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Untangling Entanglements: An Essential Guide for Maintaining Non-monogamous Partnerships


The discussion on monogamy seems to be split down the middle and poor pop culture representation seems to only deepen the divide. However, it doesn’t have to be so polarizing. All quality relationships are built on a solid foundation of honesty, with a mutually beneficial intent. The only major difference between monogamy and nonmonogamy is that nonmonogamy simply removes the ball-and-chain from your partner and trusts that they will not run off. It’s never a good idea to hold people captive in relationships when they’d otherwise find a more authentic happiness with someone else. 

People resign from the great competition, opting to isolate themselves from all perceived threats to the sanctity of their relationship. We achieve this by establishing a system of rules designed to limit a person’s agency over their sexual body, reserving the experience of sexual pleasure exclusively for a specific person. Although the competition has been eliminated, the perceived threat has remained unmanaged. The monster under your bed does not disappear once you’ve hidden under the covers. In this case, jealousy is not managed, it is simply eliminated. 


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Non-monogamous partnerships accept the fact that they remain vulnerable to feelings of jealousy on a daily basis and must learn to manage insecurities as they appear. The benefit here is that jealousy is expected and quickly resolved. Non-monogamous people do not claim ownership over one another and are constantly reminded of that. The key to maintaining a fulfilling non-monogamous partnership is to maintain an emotional availability toward others with a realistic expectation that people are pre-disposed to act on self-interest. 

Explaining the function of a non-monogamous lifestyle to an outsider quickly turns into a pearl-clutching interrogation. People tend to believe that they are far too jealous and emotional to maintain a relationship that operates outside of the social framework of strict monogamy. Between the lines, explaining that a person is far too jealous and emotional for non-monogamy implies that non-monogamous people are somehow impervious to feelings of jealousy.

The vocal majority of swingers are always shouting about how nonmonogamy is “natural.” People who are passionately non-monogamous seem to have this ridiculous notion that we’re destined to return to the earth mother’s sweet embrace in some idealized Animal Planet fuck-fest. Although the body naturally screams for more anonymous cock at a primal level, the generational indoctrination of people into religious systems has drawn mankind so far into “polite society” that any deviation from monogamy (with intent to wed) feels inherently unnatural to those around us.

The general public’s perception of non-monogamous partnerships is fundamentally driven by the celebrities who are the loudest about it. Celebrities, Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, have dragged America through their tumultuous, non-monogamous relationship. They have turned themselves into representatives of the swinger community. The Smiths’ talk show, Red Table Talk, disseminated an incredible breadth of non-monogamous buzzwords (such as “an entanglement” to describe an out-of-wedlock tryst). Although this has made non-monogamous partnerships easier to explain to the average citizen, the Smiths, maintaining their trademark transparency, regularly present cautionary examples of the pitfalls of alternative romance.

Rockstar, Gene Simmons, similarly exploited his open marriage years earlier in his reality TV show Family Jewels by making a grand display of his extra-marital affairs while consistently dangling an authentic wedding reception in front of his wife’s face throughout the entire series. We all waited, with bated breath for the Season 6 Finale when Gene Simmons would make an honest woman out of Shannon Tweed. The show was cancelled after the seventh season; there was no need to drag it out any longer. Gene Simmons and his “open relationship” nonsense had finally been squashed. For viewers, Tweed got her happily ever after (and exclusive ownership of her rock n’ roll hubby, once-and-for-all).

Sometimes, pop culture provides us with a template of how to make unconventional relationships work for us by establishing boundaries for intimacy that uniquely cater to each person’s emotional and physical needs. This includes intimate romantic partnerships between sex workers, a relationship configuration where intimacy is sold as a trade and, alternatively, non-monogamy is expected.

