The Polyamory Handbook: A User's Guide
by Peter J. Benson
(392 pages, AuthorHouse, March 2008)
Pete Benson has been living poly and devoting serious thought to it for decades, and he's a regular at Loving More gatherings. He has compiled a big, well-organized, workmanlike guide to every Poly 101 and 201 issue you can think of and then some. On nearly every topic he stays close to the conventional community wisdom, and to me this is a good thing. The community wisdom is the hard-won distillation of countless people's trials and errors. Benson certainly has his own opinions, but he doesn't let them get in the way. Like a medical handbook, this is more for browsing than reading cover to cover. Pick an issue and here it's dealt with, in 122 subsections of 10 chapters.
The chapter categories are: Is Polyamory for You?, Varieties of Polyamory, Ethical Considerations, Sexual Hygiene, The Relationship Agreement, Relationship Skills, Resolving Issues, Day-to-Day Living, Multi-Adult Families, Legalities, and an appendix of resources. It's heavily cross-referenced and has a good index. At last February's Poly Living conference, longtime activist C. T. Butler observed that the poly handbooks up to then, perhaps trying to stay "respectable," hadn't said much about managing the dynamics of group sex (polysexuality), even though this skill can be crucial for a tightly interbonded poly group and is not exactly taught in school. Butler suggested that this be a criterion for rating future poly guides.
Benson devotes just a couple pages to polysexuality, mostly to warn about the "who's getting left out" syndrome but not saying much about the ways to prevent it. On the other hand, he devotes 38 informative, explicit pages to safer sex--an essential part of any poly guide. Although most of the book is very matter-of-fact, in the introduction Benson shows his mystical side:
In Chapter 6, talking about human interconnections in twosomes and larger groups, I use a metaphor from chemistry, refering to individuals as "atoms" and couples and larger committed groups as...