There’s no limit to your love[1] – scripting the polyamorous self.

Katrin Tiidenberg


This article explores how the polyamorous self gets storied on NSFW (not safe for work) blogs of tumblr., and the ways the scripting involved in this practice reconfigures the meanings attached to one’s self, body and sexuality. The article relies on case-based narrative analysis, where I work the interface of ethnographic material (two year field study), textual blog content, images and individual and group interviews with polyamorous bloggers. I contextualize it via concepts of sexual scripting (Gagnon & Simon, 1973), elements of Foucault’s (1988) technologies of the self - particularly critical self-awareness and self-care - and Koskela’s (2004) concept of ›empowering exhibitionism‹. Sexual and romantic behaviors are often cloackd in silence and executed in privacy because of feelings of guilt and anxiety, especially so in the case of practices that fall outside of the mono-normative grand narrative still cultivated in our society. Online one can challenge the scripted norms that regulate sexual behavior and our identities as sexual beings.


I first heard of polyamory when one of my best friends, a week or so after having told me he is engaged, dreamily told me about this other woman. A poetesse. He talked of romance and sex; communication and partnership. »Right,« I sneered: »people are not like that.« It didn’t work out for my friend, but my ongoing research with a community of bloggers and self-shooters on has shown me that it is, in fact, possible. Not easy, but what is?

Polyamory - often defined as »a form of relationship where it is possible, valid and worthwhile to maintain (usually long term) intimate and sexual relationships with multiple partners simultaneously« (Haritaworn, Lin & Klesse, 2006, p.518) challenges (at least in it’s non-mormon, non-Gorean forms) mono-normativity (of heterosexuality and monogamy) and emphasizes individual agency. In that sense, it can be considered an empowering discourse. Relying on Heckert (2010), polyamorous narratives can be seen to refuse overcoding by compulsory monogamy. Haritaworn, Lin & Klesse (2006, p. 518) see polyamory as providing languages and ethical guidelines for alternative lifestyles and sexual and intimate relationships beyond the culture of ›compulsory monogamy‹«.

It would be peculiar to talk about constructing one’s sexual-self without paying homage to Gagnon and Simon’s groundbreaking book Sexual Conduct (1973) in which they introduced the concept of scripting, which I will rely on in this article. As Kimmel puts it in the foreword to The Sexual Self it is the »effort to understand both the multiple meanings of sex and sex’s centrality in the construction of identity« (2007, p. ix) that made their work revolutionary. Giddens (1992) sees late-modern sexuality as plastic; malleable within and important to our reflexive project of self. Sexuality, when freed from reproductive imperatives and as our practices and fantasies transgress the neat boundaries and binaries (masculine vs. feminine, proper vs. perverted),.can become an emancipatory discourse that offers a "a little space into which we can escape« (p. 123). Building on Simon’s Postmodern Sexualities, Plummer points out that »spaces start to emerge for new kinds of sexualities, »sex« is no longer the source of the truth, human sexualities become destabilized, decentered and de-essentialized« (2007, p. 20). It could be argued, that many of these spaces of escape can be found online.

Online, we find new forms of sexual culture and new sexual spaces. Internet can be said to have transfigured sex, illuminated aspects of it so that they ›stand out from their equivalent social sexual interactions‹ (Ross, 2005, p. 342), and provided a ›stigma suspending space‹ (Waskul, 2004). Sexuality is more and more tied to discourses of consumerism, therapy, the expression of self-identity and creation of communities (Attwood, 2010). Online experiences are a relevant research context, -tool and -unit when researching both sexual scripting and polyamory. The latter, because the internet has played a large part in polyamory becoming a widely used term and a more widely available script (Anapol, 1997; Ritchie & Braker, 2007; Cascais & Cardoso, 1991). And the first, because according to Ross (2006, p. 344) »what is occurring on the computer screen is the mutual construction of a script, in which the playwrights are also the actors.«

In my ethnographic work, I’ve witnessed that ideas about polyamory spread easily in the NSFW culture on Taking a closer look at sexual storytelling and scripting in blogs illuminates how online experiences play into our overall reflexive projects of self (Giddens, 1991), potentially imprint on the wider cultural scenarios of a minority sexual lifestyle like polyamory, as well as affect one’s sense of agency in the context of said cultural scenarios.


While there are many to choose from, I prefer Antalffy’s (2011, p. 1) dual ways of defining polyamory: »one as demarcation from other modes of relating and the other in terms of its own strength and values«. Antalffy (2011) says that from the demarcation point of view, polyamory needs to be distinguished from other forms of non-monogamy such as swinging (more couple and event focused); open relationships (less transparent), or cheating (non-consensual). Differentiating various forms of non-monogamy as well as the question of the words people use for what they are / do (polyamory is a made up word of Latin and Greek roots) is not the focus of this article, but it should be mentioned that the ›othering‹ inside the non-monogamos discourse (i.e. storying love-centered approaches as superior to pleasure-seeking forms of non-monogamy) is a topic of heated debate both within the communities of practitioners and the academics researching them (cf. Lano and Parry, 1995; Easton & Liszt, 1997; Klesse 2006, p. 571). It has been proposed that polyamory could be conceptualized as a sexual orientation (Tweedy, 2010; Shannon & Willis, 2010) or as an identity label (rather than behavior) (Barker, 2004; Ritchie & Barker, 2006) as well as a practice. This article will show two possible ways of storying polyamory.

