After a two year wait, everyone’s favourite journalist Louis Theroux has returned to our TV screens with his new three-part BBC Two documentary series Altered States. Each episode of the series is set to focus on a taboo topic, and the first, ‘Love Without Limits’, explores attitudes to sex and marriage within polyamorous relationships.
Theroux began his journey of exploration of polyamory in Oregon, USA, where polyamorous and non-monogamous relationships are prevalent. In Portland, he met with a number of individuals who were in relationships with multiple romantic and sexual partners, and encouraged their partners to do the same. The audience was introduced to the concept of “compersion” – i.e. getting pleasure from their partner’s pleasure, a recurring theme in the community Theroux spends some of his time with.
While the documentary did only focus on heterosexual relationships, Theroux did provide a compelling and unprejudiced insight into a world not very well understood by society. While retaining his trademark British awkwardness and silliness, he meets people that can be seen as somewhat puzzling, yet continues to not pass judgement, allowing his interviewees to open up freely.
While retaining his trademark British awkwardness and silliness, he meets people that can be seen as somewhat puzzling
We were first introduced to Heidi and Jerry, a married couple who decided to introduce polyamory into their relationship 12 years ago. Theroux also met Joe, Heidi’s fiancé. In a community of polyamorous people, Theroux also met Matthias, who was having a baby with his girlfriend AJ; Theroux asked Matthias about polyamory, to which he replied: “It’s not for the faint-hearted.”
Theroux also touched upon more sensitive issues than just who sleeps where in the bed in a ‘throuple’. While speaking to Heidi and Jerry, the topic of loneliness came up. Heidi explained that “[Jerry’s] loneliness is not my responsibility.” It seemed like a very harsh statement to make, and though Jerry agreed with his wife, it was impossible not to feel sorry for him and wonder about the balance within polyamory. Jerry, who is yet to find a partner, seemed left out of his own marriage. Later on, Theroux explained that “the idea that you can avoid pain is illusory.”
‘Love Without Limits’ was without a doubt an opening experience into a world many of us are not acquainted with
In classic Theroux style, Louis threw himself into the spirit of things to experience life in the polyamorous community. Perhaps the most spoken about part of the documentary was the “Sensual Eating Party” that Theroux attended, organised by Sex Positive Portland. At the erotic event, participants were able to gain sexual gratification and satisfaction from feeding each other food while blindfolded. The participants were encouraged to take off as many clothes as they felt comfortable with (though genitals had to remain covered). While Theroux’s main takeaway message was being fed too much cheese, he did conclude that “the idea of a world in which the currency of sex and love was more free-flowing made a tiny bit of sense.”
‘Love Without Limits’ was without a doubt an opening experience into a world many of us are not acquainted with, but hopefully now have some understanding of. Theroux reminded us that “it seems as though with love and relationships, there’s no perfect way of doing things.”
Altered States continues on 18 November with an episode entitled ‘Choosing Death’, where Theroux will explore euthanasia, and meet people with debilitating conditions who opt to hasten their own deaths.