Category Archives: polyamory

The Potential (And Pitfalls) Of Polyamory In The X-Men Comics

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Two years ago, I wrote an article that explored the idea of using polyamory to resolve the infamous Cyclops/Jean Grey/Wolverine love triangle in the X-Men comics. I admit that it was primarily a thought experiment. It was my way of attempting to resolve what I believe to be the worst manifestation of a love triangle in all of fiction. I never expected it to manifest in any form outside head canon of fan fiction.

Then, “X-Men #1” by Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu came out, almost two years to the day that I published that article. While it wasn’t overtly stated that polyamory is now a thing in the X-Men comics, there were certain details that strongly hinted at it, so much so that multiple outlets in the world of comics have taken it seriously.

I’m not saying the article I wrote was prophetic. I certainly didn’t predict that Marvel would ever pursue this recourse or even hint at it. At the same time, it’s kind of surreal that this is something that might actually play out in mainstream superhero comics. The fact that it’s playing out in a company owned by Disney makes that even more astonishing.

Now, before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. After reading “X-Men #1” and all the speculation surrounding it, nothing has been definitively confirmed. The writers and editors at Marvel have not stated outright that they’re actually making Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine a polyamorous couple. It’s been hinted at, but not confirmed on panel.

In comics, that means a lot. Like a death without a body, if it doesn’t happen explicitly on panel, then you can’t assume it did. That’s just how comics work. That extends to love triangles, polyamory, and everything in between.

That said, I think Hickman and Yu have created the right circumstances. Two years ago, Jean Grey was still dead, Cyclops was dead, and Wolverine had just come back to life. The events of House of X and Powers of X establish that the X-Men, and the rest of the mutant race for that matter, have established a new world for themselves on the living island of Krakoa. It’s a chance to do things differently.

In this new setup, the tensions and melodrama of the past are left in the past. The final pages of House of X #6 make that clear, especially with Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine. There’s even a nice moment between Jean Grey and Emma Frost, who have been bitter rivals for years. Hickman makes clear that these characters are looking to move forward and not revisit old drama.

The only question is what does that entail? Does moving forward simply mean moving past these old romantic complications? The final pages of “Uncanny X-Men #22,” which predate House of X and Powers of X, establish on panel that Cyclops and Jean Grey are still a thing. They still love each other and don’t hesitate for a second to embrace one another, now that they’re alive again.

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However, it’s not quite as clear that they’re content to pursue the same relationship they had before Jean died at the hands of Magneto back in 2004. On some levels, it makes sense to do something different. Both Cyclops and Jean Grey know what happens when they try to ignore these other feelings. They just fester under the surface and it hurts them both in the long run.

Even though their love for one another is very clear, the way they go about their relationship has shown plenty of flaws, going back to the days of Chris Clarmeont’s run on Uncanny X-Men. They still want to be together. They even want to be a family. The events of “X-Men #1” depict them as more a family than reunited lovers, which I thought was both sweet and overdue.

It’s also in this area that the potential for polyamory has already revealed itself. Most have pointed out the unusual arrangement of Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine’s rooms on the new moon-based Summer house. They’re all connected with Jean’s room in between Cyclops’ and Wolverine’s. They even have doorways between them, which is something the other rooms don’t.

It’s not definitive confirmation, but it certainly implies the possibility. Solicits of future issues have also hinted that Emma Frost may enter the picture as well. If Hickman, Yu, and Marvel are serious about pursuing this plot, then it could open the door for a very different kind of romantic sub-plot, the likes of which we haven’t seen in superhero comics.

While superhero comics have been quite progressive at times, and even somewhat daring, when it comes to pursuing non-traditional relationships, they’ve never attempted to tackle polyamory. Even though it exists in the real world, it’s not something superhero comics have ever taken seriously. This could change that.

A seriously, well-written polyamorous relationship between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine could effectively redefine what it means for these characters to love one another. It helps that it’s happening at a time when the X-Men and the entire mutant race are redefining themselves on Krakoa. They’re building their own homeland and culture. Why wouldn’t they redefine how they handle relationships while they’re at it?

It could address some of the most egregious flaws that the love triangle has propagated over the years. Jean Grey would no longer be a prize to be won by Cyclops or Wolverine. Cyclops would no longer be an obstacle for Wolverine. More importantly, it would allow Wolverine to have his romantic connection with someone without being limited by it. For someone with his extensive romantic history, that’s very important.

However, that’s the best case scenario. It also assumes that Hickman is serious about pursuing this sub-plot. Like I said earlier, it has not be confirmed on-panel. There’s no hint in House of X, Powers of X, or “X-Men #1” that there’s something elaborate going on with them. They just carry themselves as though they’re on much better terms than they were before they all died on one another.

There are risks associated with pursuing this kind of relationship. While Hickman is a great writer with a great pedigree for superhero comics, he’s never tackled a love triangle with this much baggage. If handled poorly, it could do serious damage to all the characters involved.

It could devalue the depth and history of the Cyclops/Jean Grey romance, which is one of the most iconic in all of superhero comics. It could also take a character like Wolverine, who has a complicated history as a loner who rarely gets tied down by one relationship, and make him seem out of character. Him becoming a part of the Summers/Grey family would be like James Bond joining the clergy.

There’s also a chance that a polyamorous relationship with these three could devolve into something that is just played up for novelty. The fact that it’s so different can’t be the only reason for doing it. If it is, then it’s not going to be believable and the characters involved will suffer because of it.

Given how these characters have already suffered, I don’t think the time is right to deconstruct their relationships and romantic sub-plots the only reason for doing so is shock value. These are characters poised to enter the MCU at some point. I doubt Disney will want them overly complicated before that occurs.

