For most people, if someone told them that they were in a non-monogamous relationship, their mind would likely wander to something extreme. Many may picture sex parties full of people swapping partners with wild abandon, or raunchy threesomes like those depicted in porn.
But in reality, most non-monogamous relationships are fairly similar to monogamous relationships; they just involve more people.
The concept of non-monogamy is greatly over exaggerated and hyper-sexualized by mainstream media because then it’s easy to marginalize the people who participate in such relationships. But it’s 2018–we need to start acknowledging that there are many ways for people to be in relationships.
The cisgender, heteronormative way of thinking about relationships is not only boring, it’s dangerous. Our society was built on a puritanical Christian way of thinking that doesn’t leave much room for alternative lifestyles, even though they have always existed.
Now, as we fight for equal rights based on things like race and sexuality, the right to not have to define your relationship through the narrow lens of monogamy is just as important. A lot of the time, consensual non-monogamous (CNM) relationships are portrayed as subversive to others and shame the people who choose to engage in them and paint them as weird sexual deviants. And that othering can do a lot of damage to their reputations if not handled with care.
Here’s another perhaps mind blowing thing about CNM relationships; not all of them are based on sex. So often, the images we’re presented with when it comes to CNM relationships are completely sexual. We are shown relationships that are strictly based on sex: friends with benefits, open relationships, swingers, threesomes. And while those are obviously components of some CNM relationships, it goes so much deeper than that.
By focusing on the sexual side of CNM relationships, it’s easier for naysayers to portray these types of relationships as perverse, but acknowledging the romantic side can make them seem more mainstream. Just as sexuality and gender exist on a spectrum, consensual non-monogamous relationships run the gamut in terms of what is the “norm.” As a result, it’s important to understand what those relationships could look like.
Non-monogamous relationships aren’t just excuses to cheat on one’s spouse either. The people involved in the relationships set rules and boundaries for how the relationship will operate before they enter any additional relationships. These boundaries may evolve over time, but there is always an understanding of how they will best serve everyone involved. That is why it’s called consensual non-monogamy; everyone involved has explicitly expressed their desire to be involved in the relationship.
Most often, when we’re talking about consensual non-monogamous relationships that aren’t entirely sexual, we’re talking about polyamory. There are plenty of ways to have a polyamorous relationship; sometimes couples may have two partners who they are equally committed to, kind of an extended monogamy type situation. Some may have a primary partner and multiple secondary partners; some of those partners may be exclusively sexual, while others may be exclusively romantic, or a mix of both.
Some people who are in a polyamorous relationship may be cisgender and heterosexual, but just as many are queer or gender non-conforming people are in poly relationships. There are no rules about who participates in poly relationships, and every polycule operates the way that best serves them.
For some people, monogamy is too confining, and that’s okay. But as we all know, monogamy is the law of the land. This means, if three people in a CNM relationship wanted to be legally married, they can’t be, because in the eyes of the law, marriage can only happen between two people. If it’s a completely equal relationship, there are no protections for the person who isn’t legally married in the event that something terrible happens.
If a poly family has children and they all parent them, only two are actually considered to be the parents legally, which means that they would have to put something in writing for the family to stay together in the event of tragedy.
There are many reasons people in CNM relationships choose to keep it quiet. Some people just like being private, which is fine. What one person does in their bedroom is only the business of the people in the bedroom. But it would be wrong to not talk about the very real stigmas attached to those who choose to enter CNM relationships. Even if their relationships aren’t sexual, because of the way mainstream society has portrayed non-monogamous relationships, they will be painted with the same broad strokes. They could be branded as sexual deviants or sex fiends who are trying to recruit others for their sex group.
Poly families can run the risk of having social services called on them, even if they’ve created a totally loving home for their children. In reality, people who are non-monogamous or polyamorous are just keeping their hearts and lives open to all of the people they can love instead of stuffing themselves into a life with only one person. They aren’t being held against their will to be a plaything for many, these relationships, and how people move through them are always a choice.
Ashley Sweet, who is in a polyamorous family, spoke exclusively with Scary Mommy and offered some insight into what life is like for her family.
“The biggest misconception we face as a poly family is that we are ‘hurting’ or ‘damaging’ our children by exposing them to an unconventional relationship style. Ethical non-monogamy isn’t widely popular, which means we’ve had to expand on what our children know about relationships. We frame the conversation around consent, that your relationship style, just like relationship dynamics (i.e., physical contact, language, etc.) depends on the consent of all involved,” she explained.
She and her family have an Instagram account that they use to document their poly lifestyle.
“We have quickly learned that there is no road map for our relationship,” she said. “Monogamy is modeled in our media, and most of what we know about being a partner pertains to being a partner of one. Though we knew being out about our nontraditional family would incur some push back, we felt that we owed it to the non-monogamous community to share our journey and what we learn, to start to build that road map.”
Just as many of us have chosen to commit to only one person, those who are poly or in CNM relationships have committed to multiple people for the same reasons we have. They feel a deep connection to that person and want to be with them, whether it be strictly emotional, strictly physical, or somewhere in between. The only difference is that they feel that deep connection with more than one person at a time. This doesn’t make them anything other than human.
People who choose to engage in consensual non-monogamous relationships aren’t any different than those who choose to engage in monogamous relationships. In our heart of hearts, we’re all just people who want to love and be loved.