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Sex Without Borders: the complicated couplings of Toronto’s pleasure-seeking polyamorists

Stephane and Samantha’s open marriage includes shared girlfriends, bacchanalian house parties and always asking permission before taking on a new lover. A portrait of Toronto’s new generation of polyamorists

Sex Without Borders

Stephane Goulet (middle) and Samantha Fraser (right) at home with one of their girlfriends, Gayle

Samantha Fraser and Stephane Goulet are the kind of married couple who have always talked openly about people they find attractive. She’d comment on the hot waiter at a restaurant, he’d admit that he was turned on by a woman on the street. When sex clubs were legalized in Toronto, they fantasized about going to one; they didn’t actually go, but talking about what the experience might be like became a regular part of their sex life. One night, a year into their marriage, they hosted a raucous house party. While Samantha flirted with other men, Stephane made out with another woman during a game of spin the bottle. “I remember thinking, this is fun,” Stephane says.

Samantha was working at a Starbucks at the time and knew many of her regular customers by their beverage of choice. Grande Red Eye Bold was a shy, 40-something York professor she found attractive. One afternoon, he handed her a note that read: “I know that you’re married and I respect that, but if you’re interested in exploring, let me know.” Most husbands would feel threatened or at least irked if a guy propositioned their wife, but Stephane says he was flattered.

The next day, Stephane and Samantha rented The Cabin Movie (a Canadian cult classic about three couples getting it on in the woods) and proceeded to have sex all weekend. A few days later, with her husband’s blessing, Samantha was naked on Grande Red Eye Bold’s couch. “Before I got there, I hadn’t known for sure that we would have sex,” she says. But, of course, they did. Afterward, she worried about how her husband would react to the reality of the situation—it’s one thing to talk dirty about other lovers, quite another to act out the fantasy. “I called Steph from the car right away just to see how he was feeling,” she says. He was feeling fine.

Seven years later, Stephane and Samantha are Toronto’s best-known advocates for polyamory, the term preferred by people who have turned their open relationships into a lifestyle. Samantha, who is 32, writes a blog about her sex life, offers polyamory life coaching and runs an annual sexuality and relationships conference called Playground (this past fall the three-day event filled a ballroom at the Holiday Inn on Carlton Street). Stephane is 36 and an art director at a video game studio. He is less actively involved with other polyamorists than his wife, though he doesn’t mind her rendering the personal aspects of his sex life (how many lovers they share, their preferred sex toys and so on) into teachable moments for her blog. Stephane and Samantha, in the poly vernacular, are known as a primary couple—a committed partnership in which both parties engage in sexual relationships with additional, lower-ranking lovers. This is the most common set-up, though some polyamorists live family-style in groups of three or more in the same house. Poly individuals are often bisexual (like Samantha), but not always (Stephane is hetero). Some relationships employ the “one penis per party” rule.

Polyamorists are often lumped in with swingers, though there is one key difference: the former believe in maintaining multiple emotional relationships along with all the sex. What distinguishes the modern poly movement from the free love ethos and orgies of the ’60s and ’70s is the absence of politics. Hippies rejected monogamy in the same way they rejected haircuts—as symbols of patriarchal society. Today’s polyamorists are more concerned with the pursuit of self-actualization through satisfying relationships and the honest exploration of sexuality. They don’t want to “drop out” any more than they want to grow hemp on a commune. Besides, their busy work lives and regular-person obligations probably wouldn’t allow it.

Toronto, it turns out, is one of the most poly-friendly places in North America. Poly people in other cities speak enviously of our city’s sexual progressiveness and live-and-let-live kind of liberalism. In this city, gay marriage is old hat, sex clubs like Oasis Aqualounge and Wicked operate legally, and rub ’n’ tugs set up shop in between yoga studios and shawarma shops. In addition to Samantha’s annual conference, a 350-member group called Polyamory Toronto meets monthly at a midtown pub to discuss such issues as coming out as poly to your family, coping with jealousy and explaining polyamory to your kids. Another group called Ethical Lovers convenes monthly at the U of T Centre for Women and Trans People, and monthly #CrushTO dance parties are a melting pot for the various, and often intermingling, “sex-positive” communities, a blanket term describing the open embrace of sex for its own sake without any of the morality hang-ups.