Personally, it’s for that reason that I doubt Marvel will seriously pursue a polyamorous relationship between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine. They may hint at it. They may tease it. They’ll do everything possible, except depict it on panel, which will keep readers guessing and speculating. It’s something they’ve done before, much to the chagrin of fans.

If they do try it, though, I sincerely hope that Hickman, Lu, and the rest of Marvel’s creative team takes the concept seriously. The X-Men, throughout their history, have depicted characters who are very different, if not downright weird compared to the rest of the world. If that’s going to extend to how they pursue romance and relationships, then it deserves a serious effort.

However, it cannot and should not come at the cost of the characters or the iconic romances that came before it.

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Filed under polyamory, romance, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality, superhero comics, X-men

Swing Volume 2: Evolution Of A (Uniquely Sexy) Romance

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Every relationship is different. How they come together and how they stay together varies from couple to couple. Some work perfectly fine a traditional, monogamous setup. You marry one person and that’s who you make love to, till death do you part. There’s nothing wrong with that and plenty of great love stories can be told from it.

However, that approach doesn’t work for everyone and there’s nothing wrong with that, either. It’s just more challenging to tell a non-monogamous love story without it becoming overly pornographic. That didn’t stop Matt Hawkins and Jenni Cheung, with help from artist Linda Sejic, from telling a genuine, compelling love story about non-monogamy in “Swing: Volume 1.”

When I reviewed this graphic novel last year, I highlighted how it perfectly balanced the romance with the sex appeal. The first part of the story was about how its two protagonists, Cathy Chang and Dan Lincoln, fell in love. Then, after settling into married life, complete with two kids and decent careers, they sought to recapture that passionate spark that helped bring them together.

It culminated with them navigating the colorful world of open relationships. At the same time, it laid the foundation for a deeper romantic journey in a future sequel. Having waited anxiously for over a year, I can safely say that “Swing: Volume 2” was worth the patience. This book doesn’t just continue Dan and Cathy’s journey. It takes the sexiness and romance to new heights.

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The story picks up where the first book left off. Dan and Cathy got their first state of the non-monogamous lifestyle and they liked it. That’s made abundantly clear through Yishan Li and Linda Sejic’s art in first several pages. However, that’s not the end of their romantic journey. It’s just another step in the process.

Now that Dan and Cathy are in this sexy new world, their next challenge is successfully navigating it. Having a few threesomes is fun, but the swinging world of non-monogamy is much bigger. It’s also a world that requires Dan and Cathy to confront certain aspects of their relationship that they’ve never had to deal with before.

While Dan admits that he’d been with multiple women, Cathy has only been intimate with one man. She lived a more sheltered life, which was nicely established in the first book. The second book builds on that, showing that there are parts of her sexuality that she hasn’t explored. That desire to explore this world is what helps drive the plot and the drama in “Swing: Volume 2.”

A taste of that drama.

Yes, there is drama. It’s not all fun sexy time all the time. While those times are certainly present, Hawkins and Cheung make this exploration feel genuine and believable. From how Cathay and Dan establish a set of rules to how they struggle to find compatible partners, the various details of the story come off as something that can happen in the real world.

There are triumphs and setbacks. Some of those setbacks make for the funniest moments of the story. Like any relationship, an open relationship takes a great deal of work. Dan and Cathy find that out the hard way on more than one occasion. That only makes the fruits of their labor satisfying, both in terms of plot and sex appeal.

Compared to the first book, “Swing: Volume 2” has a lot more sex appeal and I’m not just referring to Li and Sejic’s graphic, yet tasteful depictions. There are plenty of scenes that involve exposed body parts, intimate love scenes, and overt innuendo that anyone’s inner 13-year-old will recognize. However, it never comes off as crude or gratuitous.

The overall tone of “Swing: Volume 2” is very much in keeping with the sex positive themes of its predecessor. It also does something important with those themes. As the story unfolds, we see how Cathy and Dan’s relationship evolves. Before, they were just a typical married couple looking to spice things up. Now, their relationship has gained greater complexity and, most importantly, it’s better because of it.

Both characters get an opportunity to narrate parts of the story. We get insights into their thoughts and feelings, revealing how they each approach this new facet of their relationship. Dan shows his share of insecurities, at times. Cathy’s reservations also crop up, as well. There are times she feels things that she doesn’t express and that causes some tension.

They make an effort to establish rules and boundaries. Many of them feel like concepts that actual couples who have navigated the world of open relationships would exercise. When the rules work, Dan and Cathy’s relationship benefits. When they don’t, even when it’s not intentional, it causes problems.

The problems never get overblown, but they don’t get brushed aside either. If “Swing: Volume 2” has an overarching theme, it’s that the world of open relationships is difficult. It’s not for everyone. It’s not the kind of thing that’ll fix a trouble relationship, either. Dan and Cathy make very clear that they love each other. Venturing into an open relationship wasn’t meant to fix that. It was meant to make their lives more exciting.

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Without giving away too many spoilers, I’ll say that Hawkins and Cheung once again succeed in making all these dramatic elements work. There’s never a point where “Swing: Volume 2” feels too focused on sex or too focused on romance. It seamlessly blends the two together so that they complement one another, as any good love story should.

There is romance.

There is eroticism.

There is personal growth for both these characters.

Along the way, you don’t just find yourself rooting for them or their relationship. You can’t help but be curious to see where this journey takes them. Like real relationships, there’s no endgame or culmination in mind. This isn’t that type of story. The lives of Dan and Cathy stay firmly grounded in a realistic setting. That’s part of what makes it so impactful, as a story.

That’s not to say that “Swing: Volume 2” is without flaws. There are parts of the story that feel a bit truncated. A few dramatic moments don’t come off as intense as they’re set out to be. There are also other characters that don’t get fleshed out as much, despite them showing potential in the first volume.

