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Polyamory involves having consensual romantic relationships with more than one partner. It’s different to an open relationship, which doesn’t necessarily come with the romantic strings attached. And, unlike polygamy (one man, many wives), there’s no wedding and no gender imbalance.
“Polyamory is somewhat more equitable,” says sexologist Dr Eve. “Each partner gets to have extra love relationships. This is not about just having sex with women or men. These are real relationships with real people.”
That’s why experts like Dr Eve prefer to call polyamory “consensual non-monogamy”. It’s consensual, because everybody knows the rules… and the rules don’t allow cheating.
The rules of polyamory can sound weird in a society built on monogamous relationships. But Dossie Easton and Janet W Hardy, co-authors of the unofficial polyamory handbook, The Ethical Slut (R189, Kalahari) argue that polyamory isn’t unnatural; monogamy is. “People can make commitments to each other in numbers greater than two,” they write. “The level of commitment may vary, as when an existing couple makes a commitment to a third partner, or even a fourth.”
Late last year, a University of Michigan study lead by relationship researcher Terri D. Conley found that, despite popular belief, there is no evidence that monogamous relationships are happier or more satisfying than sexually open ones. “We would rather conceptualise our conclusions as raising the possibility that for people who choose it, consensual non-monogamy may be equally as beneficial as monogamy,” Conley says.