However, looking at polyamory in terms of its own characteristics, Antalffy (2011) points out the guiding principles of »non-exclusivity in both love and sex, autonomy of persons, transparency and honesty in dealing with each other, valuing intimacy, caring, equality, and communication as the ultimate tool for helping to put into practice all these principles« (p. 1). Other authors (Emens, 2004; Klesse, 2006) have listed self-knowledge, radical honesty, consent, self-possession, privileging love and sex over other emotions and activities; communication, negotiation, self-responsibility, emotionality, intimacy and compersion (»having loving empathy for one’s partner’s outside erotic and emotional adventures« (Wolfe, 2008, p. 2007)); all of which Klesse (2006) sees as closely linked to the dominant theme of radical honesty. That commitment to truth is what makes Wolfe (2008) name polyamory a »very weird cultural construction«.

Last decade has seen an increasing attention paid to polyamory in academic writing, the journal Sexualities published a special issue in 2006 (December 9 (5)), as well as a number of separately standing articles. In 2010 Barker & Langdridge published a collection on non-monogames. In addition there is the self-help type literature directed at people trying to make sense of their romantic and sexual lifestyles and desires (most notably the Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton (1997)).

According to Haritaworn, Lin & Klesse (2006, pp. 517-518) polyamory has emerged at the crossroads of several progressive social movements (feminist; gay and bisexual; subcultures of BDSM transgressing the couple culture). Ritchie & Barker (2007) emphasize polyamory’s feminine and feminist bent, arguing that exploring non-monogamy helps heterosexual women to re-work gendered power relationships and challenge ›compulsory heterosexuality‹ (Rich, 1978 cited in Ritchie & Barker, 2007, p. 3). Heckert (2010) offers an overview (citing McPheeters, 1999; Stelboum, 1999; Willey, 2003; Rosa, 1994) of academic writing that links compulsory monogamy to contemporary consumer capitalism; patriarchal religion; race and class; gender and compulsory heterosexuality. Tweedy (2010, p. 27-28) cites a variety of both academic and journalistic sources when estimating that here are more than half a million openly polyamorous families in the US and that polyamory is getting increasing attention in countries such as Britain, Canada, and New Zealand.

Cascais & Cardoso (1991) find that polyamorous discourse is interwoven with elements of Giddens’ ›confluent love‹ and a ›pure relationship‹. Giddens (1992) describes a pure relationship as a ›relationship of sexual and emotional equality‹ (1992, p. 2) one that is based on mutual trust, mutual consent, disclosing intimacy, voluntary agreement and egalitarian decision-making. Coelho (2012) notes that the fluidity of, for example, homosexual relationships, comes from the lack of a sanctioned framework that states how relationships should be done. The same might be applied to non-monogamous relationships. Looked at this way, it is hard not to agree with Haritaworn, Lin & Klesse (2006, p. 518), when they hopefully note that: »polyamory opens up new sex-positive terrains for erotic, sexual and relational understandings and practices.«

Sexual scripts, narratives of empowerment and self-care

We know from Simon & Gagnon’s paradigm-creating work on sexual scripts that: »for behavior to occur, something resembling scripting must occur on three distinct levels: cultural scenarios, interpersonal scripts, and intrapsychic scripts. ( [1984] 1999, p. 31). Sexual scripts tell us what is sexy and sexual; how, when, why, with whom and with what consequences we can have sex.

Cultural scenarios are »instructional guides that exist at the level of collective life« (Gagnon & Simon, [1984] 1999, p. 31), they are meaning systems that outline the requirements of specific roles and practices. Interpersonal scripts represent our responses to the external world, our definition of the immediate social context, they »might be defined as the representation of the self and the implied mirroring of the other that facilitates the occurrence of sexual exchange« (Gagnon & Simon, [1984] 1999, p. 33). Sometimes, however, when what is prescribed by the cultural scripts is too complex or conflicting with our desires and when multiple alternative outcomes are available, one needs intrapsychic scripts, because interpersonal ones alone are not enough. Gagnon & Simon, ([1984] 1999p. 32) call these »internal rehearsals« which create »the symbolic reorganization of reality in ways to more fully realize the actor’s many-layered and sometimes multivoiced wishes« (p. 32) and »link individual desires to social meanings« (p. 34). It is easy to see how the mononormative cultural scenario would be difficult for a polyamorous person to reconcile with their personal needs, thus the boundaries between those scenarios are a space of self-construction and self-reflexivity.

Riessman (2008, p. 8), building on the work of Yuval-Davis (2006) convincingly states that identities are narratives about who we are (and who we are not), the identity is fluid, in a constant flux of being and becoming, belonging and longing to belong. The underlying assumption of this article is that scripts and scenarios meet in the self-conscious and recursive sexual narratives (Plummer, 1995, p. 113) and play a role in constructing and maintaining the self-identity (Weeks, 1985, 2000, 2003; Coelho 2009). Building on Sundrud’s (2011, p.1) research on performing asexuality, I suggest that since there is no singular way to embody polyamory, »the act of narrative storytelling itself constitutes an important performance«.

Taking an active role in one’s sexual storytelling (as opposed to, for example relying on stories told by medical professionals or religious authorities) can be experienced as empowering, allowing us to »reclaim a copyright to our lives« by rejecting the »regime of order and the regime of shame« (Koskela, 2004, p. 206-207). It can also become an act of »self-storying as activism« (Crawley & Broad, 2004, p. 68 as cited in Sheff, 2005). Plummer (1995, p. 27) also speaks of a ›flow of power‹ (as we choose to tell or not tell) in telling sexual stories.

