‘We’re not all cam performers’: The challenges and benefits of taking polyamory virtual in 2020
In a digital dating landscape, maintaining multiple relationships is one hell of a technical challenge.
Before lockdown, I was happily settled into an urban poly lifestyle. Living with my main partner, spending regular evenings with two others, and enjoying a casual dating life on the side. It was sometimes messy, frequently complicated and exactly how I wanted to live my love life.
Then in March 2020, everything changed. I’m shielding due to health issues, and thus haven’t been anywhere or met anyone except my live-in partner since. At the beginning of lockdown, the internet was flooded with articles about teledildonics and Zoom dating – painting an optimistic and experimental picture of a new global cyber romance landscape. The reality, however, has been a little trickier.
We’re not all cam performers. My existing partners and I assumed that we’d slip straight into sultry Skype chats and easy mutual masturbation, but that’s easier said than done when you live with others. Even if you ask your other partner to wear headphones and play Xbox in the other room, you’re still aware of the fact that you’re not truly alone, whispering and freezing every time they walk around.
It’s also pretty difficult to create sexy body shots on a laptop camera, writhing around before the call to find pre-set positions that you feel sexy in. Lighting is also an issue – most houses aren’t typically set up for sexy cam lighting. I found myself creating elaborate setups with my laptop on a stool and a variety of lamps pointing at me from different angles, unable to move from my perfected position. I have a renewed respect for the professionals who do this every damn day.
Selfies have long been a sexting staple, but the need for more intimate interactions prompted me to explore video clips and voice notes as well. I now regularly dress up and record a library of sexy content to be sent later. In the past, I’d chat to existing partners on WhatsApp, so sending video and sexy voice notes was an easy inbuilt feature I could use to amplify our now-exclusively digital chats.
I still wanted to date new people as well, so I joined Feeld app’s Sext Bunker (later renamed Fantasy Bunker, ‘for those who want to skip the small talk). Since I knew everyone was there for the same kind of instant sexy connection I was, I felt more emboldened to alter my profile accordingly – listing my “Desires” in kinky detail and sending sexy messages as soon as I matched with someone. These matches usually descended directly into a sexting session, complete with pictures and lengthy erotic descriptions (gaining consent of course). Feeld allows you to send pictures that self-delete after five or 10 seconds, creating a sense of safety while sending photos to a stranger, helping you experience something of the thrill of a random hook up.
If the Feeld encounter went well, we’d usually move onto the Kik app to continue talking. Kik allows users to use a username rather than a phone number, maintaining at least some security. The app also allows users to record and send two-minute video clips. When both partners are online and sexting, the in-app video feature is great as you can prove to each other that you’re in the moment – demonstrating your enthusiasm or requesting to see certain things.
Kik isn’t ideal though – I’m really into audio, having become a fan of audio porn apps, so the two-minute limit on clips is frustrating. I tend to record audio on my phone as a video with a black screen, cut myself off when I reach the two-minute mark, and then upload a series of mini chapters of a story. There are obviously other restrictions as you’re recording on your phone, but it’s a surprisingly satisfying sex alternative nonetheless.
Kik also tells you if something’s been sent, delivered and read, helping you figure out if a delay is technical or if the other person is simply busy taking a picture. I really enjoy having a dedicated app for casual sexting partners, creating a nice sense of separation from my regular social life.
I feel a little like I’m a teenager again, hanging out in chatrooms, meeting new people and finding internet crushes in other locations. For the last two months, I’ve been texting two new people, both in the US (I’m in the UK). They’re younger than me, live in rural Midwestern towns, and I never would have met them if it wasn’t for Feeld.
The time differences are frustrating – I’m typically settling in to a sexting session at 11pm to catch them when they finish work, or a bit earlier on the weekends. My partner and I treat these interactions like we would typical overnighters – the one having a date sleeps in the living room, we come back together in the morning and reconnect over breakfast.
Aside from the time difference though, it’s been a lovely experience. We have all the thrills of discovering a foreign person’s accent, desires and quirks, without any pressure beyond finding a good time to be online together. The knowledge that it can’t really go anywhere means we’re fully encouraged to indulge in fantasies – exploring new things that we’ve never had the opportunity or confidence to in real life.
One of the relationships I had before lockdown unfortunately didn’t survive the digital transition. We missed each other too much and it just felt awkward switching to sexting when we’d never been great online communicators beforehand. It’s been a lot easier to create and maintain new relationships that grew out of dating apps and can only exist online. It creates a sense of freedom, I can say what I want, try what I want. As long as I’m safe (I send pictures with my face cropped out, and Feeld encourages you to use a ‘scene’ name rather than your own) and I respect the other person’s boundaries, it feels like the possibilities are endless.
I do wish there were better app features, like sending a 10-minute audio clip, or the option to seamlessly slip into a video call. The tech feels far too clunky, a necessary yet annoying trade-off for relative security. The hope is that new options will arise as time goes on, acknowledging this new need for easy, fluid, yet secure romantic communication.
Obviously, we all hope that the world will become a safer place for real-life polyamory to be restored, but in the meantime, I’ll keep sexting my American lovers, one naughty audio clip at a time.