It doesn’t stop the overall story from fitting together seamlessly. The story effectively builds on the foundation that the first one established while ramping up the passion along the way. It’s compelling, heartfelt, and sexy. Between the mature themes and the beautiful artwork, “Swing: Volume 2” stands out as a fitting slice-of-life style comic in a sea of superheroes and spectacles.

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If I had to score “Swing: Volume 2,” I’d give it a solid 8 out of 10. If you’re looking for something different, mature, and even a little risqué, then this book will check all the right boxes and then some. I’m not saying it’ll give all monogamous couples second thoughts, but it’ll give more than a few some interesting ideas.

To purchase “Swing: Volume 2,” please do so through Comixology, Amazon, or your local comic shop.

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Filed under comic book reviews, Marriage and Relationships, polyamory, romance

Polygamy Vs. Consensual Non-Monogamy: Is There A Difference?

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When it came to dissecting the absurdities of language, nobody did it better than George Carlin. Beyond being one of the funniest comedians of all time, Carlin could break down certain concepts in a way that was as insightful as it was hilarious. His brilliant analysis of what he called “soft language” is more relevant now than it was when he was still performing.

Given the rise of outrage culture, I often wish George were still alive today so that he could tear the absurdities down, as only he could. We can only imagine how he would’ve tackled issues like fake news, alternative facts, and toxic masculinity. At the very least, his legacy of attacking soft language lives on.

In his book, “Parental Advisory,” Carlin defined soft language as terminology people use to help them avoid unpleasant truths. It helps fat people feel better about being “morbidly obese.” It helps poor people feel better about being “economically disadvantaged.” It helps drug addicts feel better about being “substances abusers.”

The face of a man who didn’t buy such bullshit.

Whatever the case, no matter how many colorful words people utilize, the underlying theme is the same. There are certain aspects of reality that bother some people, so they decide to re-frame it in a way that feels less serious and more palatable. It’s rarely overt. There’s rarely an official announcement or anything. Most of the time, it’s just a trend that people forget is absurd.

This leads me to the emerging concept of “consensual non-monogamy.” It’s kind of what it sounds like. It’s a form of a non-monogamous relationship in which both partners grant one another permission to seek sexual or romantic entanglements with others. Sometimes it involves certain rules and boundaries that are openly negotiated. The key is that there is consent and understanding at all levels.

This is not a new idea. If it sounds a lot like polyamory, an idea I’ve touched on before, that’s because it is for the most part. It’s a non-monogamous relationship that people pursue for any number of reasons. It’s actually one of humanity’s oldest forms of relationships and some even argue that it’s more natural than monogamy.

I’m not going to argue how natural or unnatural such practices are, but I think this latest manifestation of soft language requires scrutiny. Like every other kind of soft language, these sorts of linguistic quirks don’t evolve randomly. There’s often a method behind the absurdity and while I’m not as brilliant as Carlin, I have a pretty good idea of why it’s happening.

In terms of definitions, there isn’t that much difference between polyamory and consensual non-monogamy. Logistically, though, there are a few complexities that differentiate the two practices. They’re minor, but relevant to the extent that inspired soft language.

While there hasn’t been much research into consensual non-monogamous couples, the little we do have paints a fairly comprehensive narrative. In these relationships, there is a “primary” partner who holds the role of spouse/lover. This is the partner with which they love and seek to share their lives with. They’re the ones whose names are on emergency contact forms, loan applications, and wills.

Beyond the primary partner are all the girlfriends/boyfriends with which the sexy stuff occurs. The extent and motives behind these encounters are communicated and understood with the primary partner. Every couple is different so the boundaries vary. Some couples have to be together when they’re getting sexy with others. Some are okay with it happening more randomly.

If that sounds a lot like polyamory, then congratulations. You’re starting to understand how George Carlin thought. While polyamory has its own dictionary definition, it’s connotations are not the same as consensual non-monogamy. What people think of when they hear the word “polyamory” conjures different mental images than a term like consensual non-monogamy.

Polyamory, for better or for worse, is one of those terms that has a certain level of linguistic baggage. It’s less associated with the free-spirited couples who get their own reality show and more with outdated traditions associated with polygamous marriages. Think “Big Love” rather than “Friends With Benefits.”

Now, I know I’ll upset those in the polyamorous community for just hinting at that association. For that, I apologize. I know most who identify as polyamorous or consensual non-monogamous don’t like being associated with the kinds of practices that are often associated with horrific crimes. That gets to the heart of where this soft language comes from.

Even if the principles are the same, those sexy free-spirited couples have a valid incentive to set themselves apart from polyamory. It doesn’t matter the disturbing practices of extreme religious cults are only a small subset of polyamorous relationships. They’re distressing enough for most reasonable people.

I dare you to find something more creepy.

As a result, a less broad term emerges. Consensual non-monogamy may have a few extra syllables, but it feels more technical and official. It’s harder to apply to the more distressing aspects of polyamory because it emphasizes consent, a concept that has only become more heated in recent years.

You can’t have child marriages or even arranged marriages of any kind under consensual non-monogamy. It would undermine the whole “consensual” part of the term. In that context, it’s understandable that this kind of term would emerge. There’s nothing in the definition of polyamory that weeds out those negative associations. Rather than actually confront it, soft language acts as a filter.

Given the frequency with which the negative aspects of polygamy still occur, it’s hard to blame those who practice consensual non-monogamy for wanting to set themselves apart. As those relationships become increasingly acceptable, there will be an increasing desire to frame it in a particular way and “consensual non-monogamy” checks all the right boxes.

It emphasizes consent.

It implies choice and personal freedom.

It’s technical, but doesn’t completely undercut the sex appeal.

