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7 Things Never to Say to a Polyamorous Lesbian (guest post)

February 9, 2016

Or: How to make your coed polyamory group welcoming to lesbians.

This is a guest post by Sophia, a friend on mine who has organized poly groups and events, especially for women and LGBTQ folks, in the Vancouver area. This post arose out of some thoughts she shared with me, which I wanted to signal boost because they represent a perspective and experience that we feel doesn’t get a lot of airtime in our communities or our literature.

I’ve been a lesbian my whole life and a polyamorous lesbian for the last five years. The city where I live has a fairly active polyamorous community, with discussion groups and social events. The most active of these are the ones that welcome all genders. I love sex-positive people: We talk freely and mostly without shame about sexuality and relationships. We can be frank and fun people. Experienced and successful poly people often have great communication skills. I have not met with a lot of overt homophobia in polyamorous social environments, probably because about 80% of the women are bisexual. Many of the men are lovely and profeminist as well, and I have some good male friends among them.

However, environments that welcome people outside the norm also often attract people who transgress social boundaries in ways that harm other people. Tolerating poor behaviour from these individuals will, over time, drive away the people you want in your groups.


Here are some things not to say to a poly lesbian. Most of them should seem obvious, but all of them are real examples. Many of them also apply to other queer women as well. 

1. “I slept with a lesbian…”

If you are a man, never, ever tell your lesbian friend or acquaintance about the “lesbian” you slept with. The polite way to treat a lesbian is “off limits to you or any man” sexually. Like a nun. Or your sister. Or your best friend’s monogamous wife. Or your straight best male friend. None of these people want to hear about you having sex with someone just like them. It’s saying “your stated boundary that you are not into men doesn’t matter because this other woman said she didn’t want sex with men but had sex with me anyhow.” Accept that not all women are sexually available to men, and move on. If someone tells you she’s a lesbian, by using that word, she is clearly communicating that she does not consent to receive sexual attention from men. Respect that. Do not be hopeful that this particular lesbian will sleep with you just because another woman did. It’s more than just rude and creepy—it’s a consent violation.

2. “You and your girlfriend are so hot. I’ve been having fantasies about you.”

A man actually said this to me yesterday. No lesbian (and very few queer women, period) ever wants to hear this. Similarly, do not ask to watch. There are no words to express how deeply creepy this is.

3. “Will you date me and my husband/wife? We had a threesome with a lesbian once…”

Don’t ask a lesbian out on a date that involves a man. Don’t even suggest it, hint you are available for a threesome or anything of the sort. Even if she’s friendly. She’s just being polite and assumes you know what the word lesbian means and that you have the class to respect her boundaries. Have that class. (This applies equally to online dating.)

4. “Your girlfriend looks like a man, so why don’t you sleep with men?”

Butch women are women. Lesbians are into women. That’s the point.

5. “I know what toys you girls like…”

Don’t start talking about dildos or strapons. Just. Don’t. It’s none of your business. Again, lesbians are into women. Anything done between women is not about men.

6. “I just thought you might not have had the opportunity to sleep with a man…”

This is laughable. Most women, lesbians included, have to refuse advances from men on a regular basis.

7. “Oh, you’re a lesbian. I could never be a lesbian, I like cock so much. Let me tell you all about what I like to do with men…”

I get it, you need everyone to know you’re not gay. I’m not going to hit on you. And frankly, details about sex with men gross me and a lot of other lesbians out. Like most lesbians, I’ve had sex with men before I came out. I know how it works. It’s not a topic of interest or appeal to me. It’s like forcing a vegan to listen to all the things you like about meat.


Obviously, these are things that are rude and inappropriate to say to any lesbian in any setting. But the frankness about sexuality and relationships in poly and kink communities specifically can give people a false sense of permission to be intrusive or to fetishize sexual minorities, and that’s not okay. Lesbians who run into this kind of behaviour in poly communities may choose to stay within queer communities, or to segregate themselves from bi and straight people to avoid these types of unpleasant situations—which I think is a loss of community and possibilities for understanding and connection on both sides.

Let’s be good to one another. Sex-positive communities should be all about respecting stated boundaries and consent. The word lesbian has a very clear, widely understood meaning. I would like to see our poly communities be places where people take that meaning and use common sense to tell us how to behave to other human beings whose boundaries we recognize and respect.

