The Inherent Exploitativeness of Polyamorous Threesomes

by | Jul 26, 2017

Because God loves to fuck with me, yesterday Snapchat pushed a two-year-old Refinery29 essay into my feed that threw me into a very late-to-the-party rage, which I tweeted rabidly. Its subject matter was polyamory — namely, one couple’s selfish quest to find a unicorn, i.e. a single queer woman who will meet their sexual and emotional needs without asking anything for herself. (The term itself could use a great deal of unpacking, but I’ll save that for when this site turns into a sociolinguistics blog.)

The article demonstrates an astounding lack of self-awareness. It’s bad enough that even though it’s old, the issues it discusses haven’t gone away in the slightest. I’m here to address them — nay, to shank them with a burning pitchfork of lesbian feminist righteousness — today.

Here is a general outline of the situation: in our modern world of free love in a would-be free society, polyamorous heterosexual couples seem to have this collective obsession with finding a hot single bisexual woman to enter their relationship in a mostly only-sexual capacity. The idea, I guess, is that we’re sufficiently liberated these days to go for these kinds of nonconventional relationships.

The problem is that in their efforts to find a third, these couples do not typically present their intentions honestly either to themselves or to potential, er, unicorns. Whether they realize it or not, they want a woman without the social security of a man in her life who can essentially function as their plaything and maintain a perpetual subordinate status to their precious little union. Beneath the facade of a happy-go-lucky, stable, self-contained heterosexual relationship lies a truly sinister creature: a chauvinistic sense of entitlement to the exploitation of a vulnerable subgroup of sexual minority women.

I was once lesbian sidepiece to a woman in a cishet relationship by which I discovered this ugly truth for myself. Though I wasn’t the textbook definition of a unicorn (since I won’t do the D), my experience is sufficient to demonstrate the essential failings of this hamfisted treatment of single queer women. Things were cool for a while; I would go down to Orange County to spend the afternoon with A. and her fiance, G. She and I would hang out with him for a little and then go into their bedroom, alone. The chemistry with her was lovely, and what’s wrong with a little meaningless fun if everybody’s all right with it? But I sensed that I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Eventually it did.

After a few times, she asked if G. could watch. I balked; we’d floated the idea before, but I really was not into this guy at all, not even like, in an “I’ll try anything once” kind of way. Things got weird after that. A. would make fun of me for how I lived my life — I’m single, I love my cats, I’m super sensitive (a trait considered by the unenlightened to be both negative and feminine). This kind of treatment, other things she’d say to subtly or not subtly remind me that G. came first in her world, plus her increasing pillow princess tendencies, made it obvious to me that in every sense, I was there only to give, not to receive.

What’s worse, our lovemaking was always only on the condition that the human with the penis, sitting in the other room, gave us both permission to do what we wanted with our bodies. When things fell apart after I said I didn’t want G. to watch, that revealed that in a sense, this was all for his amusement anyway. I’d crept back under the old male gaze, lured by the prospect of hot lesbian sex.

What I eventually realized, after kicking A. and G. to the curb, is that I had been in an inherently subordinate position around them. It’s not just because I was the third; it’s because I was the female third, the unicorn. They existed in a socially viable coupling that would allow them to get ahead in life, together. As a single, visibly queer woman with no backup, I was in danger just walking from my car to their apartment building. (Yes, even in Southern California. Never underestimate violent homophobia.)

When we’d first started talking, A. had actually said she believed that if she hadn’t been so strongly socialized to heteronormativity by her conservative family, she might be a full-on lesbian. At the time I wondered why she would live in denial of her true feelings if that was the case. Now I understood: it was more comfortable to be with G., in their 18th-floor condo with a 4K television, two fluffy white dogs, and a destination wedding just around the corner, than to live the way I lived.

So you see, I really have no patience for these cishet couples on a quest for a mythical beast of a third. I have even less patience for them when it blows up in their faces and they blame the girl they’d tried to rope into their weird dynamic. Women’s sexuality doesn’t exist just for men’s amusement, and homosexual love doesn’t exist just for heterosexual exploitation. The sooner that gets through the thick skulls of the adherents to our little contemporary sexual revolution, the better.

About Julie Ershadi

Julie Ershadi is an independent correspondent based in Los Angeles and, previously, Washington, D.C. She writes about war and foreign policy, Iranian-American issues, pop culture and video games.

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