19 May 2004

Our Whole Lives for Adults: What Does It Say About Polyamory and Non-Monogamy?

On 28 April 2004, I had a request from a Unitarian Universalist religious educator to summarize what Our Whole Lives (OWL) for Adults says about polyamory. I shared this info with Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness using their email list.

And today, I'm sharing this info with you in light of the recent news coverage in San Francisco, the UUA response to this story, and the UUPA response.

Polyamory isn't addressed by name, but non-monogamy in long-term committed relationships comes up in Session 8 ("Sexuality and Committed Relationships" on page 133). The questions come up in the "Relationships Troubles" activity.

Adult OWL doesn't say "poly is good" or "poly is bad" ... but it does raise the following questions in the discussion and provide a safe and supportive space to discuss polyamory and other alternatives to monogamy:

** What is extra-relationship sex?

** Must all extra-relationship sex be destructive to the commitment component of love? What about "open relationships"? Can consensual affairs work?

** What values does extra-relationship sex violate?

** Does infidelity inflict spiritual pain? Do love and commitment have spiritual dimensions?

** How can the problems caused by extra-relationship sex be overcome?

The other potential area where non-monogamy or extra-relationship sex comes up in OWL is in the SUDS activity ("SUDS" = "Sexually Uninhibited Dramatic Sequence"). SUDS role playing can be used in Session 6 ("Sexual Attraction and Early Relationships," pages 93-94), Session 7 ("Sexuality and Developing Relationships," pages 120), and in Session 8 (page 135).

The SUDS characters are listed in Session 6 on pages 110-112 (Handout 20). In this handout, some of the individuals are in marriages or other long-term partnerships and some are unattached. The possibility exists in the SUDS role playing that a single and partnered person or two persons in existing partnered relationships may discover a mutual attraction and pursue it.

In the SUDS activity in Session 6, each small group draws two names out of a hat and comes up with a dramatic role playing situation in which the two persons meet in a social setting and discover an initial mutual attraction and agree to meet again in the future. In Session 7, the two characters in each Session 6 small group have dated 10 times since their first meeting. In Session 8, the SUDS couple has decided to have a committed relationship.

Here are the values questions that might be related to polyamory, extra-marital sex, and non-monogamy that come up with SUDS in the curriculum:

Session 7 SUDS
** Discuss the appropriateness of the [sexual] activity described. Is it OK for a couple at this stage of a relationship?

** List the various relational and moral issues that have come up in the course of this discussion.

Session 8 SUDS
** Determine the nature of the couple's lifelong relationship. Is it marriage? Something else?

When I co-facilitated OWL in the extra-relationship sex discussion in a nearby UU congregation, opinions were diverse .... ranging from "I can't see this working" to "wow ... that's something new to think about." I had also brought some books and other resources including UUPA literature for people to browse before and after the relationship session where extra-relationship sex is discussed to promote awareness of where the future might lead us.

I would say that Adult OWL is probably a good starting point for UU congregations and our wider culture to examine widely held cultural assumptions about relationships, marriage and monogamy. Since this topic is new for many UUs, I think this gentle introduction is necessary if we are to have a successful dialogue.

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