Some stories, especially written ones, can be at the core of the ›technologies of the self‹, which »permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, or immortality« (Foucault 1988, p. 1). Based on Greco-Roman philosophy and Christian spirituality, Foucault spoke of critical self-awareness (via becoming more self-reflexive). A critically self-aware individual sees the ›possibilities of transgression‹ and the ›potential for new subjective experiences‹ by questioning what seems ›natural‹ (Markula, 2003). Foucault emphasized letters to friends or mentors as a way to (1) disclose the self, (2) examine the self and to (3) compare the two. Blogs I have studied are quite like letters to friends, they are mostly first-person narratives about one’s self, diaristic in a sense, but interactive at the same time. »Oh, tumblr.!« is a very common way to start a post. In addition to critical self-awareness, another aspect of the »writing of the self« is important in the context of this article - the ethics of self-care. Foucault uses ›epimeleia heautou‹ or ›the concern with self‹ and underlines writing of the self that is ethopoietic rather than confessional. Cascais & Cardoso (1991, p. 2-3) used the concept of self-care to explore polyamory specifically, and found that:

»the polyamorous ethical subject is linked to his own honesty or frankness; connects with groups of other polyamorous subjects so that he can constitute himself as a subject; he cares for the self, in order to […] attain more freedom, independence and, ultimately, self-control«.

Social Media and Sexual Identity; Blogging as a Technology of Self

Sexual identity thus develops at the intersection of our inner-monologue, magazines leafed through under covers, hushed conversations and increasingly the information available online. Sundrud (2011) points out that online spaces offer »relief from heteronormative discourses« and provide an environment to celebrate ones sexual identities. Polyamory, both as a word / label and a sexual identity discourse has a very close relationship with online communication. According to Cascais & Cardoso (1991), even though the adjective ›polyamorous‹ dates back to 1953, the word ›polyamory‹ emerged in the 1990s as a neologism used to create a mailing list, and Anapol (1997) argues that the spread of poly-related websites and mailing groups is what popularized the concept. This also reflects the experience of the bloggers participating in my research, for many, their understanding of polyamory and learning of the word comes from online sources and they describe it as finally having a way to describe what they feel and want.

An important aspect of writing online is the distinction between being anonymous and feeling anonymous (Kennedy, 2003 cited in Rak, 2005). The ultimate plasticity (in the Giddensian sense) of the internet as a sexual medium is pinpointed by various authors as the key to it’s transformative power over sexuality. Daneback (2006) states that online we can experiment, and challenge the offline sexual scripts. Online we all become prosumers (Bruns, 2006) of sexual scripts, consuming and producing the »scripts that reflect our society’s changing views of sexuality and pleasure« (Sundrud, 2011, p. 18). Blogs, specifically, have been shown to give bloggers a unique opportunity to work on their self-identity through self-expression and social interaction (McCullagh, 2008), that social identity created in blogging communities affects the members, as well as the community in general (Pluempavarn and Panteli, 2007), and that blogs function as self-therapy (Tan, 2008). When exploring blogging as a queer-identity construction practice Rak (2005, p. 178) emphasizes the importance of experience as the link between online and offline and a way to produce the gay [but I’d say also polyamorous] identity. Sexual blogs have been conceptualized as a ›safe space‹ for discussion of desire (Muise, 2011), and a way to reduce shame, build community, and enable people to regain control over information about sexuality (Wood, 2008). In a previous article (Tiidenberg, 2013) on sexuality-narratives among the NFSW bloggers of tumblr., I found a widening repertoire of desires, practices but also an increase in the general open mindedness in terms of lifestyle choices (sexual and relationship). I attributed this to to (a) the constant exposure to sexual scripts different from one’s own, and (b) pleasurable interactions that meant the new information was easily internalized.

Coming back to the Foucauldian concept of technology of the self in the blogging context, Siles (2010, p. 414) writes that blogging helps people manage a particular relation to the self. »The technologies of blogging […] are associated with a particular type of subject, a sensible, unique individual who is able to transform her personality into meaningful online navigation sequences for her readers. (2010, p. 416).


This article is a part of a larger research project, where I’ve conducted 24 individual interviews with NSFW bloggers on tumblr (2011), followed by 4 group interviews with the majority of these bloggers (2012). This data has been thematically and narratively analyzed and provides the context for this article - types of bloggers according to their relationship status and usage of blogs as well as background on community construction are provided in the introductory section of the results. In addition I conducted additional individual interviews (2013) with three of the research participants who self-identify as non-monogamous / polyamorous and practice it both off-, and online. In the following I focus on the narratives of their polyamoroy. Each of these narratives is an amalgamate of the thematic narrative analysis and visual narrative analysis (Riessman 2008) of the data corpus for each blogger (initial individual interview, group interview, additional individual interview, ethnographic data (exceprts from blogs, images, fieldnotes). I have focused on sexual scripts and cultural scenarios in blogging as a sexuality constructing practice, thus the emphasis lies less with the bloggers’ polyamorous experience and more with their blog as a way of doing polyamory / being polyamorous.


What makes it a community?

