From swinging to polyamory, many people are now considering non-mongamous relationships.
Professor of Human Sexuality Dr. Zhana Vrangalova chatted with HuffPost Love+Sex Podcast hosts Carina Kolodny and Noah Michelson about ethical non-monogamy and what anyone who is considering engaging in these kind of relationships should know. Listen to the podcast and check out some of Dr. Vrangalova's advice below.
Here are 5 things to think about before entering an open relationship, according to Dr. Vrangalova:
1. Jealousy isn't necessarily an inherently bad thing.
[Jealousy can be] a healthy emotion to keep track of yourself and your emotional health. There [are] definitely a lot of people who do experience it and it is something seen as constructive, just like any other emotion. Relationships often entail unpleasant or negative emotions -- fighting, being sad, being angry, and jealousy is just one of those things.
In monogamous relationships, jealousy is often thought of as something that’s the end of the relationship -- it's seen as catastrophic. Poly people don't see it as catastrophic -- it's just one other thing to work through because jealousy is a normal reaction to when your sense of self and stability is threatened. Kids feel it all the time. I showed my students this video in class where a baby who sees his mom play with a doll becomes very jealous, and suddenly, he gets very very upset, so it's when you feel your attachment figure is not there and you need them for some reason and they disappear on you and you wouldn’t like that. It's a normal reaction.
2. The ethical part of ethical "non-monogamy" is communicating about what you want and about what your limitations are with your partner.
People will feel comfortable with many different things. When you're starting to open up your relationship you should think about what will make me comfortable and what is too much and threatening. But one thing that pretty much every couple or triad in a relationship has ever experienced is that these rules will change. You start out with a set of rules you think will work for you and some will work and some will not. You might end up thinking this will be easy -- no problem -- and then you might say, "Oh that hurts! Let's not do that again." And sometimes you think something will not feel OK and you try it and you're like, "Oh that was no big deal! Sure!" So, be open to change and allow for that flexibility.
Also, people start with lots of rules because they need to protect their sense of self and relationship security, and over time they see this is not scary, it won't end our relationship if I let my partner do these things with other people and they kind of get rid of the rules. All these things are important. Sexual health is another thing you should think about: what's your level of comfort with sexually transmitted infections (STIs), what protection are you using with others, can your partner ever have unprotected sex and with whom and what needs to have happened before thats OK? You need to talk about all of this. Talk a lot.
3. Non-monogamy can affect your children -- but not necessarily negatively
Swinging doesn't have a lot of impact on children. It becomes more of an issue when we're talking about poly families, when there are multiple romantic partners who are there, maybe living together and showing affection in the home in front of the children. However, having more people to take care of them, drive them to school or soccer practice or more people who can teach them different things, skills, hobbies, ask about math homework is positive. There's also more time for the parents. Every now and then you need a break and if there's someone else to care for kids you get more time for yourself and you can be happier and more satisfied. That's a big question we still need a lot more research on, but initial research at least suggests things are not necessarily problematic.
4. Ethical non-monogamy doesn't necessarily mean a greater risk of STIs
When you ask people about the differences and benefits and risks of monogamy versus non-monogamy, the risk of STIs is the single largest difference people think about. They think non-monogamists are extremely risky and monogamists have a very low risk for STIs. In a perfect world where monogamy was done perfectly, that's probably true -- there's a higher risk with multiple partners. But in real world, the people who claim to be monogamous are often not monogamous, and when you compare rates of STIs among general monogamous relationships, they're actually similar to non-monogamous people. Research shows that when monogamous people cheat, they're less likely to use condoms, talk about sexual health history, testing, STIs, and more likely to do it drunk or high. So compared to people in non-monogamous relationships who are doing it openly and honestly -- and there's research to show that when they do use condoms, cheaters are more likely to make condom errors... People in non-monogamous relationships are usually very careful about this, condom carrying, using them, etc.
5. If you're not ready to invite another person into your relationship, try dabbling in a "grey area."
[There are many things you can do that are on the non-monogamy spectrum] like watching porn together or talking about meeting up with some other hot people you may have met or flirted with. Acknowledging that there are other people you may be attracted to but you're not going to do anything with them is another possibility. Or maybe you want to try actually flirting with other people and allowing each other to flirt with other people. Or maybe if you feel comfortable going to a sex party, you can just watch. Or you could go to a sex party and just have sex with your partner without inviting anyone else. So, there are lots of different levels of non-monogamy, and things you could do and keep it mostly monogamous with no physical contact with anyone else, but still experiment.
And if you have ever been in an open relationship, head here to give your feedback on your experiences.