Swinging/Polyamory/Monogamy & Committed Relationships

“Polyamory” is a big topic these days.

Monogamy, once the gold standard of a loving relationship, is now being examined, tested, questioned, and re-evaluated.

If you live in San Francisco, the leading edge of the polyamory culture (no surprise there!), you know that you can’t even go out at night as a couple without getting hit on by other couples!

The conversations around this topic include things like evolutionary biology (are humans non-monogamous by nature?), religion (is there a higher moral authority that prefers monogamy?), safety concerns (about bringing STDs into the relationship), the effect open marriages might have children, moral honesty (about our innate, biological attraction to others), and personal freedom and self expression (as a higher value than jealousy and possessiveness).

The common wisdom always used to be that “opening the relationship” to date other people was always the first step to destroying a committed relationship.

In fact, for decades, “I think we ought to see other people,” was the cowards way of breaking up– a cynically hopeful gambit to get your partner be the bad one who said, “If that’s how you feel, I think we should break up.”

But things have shifted dramatically as many couples are now earnestly considering the benefits of multiple sex partners, even in emotionally committed relationships, and there are, in fact, many couples successfully living in this lifestyle through years of happy marriage.

Typically, couples who are successfully monogamous look down on polyamorous couples as people who are emotionally dead and who are incapable of honest commitment, while successfully polyamorous couples look down on monogamy as a prison of lies that married people tell each other to placate the jealousy and possessiveness that rule them.

I invite you to reserve your judgements and allow yourself to be openly curious about why each of these choices might be right for different couples.

Understanding this stuff is going to help you grow YOUR relationship, regardless of whether you’d prefer to remain monogamous or you’re a die-hard swinger.

I’ve found that the simple way to make this entire conversation clear (both intellectually and emotionally), is to get that individuals and couples go through different stages of emotional and moral development around monogamy and polyamory.

To help understand this, I am borrowing Lawrence Kohlberg’s model of the stages of moral development, and roughly layering this issue on top of that model.

In super-quick summary, Kohlberg’s stages of morality are:

Pre-Conventional – The fear of punishment. I won’t shop-lift that 6-pack of beer if I think I might get caught.

Conventional – The law-and-order mentality. I don’t shop-lift because it’s against social norms and criminals are bad people (and I’m a good person!).

Post-Conventional – Universal ethical principals, conscience, and empathy. I don’t shop lift because I empathize with my fellow man, the shop keeper, who would feel harmed by this act.

An interesting side-note is that both pre-conventional and post-conventional morality tend to have some disregard for the written rules. The pre-conventional because they are selfish and trying to get away with stuff, and the post-conventional because they recognize the higher authority of their moral compass.

And here’s a fun bit: The conventionally moral person can not tell the difference between the pre- and post- conventional attitudes and disdain for their written rules.

If you’re a geek like me, you can read more here

So let’s look at the stages of moral and emotional development in committed relationships…

Pre-conventional monogamy and pre-conventional polyamory look almost entirely the same:

You swear to your partner that you are going to be faithful while cheating just as often as you can manage without getting caught.

Of course, you’d like THEM to be faithful, and you know that you need to tell them that you intend to be faithful…

But if you are out somewhere and meet an attractive person, and you think you won’t get caught, OF COURSE you are going to go for it!

As long as your partner would never find out, why wouldn’t you?

The pre-conventional monogamist operates this way in secrecy. It is the typical high-school or college relationship (everyone knows what goes on at Spring Break “doesn’t count,” and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas), and it is quite possibly the most common form of adult “committed relationship” as well.

The pre-conventional monogamist might never cheat… but that’s only because they are either afraid they’ll get caught, or they don’t have a clear opportunity for sex outside of the relationship. If they had the opportunity and the courage, they’d take it.

The pre-conventional polyamorist also lies to his or her partner, but they have some social circle where their perfidy is the norm, and they don’t need to operate in secrecy in that circle. This is the kind of relationship you’ve seen in mafia movies. All the gangsters have mistresses. Of course. Everyone knows. But they all have to lie to their wives about it, and they support each other in the practicality of the culturally accepted lie.

Bachelor and bachelorette parties sometimes work at this level too. The married guys hire a bunch of prostitutes and tell the wives they went fishing… and I hate to even put into writing the things I’ve seen bachelorette parties up to!

At the next level, the Conventional monogamist and polyamorist develop a sense of integrity around both their jealousy and their animal desires, and are forced to make a choice in order to be aligned with their beliefs.

The conventional monogamists try to keep their promises. They are possessive and jealous. The thought of having their partner experience physical pleasure at the hands of another lover is emotionally painful, ego-brutalizing, and anger-inducing.

So they enter a social contract with their partner: “I won’t cheat on you if you don’t cheat on me.” And they mean it.

