These days it’s challenging to understand all the relationship rules between two people. Add a couple or more people into the mix and it’s enough to make your head spin. But what is polyamory exactly? Is it just a free for all? Something to avoid commitment? What about sanctity of marriage or being in a real relationship? Do people who practice polyamory have any morals at all?
These are only some in a long, long list of questions whenever the subject of polyamory comes up. Believe me, as a writer whose books include consensual polyamorous relationships, I’ve heard it all. But when it comes down to it, people who are polyamorous are no different than people who are monogamous. In this post, we’ll briefly explore what polyamory is and what it isn’t, the agreement, and a few general rules. So, let’s start at the beginning.
What is polyamory?
Polyamory is defined as the practice of engaging in multiple romantic (and typically sexual) relationships, with the consent of all the people involved. It is also sometimes referred to as non-monogamy, which is an umbrella term that refers to any relationship that does not adhere to the standards of monogamy.
What it isn’t.
A free for all of wild unprotected sex and orgies that include unlimited partners as far as the eye can see with no consequences and probably leads to some sort of ritualistic ceremony where virgins are sacrificed. Yeah. This very bizarre and hyperbolic scenario mentioned above is probably the biggest misconception I come across; that people who are not monogamous have no moral values.
Because monogamy has been the relationship standard for so long, many believe that it is the only way to have a relationship and anything else is an affront. In reality, non-monogamy is a very deliberate, thoughtful, careful, and often, very private practice that requires open and continuous communication to be maintained between all parties involved. These tenets are the cornerstone of what is known as ethical non-monogamy and which brings us to the next point…
In an ethical non-monogamous relationship, all parties involved are in agreement that they a) are participating in a non-monogamous relationship, and b) will abide to the established rules. Not only does everyone involved have to know and understand the rules, but they must also be willing to openly talk about and negotiate them honestly, without judgement, and if something isn’t working or if their situation changes, they must be willing to communicate that, as well. Respect for the participants, with clear and open communication, is the only way to achieve true consent.
What a minute… agreement? Rules? Communication? That sounds like a lot of talking.
Yep. Non-mongamists can be experts in verbal expression and understand the importance of keeping dialogues open. Because let’s face it, having an intimate relationship with one person is hard enough, but add another person… or two, and holy heck, Batman, talk about potential misunderstandings. That’s why contracts (yes, written ones) are made.
So, what are some of these basic contractual rules?
Well, rules are typically individualized for each relationship, but overall, it is absolutely agreed by non-monogamy relationship experts that safe sex is a must. Full stop. However, other rules such as sexual boundaries, setting emotional boundaries, maintaining honesty, having regular check-ins, and scheduling time for your primary relationship seem to be popular. The important part of the rules is that they need to work for the relationship for full consent to happen.
Let’s face it, ethical non-monogamy is not for everyone. But neither is monogamy. For some people, having an intimate connection to more than one person is right for them and the people they are involved with. It doesn’t make them immoral. On the contrary, an ethical non-monogamist often upholds a very high moral standard that includes respect, communication, kindness, and understanding in regard to their relationships. Just because a relationship between several consenting adults may look different, doesn’t make it wrong. In fact, it’s our differences that make us unique and interesting, and allow us to live rich, full, and happy lives.
For more information on this topic, check out the following books:
Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino
The Ethical Slut, Third Edition: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
More Than Two by Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux