By columnist Diana Pearson
For centuries, the presiding cultural climate has accepted the heterosexual, monogamous couple as the most “valid” kind of relationship. The nuclear family (the perfect picture of the man, woman, and two children living middle-class, suburban lives) became popularized in the 1950s with the image of the American Dream. But, let’s be real: to only accept heterosexual monogamy as a valid relationship, is to be caught in a prudish, moralizing trap. Whether by orientation, preference, or choice, today many are choosing to cultivate relationships that do not fall inside this restrictive framework.
Perhaps you’ve heard the latest terms: ethical non-monogamy (ENM), relationship anarchy (RA), and polyamory. These are more than just buzz words, and they are far from fancy euphemisms for a “swinger” lifestyle (which is also a valid relationship choice). Each practice has its own body of challenging and joyful philosophies, guidelines, and words of wisdom. These relationship styles may be in the minority, but they are all around you, emerging like a cacophony of gleeful whispers in the dark.
I have hopes for diversity and sex-positivity. The Pride movement has successfully spoken out against heterosexism, advocating rights and inclusion for LGBTQ+ people. Of course, we have a long way to go, but what will the world look like when we agree that people and relationships are not to be judged in terms of good or bad, right or wrong, pure or unclean?
What is polyamory then? The word can be translated as ‘many loves’; it is the practice of having more than one sexual, romantic, or spiritual partner. The essential aim of polyamory is to engage in more than one relationship in a consensual, ethical, and honest way. If it suits you, polyamory offers the potential for an abundance of love, companionship, community, and—yes—sex . One premise of polyamory is the theory that we might fulfill different needs with different people, given the fact that we are multi-dimensional in our personalities and desires. Polyamory (ENM, and RA) also comes with many challenges, such as potential for misunderstanding, hurt, and the big green monster of jealousy.
Both socially and institutionally, polyamory (and ENM) are becoming more visible. In 2016, The Canadian Research Institute for Law and the Family recognized this social shift by doing a study of polyamorous families. Of 547 polyamorous/ENM respondents, 35.6 percent live in BC, and 74.4 percent are between the ages of 25 and 44. The report suggests that the “dyadic (couple) nature of committed relationships” is changing. One of the ways that marginalization functions in society is through institutions, so it’s great to see the way law practices are seeking to update policies and accommodate for jointly-owned property, child support, and allocation of debt, to name a few.
Also, as of 2013, the Family Law Act in BC recognizes up to four parents on a birth certificate of a newborn child. These changes show momentum and hint at more possibilities for a social-sexual inclusive culture that goes beyond monogamy.
I was first introduced to the concept of polyamory about four years ago, in the safe, confidential confines of a counseling session. What intrigued me right away was the high level of growth and self-discovery this lifestyle encourages. Some call polyamory an orientation, some call it a choice; perhaps it is both. But the way I see it, committing to polyamory requires a conscious choice. Practicing polyamory requires us to face fears and insecurities that might not otherwise come up in monogamous relationships. It prioritizes personal growth and self-knowledge.
Any healthy relationship relies on communication, trust, and empathy; but in polyamory, the stakes are raised, so-to-speak, because more partners are involved, and on a practical level, time and energy are finite. It’s not a free-for-all, and the assumptions that are sometimes relied upon in monogamous relationships are no longer useful once more than two people are involved. Extra care must be taken in negotiating sexual, emotional, and scheduling boundaries.
Although the terms and resources associated with ENM, polyamory, and RA are quite new, people have been exploring forms of sexual liberty since—well, perhaps forever. In 1916, French anarchist and free love advocate Émile Armand wrote On Sexual Liberty; in it, he asked “that we cease to qualify experience as more or less legitimate depending on whether it is simple or unique.” He argued that each person deserves sexual education in order to “determine their sexual life as they intend, to vary its experiences or to hold themselves to one alone: in a word, to proceed ‘at will.’”
In other words, it should be up to us to learn about, explore, and express our sexualities and relationships, however we see fit.
One of Diana’s passions is to encourage sex-positivity and open, shameless conversations about sex and sexuality through her column, “Dirtyin’ The Nav.” Her future path includes completing a Masters in Gender Studies and Social Justice, and teaching pleasure-based sex education. She is a non-fiction writer and a musician. As a copy editor, she revels in making The Nav look pretty.