Non-Monogamy is More Common Than You Think

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by Randall S. Frederick

Almost every day, I check the traffic on my sites to see which articles are trending and popular. Each time, I notice two interest points: incest (especially in Asia and Eastern Europe) and cuckoldry or non-monogamy (especially in America).

For whatever reason, Americans are fascinated with the cuckolding experience, where a woman has sex with a secondary partner to the humiliation of the primary partner. I’ve written about this before (here, here, here, and here) but it always amazes me the comments and private notes I will get, the conversations that will take place in person, the interest around this theme. In large part, I am convinced it is not the cheating or even voyeuristic aspect so much as the female empowerment aspect that becomes fetishized. Cuckolds derive pleasure from watching “their” woman enjoying sex and being enjoyed sexually. This sensation is called “compersion” and is defined as the opposite of jealousy – not the absence of jealousy, but instead “the feeling of joy one has experiencing another’s joy, such as in witnessing a toddler’s joy and feeling joy in response” or, of course, the joy associated with seeing a loved one love another. Gracie X writes that this experience, compersion, is nothing of which to be ashamed. Instead, it should be celebrated.

There’s actually a word for the joyful feeling that a polyamorous person has when his or her lover or spouse walks through the door after spending the afternoon making love to his or her new girlfriend or boyfriend: compersion. Compersion is such a novel concept that you won’t even find the word in the dictionary (unless you look in the Urban dictionary). Feeling all warm and gooey because your spouse had a great time banging someone else is not something we’re socialized to feel. We can be thrilled for our partner if they get a raise or promotion or receive some kind of unexpected windfall, but why can’t we be happy for our partners who find joy in bed with someone else?

Compersion fascinates me because it sanctions the idea of our partner deriving pleasure separate from us and from another source. In this way, compersion is antithetical to how we view relationships and expect to operate in them. We are raised to believe that when we are one half of a couple, we should derive all our happiness and pleasure from that single partner and only experience it together with that partner. Compersion challenges this ideology. It supports the idea that you are individual beings with perhaps divergent desires or needs. Having separate sexual and love experiences doesn’t mean your relationship is a failure; to the contrary, it can actually strengthen your connection.

Full disclosure: I find sexual empowerment exciting. That’s why I write about sex so often. When people feel liberated from old taboos and are encouraged to explore their sexual interests, when they become knowledgeable about sexual health, and discuss their kinks with partners, I derive a great amount of (non-sexual) pleasure from this. I think, in some sense, this can be misunderstood. Research and genuine interest is not the same as voyeurism, and knowing that readers are learning about new sexual expressions is satisfactory on an educational, not sexual, axis. Nevertheless, seeing traffic running through articles about non-monogamy catches my attention and compels me to learn more and study more. It predisposes me to notice trends and cycles, patterns that could indicate a shift from interest to action, fantasy to practice, with consequences as yet unknown.

What is Consensual Non-Monogamy?

Let’s start here: Most Americans in a relationship have a spoken or unspoken agreement to be monogamous. The person I am currently dating? We had that conversation very early on in our relationship. It’s the familiar agreement not to have sex with anyone but each other. Let’s suppose you are one of these people who have had this conversation and made such an agreement. You’re seeing each other regularly, maybe you’ve met each other’s family or are even married. Having agreed to be exclusive, what would you say or do if they pulled you aside one afternoon and told you that wanted to have sex with someone else? How would you respond?

Many people would not be down for that. In fact, they would get pretty upset. But maybe, now that you’re thinking about it, you would be okay with it. You’re not sure how or why, what the specifics would be, but you’re open to something. You would be surprised to know you’re not alone in that. Many relationships deviate from the “traditional” model we were taught as children. What’s surprising isn’t that we discover this about ourselves or our partner, it’s that the stigma of doing something to change the script causes us edit who we are and how we live. We’re surprised that, in a community where we thought we knew the rules, there are so many people like us who break them.

The first time my eyes were opened to non-monogamy, I was dumbstruck. I was working for a law firm, brushing shoulders every day with the big names of my town, the Respectables who I knew taught Sunday School, sang in the choir, held charities and benefits, were celebrated for their large families and were admired for the safe image they conveyed to us commoners. Except that’s not the full story; in addition to these safe, respectable lives of influence that they were living, they were also holding key parties, several of the wives and mothers “stepped out on” their husbands, and at least three lawyers had an apartment that they shared in a major city for the purpose of having a place to take women when they were away from home. Without any judgement, I thought peeking behind the curtain was refreshing. This is who people really were, not the image they were projecting and doing everything in their power to maintain. I was surprised, sure, but I was also happy to finally know people for who they really were.

