One of the most under-appreciated results of the gay rights movement's victories, to me, has been the weakening of societal control mechanisms as a whole. There's a lot to unpack there, so bear with me.
One of the oldest control mechanisms in the world is the control of sexuality and the emotions and ideas that surround it. Governments, religions, and businesses have all found ways to control people throughout history by ascribing negative personality traits to those who engage in perfectly natural behavior, such as sex.
This feeling of guilt is then leveraged into all sorts of inane power structures and has given us some of histories greatest hits- Patriarchy, sexism, homophobia, and even genocide, just to name a few.
When the LGBTQA+ community started to fight for equal rights, they also began to chisel away at the patriarchal, hetero-normative system of control at the same time. They might not have realized it, but they were a new vanguard in the struggle for personal liberty in a world that punishes the libertine.
What the hell does all this have to do with open relationships?
Well, the nuclear, heterosexual family is an image that has been propagated throughout the Western world through art, literature, and religion. Monogamy isn't a natural state for humans. Someone, at some point, decided to make that a thing and enforced the idea with violence until it became the norm.
Don't believe me?
Just look at the Bonobo chimpanzee. These apes are considered to be our closest primate relatives, sharing over 99% of our genome and displaying many of our human social traits. If you compare the behavior of Bonobo chimps and that of the people closest to the natural human state, remote tribes of natives still living as humans did thousands of years ago, you see some pretty shocking parallels in how the societal structures of the two groups are arranged. Most strikingly, a complete lack of monogamy and a very loose, almost non-existent social hierarchy.
When you get down to it, Bonobos and humans are both very social, extremely sexual creatures who like to be free and fuck, like, a lot- with anyone who is down for it. Anyone who forces you to behave otherwise is asking you to go against your very nature- They are robbing you of your freedom to just be a person. Once they can take that away, they can take anything.
Sexual liberation is an integral part of being free in the general sense. The fight for sexual liberation is the fight for human liberation. Taking back non-monogamy is an important front in that war.
Open Relationships Aren't For Everyone
If you are reading this, you are probably at least entertaining the notion of non-monogamous relationships and struggling internally with the idea of sharing your partner with others. That's perfectly normal and it is an important step in deciding whether or not you are the type of person who is ready to let go of that particular societal norm.
Social conditioning is a potent force in our lives, for better and worse. For as much as I have railed against it in my opening tirade, it is still an important factor in human growth and evolution. Sure, we've been conditioned by society to feel ashamed about our sexuality, but we've also been socially conditioned not to murder, steal, rape, etc. Which is to say, if you are ambivalent about rejecting a societal norm like monogamy, you're not acting like some brain-washed sheep, you are acting like a reasonable, thoughtful person.
Luckily, we live in a time when these ideas can be examined and we can begin to challenge them without being burned at the stake or stoned. Some people, like me, will see these social norms as outdated relics of a society that should never have been, while others will still find comfort in them. Neither of us is right or wrong and many people will fall somewhere between the two on a spectrum.
The trick to finding out where you land on that spectrum is asking the right questions about yourself and your lifestyle and, most importantly, being honest with yourself about the answers to those questions.
Here are a few questions to help you get started.
1. Why Do I Want An Open Relationship?
A lot of people have an unhealthy tendency to turn to open relationships when the monogamous relationship they are currently in is crashing and burning. This is not a healthy environment for exploring new horizons in your relationship and it will end badly. If you are considering opening up your relationship to other people because you are just fucking sick of your partner and their bullshit, you will only magnify that bullshit by bringing more people into the mix.
If you have trust or other emotional issues negatively affecting your relationship, sex isn't the problem and more or different sex will be like putting a bandage on a gunshot wound. It's not enough to get the job done and the wound is going to fester until the relationship dies. Usually a slow, painful death.
On the other hand, a healthy, trusting relationship whose only problems stem from mutual sexual boredom or mismatched libidos is a perfect scenario for opening things up.
Examine your reasons for wanting a non-monogamous relationship but, more importantly, examine the reasons for your reasons. If those reasons can't realistically be addressed through an open relationship, maybe it's time to shut the whole relationship down altogether and move on to one worth the effort.
Open relationships aren't the cure for shitty relationships, it's a spice you can add to healthy ones.
2. How Do I Process Jealousy?
I'm not going to sit here and lie to you by saying that jealousy isn't a problem. We have all gone through that same conditioning that causes us to value monogamy as the end-all-be-all of a good relationship and the effects of that conditioning never completely fade- However, they do fade.
The problem isn't so much the jealousy itself, it's how you process that feeling that really matters. This is where honesty and communication with your partner or partners become crucial. Being able to openly address these feelings to your partners without making accusations or becoming negative is the cornerstone of a successful open relationship.
It's important that you and your partners are comfortable enough to talk about these feelings and work through them. You will have often to offer each other reassurances that your love isn't a pizza that only has so many pieces to go around before it's gone.
For some people, myself included, the jealousy can be a major turn-on and can be turned into something of a psycho-sexual game. I get off on the idea of my man getting off with other guys and get really turned on hearing about his exploits. Some guys would lose their fucking minds in a scenario like that. Different strokes for different folks.
The takeaway here is that you need to take a hard look at your relationship with jealousy and decide if your relationships and personal sanity can hold up to the inevitable storms of jealousy that blow into any open relationship from time to time.
3. Do I Even Have Time For This?
Looking around the internet for inspirations and ideas about how to approach this article, I noticed that nobody seemed to pick up on one of the most subtle and unexpected drawbacks of polyamory, time.
Making time for just one person in your life can be a pretty tough trick to pull off in the modern era, to say nothing of adding two or three more people into the mix. If you are already struggling to make time for the one person in your life, you might want to put off trying polyamory until you can at least get that under control.
This is less of a problem for people who are just looking for no-strings sex with someone other than their partner, but if you are the type who prefers to have some sort of connection with people you fuck, it takes time to build those bonds- time that is taken away from your cultivating your "primary" relationship.
4. Do I Even Really Want This?
Like I said early, polyamory isn't for everyone. The most important question you need to answer is whether this is something you even want. By examining the answers to the previous questions honestly, you should be able to hammer out a pretty decent answer to this, the most important question of them all.
Opening your relationship can open up incredibly rewarding new avenues of romantic exploration and intimacy with your partners, but it can also be a nightmare for those who lack an explorer's temperament.
Some people are happy exactly where they are and there is nothing wrong with that. The questions you need to be asking yourself is which column you fall into and why. Nail those answers down and you've got yourself a decent roadmap to work with going forward.