how to figure out if you're in a healthy polyamorous relationship
This month, we delve into the joys of non-monogamy and explore all the other moments of sexual goodness you need to have on your radar
image Trigonometry, BBC
words Megan Wallace
Hiya shaggers. I'm Megan, and for the past five years I've written about all things sex and relationships: heading to sex parties, reviewing dildos and navigating non-monogamy to find out what's new and exciting in the world of the sexually delighting. Every month, I'm coming to you with sexpert advice: my picks of the best ~sexual wellness~ bits from the world of woo, the science of sex and my (sometimes unhinged) musings from the dating wilderness. Today, we're delving into the world of non-monogamy...
Too often, us non-monogamous folk get stuck in a loop of explaining how polyamory works. And that’s fine, we need to educate the people! But when too much time is spent rehashing the mechanics, or stressing just how much effort goes into keeping multiple relationships afloat, it's easy to lose sight of why we do it all.
Typically dating apps, networks and media catering to the non-monogamous will advertise the greater personal freedom, sexual experimentation and self-expression that comes with polyamory. And that’s all definitely true - but there’s more to it. There’s the joy of seeing someone you love open up and uncover new parts of themselves. And there are the unexpected connections you might forge with partners of partners, as well as the community you can tap into among a wider network of non-monogamous people all navigating these lesser-known relationship waters.
Polyamorous people's favourite things about non-monogamy
Such is the case for Lo: a genderfluid, non-monogamous person. For them, the most joyful part of polyamory is that it upends traditional ideas that suggest romantic connections should take greater priority than friendships and platonic relationships. “Friendship is the most important type of connection in my life; familial and romantic relationships have done me a lot of harm in the past and friendships are the connections that have always buoyed me up,” Lo says. “Non-monogamy allows me to prioritise and centre friendships without sacrificing other types of relationships - we've all known people who drop off the face of the earth when they get into a relationship.”
Polyamory also allows for more fluidity between friendship and romance. “I've also made some incredible friends via non-monogamy and the line between 'friend' and 'partner' being more fluid means I've been able to prioritise our connection outside the normal rules and find what works best for us,” they say. “In queer/polyamory lingo I'm in a ‘queer, platonic relationship’ which in layman's terms just means that my best friend who I live with is my main person and the person I organise my priorities around.”
This has opened up futures which Lo thinks might not have been possible were they still pursuing monogamy. “My platonic partner and I are currently buying a flat together and have talked very earnestly about raising kids,” they say. “I think if I was still monogamous, I'd eventually be expected to prioritise a romantic partner over her but with non-monogamy I can be very clear that she's always going to be one of the main people in my life.”
This is similar to Kitty, a queer woman in her mid 20s who identifies as a relationship anarchist: the only rules she follows for relationships (which includes both platonic and romantic connections) are those agreed between her and the other person. She feels like her relationship style helps her to value people as individuals and have more fulfilling connections as a result. “I identify as a relationship anarchist because I believe every connection with every person is different and will naturally fall into its own rhythm” she says. “Everyone has their own complex relationship history they’ll be bringing to the table and it’s important to acknowledge that and work with it in my opinion!”
There’s also the fact that non-monogamy has helped Kitty to develop her communication style and, ultimately, led to more satisfying relationships as a result. “Being poly is the vulnerability and open communication is inherent. I’m typically someone who struggles articulating their emotions and talking about them,” she says. Being polyamorous involves greater emotional transparency in order to make sure things work, which she says makes for a more meaningful connection; "the bonds I have formed are so much deeper.”
What does a healthy polyamorous relationship look like?
As you’ll have gathered from Lo and Kitty’s experiences, the ways that polyamory and non-monogamy are practised vary greatly from person to person. So, how do you know what a healthy non-monogamous relationship looks like? And what are some rules we should all be playing by?
Well, as a first step, you should know your terms. There’s a few acronyms to refer to for the umbrella terms of non-monogamy, but the main two in play are CNM (consensual non-monogamy) and ENM (ethical non-monogamy). The first is straight-forward enough, meaning that everyone involved should be fully aware of and enthusiastically consenting to the non-monogamy at play. But what does the “ethical” bit mean in ethical non-monogamy mean?
Well, Dr. Sophia Murphy, Director of Wellness at sexual health service TBD Health and a trauma-informed counsellor, has some pointers. “The ‘ethical’ part refers to the transparency required for all parties to consent intentionally. “Unethical non-monogamy” is more synonymous with having an affair and breaking boundaries in a relationship,” but it’s more than just disclosure. “When we are ethical, we are open, honest, and actively giving consent. We are also seeking consent from all parties involved. This requires assertive communication, negotiation, compromise, and healthy boundaries.”