Conventional monogamists often (but certainly not always) find themselves lying about their true sexual desires, either because their partner would get angry or jealous, or because they want their partner to feel guilty about their own biological urges: “I’m not attracted to anyone else, and if YOU ever feel attraction for anyone but me it’s because you’re a bad person and you don’t love me enough.”

This creates a tension and a dilemma for the conventional monogamist who always feel like they are “giving something up” in order to remain faithful to their vow.

When people say “marriage is hard,” this is what they mean.

Sure, they might be fighting about money or whether they need to replace the curtains in the living room, but the emotional intensity of those fights is being fueled by sexual frustration, and the deep, painful reality of living with a person that doesn’t really know the truth about who they are.

This is the hardest kind of relationship to make last, and because it’s also, along with pre-conventional monogamy, the most common here in the United States, this fact fuels the more-than-50% divorce rate in this country.

Conventional polyamorists have a similar moral dilemma, but they choose to prioritize their urge for sexual variety over their feelings of jealousy.

Often couples that are drawn to conventional polyamory have naturally low levels of jealousy or possessiveness, or, for one reason or another, do not emotionally link sexual pleasure with intimacy. Love and sex simply feel like different categories to them.

This is not scientific or statistical, but in my personal observation of couples that I’ve worked with, a great many conventional polyamorists were sexually abused as children and dissociated sexual touch and sexual pleasure (many experienced pleasure at the hands of their perpetrators) from intimacy and love as a matter of psychological survival.

But that’s absolutely not universal, and some conventional polyamorists just seem to be too cool and confident around their sexuality to ever feel threatened by jealousy.

The conventional polyamorist is a “swinger” and is driven by the self interest to explore their sexual curiosity. When feelings of deep intimacy arise that feel like they might threaten the fun, they suppress them.

They choose their sexual appetites over their desire for intimacy, sometimes because they are addicted to the thrill of new sexual experience, and sometimes because it simply feels emotionally safer.

These relationships sometimes (but certainly not always) have a lot of rules and structures around when it’s okay to play, and when it’s not. Things like, “you have to always inform me before you sleep with someone else,” or “I can only sleep with certain people that have your prior approval,” or “only when we all play together,” etc.

While conventional monogamists consider infidelity cheating (breaking the contract), conventional polyamorists consider bringing up feelings of jealousy to be cheating (breaking the contract).

Like conventional monogamy, conventional polyamory is not a recipe for lasting relationships.

While conventional monogamy flames out in epic fighting, conventional polyamory slowly dissolves and drifts away from lack of interest, or just finding someone newer or hotter.

And finally, post conventional relationships happen when both partners fully accept all aspects of their lover. Post conventional lovers accept jealousy and possessiveness right along with curiosity, freedom, intimacy, and love.

They recognize and embrace the humanity in themselves and their partners, without judgement.

These relationships are characterized by an “us” mentality that puts the relationship and the partners well-being, at the same level or above personal well-being and personal desires as a matter of

    preference

, not as a matter of rule or obligation.

A post-conventional polyamorist might feel jealousy, but their commitment to their partner’s sexual freedom, growth, and self-expression is simply more important to them than their discomfort.

Likewise, their partner will receive their jealousy as an opportunity for them to demonstrate unconditional love and help them grow through understanding their feelings.

These are complex relationships fueled as much by the love personal growth and self-actualization, as they are by love and commitment to each other.

In the idealized form, a post-conventional polyamorist sees their partnership as the ultimate tool for exploring their highest self-actualization.

The post-conventional monogamist, by contrast, sees their partner as the ultimate tool for exploring intimacy with relationship itself.

Post conventional monogamists put their highest priority on knowing, accepting, and loving each other, and recognize the humanity of their partner as part of their completeness and beauty.

Sexual attraction to others is accepted simply as a fact of being human. If jealousy arises, it is accepted in the same way.

The choice of monogamy, however, is driven by a devotional impulse rather than a fear impulse or a contractual agreement.

The post-conventional monogamist feels and embraces the full power of their sexual desire for others outside of the relationship, and then offers it up as a gift to their lover, using it as fuel to access deeper aspects of the erotic world they experience with each other.

Post conventional relationships (both monogamous and polyamorous) tend to endure, often for life, and when they end, they always end on extremely friendly terms. The friendship often remaining one of the most important relationships in their lives.

So, which kind of relationship do YOU have?

It’s a bit of a brain-melter, but usually conventional monogamists can’t tell the difference between what they are doing and what post-conventional monogamists are doing.

Likewise, they can’t tell the difference between any of the polyamorists or the pre-conventional monogamists– they are just ALL a bunch of cheaters!

If you’re a swinger, all monogamists look alike, and you also can’t distinguish between what you’re doing and post-conventional polyamory.

Which kind of relationship do you aspire to?