Non-monagamy takes many forms, and it can get confusing because of how technical the labels used can become. Some overlap or intersect, though these labels are more or less markers for a complex thing. There is only “traditional” relationships, and the “abnormal” kind, right? Ferret Steinmetz shares that these labels seem appealing to the outsider or new initiate, but for those inside a polyamorous relationship, labels are cumbersome and very often become a burden.

To this day, I’m skeptical of labels. I think they have an addictive quality. Sure, sometimes you see a couple making a single rule and that’s it – “You can’t sleep with them in our bed” – but more often, what follows are a cascade of additional restrictions, each designed to wall off the other partners in some way as a proof of love, each time the couple being convinced that this, this new thing will reassure them once and for all.

The truth is, if you need a special label to survive, often they either don’t speak your love language properly, or the life they need to live is going to take such a great toll on your self-esteem that they can’t stay in good faith. All the labels in the world can’t fix that problem, and it’s only going to make it worse to try. They’ve gotta know why you love them, and all the restrictive rituals in the world can’t patch that hole.

Non-mongamy takes many forms, so while the labels we toss around might feel like they don’t fit, you could still feel like the ideal relationship you desire to live into is not traditional or “how everyone else is doing it.” Elisabeth Sheff, author of The Polyamorists Next Door (a fantastic book, by the way), claims that there are seven primary forms of non-monogamy, and broadly speaking she’s right but what she doesn’t really dig into is the way that we are creating new dynamics every day. Non-monogamy is made up of many different forms, including polyamory, open relationships, swinging, and so on. Many people fail to realize that non-monogamy isn’t just one thing; rather, it refers to a very diverse set of practices. Each relationship is unique, though the primary forms of non-monogamy include:

  • Casual Relationship a physical and emotional relationship between two unmarried people who may have a sexual relationship
  • Cuckoldry, where a person has sex with another individual without the consent of their partner
  • Group Marriage (also termed polygynandry), in which several people form a single family unit, with all considered to be married to one another
  • Group Sex and Orgies involving more than two participants at the same time
  • Line Families, a form of group marriage intended to outlive its original members by ongoing addition of new spouses
  • Ménage à Trois, a sexual (or sometimes domestic) arrangement involving three people
  • Open Relationship (incl. Open Marriage), in which one or both members of a committed (or married) couple may become sexually active with other partners
  • Polyamory, in which participants have multiple romantic partners
  • Poly families, similar to group marriage, but some members may not consider themselves married to all other members
  • Polyfidelity, in which participants have multiple partners but restrict sexual activity to within a certain group
  • Polygamy, in which one person in a relationship has married multiple partners
  • Relationship Anarchy, in which participants are not bound by set rules
  • Swinging, similar to open relationships, but commonly conducted as an organized social activity

All of these qualify as non-traditional relationships where monogamy is flexible for at least one of the partners. Any one of these bonds would fall under the non-monogamy umbrella with different names and labels. Depending on how the relationship is approached and discussed, an arrangement could take on the second qualifier of ethical non-monogamy, where all partners are aware of and agree to the arrangement. Ethical is the ideal – everyone knows and is cool with what’s happening.

Many non-monogamous terms are flexible in definition and take on these extra qualifiers of specificity because they are based on criteria such as the existence or absence of a relationship, love, sex, legal unions, living arrangements, and feelings which are themselves variably defined. Sometimes, the usage of terms to describe a thing becomes more meaningful than the dynamic itself. For example, while polygamy and polyamory might be used interchangeably, polygamy indicates a higher form of bond than polyamory or could even indicate a spiritual component. While they are, again, used interchangeably, they are not the same in definition or practice. Polyamory is based more on the preferences of the participants than it is on the social customs or precedents.  I would offer that this individuality and “confusing” specificity is why so many see traditional relationships as the only form of “healthy” arrangement. If it’s hard to understand, it’s wrong. If it’s complicated, it’s wrong.

I disagree strongly. All relationships are complex. Navigating any relationship is a series of seeing and accepting some things, ignoring others, and dealing with daily life together. Just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean there isn’t a relationship, or that the relationship is somehow flawed, broken, or unhealthy. Every relationship takes work, negotiation, compromise, understanding, and agreement on limitations. Whether you love someone other than your primary partner or have sex with someone other than your spouse does not mean a relationship has to come to an end. Instead, these distinctions provide a kind of roadmap, even signage, to help establish where the lines and limitations of complexity are so that all involved can help build and secure the relationships that exist within them. Still, for those who find themselves in a more traditional relationship, the awareness of “love” outside of what is familiar forces us to consider (and reconsider) our own relationships, desires, and feelings. Awareness of alternatives makes us question what we have and, at times, gives us a sense of buyer’s remorse.

