Consensual nonmonogamy is the practice or desire of having multiple partners with the knowledge and consent of all parties involved. Recently there has been a push for nonmonogamy to be recognized as a sexual identity, so let’s talk about what exactly it means.
To start, some definitions of common terms:
- Closed relationship: This is the ‘traditional’ relationship made up of two people with the expectation that neither has an additional partner.
- Open relationship: An open relationship is typically made up of two people. There is an agreement that either partner can have sexual relations outside of the main relationship.
- Polyfidelity: Multiple partners are involved in the relationship, as in a triad, but no one is allowed to take on outside partners.
- Polyamory: This is a blanket term for multiple partner relationships.
- Swinging: Focusing on recreational sex and not relationships.
- Primary relationship: This is an individual’s closest relationship. The majority of their time, energy, and emotional connection is invested in this relationship.
- Secondary: This is a less intimate relationship. Less energy and time are invested in this relationship.
- Triad: This is a relationship involving three people. Each person is equally involved with the other two members.
- Vee: This is similar to a triad. Instead of everyone having equal involvement, two people (the arms) have equal involvement with one person (the hinge) and less involvement with each other.
- Compersion: Positive feelings that are felt when a partner finds joy or love in a partner other than oneself.
These aren’t all of the possible combinations of multiple partner relationships. There are countless different arrangements and styles of relationships.
Multiple partner relationships are often misunderstood as cheating. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The key to a successful relationship (monogamous or not) is communication and consent. This is even more important in multiple partner relationships. When the rules of a relationship are broken, then it is considered cheating. In monogamous relationship these rules sometimes aren’t openly discussed, but are more of a social expectation. In multiple partner relationships it’s vital to discuss the rules and expectations of each party involved. This can be anything from who can have sex with who, to emotional ties, to the approval of outside partners. If any of the rules are broken, it is considered cheating, just like it would be to a monogamous couple. Full consent to engage in a multiple partner relationship ensures that all feelings are out in the open. Each person involved must be happy with the arrangement in order for it to be as successful as possible. This communication and consent of all parties is the most important aspect of a nonmonogamous relationship.
The want or need for multiple partners is often labelled as greed or unhappiness with a current relationship. Again, this assumption is far from the truth. The increased communication that comes with multiple partner relationships often leads to stronger, happier relationships. The concept of compersion comes into play here. This the excitement and happiness one partner feels when the other finds joy or love in a different partner. The feeling is often compared to the excitement you feel for a friend when they get a new job, or a promotion or something else positive in their life. With compersion also comes the threat of jealousy. This is where communication comes in again. People in multiple partner relationships tend to be more open with their emotions and better at communicating with others.
Another argument against nonmonogamy is the threat of STIs and pregnancy. In most cases of cheating safe sex isn’t practiced increasing the threat of contracting a STI or becoming pregnant. The opposite is true in multiple partner relationships. There is a noticeable increase in condom usage, sanitation, and STI testing. Most multiple partner relationships have what is called a “safe sex circle” or a “condom contract”, which is an agreement that dictates condom usage and testing rules for everyone.
Multiple partner relationships are not for everyone. They require strong relationships and lots of communication. Conflicting emotions and complicated situations can arise, so an open mind is vital. Even if you are a serial monogamous, it’s important to know what different issues are facing the world. As always, spread the good word, smash stereotypes, and keep informed.
Every best wish,