Well, before you go too far down that path, it’s important that I explain that the lines between these categories are far from absolute. Not only are their grey areas in between these blurry lines, but some relationships have different aspects of different categories, and some will outside the lines completely.

As broad generalizations you’ll find these definitions extremely useful. Even if you are a jealous, conventionally monogamous couple, that occasionally explore threesomes together and fantasize about swinging because your feelings of jealousy really turn you on.

Remember that all models describe the world, they don’t define it.

In other words, a roadmap describes the roads, it does not dictate where they will be placed. And the map may be missing some new roads or some obscure, old paths. And it might even be irrelevant to your path if you are going off-road (or flying in a helicopter).

The value of the map is as a tool to help you figure out where you are now, not to limit the possibilities of where you can go!

And my goal with this article is to help you understand your past or present relationships, and to offer you some possibilities of directions you might want to go in the future, without judgement or limitation to your own personal journey.

36 Comments

  1. Thought provoking – enlightening –
    The concept feels as clear as mud… and isn’t that what sums up most relationships.
    I am 43 with 2 kids from different lovers …and still exploring my potential as a lover. I have had many lovers. I am now in a sort-of committed relationship…yet I date others. Its not like I go seeking for lovers…lovers seek me out… they age anywhere between 25 and 65 ! LOL ! My curiosity as to what this person can offer me is beyond the concept of morality… I like them all… and when I don’t, I walk away with a hand shake and a smile…or sometimes just ignore them. I definitely want to be married one day…will I stop meeting and mating with other men…hmmm…I feel that will be too confining for a person like me. In no way will it mean I do not love my husband…

    • Alex Allman

      It sounds like you know who you are and have a clear-eyed path to your happiness. I wish you all the best in finding the man worthy of loving as your husband.

  2. Great article Alex, thanks! Food for thought…

  3. You are indeed creating a lot of confusion in the minds of many people. To understand the full nature of monogamy it is important to try to understand the essence and origin of marriage. Marriages or monogamous relations under mutual consent and contract are failing because 21st century couples have decreed God out of their relationships thereby neglecting the roles a man and a woman must play to foster, nourish and enhance mutually beneficial relationships as intended from the begining of mankind by God himself. Polyamory is ungodly, animalistic and unnatural. How could you possibly bring up morally sound children under such circumstances and arrangement. Indeed society will be polluted.When we engage in such relationships, can we really say we are better than animals in the jungle. C’mon we are human beings and not beasts without understanding. God created and instituted marriage from the begining. He made one man (Adam) and one woman (Eve). Why didn’t he make one man and two women or two men and one woman. For a long lasting relationship, you must understand God’s plan and purpose concerning marriage otherwise it will be a relationship that will end in futility. I believe and I know, having been married for more than 20 years that it is only a monogamous marital relationship that can give a woman or a man the intimacy, fulfillment and protection that is innately ingrained in the human DNA and psych. Americans must search for the real things that make for a long lasting relationship than to engage in some hopeless experiments that have the tendency to destroy humanity’s social and moral fabric. T hose who engage in polyamory will never find happiness and fulfilment as God intended it. Marriages fail because of the couples and not because marriage is bad or wrong for humanity. Indeed our GOD is a wise and all- knowing God. I came to your website cos I was looking for ways to bring passion back to my monogamous relationship but I must say that I am disappointed in your trying to spread such an unnatural and unnatural theory that will mislead mankind as a whole.

    • I agree. Having been married for 26 years to the same man, and still finding new experiences, challenges and intimacy with him, I agree that putting God first helped us achieve this and it is only getting better. I don’t understand how anyone can be truly satisfied and emotionally fulfilled in any kind of marriage but a marriage like this. This is what God intended, end of story. This article did help me however, to sort of understand why some choose this lifestyle. That of course doesn’t make it right in the eyes of God.

    • Chris, You need to read Karen Armstrong’s History of God. It will help you put God into the context of life as an intelligent human being. You should also read the bible and note what it says about David and his wives.

    • Alex Allman

      I am certainly no biblical scholar, and I can’t comment too deeply on the subject. In terms of modern relationships and sexuality, people ARE making these choices.

      It’s not my intention to persuade anyone that these choices are good or bad for them or whether or not their religion would approve. I’m just dealing with the fact that this is happening and my readers have questions that they have brought to me, an expert on sexuality and intimacy, and not to their clergyman.

      Clearly if you have a deep belief in a particular faith, and that faith is the guiding principal of your life, you should follow the guidelines of your faith.

      My faith is in love. I believe that in the modern world the phrase, “I love you,” is the most profound prayer we have. Understanding that phrase and it’s implications in finding the love of god through our partner is the path that I has brought me the most happiness.