Polyamorists like Stephane and Samantha want to be accepted by mainstream society in the way that gays and lesbians have been accepted—and they’re making progress on that front. There have been some notable watershed moments. The Oxford English Dictionary first recognized the term in 2006, and last year The Movie Network broadcast a poly reality TV series. Polyamory: Married and Dating tracks two Californian households: one a threesome of 20-something grad students (two bisexual women and a hetero man), the other consisting of two couples living as one big sexy family. But there’s no better barometer of the mainstream than a Jennifer Aniston movie. In last year’s middling rom-com Wanderlust, Aniston and Paul Rudd play a monogamous couple who lose their Manhattan jobs and move into a poly commune.

Stephane and Samantha met through the website Quest Personals in January of 2001. They had dinner, went back to her place and had sex. Three months later, they moved in together. They decided to get married three years after that, when her dad was diagnosed with ALS (Samantha wanted him to be able to walk her down the aisle). The ceremony was at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

Samantha, with her black bangs and red pout, reminds me of a live-action Betty Boop. Her features are cherubic, which makes it even funnier when she describes X-rated sex scenes as though she were talking about the weather. Stephane is comparatively reserved, and admits he has a penchant for “fiery women.” He looks like the quintessential dude-who-works-in-a-modern-artistic-discipline—rock T-shirts, funky glasses. Neither self-identifies as a hipster (does anyone?), though they do enjoy shopping in Kensington, visiting tattoo parlours and playing video games.

One night last November, they invited me over to their Junction semi. The main floor looks a lot like a Modern Museum of Treasures Found at Garage Sales: a pink Jesus statue, two horse portraits, a Mexican wrestling mask and a vintage typewriter. We were joined by Gayle, one of their current girlfriends. Stephane and Samantha poured us some wine, and we listened to Pink Floyd. Aside from the fact that I was there to ask questions about their polyamorous practices, nothing about the gathering was even
remotely sexy.

  • http://twitter.com/nympsam Samantha Fraser. TMI

    Dear self, next time there’s a reporter in your living room; try to not talk about butt sex. Sheesh.

  • Guest

    DISAGREE! MORE BUTTSECKS!

  • http://twitter.com/Soundboy6 James A.

    I dont fucking get this kind of thing. I’m way to jealous and self conscious to ever be comfortable with something like this and I cant help it. I keep meeting women who want to rope me into these open arrangements that just make me feel like shit in the end. I think it’s clear that I’m the one with the problem, but fuck if I know how to get over it.

    Not that I have problems with other people who enjoy this kind of thing, I just wish I was hip enough to not give a shit in regards to my own involvement. Being a hopeless romantic is fucking stupid and horribly unrealistic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ashleyrose.macrae Ashley Rose

    Polyamory is definitely not for everybody. It’s easier to think of it as a spectrum with momogamy on one end and non-monogamy at the other with everything else in between. Some people are more inclined to one side or the other, but neither is better than the other.

    Speaking as somebody who identifies as Poly and also used to be pretty jealous, it can be really helpful to try to dissect that feeling of jealousy and try to get to the bottom of it. Personally, when I feel jealous it usually stems from my own insecurity (ex. “She’s younger/skinnier/smarter/sexier than me”) and now that I know that about myself I can seek out the reassurance I need from my partners and also work on those aspects of myself that I can change in a positive way.

    I can honestly say that opening up to poly was one of the most important things I’ve ever done and I never could have imagined how freeing it is to get past the petty jealousy that stifled me. That being said, think about what YOU want out of a relationship and seek that out. Don’t allow yourself to be “roped” into an open arrangement that you aren’t happy with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ljwheeler45 Lori Wheeler

    one of the best articles I have read in a long time on Polyamory.. as I too am part of the Toronto Polyamory culture/lifestyle and proud of it…..