She also had plenty of other pointers: so, in the interests of giving you some easy-to-follow guidelines, we’ve created a handy list:
- Honesty: “Polyamory requires that each person be open and honest about their expectations, their boundaries, and what they’re looking for. Even the word, 'polyamory' means different things to different people. Honesty requires that each person be vulnerable and acknowledge what polyamory means to them. It’s important to have a clear conversation about current relationship dynamics (additional partners), what each person is looking for, and what each person is comfortable with.”
- Support: “Someone being excited for you and interested in what else is going on in your life. The presence of genuine support is a key green flag!”
- Communication: “Someone’s ability to speak assertively, take accountability, share their feelings, needs and wants, is an important part of building dynamics and maintaining relationships. This also requires the ability to ask questions and truly listen.”
- Boundaries: “When people can recognise what their boundaries are versus what someone else's are, relationships can flourish because of this interdependence. This is important in any relationship, including monogamous ones, and even more necessary as additional partnerships and relationships are added. We also want to have clear lines of what is acceptable or /not acceptable for each partner. The willingness to make and share a 'yes/no/maybe' list of your boundaries in response to different scenarios is important. However, it’s also important to hear others’ perspectives and be able to compromise.”
- Caring about sexual health: “Having open conversations about STIs and sexual health is key! If people are engaging in multiple sexual dynamics, how does everyone feel about that? What are expectations for sexual protection? It’s important all parties feel safe to share any concerns and agree on boundaries about potential STI exposure.”
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Letting us into the details of a week in their sex life is a 25-year-old pansexual whose relationship is making her feel isolated. Here's a little sneak peek below...
Today before work, I watch a sex tape me and my boyfriend made last year. Now that I’m struggling more with symptoms of BPD, all I seem to want to do is consume sexual content. I never used to watch porn, preferring instead to imagine steamy scenarios, or replaying past experiences with my partner in my mind.
I’ve become obsessed with orgies especially - where on earth has this come from? I’ve never been into group sex. I had a threesome once and found it significantly underwhelming…
Read the full entry in our monthly anonymous sex diary, as our anonymous diarist explores mental health, non-sexual intimacy and waning libidos.
Manifestation: it's everywhere. From the over 37 billion views on the #manifestation tag on TikTok, to the popular 369 Method, to using crystals to manifest love, there literally seems to be no end to the interest in the spiritual practice and no shortage of ways to explore it.
One thing that might really take manifestation beginners by surprise? The O Method, also known as orgasmic manifestation. Another trending TikTok activity, with over 53 million views on the corresponding tag, it's pretty simple, really: in order to achieve your goal, you think about it when you're climaxing. The thinking is that this allows you to tap into your sexual power to achieve your heart's desire.
But what do the experts think? To find out, we spoke to certified clinical sexologist Megwyn White, who serves as Director of Education at Satisfyer. "The O Method is an orgasmic practice of linking your desires with the potent energy that comes with the surge of climax," she says. "It is believed that by bridging the orgasm to specific intentions that one is more easily able to influence the fabric of the quantum field, which is regarded as the invisible energy that permeates all aspects of our existence."
Part of the power of this practice, is the way it connects your wants with your physical body. "During orgasmic meditation, individuals cultivate a deep sense of presence, surrender, and connection with their own bodies and the moment," White elaborates. "This profound state of being aligns with the core principles of manifestation: setting clear intentions, attuning to the energy of desire, and being fully present in the experience."
Like all manifestation, we can't be sure whether the O Method actually works to help you achieve your goals - but there are individuals out there who swear by it. "While there is no way to prove that this type of method truly works there are many people that attest to the transformative power of orgasmic meditation in their manifestation journeys," she says.
To further illuminate why people might feel like orgasmic meditation helps them align with their purpose, she points to the neurological pathways which orgasm can stimulate. "Recent studies have shed light on the intricate dance within our brains during climax, with emotional, reward, and memory centres lighting up in unison," she explains. "This surge of neurological energy is part of the reason orgasm itself is often felt as a resonant and transcendental experience, so it’s no wonder why this link towards aligning intention to manifest desires is often explored."
So there you go: manifestation, neurochemistry and orgasm all go hand-in-hand. We'll definitely be trying this one at home...
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