing if not entertaining.


There are a lot of things that annoy me. If you doubt that, check out my frequent tweets with the hashtag #ThingsThatPissMeOff for a rather large list. And I mean hundreds. If not more.

But there are actually very few things that really make me mad. That list includes:
  • 1) Thousands of Yahoo! Group messages (or FaceBook updates or Twitter posts) that boil down to saying, " my book! Please!!" Yeah...that gets on my nerves.
  • 2) At least an equal number of posts telling me what my politics should be. Ditto for religion. Sorry, but I'm a big girl and can make up my mind on those all by myself.
  • 3) The word "Ménage".
To address #1, I'm not going to pitch my books here. The assorted links are at the bottom of this post, and if you want to go have a look, I will appreciate that. If not, I'm good.

As far as #2 goes, I frankly don't care what your religion or politics are. By the same token, I doubt you really care very much about mine, either. So, enough said on that.

But it's #3 that really bugs me, and I'm going to drag you—kicking and screaming if I have to—into just why that word should make you crazy, too.

Merriam-Webster offers the definition of ménage as a domestic establishment i.e. household. In the world of erotica and erotica romance, the term is usually taken as shorthand for a ménage à trois, (again as defined by Merriam-Webster) an arrangement in which three persons (as a married pair and the lover of one of the pair) share sexual relations especially while living together.

In short, in the real world, a ménage is simple three (or more) way sex. Nothing more.

The publishing world has twisted this even more. In published works, a ménage is any group of three or more people involved in an intimate relationship. Sadly, this is about as far from the truth as you can get.

I can hear you asking yourself, "Just what is the little blonde deaf girl taking about?" Easy...

Every publisher of erotica romance demands the proverbial Happily Ever After story. The major characters have to end up together. When the characters end up together as a group, we have a loving and caring relationship between three or more people. By definition, this is not a ménage.

Calling on the good people at Merriam-Webster one more time, they define polyamory as the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.

It seems like the erotica romance publishers have it all wrong...what they say is ménage is actually polyamory.

But there's more to it than that.

Depending on what survey you read, having two women in bed at the same time is one of the top—if not the top—male fantasies. It would be safe to say that nine out of ten men wants two women at the same time, and one out of ten men is a liar.

But these guys are thinking about having a ménage.

Imagine these men in a true polyamorous relationship. I would bet that 99% of them could not deal with the emotional intensity of having two women loving him and him loving two women. And keep in mind that we're talking about all at the same time...not him spending every other night with a different woman so the intensity is lower.

As an aside, there is good reason to believe, though the self-reported studies don't support it, that women have similar fantasies about having two men. Most experts believe that women tend to hide this fantasy for various reasons.

But the fact is that experts long thought that polyamory is a fringe phenomenon. Then social scientists began to see that it was far more pervasive than they thought, but they dreamed up all manner of silly explanations. Like that one person is actually a BDSM slave to the other two. The list is pretty long and I won't bore you with it here.

Today, we are seeing more and more polyamorous relationships where all parties are on an equal footing. And this makes fiscal sense...

Prior to the 1950s, it was rare for a wife and mother to work outside the home. The man's income was enough to get by on and even reach the American Dream. Through the 1960s and 1970s, this changed and more women went to work. Some because they wanted to, but most went because the economy changed and more income was needed to run the household than one person could make. Now we're finding that even with two breadwinners in the house, still more income is needed. It makes sense that simple economics will push society to more and more polyamorous relationships.

As a side journey, we need to at least look at the idea of two parents going off to work while the third stays home and takes care of the house and joint kids. Again, just more daycare bills!

And speaking of kids...what about them? How would children do in a polyamorous home? Would the women all be 'mommy' and the men all be 'daddy?' Would such an arrangement actually do any damage to the children? And I'm not talking about pop-psychology here...I mean actually damage their psyche. I seriously doubt long as a calm, loving, and supportive environment surrounds the kids, I can't see much difference between two parents and twenty.

