Gone are the days of marriage defined as “between a man and a woman.” For some, also gone are the days of a relationship refering to just two people. From swinging couples who enjoy a fun night of partner swapping to polyamorous triads, quads and moresomes, the concept of consensual non-monogamy is gaining force.
There is still little research on consensual non-monogamy and on the LGBTQ community as a whole, and what has been done has usually been done with a huge bias in mind. Assumptions frame the studies, which are full of hinky approaches: That clearly, gay men are hypersexual. Let’s prove this by showing that they just can’t stay in a monogamous relationships. It’s hard to track how many LGBT people live non-monogamous lifestyles, and how – or why – they choose it.
Like the word queer, consensual non-monogamy is an umbrella term that can refer to a slew of different relationship constructs, from allowing your partner to hook up with fairly random people she thinks are hot to relationships that contain three or more people in long term, committed relationships, sometimes referred to as polyfidelity.
But for all, the number-one priority is communication, according to relationship and intimacy therapist Dr. Jenni Skyler of Boulder.
“Those who already operate from a place of non-monogamy, or are making the move to do so from a place of safety and trust, often find great benefits in the relationship as it pertains to communication,” Skyler said. “In short, non-monogamous relationships force partners to communicate deeply and to work with jealousy.”
That’s hardly something driven by lust. Dr. Skyler argues “monogamous couples could take some lessons in communication from successful non-monogamous couples because all of us can benefit from deep, transparent communication.”
Like most relationship counselors, she doesn’t advocate for either monogamy or consensual non-monogamy as being better than the other; rather, she says all couples and relationship styles benefit from increased communication and working from a place of trust.
For some, labels have an important place in designating different types of relationships, based length of time together, energy/emotional/time/financial investment, location, frequency of seeing each other and more.
But for Nic Cameron, 24, of Fort Collins, that is simply not the case; “I am married to my first partner, and am dating a second. Some polyamorous individuals break up their relationships into hierarchies by using words like “primary” and “secondary.” For the most part, that is how our relationship structure has worked, but grouping people into hierarchies has problems of its own, and it’s important to remember that you can’t just say “oh, well, my primary slot is filled, so I’m going to label this relationship a secondary” – just like people, relationships need room to evolve.”
For David Washburn, 50, of Lakewood, the idea of loving multiple people was one that developed from a much younger age. He shares,“I lived most of my life knowing that I felt love for more than one person at a time, and yet felt societal pressure to choose, and to hide my bisexuality as well. “Despite these social norms, 12 years ago he perused a relationship with a bisexual couples and ended up meeting his wife. Six years ago, they opened up their relationship. By choosing consensual non-monogamy, he has also been able to experiment with and accept his orientation; “I feel the primary benefit of being non-monogamous is being able to live my life truthfully. I have been able to have a couple of relationships with men … I reconnected with someone whom I had loved during my first marriage.”
It’s important to note that non-monogamy, while a very valid choice for many folks, is not without it’s pitfalls. Washburn, Skyler and Cameron describe jealousy and figuring out how to handle those feelings, while Cameron points out that “just because we’re non-monogamous does not mean that it’s impossible to cheat; cheating happens when someone breaks that trust (by stepping outside our pre- determined rules, for example, or by keeping information from each other).” Some other issues include time management (many poly resources suggest sharing Google calendars with all partners for co-created scheduling), feelings of being left out, and as Skyler pointed out, people who try to “save” their relationship by opening it up, which usually only causes more issues.
Whether you decide to stick with just one partner or to open up your life to a variety of lovers, partners and friends with benefits, it boils to communication. In the world of sexuality and relationships, communication is always key.
Shanna Katz, M.Ed, ACS is a Colorado native, fierce femme and board certified sexologist. She believes strongly in open source, accessible sexuality education, and loves teaching adults how to optimize their sex lives. For more info, please visit http://ShannaKatz.com.