I am mindful of the difficulty in using a term like ›community‹, but sticking with it since it was an almost unanimous habit among my research participants,. Sense of community is particularly important when a person undertakes scripting that diverges from the mainstream cultural scripts, which is certainly the case with polyamory. Although there are plenty of online spaces (newsgroups, groups on portals, mailinglist) that are designated as polyamorous, this NSFW tumblr community is not specifically such. It brings together conversations on health, gender and a myriad of daily-life details typical for diaristic, personality driven blogs anywhere, but has an added, uncensored approach to themes of sex, love, monogamy and polyamory, kink, fetish, BDSM, etc.

Feeling of not being alone, sharing and caring, support, following unwritten rules and ways of doing things - these are all typical of the sense of community and mentioned by my participants. The following interview excerpt, however, rather succinctly explains the uniqueness of the commonality of the NSFW tumblr.:

I feel like our commonality is that we're reaching out. So many of us have interests that are taboo or at least considered private, things you might not share with all of your friends or colleagues. Tumblr for me has provided a way to really feel like I'm not alone. To assure me that there are many others out there, who are interested in the things that I thought made me abnormal or strange. I feel this sense of community for something that is difficult for many of us (because of lifestyles, geography etc) to have a community for. We are all looking for a connection, for reassurance that we're okay and we're not alone. Companionship in our oddness. Validation!  (K, female, 30, Canada)

What struck me as interesting, when going over my coded data, was that although this is not a community about polyamory (as the grand narrative validating its existence), it is, in a sense, polyamorous or a ›pure‹ (in Giddensian ›pure relationship‹ way) in how it works. Obviously it doesn’t cover the entire spectrum of the values emphasized in previous literature on polyamory (Klesse, 2006; Tweedy, 2010; Haslam, 2008) but people point out many of the polyamoroys values when discussing how the community works. Mutual trust, disclosing intimacy, voluntary agreement as well as openly ›loving‹ many of one’s tumblr-people and playful exchanges that emphasize compersion are evident.

Who gets to be a part of the scripting? Patterns of blogging in the community

Based on my previous analysis of the interviews, I learned that the level of secrecy surrounding the blog reflects the role that blogging has for participants and illustrates their emotional investment in the process. I believe this info is helpful to contextualize the specifically polyamorous narratives presented later.

My analysis broke the blogging practices into four groups based on the balance between keeping it as a space of one’s own and sharing it with one’s life partners. The first group kept their blog a secret from significant other(s), even though they are mentioned. Mentioning partners on the blog seems to serve both an »informed consent« function (for blog readers who may wish to engage in interactions with the blogger) as well as adding the dimension of being able to vent and complain about the home situation. The second type are bloggers whose significant others may or may not know about the blog, but partners are not mentioned, to allow for extra-relationship interactions without having to explain oneself, or for the blog to be a private place of fantasy that is not imposed on by any elements of their offline lives. The third type are single bloggers with nothing to hide, although they might have online sexual interactions / relationships that are, or are not hidden from each other. As you can see, none of these, similarly to the majority of the general population, subscribe to the frightening philosophy of radical honesty that is common in polyamory.

Finally there are the brave bloggers and the polyamorous protagonists of this article represent this type. These people have managed an openness that allows for their significant others to a part of their blogging experience. Partners are usually aware of the blogs and present in the content or its production. ›Brave‹ bloggers often have couple’s blogs (or where partners have separate but hyperlinked blogs), are people with unorthodox sexual identities or sexual lifestyle choices (and blogging is a part of that experience, helping one understand oneself, an attempt to de-stigmatize one’s identity) or people for whom their significant other is the main focus and main reader of their blog (we can call these dedicated blogs). The issues of »safe space« (Muise, 2011) and »regaining control over information about sexuality« (Wood, 2008) are definitely of high importance here. This type emphasizes the importance of community and of the open-minded others, their blogs work as a private place within a public space.

Scripting the poly self – sexual self-narratives of polyamorous bloggers.

Three of my research participants self-identified as polyamorous or non-monogamous, following is the exploration of the stories of K and S. I have omitted the third story as in many key aspects it is very similar to K’s. Within each narrative, I’ve focused on 1) intrapsychic scripting; 2) interpersonal scripting; 3) cultural scripting and whether those lead to the blogging experience being a technology of the polyamorous self and/or a practice of empowering exhibitionism.

The story of S. Doing Polyamory, Blogging Polyamory. Male, 35, California

I’d like to start with a short overview of the evolution of S’s blog and his relationship status from the time I started following him (about two years ago), when he and his then girlfriend blogged together. S’s blog is heavy on images, most of them are taken by him of his partners and are very explicit in nature, often documenting various kinky / BDSM practices or marks left by such (beltmarks, welts, bruises). It is important to say that he posts all these with the consent of his girlfriends and to their erotic and exhibitionist satisfaction. He has been with girls who initially thought they would want to be a part of his blog, but later changed their minds, in which case he has removed their content.

During my first forays into his blog, I mostly saw images of the then-girlfriend or the two of them, sometimes videos and audios and descriptive stories. It was clear that they were in a kinky and non-monogamous relationship, because a lot of the stories and images followed the logic of the girlfriend going out, having sex with someone else, taking a picture of herself on the other person’s bed, sending it to S and then coming home to ›confess‹ and ›face the repercussions‹. This particular game turned both of them on, and the arousal can be interpreted as stemming from the tension between the cultural scenarios of female sexuality, sexual willingness and mononormativity as well as both of their intrapsychic scripts of personal preferences.