Even if the definitions aren’t that different, consensual non-monogamy still does just enough to set itself apart from polyamory. In terms of soft language, it adds some critical, but necessary complications to something that is still subject to plenty of taboos. In a perfect world, such a differentiation wouldn’t be necessary. Sadly, that’s not the kind of world we live in.

Sadly, indeed.

I like to think even Carlin would understand that some amount of soft language is necessary. Whether you call it consensual non-monogamy or polyamory, how we think about these ideas are going to affect our attitudes towards it. If consensual non-monogamous couples don’t want to be associated with crackpot religious cults, then they have every right to set themselves apart.

That said, it’s also entirely possible that more soft language will emerge as consensual non-monogamy becomes more mainstream. Love, sex, and relationships are complicated and human beings are uniquely talented at complicating things. Years from now, we may not call it consensual non-monogamy. We may use something along the lines of “mutually non-binding romantic intimacy relationship agreements.”

At that point, hopefully someone will have picked up on the absurdities. George Carlin may no longer be with us, but that doesn’t mean we should tolerate more bullshit in a world that already has too much of it.

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Five Overused Romantic Sub-Plots (And How To Fix Them)

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Being a self-professed romance fan, I know more about the intricacies of romantic sub-plots than most men would ever dare admit. I’ve consumed an absurd amount of romantic media over the years and I’ve noticed more than a few common themes, some more endearing than others.

However, by consuming so much romantic content, I’ve also seen certain themes get overused and badly mishandled. I could list countless instances promising romantic sub-plots collapsing because it fell into a narrative trap. Sometimes, it’s because of poor writing. Sometimes, it’s because the story has too many constraints. I’ve even cited a few famous cases that exhibit both.

Whatever the case, it’s not hard to screw up a romantic sub-plot. I’ve done that more than a few times with the stories I’ve written. Lately, though, there are certain types of sub-plots that have lost their luster. They’ve either been done too many times or haven’t innovated in way too long.

Overused or not, I believe there are elements of these sub-plots that are worth saving. They just need some refinement and polish. What follows is a list of five overdone romantic sub-plots, why they’ve become so bland, and how to fix them. I’ve covered some of these elements before. This is just the romance lover in me offering some tips for future romance stories.


Romantic Sub-Plot #1: Best Friends Turned Lovers

Why It’s Overdone

I think you can thank sitcoms like “Friends” and movies like “Clueless” for this sub-plot to fall out of favor. Personally, I blame Ross and Rachel for giving this theme a bad name. They took the whole friends-falling-in-love plot way too far. Towards the end, it was more annoying than compelling.

These days, this sub-plot isn’t as common as it used to be. I think a lot of romance fans were burned out on it in the 1990s and early 2000s. There’s only so many times a character can say in so many words “I didn’t realize that what I was looking for was right here in front of me” and sound genuine.

How To Fix It

Simply put, this sub-plot needs to shake up the setting. Too many times, a story about friends becoming lovers is built around one friend having had feelings for the other over many years. That can be sweet when done right, but it’s way too easy to be done wrong. These days, it almost comes off as a long con or stalking.

To fix it, the emphasis needs to shift towards two characters undergoing major upheavals. Perhaps they go through a tragedy or trauma that changes the way they feel about other people. It can’t just be restricted to their friend/lover, either. This upheaval should affect their entire world and from there, they come together in a new way.

It has the potential to show two characters go through major growth as individuals, which eventually turns into growth as a couple. That kind of growth can work wonders for any romance and could offer something more meaningful than old friends hiding their feelings.


Romantic Sub-Plot #2: Love Triangles

Why It’s Overdone

I’ve already made my hatred of love triangles very clear. I’ve gone so far as to cite one from the X-men as the worst of all time. Beyond the comics, though, it’s not hard to see cases of this sub-plot done horribly wrong. Even contemporary romance like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” have made this troubled trope more insufferable.

Simply put, love triangles reduce everyone involved to prizes or plot devices. It’s next to impossible to make every character in a love triangle feel like a real character. It turns romantic development into a competition and in the long run, nobody wins and certain characters lose badly.

How To Fix It

I’m tempted to say that love triangles should be abandoned and killed with a 12-gauge shotgun, but I’m not a fan of throwing away romantic themes, no matter how much I despise them. For this particular theme, I think it needs more than just a fix. It needs a complete overhaul.

By that, it can’t just involve two people competing for someone else’s affection. That gets old fast. If there is going to be a love triangle, then it should actually take the time to show why someone is torn in the first place. It needs to be clear that someone genuinely loves more than one person and there’s a reason for that love.

This is also a sub-plot that may benefit from shifting taboos. Non-monogamy is becoming more mainstream and there aren’t many real romance stories about that idea that aren’t bad pornos. A love triangle has to stop being an either/or plot and become a why/how plot. There needs to be a concerted effort to ensure everyone involved gets some sort of emotional resolution that doesn’t involve someone getting screwed over.


Romantic Sub-Plot #3: Destined Lovers

Why It’s Overdone

If you’ve gone through any high school English class or are just familiar with certain literary traditions, you’ve probably seen this in all kinds of media. “Romeo and Juliet” is probably the most famous, but it still shows up frequently throughout romantic media. It’s prevalent in movies like “Titanic” and comics like “Superman.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have a soft spot for star-crossed lovers who are destined to fall in love, but it’s a very bland sub-plot. There’s no real sense of conflict. You know two characters are going to end up together and where’s the intrigue there?

How To Fix It

For this sub-plot, I think a simple shift in context would help. Most romance featuring destined lovers emphasis how they come together, despite the obstacles in front of them. I think it might be more compelling to explore why these characters are star-crossed to begin with. Is it just destiny or are there other forces at work?

There are a lot of factors that go into romance, even those of the non-destined variety. Why not explore the concept of destiny, as it relates to love? Why not dig a little deeper into the intricacies of how it unites people so completely? That wouldn’t just offer a meta-perspective of love, as a plot device. It would give us all an opportunity to reconsider what it means to be in love.


