The jury is still out on whether or not humans are naturally polyamorous or monogamous beings. Are we more like domestic animals, tending to multiple partners and relationships of significance in one lifetime? Or do we follow the routines of many birds, horses, and lizards and mate for life with one partner? In religiously centric areas of our dear, Kantian USA, there exists cultural monogamy, or a default monogamy that is tied to a higher theological idea of God and God’s role in interpersonal relationships. For example, during my short stint of living in Utah, I found that the cultural Mormonism that permeated the entire state bred a kind of sexual rigidity that manifested in absolute self-deprivation. Where do Mormons expend their vices if not in strip clubs, bars, or coffee shops? Though Utah has a history rife with polygamy, the notion of women (or people who are female-assigned at birth) getting down with multiple partners in one lifetime is an abomination. Multiplicity, therefore, exists in the rearing of children.
But I digress. Since my successful return to a coastal community, I have found myself confronting the age-old relationship designs: to polyamor or not to polyamor? As an incredibly bossy and sassy single femme fatale in my mid-twenties, the world is my dating oyster. And after many failed relationships and embarrassing dating adventures with both monogamy and polyamory, I want to make sure I do it right this time around. What have I learned through my forays into polyamory that would help sustain a monogamous relationship? What did I fail at? What worked well? How can I be the best partner I can be?
One leg-up that the poly community has over the monog community is constant conversation and checking-in. Polyamory is all about the C’s: comfort levels, consent, communication, couples’ counseling, and compersion. Of course, not all couples (or triads! Or tetrad!) follow these rules, but relationships with multiple players and partners function best when everyone is completely transparent about their actions, intentions, and levels of emotional comfort. Setting boundaries around whom and what is acceptable in different relationships is an essential component to ensuring smooth sailing to the land of love-abundance. A good example of communication and boundary setting would be something like: “I have some reservations and discomfort about your relationship with Sarah and it is making me feel disposable and jealous. Maybe the morning after your date with her, you and I could go out for a romantic breakfast after to reconnect.” In this example, one person is expressing their comfort levels without making demands or taking the agency of the other person, bargaining, and attempting to reach a solution that will make both parties feel good. I feel like these same principles of communication will go a long way towards establishing strong connections in monogamous partnerships as well.
Consent is one of those buzz words that seems to get thrown around a lot in the sex-positive community without clear definitions of what exactly it signifies. In the context of this article, I am talking about consent as a parallel/addendum to emotional comfort, but also as a keyword to talking about sexual health. In polyamorous communities, as with all other sex-based communities, it is important to have consent and disclosure around sexual status, especially with multiple partners involved. Some primary partners chose to be fluid-bonded with one another and use barriers with all other partners. Consent is also negotiated when discussing kink of any kind, taking into context the personal history, triggers, and potential threats to each partner looking to engage in any form of kink. Even in long-term monogamous relationships, folks can take a page out of polyamory’s book and ensure consent around sexual health and safety by having the necessary negotiations before engaging in sexual activities. For example, negotiations between two people could include what is ok and what is not ok for that evening’s romp, who would like to top or be topped, safe words, kinds of penetration, language for genitals/bodies, and touch me here here and here, but not here. After all, people are duplicitous, and our desires vary from moment to moment.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where I delve a little deeper into what we can all take away from our polyamorous friends.
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