  • PolyToronto

    “(Compersion) is the part of the poly lifestyle that I can’t get past. Yes, it makes a certain amount of intellectual sense, but isn’t an integral part of a romantic relationship the fact that the other person chose you and only you?”

    I will give this article credit where credit is due. It is a very open and honest look at a truly wonderful and well-functioning poly relationship and I salute Toronto Life and Courtney Shea for bringing a burgeoning community to the forefront.

    However, I don’t understand how you can spend a time with a loving poly couple like Stephane and Samantha, learn a great deal about polyamory and its basic principles, and then still write a sentence like the one above that, to me, delegitamizes a lot of the positive light shed on this very misunderstood topic.

    I myself am in a very loving and successful polyamorous relationship. I can say that my partner and I aren’t as experienced as Stephane and Samantha, but I can certainly say that one of the greatest joys of being non-monogamous is that your partner – the “other person” – can choose to be romantic with you and others, not only you.

    I understand that compersion can be a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around, specifically because the centuries-old bias towards monogamy is so deeply ingrained in our culture. I guess I just hoped that the author of the article would work a little harder to understand non-monogamy and realize that, even if polyamory or the idea of compersion is understandably not for them, the idea that a true romantic relationship does not necessarily have to be choosing one person and only one person.

    Love, sex, joy, commitment, and romance can mean wildly different things to different people – we should embrace that and all seek to understand and legitimize each other’s choices.

  • Bob

    Great article, lousy headline. Sex Without Borders? Really? As the article makes abundantly clear (which reflects my own experience and that of many many others who identify as poly) the borders and boundaries are perfectly clear, they just aren’t the ones you might expect. Such is the hallmark of successful poly relationships, mine included. “Sex Without Borders” is entirely different and in my experience only rarely finds its way into committed poly relationships. While “Sex Without Borders” style relationships exist, the one profiled here is hardly an example. These two clearly communicate about their boundaries, talk about possible transgressions, and their outside interests are obviously pursued with great and loving respect for each other. Maybe “Sex With Awesome Borders” would more accurately describe it.

  • pz

    this story would be so much better if the chicks weren’t fat hosses.

  • http://twitter.com/nympsam Samantha Fraser. TMI

    I agree and appreciate this!

  • http://twitter.com/nympsam Samantha Fraser. TMI

    I’m so sorry that my size offends your appreciation of the English language. That must be tough for you.

  • http://twitter.com/nympsam Samantha Fraser. TMI

    I agree!

  • http://twitter.com/nympsam Samantha Fraser. TMI

    Agree!

  • http://twitter.com/ccath Catherine Solmes

    This comment would be so much better if you had gotten something out of it apart from the desire to ignorantly insult the women in the photograph.

  • http://twitter.com/BonDean Bonnie Dean

    This comment section would be so much better without illiterate trolls like yourself.

  • PolyToronto

    I should also mention that I have been to every CrushTO party that has been thrown and they are an amazing place to meet new, open, accepting people. The organizers (they’re called I’d Tap That) are fantastic, positive women who personify the young, sex-positive movement in Toronto.

    For anyone who read this article and was curious or interested in learning a little more about the poly or sex-positive community, I highly recommend CrushTO as a great place to start. There will be scores of people there who would be happy to chat with you about the trials, tribulations, and ecstasies of non-tradtional relationships – and there’s a lot of crazy dancing and partying.

    I know I’ll be at their party this Saturday…

  • Vir_Modestus

    I would disagree that the statement you quote “delegitamizes” anything. In an article talking about the need to be honest in relationships, I appreciate the honesty of the reporter. She expressed a personal bias (one that’s held by most of the rest of the Western world) that may have colored her take on what she was reporting on. Despite that stumbling block, I thought the author did a great job of making the poly experience relatable to a non-poly audience.

  • Moe Young

    Another little man who likes getting it on with obese women … Give me break …

  • QueerGuy

    This is all well and good, but are there ever any attractive people? I’ve yet to see one.

