QJSex: What is non-monogamy? Part two: healthy relationships

Last week we explored just what the massively vague term ‘non-monogamy’ can mean, touching on open relationships, polyamory, and some of the other limitless types of relationships that aren't categorized by two people physically and emotionally involved with each other exclusively.

So now that we’re clear on what’s what in non-monogamous terminology, let’s tackle the harder question: how to actually make it work. A quick Google search on open relationship or polyamory will turn up a host of debates as to whether or not these types of relationships can actually ‘work’. It’s pretty difficult to determine what is a ‘working’ relationship, but generally we can agree that a relationship that is healthy, in which both partners are able to communicate, give and receive respect and care, can be said to be a relationship that ‘works’.

Healthy relationships involve safety, honesty, acceptance, respect, and enjoyment, and these aspects aren’t limited to just one relationship. These factors can be in place in more than one relationship, for example a situation where one person has two partners, and shares these values with each person.

Communication & Boundaries

A key factor that differentiates non-monogamous relationships from the derogatory labels of ‘cheating’ or ‘affair’ is communication. Being in a non-monogamous relationship involves communication and honesty with one’s partner(s) so that each person involved is able to be comfortable and happy. Communication involves acknowledging and respecting both yours’ and your partners’ boundaries and needs, and keeping your partners informed about your thoughts and emotions regarding the relationship.

Communication goes hand and hand with boundary setting, another important aspect for all healthy relationships and especially non-monogamous relationships. There are no set-rules in any relationship, and non-monogamous folks (just like monogamous folks) get to determine the terms of their individual relationships. Boundaries are different for each person, and they may or may not match up with a partners’ individual boundaries, which is when communication is especially important.

Boundaries may vary with different aspects of a relationship, for example some people may find that they have strong boundaries with emotional intimacy but not physical intimacy, while others might find that what they feel comfortable with differs depending on whom they are involved with. Because of the openness (pardon the pun) of non-monogamy, being in touch with your own boundaries, needs, and desires may be helpful, so that you can communicate that to each partner you are involved with.

Keeping communication open and boundaries clear can help with the overall emotional health of each person and the relationship as a whole. Physical health is just as important as emotional health, and if a partnership involves sex (which not all do) it’s a good idea to consider sexual health and non-monogamy.

Sexual Health

‘Hook-ups’ with more than one sexual partner— just as in casual dating or sexual relationships — means that it’s important to be mindful of issues such as STI’s, pregnancy, safety and consent, just as in a monogamous relationship. Regular STI testing, exercising birth control options, using safer sex barriers such as condoms/dental dams/gloves, and maintaining your overall health become very important when sharing sexual experiences with many people.

You wouldn’t cough on your hand then shake 10 people’s hands so why would you spread unnecessary infections through unsafe sex with multiple partners. Healthy communication, again, is great for talking with partners about sexual history, safer sex methods, or personal/partnership boundaries around sex.

The SHRC is a great resource for any information on communication, boundary setting, safer sex products, emotional and physical health, and healthy relationships. Feel free to come to the centre by yourself or with your partner(s) for a free, non-judgmental, confidential chat about non-monogamy, or check out our great resources.

This blog is being run in conjunction with the Sexual Health Resource Centre, located in the JDUC, room 223. Follow them on Twitter @shrckingston.

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