Romantic Sub-Plot #4: Love At First Sight

Why It’s Overdone

This sub-plot is very similar to the destined lovers trope. It’s often a pre-cursor to two people finding out they’re destined to be together. For many of the same reasons, it’s pretty bland and basic. One character sees another, some sappy music starts playing, and the love story is effectively laid out.

We see it happen very overtly in “Romeo and Juliet” and “Titanic.” We see it manifest in some form in most romantic comedies. A character just sees someone they find attractive and that becomes the catalyst for their love. It’s sweet, but not very deep and it has just become too predictable at this point. When two people fall in love at first sight, what other story is there to tell?

How To Fix It

This one can’t be fixed with the same methods as the destined lovers sub-plot. This is one of those plots that doesn’t have to be radically altered, but definitely needs fresh nuance. Finding that nuance means injecting more than just love into the mix when two characters first meet.

The first encounter between two characters is always pivotal. It helps set the tone for their relationship, romantic and otherwise. To make this sub-plot work in new ways, characters need to intrigue each other in new ways. It can’t be enough that they’re attractive. There has to be something else about them.

Maybe the character has a skill that someone has never seen before. Maybe the character causes someone to re-think a past assumption. Maybe it sends them on a new journey that their love interest can join. There are many opportunities here. There doesn’t have to just be one.


Romantic Sub-Plot #5: Sex Complicating Love

Why It’s Overdone

This one is probably the most overtly sexual romantic sub-plot that also happens to be the most predictable. Ironically, it’s “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” that summed it up best. Things go from “Don’t worry, it won’t get weird” to “It got weird, didn’t it?” That’s every sex-complicating-love story in a nutshell.

This one also has the burden of being weighed down by long-standing sexual taboos. While it may seem like those taboos have faded in the 21st century, it’s still the slutty women and stud men who die first in slasher movies. Sex, even in a romance story, still comes off as something dirty that somehow undermines a romance.

Even though sexual attitudes have evolved a great deal, the idea that sex complicates/ruins a relationship hasn’t moved very far. It’s why sex tends to be an afterthought in modern romances. Sometimes, it’s ignored or assumed and that’s just a waste of quality sexual chemistry.

How To Fix It

As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’ve been working on that for years. While I can’t claim to have a definitive answer, I have surmised a few ideas turn sex from a complication to a catalyst. It doesn’t have to be overly titillating or pornographic, although that can work. It just has to supplement the romance rather than subvert it.

Sex in romance is often treated like an endgame. It’s marks the culmination rather than the progression of a relationship. I believe that’s a missed opportunity. In any romance, sex should function as a progression, of sorts. It takes the relationship to a new stage, one where new opportunities for emotional and personal growth emerge.

When two characters have sex, it can be more than just a chance to depict genitals and female breasts. It can be an exercise of intimacy where two characters strengthen their bond, rather than sully it. That gives greater meaning to the sexiness and nothing makes romance hotter than genuinely meaningful sex.

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Filed under Marriage and Relationships, media issues, polyamory, romance, sex in media, sexuality

Why The Sexual Revolution Was Incomplete (And How It Can Be Completed)

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Imagine, for a moment, putting together a piece of furniture, but stopping before it was finished. Depending on where you stop, chances are the furniture isn’t going to be as useful as you’d hoped. Sure, it may still function to some extent, but it’s incomplete. As a result, it can’t entirely do what it’s supposed to do.

With that idea in mind, imagine the same thing happening to a major social movement, a new vision for society, or a full-blown revolution. What happens if it stops before it realizes its goals? Even if some of those goals were unachievable, abruptly stopping an ongoing process or not bothering to adjust the methods of that process is bound to cause issues.

Some argue that the civil rights movement that began in 1950s was never completed. Others may argue that the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution were never complete, which was why they resulted in so much chaos and destruction. I’m not an expert on those subjects so I’m not going to wade into them.

However, I would support an argument stating that the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s was not complete and that has heavily influenced ongoing controversies involving sex, gender, and everything in between. Again, I am not an expert in this field. I am an aspiring erotica/romance writer. I’m about as much an expert as I am a wizard.

Expert or not, I do think that incomplete revolution is worth talking about in the context of ongoing gender-driven issues. We’re in the midst of pretty significant upheaval in wake of the anti-harassment movement, which I’ve talked about on more than one occasion and in some pretty eclectic ways. It may seem like this upheaval is very recent, but I believe its roots go back to the sexual revolution in the 1960s.

With each passing year, the sexual revolution gets a worse and worse rap. Conservative types will blame the sexual revolution for everything from human trafficking to the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. Liberal types are starting to blame it on current social ills like the Harvey Weinstein scandal and so-called toxic masculinity.

To some extent, that’s understandable when you consider the context of the sexual revolution. As I’ve noted before, this major social upheaval emerged in a perfect convergence of factors. First, contraception and modern medicine made exploring sex less risky. Second, a generation of young people that has grown up in the exceedingly uptight 1950s rebelled.

Regardless of how you may feel about the sexual revolution now, it’s easy to understand why it happened when you look at the circumstances. A generation saw the state of sex in society and were not satisfied with it. As such, they sought change. Moreover, they sought radical change and not just in the classic hippie sort of way.

It wasn’t just about unmarried men and women having sex just to enjoy it and not make grandkids for their parents. The sexual revolution dared to explore and undermine taboos about homosexuality, monogamy, and gender roles. To some extent, the sexual revolution helped facilitate a new era of feminism that pushed for greater gender equality.

While I know feminism has some controversial connotations these days, the brand of feminism that emerged during the sexual revolution is one that I think most would support in 2018. They helped push for some of the legal protections and educational opportunities that have helped multiple generations of women and men alike.