I like slutty women... more or less anything in that direction excites me... eh, it's sorta paradoxical, since on the one hand, I detest the double standard that says women shouldn't be boldly sexual. On the other hand, it's only because of that double standard that I get off on women breaking the "rules" about such things (S, interview 2011).

It is also a perfect example of how the blog becomes an active part of the scripting, a way to own the tension between cultural scenarios and intrapsychic scripts, celebrate it, turn it into an interpersonal script that makes the otherwise intangible acts of »sluttiness« parts of material sexual interaction.

And I'm sure a big part of the turn-on here is the same as in the rest of my sex life, power and control, along with wild "slutty" women...Taking the pictures, and even more posting them, is certainly a form of power.  Showing her off is fun in that it feels like a demonstration of control..."I'll do whatever I want with your body, even show it off to the whole world." (S in a group interview, 2012 (already talking about another girlfriend).

S’s blog also served as an interpersonal script by substituting conversations on desire and arousal S and his girlfriend could have had.

It was my way to show her where she could find good porn and it was her way to show me what she liked. So any time she’d reblog something it was her way of saying to me ›this is the sort of thing that turns me on‹. (S, interview 2011)

During the first interview (about S’s overall blogging experience and selfhood) in 2011, he was no longer with the initial girlfriend, but amidst two new relationships where both women were aware of each other, but it was strained,. S was posting pictures of both of his partners and addressed it as a natural thing. It can be interpreted as a final element of any sexual encounter for him, something that can almost be read as making his sexual practices real. Both of the women also frequented the blog. Here, again, we can witness it working as an interpersonal script of communication, creating conflicts and igniting interactions among partners to better determine the boundaries of their non-monogamous practices.

There were times, when even if she knew these were very old pictures, most of the time she could tell, because they were in an apartment that I didn’t live in any longer, she still didn’t want to see them, it’s one thing to know it was happening and it’s another thing to have it rubbed in your face. And then there was this one picture that got posted where she could tell that the picture must have been taken after the first time I slept with her. And that made her sort of sad too... (S, interview 2011).

A year later, when we had a group discussion on the role of self-shooting in the overall blogging and self-project experience, S was with one of the above mentioned women, enjoying a relatively stable non-monogamous relationship where they both, sometimes together, sometimes separately (mostly the girl) had sex with other people. The blog continued to play an integral part in their sex life, even inserting itself into the physical acts of sex by commandeering some of S’s attention. I.e. he mentioned occasionally thinking of what would make for an aesthetically pleasing photo during sex.

The blog also served as an interapsychic script of arousal and an interpersonal one of aiding offline sexual encounters with third parties for S’s girlfriend.

she wants to show it [the blog] to the guy she's been hooking up with. It’s kind of like our calling card. (S, interview 2013)

As well as a way of starting (sexual) interactions with online friends for S. Considering the following excerpt is a blog post, it also carries an invitation to ask for, or comment on S’s girlfriend’s images in addition to presenting a story of sex, photos and an experience of photo-swapping. Concurrently it’s a story that demonstrates S’s penchant for violent sex, arguably this could work as a filtering mechanism to weed out unsuitable candidates to whom to extend the above mentioned invite.

Then we passed out, and she slept through her first classes, before fucking on the floor.  When I got home, I shared a few pictures with a friend:

Friend: I like her fingers on this picture

Me: they scare me.  They’re weapons.  

Friend: I’m not used to seeing her looking submissive without you actually hurting/fucking her

(from S’s blog, 2012. It came with an image of the girlfriend on her hands and knees on the floor, with her fingers (very long fingernails) splayed against the carpet).

By the time we had our third interview, specifically on polyamory and his blog (2013), that relationship was strained. Despite being together, S’s girlfriend had lost interest in having sex with him while actively (and openly) seeking sex elsewhere. Curiously, the blog’s function as an interpersonal sexual scripting tool remained active.

she really likes me posting things, even after she stopped wanting to sleep with me. She was really upset when I stopped posting (S, interview 2013)

Thus, I have read S’s blog as an activity log and a part of his actual sexual practices. It turns him and his partners on to post pictures and stories, share their bodies and sex life with others, but also to witness the feedback (both in comments and added captions or stories as well as just noticing what becomes popular), see what happens to their sexual story as the community appropriates it. In a way, it could be said that just as S enjoys being non-monogamous in his physical, material sexual practices, he enjoys his digital content to have multiple partners who embed their intrapsychic sexual scripts into his sexual stories.

S often posts images (sent to him, with consent) and stories of his other female friends or previous partners bringing their interpersonal sexual scripts and sexual stories into his own, which, as it gets disseminated, then enters the cultural sexual scenarios. His blog shows a deep curiosity and interest in women’s desire and sexuality,. His blog, I would say, is primarily an intrapersonal sexual scripting device and a way of interacting with the cultural scenarios (undermining the mononormative and patriarchal attitudes via quotes of feminism and raising issues of the intersection of race and class (especially during the time he was with one of his girlfriends who is a woman of color).

S: and uh ... I mean to some extent I’m just curious as to why ... why stuff is more popular, even if I’m not particularly willing to change it. I mean, for instance, the black girl who’s on there has never been even remotely as popular as anyone else

Katrin: really? How is that possible, she’s gorgeous

S: I really wonder if it isn’t just a weird race thing

(S, interview 2011)

In the case of S, it might be more appropriate to say that he does polyamory (on‑, and offline) rather than that he IS polyamorous (as an identity label). And online he mostly does polyamory on his blog. It is his primary space of polyamorous practices online, an extension of his polyamorous practices offline, and to an extent a technology of critical self-awareness (especially in the liminal spaces of cultural scenarios meeting intrapsychic scripts) even if not a technology of self-care or a tool for empowerment.

