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Are Some People Just Slapping the “Poly” Label on Their Cheating?

This article was originally published in Playboy.

Image courtesy of Playboy. 

“I’d been spending time intimately with someone on multiple occasions when I learned he had a girlfriend,” says Melissa Vitale, a New York City-based publicist. He said that his relationship was open and that he was “ethically non-monogamous.” As it turned out, Vitale’s lover’s girlfriend was not aware that he was sleeping with others under the false label of ethical non-monogamy. “I later found out that he was full of shit. He’s just a small man who cheats on his beautiful girlfriend,” Vitale says.

New York magazine reported in 2017 that 20 percent of Americans had practiced polyamory at some point in their lives. As a side effect of the normalization, are more people not only misusing the term, but using it as an excuse for bad behavior—therefore stigmatizing non-traditional relationships and stomping on the hard work advocates have done to help normalize such relationships in the first place?

Anyone who has spent time on a dating app recently has likely noticed a rise in people identifying as ethically non-monogamous and polyamorous. The Latin translation of polyamory is “many loves,” and polyamorous people don’t just have sex with, but date and love more than one person. Polyamory is a form of ethical non-monogamy, but the two words are not interchangeable. Ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term for open relationships formed on consent, trust, and honesty, and includes polyamory, swinging, and relationships in which a couple is emotionally exclusive but occasionally sleeps with others.

We see non-monogamy within “monogamous” relationships in the common practice known as cheating. Some people who cheat get off on the secrecy and sneaking that accompanies seeing someone behind their partner’s back. “Sometimes people get off on lying, that is their fetish,” says sex therapist Dr. Denise Renye. If you’re in an open relationship and wish to integrate secrecy into your sexual encounters, you can consensually negotiate that with your partner. “Most things are possible as long as consent is present. If the consent is not present, this completely clashes with the principles of ethical non-monogamy,” Dr. Renye says.

However, some folks seem to have attended Burning Man once, learned the word “polyamory,” stuck it on their Tinder bio, yet continued to date in a manner that involves non-consensual lies and secrecy. When they’re called out, they throw up their hands and say, I told you that I was poly! “They are attempting to sugarcoat their cheating styles. I do not necessarily think that people always know what they are talking about,” says sex educator Jimanekia Eborn.

Some folks, such as Vitale’s lover, may use words like “ethically non-monogamous” to cover up bad behavior. Others may simply be brand new to the poly lifestyle and in need of an education. “Do you even know who you are? Or do you know what kind of relationships actually work for you? You can also be hurting yourself in the process,” Eborn says. If you’ve serially failed at monogamy, it’s an exciting time when you learn about other options. You may feel eager to update your dating profile and embrace a new lifestyle. However, first, you have to do your research. To start, what kind of open relationship do you want? Do you want a relationship with a “primary” partner, with an option to sleep with other people? Do you want to date other people? Or do you want to be “solo poly,” in which all partners are on an equal playing field, and there’s no hierarchy?

Zachary Zane, a New York City-based writer, dated a woman who identified as poly, but did not live by its principals. “She would start dating someone new and completely forget about her previous partners. While all of us in the poly world cut a partner some slack when they start dating someone new and are in the midst of NRE [a poly expression for new relationship energy, or the giddy rush of joy you experience when you first start seeing someone], she never seemed to get over the NRE—until she found someone new and then forgot about her previous partner(s) all together,” Zane says.

It does not feel good to have a partner drop you the moment they meet someone new. You can avoid such misunderstandings by taking the time to think about what you’re truly looking for: one partner, multiple partners, or just multiple partners until you fall in love? Polyamory means many things to different people. For some, their relationship format changes depending on circumstance and partner(s). For others, it remains rigid and feels more like an orientation.

“A lot of us have been trained from the mainstream model to not ask tough questions about what realistically are you looking for, what are you available for, and what does your model for this kind of relationship look like?” says sex-positive psychologist Dr. Liz Powell. If you’re in a period of your life in which you want to be poly, but feel you may end up in a monogamous set-up one day, one argument is that it’s better to just identify as single. However, as long as you’re honest, you can identify however you want.

The plus side to identifying as open or poly, even if you may not always be that way, is the transparency. If you tell multiple partners that yes, there are others, and no, it won’t just be you right now, you don’t have to worry about hurting feelings with false pretenses. However, if you’re dating other poly people, you do have a responsibility to talk about what that word means to you. While it can be flexible to you, it may be a lifelong lifestyle to another, and vice-versa.

Any relationship, but especially relationships that involve more than two people, demand honest communication. That communication must begin with yourself, so you can clearly express your needs to other partners. That being said, dating is messy, and it takes trial and error to know what works best for you. The hard truth is, that while yes, there are some bad apples intentionally misusing words like “poly;” hurt feelings, learning curves and miscommunication are part of all relationships—including ethically non-monogamous ones.