    • @Chris: If you say that people can’t find happiness and fulfillment without God, yet millions of people are, then something is not jiving. Sounds like you just WANT that to be true, regardless of whether it is or not. Thus, you might want to check out the movie “The Matrix” from 1999. Neo’s escape from the Matrix (a system of rules the machines designed for humans to exist within) is extremely analogous to the type of escape that ultra-religious people can do from their constraints of some religion (a system of rules some ancient or modern-day humans designed for them.) I speak from personal experience. I’m free. Life is more peaceful and rational, and many more possibilities open up, including the ones that you say aren’t possible. And they nevere will be, for you, if you keep saying they are not. For what it’s worth.

  4. Excellent topic Alex. Thank you very much, it is opening my eyes and helping me understand where I’m at in my relationship. It also motivates me because I used to lose hope sometimes since I had to overcome some conventional-monogamy obstacles in my relationship. I am learning and learning.
    All the best & success

    • Alex Allman

      You’ll know post-conventional monogamy by this simple clarity: It is no longer an obstacle. At that level the choice of having multiple partners or committing to monogamy as a devotional act is a choice of free attention and not bound up with fear of abandonment.

      The bedrock of both post conventional polyamory and monogamy is that you are guided by what feels like the most loving path… to create a devotional practice or a practice around freedom and exploration. Both are sourced in love for your partner, not in placating your selfish fears or desires.

      There are no points awarded for reaching this point, and it’s not a goal, but rather a practice. A deep sense of well being and happiness is the payoff of the practice.

      • Alex, you are dead right! I very much look forward to discussing this at dinner with my fiancé. Thank you for all your valuable information!

  5. LT

    very interesting read!

  6. I have found success in my relationship with a lady who was married to her former husband for over 47 years & was smothered & suppressed by his insecurity, jealousy & cave man attitude of thinking he Owned Her, by me introducing her to my philosophy of life as she calls it, & also showing her the newsletters from Revolutionary Sex for him and Her… And I have encouraged her to discover more about her new found freedom & told her I believe she needs to have what she has been deprived of all these years, to openly enjoy experiencing other new people, including sexual encounters if she desires it.
    I told her I would Not deny her what she has the right to freely experience with others if she is attracted to them sexually.
    This has made her feel so comfortable and secure in our relationship, along with the TRUST we have with each other, and can openly discuss anything and everything sexually that she before felt was so impossible to do.
    I have now introduced her to 3sum MFM experience which she was curious about but hesitant to embrace due to her previous sociological upbringing of Monogomous relationship, which most of us initially have, but for those of us who have ventured further, as we did together through inspiration from my previous experience with another couple some years previous to meeting her, it has now made her a changed woman so much that her friends admire her being so full of life.
    Consenting adult sexual experience with other partners is now a big part of our relationship, & made us so more secure in our future life together.
    Patience & understanding of the woman is most essential, not ever pressuring her to participate, & making it HER complete control & choice of IF & WHO she wants to enjoy.
    This is a wonderful gift to give your partner, that we have found has opened new friendships & secured our bond of each other. Presently we only introduce new men for her to enjoy, and have not yet ventured to play in the Couples arena, as I don’t want to introduce any threat or competitiveness of another woman, yet she does talk about me possibly enjoying another lady, but I know to be patient and Not rush this offer of opportunity as it will disrupt the progress we are having.
    Other men would think this absolutely crazy, having their lady freely enjoy sex with other guys, but she feels the security of me being there with her, allows her complete confidence to allow herself to enjoy what she has never been able to do before. She absolutely loves it, & we then later enjoy very long lovemaking ourselves together, after she has been aroused & reached orgasm several times with the other guy. Threesomes are her favourite, and sometimes she has liked to enjoy herself with just one on one with him and I have watched or left her alone sometimes.
    We now have a very Classy Adventure.

    • Alex Allman

      It sounds like you have found happiness in your exploration. I think anyone who characterizes their life as an adventure is probably on a good course!

  7. I’m a red blooded male and sure i would enjoy sex with others if that is all that I had to consider. I’m sure my wife would to. But intimacy is very important to us. I don’t see how it can be done while maintaining that bond. Sex is not just about sex with us. The sex itself is tied up with touchwhich conveys love. We touch each other constantly when we are together. It is our love language and can’t be separated with us.we could love others too I guess but how many people can u commit to and maintain that commitment. Mightwork for others tho

    • Alex Allman

      Monogamy is absolutely the right choice for some couples, and perhaps MOST couples. I really don’t know because so few couples practice it at that post conventional level.

      Personally, I choose monogamy for the same reason that you do. Monogamy offers me the clearest course to the deep exploration of intimacy with my wife.

      For others, polyamory offers the deeper path to intimacy because the exploration of freedom and the unbinding of shame and possessiveness around sexuality are the very ways in which they get to know each other more deeply.

