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On Open Relationships aka Consensual Nonmonogamy

Jessica Lollino

Posted on July 31 2017

I admit it; for years, I used to think anyone who said they were in open relationships or was polyamorous was just looking to get a little side of hot pepper. That was until I started having more and more conversations with friends and acquaintances who admitted, at some point in their lives, they had an open relationship.

For some, they are polyamorous, and it was a regular thing, and for others, it was to have a little sexual diversity. Others admitted they tried it because the relationship was flailing, and as a last attempt, they temporarily opened the relationship to try to take the pressure off.

Whatever the reason, open relationships are no longer the fodder of whispers; they are emerging as just another way a couple can build the relationship that suits them best.

The creamy flavors of the open relationship

According to a study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 21% of people have been in a non-monogamous relationship. Consensual Nonmonogamy (CNM) is a new subfield in relationship research. Terri Conley, a University of Michigan psychologist whose paper, Perspectives in Psychological Science, discusses CNM defines it as, “a relational arrangement in which partners agree that it is acceptable to have more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at the same time.”

CNM encompasses many varieties including but not limited to: swinging (where couples have sex with other like-minded couples), an open sexual relationship where partners can have sex with other people so long as it is strictly physical and doesn’t become emotional, or polyamory in which partners are empowered to have emotional, sexual, and romantic relationships with people other than their partner.

Society and CNM

While growing in (outward) popularity, it is still widely stigmatized because it challenges the heteronormative belief of a “one and only,” and greater society looks to vilify or degrade relationships outside that norm. Some believe that open relationships are less committed and less safe than monogamous relationships. Others think that it’s an excuse to cheat freely. Honestly, the media doesn’t help as many articles sensationalize the sexual nature of CNM, rather than the emotional and romantic nature of loving more than one person at a time.

What people forget is in ancient (and not so ancient) times, men (women too, but less historical evidence for this) would have multiple relationships while married. In fact, it was the social norm. In Greek and Roman antiquity, orgies were common place as a celebration of the god, Dionysus, during the Bacchae. Men were expected to initiate young men into manhood by taking them as lovers. Let us not forget some of the most silently powerful women of the time, both ancient and not-so-long-ago were courtesans, who were not only bred as purveyors of exotic sexual pleasure but as cultured and seductive women who men would pay exorbitantly to woo for extended periods of time before gaining their favor. Often, these women would act as a counselor and lover for these mostly married men. Other ancient, medieval, and Renaissance traditions (and France, just kidding, but not totally kidding) also publicly flaunt open relationships. Various religions represent an male-dominant, but still multiple attitude towards relationships. They are so not a new thing, even if society at large likes to act like they are.

The Code

First and foremost, be true to your own leanings. If you want to give an open relationship a try, go for it. If you know it’s not your brand of bourbon, then don’t be talked into it.

If you do partake, girl code stipulates that you be honest with all your partners (before stepping out) and your “relationship rules” are intact and agreed upon. Of course, play it safe with your naughty bits, your head, and your heart, because most times, all get involved.

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