“We’re reaching a point culturally where there are enough people being non-monogamous that folks are starting to use that label inappropriately, and that’s going to happen with any label,” Dr. Powell says. There’s a term known as “poly preaching,” which refers to poly people taking on an enlightened attitude that they date the way that humans are meant to—that it’s more intelligent than monogamy. While that is true for some, it doesn’t mean that poly people don’t mess up. And they should be allowed to.

“I think non-monogamous communities sometimes like to think of themselves as these like beautiful utopias full of enlightened people, who never have relationship drama. They only have relationships made completely of love and free of jealousy and fear. And that’s just not real. I’ve been non-monogamous on and off for 18 years, and I still have issues sometimes. We are all imperfect, messy humans,” Dr. Powell says. The key to being an ethical messy person, and not a harmful one, is honesty.

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The Sad Story of the Ted Cruz Lookalike Who’s Shooting Porn

I covered the Ted Cruz porn lookalike for Playboy.

Presidential hopeful and banner of dildos Ted Cruz is not doing porn. However, 21-year-old Searcy Hayes from Natchez, Miss., who happens to resemble Ted Cruz, is. And while plenty of folks have had a good laugh about this, her story is anything but funny.

Like so many women who face the decision of whether to do sex work, she’s doing it because she needs the money. Hayes, who lives with her family in a trailer park, told Playboy she currently makes $100-$200 a month cleaning houses. Her fiancé and soon-to-be adult costar brings in $733 a month from disability payments.

Hayes went viral after appearing on Maury to prove her fiancé, 25-year-old Freddie Green, was the father of her three-month-old-child. (He is). Hayes has another son who is nearly three in the care of her mother. After she appeared on Maury, a meme posted on Redditcirculated comparing her appearance to Cruz. The viral image caught the eyes of xHampster.com publicist Mike Kulich, who offered her $10,000 for a six-minute adult film, which will be available to view for free on the website. Hayes will shoot the video at home with her fiancé. “[Kulich] just told us do as many [sexual positions] as we can in six minutes,” says Hayes.

Kulich says he has seen the film, and viewers should expect “lots of hardcore BBW action between two people who truly love each other.” However, when I asked Hayes that same day, she said she has not yet shot the film but was planning to in the next few days.

No doubt there is an audience of people who to want to see a female version of “Lucifer in the Flesh” Cruz (a comparison Satanists have protested) getting nailed.

“I think Cruz is horrible, and I’d really like to get him out of the race. It’s fun controlling the internet conversation,” says Kulich.

However, for the trolls and commenters, the laughs have shifted from Cruz to Hayes, who may be the butt of a joke she doesn’t entirely get.

“I wasn’t really familiar with him,” she says of Cruz.

As a promotion for the upcoming film, Hayes has appeared in photos and videos posted to Kulich’s Facebook endorsing Trump. When I asked if she supported Trump, she responded, “I mean, not really.”

Hayes says she’s hearing from folks in Mississippi about her decision to make the film. “All of my friends are telling me that it would ruin my child’s life,” says Hayes, who says it’s the other way around. “The reason I (am) doing it is so my son would have a roof over his head and didn’t have to worry about losing our trailer. I don’t see where we’re ruining our child’s life.”

With the $10,000, Hayes plans to pay off $2,000 of $3,000 owed on her trailer, buy a new truck and make additional purchases to take care of her 3-month-old. “We’re going to buy a walker, buy a high chair, stock up on his diapers, his wipes, buy him clothes.” Hayes says that buying a newer model of a truck is for her son as well, as their current vehicle, a 1997 Mercury Sable, has no heat, no air conditioner and is unsuitable to drive with children. “[With] the car that we have now, I can’t really take him with me. It hurts my feelings because I have to leave him at home.” Like her child, over one-third of Mississippi children live in poverty.

Sydney Leathers, who rose to adult fame from her texting scandal with Anthony Weiner, knows a thing or two about the intersection of porn and politics, and she hopes Hayes has thought this all the way through.

“She should think about her future before actually doing it. It will impact future employment. Everyone she’s ever known will find out. It’s a tough thing to prepare for,” Leathers said. “It sucks, but sex workers are still discriminated against so much. She has no idea what she’s signing up for.”

While $10,000 to screw somebody you already screw may seem like a no-brainer, others are critical of the figure, pointing out that Mama June of Here Comes Honey Boo Boofame was offered $1 million by Vivid for an adult film.

Kulich says the offer is fair. “When you look at the regular adult performer they’re making about $1,000 for a 30-minute scene; $10,000 for a six-minute scene is a very generous offer.”

His figures match up with a CNBC rundown of porn salaries. However, her earnings may not be sustainable. It’s very likely this is a one-time gig.

“It’s generally not a smart financial move to do it if you’re only planning to do one. Money goes fast, so if you’re not committed to making this your career path, it’s a mistake,” says Leathers.

Hayes says she’s open to doing more porn and has even picked up a laptop for the possibility of cam work for additional income.

Ultimately, Hayes is an adult, capable of making her own decisions about sex work, ones that should be respected. “Everybody is still going to sit there and give me bad mouth because of what I’m doing, but it’s not what everybody else thinks, it’s what I think about it,” she said.