The story of K, The Interactive Diary of K’s Poly-Self. Female, 30, Canada

K’s blog has always had a very specific, almost literary and very contemporary style, it is well written, sincere, cute, sexy and self-reflexive. She is extremely popular, has thousands of followers. Her popularity might in part be also because of her non-monogamous lifestyle, which is openly celebrated and dissected in detail. In a way it could be said that this is not K’s blog, it’s a blog of K’s Polyamory. K identifies as polyamorous (as an indentity), so we can say that this is the interactive diary of K’s Poly Self.

My tumblr experience has been surprising to say the least. I started my blog so that I could have a place to journal about my lifestyle (open marriage) that wouldn't be just laying around my house like a traditional diary. I was unconcerned about followers or connecting with people online. But it turns out that the things I write about resonate with others who have similar relationships or desires. It's been humbling and incredibly heart warming to know there are others out there who are like me, who share these wants and needs and choices. The lifestyle I write about is not something the mainstream media covers, unless it's a sensationalist story here and there, so to have a space where my reality is acknowledged has been really therapeutic. Also worth noting is that I started my blog a few months after having my second son. I was frustrated with the way society strips pregnant/nursing women of their sexuality and wanted a way to re-connect with my sexual self. My blog has been empowering, therapeutic, entertaining and a hell of a lot of fun. (K, interview 2011)

While she has become the ombudsman of the ›polyamory is possible‹ narrative in that particular community, and is very outspoken and well informed about it, it is interesting to know, that for her, as for so many others (Cascais & Cardoso, 1991; Anapol, 1997; Kessel 2006) the internet and tumblr. specifically was a place of discovering there were words for what she feels and wants. Her blog provides a platform, a space and an audience, who needs definitions and asks questions, Through this, it encourages intrapsychic scripts to take on the form of direct identity claims, solidifying her own construct of her polyamorous self.

Libertine (a hand selected definition by me)

(from K’s blog, 2011. ›Awesome‹ was hyperlinked to other posts she had tagged as awesome)

Although I wouldn’t have expected it from how self-reflexive and analytical her blog is, K apparently didn’t have a space where to ›be poly‹ before her blog.

To be honest I didn't do a lot of thinking about that stuff before... I talked to friends who were also bi or non-monogamous, but mostly it wasn't stuff I had space to reflect upon. I was operating without much self-reflection. When we started seeing the couple we were in a long term relationship with, I started keeping little coded jot notes in a journal and then I started my blog, which was my first space for really working through this stuff (K, interview 2013).

For K, the self-shooting aspect of blogging in particular (she has a history of body-angst), has served as a self-care, self-healing and empowering exhibitionism practice, but I was surprised to notice, that she, unprompted, also uses the empowerment discourse specifically from the point of view of being polyamorous. She points out that her blog has empowered her to know her experiences are not unique and in all of our interviews, she has said that getting feedback from other people, who are contemplating or just starting to practice polyamory, makes her feel empowered both in her identity as a poly-person and as a blogger, justifying her poly-blogger narrative.

Messages from girls who kiss a girl for the first time, or people who finally confessed to their long term partners that they would like to add other people to their sex life, and tumblr folk who confess that as they were walking into a sex club for the first time they calmed their nerves by saying to themselves "If K can do it I can do it!"... that kind of stuff makes my heart want to explode with gratitude because it makes me feel so good. I feel like it validates my blog as an experience and as a 'thing I waste lotsa time on". laughs It also makes me feel like I have a voice that needs to be heard, a story worth sharing. There is nothing that makes my day like a message like that. They usually start with "Oh K!!!!!!" I have a folder called "warm fuzzies" where I cut and paste the best ones for completely self-serving purposes. (K, interview 2013)

The rhetoric of self-therapy dominates the intrapsychic scripting on her blog or when reflecting on the role the blog serves for her. She works in, and has been trained as a counselor, which explains her attention to quasi-psychological detail. She also uses the blog as a place where to remind herself to care for herself, to take time or voice her desires. In that regard her blog is like the yellow ›smile!‹ post-it note on a girl’s mirror, thus, reading it via the lens of Foucault’s ethic of self-care is appropriate.

I’ve been working on asking for what I need. Like, out loud. From the ones I want it from. Apparently there are folks who just do this. They weren’t taught that asking for things is greedy. Or they shouldn’t be dependent. Or that their needs are unimportant. Or people who love them enough should just know what they need. Or whatever other tired script it was that was handed down to me from my family and society. […] but it’s astoundingly simple. And it’s changing everything. (from K’s blog, 2012. came with a reblogged image of a hand-drawn poster saying ›take what you need‹ and words like ›love‹ ›peace‹ etc. on the tear-away strips on the bottom)

Content wise, K’s blog consists of stories of sexual encounters, threesomes, group sex, naked pool parties, all told from an unmistakably feminine perspective that focuses on emotions, small symbolisms and hidden meanings. She has used words like »my niche« and »there was a place for my story« when talking about her own reactions to the popularity she found, which warrants a question of how much her way of describing sexual acts (extremely detailed yet not vulgar), which surprisingly often also manages to make a feminist or activist statement, is her natural voice; and how much it’s a response to her audiences as she has learned to make her story of non-monogamy so palatable.

