Is One Ever Enough?
I thought I was quite enlightened about sexual relationships until a friend of mine informed me he and his partner practice Polyamory.
Polyamory is the practice of having more than one intimate partner at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. it is different from swinging which is sex with others for merely recreational purposes. With Polyamory there is more intimacy and emotional attachment than in swinging. There are polyamory relationships where the various participants all live together (often a type of threesome arrangement and frequently two women with one man) and there are those where the primary relationship partners form relationships with secondary partners outside of the home (this can number from one to many extra partners).
I asked my friend to tell me more about his relationship.
He explained that his partner is currently seeing two other guys and is open to more. They are both on numerous “sex” sites (one specialising in affairs for married people), and swinging sites. He hasn’t yet met anyone for ongoing sex but he’s actively looking and said he’s happy for his partner to have numerous extra sexual relationships.
Since having this chat I’ve done lots of reading about Polyamory. Apparently there are over 50,000 people in the U.S identifying with this lifestyle. There are no clear stats for the number in Australia and I’m guessing the figures would be somewhat distorted by the confusion with swinging and other open type relationships. The “official” Polyamory website in Australia states there are “several hundred” people practising this lifestyle in Australia. I am sure there are many men who would claim to support polyamory when in fact they simply want to have sex with numerous women without attachment (labeled as Promiscuity). But there are many others who are committed to this lifestyle who find it highly satisfying.
Wikipedia has an excellent entry about Polyamory. In defining it they say:
People who identify as polyamorous typically reject the view that sexual and relational exclusivity are necessary for deep, committed, long-term loving relationships. Those who are open to, or emotionally suited for, polyamory may embark on a polyamorous relationship when single or already in a monogamous or open relationship. Sex is not necessarily a primary focus in polyamorous relationships, which commonly consist of people seeking to build long-term relationships with more than one person on mutually agreeable grounds, with sex as only one aspect of their relationships. In practice, polyamorous relationships are highly varied and individualized according to those participating. For many, such relationships are ideally built upon values of trust, loyalty, the negotiation of boundaries, and compersion, as well as overcoming jealousy, possessiveness, and the rejection of restrictive cultural standards.
There are many forms of Polyamory and I wonder if perhaps the term has become a little too inclusive.
Wikipedia lists the following forms of Polyamory:
- Polyfidelity, which involves multiple romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted to only specific partners in the group (which may include all members of that group) (e.g. group marriage).
- Sub-relationships, which distinguish between “primary” and “secondary” relationships (e.g. most open marriages).
- Three people romantically involved, often called a “triad relationship.” (Commonly initiated by an established couple jointly dating a third person; however, there are many possible configurations.)
- Relationships between a couple and another couple (Quad).
- Polygamy (polygyny and polyandry), in which one person marries several spouses (who may or may not be married to, or have romantic relationships with, one another).
- Group relationships, sometimes referred to as tribes, and group marriage, in which all consider themselves associated to one another.
- Networks of interconnecting relationships, where a particular person may have relationships of varying degrees of importance with various people.
- Mono/poly relationships, where one partner is monogamous but agrees to the other having outside relationships.
- So-called “geometric” arrangements, which are described by the number of people involved and their relationship connections. Examples include “triads” and “quads”, along with “V” (or “Vee”) and “N” geometries.
- Open relationships/open marriages, where participants may have sexual liaisons with others not within their core group of partners. Some open relationships may be open only sexually, while exclusive emotionally.
- Swinging: Traditionally there has been a cultural divide between the polyamorous and swinger communities, the former emphasizing the emotional aspects of plural relationships and the latter emphasizing the sexual activities of non-monogamy. It is possible for a person with polyamorous relationships to also engage in traditional swinging and other open relationships. Those in polyamorous relationships who take part in casual sex often see it as separate from the emotional bonds they share with their polyamorous partners. However it is also possible for swingers to develop deep emotional attachments with those they have sex with, and thereby find themselves in polyamory. Such swingers in their new polyamorous relationships may or may not choose to continue swinging with others.
Why choose Polyamory ?
A lot of people in this lifestyle believe that one person can not fulfill all their needs and they are more content and satisfied when they have multiple partners.
I was about to publish this post when I came across an excellent article in Psychology Today outlining the risks. Here’s the link: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/love-without-limits/201301/five-ways-polyamory-can-fail.
As with any relationship there are risks associated with miscommunication and a difference in opinions and values. Polyamory will not work unless everyone involved has the same understanding of the boundaries of the relationship.
What may start out as clearly defined can slowly become blurry. I believe each person needs to be aware of both their own needs and the needs of their partner(s). What happens if the primary partner loses their secondary partner or isn’t as successful at organising sexual liaisons? What happens if one person no longer wants to continue in this lifestyle?
I don’t think Polyamory is the answer to “happiness ever after”. As with any relationship it has risks and benefits. And as with every relationship its success depends on the existence of respect, trust, honesty and great communication.