Can a relationship involve more than one person? Is monogamy ‘natural’? What are the advantages, disadvantages and challenges of a polyamorous relationship?
While monogamy used to mean ‘one person for life’, these days it often means ‘one person at a time’. But, apparently more and more people are seeking less traditional relationship models, with 1 in 5 people having tried some form of non-monogamous relationship (see here) and around 40% thinking their ideal relationship would involve some sort of consensual non-monogamy (here) – (OK, these facts are from the US, maybe we’ll go and look around for some more global facts later).
Let’s clear things up, first – polyamory does not meaning swinging, and it does not mean polygamy (which is marrying multiple people). It means having loving relationships with more than one person, whether you share your time with those people or there are three or more of you in a relationship together. This is a little different from an open relationship, where you and your partner agree that some things (kissing, sex, maybe dating) with others are OK – but generally it all falls under the banner of “ethical/consensual non-monogamy”.
In this exciting episode, we explore options outside of the traditional, non-monogamous model, such as open relationships and polyamory. Our guest, Sarah, lives with a married couple as one of the husband’s other partners, and all three of them also have other partners.
And here’s the full quote that we mentioned:
“No group-living nonhuman primate is monogamous, and adultery has been documented in every human culture studied- including those in which fornicators are routinely stoned to death. In light of all of this bloody retribution, it’s hard to see how monogamy comes “naturally” to our species. Why would so many risk their reputations, families, careers- even presidential legacies- for something that runs against human nature? Were monogamy an ancient, evolved trait characteristic of our species, as the standard narrative insists, these ubiquitous transgressions would be infrequent and such horrible enforcement unnecessary. No creature needs to be threatened with death to act in accord with its own nature.” ― Christopher Ryan, Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality
The book we mentioned a lot was The Ethical Slut by Dottie Easton, something of a ‘polyamory Bible’ but actually a great read for everybody, whether single, in a monogamous relationship or polyamorous, as it focuses a lot of self-development, honesty and healthy communication within relationships. “Love is not a real-world limit: the mother of nine children can love each of them as much as the mother of an only child,” says Dottie, arguing that we have been brought up to believe that love is a finite, scarce resource that we can only share with one romantic partner.
Some other things you may like:
A new way to love: in praise of polyamory from The Guardian
Exploring Polyamory by Rachel Klechevsky – a more academic article about polyamory
Changing the Way We Think about Consensual Non-monogamy a TED talk by Nirel Marofsky
The Tamera Project, a peace research centre and commune in Portugal, writes about free love and its importance in creating a peaceful society: https://www.tamera.org/free-sexuality-and-partnership/
And, to balance this out a little, The School of Life’s Why Polyamory (sadly) Can’t be for Everyone and Five Disadvantages of Polyamory from Psychology Today.