Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

November 9, 2018

"What is polyamory? This is what it’s really like to have multiple partners"

Two weeks ago I posted about Heath Schechinger, one of the leaders of the new Consensual Non-Monogamy Task Force within the American Psychological Association. They're getting stuff done to advance professional understanding of us and our needs.

Heath writes in response, "People may be interested in knowing that we are organizing over 50 poly researchers and activists from across the United States to accomplish our twelve initiatives.

"I'd also welcome giving folks an opportunity to sign up for our mailing list (which is the best way to stay updated on our progress) and sign our petition to support relationship diversity in mental health, medical health, and the legal professions."

Meanwhile, he's getting quoted quite well in various news media. For instance, in the Australian edition of Vogue:

What is polyamory? This is what it’s really like to have multiple partners

...As relationship norms shift, the acceptance and popularity of polyamory is growing. So what is it really like to have multiple partners?

“People have been non-monogamous, and practising polyamory, for as long as there have been humans,” says Dr Heath Schechinger, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley. Before you dismiss the notion as promiscuity slapped with a fancy label... consider this: the fourth most popular relationship Google search in 2017 was ‘what is a poly relationship?’ ...

...It isn’t simply an open relationship whereby you live largely monogamously, save for the occasional one night stand after a couple of after-work drinks. ... “Part of it is there is an emphasis on being ethical and consensual, so that there is no hiding and no deception,” says Schechinger, noting that current data, although scarce, does suggest a fairly equal split in men and women who choose a polyamorous lifestyle. “There will be people who say it is just something that guys want, but that doesn’t fall in line with the data.”

Current figures suggest that around four to five per cent of the US population is in a consensual non-monogamous (CNM) relationship (a term that encompasses polyamory as well as swinging and open relationships), and more than one in five people have indicated that at one point they have been in a consensual non-monogamous relationship. “The CNM community is just as big as the LGBT community combined, and in terms of the number of people that have ever practised CNM, it is about as common as the number of people who own a cat,” says Schechinger. ...

...At the heart of this movement is a big heart. It seems that for the poly community, love isn’t a zero-sum game in which loving someone deducts love from another. ...

... “It was hard for me to understand how [partner] could envision a life together without what I saw as recognisable commitment and without monogamy” [says relationship coach Dr Elisabeth Sheff], who, despite eventually breaking up with her partner, began studying polyamory and has since penned three books on the subject, [including] The Polyamorists Next Door. “It turns out that I’m not polyamorous myself. But it can work well for other people. It isn’t for everyone, in fact, I would say that it is only for a minority of people. I would think that other forms of non-monogamy that have less emphasis on interaction and emotional sharing are probably a lot easier to manage.”


“We’re not sure if people experience less jealousy because they are naturally drawn to polyamory, or if polyamory helps reduce jealousy, or if it is a combination of both,” says Schechinger. The takeaway? If you’re the type who has ever skimmed your significant other’s texts, then polyamory probably isn’t your jam. “If you have that high level of jealousy receptors, then perhaps don’t do consensual non-monogamy, because it’s going to hurt you like hell,” echoes Sheff.

For others, however, uncovering polyamory has been more of an ‘a-ha’ moment. Gender diverse Eve De Zilva discovered polyamory after attending sex-positive workshops at university. “I just thought: ‘That is so for me!’ I get to live my life to the fullest and connect with as many people as possible.”


Those within the community insist on ‘relationship choice’ and say that while monogamy may be the default, there are other options. “For some people, they’ll talk about when they were little kids, never having a single best friend but having different friends that they did different things with,” says Sheff. “Others try and try to be monogamous and just can’t: they can never do it. One of my favourite explanations was from a respondent who said: ‘It was just like trying to wear shoes that were three sizes too small.’”

...Love doesn’t come in a neat, heart-shaped form. “There is no rightness of fit in respecting people’s choice or biological disposition to live their lives in a way that feels congruent to them,” says Schechinger. “I think that we all stand to benefit from knowing there are options and that it doesn’t have to be that one-size-fits-all.”

Read the whole long article (online October 26, 2018; in the November 2018 print issue. Reprinted in Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper).

● Schechinger was interviewed at length by email for Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow's "lifestyle brand" magazine: A Therapist on Polyamory and Consensual Nonmonogamy. This one is a long, rich resource of talking points to keep on hand. A sample:

Q: What are some misconceptions around CNM and polyamory?

A: Because we don’t talk about CNM openly — despite it not being very unusual — there are a lot of myths. ...

Psychologist Dr. Heath Schechinger
Myth 1: CNM relationships don’t last, or are unstable. Research suggests this is not true: CNM relationships have equitable levels of commitment, longevity, satisfaction, passion, greater levels of trust, and lower levels of jealousy compared to monogamous relationships.

Myth 2: Damaged people are attracted to consensual nonmonogamy and/or it causes people psychological harm. Research suggests psychological well-being is independent of relationship structure. That is, there’s a statistically proportionate percentage of monogamous and CNM people with relationship and psychological concerns. CNM doesn’t appear to “draw damaged people” or hurt people any more or less than monogamy does.