Who Is Doing This?

In my own life, I’ve known many couples whose dynamics are non-traditional. One couple has difficulty sexually, but are deeply and lovingly committed to one another. Another has two kids and are very committed to creating a safe and loving home, but the wife has the option to step out on occasion and “meet with friends.” Still another trouple (or “couple” with more than two individuals) has an open and revolving experience where friends are welcome in their bed, but the “primaries” have to discuss who is having sex with whom for each primaries sexual health. To the outsider, these relationships seem like stable, loving, committed relationships, marriages, and roommates. Unless you know and live with these friends of mine, you would see only that they love and spend a good amount of time with one another. That, perhaps, they are cliquish or exclusive, but still fun people who throw great parties. In fact, non-traditional relationships are far more common than we might suspect.

In a recent survey, participants were asked how they would react if their partner wanted to engage in sexual activities with someone else. They were given four options, ranging from no way I would be okay with it, depends on the situation, I would be okay with it, to the very simple “not sure.” What the survey found was that, among 30 year olds, over a third were willing to entertain the idea, with one in five saying it depended on the circumstance. Only half “outright rejected anything other than strict monogamy,” lower than “any of their elders.”

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Dr. Justin Lehmiller, a sex therapist, says these figures can be understood better because of individual’s experience. One in 10 “had had sexual contact with other people with the consent of their partner” while 1 in five “had had sexual contact without their [partner’s] consent.” The survey explains that while “the self-reported rate of cheating changes little according to age, younger Americans are much more likely to report having had sexual contact with other people with the consent of their partners. 17% of under-45s say that they have, compared to only 3% of over-65s. “

As you can see, the majority of both men and women said “no way” under any circumstances; however, it’s noteworthy that 42% of men and 24% of women didn’t completely rule out the idea. Among those who didn’t rule it out, the most common response was that it depends on the situation. What exactly does that mean? We can’t say for sure without further study, but one possibility is that maybe these people would be OK with their partner’s request in the context of a threesome (or perhaps a cuckolding scenario), but not if their partner just went out and did their own thing.

Interestingly, nearly 1 in 10 men implied that they’d be open to the idea regardless of the details of the situation. By contrast, just 1 in 50 women were down with it no matter what. This gender difference is actually really interesting because it suggests that maybe men aren’t quite as jealous about the thought of their partners having sex with others as we’ve been led to believe. As you may know, there’s a lot of psychological research out there suggesting that men are more sexually jealous than women, but these survey results actually seem to imply the opposite–that men are less threatened by the idea of sexually sharing their partners than are women.

In addition to this gender divide, there was also an age divide. Specifically, whereas 44% of the participants under 30 didn’t rule out the idea of their partner sleeping with someone else, just half (22%) of the participants over 65 said the same thing. This is further evidence that millennials aren’t subscribing to the same monogamy norm as generations past.

In short, what these results tell us is that, while most Americans aren’t crazy about the idea of sexually sharing their partners with other people, a sizable percentage of the population–especially in the male and under 30 crowd–is willing to contemplate the possibility. Lehmiller notes that this “trend” in sexual experience is attributable to porn more than anything else. Why would someone want to give up sexual exclusivity with their partner?

The answer, in part, is because there’s a huge demand for it. In an age where pornographers are practically responding to viewers’ demands in real-time, porn-consumers have made it clear that watching someone’s wife bang a random guy is a top priority. When neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam analyzed the contents of a billion online search terms as research for their 2012 book A Billion Wicked Thoughts, they discovered that “cuckold porn” is second only to “youth” in heterosexual porn searches. (For the more literary-minded, a quick search for “cuckold erotica” on Amazon yields hundreds of books).

To better profile these individuals and how they got into non-monogamy, sociologist Dr. Angela Lewis conducted a survey of 700 men who self-identified as cuckolds and 200 women who identified as a cuckoldress. Her study profiled these men and found the following traits of cuckolds, summarizing that such men enjoy thinking about being sexually submissive to and losing control of their wives sexually, ultimately losing responsibility for pleasing her in bed while maintaining an emotionally supportive relationship with her.

