Victoria’s Secret Sex Life

In the seemingly staid city, oldsters are finding fulfilling relationships outside the confines of monogamy

“It was an unlooked-for fantasy. I hadn’t actually expected this might happen,” Isabel* says about her first threesome with two men this past fall. “The fact that I love them both was an amazing aphrodisiac … it was better than I had ever hoped for.”

Far from the stereotype of the college student exploring her sexuality, Isabel, at 51, is a self-described “late bloomer,” who has recently embraced polyamory. She believes her age is a favourable factor for her evolving sex life.

“I ask for what I want more readily than I ever could when I was younger and less experienced and confident,” she says. “At my age, too, I feel that I have less to lose by asking – I’ve learned that I get more things by asking than I ever did by just hoping.”

Our interview takes place over chat on FetLife, the social networking website for people interested in BDSM, fetishism and kink. I find her by searching through the listings for Victoria. Yes, Victoria, B.C.

While Victoria is often described as a city for “the newlywed and the nearly dead,” it’s not all nursing homes and high tea at the Empress. There are close to 7,000 Victoria “Kinksters” on FetLife. Everyone I talk to about the polyamorous lifestyle, whether anonymously on FetLife or over coffee, describes Victoria as an ideal place for alternative relationships. The casual shrug attending the oft-heard “It’s the West Coast,” says it all.

“Victoria is pretty great,” Isabel says. “There is a broad kink community, and it seems that kink and poly are linked pretty closely. In my mind, they are separate things, though they can definitely be interrelated.”

Isabel, who identifies as submissive, currently lives with a dominant primary partner and has a dominant boyfriend. On her FetLife profile she says, “I am polyamorous though am apparently considered polyf***erous or polysexual by some standards.”

In addition to the men in her life, she is working on a close relationship with a woman and hopes it will eventually become physical – though she expects this relationship to remain separate from the males in her life.

Although Rolling Stone put polyamory at the centre of its 2014 report “Tales From the Millennials’ Sexual Revolution,” the movement is hardly a millennial fad. The term, which literally translates to “many loves,” first appeared in the early 1990s and is attributed to Morning Glory and Oberon Zell Ravenheart, pioneers of the poly movement in California. Its practitioners range in age from high-school students to those who are too old to have partied at Woodstock.

Isabel first heard about polyamory through The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, a key book in discussions about non-monogamy. Two years ago, after a long stretch of being single, Isabel signed up to OK Cupid. There she met a dominant male who introduced her to the world of kink. Following that, she met her current primary partner through the local kink community, and they decided together that a polyamorous union was the best fit for them.

“My male partners are good friends, though they do not spend time together without me,” she says. “I schedule time with the two of them separately, mostly, though sometimes all three of us have dinner or watch movies and have spent time together sexually.”

Isabel is not “out” with her parents or siblings about being polyamorous, believing it would only cause them “confusion and pain.”
According to Zoe Duff, 55, a spokesperson for the Victoria-based Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association (CPAA), many older people turning to polyamorous unions have trouble coming out to their parents. Of course, many also have children weighing in on their decisions.

“Some of those adult children have stuffy attitudes,” Duff says. “You think they would be a little more flexible, being in their 20s or 30s, but a lot of parents say it’s the kids that give them the hard time about stuff.”

Duff has always been forthcoming with her own children, who were teenagers when she discovered polyamory. Duff lives in an open sexual triad with two straight male partners. Each is free to date outside of the group. The three have named the household “Winsome Haven.” She describes it as a normal life with one extra person in the house. Her five grandchildren call them, “Nanna and the Grandie-pops.”

According to definitions in the recently published More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, Winsome Haven is a “vee” relationship, where one person has two partners who aren’t romantically involved with each other. The book defines polyamory as having multiple loving, often committed, relationships at the same time by mutual agreement with honesty and clarity, in an astonishing variety of forms and sizes.

Oddly, Duff owes her non-monogamy to the original Beverly Hills 90210. In 1999, divorced and recently arrived in Victoria, the mother of six joined Yahoo Personals. At the time, the site required a zip code, so Duff entered the only one she knew.

“I met a bunch of people who were from that area of California, and they were all talking about this ‘polyamory’ thing,” Duff says. “I really found a resonance with the ideals and thought, ‘Maybe I’ve been poly all my life and didn’t realize it.’”

Believing there had to be more local people who identified as poly, Duff started a Yahoo meet-up group, VanIsle_Poly. Since then the Victoria scene has branched out to seven or eight other groups.

Myths about the lifestyle abound – polyamory does not, for example, equate to swinging – and Duff says that misconceptions often fall along gender lines.

“Men usually think it’s all about sex and that everybody must be getting f***ed all the time, six people every day,” she says.

