Newsweek explores polyamorous relationships

This week in Newsweek, writer Jessica Bennett explores polyamory: the practice of having more than one lover (as opposed to monogamy, which refers to the practice of two people only having each other as lovers/sexual partners). I’m often asked if I believe that humans are, by nature, monogamous – a question that I find interesting in and of itself. After all, most people have more than one lover or sexual partner in their lifetime. So, lifetime monogamy – now that humans live as long as they do – is quite rare indeed in the United States. More often, we have serial monogamy, which is the practice of having one lover or sexual partner at a time, but several (or many) relationships or sexual partners in one’s lifetime.

Even among heterosexual monogamous couples, somewhere around 25% to 40% (roughly) of women and men report having had sex with someone else besides their spouse or relationship partner. In other words, even a good chunk of so-called monogamous couples aren’t actually monogamous. The number who have kissed or otherwise had “lighter” sexual contact with someone else – but not whatever they define as “sex” – is known. And the number who have had crushes on someone else? Probably most (that is, if they stay together long enough).

Whatever humans are “by nature” (and whatever that means, given the enormous variety of sexual behavior found in humans as well as other animal species), we are what we are. And people are speaking out more about the diverse ways in which they structure their sexual as well as romantic partnerships.

If you are now, or ever have been, in a monogamous relationship, how often have you ever wished you could hold someone else’s hand, kiss someone else, lie naked with them, or make love to them? What would it take for you to have a conversation with your partner in which you expressed these desires? And which of those desires would you want to act on and which would you decide were better left un-explored? Then again, it’s not all about you. How would you feel if your partner expressed these desires to you? What types of freedoms are you willing to give a partner, and what would you want in exchange?

The point is made in the accompanying Newsweek video that at least some people experience  sexual jealousy (meaning, jealousy about their partner being sexual with another person) because they fear that if their partner has sex with someone else, then they will leave them for the other person. But what if your partner didn’t leave you for the other person? What if they stayed and you stayed and you somehow decided to make it work?

I’m not advocating polyamory or monogamy or cheating or anything else. After all, I firmly believe that given the enormous variety in human sexual feelings and behaviors that there is no right path for everyone to follow. Also, sometimes the path that feels right at one time in your life is not the one that feels right at another time. These questions of relationship structures aren’t going away, though, and they may come up in your life one day, if they haven’t already come up in your heart.

Check out the Newsweek video here:

[Newsweek]

Related MSP Posts:
- How to make open relationships work
- What are polyamorous relationships like? Can they work?
- Bill Maher compared Gov. Mark Sanford’s love emails and Mark Foley’s texts

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • Susan

    I have talked to my spouse about having feelings of wanting to have sex with other people. I am bi-sexual, and although he was the first man I had ever been with, I had had 3 sexual relationships with women, so I think about exploring that. He wasn’t jealous, but because he doesn’t share my feelings, it was an awkward conversation. He didn’t make me feel bad about it, but I know it made him jealous at the possibility. But, we are a very honest couple, and just having expressing myself made me feel good and he knew where I was at on the issue.

  • Susan

    I have talked to my spouse about having feelings of wanting to have sex with other people. I am bi-sexual, and although he was the first man I had ever been with, I had had 3 sexual relationships with women, so I think about exploring that. He wasn’t jealous, but because he doesn’t share my feelings, it was an awkward conversation. He didn’t make me feel bad about it, but I know it made him jealous at the possibility. But, we are a very honest couple, and just having expressing myself made me feel good and he knew where I was at on the issue.

  • Debby

    You make a great point, Susan, about just being able to express those feelings to someone and the relief that that can bring. Often people shy away from risking sharing parts of themselves with another person. Sometimes, for good reason – they may know that the other person would be critical or belittling in their response. But often other people are accepting and loving in response, even when something is difficult to hear. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  • Debby

    You make a great point, Susan, about just being able to express those feelings to someone and the relief that that can bring. Often people shy away from risking sharing parts of themselves with another person. Sometimes, for good reason – they may know that the other person would be critical or belittling in their response. But often other people are accepting and loving in response, even when something is difficult to hear. Thanks for sharing your experiences.