Non-Sexual Characteristics

  • is primarily white (Caucasian)
  • is college-educated
  • has a white-collar job
  • earns a higher than average income
  • is several years into his first marriage
  • lives a comfortable lifestyle.
  • is in a long-term relationship with first wife.
  • is an “alpha male” in everyday life
  • has an average-sized penis.
  • has sex at least once a week.
  • has no real self-esteem issues.
  • rates sex life as “pretty good.”

Cuckold Sexual Characteristics

  • likes the idea that he would not have a choice in his wife’s behavior.
  • agrees that his wife should practice some form of sexual denial.
  • tends to be sexually submissive with his wife.
  • prefers to masturbate and role playing the fantasy during sex over plain vanilla sex.
  • needs more visual, aural and mental stimulation than the average male.

The survey found an interesting overlap, which could be attributed to couples securing their bond because of similar sexual interests, or developing them together. Just like there are certain characteristics or demographics that are common across most cuckolds, there are similarities in cuckoldresses. Again, Dr. Angela Lewis, conducted a survey of 200 women who self-identified as cuckoldresses. They disclosed more information than the cuckolds, though there was a smaller sample. Dr. Lewis puts forward the following traits of a cuckoldress.

  • is primarily White (Caucasian).
  • is college-educated.
  • has a white-collar job.
  • is several years into her first marriage.
  • has a husband who is an alpha male.

Keep in mind, cuckolds shared many demographics with cuckoldresses. The typical cuckoldress lives a rather comfortable lifestyle with her husband or cuckold. She has a good job, just as her husband does. Few are stay at home wives. The can support themselves financially if needed.

Reasons for becoming a cuckoldress

  • because her husband initiated it (however a close number initiated or mutually agreed to it)
  • wasn’t sexually satisfied by her husband
  • wanted to have sex with a man with a larger cock than her husband
  • wanted to have sex with multiple men

Cuckoldress sexual characteristics

  • chooses other men to have sex with by herself, without her husband’s input
  • chooses men of the same race
  • prefers to be submissive in bed with other men
  • chooses men who have a large cock
  • has no rules about whether the husband can be present or not during sex with other men
  • encourages her husband to clean her creampie after sex with another man, when condoms are not used
  • has sex with other men in the marital bed, when choosing to have sex at her home
  • has not told anyone or only told a few select people about her activities

Long-term effects from continuing to be a cuckoldress

  • is able to separate love from sexual desire
  • becomes dominant in her relationship with her husband
  • enjoys seeing her husband lose control of her sexually
  • enjoys denying her husband sex
  • enjoys the fact that having sex with other men tortures her husband emotionally

From here, cuckolding gets really complicated. What motivates someone to put their marriage in jeopardy is multivarient and any effort to say “It’s the sex, Stupid!” reduces the experience to the neglect of basically someone’s entire life. Dr. David Ley, psychologist and author of Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them, explains that “these fantasies draw upon powerful emotions and social programming that shouldn’t be treated casually or without careful thought.” Bringing other people into your bed has the potential to affect your sex life and marriage in ways both good and bad after the action stops—a reality which porn videos have the luxury of avoiding.

Research has found that fantasy content differs in several ways between the sexes, and those differences are generally consistent with modern stereotypes. First, men’s sexual fantasies are more sexually explicit than women’s. That is, not only are men’s fantasies more focused on the sexual act itself, but they frequently include mention of specific body parts (including pieces of their own and their partner’s anatomy). Second, women’s fantasies contain more in the way of emotional and romantic content than do men’s. Women frequently describe the setting of their sexual encounter in detail (e.g., on the beach or under the stars), as well as the “prelude” or build-up to sex (e.g., drinking champagne at a candlelight dinner before adjourning to the bedroom). Third, men are more likely than women to fantasize about having several sexual partners at the same time (e.g., threesomes, “fourgys,” and sometimes many, many more!). Finally, the sexes also differ when it comes to fantasizing about dominance and submission. While men are equally likely to fantasize about being dominant and submissive, women seem to fantasize more about being submissive than dominant.

How this is lived out, again, is a matter of negotiation and patience that allows two partners to explore their sexual beliefs and experience a variety of sexual experiences. While cuckolding is of interest to me for the way that it transgresses so many relational and social taboos, it is only one of the many forms of non-monogamy. A study published in the Journal of Sex Research suggests that Americans are increasingly interested in learning about new relational dynamics. The author of this study, Dr. Amy Moors of the University of Michigan, determined this by analyzing Google search trends in the United States between the years 2006-2015. Her study argues that relationships have changed significantly over the last decade, in large part because of the Internet.

