Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Why Unicorn Hunting is exercising Couple Privilege - The trouble with triads

We have been discussing the trouble with triads  so far, from a relationship point of view, how difficult they are, how much work they take and how the assumptions people make about them (that they are balancing or take less time management or less liable to cause jealousy issues* ) are flawed, yet I don’t think we have touched on why they are unpopular in Politically aware Poly communities.

Despite the Triads unusually high failure rate (even by Poly standards) there is always a steady stream of couples entering into the Poly community looking for a third to join them. A recent quick survey of new couples advertising on a popular Polygamous site showed a massive 51% of couples explicitly requesting a bisexual woman, compare that to the only 10% of single women who identified as such, since there is only one single woman, bi or straight, to four couples to begin with, these couples are very much limiting their options, so why does the fantasy persist?

Part of the reason for its popularity is simply down to pornography – a permanent hawt   (but loving) threesome is a fantasy for many men and bisexual women.  Another is the fact that female bisexuality is (relatively) socially acceptable so many more women are coming out to their husbands and no longer suppressing this aspect of themselves.    
You just never see that level of female acceptance of male bisexuality.

In the small secular/non denominational Polygamous community people tend to be more mainstream and unaware of alternative socio-political analysis, their only exposure to non monogamy tends to come from a more religious model like HBO’s Big Love or TLC’s Sisterwives and they wish to adapt that model and be inclusive of their sexuality.  Even those who have previously explored Polyamory by having short lived triad or female secondary relationships tend to see their desire for a permanent triad as an extension of their dyadic marriage, rather than a radical re-thinking of the standard narrative/paradigm.

There is a small crossover between the secular/liberal and the devout/Biblical members of this community which means that there is some controversy with seeking a “bisexual sisterwife” usually these are in the forms of Biblical objections to Homosexuality, often countered with the injunctions being  male specific, therefore the unicorn seekers get a fairly comfortable ride in this community. 

As I alluded to previously,  I think the term bisexual sisterwife is a unfortunate neologism, using terms picked from one source, combined with their sexuality to create…the perfect Frankenstein’s Poly Bride, one that can be joined with, shared, enjoyed, played with, had, and slept with by "both of us"*.
The blatant objectifying of this unknown bisexual female seems to miss these couples.

 The Polyamory community being LGBT friendly and women focused makes it a natural place for bisexual women to gravitate towards. However the community has been wary of couples seeking a third "to complete them"* for traditionally two main reasons, the well examined Male privilege  and the particular to Polyamory neologism Couple privilege  (both of which are well- and humorously - illustrated here.)
 A good Poly community will explain their objections and advise seekers to be more flexible and let relationships grow organically, a bad community will just mock them, not explain their objections to Unicorn hunting and run them off the site. Recently, the terms, Unicorn or HBB have the ability to cause such flame wars that many communities now have taken on an 'ignore and maybe it will go away tactic' preferring for people to discover why triads rarely work...the hard way.

 Male privilege, as in the traditionally Polygynous societies, is simply that a man will need to be assured that his is the only penis in the relationships (AKA OPP one penis policy) this male need not challenge any preconceived, unenlightened notions of female ownership, female submission and female promiscuity, since he is a man, he need not feel threatened by the female/female relationship since it is inherently inferior.    For these men, entering Poly can give the illusion of being progressive whilst still avoiding the fact that he is limiting his partner’s freedom of choice.  By claiming, that because they are limited by gender (by virtue of being a straight man) their partner has the same limitation, is ignoring the fact of their partners possible ability to bond with both genders and is thereby evoking male privilege.

Couple Privilege is when a couple, for all intents and purposes work as a single unit to preserve and enhance their primary dyad above all things. This is the main purpose of the hierarchical primary/secondary forms of Polyamory . However, many couples who seek a triad do not realise that their actual seeking of a bisexual female is a form of couple privilege at work.

 Question: Well isn’t asking for a bisexual female stating a preference that would suit your family, like asking for someone who likes outdoor leisure pursuits because we are outdoorsy or someone who likes kids because we have five??

Answer:  That appears to be a valid point until you realise that pointing out that you are outdoorsy and have many children has as much to do with her happiness and comfort as it does yours and your family.  If she hates country pursuits she may be unhappy.  If she dislikes children not only will she be unhappy but she may, by extension make your children stressed and uncomfortable by her presence.  It is a description of who you are and she needs to know you.  However, asking for her to be ‘bisexual’ you are making a request that would make YOU happy.  You have jointly decided that this is this is the form of relationship you want and it is the only type of woman who will fit the bill is someone who has the appropriate sexuality. 
The assumption is then made that because she is bisexual, she will be sexually interested in both members of the couple.  This is actually a heteronormative biphobic assumption that bisexuals are not discriminating, that anything goes.  Therefore if a man is offering up his wife a sexual partner than naturally she will take it, since she will want to have sex with the woman by virtue of her being attached to the man she wants. Not because she is independently sexually attracted to her, alternatively since her role is to be a wife for him also, if her leanings are more geared towards the female of the relationship she will not be fulfilling her obligation to him.  Either way, she is expected to be sexually available to both partners since they made it a condition of their relationship.