  • http://twitter.com/nympsam Samantha Fraser. TMI

    Yes, because out of our 12 years together, that’s the thing that he *really* gets out of the deal. Give ME a break.

  • imrankhan

    Hello friends

  • Grr

    Looks like the guy just has a fetish for big girls, and the girls are just happy to have a partner.

  • Grr

    Deleted?

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.unsworth Ben Unsworth

    What’s all this talk about there being more to life than weekends at Ikea?

  • http://www.facebook.com/willju416 Will Ju

    I’m

  • http://www.facebook.com/willju416 Will Ju

    Interesting article, although it’s difficult for me to understand how a person could have any chance at a lasting marriage while continuing to have sex with other people (maybe I’m being naive). Nevertheless, I’m open minded about everyone living their own lives, the only part I disagree with, is the mention of support groups where they discuss such things as explaining polyamory to your kids. I can only assume they were talking about “adult” children. I think children have very fragile minds and the concept of polyarmory is too difficult for them to comprehend (it’s difficult for some adults too). I don’t believe that everyone should be monogamous, but I do believe that monogamy is a vital foundation when raising kids. Sexuality is already a difficult subject for kids, teens (and some adults), the structure and stability of a clearly defined and monogamous relationship between two parents (regardless of gender or sexual orientation) is part of the foundation that kids need to feel grounded and secure without being confused about the “grey area”. I’m not saying a polyamorous (is that even a word) couple can’t achieve structure and stability, but it leaves a lot more for a child to question (and confuse) than a monogamous relationship of the traditional sense.

  • Concerned_Citizens

    I would rather have one hot slim wife instead of two plus sized ones no matter how into group orgies they are.

  • Mr. Guest

    Polyamory: it’s just swingers trying to intellectualize their fun.
    Plenty of swingers have their little “rules” too. My brother is dating a feminazi who’s into the polyamory thing, so he went and banged a chick one time while on a business trip, but it’s not like they’re even facebook friends, so all of this crap about “emotional” connections is bullsh!t.

    It’s all swinging. “polyamorists” need to stop deluding themselves that they’re better or more sophisticated than swingers. They’re not. They’re just more hipster (which means everything comes with an explanation).

  • Jessica Rafuse

    Kudos to you both for being posters for a lifestyle that after reading more is really about two people being each others best friends and lovers and moving together to be life partners. It does come at the price of honesty and communication, so the fact that you two have achieved this precarious balance and push one another into other important parts of your personal and professional lives is remarkable and deserves attention.

  • A-aron

    Death by Snu-Snu?

  • Fredericko

    A man between two horses.

  • Torontochick

    I think the type of people who partake in this sort of lifestyle are incredibly self-indulgent and definitely not the right types of people suited for childrearing.

    If they’re not planning on having kids though, go to town.

  • Jane3001

    Poly’s, Swingers, same thing…sorry…these are just damaged people who have never witnessed nor experienced ‘true love’ in their sad lives…..and yes it does exist, quite abundantly all around us and yes true love can and does last a lifetime…it is often discarded because many people confuse love with infatuation. Love changes, grows, and deepens with time, it does not stay the same as when you first met and dated…but its the most awesome of gifts that we give and receive while we are here, for this short time on this planet.

  • Andy

    There really (literally) are two horses in that painting backdrop. My only comment is this: why is it always one guy, two girls?

  • mugwump

    Why are the polyamorists always so damn FAT! Ewwww.

  • Hansen Designs

    Adult’s minds are often more “fragile” because many are proud to be “set in their ways” with no malleability left in their thinking. Kids adapt to every culture and every language on earth. Kids take on new ideas every day of their lives-thus the benefit of schooling. Yes they need stable parents, but you can’t say monogamy is a shining faultless example of that. Polyamory, just as in monogamy, just needs stable people as parents. Really your arguement would be a better help to society if you said you believed that any people who want to be parents should take parenting classes and find ways to afford a stable home and maybe be taught to have better interpersonal relationships.

 

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