  8. Hi Alex. When I saw the title of your article I was very intrigued! I have been happily married for 25 years, have a very traditional family with a wonderful husband and great kids. I have also been in a close relationship with another man for 5 years. I do have to say though, when I read your article I was a little disappointed. :-( I appreciate that you obviously took a lot of time to think this through. I also really appreciate you bringing up this topic. The main thing I disagree with though is that you seem to infer that polyamory tends to be about sex. PolyAMORy means “more than one LOVE.” That may or may not involve sex. For some people it doesn’t. Polyamory is definitely not the same as swinging. Most poly people see a very big distinction between poly and swinging, mainly that poly is much more about openness, honesty, and focus on relationship, romance, and love…. swinging is more about sex. Also, I know quite a few other poly people, and 99.9% of them would tell you, it is NOT okay to lie or cheat, EVER. I know for me, being poly has definitely helped me to grow as a person. I am happier, better provided for, more fun, less judgmental, and a more honest and loving and caring person because of it. I found these articles that I thought were some of the best to explain that poly is much more complex than what you seem to portray it as. Hope you can/will read them and that they can also be helpful to others.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=new-sexual-revolution-polyamory What swinging couples and committed polyamorists can teach monogamists about love

    http://www.lovemore.com/poly/whats-sex-got-to-do-with-it/

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-polyamorists-next-door/201309/what-polyamory-is-and-what-it-is-not

    http://www.livescience.com/27128-polyamory-myths-debunked.html

    • Alex Allman

      Hey Laura, absolutely no inference of poly being more about sex and less about love than monogamy.

      I refer to conventional monogamy as swinging, because at that level, that is generally what folks are up to. They may very well be in gorgeous love with each other, but at the conventional level, they are creating a set of rules designed to explore sexuality.

      As I mentioned, I know a great many post-conventional poly couples who are ecstatically happy. I also know couples who have gone from monogamy to poly and back and again.

      I will note, however, that an awful lot of folks who call themselves polyamorists, really are not committed to their relationships past the fun parts and regardless of their own labels, they really are just swingers. You probably know them too. It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve got no judgements about that. I want everyone to be as happy as they are capable of being. That’s my only mission in this blog.

      Understanding sex and physical intimacy, and being able to give and receive it as an expression of love is the single best way I know to achieve that mission!

  9. Extraordinary article, Alex! Rarely do people with deep insight give a thorough and thought-provoking analysis on relationship issues ending in the thoughtful idea that everything they said is only a model and not necessarily an overview of reality.

    Your article helps me to understand myself and the relationship dynamics I am in as a man better. However, I wonder whether women easily follow the same lines of thought. Perhaps women need a second line of thought and emotion. The reason for thinking so is because on average men and women use different approaches to social reality with women expressing and becoming aware of emotions even more than men before rationalizing their emotionally driven objectives into logically coherent thoughts.

    With all that said, what do you suggest a man should do to open up his long-term monogamous relationship when the relationship is somewhere between conventional and post conventional?

    • Alex Allman

      Hi Thomas, your question is a complex one, and the vast difference between individuals and the infinite combinations that occur between them as relationships makes it impossible to give you a prescriptive answer: “Do this, then do that.”

      I will say that the path to moving a relationship between monogamy and polyamory, in either direction, is obviously going to be a sensitive one, and that at the conventional level, which is based upon fears and rules, you are going to hit strong feelings of betrayal of the rules, and possible uncover wells of fear that release panic-like states in your lover.

      If you want to move towards the post-conventional, then the practice is recognizing your partner as perfect exactly as she is. And that perfection includes her fears, her emotions, her “rationalizing her emotionally driven objectives into logically coherent thoughts,” …all of it is perfect and worthy of your worship.

      Then you should evaluate your actions and words around the topic as being either self-interest driven, fear driven, desire driven, etc., and understand your own motivations as closely as you can, and then consistently, to the best of your ability, choose the most loving path available to you.

      The most loving path available could be to help her explore her freedom and the full range of her sexual self-expression that cannot be met within the confines of monogamy. The journey of helping her erase fears and shames and understand that you will be committed to her no matter what, is a powerful and loving expression.

      It’s worth mentioning, for those that are following along, that it’s equally valid to say that the most loving path available is in allowing your sexual attraction for others and everything to be devotionally given to your one lover and choose monogamy.

      • Hi Alex, thank you for your thoughtful answer!

  10. Leo

    Alex,

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

    More on this area would be great.

    Are we using “self actualization” as a euphemism to get all the sex we want? How do we know what is required to get our spiritual development to the next level? (ie maybe some people need complete abstinence whereas others need to fuck their heart out).

    • Alex Allman

      Good question Leo. No, we are not using any euphemisms here.

      For those that want to get all the sex they want, conventional polyamory works out find.

      Self actualization is exactly that: Actualizing the self, discovering who you really are, what your gift for the world or your purpose might be, and finding the sense of deep well-being that comes from being the best version of your unique self that you can be.