Finding romance, love, and sexual intimacy is a central part of our life experience. Although people engage in romance in a variety of ways, alternatives to “the couple” are largely overlooked in relationship research. Scholars and the media have recently argued that the rules of romance are changing, suggesting that interest in consensual departures from monogamy may become popular as people navigate their long-term coupling. This study utilized Google Trends to assess Americans’ interest in seeking out information related to consensual nonmonogamous relationships across a 10-year period (2006–2015).

Using anonymous Web queries from hundreds of thousands of Google search engine users, results show that searches for words related to polyamory and open relationships (but not swinging) have significantly increased over time. Moreover, the magnitude of the correlation between consensual nonmonogamy Web queries and time was significantly higher than popular Web queries over the same time period, indicating this pattern of increased interest in polyamory and open relationships is unique.

Catch that? Moors looked at search trends for three types of consensual non-mongamy: polyamory, swinging, and open relationships. What she found was that searches for polyamory and open relationships significantly increased across the decade, while searches for swinging decreased (not significantly). Moors compared these trends to those of other popular keywords in order to determine whether these were unique patterns. In other words, were people just searching for more of everything over time, or were they specifically searching more for information on polyamory and open relationships? The results supported the idea that this was indeed a unique pattern. By noting the increased interest in polyamory and open relationships and decrease in swinging, we could conclude that there is more interest, overall, in an emotional expansion than sexual novelty which might confirm the difference in sexual fantasies between men and women. Generally, More’s findings suggest that Americans are increasingly interested in learning about certain departures from monogamy—specifically, polyamory and open relationships. Whether this means people want to practice them (versus just learn about them) is a different question that these data cannot answer.

Still, as with all sex studies, there is the suspicion that female participants were not as forthcoming as they could have been. It has been noticed since the Kinsey studies that women are less likely to disclose their sexual interests and desires due to a sexual double standard, or the idea that women tend to be judged more harshly than men for engaging in some sexual behaviors. More, there is the question of sexual minorities, or gays and bisexuals.

In a previous study from 2014 published in the Journal für Psychologie, Dr. Moors began with the assumption that consensual non-monogamy was more prevalent among the gay community. She and her co-researchers found that, depending on the study consulted, between 20 and 56% of gay men participated in consensual non-monogamy. From there, they found a staggering deficit. Sampling 110 gay and bisexual men and women, a mere 5% practiced non-monogamy, far closer to the average of all sexual identities. The findings “challenged the idea that sexual minority (gay and bisexual) men were inherently more inclined toward consensual non-monogamy than are sexual minority (lesbian and bisexual) women.” Further, they suggested that more attention to the prevalence and practice of consensual non-monogamy was warranted. These results were what compelled her to look at interest via the Google Trends study.

Following up on both of More’s studies, Lehmiller found that while there is a high degree of interest in consensual non-monogamy, again, many (57%) have experience with the dynamic already, mainly because of a “friends with benefits” arrangement prior to a involvement in an exclusive relationship, though as we have been saying here, even without a formalized relationship, many still had experience with open relationships, swinging, and threesomes. Those that had previously had more traditional dynamics were still willing to explore it (43%). Finally, his study found that

Participants’ levels of sexual satisfaction were equally high regardless of whether they had previous experience with consensual non-monogamy. This suggests that both approaches (i.e., monogamy and non-monogamy) can be highly satisfying and that one is not inherently better than the other. When asked whether they would be open to the idea of a consensually non-monogamous relationship in the future, 47% of participants said that they were. Of the remainder, 27% said they would not be open to the idea at all and 26% said that they were undecided. Openness to non-monogamy appeared to vary across genders and sexual orientations. Specifically, a larger percentage of men (51%) were open to the idea than women (42%). In addition, a larger percentage of bisexually identified persons (74%) were open to it compared to heterosexual persons (37%).

Will Being Non-Monogamous Make Me Happy?

When asked to describe the benefits of monogamy, most people say that being sexually exclusive promotes trust, meaningfulness, and commitment. But does it? Are monogamous couples really the most emotionally fulfilled and committed to one another? According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, the association between monogamy and relationship outcomes depends upon the partners’ level of attachment anxiety.