 Question:  Ok, so that does not pertain to us, we only pointed out that “the wife is bisexual so it is ok if she is too” how is that wrong?

Answer:  Well first of all by stating that you are still indicating an expectation that bisexual = sexually available for the wife.  Is it so unbelievable to that there may have two bisexual women in a room and neither one may want to have sex with the other?
Language is important, why state your/your wife's sexuality unless it will open up the possibility of a sexual relationship?

Question:  My wife is bisexual, we only looked into this lifestyle so she can get her needs fulfilled.

Answer:  This is a very common experience but I am frankly confused as to why you would then look for a woman to love both of you (super hard) then just her alone (relatively easy)?  Looking for a woman to be a part of your relationship in the capacity of partner to you both means her status is dependent only on her continuing active bisexuality.  If one of her relationships is not working for her, her other relationship is threatened.   Imagine being told "Sleep with him or I will dump you"and you have the most obvious problem with this mindset.  It may not be explicitly stated but it is the underlying threat. There is a vaguely sexually coercive tactic to entering into a relationship with the unenlightened non flexible unicorn hunters and it is not reasonable, it is not egalitarian and yes, it is couple privilege. This is also part of the 'if I am involved too I won't be jealous' assumption which is a pernicious mistake about the triad structure which sadly has too few working triads around to kill off completely. 

Stating that you are seeking a unicorn is akin to a single man claiming he wants to marry a flight attendant, and a single woman stating she will only date doctors, it may seem reasonable, it may seem like free choice but it is still objectifying, classifying people by an arbitrary role, rather than who they are.  It can be insecure and destabilising for the unicorn and if the couple are not examining their relative privilege the unicorns role will not be an equal partner, just a equal plaything.

* All terms have been used in seeking posts/profiles by actively seeking couples.

Useful links on this topic
Wonderful blog post concerning the OPP 
Bi Poly Kinky's feelings about dating a couple.


  1. I so wish more parts of the poly community had begun discussing this long ago. I found myself feeling bad that I never gained any sense of satisfaction in triads. Then we went our separate ways so to speak (still together as a couple but dated on our own who we chose) and the end result was so much better. Each relationship MUST be able to stand on its own. If the paths cross then fine but only if it happens that way naturally. Plus, one of my primary issues in the triad set ups is that it ignores the fact that being bisexual does not mean we are only attracted to one of each. So, if one partner is straight then why is it okay for them to date others of the opposite gender but limit the other partner to only same sex partners simply by virtue of being bisexual. Just because I am bisexual does not mean I only desire relationship with women outside of my relationship with the husband. I feared telling him that but I did it and he took it very well and could see the reason in it. I honestly think most poly minded people will too if they are sincere in that. The religious part of the poly community I do not believe are sincere in being truly poly and there are other factors at play there (another elephant in the corner nobody wants to talk about of course).

    At any rate, I am glad to see this topic being addressed more and more lately. It is my opinion that being part of a triad (in general at any rate) robs at least one if not all members of the group of their ability to form independent and meaningful relationship. Ultimately, for us, it came down to are we mono or are we poly... removing restrictions to our definition of poly created a much safer emotional (and physical) environment.

  2. Hello Becca thanks for the comment. I think you are right, it is almost assumed knowledge that a bisexual will want and require one of each to have “the best of both worlds” and to “have her cake and eat it”. But really the ideal is just a safe and non threatening extension to the established norms, they aren't really challenging the standard paradigm.

    However, I ‘do’ believe it is possible to have meaningful independence in triad relationships as long as all members are free to self actualise in the way they need to, the problem is so many couples are 'requiring' that a person join them and be sexually and emotionally exclusive to them only.
    At the end of the day the ideal of Polyamory means that all of us should be free to communicate our needs and make the choices that are right for us. If, and when, those needs change we should also feel free to renegotiate our relationships, the rules and roles to the (hopefully) benefit of all involved.

  3. Imperfect reasoning. If many or most couples seeking a bi woman are acting on a bias, that doesn't mean that all are. Looking for a bi woman and offering male and female sex partners to her, if that is what she wants also, is the same as looking for someone who enjoys the outdoors. Yes, it's more difficult to find one person who's turned on to both of you, but I find that if I'm hot for one of a couple, I'm often hot for the other.

  4. It goes deeper than that Griffin, it is not about offering up what (you think) a bisexual woman might want. It is about living and loving in a way that gives her what she 'needs' also and we need more than sex with two people of the same gender.
    Being 'hot' for someone is transitory but being able to meet all the needs of a person fully, especially at the risk to your pre-existing privilege is actually quite difficult for most Unicorn Hunting couples. Many do pay lip service to parity, but often that is only to the extent to which they are comfortable, believe me I have seen it more than once that if the Unicorn has needs that one or the other member of a pre-existing couple do not wish to meet they will close ranks and invoke privilege. That is a risk that all Unicorns have to take and one main reason why triads often do not last long.