      For some people that may involve being with many sexual partners to discover who they can be in relation to others, or to rid themselves of shame or sexual cages built from ego. It may equally involve celibacy and the discovery of who we are in the absence of the constant work to fulfill our sexual desires. And, of course, it may involve devotion to only one person.

      When it comes to spiritual development, there is no “one size fits all” solution.

  11. This is the best thing I’ve read from you, Alex.

    Well done!

    • Alex Allman

      Thank you Bruce! Glad you enjoyed. It’s always flattering when other “celebrity bloggers” read my stuff… and like it!

  12. Great article! I’m not in a relationship now but I see this article as a guide that can help you decide which type of relationship you would like, and also get an idea of your partner’s preference and tendencies. If you are on the same page sort of speak, I would think that you’re more likely to have a successful and happy relationship, and to enjoy the journey together.

    • Alex Allman

      This is a great comment Karl. Yes, it is essential to feel out where a potential is on this continuum… towards monogamy or towards polyamory, and how far along they are developmentally from pre-conventional through post-conventional.

      AND ALSO, it’s even more essential to get clear on where you are and what you want. Often your clarity alone will guide you into exactly the healthy relationship you want. Further, your clarity can often have a profound influence on your partner, allowing her (or him, if you’re a woman reading along) to enter into something honest and authentic that they may not have realized was available to them.

      This whole thing turns out to be more than the preference of the individual, but rather the preference of the relationship itself, which has a life of it’s own, and sometimes powerfully changes the way one of the individual feels initially.

  13. JP

    This is one of the most interesting articles I’ve read on this topic. It seems that basically you are saying that there is a level of trade off – either explore others and allow your partner to be part of this – or forgo that attraction and let this demonstrate how much you value the other person. Either way, do it with the understanding and acceptance that attraction to other people is a natural part of life and will occur at one stage or the other.

    I have a few ideas to add which I think have value but probably won’t be popular with either men or women: There is a phenomena which I have dubbed ‘the stud effect’. In my experience as a single guy, about 5-10% of the single men in a given scene will be sleeping with 80% of the single women. It simply is not the case that every single guy gets the opportunity to have sex regularly – the vast majority do not, regardless of their looks. The women will typically subtly fight over one or two guys in a scene as they are the one’s who are perceived as being the most influential in a group, most sexual and desirable. That’s why you will get one in ten guys who is dating different women every night, having sex with several women per week and sometimes per day while you will have 9/10 men getting far less action. The same pool of women will rotate around ‘the studs’ who pretty much have their pick while the other men have less frequent encounters and are more likely to commit to long term relationships with women that they may not have ideally chosen because they have fewer opportunities for sexual companionship. This is a phenomena that I observed for many years and one that always confused me as a young man – by my mid 20s I had enough experience to cross over in to the 10% of guys with sexual abundance. It’s a strange world compared to before. You realize also that physically attractive young women will rarely relate to the situation of a physically decent man who cannot get laid. An attractive young women will rarely have difficulty finding a sexual partner, regardless of their personality, intelligence or self-confidence – perhaps their only challenge in the mating game is to try to tame one of the 10% studs into being her man. I know that this will strike against many people’s feelings as initially it did against mine but I believe that this is a very accurate picture of the world of nightclubs and young 18-30 dating and mating. As I said, this theory really comes from life and not from any books that I have read although I have noticed on nature shows many other mammals show a very similar pattern to the ‘stud effect’. I know we are more intelligent than other animals but I think this may explain some of the mating behavior that is typically seen in humans.

    • Alex Allman

      Yes, of course, the sultan has a hundred wives and the slave has none.

      It’s safe to say that in our early hominid past, the leaders of the tribe had more sexual opportunity than the followers that were lower on the social pecking order. In that same world, if you pissed off the wrong person (or made moves on their woman), you might expect to be killed in hand-to-hand combat, and there would be no peace officers or courts to intervene either before or after your death.

      These basic needs of safety and sexual choice are low down on Maslowe’s Hierarchy of Needs, and they need to be dealt with before things like art, philosophy, and spiritual love can be explored (self-actualization).

      In other words, this is normal pre-conventional stuff.

      In a dating scene, say in a nightclub filled with 20-something, there are a few men who get the vast majority of the women. I don’t think anyone who lives in the modern world finds that shocking.

      The consideration I find interesting is, why do so many 20-something men myopically view that little slice of social interaction as the world they will live in for the rest of their lives?

      Answers might include television, the culture around them, their friends, their mad desire to just please-god-I’ll-do-anything get laid.

      The selection of a partner with whom you want a long-term committed and loving relationship is an entirely different game with entirely different rules. Though, of course, you might meet a sex partner in the club scene who you later fall in love with and enter into a life-long post-conventional monogamous marriage with… it’s far from the only path these things take.