She points out that sex in a polyamorous relationship depends on the people involved, what they want and how much time and energy they have – the same as any monogamous scenario.

Women, on the other hand, sometimes assume the relationship must be abusive. But, to Duff’s mind, it’s one of the most feminist things a woman can do.

“To be involved in a relationship where you’re listened to, where communication is hugely important, where you have to consider everybody’s needs and everybody’s consent and everybody’s understanding of the terms that you are using for things … all of this communication is wonderful for women,” she says.

The biggest challenge to Duff’s lifestyle was Section 293 of the Canadian Criminal Code, known as the Polygamy Law, which carries a possible five-year prison term. Where polyamory is modern, secular and egalitarian between the genders, polygamy is usually associated with a religion that limits multiple partners to men and formalizes these unions through marriage, often arranged or forced, to much younger women. (There is also polyandry, when a woman has two or more husbands at the same time.)

When a reference case went before the B.C. Supreme Court in 2010, Duff filed an affidavit as a witness on behalf of the CPAA – an experience she details in her book Love Alternatively Expressed. Ultimately, the judge upheld the section of the code but ruled that it did not apply to unformalized polyamorous relationships.

Appearing at the trial made Duff a public figure for the polyamory movement. Sometimes, when one of her boyfriends starts dating someone new, the other woman wants to meet Zoe.

“At one point, we had membership cards for our group, and on the back it explained what polyamory was,” Duff says. “That helped a little bit. But it does depends on the woman.”

The dynamics between multiple partners can evolve over time. When Isabel first met her current primary, she also took up with another couple, and the three “played and talked a lot for a couple of months.” According to Isabel that relationship ended abruptly when the other woman realized she was jealous of Isabel’s relationship with the man – even though the woman had been the one to initiate the liaisons.

“She only wanted to play with me, not have him play with me,” Isabel says. “Jealousy is something we all need to be very aware of. I have had my moments, as has my primary. We talk about it and, more importantly, we own it. I spend time thinking about how I feel, exploring where my emotions come from, and my partners do the same.”

According to Kiki Christie, a 48-year-old who has facilitated the Victoria-area Poly 101 group for seven years, jealousy is one of the first concerns people have about polyamory. Meeting monthly, Poly 101 provides a safe place for people who want to learn about the lifestyle. Attendees range in age from 19 to their late 70s.

“Poly people experience jealousy, just like anybody else,” Christie says. “Being over 45 has definitely changed my perspective on it. One thing that poly has taught me about jealousy – and other emotions like envy and insecurity – is that it’s much better if you can be open and talk about them … Working through jealousy, having those scary talks and being vulnerable is actually really empowering.”

Unlike Duff and Isabel, who were single when they discovered polyamory, Christie first learned about it with her husband of 15 years. Prompted when he had an online affair, they started talking about what they wanted in their marriage. After exploring poly together for a couple of years, co-parenting their two children and living in separate spaces, they decided to get divorced.

“Polyamory was something that actually taught us how to transition out of our monogamous marriage, out of that relationship, into a co-parenting friendship that’s been really supportive,” Christie says. “I think it was really helpful in that regard.”

Duff has found it is not that unusual for monogamous couples to look at opening up their relationships – especially when they get a bit older and their kids are grown and out of the house.

“If you have 20 to 30 years as a married couple with exclusive rights, how does that work?” she says.
While many turn to online resources, attending groups like Poly 101 or VanIsle_Poly allows them to talk about the challenges and to hear about others’ experiences.

“Some people, after that length of time, are more comfortable with their partner being sexually active with someone else than they are with them being romantically involved. Sometimes it’s the other way around,” Duff says. “We talk to people, direct them to resources, give them stuff to read and offer advice based on experience.”

One thing everybody I talk to stresses is the importance of communication. This can be challenging, given the sometimes complex relationship structures. Christie, for example, currently has one long-time live-in male partner and another one who lives close by. The latter lives with his girlfriend, who Christie had a relationship with and remains close to. All of her partners have other partners, and Christie is dating other people herself. Nonetheless, she stresses everyone involved needs to know everything that is going on.

“It all starts from the premise that everybody has the right to make their own choices about their relationship,” says Christie. “To do that, you have to be honest with your partners and your partners have to be honest with you. It’s an agreement, like monogamy is an agreement, and it’s based on openness and honesty.”

And while it may not sound particularly racy – and may even make you uncomfortable – Isabel says dialogue is also key when it comes to establishing expectations and boundaries for sexual encounters, especially if it involves multiple partners. One of her concerns leading up to her first threesome was that she would not be able to satisfy both her partners and she wouldn’t be enough for them. The encounter ended up exceeding her expectations.

“I hadn’t expected the cuddle session we had after playing, where I was between two very loving and supportive men …” she says. “It was an amazing feeling to be so loved.”