People still seem to be suspicious of non-monogamous relationships. Despite evidence that more couples from diverse demographics are trying it, the majority of the population remains rooted in the assumption that strictly monogamous relationships are all that is viable and socially acceptable. Media still reinforces the glamorous soulmates who separate only by death. Socially-conservative crusaders still rail against any deviation from traditional marriage. And many couples are suffering from a defunct sex life where they would rather have an affair than talk to their partner about polyamory. This Valentine’s Day, couples should recognize the full breadth of romantic options that they have.
Adopting polyamory depends on the enthusiastic consent and trust of both partners. Additionally, it requires clear communication on what the terms are for the new polyamorous agreement. Even the word itself is subject to interpretation. It could imply multiple romantic connections or strictly sexual diversification. At its semantic foundation, polyamory can be thought of as “multiple love.” How couples define that is up to them. What couples should not do, however, is continue to suffocate within the arbitrary confines of monogamy. If the current arrangement makes both partners truly happy, then there is no need to change. But if there is mutual dissatisfaction, then they should not feel guilty or scared of trying something new.
Monogamy doesn’t have to be the default relationship structure for humans. Research in anthropology and evolutionary biology suggests that prehistoric humans regularly engaged in sexual promiscuity as a way to maximize successful reproduction. This is consistent with most other animal species. In fact, monogamy is actually costly for most species because it requires an individual to place their entire reproductive investment on the fitness of their mate.
None of this is intended to pry away the value of monogamous relationships. If that is what makes both people happy, so be it. But it does demonstrate that the social mores we create about monogamy are often arbitrary and repressive. Frankly, a biological requirement for monogamy is unsupported.
Even the institution of marriage, the cultural bedrock of monogamy, originated with deeply sexist undertones. A ritual of sorts where the woman, as property, is transferred from the father to the groom. This institution helped bring about the monogamy-only custom that people still surrender to today. Despite the rigidity of marriage, most civilizations developed allowances for sexual paramours. Ottoman Sultans hosted harems of courtesans, European royal courts managed mistresses and the Japanese entertained geishas. These pleasures lend credence to the biological inclination for polyamory. Granted, these historical situations were enjoyed almost entirely by men, so modern polyamory ought to be more gender equitable.
Reproductive considerations are no longer a dominant concern for modern humans in highly developed countries. Sex is for pleasure. This fact supports the healthy nature of polygamy. Dr. Jessica Wood at York University published evidence that having sex matters more than what the relationship label is. Monogamists, polyamorists and no-strings-attached rovers are all governed by the same human desires for sexual gratification. It is not the case that one group is prudish while the other is deviant. Sexuality is just a natural and healthy cornerstone of the human experience, and we ought to embrace that.
Through that lens, we can start to gleem the benefits of polyamory. Tight sexual boundaries lead to frustration, and there is no guarantee that your partner’s sexuality will be in lock-step with yours. Polyamory enables partners to satisfy specific needs that may not be adequately addressed in the monogamous relationship. Sexual diversification allows for individuals to experiment beyond their sexual orientation, such as bisexuality, without sacrificing their existing relationship. Fantasies that involve different people or more people can be fulfilled. Romance can be enjoyed in various forms simultaneously.
All of these benefits can contribute to making the most out of your life. But if you are content with your monogamy and your partner is too, that is just fine. Just don’t dismiss polyamory because it seems fringe. It is actually more human than you might think.