With nontraditional relationship styles on the rise, how do you know which one is right for you?
Relationships are not as straightforward as they once appeared to be. From traditional monogamy to various forms of polyamory, our society is becoming more open to the idea of non-traditional relationship dynamics. As an advocate for sex positive actions, I love this. It gives us the freedom to break free from the confinements and ideals of the past and push head-first into the "new age" of relationships. So what is polyamory and how do you know if it is right for you?
*Author's Note: Although I am not the biggest fan of the term "non-traditional," it does allow us to see our history as where we have come from in this society.
What is Polyamory
Let’s start with the relationship style, or styles, that you may not be too familiar with. Polyamory, also known as ethical non-monogamy or consensual non-monogamy, is an umbrella term used to describe various forms of non-traditional relationships that operate outside of traditional, exclusive relationships. Everyone is consenting to this, which means they are aware that they are not in a monogamous relationship. Examples of these kinds of relationships include polyamory, swinging, solo poly, open relationships, relationship anarchy, and polygamy to name a few. Polyamory is seen to be more widely accepted as we continue to head into the 21st century with roughly 5-10% of the population currently engaging in it.
What is Monogamy
Alright, let’s move into the relationship style with which we are all familiar. Monogamy, or what we would call a traditional relationship, is a relationship between two individuals where exclusivity is key. In every species, monogamy can be broken down into two forms: social monogamy and sexual monogamy. Social monogamy means that two organisms give the appearance to others of being monogamous to one another, emotionally as well as sharing offspring and duties, whereas sexual monogamy means that two organisms are sexually exclusive to one another. Although social monogamy is practiced in roughly 90% of species, humans are one of the few species that practice both social and sexual monogamy. Monogamy is also highly promoted as the only relationship style seen as acceptable to teach, acknowledge, and practice in our society today due to a wide variety of reasons that will be explained in a future blog post.
What is right for me
So how do you know which kind of relationship is right for you? Well, let’s look at a few ways of making this decision for yourself.
First things first, let’s start which some internal reflection. If you are reading this, I assume you are curious about different, nontraditional relationship styles. But if you are not, and you feel comfortable in an exclusive relationship in which monogamy is upheld, then there you have it. You know you want to be monogamous. But, I would still encourage you to do some self-reflection.
Whether you are questioning monogamy or not, let’s start with this question: When did you choose to be monogamous? I am sure you have never thought of this question in your life. If I had to guess, I would say 99.9% of humans never had a choice when it comes to what relationship style they get to participate in. From Disney movies to religion and even the music we listen to, everything leads to monogamy. Don’t feel bad for questioning what you want because, in reality, you had no other choice.
From here, continue to self-reflect. Here are some questions to consider: Do I have any biases around monogamy or polyamory? What is the point of a relationship? What do I want to get out of my relationship? How do I define love and how do I define intimacy? What am I afraid of if I engage with polyamory? Spend some time with yourself, journaling or talking to peers, and see if you feel comfortable starting the journey towards polyamory, or staying with monogamy.
Once you have done some self-exploration you may have a ton of questions. So let’s talk about how we can go about finding answers. First things first, do not just do a google search(well, not just yet). Our world is very sex negative and close-minded if you haven’t already noticed. Because of this, we want to make sure you are finding content that is open and nonjudgemental. A good place to start would be to explore local or global sex therapists and sex educators. I guess google is fine for this, as if you type in "sex therapy near me," you will locate providers who may already have resources at your disposal. Check out my other article below.
You can also head to your social media to find answers. Searching for phrases like "sex therapist," "sex therapy," "polyamory," "consensual non-monogamy," "open relationships," and "sex positivity" can pull up handles that provide you with more information and clarity. You can do this on any social media platform. Finding books is a great resource as well. One that I truly enjoy is called The Jealousy Workbook by Kathy Labriola. This is a great way to explore any jealous feelings that may arise in your relationship.
Last but not least, if you really can’t find information, use google, but be specific!! Don’t just type in polyamory or non-monogamy, instead, type "helpful tips around polyamory" or "how to know if I am poly?" Once you click on an article, scroll down to the author and make sure they are credible. If they are a sex therapist you should be good, but pay attention to if they shame polyamory in any way. That is an author we want to stay away from.
Now that you have done some internal reflection and conducted your own research, the last step, which may not be applicable to everyone, is to sit and communicate your wants and desires to your romantic partner. This may be a tough process and one that takes some time, effort, and many many conversations. Do not hesitate to reach out to a sex positive sex therapist to help with this process if needed. Remember, you are not alone in this journey.
When it is all said and done, both monogamy and polyamory are beautiful, healthy relationship styles that are supported by research. For those who do the deep dive and determine that you want monogamy, congrats! You have done the work and know in your heart of hearts that you desire an exclusive relationship with one person. If you end up opening up and wanting polyamory, congrats! You have done the work to know that you want to explore emotional, physical, and sexual intimacy with more than one person. I think we all owe it to ourselves to do this exploration so that we do not feel trapped in a relationship we may not be on board for.
Cleveland Sex Therapy is owned by Matt Lachman, a licensed professional clinical counselor, supervisor, and certified sex therapist who specializes in working with individuals, couples, and polyam folx on their concerns relating to sexuality, intimacy, and overall sexual health. The goal of Cleveland Sex Therapy is to promote inclusivity and nurture sex positivity. For more information, feel free to contact him at Matt@ClevelandSexTherapy.com