Polyamory is becoming increasingly popular as society changes (Image Source: Getty Images)
As today’s social media generation continue to challenge norms with their sex-positive attitudes, one tide certainly seems to be changing: relationships.
The monogamous archetype is an unrealistic illusion for many Australians who currently practice consensual non-monogamy (CNM) within their relationships.
CNM is an umbrella term that covers several relationship models, such as open relationships, recreational sex with more than two people, and swinging (swapping sexual partners within a group), but one that has had a lot of airtime recent is polyamory.
The definition of polyamory (poly coming from the Greek “more than one” and amor from the Latin “love”) is a non-monogamous sexual and long-term emotional relationship where all partners consent to and have knowledge of each another.
Though norm-challenging and label-shunning millennials are increasingly accepting of CNM, a lack of Australian studies for polyamory indicate it is perhaps still a taboo topic.
The CSIRO did, however, publish research in 2014 that indicated one per cent of over 5000 respondents were in an open relationship.
Whether documented or not, polyamory has certainly sparked interest among the digital generations.
A University of Michigan study from the National Center for Institutional Diversity, published in the Journal of Sex Research, showed that Google searches for terms like polyamory and open relationships “significantly increased” from 2006-2015.
Similarly, these terms appeared more in the media and public discourse, which the study suggested indicated growing interest and acceptance about CNM.
Moreover, one-fifth of respondents from a recent American study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy said they would try some form of non-monogamy in their lifetime.
American author, journalist and LGBT community activist, Dan Savage, who has a worldwide audience for his relationship and sex advice column, Savage Love, said a major problem with monogamy in today’s society is the unrealistic expectations that we attach to it.
“Monogamy does not come naturally,” Mr Savage said on his weekly podcast, Savage Lovecast.
“We conflate monogamous behaviour, successfully executed over five decades, with the sincerity of someone’s commitment.”
Selma van Diest, is an Adelaide psychologist and sex therapist focusing on relationship problems and intimacy. She has worked with non-monogamous individuals and couples and said “polyamory is a commitment, just in a different way”.
“I often see a lot more openness, honesty, expression of needs and strong communication in non-monogamous relationships,” Ms van Diest said.
“Not relying on one person to cover your needs in a relationship can avoid disappointment.”
Though polyamorous relationships can be highly rewarding, there are also some common challenges surrounding jealousy and boundaries that need to be addressed for a poly relationship to work.
“Communication around emotional and sexual needs have to be present as well as conversations informing partners about things like boundaries and restrictions,” Ms van Diest said.
“Polyamory is still often seen as different to the ‘norm’ so managing social responses can also be very challenging.”
Ms van Diest said more people are choosing CNM because, as social norms change, people realise conventional relationships have not worked for them.
“The old traditions of marriage and monogamy are starting to fade as more people are discovering that those traditions were set up in a different society with different expectations.”
Many Australians never questioned or challenged the monogamous model, which is something Ms Van Diest said we all get taught from a young age.
“We are told to believe the story of the prince and princess who fall in love and will live happily ever after,” she said.
“We should start by changing our fairy tales and let children know there are more options than monogamy.”
Ms van Diest said non-monogamous individuals and couples in Adelaide typically find partners the same way hetero and homosexual people would: in bars, on apps or through community groups.
Reno Marrasso, 28, who previously entered a polyamorous relationship with his then long-term girlfriend, said they often had threesomes but decided to be poly when they met a woman with whom they had a “perfect triangle dynamic” at a social event.
Mr Marrasso said being in a polyamorous relationship was “a lot of fun because we were our own party when we went out together”.
“It started with a bet with my ex-girlfriend, but this girl ended up being obsessed with both of us, and we really liked her too, so we had a really good time together,” Mr Marrasso said.
However, Mr Marrasso said fun ultimately was not a good enough reason to enter into a poly relationship, and there should be serious conversations between all partners beforehand.
“People love the idea of dating other people, but unless you’re all actually in love with each other, it’s not worth getting into a poly relationship,” he said.
“You need to look at all the dynamics of what you and your partner are and why you’ve decided to be polyamorous.
“Only do it with someone you’re both just as into and who is just as into both of you, because that leaves less room for insecurity and doubt.”
The “throuple” (a long-term relationship with three people) lived together for three months but Mr Marrasso eventually decided it was not a sustainable lifestyle for him.
“It’s a lot more effort satisfying two partners physically and emotionally,” he said.
“Some nights you just want to chill out and even when you’re chilling there’s still two other people in the house and chances are one of them wants your attention.
“We were together basically every night, which became exhausting and I just didn’t have the energy for it in the end.”
Despite previously concluding polyamory did not work for him, Mr Marrasso said CNM is still something he will always want prospective partners to consider.
“I’m at that point now where I want to build and enjoy life with someone, and I’m not fussed whether or not we bring another partner in,” he said.
“But I don’t want to be with someone who’s super anti-poly because it’s something I’ll always be open to.”