  5. Blah blah I hate heterosexual society blah.

    You know this was written by a feminist when "privilege" comes into play.

    1. You sir are a perfect example of this classic saying 'Better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you are a fool, than speak out and remove all doubt.

  6. Now that was silly wasn't it?

    Keep calm dear, your agenda is showing.
    Look dude, I am sorry you can't get a woman to sleep with you. And if by some slim chance you are married, I am sorry that you and your bisexual wife who 'misses the touch of a woman' can't find a Unicorn to be 'your third' who will love you both equally as much as you love her, who will leave all that she knows to move in to your bedroom to be your own and only.....Life sucks eh? Can't always get what you want.
    However, just because something doesn't seem fair, just because I don't agree with you, does not mean that you are automatically right and what I say is 'hateful' it just means you don't agree dude, what is all this anger about? And you dare call me hateful?
    Listen, you came to my playground and you get butt hurt at what you find there, you know what I have to say to that? Tough! Grow a pair, put your big girls panties on and get on with your life. Wasting time reading an blog article you don't agree with and ranting on it (especially considering how easily I can delete them and be entirely unaffected by your 'tude) just proves that you have lost some control of your life.
    My post is not about patriarchy OR Victimhood, it is about the fact that even with the best of intentions and no matter how equal things might appear, there are subtle aspects of privilege that can get through the cracks. People don't start off with the intention to act entitled but when feelings get hurt especially, that is when the privilege shows itself, I have experienced it many times, if it is not something you recognise as valid, Congratulations, you have had a charmed life! For the rest of us, we have to cope with our reality.
    By the way, if 'women of caliber' is man code for 'women who will sleep with you' than thank F**k I am a feminist who is hateful..yadda yadda whatever else rubbish you were talking about that I can't be arsed to read.

  7. Love this (and the dialogue that followed)!

    As a couple who has successfully built a triad, it takes a LOT of work, a LOT of communication, and setting aside a LOT of assumptions. In our case, it was purely 'needs' based - each of us was open and able to pursue any relationships outside of the triad as needed. The only 'rules' were in regards to safe sex.

    We were never exposed to this degree of discussion but stumbled into it intuitively. We realized pretty quickly we were unicorn hunting with some pretty strong, unfair expectations.

    In the end, the relationship's success boils down to trust, treating all parties with the highest levels of care, and communication, communication, communication.

  8. I would just like to add that there is another side to "couple seeking female" story too and the couple does not always have all the power.

    I am a bi female in an M/F couple who has experienced M/F/F triads also. In each case when it worked it has been an equal triangle. We have been seeking a new female for some time now.

    Something that really bothers me is the label of "unicorn hunter" and people assuming that is what me and my husband are.

    The negative stereotype of the "unicorn hunter" has actually caused us a lot of problems when dating women, because we find that the women we date start out in a very defensive position and we basically have to bend over backwards to "win them over" more so than a single person pursuing a woman ever has to do! The women we date have all the decision making power as to whether they continue a relationship us or not and how the relationship unfolds.

    I sometimes feel like we're branded the "sleazy couple" and we have to go to great lengths to prove ourselves "worthy".

    In our most recent dating experience, I actually got so tired of feeling like we have to constantly defend our position and prove ourselves "worthy" that I've given up on this whole triad thing as it is just too much trouble and heartache.

    Another issue is the women who just want to "try it out" and then decide it's not for them and leave, with little to no regard to our feelings - we're the sleazy unicorn hunters remember? Our feelings don't matter right?

    I actually think it could be nice if we found a F/F couple who would like to date us, then at least things would start in a fairly equal way (two established couples). But I realize that's somewhat unrealistic!

    1. Hello Anon,

      Have you ever considered dating another MF couple with a bi female? I really do not understand why this objection to another male being in the picture? If you ask me, two couples such as yourself would solve all your problems. It is the idea of needing to be only one man in any such threesome (or that the women herself be single and exclusive) which upsets people. If you were looking for a bisexual woman, partnered or otherwise, you would probably find the whole search thing a lot less stressful, disappointing and defensive.

  9. Hello, I actually could like that but my partner isn't keen, he is hetero and doesn't even have male friends as he generally only likes female company. But yes, I get your point that it could result in less stress and would seem much more equal. Thanks for the reply :)

  10. While I agree with your observation that mixed-gender triads have high failure rates, same-gender (i.e. homosexual) triads actually seem to have higher than average stability. My observations on this are all with cis-gendered folks. Only recently (past 1-2 years) have I started to know people in live-in triads with non-cis gender identities.

    1. That is a good point, thank you for bringing it up.