The Heart of Polyamory: An Open Book
By Millie Jackson
I just finished reading Jenny Block’s 2008 book, Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage. Many books on polyamory and other forms of nonmonogamy are instructional “how to” books. Block’s book, however, follows her personal journey of owning and embracing her sexuality and designing a relationship structure that works for her and her partners.
The “how to” books usually include short excerpts from case histories, interviews, questionnaires, and/or the author’s personal experiences, but none I have read have ever included a cover-to-cover story as comprehensive as Block’s. Someone can read through the “how to” books and never quite grasp how this love-style/life-style can play out in a relationship. Block paints a vivid picture in a very open, honest and real way.
Her story illustrates that it is a continual process to evolve as a sexual being and to tailor styles of relating uniquely accommodating to the individuals involved. Although she is very content with how her relationships are going at the end of the book, Block acknowledges that they will continue to develop.
I enjoyed reading about her personal evolution as she experimented with various approaches to dating. She shares about her progression towards sex positivity—fully accepting and celebrating her proclivity to enjoy sex, desiring men and women, and letting go of being influenced by people who look unfavorably at her choices.
Block is honest, open and thorough with her self-assessments. She doesn’t attempt to paint herself as perfect, admitting to infidelities and dishonesties that ultimately brought her to the realization that honesty and consensuality are the best policies (both hallmarks of polyamory). She was able to sort through which aspects of her behavior caused the most distress on her and others, and it always came down to the dishonesty and not the sex.
She describes a journey of liberation—freedom to express herself in ways that feel very natural with integrity and honesty with her partners. Because she has a child, this book also gives us a glimpse into issues unique to nonmonogamists who are parents. She does not go into this extensively, but she raises the point and explains how and why her approach works for her family and how her daughter is actually thriving.
Block writes about common themes that many women have undoubtedly dealt with such as the double standards of “slut” versus “stud” and having a woman’s character assessment reduced to her perceived sexual behavior compared to a man’s being based on his accomplishments. She also describes dealing with people’s assumption that if a woman enjoys sex she is probably indiscriminately promiscuous and perpetually available.
As the winner of the 2009 Lambda Literary Award in the bisexual category, Block’s book can help to expand the LGBTQ community’s capacity to accept the concept of open relationships. I have experienced a backlash from queer peers since going from a monogamous lesbian identity to that of a polyamorous bisexual. Hopefully, the spotlight from the Lambda Literary Award will inspire curious LGBTQ’s to read the book and give them a better understanding of how a relationship opened up and actually became happier and healthier.
Even if someone’s sexual evolution does not involve nonmonogamy, this book may assist them in acknowledging who they are sexually and in being okay with it. There are plenty of people who consciously choose monogamy but think that something is wrong with them for feeling attracted to others or for desiring more than what their partner offers. We can regulate our behaviors but not our feelings—shame and guilt added to this complicated emotional equation can weigh someone down and be burdensome on relationships.
Block does not come off as preachy; but I, as a member of the proverbial “choir”, had to keep reminding myself to consider how her story would sound to those who have not been open to the idea of nonmonogamy. Although my life experiences differ greatly from Block’s, I often found myself reading passages very similar to what I have written, thought, and spoken about polyamory in articles, on panels, at workshops and on the radio. It seems we both are willing to speak out and be visibly polyamorous with the shared hope that open relationships will become just as accepted as closed ones.