Risk Taking
by Somerset

Somerset is a man in his seventies who has only recently begun to search for compatible women for open relationships. He prefers sexual variety and treasures his independence. This series, Polyamorous Possibilities, is the sequel to his Potentially Polyamorous series exploring open relationships. Both this series as well as the first one are archived for reference.

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” - (Andrew Gide)

I am fully aware that my entry into the world of polyamory is not without risks. Lynn E. Ponton has noted that risk-taking can be a positive tool for discovering, developing, and consolidating one’s identity. She suggests that there are many styles of risk-taker -- the cautious one, the middle-of-the-roader, and the adventurer or high-end one.

In that continuum the cautious ones try not to take any risks at all. I place myself somewhere between the middle-of-the-roaders, who tend to take only “healthy” risks, and the high-end, adventuresome ones, who tend to be foolhardy. The middle-of-the-roaders take “reasonable” risks, like those described by enGauge:

“Risk taking is the willingness to make mistakes, advocate unconventional or unpopular positions, or tackle extremely challenging problems without obvious solutions, such that one's personal growth, integrity, or accomplishments are enhanced.”

I’m excited by life’s possibilities and challenges. “You have to risk going too far to discover just how far you can really go,” (T.S. Eliot). ”The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.” (Leo F. Buscaglia)

So, as I review what I’ve learned about polyamory, my adventures to date as I begin that lifestyle, and the plans I make as I follow the polyamorous course, I ask myself: “Am I, will I, be taking healthy or unhealthy risks?”

But what is a healthy risk? The answer, equivocatingly, is a situational ethical one -- “It depends!” Only with a full understanding of the nature of the risks, of the situation, of the circumstances surrounding the issues, and the personalities of those involved in and with them, at some specific moment, can a determination of the appropriate answer be found. That understanding -- that “road less traveled” -- has many slippery slopes and traps for the unwary.

To that nebulous answer and my propensity to take “reasonable” risks, must be added the fact that, like many if not most other persons, my sexual decisions are based as much upon subjective, intuitive, and emotional considerations as they are upon logical ones. Can I trust a potential lover to fully disclose information about her past that may make me vulnerable to diseases or heartache? How do I know, since it is unlikely that people will make those kinds of disclosures to each other until they’ve had sex with each other and have grown to know a partner very well? Is it enough to say, “Oh well! She seems honest enough, she is attractive, and looks as though she will perfectly satisfy me, sexually. Let’s do it, now!”

Logically, of course, that decision would be to never have sex with anyone at all, let alone with more than one lover! There are just too many risks! Upon what additional information would a logical decision be based? There would have to be an assessment of the risks so that a sound decision might be made that was dependent upon what might be construed as a balance of probabilities and a means for measuring “acceptable” or “unacceptable” risks. From searches on the internet, it appears to me that academics despair of being able to make such assessments. Every situation is different and there are just too many variables involved to make significant measures possible. Instead, authorities tend to rely upon inferences that suggest that various activities will increase or decrease the probabilities for “healthy” or “unhealthy” results. Those terms themselves often provoke arguments about how to measure validity.

So as I reflect upon my current polyamorous experience I judge that it is leading me in a generally positive, healthy direction. I keep in mind the fact that I would otherwise have to forego the satisfaction of some “higher” needs. I’ve said how Shirley and I have, so far, individually addressed potential STD risks. Most, but not all, STDs are now curable. How do we propose to live in the future, recognizing that some risks may be fatal? We are placing our health and lives in each other’s hands. More than that, we are also placing at risk the health and lives of every other lover that we may have.

How would I prefer to live, sexually? Will I choose to be celibate, monogamous, serially monogamous, polygamous, a swinger, polyamorous (closed or open), or what? I’ll answer those questions in the final article in this series,

It’s show time! Decisions have to be made!