A common argument against polyamory is that it somehow upsets the "natural" balance between the sexes. A fact that the supporters of this idea point to is that the ratio of men to women on the planet is very close to 1:1. The actual accepted figure is 1.01 men for every woman. In other words, there are slightly more males than females. The argument based on this accepted fact goes something like this...

"If one man has two women, then there aren't enough women to go around and some guy will have no woman at all."

Um...if there is another group made up of two men and one woman, it all comes out equal. There are six people, three of each gender, all together. This argument is invalid.

Another is the "one man, one woman" crowd. This is a purely emotional argument and has no basis in fact. You can't even break even in a debate on this because there are no facts...just emotions.

The one man, one woman argument also leads to the idea of monogamy in general. Again depending on what study you look at, some place between 2% and 5% of all mammals are actually monogamous. And humans are not in that small group. In practice, we humans tend toward serial monogamy...we hook up with a partner for a time and we are faithful (whatever that means!) to that partner. We then move on to another partner and the process repeats. Pundits in this camp say that evolution has made humans monogamous (even though we're not). If this were true, there would never be anyone having an affair or getting a divorce.

I've used the concept of polyamory (as opposed to ménage) in many books. The first to really get into the social and emotional side was The Polyamorous Princess (Siren Publishing) where Allie, Harry, and Damon all fall in love and form a family.

In the Flights of Fancy series (Siren Publishing), the idea extends across all three books now in the series (Burning Love, Knights of Desire, and As Darkness Falls) with a slight As Darkness Falls, the polyamorous relationship went in a slightly different direction where there are two male/female couples that fall in love, and this leads to one final social aspect...

In the traditional "ménage" presented by most erotica romance publishers, we see a single female character together with two or more males. In some cases, the men do not have sexual contact (plain and simple, this is erotica, not erotica romance) but have sex only with the woman. Sometimes two (or more) men will be with the woman (still just erotica), but there is only one woman.

In As Darkness Falls, the two men have sex with other and with the two women, but the women also have sex with each other as well as the two women being with one of the men. In other words, there is every possible grouping of the four characters.
By and large, the readers of erotica romance don't like this approach. Conditioned by popular myths and incorrect definitions, the readers believe that erotica ménage stories are actually erotica polyamory stories. It should be clear by now that this really isn't the case at all. There are fundamental differences between ménage and polyamory. If you want a story with more than two people, you have two choices...

(1) You can get a ménage tale that is nothing more than erotica, a string of artificial acts that really has no basis in reality, or...

(2) You can get a polyamorous book with actual erotic romance based in real psychology.

The bottom line is that, in reality, there will be an infinite combination of groupings...male/male, male/female, and female/female with the additional people falling in at random.

While many social scientists and psychologists believe that polyamory is the natural evolution of relationships, ménage remains a fantasy.

And most likely always will be.

You can learn more about me and my books at the following websites:

Keep Loving!


P.S. I'm giving away two ebooks, a copy of The Polyamorous Princess and a copy of As Darkness Falls, to two lucky people who leave comments (including your email address - please!)


Vanessa said...

Thankyou, Melodee for a rational, well thought out explanation. Possibly a lack of judgement by those who decide someone else is 'wrong' for making a rational and informed decision/choice to be in such a relationship would go a long way to making life more pleasant (Such a lack lustre word, :-)) for those in a polyamorous relationship.

felinewyvern said...

Thank you for the explanation on the difference between ménage and polyamory. It was most informative but I don't somehow think it will make any difference to genre labelling in the book publishing industry, too much like hard work changing everyone's perceptions and expectations :S

felinewyvern at googlemail dot com

Annabeth Leong said...

This is interesting and passionately argued, but I think that, in the end, you've fallen into a false dichotomy. It's a good point that there's a difference between sexual relationships that end up with an emotional commitment between all characters involved and the fantasy of a hot person who comes in on a sexual arrangement. However, I'm bristling at your use of "just erotica." I don't think good erotica is "a string of artificial acts that really has no basis in reality." Good erotica explores the realities and emotional territories of various acts, but doesn't demand a HEA. I think of erotica as being a story of exploration and self-discovery. So it would be possible to write erotica about sex with multiple partners that would be deeply felt, maybe not end in polyamory, and yet would not be artificial or cheap. The thing you're saying about artificial encounters seems like it might best be described as "pure sex fantasy."