Moreover, and most importantly to the gender issues of today, the sexual revolution attempted to normalize discussions and depictions of sexuality in general. One could argue that was the most critical aspect of the revolution, beyond the hippies and free love. After all, it’s next to impossible to have a meaningful discussion about anything if the topic is so taboo.

It’s also in this critical area, however, that the sexual revolution came up short. Sure, those involved did plenty of outrageous things, in private and in public, that shocked and terrified their more repressed elders. That was revolutionary for its time. However, they didn’t confront the stigma surrounding sex, at least not in a way that was gender neutral.

This is where I’m sure I’m going to draw the ire of both sides of gender-driven debates, but I think this needs to be said to add a little insight to the current debate. Yes, the sexual revolution did a lot to make sexual activity outside of marriage less taboo. However, that impact did not affect men and women the same way.

In wake of that revolution, men no longer faced as much stigma for fooling around sexually. The idea of “boys will be boys” became an accepted mantra. A young man fooled around in his youth, had multiple partners, and generally enjoyed himself without much shame. The sexual revolution helped him a great deal in terms of realizing his sexuality.

Ideally, women should’ve enjoyed the same freedom. However, that’s not what happened. There’s no “girls will be girls” equivalent. Even during the sexual revolution, women who slept around like their male counterparts were still subject to stigma. They were still called sluts and whores. They were generally looked down upon.

Now, before some start bemoaning “patriarchy” or something of the sort, it’s important to note that the source of that stigma does not come exclusively from men. In fact, according to a study done by Demos, other women were far more likely to slut-shame or use derogatory words to other women compared to men.

Regardless of the source, that lingering stigma that the sexual revolution attempted to confront has helped maintain a significant gender gap with respect to sexual freedom. It’s why men can be studs, but only women can be sluts, a frustrating double standard that has lingered well beyond the 1960s.

It may also be a significant factor in the current orgasm gap between men and women. Whereas the male orgasm is seen as routine and uncomplicated, the female orgasm has this elaborate mystique surrounding it. Just talking about it seems akin to talking about the meaning of life.

In many respects, that vast disparity reflects the current sexual divide. Men are still expected to be sexually aggressive. Women are still expected to be sexually reserved. Any deviation is subject to stigma. As is often the case with expectations, it doesn’t take much for them to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Due to that aggression, society has done a lot to cater to male sexual desires. That same system has done just as much to mystify female sexuality. It’s a grossly imperfect system, one that limits the ability of women to explore their sexuality without fear while giving men in positions of power more reason to pursue sex as though it were a holy relic.

That is not in line with the ideals of the sexual revolution. Love them or hate them, hippies had the right idea in terms of openness about sex. They did not divide the sexuality of a particular gender into something entirely different. They saw it as one thing that was worth exploring, but stopped short of pursuing it fully.

That shortcoming has had some noteworthy consequences. Reason Magazine nicely summed it up in a recent article about the sexual revolution and the sexual frustrations that current generations face.

The problem is not that sex has been over commodified as hardline feminists and conservatives (talk about strange bedfellows!) like to assert; the problem is that it hasn’t been commodified enough. The sexual industry in the broadest sense hasn’t matured enough yet to cater to the myriad and diverse needs of lonely single people (of both sexes). Where are the Dr. Ruths for single people facing confidence issues or looking for advice?

Now, none of this is to detract from the aspects of the sexual revolution that were misguided or had long-reaching consequences. The law of proportional backlash for social movements doesn’t care how complete or incomplete it is. Even if the sexual revolution had succeeded, it would’ve still incurred a counter-revolution of some sorts.

Regardless of its shortcomings, the sexual revolution got the conversation going on how we stigmatize sex. It wasn’t completed and there are plenty of flaws in our current sexual landscape to show that. Even so, that conversation is still worth having and I would argue it’s more important to have now than at any time in 1960s.

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Filed under gender issues, political correctness, polyamory, Second Sexual Revolution, sex in society, sexuality

A Compelling (And Balanced) Insight Into Open Relationships: A Review Of “Swing”

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When it comes to my love of comics, I sometimes give the impression that I’m overly narrow with my tastes. Given how much I’ve made my love of X-men, Wonder Woman, and Superman known, I wouldn’t blame anyone for believing my collection consists entirely of the kinds of superhero comics that big movie studios are using to rake in billions at the box office.

While I don’t deny that comics featuring mutants, aliens, and super-powered demigods make up a significant portion of my collection, there are a few other comics that stand out. I’m the kind of person who will go out of his way to look for something different every now and then, if only to take a break from seeing Batman fight killer clowns.

Most of the time, I don’t find anything that warrants more than a quick skim. Then, there are those rare, special occasions when I do find a comic that stands out and does it without resorting to superpowers, spandex, or ripping off Jack Kirby. Those books are as rare as they are special and I’m proud to report that I’ve uncovered such a title.

It’s called “Swing,” written by Matt Hawkins and Jenni Cheung with gorgeous art done by Linda Sejic. It’s not a superhero comic. It’s not a comic published by Marvel or DC. It’s a publication by Image Comics, a publisher known for supporting creator-owned comics and letting creators maintain the rights to their creations. It’s also a publisher that dares to tell stories about mature themes that would offend any Disney-owned company.

In other words, it’s the perfect place to tell a story about love, sex, and open relationships. Those aren’t just the underlying themes of “Swing.” They’re topics I’ve discussed on multiple occasions. I’ve even incorporated it into one of my books. How can a comic like this not appeal to me? Moreover, I feel like I’m uniquely qualified to review it, if only to determine whether the story deals with these themes in a compelling way.

