With polyamory and other forms of consensual nonmonogamy (CNM) becoming increasingly popular, many clients ask us, “What is it?” and “How does it work?” “What exactly does it mean?”
These are all great questions. In response, just like with any other kind of relationship, it depends on the people involved and how they handle themselves.
In CNM relationships, the partners involved agree that having more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at the same time is acceptable.
In this article, we’re going to explore what polyamory is and what it isn’t.
Polyamory: What it is
Polyamory is defined as the state of being romantically involved with more than one person at the same time and they seek out multiple partners ethically and responsibly.
The term, polyamory comes from the Greek word “poly” (many) and the Latin word “amor” (love) to mean, many-loves.
While the name, “polyamory” may be somewhat new, or new-to-you, (it gained popularity in the 90s), the concept is not new. In fact, it could be as old as the human race.
Researchers have suggested that people evolved in small hunter-group communities where everyone shared all the resources. Beyond the hunting, gathering, work, and child-care, they also may have shared sexual partners too.
One generally accepted view is that finding a monogamous partner is how we can prove we love ourselves and that we each deserve partners who love us and only us. Instead, polyamorists believe we deserve people who love us precisely the way we want to be loved.
Polyamory: What it isn’t
Having many romantic partners isn’t about having a secret nonconsensual sexual free-for-all behind your partner’s back. It’s also not a hall pass to lie, cheat, or sneak around. In our work with non-monogamous clients, we work on placing a clear emphasis on ethical and responsible behavior.
This means that non-monogamous partners discuss potential intimate partners before engaging in any activities. In these relationships, everyone involved is open, honest, and shares mutual consent for all actions and relationships involved. It’s also not only beforehand that our clients discuss other potential relationships — it’s a regular and ongoing communication.
Another common misunderstanding is that only one person in the relationship can have multiple partners while the other must remain monogamous. Usually, all the individuals involved have equal space to express their sexuality as they wish without shame.
It might be more common than you think. Statistics show that 1 in 6 Americans is engaged in ethical non-monogamy. This is interesting because it might be more accepted by the general population than you realize. Chances are, there are people in your network who have multiple partners.
The green-eyed monster
A common question I hear regarding individuals with multiple partners is, “Do people in CNM relationships ever get jealous?”
The answers vary from person-to-person, and some of them report they may only feel jealous or insecure occasionally. When this pops up for our clients, we work to honor those feelings and dig into what’s causing them before we address those emotions of envy.
We’re all subject to jealous feelings from time to time. Some may be naturally more jealous than others, but anybody can feel jealous.
Monogamy doesn’t guarantee there won’t be any jealousy. Jealousy is perfectly natural and a completely normal response to a partner being intimate with another. In our work with clients who are in an open relationship, I tell them to expect and accept it. Then, continue to work on managing it.
Jealousy creeps up most when someone feels insecure, mistreated, or threatened in a relationship. If somone feels secure in a relationship, they usually don’t get jealous. Keep in mind that jealousy isn’t the problem; it’s the symptom of the problem. In these cases, work to address the underlying causes of insecurity, and you’ll address the jealousy.
To help ensure a poly relationship works well, everyone involved should aim to feel more loved, secure, and valued. This also involves clear and honest communication, and an ongoing dialogue between everyone in the relationship.
Sexology International, like all of our work, is for people of all sexual preferences and all forms of gender expression, including people whose identity is something other than male or female. As such, we like to use gender-neutral pronouns. More recently accepted alternatives include words like “ze” and “hir” or the universal pronoun “they.” Throughout our work, we will be doing our best to use alternative pronouns, such as “they,” whenever gender or plurality is unimportant. In doing so we hope it helps everyone to feel included in the discussion and that it inspires you to think outside of traditional sex and gender binaries.