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Non-Monogamy: Do Open Relationships Work?

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Non-Monogamy: Do Open Relationships Work?

By Polly Parker, DivineCaroline

Non-monogamy is about one thing–sex. And sex is good. And sex with different people–either concurrently or over the course of a lifetime–is good too. Sex is so good that some people are addicted to it. Sex makes people do crazy things and it makes people feel amazing things. I love it just as much as anyone else, but there is more to life than sex.

I am pretty sure that the words on your deathbed won’t be “I wish I had had more sex with more people.” Maybe if you are a pervert, or if you didn’t get much action in your life, you would say that, but most people wouldn’t. Most people would say that they would have spent more time with their families, or that they wished they had worked less. They want more time with their wives, or they regret not pursuing a dream. Unless someone is being a smartass on his deathbed, he’s not going to even think about sex when his number’s up.

I live in San Francisco. Non-monogamy (or polyamory as it is called here) is a big topic in the city. Out here, everybody’s doing it. And if everyone is doing it here, then it’s probably already in or coming to a town near you.

Here’s the definition of monogamy:

NOUN:
1 archaic : the practice of marrying only once during a lifetime 2 : the state or custom of being married to one person at a time 3 : the condition or practice of having a single mate during a period of time

Notice anything? Right off the bat, Webster’s is linking monogamy to marriage, and they should, because monogamy comes from monos (alone, single) + gamos (marriage). Monogamy used to be about being with one person forever, and now it’s been updated to mean the state or “custom” of being married to one person at a time. The logical opposite of monogamy is polygamy, being married to more than one person at a time, and not very many people (publicly) support that.

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DivineCaroline

At DivineCaroline.com, women come together to learn from experts in the fields, of health, sustainability, and culture; to reflect on shared experiences; and to express themselves by writing and publishing stories about anything that matters to them. Here, real women publish like real pros. Together, with our staff writers, they’re discussing all facets of women’s lives from relationships and careers, to travel and healthy living. So come discover, read, learn, laugh and connect at DivineCaroline.com.

899 comments

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11:58PM PDT on Aug 28, 2014

Abby H. The reason you'll see so much defensiveness from people living in non-monogamous relationships is mostly due to this article completely misrepresenting our lifestyle. Her very first sentence is that our lifestyle is about sex alone. If someone came along and told you that your happily committed marriage of 10+ years was simply about sex, would you not be a little defensive? Were this person to publicly state that, would you not be compelled to correct them? This sort of article severely misinforms people about non-monogamy and is pretty offensive. I don't think it matters how 'liberal', 'evolved' or 'enlightened' (not that I or most the people I know who practice non-monogamy claim to be more evolved or enlightened than monogamous people - those who do are frankly full of crap) being upset over someone accusing your relationships of being based solely on sex simply because you have more than one seems like a fairly normal response.

8:42PM PDT on Aug 28, 2014

Thank you for such a wonderful, insightful article! I think it's one of the best I've ever read on this subject.
The only thing I've found a bit disappointing is all the defensiveness and insecurity in the comments coming from all the people living this life. If they are so liberal and evolved why be defensive? Why attack her for her viewpoint? Seems to be that 'enlightened' hip people are all for freedom of expression unless of course it comes from someone who has a different take on things. Me thinks thou protest too much!

10:08AM PDT on May 31, 2014

Thanks, Dawn. One quick note: polygamy and polyamory are different things. Polygamy refers specifically to marriage, most often con notating the one man multiple women variety. :)

8:04AM PDT on May 31, 2014

I don't know much about polygamy, only what I've seen on documentaries. And some of those relationships are far from being about sex from what I could deduce. I think this article is a bit off the rails, because a finger is being poked at other alternative lifestyle choices because of lack of understanding or caring to try and understand also the writer is too caught up with sex and what people are doing in private. And really does it matter if no one is getting harmed, everyone is fed and warm, kids are not suffering? From where I sit love comes in many colours shapes, sizes and arrangements that suit the people involved and when it doesn't they can pack their kit and kaboodle and move on just like all the many monogamous couples do that quit before the ink dries on the wedding certificate. I class myself as one lucky soul because I married a jewel of a husband when I was 17 and we have rarely been apart but I don't preach that my way is the way it should be done by others.
It's all down to individual choice and as far as I am concerned it's all a bit like religion...Respect, respect, respect for everyone's belief as long as the belief is kind, helpful and respectful and helpful to others no matter what.