      Even within that club scene, there are going to be mature individuals who are playing a completely different game. They are not subject to the “stud-effect” because they are neither in scarcity, nor keeping score.

  14. A wonderful read Alex! It is obvious that your personal choices come to you with a great deal of research, thought and emotional investment. I sense the richest text is between the lines.

    I like the distinctions between pre-conventional, conventional and post-conventional monogamy and polyamory. It sort of reads like a history lesson into the shifts of modern day consciousness and evolving social norms. I have always made the distinction between polyamory and poly-sexuality, in that as a father of 3 I love all my children with my own unique relationship with each child and without jealousy or a feeling of loss or withholding from my children towards each other. The same goes for friends who I have come to love and cherish like family. In this way I am certainly polyamorous.

    Poly-sexuality introduces sex into the polyamorous world and as we both know from clients we work with this is where things do get very complicated. I would love to see a deeper conversation into the beautiful expanse and the challenges of post-conventional lovers. The subjects of jealousy, discernment, quality partnership agreements and advanced levels of emotional intimacy would be to dive into.

    What I do hear from you and greatly appreciate is the indication that a more advanced level of emotional intimacy (some psychologist may call this Level Seven or True Intimacy), whether we chose post-conventional polyamory or post-conventional monogamy is necessary for loving modern day relationships to not just last but flourish, expand and be blissful.

    One thing I do not agree on is that sexual frustration is the root to relationship failures, or that the term “marriage is hard” is all about sexual issues. Yes, it is true this is often the case, and in my experience working with couples I find that mismatched communication styles and energetic differences in communication and lifestyle activities lead the way before sex.. Right behind them is the energetic mismatch in sexual styles combined with the issues that you so well laid out. Bottom line, I would not go so far as to make sex the bold progenitor to the high divorce rates in North America. Absolutely, money is simply the scapegoat for deeper issues and perhaps challenges around sexuality are as well.

    The statistic around sexual abuse is staggering with in excess of 60% of the women and 40% of men having experienced some form of sexual abuse. Why are some women and men able to overcome the episodes of their past and alter the context that had so powerfully injured them while others are not? I believe this has a good deal to do with advanced stages of emotional intimacy where people are willing to be seen, to have been wrong or wronged, to be injured or in pain and are committed to emerging beyond their constraints related to their past sexual experiences. This starts with a deep trust and quality and LOVING communication.

    Thanks again Alex for this fabulous article. I have already shared it with many.

    • Alex Allman

      Great to hear from you Larry! Thank you for your addition to the conversation.

      I agree that to some degree I’m over-simplifying when I say that sexual frustration is the root of all relationship failures. You know that to a carpenter, all problems look like nails to be solved with a hammer, and all that…

      That said, I find sex to be the single best avenue, time and again, for solving problems that seem outside of the sexual domain. When the sex is fully satisfying both physically AND emotionally, other problems that seemed to be about communication style, etc., lose their urgency very quickly.

      Likewise, all the “active listening” in the world doesn’t seem to replace the ability to fully explore our sexual self-expression with our partner.

      Of course, this is far from a scientific conclusion, and relationship issues do not yield well the application of empirical science for finding a “best” or “ultimate” answer, and all we can each do is speak from our experience. There is a great deal of art in there.

      In the end, I believe we deeply agree:

      It “starts with a deep trust and quality and LOVING communication.”

  15. Tom

    Interesting article (but needs proofing/editing for errors, etc.)….I will use the word “they” for the author(s) here…

    One main comment is they mistake completely what a “swinger” is and are confused about it. First, they put “swingers” as almost synonymous with polys and then later, they mention monogamists playing with other people (which is what swingers really are)….swingers are more in the “camp” of monogamists – they view having sex with others are recreation, but you don’t LOVE those people intimately.

    The author also misunderstands a REAL poly person – the poly is to LOVE others, not just have sex. So, they are WAY different than swingers, as they acknowledge the “higher way of being” is for us all to love each other….yet, no doubt many poly people are really more “swingers in poly clothing” (I’ve seen a lot of those)…the grey areas. Poly people want to explore (and have their partner(s) explore LOVE WITH OTHERS)…so, the author is WAY OFF with their view of Poly people.

    For example, this statement from the article is TOTALLY WRONG:

    “The conventional polyamorist is a ‘swinger’ and is driven by the self interest to explore their sexual curiosity. When feelings of deep intimacy arise that feel like they might threaten the fun, they suppress them.”

    It would be MORE ACCURATE to amend this statement in relation to monogamous coupling, as:

    Swingers are typically conventional monogamists driven by the self interest to explore their sexual curiosity. When feelings of deep intimacy arise that feel like they might threaten the fun, they suppress them. These couples agree that sexual exploration is for recreation only (not love), to fulfill sexual longings and eliminate jealousy and destruction caused by cheating, so it not only does not threaten their monogamous relationship, it enhances it. In other words, they are monogamous to each other in terms of sexual LOVE, while using other people as sex toys only.

