On opposite end of Earth, "Is polyamory on the rise?"
In the last two weeks, while New Zealand was in world news for a very different reason, the country's public broadcaster put up three pieces about polyamory after none for two years. The first is a long feature article on Radio New Zealand's news site:
Is polyamory on the rise?
By Michael Hall
Interest in polyamorous lifestyles may go beyond mere titillation, says an Auckland intimacy counsellor, as more people express an openness to define their own sexuality and sexual behaviours outside of traditional norms.
(At last! A three-from-behind stock photo with hands expressing poly solidarity rather than behind-the-back cheating. Photo/123RF)
Angela Rennie, 43, has been offering specialist sex and intimacy counselling from her Mount Eden practice for the past seven years.
She says her anecdotal experience of talking to clients suggests traditional relationship paradigms are being challenged, revised and even replaced altogether, with more interest in polyamory, where more than one partner is in an intimate relationship with the consent of all involved.
"It is hard to know exact statistics, but many people feel freer to be open about their lifestyle choices in today's society," says Ms Rennie.
"Polyamorous relationships are not necessary less intense than monogamous relationships. These relationships can be very intense. I have seen many couples live this lifestyle in healthy ways, remaining deeply connected. However, just like monogamous relationships, many poly relationships don't work out."
...While hippie free love was part of a marginal counter-culture, forms of polyamory today could be more of an authentic expression of the zeitgeist.
Intimacy without exclusivity
In a technological society driven by desire to consume, to satiate appetites and an unbridled focus on the self, it would be reasonable to think these cultural influences would permeate through to the relationships we have and want to pursue. ... Entering into a marriage or a long-term monogamous relationship was, for those conditioned by the culture, a type of commodity exchange of equal or higher-value to one's own sense of individual value.
...But whereas those seeking monogamous commitment look for one person to fulfil this commodity exchange, for those practising a polyamorous lifestyle there is no need to make an all-encompassing choice of just one well-rounded person. Many commodities can fulfil many needs and expectations. ...
[Says Rennie,] "It takes a lot of bravery to be willing to have both emotional and physical closeness with one person. It can make sense to separate these out in different people, it's a lot 'safer' and people can feel a lot less vulnerable."
Intimacy counsellor Angela Rennie
Jay is a 33-year-old Aucklander who has been happily polyamorous for five years, since a painful ending to a monogamous relationship with a long-term girlfriend.
He expresses unease at describing himself as poly, due to behaviours of single men who feel the label gives them carte blache to do as they please, regardless of the feelings of others.
"I'm a single, straight guy, of which there are many in the community who label themselves as polyamorous when actually they just want an excuse to sleep with people without any emotional accountability. It seems a bit sleazy to me," he says.
[Says Rennie,] "I have had a client say: 'at least they won't cheat on me if they're allowed to see other people'. ... Unfortunately, betrayal happens in poly relationships as frequently as monogamous relationships."
Twenty-eight-year-old Aucklander Ravina has pursued polyamorous relationships since her teens and found it initially fraught with difficulties, until meeting her boyfriend 18 months ago.
"I have always been interested in polyamory, and unsuccessfully attempted it several times as teen and young adult, before discovering my current partner and working out how to get it right," he says.
"The big issue during my earlier years was that we were not confident enough in ourselves to overcome the societal and cultural expectations of monogamy." ... She says polyamory remains challenging at times, but in comparison to past experiences of monogamy, she is more at peace within herself. ...
Read on (March 28, 2019).
The other two pieces are from recent radio broadcasts on the network's program about sex and relationships:
● BANG! Season 3 Episode 4: Pretty Poly. Article and 50-minute podcast (March 25).
In this episode of BANG!, Melody Thomas speaks with people practicing polyamory, open relationships, swinging, and "relationship anarchy". Plus Auckland-based counsellor Dee Morgan and co-author of polyamory handbook The Ethical Slut Janet W. Hardy give their advice.
RNZ / Pinky Fang
...The private NZ Polyamory Facebook group has more than 1000 members, KiwiSwingers.co.nz claims to have more than 100,000 people signed up, and workshops and talks about how to open up your relationship are popping up around the country.
Anecdotally, people who have been part of ethically non-monogamous communities for decades report that practitioners are a more diverse bunch than ever before.
Janet W. Hardy, author of polyamory bible The Ethical Slut, says, “The nature of our audiences has changed… in the old days it was mostly Renaissance Fair geeks and old hippies and other people who were on the fringes, and these days it’s everybody.”
Rosie Morrison, 27, grew up in Timaru. She first heard about polyamory when she moved to Wellington and met a bunch of people who were doing relationships differently.
“At the start I think I was pretty taken aback like, ‘whoa that’s radical!’ She says. “By the end I was like, ‘I want in! That sounds awesome.’ ”
...Rosie is what’s referred to affectionately in the community as a “baby poly” -- someone who’s just starting out on the polyamorous path. Some more experienced polyamorous people will actively avoid getting into relationships with baby polys because the learning curve is so steep (others don’t mind).
