12 Things This Polyamorous Sex Therapist Wishes People Understood About Non-Monogamy
Non-monogamy. You may be hearing this phrase being tossed around more and more these days, and it's for a good reason.
In our mononormative society, we're not taught that there are other options besides monogamy. In the past few years, we've seen a surge of folks deciding to question their socialization as monogamous humans and ask themselves, "Do I want to be monogamous?"
In that moment of questioning, many myths about non-monogamy start to flood in. Here, I dispel 12 of the most common ones.
Myth #1: It's unethical.
You've probably heard the term "ethical non-monogamy", or maybe you've seen "ENM" in someone's dating bio. But there's a problem with this modifier: There isn't inherently anything unethical about non-monogamy.
Cheating is unethical — this is true even for people in the non-monogamy world (yes, really). Cheating is unethical because if someone is cheating, it means they are breaking someone's trust, consent, and crossing someone's boundaries. Non-monogamy isn't cheating (more on that in a sec).
What people don't often realize about non-monogamy (again, because we don't teach about this relationship dynamic) is that everyone is consenting, aware, contributing, and agreeing to the boundaries and guidelines being put in place. It isn't a free-for-all. It's like any monogamous relationship because the foundation is built upon communication, trust, vulnerability, and complete transparency. And there's nothing unethical about that — quite the opposite!
Myth #2: It's cheating.
Non-monogamy isn't cheating for all the same reasons non-monogamy isn't unethical. Cheating is generally done in secret and goes against the boundaries of a relationship that have been put in place. It's the same for monogamous relationships, except with polyamory, there are just more people involved.
Every couple, polycule, and relationship makes their own "rules" for their relationship. Every single one. If those rules are broken, that's when someone has cheated — and cheating will look different from relationship to relationship.
Myth #3: There's no cheating in non-monogamous relationships.
Again, cheating is possible in non-monogamous relationships because non-monogamous relationships also have boundaries, agreements, limitations, and trust. Cheating might look different compared to a monogamous relationship, but it also might look very similar. It's a violation of an agreement.
For example, if three people are in a committed polyamorous relationship and have decided to also be open to dating and sex with other people — great! But if they haven't decided this as a group and someone goes on a date and engages in sex outside of their polyamorous relationship, then that is cheating.
And cheating isn't just about 'having sex with someone other than your partner(s) behind their back.' Cheating can be flirtation, using dating apps, going on dates, crossing physical boundaries, and, yes, sex. Cheating is anything that goes against the agreements made in a relationship.
Myth #4: You have to be part of the LGBTQ+ community to be non-monogamous.
"Oh, having multiple partners is perfect for someone who is bi or pansexual, but since I'm heterosexual, it doesn't make sense for me." I hear a lot of this (or a form of this). Not all folks who are LGBTQ+ are non-monogamous, and not all non-monogamous folks are LGBTQ+. They simply aren't related.
Polyamory is in no way affiliated with sexuality — the only reason polyamory might be more common in LGBTQ+ spaces is because, generally speaking, when we branch outside of the heterosexual norm, we often are exposed to new possibilities. A lot of people who are heterosexual and monogamous are surrounded by heterosexuality and monogamy — and there's nothing wrong with that! And that's why polyamory might not seem as accessible or "for you."
Polyamory is for anyone and everyone who enjoys having many meaningful relationships with people (and loves communicating!). Again, your sexual orientation doesn't have anything to do with your relationship design.
Myth #5: Your partners mean less, or you love them less, than a monogamous partner.
If you have two close friends, does your relationship with one make the relationship with the other inherently less meaningful? No. We don't view friendships this way, but for whatever reason, we definitely view our romantic and sexual relationships this way.
I was thinking about this while watching the latest finale of The Bachelor with Clayton Ekard because there was a lot of conversation around varying degrees of love. In my opinion, love is love. It's a deep feeling of care for someone else. I love my best friends the same way I love my three partners. What makes these relationships different and unique then? The uniqueness, closeness, support, reliability, consistency, romance, sex — all of these things are what truly make each and every relationship different.
What makes a relationship special is not exclusive access to someone's genitals. We, as humans, don't have a limit for how much we can love. It isn't some internal meter that hits a quota, and that's all we have to give — love is infinite. If you connected well with a new person who quickly became one of your best friends, you wouldn't break up with another best friend to create space for them, would you?
Myth #6: It's constant orgies, all the time.