Additional resources:

A great source of information for men on how to treat women of all kinds in nonmonogamous environments is Pepper Mint’s Nonmonogamy for Men: The Big Picture. It’s long, but it’s the best analysis by a man, for men, that I’ve seen of why men sometimes behave so badly in nonmonogamous environments, why the ways men have been socialized to treat women don’t work in nonmonogamous settings, and what to do about it.

Like what you’re reading on the More Than Two blog? Consider getting the book! Visit the books page to find out more.

  1. February 9, 2016 3:13 am

    “The word lesbian has a very clear, widely understood meaning.”

    Yes — it’s a porn genre!

    Whenever I’ve commented to a straight man about someone not knowing the difference between lesbian and bisexual, they’ve gotten all interested: There’s a difference? They honestly don’t know. If they could verbalize their associations they’d say a lesbian is “a woman who has sex with women while men watch” and a bisexual is “a woman who has threesomes with straight couples.”

    Anyway. It’s gross and offensive. But you can’t just assume that the word ‘lesbian’ has a shared meaning.

    • Tenedor permalink
      May 16, 2018 12:38 pm

      “1. “I slept with a lesbian…””
      Actually, I did, as a man. And I am not a magic man with magic thing. Its just happen and also was happen never again and we are still friends. And I did not propose, its just happen. And if a lesbian woman sleep once with a man, she will be not excommunicated as lesbian. And I also don’t talk around, that I did sleep with declared lesbian, cosa privata e cosa privata.
      “2. “You and your girlfriend are so hot. I’ve been having fantasies about you.””
      If I don’t know them, I would not tell. To my lesbian friends I tell that they look good (not “hot”). Also I tell to my lesbian friends that they have good looking gf, and they tell me also about my gf’s. And if I have fantasies about, I keep for my self.
      “5. “I know what toys you girls like…””
      With good lesbians friends can talk sometimes also about tools, nothing wrong about. But to set topic to some body you just meet sounds not well placed.

  2. February 9, 2016 9:43 am

    I’m embarrassed as I’ve been guilty of these behaviours myself. After I realized what I said was offensive I tried to clarify, but truly my comment was inappropriate and nothing further could fix it.

    My sincerest apologies to those I offended. It certainly won’t happen again.

    I was lucky enough that the person I offended was willing to provide the feedback and a link for me to read. Without this person taking the time to provide the link, I may not have learned from my mistake. I can assure you I have learned this lesson.

    I was trying to pass along a compliment, and it came out completely wrongly worded and offensive.

    It was a learning experience I would prefer not to have had. I wish I had read this well written article or the link provided sooner to prevent myself from this inappropriate behaviour.

    This incident has shown me that I can make mistakes too. My self identity as bi, trans, poly & kink really shows that while I understand myself, I don’t understand all others and need to be more aware of what I say. As much as I’ve been on the receiving end of biphobia and transphobia, I’ve also made my mistakes with homophobia.

    I will be sharing this article with others (straight, gay, lesbian, bi, pan, trans, queer, poly, etc.) as we all mis-communicate and make mistakes regardless of orientation, gender, relationship styles, etc.

  3. February 9, 2016 2:02 pm

    Oh my god. I’m pansexual, but I hate hate HATE when men assume that they have a magical penis that will turn all lesbians into hetero, available females.

    I think the key phrase in this post is: “Accept that not all women are sexually available to men, and move on.” Which is really difficult to accept for many, MANY men.

  4. Dave Livesay permalink
    April 9, 2016 4:07 pm

    I think the most insulting thing I’ve ever heard guys say to lesbians (upon learning her orientation) is, “what a waste.” Yet somehow they thought they were being complimentary!

    Another comment I’ve never understood involves Cathy, a very close friend I’d had since childhood and eventually fell in love with before she came out to me. When I made the mistake of telling a guy this story, his first question was, “were you mad at her?” I assumed he meant, angry that she hadn’t told me before I fell in love with her, so I pointed out that I hadn’t told her how I felt, so how could she know, but he explained that he actually meant, mad at her for being a lesbian! I mean, who thinks like that? I only remember feeling stupid for not being a good enough friend to see it.

