How do you open your marriage to multi-partner loving? Our Sex Detective investigates.
Here’s a dilemma. Imagine you came home one day to find that your partner had gotten busy with someone else and left two used wine glasses on the kitchen table. Which would you feel is the greater marital crime: (a) the infidelity or (b) the dereliction of dishwasher duties?
I’d probably choose infidelity—though I am a clean freak so I can’t totally rule out (b), especially if they’d left cup rings. But for Samantha Fraser, an event planner and videogame development professor at George Brown, the answer is clear: Her husband’s extramarital activities aren’t a problem, but failing to clean up afterwards is a serious offence.
Fraser and her husband are non-monogamists, which means they each meet, date and have sex with a whole bunch of other people. Non-monogamists (a term that includes everyone from swingers to people in open relationships to polyamorists, who have multiple steady partners on the go) reject traditional notions of marriage and cheating, instead believing that, when it comes to sex and love, more is merrier.
Since nobody keeps count of these things, it’s almost impossible to say how many people are into non-monogamy, but the recently founded Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association estimates there could be “tens of thousands” across the country. In Toronto, Fraser says the scene is far more active now than it was when she and her husband first opened up their marriage five years ago. There’s even a Toronto polyamory Meetup group, which currently has 252 members.
In explaining their relationships, non-monogamous people often invoke the idea of friendship groups. They say that, just as you wouldn’t expect your hockey-loving drinking buddies to go watch The Nutcracker with you, it’s unfair to expect your partner to be great at everything from cuddles to kinky sessions. Instead, non-monogamists are free to seek out other people to meet the needs that their partners don’t (exploring bisexuality and S&M seem to be big draws). Fraser says that, far from being a threat to her sex life with her husband, she finds getting it on with other people actually brings a new “sexual energy” to the marital bed.
But before you run off to energize your marriage with a spot of group loving, be warned that this is a complicated business. So complicated, in fact, that Fraser—who writes about her experiences on her blog, Not Your Mother’s Playground—runs Non-Monogamy 101 workshops at several sex stores. In her sessions, she rolls out flip charts bearing headings like “Organization,” “Rules” and—my personal favourite—“Logistics.” It’s a far cry from the sexual free-for-all I’d been expecting.
Basic competencies for a fledgling non-monogamist include the diary-management skills of a secretary, an Oprah-like willingness to discuss emotions and a fanatical attention to practical details—like cleaning up afterwards. Citing her partner’s wine glass transgression, Fraser says, “This is the stuff that can really trip you up. I came home to my own space and there was this visual reminder that somebody had been there, drinking from the wine glass that I had selected from The Bay. It was hard for me.” And, of course, it’s not just the glassware and bedsheets you have to keep clean: The one thing you have to be faithful to is safer sex.
But before you can get into the logistics of it all, you have to find someone willing to sleep with you. This, too, can be tricky, not least because the playing field is not a level one. In general, women in committed relationships find it easier to find outside partners than their male counterparts do, mostly because guys are a lot more willing to sleep with other guys’ wives than women are with married men. JP Robichaud, a carefully spoken 37-year-old non-monogamist, says that although he has always been upfront about his relationship status with potential dates, sometimes they have backed out at the last minute. “It happened enough times that my partner at the time said she should just write me a recommendation letter that I could show to people to let them know everything is fine.”
But Robichaud stresses that the hard part isn’t the practicalities, it’s getting caught in the emotional crossfire of different partners’ needs. “You need to be a remarkable communicator,” he says. “You need to be very articulate about what you’re feeling, both in the moment and afterwards.” Talking to Robichaud is like being lectured in ethics, as he stresses that a good non-monogamist is one who is open and honest. Anyone who isn’t is just cheating on their partner.
To be honest, this is such a complicated business that I think I need to go for a lie down now. If anyone wants to join me…