Yes, there are orgies sometimes. And yes, there are sex parties sometimes. But let me tell you what happens more than that: Communication, communication, communication.
Managing multiple relationships is complicated and requires a lot of agreement and boundary setting. Communication is the foundation and the structure of any non-monogamous or polyamorous relationship.
... And yes, there is more sex in non-monogamous relationships because there are more people — but again, there's also way more talking too.
Myth #7: You have to have a high sex drive to be non-monogamous.
I believe this myth also stems from the same vein as the "orgy" myth. Because of our lack of education around sexuality and differing types of relationships, people believe that non-monogamous folks are non-monogamous because they want to be having sex all day, every day. For some people, that could very well be the case (at least as much as their schedule allows). But for most people, this is the same as any other relationship dynamic.
The beauty of non-monogamous relationships is that if you and your partners have different needs, your needs can still be met in other ways. So, if one partner enjoys having sex every day and another enjoys sex only about once a week, that's usually a relatively easy thing to resolve if they have multiple partners.
There are no specific personality traits or sexual preferences to being non-monogamous — other than being open, honest, and communicative. (Do you see the trend here?)
Myth #8: Both people in an existing relationship have to want to practice non-monogamy for it to work.
Sometimes, both people in a couple want to equally and actively date or have relationships outside of their existing relationship, but this is not the case for everyone. For example, one person can be non-monogamous while their partner chooses to say monogamous if they feel their needs are met by the partner they already have but are happy to provide the space for their partner to get their needs met beyond them. The key to all of this is raw, honest, and open communication where each person involved gets to share their comfort levels, desires, and boundaries.
Non-monogamy, if done ethically, is a beautiful representation of security in relationships. There is freedom while also having the foundation of communication and honesty.
Myth #9: You have to be "not the jealous type" to be in a non-monogamous relationship.
The first question I get asked most of the time when I share I'm non-monogamous is, "don't you get jealous?" And my response almost every time is, "don't you?"
Jealousy is a complicated human emotion that usually appears when we feel threatened. Envy, wanting what someone else has, can be a part of jealousy, but typically only if there's a perceived threat. Envy and jealousy can both exist on their own. Jealousy can also be made up of insecurity, fear, anger, resentment, inadequacy, or helplessness.
The reality is that jealousy is a combination of emotions that anyone can feel, regardless of relationship structure. We can feel jealousy towards family members, friends, or anyone who means a lot to us in our lives, and it's not exclusive to non-monogamous relationships.
Myth #10: Non-monogamous folks sleep with anyone and everyone who is interested.
Sure, for some people, this might be true. And, for some people, this couldn't be farther from the truth. Do you know why? Because each and every person practicing non-monogamy is different, and that's the beauty of it!
Non-monogamy, for most people, is not centered around sex. Sex is one of the amazing possibilities that different relationships can entail. And, for a lot of non-monogamous practicing folks, sex is involved. That being said, assuming that just because someone is non-monogamous means they wish they could sleep is you is… just silly. Non-monogamous people are just like any other people — the only difference is they might have multiple romantic and/or sexual partners (but it doesn't mean they want to sleep with everyone).
Myth #11: Non-monogamous families can't have kids.
I know exactly where this belief comes from — it stems from our heteronormative, monogamous culture that insists the "best" environment for a child to be raised in is a household with two parents (obviously male and female... eye-roll). None of this is true, but this has influenced how many people view the idea of raising children.
However, raising children in a non-monogamous household is not just possible; it's pretty freakin' amazing. Four adults are delighted to bring kids into the world someday in my home. And those kids will grow up with four parents who love and support them. Once again, it just comes down to intentionality, communication, and openness. Deciding what works best for you and your partners will work best for you and your partners, regardless of your relationship design.
Myth #12: Non-monogamous folks wish you were non-monogamous, too.
I promise that no one is trying to proselytize or convert you to being non-monogamous. There is nothing wrong with monogamy when it's chosen intentionally. Suppose a non-monogamous person is seemingly implying you may like non-monogamy. In that case, they probably are suggesting that you learn about all of your options and select monogamy if you still want it.
In the end, there is no one right way to "do" relationships. There isn't one guidebook for every human. Whether you identify as monogamous, non-monogamous, or frankly, aren't sure — that's ok! Most importantly, you're checking in with yourself, your partner (if you're partnered) and can consciously choose the relationship design that works best for you.