The joy of (multi) sex

Fruit a cotton rolls on a black backgrouund.

To meet the demands of a modern sexual being, polyamory’s open agenda is becoming increasingly attractive

By Anastasia Miari    Images by Guo Yu    Monday 10 August, 2020    Short read

Polyamory, or ‘ethical non-monogamy’ as it has been rebranded, has been on the upward trajectory for the past five years. In a recent US study, one in five people were said to be, or have been, polyamorous. That is, engaging in honest and consensual relationships involving any number of people, either cohabiting or not. Sometimes, all having sex with each other, and other times just leaving the option ‘open’ to engage in sex with another partner from time to time. 

Considering the pressure that lockdown has on relationships (with many of Wuhan’s original quarantined couples now filing for divorce), it may well catalyse trends towards increasingly non-monogamous relationships. 

I hadn’t expected my lessons in non-monogamy to come from a 52-year-old woman named Heidi. Nor did I expect to be learning this, instead of what I should have been studying – Italian, while in Palermo on a break-up hiatus. But, after a traumatic three years trying to convince someone so not into commitment to commit to me, my interest was piqued. ‘I need to find a sexy Sicilian man before I go back to my husband in the Netherlands,’ says Heidi. And the lessons began. 

Much like my ex-boyfriend, she was convinced that the most important thing in a relationship is to be happy for the other person. And if that means they (or you) sleep with someone else, then all’s fair in love and war. Armed with the argument that it’s human nature to want a physical connection with more than just one partner, Heidi left her husband and teenage daughter for two weeks. On her holiday, she went in search of a Casanova to satisfy her appetite for ‘a hit of Italian’.

Judging by the success of Chris Ryan and Cacilda Jetha’s book Sex At Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray And What It Means For Modern Relationships, Heidi may be on to something. ‘Forget what you’ve heard about human beings having descended from the apes. We didn’t descend from apes. We are apes,’ begin Ryan and Jetha in their book, which debunks modern relationships and every last romantic notion I’ve had about them. 

The theory outlines that since the beginning of time until the advent of Christianity (and Disney) in the West, both men and women have satisfied their instincts to copulate with whomever, whenever they wanted. In some Amazonian communities even now, women have sex with an assortment of men. Each of them will, in some small way, ‘father’ her child. 
Peppers and cherries on a green background.

‘It reflects a paradox in humans. We want safety and novelty, and we want both at the same time’

The idea that we might be any different to our randy, hypersexual ape cousins or to these tribes is labelled by the pair as a ‘false narrative’ that denies the laws of nature. ‘If we’re “above” nature, it’s only in the sense that a shaky legged surfer is “above” the ocean,’ they say. ‘Even if we never slip (and we all do), our inner nature can pull us under any moment.’

This would explain statistics that indicate around 70 per cent of people in monogamous relationships have admitted to infidelity. Not to mention the steady increase in divorce rates over the course of three decades. It comes as no surprise then, that the concept of polyamory – literally translated from Greek as ‘many loves’ – is entering our mainstream vernacular, our Tinder feeds and our friendship groups.

Suddenly, with movies like Y Tu Mamá También, The Dreamers, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and more recently, Netflix drama You Me Her, involving threesomes or ‘throuples’ doesn’t seem so contrived. More people are actually coming around to this way of living, and for good reason. 

‘Monogamy is so often not monogamy because of infidelity,’ says Laura Mucha, author of Love Factually: The Science Of Who, How And Why We Love. After 10 years interviewing people on their perceptions and experiences of love, Mucha discovered that the stats show monogamy mostly does not translate to fidelity. ‘Polyamory requires such a huge amount of honesty, vulnerability and trust,’ she says. And often those in polyamorous relationships prefer them because more openness exists between partners. ‘For some people, it’s not the sex itself that’s problematic, it’s the deception.’

Having been in an ‘open relationship’ I hadn’t chosen, I can attest to this. No trust meant anxious nights or days apart in which I anticipated the worst, because I was never really ‘let in’ on what may (or may not) have happened. ‘You do what you want, I do what I want’ was his motto, but he never really outlined exactly what he wanted. Cue jealous rages, tears and bouts of insomnia. A year on in my new (very committed) relationship, I’m all threesomes and ‘darling, why don’t you find someone to entertain you while we’re apart for a month?’

It may seem ironic that I’d end a relationship because of infidelity, then enter into a new one that might occasionally include third parties. However, as Heidi (now my go-to on all things ‘open relationship’) puts it, ‘communication is everything’.

From determining ‘the rules’ (Who? How often? Tell or don’t tell?) to practising safe sex and being smart about STIs, open relationships require exactly that – an openness. ‘Intimate relationships thrive on authenticity and vulnerability,’ says Ryan. ‘Where that leads is up to the people involved. But being open with each other about our desires, fears and curiosities can only lead to more intimacy and happiness.’

The obvious worry that does creep in is that I’m opening up a door to being abandoned for someone else, which is a sentiment shared by others. ‘Men like the idea and then I am cut out by their wives – my friends – because they think I’m going to steal their husband, which is rubbish,’ Heidi tells me. The other way to view this is that leaving that door open means less boredom and complacency in a relationship – the very definition of being ‘kept on one’s toes’.

‘It reflects a paradox in humans. We want safety and novelty, and we want both at the same time,’ says Mucha, on the subject of having our cake and eating it. Ultimately, polyamory allows us to have both – and who doesn’t like cake?
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