I write and read both erotica and erotic romance, and I'm sensitive to the devaluing of erotica. It's different, but not less than. It has a wildness and a freedom to it that I never want to give up—free of the tyranny of the HEA (which, in the context of erotic romance, transforms into an important and defining advice, much like the rhyme pattern of a traditional metered poem).

In the end, I think you're right about misuse of the term menage, and you're right to bring up the issue of the HEA. You're also right to say that ending with loving commitment for everyone is more appropriately described as polyamory than as menage. However, I think you're dismissing the role erotica plays/can play in exploring this territory, because erotica can actually be about the arrangements and experiments people try. It can be about the disasters and the Pyrrhic victories. It can be about the hottest night of someone's life that also destroyed a relationship. It can be about a thing that happened once but never will again. In the hands of a good writer, it's not artificial.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Melodee,

Thanks for joining us at Beyond Romance. I think you're stirring up some controversy here!

Anne said...

OMG! This involves way too much thinking for 8:30 a.m. and only one Diet Coke. Without racking my very tired brains, polyamory has meant to me that a person could be in more than one relationships at a time, but his/her partners don't have a relationship with the other other individuals. A menage meant than all three or more were intimately involved.

I have read a few e.r. which the third member does leave the relationship, usually as the other 2 decide to get married, but it's rare (and one could question that the third was really an equal partner).

Ladystyx said...

love it! this has been a pet peeve of mine as well. Nothing will make me angrier than to Snag a book with a touted ménage and HEA, to discover that it ends with a couple instead of a continuing relationship between all involved. I definitely Prefer Polyamory HEA. Love your Stuff. Glad I stopped in and read this Post. I learned I do not have one of your Books. Off to add it to My WL.
Ladystyx @ spatialfrustration .com

Unknown said...

Very interesting and informative post, Melodee!

Anonymous said...

Great information. MM/F,M/F/M,or M/M/M/F. To give is to receive.I love reading a good story.Some women love reading male on male with female I am one of them.They say a women knows what a women likes and the same goes for the men. I would love to watch 2 men making love to each other to understand how to really turn a man on by touch,exploring what and where to touch.Men don't need to tell a man what he wants he knows how to pleasure his partner the same goes for women too. I think its just sexy to be in any kind of duo or group just as they can all get along nobody gets hurt.

Jana Leah B said...

Enjoyed the post - informative & interesting. Thanks for the giveaway.

wyndwhisper said...

thank you for the great post and the giveaway.

tammy ramey

Ray said...

I seem to recall a documentary about several groups in polyamorous relationships. One episode two couples evolved into a polyamorous relationship and eventually moved into the same house. They had a relationship with an extra woman for a while until she began feeling that the original four were treating her as a fifth wheel. She loved the others and they loved her. She just decided she didn't feel she could stay.

I have read that monogamy was a recent construct in human history. Even marriage itself is something recent except for the wealthy. People just chose to be in a relationship. Unmarried cohabitation is the closest to the way monogamous couples lived in ancient history and seems to be quite popular now.

Never been involved in a menage, but did have a night of musical beds and another where I had to share a bed with shipmates where a woman and I got it on while my bedmate was asleep and had no idea anyone extra was even in the room.

Booksrforever123 said...

I love to read all kinds of erotic romance and even some erotic stories. I too get fed up witht the menage that ends with a couple. The polyamorous relationship makes more sense. Carolyn
j-coverholser at sbcglobal dot net

bn100 said...

Interesting post

bn100candg at hotmail dot com

Urb said...

Strange things happen when words drift from one language to another! Thank you for clearing things up.
brendurbanist at gmail dot com,

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