The most famous example of this is from the film Pretty Woman. Professional escort, Vivian, played by Julia Roberts, explains to her romantic lead why a professional escort never kisses her clients on the mouth. Vivian says: “…you stay numb, you don’t get involved. When I’m with a guy, I’m like a robot, I just do it. I mean… except with you.” Vivian assures her partner of the division between sex work and personal intimacy. Pretty Woman, however briefly, achieves visibility and humanization for sex workers by displaying an easy-to-swallow, pop culture-approved iteration of a romantic, non-monogamous relationship. Work is work, unless it’s with one special person (swingers call this person their “primary”).

Having filmed pornography with several married people, kissing on the mouth and intravaginal ejaculation is usually the hard limit on intimacy. I once dated a professional escort who preferred anal sex between us. She said that vaginal sex felt too mechanical for her, like she was back at work. Dating a professional porn star presented conversations about sexual exhaustion, budgeting the volume of cum shots, and scheduling sexual intimacy around both of professional commitments. In such a position, all parties must be prepared to encounter complex feelings regarding physical accessibility, territoriality, and the sexual free-will of others.

Even for non-monogamous partnerships, outsiders can be scary. It would be unrealistic to expect that people will pass through our lives without any disruption. Expanding your social circle inevitably leads to the encroachment of other people’s drama.

As infectious as other people’s drama can be, STDs impact a huge swath of people all at once. Moral responsibility aside, if you ever want to have sex with your regular partners again, you’re going to have to break the news that you’ve caught something. Untreated STDs spread like wildfire among swingers. 

From a professional sex worker’s perspective, receiving a positive STD test result through a verified clinic requires enough time to receive treatment and produce a negative test result before arriving on set to film the scene. Like any other non-monogamous operation, an outbreak affects a great deal of people- and their wallets. Whether in a professional setting or back at home, maintaining multiple sexual partners requires a person to accept accountability and protect the sexual health of each person involved. 

We see from these examples that non-monogamous couples are not impervious to feelings of jealousy and betrayal. There are a million ways that non-monogamous partnerships can go south. We are not beholden to one another and can leave at any moment. Some folks get jealous over a single wanton glance and never progress into the competitive territory of consistently earning your place in someone else’s heart. Regardless of relationship exclusivity, your performance as a partner will always be measured and compared to the performance of other people. This is why it is important to ensure that the quality of the relationship continues to enrich the lives of all of the people involved. 

I’ve always been under the impression that if my romantic partner feels as if I am not providing adequate support to them, I’d be made aware of my shortcomings before being completely replaced. I’ve never wanted to be tolerated; I want to be enjoyed. I have no problem being fit into someone’s life when it is convenient for everyone. I have had several relationships in the past which solely existed within the confines of therapeutic BDSM roleplay. That’s all we would do. It was satisfying for both of us, and we both returned to our regular lives with a little more pep in our step.

We all want to be happy. If my pursuit of happiness does not permit an adequate availability to nurture a healthy full-time monogamous relationship, am I expected to be alone? I’ve found that past fuck-buddies often develop into the most valuable and enduring relationships. They’ve watched me grow and develop throughout my life without feeling compelled to intervene in my personal life. Relationships do not need to have a lifespan. There is no rush to a finish line. If we only have time to see each other once a week, at least we are having the most fun when we’re together.

There are even iterations of non-monogamy where the expectation is non-monogamy, but the reality remains firmly devoted to one person. Where exclusivity isn’t expected but given as a gift. Each time a partner has told me that I am the only sexual partner in their life, I carry the responsibility of always sexually performing my best, respectful of the fact that I am their primary source of sexual affection and intimacy. This takes integrity.

Imagine listing your partner as your primary emergency contact. This is a person that you can trust to act in your best interest, unconditionally. This is a partnership based on genuine trust. We all want to trust our partner to act in our best interest. If a Hollywood actor can kiss and simulate sex with a co-star while maintaining a monogamous relationship off-camera, unquestioned by the tabloids, we know that the general public understands the basics of non-monogamy. The best non-monogamous people can do is lead by example, maintain honest relationships, and educate others that non-monogamous relationships are not so scary. You just need to talk it out.


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