Dee Morgan runs QPK counselling in Auckland, and specialises in supporting “queer, polyamorous and kinky folk”. Dee prefers the term “consensual non-monogamy” over “ethical non-monogamy” as ethics are subjective. She’s practiced polyamory herself for 16 years, and has lots of practical advice for baby polys. ...
[Says Morgan], ...“And it can take quite a lot of time for the headspace to shift and for them to go ‘Oh! This means they can fall in love with someone and choose to stay’.”
“Ultimately, if they’re in a relationship, everyone chooses every day to stay in that relationship, but we don’t tend to think about that when that’s the only partner. When you’re polyamorous I think there’s an increased awareness that yeah, my partners are with me because they choose to be with me.”
● BANG! The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality. Article and 30-minute podcast (March 20):
Here’s the story we’ve been told:
For as long as humans have existed, men and women have made a trade. He offers her protection, food, shelter and status, and in return she promises to be his “one and only”, so he can be sure of his paternity when it comes to her children.
They enter into this bargain despite conflicting biological agendas. Because sperm is metabolically inexpensive, it’s in his best interest to spread his seed as far and wide as possible. Because she’s facing a long pregnancy, plus breastfeeding and a couple of years with a toddler -- it’s in her best interest to lock him in. ...
In Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, co-authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá take this story, which they refer to as the “standard narrative of human sexual evolution” and flip it on its head.
Analysing decades of research from the fields of primatology, anthropology, evolutionary psychology and biology, Ryan and Jethá build a picture of human sexual evolution in which “sexual exclusivity was not really part of our ancestor’s expectations around relationships.”
Basically -- our ancestors were much more sexually promiscuous than the ‘standard narrative’ has given them credit for, and this appetite for sexual variety, sharing sexual partners in much the same way as other resources were shared, served both to ensure genetically healthy offspring and to reinforce group bonds at a time when social cohesion was incredibly important.
This is how it works for bonobos....
...So if monogamy isn’t natural to us, when did the concept enter into human existence?
Ryan reiterates the thinking put forward [by] Friedrich Engels in the late 1800s and others before him, that monogamy is an artefact of the agricultural revolution. ...
Polyamory and other models of “ethical non-monogamy” are currently experiencing a boom in popularity.... But, according to Chris and Cacilda, just because monogamy isn’t “natural” to us doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try -- if that’s what we want.
“Monogamy is like vegetarianism, clearly it’s not the natural behaviour of our species. Our species is omnivorous… But that doesn’t mean that vegetarianism is wrong… All we’re saying is, approach this from a position where you’re informed....
● That previous Radio NZ story two years ago was Diana Adams -- family law for nontraditional families (20 minutes. Feb. 7, 2017).
And while we're at it, in Kiwi newspapers in the last few years:
● Polyamory and the complicated lives of those with multiple lovers (Sept. 17, 2017)
When polyamorous people tell you their way of life is not for the faint-hearted, they're not flipping kidding.
"Yes, we're all a bit nuts," *Samantha, 35, says of her own complicated but contented domestic life with a girlfriend who also has a boyfriend.
"We have some basic tenets that we live by. Don't be a dick is one of them. This means that if any of us chooses to engage in physical activity with a person outside the group, or decides to pursue a relationship outside the current structure, we do so with the greatest possible respect for everyone else and their feelings." ...
● Three isn't a crowd as polyamory gets popular (Aug. 30, 2016)
There's another sexual revolution coming, a hip new bedroom trend the early adopters are just loving. ...
● Do polyamorous relationships actually make for a better life? (June 12, 2015)
..."I think nonmonogamy frees you, definitely," writes a polyamorous woman from Melbourne I met on a discussion board the other month while searching for a source on the subject.
"But at the outset, I think it's important to understand that CNM (consensual nonmonogamy) exists on a continuum. ...
● Laurie Penny: 'I've been polyamorous for nearly a decade. Here's how I make it work' (Oct. 15, 2017)
When I told my magazine editor that I wanted to write about polyamory, she adjusted her monocle, puffed on her pipe and said, "In my day, young lady, we just called it 'shagging around'."
So I consider it my duty to her and the rest of the unenlightened to explain what it is that's different about how the kids are doing it these days.
...What's new is talking about it like grown-ups. It's the conversations. It's the texts with your girlfriend's boyfriend about what to get her for her birthday. It's sharing your Google calendars to make sure nobody feels neglected. ... Far more of my polyamorous life involves making tea and talking sensibly about boundaries, safe sex and whose turn it is to do the washing-up. ...
● An agony aunt offers straight advice: Mrs Salisbury: I have a boyfriend but want a girlfriend too (May 9, 2018)
...Polyamory requires complete openness, excellent communication skills and the maturity to cope with the jealousy and fears that may arise. A contract is negotiated between all parties; there is no room for secrecy between the adults involved.
...There are various forms of poly relationships that you two could try. Sometimes a couple decide theirs is the primary relationship but each will be free to pursue additional relationships individually.... Sometimes a triad is formed, with three people in committed relationship or with one deeply involved with each of the other two but they not choosing to relate with each other. Sometimes four or more people form a close relationship system with agreement on whether each will be sexually exclusive to the group or not.
If these sound complex that's because they are. Making any relationship of two people successful takes a lot of work; that work is multiplied by involving others.