    Cathy and I remained friends for many years, and we did have sex on more than one occasion. I can’t honestly say I never hoped we would, but I certainly never expected it, and I never questioned her orientation. She told me she was a lesbian, so as far as I was concerned, that’s what she was, is, and always will be, and while I don’t feel that I need to defend her gayness, if it makes it easier to understand our relationship, we had a long history of mutual affection, and I have an undeniably strong feminine energy that she played a big part in helping me accept, value and embrace.

    I certainly understand the larger point being made here. As an exclusively hetero male, I know what it is to be completely uninterested in men, and I’ve had to deal with egotistical gay men who were certain that I’d change my orientation if I just experienced the joys of having sex with them, and somehow let them know unambiguously that I wasn’t interested without being seen as disrespecting them for being gay. But while I understand this position, I also appreciate Cathy’s. I don’t think a person’s orientation is called into question simply because she or he happens to love one individual for who they are in spite of their sex.

    We’ve come a long way from the times when people were not considered “normal” if they didn’t feel attracted to memebers of the opposite sex, but aren’t we making the same mistake if we narrowly define what’s normal if you’re gay, lesbian, hetero or bi? Maybe the problem is pigeonholes, not the number of pigeonholes.

  5. May 29, 2016 7:04 pm

    I think this article raises a lot of important points. Some of these points apply to other contexts as well. For example, don’t assume that ANYONE wants to hear that you’ve had sexual fantasies about them, unless you’re in a relationship where this is clearly okay. Regardless of gender or orientation, a lot of people could be creeped out by that kind of unwanted attention.

    As much as I agree with the general message of respect and consent, though, I do wonder about some of the more absolute statements in this piece.

    Full disclosure: I’m not a lesbian; I’m a heteroflexible woman. Perhaps due to my own experience, I tend to assume that labels like lesbian, gay, and straight can refer to either a primary OR an exclusive orientation. I wouldn’t assume that a straight person has never had a same sex desire or experience. And Dave’s story about Cathy makes perfect sense to me. So I’m surprised by the insistence that all lesbians are exclusively lesbian. Maybe I just don’t understand exclusive monosexuals.

    I would think that context and intention would be important for some of these things. Surely it would be offensive for a man you barely know to say, “Oh, you’re a lesbian? I slept with a lesbian once.” But suppose two good friends were having a deep conversation about their sexual & romantic history — as good friends sometimes do. Would it still hold true that a man should “never, ever” mention that he’s had sex with a primarily lesbian woman? Or that a woman should never talk about her experiences with men?

    I realized this article was mainly directed at casual acquaintances rather than close friends. Still, I think these distinctions are important to make.

    • Lesbian permalink
      June 5, 2016 12:12 am

      I am a lesbian. I have had sex with men before I came out and in the process of coming out. The author also points this out. Most lesbians have, in part because of the enormous pressure on all women to be sexually available to men. However I do not now and never again will consensually have sex with a man, and I don’t want to hear people who aren’t lesbians tell me that I can’t be monosexual. If I was open to having sex with a man, even a little, I would call myself bisexual instead of lesbian, or one of the less absolute terms like queer. There are perfectly good terms for women who have sex with women and men. However, lesbian is not one of them. The fact that some people misuse the word does not dismiss the fact that lesbian means “a woman who is exclusively romantically and sexually attracted to women”. Straight people are allowed to be monosexual and it’s accepted. Lesbians should be too.

      • December 9, 2016 8:26 pm

        However, not everyone uses lesbian the same way. I have heard of women who are sexually attracted to both genders but only fall in love with women identify as lesbian.

        Personally, I’d call someone like that homoromantic bisexual. However my impression is most people outside of the asexual/aromantic community don’t think of sexual and romantic orientation separately, so many women like that feel like they have to pick either lesbian or bisexual, and decide that lesbian fits better.

        However, I think the most important point in this article is that most lesbians are not open to sex with men. And that when a woman gives signs of disinterest, a man’s response shouldn’t be “try extra hard to convince her to have sex with me”. (As an asexual woman, that really super bugs me, too. Asexual means I don’t want sex, and your magic penis won’t change that.)

  6. November 8, 2016 4:20 pm

    Let people be themselves!

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