    In short, “polyamory” is to “love many” and “monogamous” is to “love only me” (and having sex with someone else without my permission FEELS like you’re loving someone else). I think it is very important to acknowledge that it is TRUE when people say “it didn’t mean anything” (when they cheat)…they just wanted to have sex with someone else and it wasn’t about “LOVE” in any way that conflicts with the love relationship. Letting go to THAT is the first level of sexual/love maturity, IMO.

  16. JP

    Really interesting debate on this topic – there seem to be a few different definitions around of swinging, poly and monogamy. That last point Tom makes is interesting. Sex outside a relationship can simply fulfill the animal desire have sex with someone new. In that case the sex is not a threat to the relationship – and in fact may actually keep a relationship going. I’ve had discussions with other guys in the past where we’ve basically said that we love our girl but we still really want to bang other women sometimes. Without that occasional outlet there is a real possibility of just breaking up with your girlfriend to go out and meet more women.
    This is why prostitution makes billions all over the world – it really is just about sexual variety and not about your partner. I believe this is far more of a male issue due to our level of testosterone and the amount of sperm we have. If it were as big an issue for women then there would be male prostitutes lining the red-light districts to make a quick buck – this just isn’t reality. A single man could literally have thousands of children with ease and with no physical danger or consequence to his health, whereas a woman can only have a dozen children at most – naturally they are going to be more selective about their sexual partners.
    I have had four ‘non-monogamous’ relationships in the past few years. In all four cases I was open about not being interested in exclusivity, yet the girl was seeing me exclusively while I was still seeing other girls on the side. I believe they accepted this because they would rather have one good guy that they trusted and who gave them decent sex than have many partners because having sex with any guy was a far bigger emotional, mental and social investment for them than it was for me to sleep with some new girl on the side. I don’t know what you think Alex but I think that biologically and in terms of social programming men are just wired to want multiple partners simply for sexual variety far more than women are. I don’t think we are the same in that respect – I think monogamy is a far bigger burden for an attractive man to carry than a woman. That’s not to say it’s impossible – it’s just a bigger burden.
    Women are hardwired to connect with the man they are sleeping with – the oxytocin response after sex in a woman is far bigger due to their higher level of oestrogen. The pill may have detached sex from pregnancy in a woman but this response is still there for her. By allowing your woman to sleep with another man ‘just for fun’ you may be putting your relationship at risk far more than your realize because your girlfriend is wired to become attached to the man she allows to penetrate her vagina. Again people may think that I am sexist but the truth is that men and women are different and are wired in different ways.
    These are just some of the reasons why so many men live these hypocritical lives of cheating, visiting prostitutes and watching pornography – it’s the simple crave for physical variation. Women obviously can have this craving too but their biology and socialization make them far more likely to want to go out and find that one great guy who will attract them, shag their brains out and provide stability and maybe even financial security for them as a bonus.

    • Alex Allman

      It seems clear that biological difference tend to make men more interested in multiple sex partners than women. When it comes to which gender is more jealous, however, it also seems that men are more likely to be possessive. So each gender has different reason for being more comfortable with monogamy or polyamory.

      Of course, they also have different reasons and strategies for lying at different developmental levels.

      Often a man will say, “I want to be honest, I’m seeing other people,” and a woman will tell him she’s not seeing anyone else… and lie about it. She uses this as leverage to get him to commit.

      Often a man will say, “It’s only you, baby,” and be lying about it. And often his woman is lying right back at him.

      The latest studies show that more men AND women cheat in every generation.

      A recent study of married graduate students showed that 70% of them who had agreed to monogamy were cheating… and the number was almost identical for both men and women.

      While genetics remain the same, cultural influences are changing.

  17. Thanks for finally talking about >Sexual Power and Orgasms.
    Committed Relationship. | Revolutionary Sex <Loved it!

  18. Daz

    I’m only 22 so I don’t really have the problem of trying to find which relationship will work for me in the long term right now because I want to move around and live in different places but there is something that weighs on my mind about these different types of relationships and how I will explore them in the future.

    How does the guy that has to work to provide for his wife(partner) and family compete when it comes to that wife(partner) having a lover that has nothing to worry about except making sure that the sex they have is great?

    I’m pretty sure that the woman is going to develop more love for the lover because their sexual relationship has alot less baggage compared to the man thats ment to look after the family.

    Then if the husband(partner) decides he’s not paying for everything and say’s to the lover that he has to start paying his fair share around the house if he’s having sex with his wife(or partner) do you think this changes the whole dynamic of the relationship between the wife and her lover?

    Of course I know the husband can have a lover aswel(unless he’s one of them cuckold’s) but from what I personal know, men expect to look after their lover aswel

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