8:03AM PDT on May 31, 2014

continued from above...
That is the basic tenets of life and religion no matter which one you gravitate towards. Me I can find God the Great Spirit or what ever name one wishes to use for their Deity in any religious building no matter what. And love is everywhere, and if you can't find it reach out and give some away even to a polygamist, homosexual, alternative choice folk or any other person that needs some.
ღƸ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ☻And♥now these three♥remain☻Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ ღ
*☻♥☻ღ•★• ღ♥Faith♥Hope♥Love♥ ღ•★• ღ☻♥☻*
ღƸ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄ƷღBut the greatest of these is loveღƸ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒღ
Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ♥☻★Love☻ღ*★♥love♥★*ღ☻love ★☻♥Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ
♥* ♥ ˚☻Love & Peace☻go with☻you all.☻˚♥ *˚

6:22PM PDT on May 30, 2014

As a happily married non monogamous woman, this offends me on so many levels. While I respect the authors right to voice her opinion, it would be the equivalent of me spouting everything that is wrong with being Buddhist, something I have never experienced myself. For starters, it's not all about sex. And even if it was, until one has experienced the joy and connection and passion that can be shared with someone you care deeply about, they have no right to deny it to anyone else. And even if they tried it and found it didn't work for them, still, none of their fricking business. The way that each and every one of us experiences life and love is entirely up to us as individuals. Just because I find liver and Brussels sprouts vile, I would never be so presumptuous as to tell anyone that they are wrong for enjoying them and making them a part of their happy healthy life.

3:13PM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

(c) some people it is a delightful and fulfilling life experience--and that it in no way cheapens or lessens the love of the relationships involved. Because, speaking as a blissfully married woman who gets asked for relationship advice by her friends all the dingdang time? I find that really insulting.

3:11PM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

(c) feel there was something you weren't providing or that you were doing something wrong if your partner asked for permission to be open. I understand the temptation to think that way, but again, not what it's about. Love is not a finite resource, and neither is desire. We want to be with our boyfriend--and we feel attracted to other people sometimes--because of who they are, because of the sum and total of that person. It's not some transactional issue of "I want sex act D which I feel this other person can provide." That's not how people really experience attraction (not most people, anyway). When you were dating, did you go around assessing people based on their willingness and ability to perform certain sex acts, or did you just become attracted to people as whole beings?

I'm going to guess the latter. Again, it's not about coldly and emotionlessly seeking sex or certain kinds of sex--it's about being able to be attracted to others without it becoming an explosive secret, and being able to act on that attraction without damaging your relationship. Sometimes it's about the ability to expand that love to something you can share with your partner and a third person, which, when you do it right, can be really magical.

I recommend that you read Sex at Dawn for more information on human social evolution and sexual behavior. But mostly I'd like it if you could accept that, even if polyamory isn't for you, it's as much of a valid choice as monogamy, and that for s

3:10PM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

(c) other that my wife and I have had sex with since we opened up our relationship. Just to provide one example of a situation in which poly isn't about the sort of indiscriminate casual sex you seem to think it's about. He's a source of emotional support for both of us, and the intimacy and affection of our time together has been hugely rewarding.

It's also been eye-opening. I have always deeply trusted my wife, and we are very open and honest in our communications, but the experience of becoming part of this triad has made me much, much less jealous. And that. feels. AMAZING. Not to mention much more sustainable than the kind of pain and insecurity I had in previous relationships--because I was wondering who else they might find attractive, or because I couldn't share it if I found someone else attractive. Because the very normal, human experience of being attracted to more than one person at a time was treated as a problem, a symptom of something wrong with the primary relationship, a relationship extinction level event. It isn't, it doesn't have to be, it SHOULDN'T be, given what we know about human sexuality and emotion. Even if you and your partner choose to be monogamous and not act on those attractions, there needs to be some room in a healthy relationship for remembering that you're both human and both experience these things. As my best friend's sweet and proper mother said ages ago, "I'm married, that doesn't mean I'm dead."

You mention that you'd fe

3:07PM PDT on Apr 30, 2014

See, you kinda got off on the wrong foot right off the bat when you said that polyamory and open relationships are all about sex.

Because they're not. And if that's your impression of them, you probably should have learned more about them before deciding you were the expert, judge, and arbiter.

My wife and I love each other deeply. We are deeply, seriously committed to each other. Sometimes I look at pictures of her from our wedding and feel so full of love that I almost start crying. And then I tell her that. And it's a lovely loop of affection that just keeps going. One of the happiest parts of my day is curling up to go to sleep together. The mercifully few times in my life I've thought I might be about to die (generally being silly and freaking out over turbulence in an airplane), my primary thought was that I just wanted to see her again first.

We also have a boyfriend. (We're both queer women.) He's a good friend who's a fantastic communicator, very sweet, and very respectful of our relationship. All three of us had a discussion at the start of this in which we made it clear that A) my relationship with my wife is The Couple, if you will, the primary relationship or dyad, but B) that doesn't mean our relationship as a triad is meaningless or insignificant (likewise our individual relationships with him). He admires the bond the two of us have and would never intentionally do anything that might damage it.

He's also the only person other than each

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