If you’re looking for the kind of love story that involves tragedy, magic spells, or curses by evil witches, then “Swing” probably won’t appeal to you. If you’re in the mood for a love story that feels real, genuine, and overtly sexy, then this comic is for you. It’s a story that tries to be real by providing insight into a world that is still taboo and associated with one too many bad pornos.

The characters involved in “Swing” are not porn stars, though. They’re not exceedingly deviant or damaged either. Cathy Chang and Dan Lincoln are two healthy, affable, multi-layered individuals. Cathy starts off as a wide-eyed college student eager to start building a life of her own. Dan is grad student and aspiring writer. Their paths cross, they fall in love, and things evolve from there.

This isn’t a case of a student falling in love with a teacher or a teacher becoming infatuated with a student. Dan and Cathy come off as two functioning adults who develop a very healthy attraction to one another for all the right reasons. It’s the kind of romance that most people can easily picture unfolding in the real world.

That’s a critical element for the drama that later unfolds between these characters. By most measures, Dan and Cathy’s romance follows much of the standard model for romance. They meet, they feel attraction, they fall in love, and they immerse themselves in that passion. Yes, that passion involves sex, but never in an overly gratuitous way. The sex, in this case, is a product of the passion and not the end result.

Then, like many other real-world romances, that initial spark fades after life gets in the way. Cathy becomes pregnant, she and Dan get married, and they build a stable family life together that involves considerably less sex. According to traditional models of modern romance, this is where the story ends. However, this is where the story in “Swing” starts to escalate.

Cathy is not content to let stable family life define her love life. She wants to maintain that passion. She wants to still experience an exciting sex life. However, she and Dan just aren’t on the same page anymore. It makes for some awkward/hilarious moments, but it also helps establish that Dan shares those wants too. They both seek to sustain that passion, but they’re not sure how at this point in their relationship.

It effects them both and not just in terms of their sex life, although that does make for a few other awkward/hilarious moments. This is where polyamory enter the picture. Within their respective lives, Dan and Cathy aren’t immune to temptation. Dan attracts cute girls. Cathy attracts cute guys. They never cheat, though.

They make clear that they love each other. Resisting the urge to sleep with co-workers not that hard, but recapturing some of that passion makes it seem so much harder. They’re sticking to the script of what they think a married couple with children is supposed to be, but it’s just not working for them.

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That’s when Cathy brings up the idea of swinging. It’s an idea that seems crazy and evokes plenty of mixed emotions in both of them. Again, the feelings come off as real. There’s uncertainty, anxiety, jealousy, and outright paranoia at times. Both of them feel it, but both of them also want that passion again.

Together, they start to explore the world of swinging. It doesn’t directly lead to the kind of decadent antics once reserved for the letters section of Hustler Magazine. Dan and Cathy’s journey is a bit bumpier than that, but never stops feeling sincere or genuine. Without spoiling the outcome, I’ll just say that “Swing” sets these two lovers on a path that’s both intriguing and sexy.

This comic achieves something remarkable, both as a love story and one built around mature themes. It presents both monogamy and polyamory in a way that’s balanced. Neither is overly glorified. The benefits and flaws of both are laid out for all to see. There aren’t any moral judgments or social agendas being pushed. It’s a personal journey between two characters with a shared desire.

It’s not just sex positive in how it presents sexuality. It’s positive in how it conveys romance, as well. The love Dan and Cathy share is healthy, mutual, and strong. The sexual component helps complement that. One doesn’t depend on the other, but one certainly helps the other.

The story in “Swing” does not attempt to redefine romance. Through Dan and Cathy, it reveals the inherent struggle two people have when they want to maintain the passion in their lives, but aren’t sure how. If there’s an underlying message to the overall story, it’s that the pursuit sometimes requires nuanced thinking.

 

Hawkins and Cheung clearly put a lot of thought and effort into balancing the romance, the sex, and the inherent kink that comes with polyamory. Thanks to Sejic’s masterful artwork, there’s an undeniable beauty to that balance. Whether you’re a fan of love, sex, or comics that aren’t afraid to depict female nipples, “Swing” brings something special to the table.

If I had to score this comic, I would give it a solid 8 out of 10. I can’t give it too high a score because the story is incomplete. That’s a given since this was just Volume 1 of “Swing.” At the same time, there were other parts of the narrative that weren’t as well-developed.

Dan and Cathy’s surrounding cast didn’t get much depth beyond Cathy’s mom. Dan’s backstory isn’t really touched on, even though his personality is nicely fleshed out. In addition, the pace was uneven at times, but never to the point of being confusing. As a whole, the flaws are minor and do little to detract from the finished product.

As a fan of comics, romance, and all things sexy, “Swing” really surprised me in the best possible way. Regardless of how you feel about polyamory or open relationships, there’s a good story here that’s brought to life with amazing artwork. There will always be a place for comics with superheroes in spandex uniforms, but “Swing” fills a special role that even the greatest superhero can’t hope to fill.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, polyamory, romance, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Why The Anti-Harassment Movement May Make Open Relationships More Practical (And Necessary)

If history has shown us anything about the power of the human libido, it’s that people will find a way adapt their passions, even within strict, regressive situations. They did it during the pre-modern, pre-literate ancient eras from the Middle East to China. They did it during the he exceedingly prudish eras of the Puritans and Victorian England. They even find a way to do it today under brutally repressive regimes.

Love, sex, and everything in between finds a way. Even those who claim we’re in the midst of a full-fledged sex panic where the mere act of touching someone on the shoulder constitutes full-blown assault can’t deny that the human race has navigated such periods before. We literally wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t.

Even so, it’s still distressing to see a world that feels increasingly sensitive to certain desires, expressions, and attitudes. Between recent sex scandals and the noble, yet sometimes misguided efforts to combat sexual misconduct, it seems as though we’re entering a sexually regressive period where men and women can’t interact with one another out of fear that they’ll get labeled a sexist, a bigot, or something of the sort.