The next one had a beautiful pussy. Had anyone ever told her? I said it as I flipped the switch to the highest intensity. She breathlessly said that since having a child she’d been self-conscious about how she looked down there. I wasn’t lying when I told her it was the most beautiful I had seen. […] She politely asked my husband if he could choke her while she came. (from K’s blog, 2013. a post in a series of posts describing a group sex party where she used a Hitachi Magic Wand on a number of girls).

Her articulated commitment to honesty and communication (and I find it significant as both are also pillars of polyamory) further points to her blog simultaneously acting as a technology of the self via intrapsychic scripting, and an attempt to actively assert her agency in the cultural scripts on polyamory. In addition to sexy stories she shares her heartbreak of loosing secondary partners, anguish of fighting with her primary (her husband); and sessions of relationship counseling with a poly-friendly counselor.

Well now I feel this strange sense of responsibility to be really honest laughs to talk about the real ups and downs. Like, at times when I didn't want to journal and "ruin" the fairytale of non stop hot sex, I was encouraged by the fact that a) it was so cathartic for me to write about these realities and b) I wanted to be real for those who were reading (K, interview 2011).

Coming back to the way K’s blog allows her a voice in the cultural scenarios, it should be said, that it wasn’t something she always had, her blogging experience has given her that voice through increased critical self-awareness.

I feel like there is a real cultural shift happening. [...] There is less stigma about people's sexualities, more empowerment for women to own their sexualities and more information out there for all of us. I think a lot of people feel disenfranchised with the institution of marriage and are more open to making their own rules, tailoring relationships that fit them rather than letting society, church etc. dictate what a marriage/relationship should look like. Getting messages like those make me feel like I'm a part of that movement. I think that movement in general is really liberating and progressive. (K, interview 2013)

She posts a lot on feminism, slut-shaming, sex-positivity, LGBT rights, her participation in Rainbow Parades, Slut-Walks all peppered with naked self-pictures or third-party images that push boundaries. She posts pictures of pretty boys frotting, girls kissing, hardcore porn scenes where people are smiling and wraps it cutely as ›happy porn‹. ›Rants‹ are another typical genre in the NSFW community and K occasionally posts those as well, often about gender, sexuality and rights, but sometimes even these come in the format of a sexy story, a fantasy or an expanded caption to an explicit pornographic image, once more illustrating how K muddies the lines between genres and voices as she narrates her story.

… admitting to how yummy I find this image is sooooo taboo in the real world, isn’t it? Obviously I am lucky to have some people who are incredibly open-minded and progressive, but knowing that I am turned on by these things would drastically change the way the general population looked at me. Sex that is outside of the boundaries of heterosexual monogamous sex is still stigmatized in our culture, and illegal in others. There are the obvious reasons why this annoys me; Why should anyone give a fuck what I do behind closed doors? Have you tried it? Then you have no idea what you’re missing! Who does it hurt? Fuck you for judging me! But what frustrates me even further is that people are missing out. Plain and simple. This narrow definition of what sex ›is‹, and what sex can ›be‹, is so restrictive. Life is short. Have more fun.  (from K’s blog, 2010. Posted with an explicit image of group sex, she hyperlinked a couple of words, among them ›taboo‹ and ›stigmatized‹ to other posts and posts on other people’s blogs where polyamory’s status in the monogamous cultural scenarios is discussed.)

During our first individual interview in December 2011, K and her husband, after having found it difficult to find new partner(s) whom they both clicked with after their boyfriend and girlfriend (another couple) moved away, decided try date other people separately. They were grappling with the difficulty of adjusting and it illuminated their different needs. K needed intimacy and connections, her husband wanted extra sex. Facing difficulties in her polyamorous practices offline pushed her to further utilize her blog to (a) better understand herself; (b) take in other people’s sexual stories and incorporate them into her own scripts.

It makes me more aware of the things that push my buttons, it exposes me to new interests. It definitely helps me to understand kinks or inclinations that my partners have that I don’t share. I follow mostly first-person-narrative blogs so I get to read about the why's and what's behind these kinks/interests. It's educational. (K, interview 2011)

Although in K’s case the intrapsychic scripts and cultural scenarios are more relevant in terms of her blogged sexual narrative, she also uses the blog as an interpersonal scripting device in the most straight-forward sense, as a tool to aid in interactions - community support, making new friends, and finding new secondary partners.

Looking at K’s husband’s participation and representation in the interpersonal scripting happening via K’s blog, the situation is different from that of S’s, where the blog was a sexual and communicative aid between partners. K’s husband is aware of the blog, always (even when writing out conflicts) portrayed in a loving and respectful way, but he doesn’t usually (apart from some jealous moments) show much interest in actually reading it. K occasionally posts some pictures of him or states that the pictures of her are taken by him. Very rarely it happens that K’s husband is actively embedded into the blog (for example once he posed with a congratulatory balloon on a sexy picture K took for one of her tumblr-friends as a birthday greeting).