Myth 3: Humans are “naturally” monogamous. ...We know that between a quarter and half of adults report being sexually unfaithful to their monogamous partner.

Myth 4: People in CNM relationships are more likely to have or contract STIs. The research we have on this suggests that people in CNM and monogamous relationships don’t really seem to differ when it comes to their likelihood of having had an STI. Many ostensibly monogamous people do not live up to their commitment... and CNM people are more likely to use safer sex practices, such as using condoms with a partner, condoms with their extradyadic partner(s), and they talk more with their partners about the people that they’re sleeping with. They’re also more likely to be tested for STIs and are more likely to discuss their STI-testing history, [all of] which appears to counteract the increased risk of having multiple partners.

Myth 5: Men are driving the interest in CNM, and women are only nonmonogamous when they’re tricked or just trying to please their man. There are a number of scholarly articles (written mostly by women-identified authors) that address how polyamory is grounded in feminism, promotes equity, and empowers women; this is one example. Feminist scholars have also articulated how traditional monogamous structures are more likely uphold a system of gender oppression and how polyamorous women tend to indicate feeling more empowered and have more expanded family, cultural, gender, and sexual roles.

Myth 6: CNM is just an excuse to cheat. ...CNM promotes having honest dialogue about nonmonogamous desires to avoid deception and create space for honesty and authentic relating.

Myth 7: Monogamy protects against jealousy. While monogamy may act as a buffer from certain experiences that provoke jealousy, it may also act as a barrier to addressing any fear or insecurity driving the jealousy. ... What we do know is that jealousy levels tend to be significantly higher in monogamous relationships.

Myth 8: Children are negatively impacted. There does not appear to be evidence to suggest that children of poly parents are faring any better or worse than children of monogamous parents. Given the number of blended families, having more than one parent [of a given gender] seems to be pretty normalized.

And here are headings from another section that's worth saving to give people who might ask,

Q: If you want to explore opening your relationship with your partner, what’s the best way to communicate it or broach the subject?

A: I’m not convinced there’s one best way. Some people test the water by asking about related topics to see how their partner responds, while others approach it directly. There are a few principles, however, that come to mind.

1. Fully acknowledge the legitimacy of their feelings. ...Avoiding, minimizing, or rushing through this part of the process will not serve you or your partner....

2. Your partner may conflate their desire for connection with judgment. ...

3. Be patient and supportive. ...

4. Do your homework. ... Once you engage the topic, be prepared to provide reassurance and have resources available to address your partner’s concerns. Again, reading a book or exploring online resources together may be helpful.

5. Find support. You can’t do this alone. Both of you need a supportive community. ...

● The UC Berkeley alumni magazine California profiled Shechinger earlier this year: Popular Polyamory: A Berkeley Psychologist Seeks to Bring the Non-Monogamous Into the Fold (February 28, 2018). This too is a good read.

● A HuffPost story by a therapist who attended one of his trainings: Consensual Non-Monogamy Or Simply Put, Cheating, oh jeez. The article is good, it just had a stupid headline writer (Aug. 6, 2018).

...Recently I attended his webinar on clinical management of Polyamory. Yes, we therapists need training in and containing of our own possible discriminations and stigmas. And since CNM is the new kid on the therapy block, new learning is necessary for every therapist. ...

● He's quoted in a long article in the online dads' magazine Fatherly: Could Open Marriages Save Monogamy? (Sept. 2, 2018). "A group of cutting edge researchers, advocates, and writers believes that consensual non-monogamy should be a more considered option for couples."

● And here, in an advice column of Aplus, an online women's magazine: 'I Love My Husband, But Still Think About Opening Up Our Marriage'. The asker wants to explore a threesome. (Oct. 5, 2018)

...The next step is having a conversation about your boundaries, according to Dr. Heath Schechinger, a licensed counseling psychologist specializing in consensual non-monogamy. "Be honest and specific about what you do and don't want at this time," he explains. "These boundaries can be revisited later on.

..."Have a conversation about desires and boundaries with everyone involved before you engage. Each person in [a] threesome should negotiate their own needs and desires independently, as opposed to having one person in the couple speak for the couple as a unit." This is a key step in the sexual exploration process because it establishes the lines that can't be crossed, but it doesn't have to be clinical. Instead, try to view this conversation as a kind of socially-conscious dirty talk because "the more clarity, the more room for pleasure," according to Schechinger. ... Enthusiastic and ongoing consent is necessary for everyone to have a good time. ...

After you all agree on your individual limits, Schechinger advises against re-negotiating boundaries in the heat of the moment. "It can be tempting to request or permit extended boundaries during sex, but it's risky," he explains. "Consent is ideally requested/given when in a grounded state of mind. Trust that there will be other opportunities to experiment with expanded boundaries."

To make sure all participants are getting what they want out of the threesome, check in with each other regularly. Schechinger recommends doing this by making intentional eye contact, smiling, or asking "Is this feeling OK?" A good rule of thumb is to apply the ways you and your husband already check in with each other during a one-on-one sexual encounter to your interaction with this new person. ...


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