In the study, researchers recruited 582 women and 415 men involved in same-sex relationships of at least two months duration (see Mohr, J. J., Selterman, D., & Fassinger, R. E. (2013). Romantic attachment and relationship functioning in same-sex couples. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60, 72-82). The survey asked about characteristics of their relationship, including whether they were sexually exclusive, as well as how satisfied and committed they were to their current partner. Participants also completed a measure of romantic attachment that assessed how they typically approach sex and love.

People have different attachment styles when it comes to developing and maintaining romantic relationships. Some people are securely attached and are very confident in their partner’s love, while others are anxiously attached and are worried about being abandoned. The researchers predicted that individuals who were more anxiously attached would be happier in monogamous relationships because they may find the prospect of their partner having other sexual relationships emotionally and physically threatening. The study found that for participants with moderate to high levels of attachment anxiety (i.e., people who feel relatively insecure in their relationships and fear that their partner may leave), being sexually monogamous was associated with higher levels of relationship satisfaction and commitment. In contrast, for individuals with low levels of attachment anxiety (i.e., people who were not afraid of being abandoned), sexual exclusivity had no association with relationship satisfaction or commitment.

These findings tell us that among people who feel somewhat insecure when it comes to relationships, a monogamy agreement may be a good idea as a way of providing some form of reassurance that their partner isn’t going anywhere. However, for people who are more securely attached, there may be somewhat less to gain from a monogamy agreement in terms of how the partners feel about one another. In short, these results suggest that monogamy may not be universally beneficial to everyone and instead of arguing that everyone “should” act one way or another in relationships, we are probably better served by letting people select the type of relationship that’s right for them.

How Do I Become Non-Monogamous?

For those desiring to discuss non-monogamy with a partner, it is important to remember that entering such a relationship together means you may face social stigma, loss of friendships and discouragement. Committing to non-monogamy will increase stress, anxiety, and depression. It’s not all rewards and kinky sex, in other words. Monogamy is the “norm” and ideal state for the general public and, even privately, seen as immoral and harmful to the health of partners. This is not an insurmountable challenge, but don’t expect sunshine and ponies – especially at first. Instead, remind each other that the transitioning to non-monogamy is a shared experience and an opportunity to become more mentally, emotionally, and relationally invested in one another as you begin to entertain new guests to your relationship, visit other relationships, and see what turns up. This is an adventure for both of you, and despite the setbacks can still be a positive thing.

Cracking through that conversation with a partner who is averse to non-monogamy (for whatever reason) doesn’t mean you or your partner have a problem – individually or together. It just means transitioning might come with extra challenges. Reminding each other of a shared love, a shared experience, a shared trust – all of these are important. My advice, on a personal level, is to avoid intentionally hurting someone or being negligent with their feelings. Start by doing some research and making sure you know what you want so that you can explain it to your partner. There’s no “how to” guide here, though The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton is considered a good intro. Listen to podcasts like Polyamory Weekly for some perspective on how other people have navigated non-monogamous relationships. Get your foot into the community, softly at first through online communities or meet-up groups. Don’t share too much at first. Just listen, read up, observe, and familiarize yourself with the community. People in non-monogamous relationships keep their status quiet precisely because they have concerns about the social consequences of other people finding out about their romantic interests so, above all, “what happens in the club stays in the club.” Respect people’s privacy and do not talk about anyone in the community. A good rule of thumb that I learned working with the LGBTQIA community was that I cannot “adopt” someone else’s narrative. I can only speak from my narrative, I cannot speak for someone else. That said, in my own relationship, I have (what I have been told is) an exhausting level of investment. I like to “check in” and “check on” my partner regularly, have conversations about the state of the relationship, and let my partner know at all times how I am doing with them, with the relationship, with myself, and of course try to listen to their thoughts on these areas as well. It should come as no surprise that when I am in a relationship, I strive for high investment and low barriers.

My experience aside, my general philosophy is that people should pursue the type of arrangement that best suits them whether it is monogamous or non-monogamous. As long as you are both consenting adults aware of what you are doing, what does it matter what someone else thinks? Communicating who you are may be difficult, but it is vital, vital, vital. Otherwise, you begin to lose who you are and become subsumed to the relationship. As Lehmiller would put it, “I don’t think we do the individual or society any favors by forcing people to adopt any type of relationship agreement that they do not want or cannot keep. Besides, it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve relationship success if people are unwilling or unable to communicate openly about sex and their relationship desires and goals.”

Non-monogamy is made up of many different forms. Will you have multiple romantic and loving relationships simultaneously? Will you have one primary relationship that permits sexual exploration, but not romantic involvement? Will you be married to one person and occasionally engage in wife or husband “swapping”?

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