During the group interview on self-shooting in 2012, K and her husband had just recently broken up with a ›unicorn‹ (a pretty, bisexual, single girl), whom they had met via K’s blog and with whom they played as a triad. It was a nasty, heart-breaking affair involving one of K’s previous partners. By the time we had the poly-specific interview in 2013, K and her husband were tentatively sticking their toe in the water to find another playmate, occasionally participating in sex-parties with friends, and K also had (and I have her consent to say so) set up a separate, kink-specific blog with one of her ex-lovers she occasionally sees without her husbands knowledge. By the time of this article going to print the open and honest communication has been restored between K and her husband, and there are people they are both seeing together again.

K’s blog is a nuanced patchwork of intrapsychical, interpersonal and cultural sexual scripts. Her blog, as a way of working through her issues and allowing her to get the extra attention she needs, is surely a technology of the self, a form of self-therapy, but it is also has a strong interpersonal scripting function – it is a way for her to interact with some of her lovers, a way for her to give and receive advice and support. It is an interface between the intrapsychical and interpersonal scripts - a way for her to understand and internalize some of her partner’s sexual scripts by writing them out into coherent narratives of experiences or emotions. In addition, her blog is a way of actively shaping the cultural scripts. She uses it as a form of self-empowerment and as a way of inserting her own, newly empowered voice into the multiplicity of voices making up the wider cultural scenario on polyamory.


In this paper I attempted to show the sexual scripting (Simon & Gagnon, 1984) that shapes the narratives of polyamorous bloggers’ reflexive projects of self (Giddens, 1991). I paid attention to when those narratives served as practices of empowering exhibitionism (Koskela, 2004); when blogging gave participants agency and control over prosuming (Bruns, 2006) sexual scripts available to them, or how blogging and communal interactions gave them a voice that allowed them to have an input into the cultural scenarios of polyamory. I also focused on how blogging became a way of being critically self-aware (Foucault, 1988) - it allowed participants to ›write out‹ their desires and experiences, see tensions between their personal intrapsychic scripts and cultural scenarios, and incorporate different scripts into their own. Finally, I looked at how blogging followed the ethic of self-care (Foucault, 1988), mostly through having an audience to write to in an honest and self-reflexive way. Analyzing the interviews, images, blog outtakes and ethnographic notes allowed me to see where blogging reconfigured meanings attached to the bloggers’ sense of self, body and sexuality.

For S, his blog helped him to tap into some of his intrapsychic scripts that seemed to thrive on the actual tension between the cultural and the intrapsychic (his love of ›slutty‹ women, his blog as a way of demonstrating and acting out the ›sluttiness‹ of his partners). Blogging played a clear part (via taking and posting images and accounting for what he had done) in his embodied sex-life, for both him and his partners, as well as serving instead of, or as a starter of various conversations meant to establish the boundaries of his non-monogamous practices. For K the blogging process has actually enabled her to embrace her sexuality, as well as her polyamorous identity; it has had a therapeutic role of self-care and an exploratory role of increased self-awareness and agency. This is analogous to Wood’s (2008) treatment of sex blogs as a way to create vocabularies of desire and regain control over sexual information. Blogging and the community feedback has validated her amalgamated ›polyamorous-blogger‹ identity (Barker, 2004; Ritchie & Barker, 2006),.

Based on K’s and S’s stories, we can indeed say that their sexualities, but also wider identity projects are malleable and plastic. Their blogging style, content and practices transgress boundaries and binaries to reflect and aid them in carving out the right space for their own personal stories. There’s K’s adorable style paired with hardcore images, S’s penchant for having and describing extremely violent sex paired with self-critical treatments of his own desires being based in the societal double standards; both of their commitment to feminist and sex-positive ideals while embracing play that seemingly contradicts it.

Looking at the way they blog and searching for links with polyamory as a (relationship) philosophy, some parallels are evident. For K, who is the more ›theory committed‹ polyamorist of the two, themes of honesty and communication constantly resurface as she blogs. She focuses on these both in terms of the content of her writing, but also in her trying to follow those values in the way she blogs (sharing both good and the bad, feeling responsible to tell the real story etc). S, all the while, seems to find joy in his content being as ›slutty‹ as his girlfriends (although it is important for him to see that he is credited as the source), he enjoys tracking which of his posts are more popular, monitoring the captions and comments people add to his pictures etc.

K’s blog is a bricolage of different sexual scripts that empower her to work through her issues, own her sexuality, get validation and be a part of what she calls a ›cultural shift‹; it is also a way for her to understand or internalize scripts she doesn’t share, and a tool for meeting and keeping in touch with potential secondaries and a wider poly-friendly community. S on the other hand uses his blog to do polyamory (Tweedy, 2010; Shannon & Willis, 2010). It is an interpersonal sexual scripting tool and a way of interacting with the cultural scenarios.

So what exactly happens to K’s and S’s selves as they story them in this explicit environment? I would risk to say, that on a NSFW blog, one is able to tell the most complete (taking into account, of course, the limitations of our self-knowledge, courage and honesty) sexual story possible. On their blogs, K and S are able to talk through, question, rethink, rewrite, change their mind, overcode the sexual scripts that feed into their narrative of non-monogamy. Although they have situations or people whom they can discuss elements of this in their offline surroundings, the proportion of what gets shared there is comparatively small. And this story is so much more than merely a story. There is no singular way to embody polyamory, thus the story itself becomes an important performance of their identities. Echoing a statement repeated over and over again since Goffman’s (1959) work – we become what we do/write, thus creating a spiral of self narration and practices that inform each other.


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A song by James Blake often used as an identity statement by K

About the autor

Katrin Tiidenberg

Tallinn University, Institute of International and Social Studies