It may get worse before it gets better, but I believe we’ll find a way to navigate it. That’s not just me being an optimist. That’s me, the aspiring erotica/romance writer, acknowledging that our capacity for passion is difficult to contain. You can shame, scorn, and condemn it all you want. You’re never going to stop it.

No matter what extremes the ongoing crusade against sexual misconduct may manifest, people are still going to get horny. They’re still going to seek love. They’re still doing to pursue the passions that are so critical to the human experience. That’s just part of who we are. We’ll just have to find a way to adapt our approach to pursuing those passions.

As it stands, the current methods leave a lot to be desired, both literally and figuratively. I’ve already mentioned how the disconnect surrounding consent and the paradox of traditional romance aren’t that conducive to fostering intimate and romantic bonds. It still works for some, but I doubt it’ll work enough for coming generations, especially when those generations have so many emerging quirks.

As such, I’m going to take a step back and present a potential, but unorthodox recourse. It’s not a prediction. It’s not even all that radical because it’s happens already. I’ve already mentioned it before, but now I’m offering it as a more serious solution to an ongoing issue.

Open Relationships/Polyamory/Swinging/Non-Monogamy

Yes, I know it sounds exactly like something that someone who writes sexy novels might suggest. I also realize it’s one of those joke solutions you might hear from comedians, libertarians, or softcore porn. However, I’m dead serious with this suggestion.

I’m not implying that this is the future or the only solution for a society that may or may not be getting more sexually uptight. I’m simply suggesting the evolving social, cultural, and sexual landscape may very well make open relationships more viable, if not entirely pragmatic.

To understand how, it’s important to also understand how functional open relationships work. Like traditional relationships, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. It’s not nearly as lurid or kinky as sexy novels, bad porno, or reality TV would have you believe. There are ways to go about it and last year, Cracked.com offered a uniquely balanced insight into how such relationships work.

My Wife And I Are Swingers: Here’s What It’s Actually Like

The particulars aren’t quite as lurid as you think. It’s not necessarily something you’d find in one of my novels. However, there are a few themes that make a functional open relationship a better fit for the current year than what we’ve had in the past. Here are just a few of the traits.

  • Open, continuous, and outright excessive communication between partners
  • Clear, unambiguous understanding of desires and how to go about pursuing them
  • Rules, guidelines, and parameters for both partners to follow
  • A clear understanding of the difference between sexual and romantic intimacy
  • Emphasizing a significant degree of trust and faith in partners
  • Sufficient and overt empowerment of both parties, regardless of gender

Take a moment to go over these traits and then assess them within the context of the ongoing movement to combat sexual misconduct. In terms of creating a more equitable, robust relationship between partners, this sort of dynamic checks most boxes by default.

Good open relationships need a lot of communication. A major aspect of the current anti-harassment movement involves confusion regarding standards of consent. That’s a challenge when that very concept is still debated among some circles. There are instances where nobody is even sure what constitutes consent and it has ruined lives, as a result.

Open relationships don’t just belabor consent. They belabor all aspects of negotiating sex, romance, and intimacy. Those involved in functional open relationships understand the dynamics. It leaves less room for ambiguity and misunderstanding. That, in and of itself, is vital for those concerned with consent.

Beyond consent, open relationships require degrees of trust that are antithetical to notions that everyone of a particular gender or group is a monster. You really can’t have that kind of assumption with someone you trust in an open relationship. You have to actually believe in the love and lust they demonstrate for you. Otherwise, the relationship doesn’t work, regardless of whether it’s open.

For both opponents and proponents of the anti-harassment movement, these are critical elements to a successful relationship. They’re just a lot more emphasized in an open relationship. By emphasizing them, it’s easier to mitigate the ambiguities of evolving sexual norms. At a time when everyone is worried about being harassed or being accused, an open relationship already uses the necessary tools.

Beyond the practical and social aspects of open relationships, there are other unrelated forces at work that may make them more viable. In years past, open relationships were still prone to the same risks as general promiscuity. There was the risk of diseases, unplanned pregnancies, and all sorts of unsexy health issues.

Emerging technologies in the treatment of diseases, such as CRISPR and smart blood, combined with advances in contraception, like Vasalgel, and those risks are either minimized or eliminated. The concerns that might have kept some people from ever trying such a relationship won’t be an issue at some point, meaning open relationships could become a viable option to more people.

The circumstances are either already present or beginning to emerge. Add the growing use of social media to existing open relationships and the particulars become even more feasible. Emerging generations are already demonstrating an uncanny ability to forge connections in new ways. This could be one of them, albeit one made necessary by larger cultural forces.

Now, I’m not under the illusion that the practice of open relationships will benefit everybody. I don’t deny that there are some people who either just cannot handle open relationships or simply favor monogamy. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, those relationships need not be taboo or counterproductive to the never-ending effort to forge meaningful bonds. They should just be part of a more diverse tool kit.

There are still a great deal of unknowns, both in terms of how society handles open relationships and how society adapts to changing cultural trends. I imagine that certain divorce laws and marriage laws would need to be modified to accommodate these sorts of relationships, but that’s largely a bureaucratic matter that can be addressed with the proper application of well-paid lawyers.

However anyone might feel about the merits of open relationships or their feasibility in our current society, I think one thing is clear. Our current approach to forging romantic and sexual connections is not sufficient. The movement against sexual misconduct wouldn’t be necessary if it were.

That same movement isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s also going to result in plenty of changes to our culture and society, for better and for worse. It’s just a matter of how we adapt to them and, in the never-ending quest to fulfill our romantic and intimate desires, we’re going to find a way at some point. Of that, I’m certain.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, polyamory, sex in society, sexuality