Whenever someone tells me they’re in an open, polyamorous, or non-monogamous relationship, I always ask the same question: What does [insert word] mean to you?
That’s the thing about non-monogamous relationships: There’s no unified definition. I know of men who are polyamorous who only date others as a couple. I know bi couples who engage in gendered monogamy: meaning they only sleep with folks of a different gender than their partner. I know of three people who are in a closed triad, meaning they all date one another, but aren’t allowed to sleep or date other people. I know folks in an open triad, meaning they’re allowed to sleep with other people, but not date others outside of the triad, and then I know of polyamorous triads, meaning they’re allowed to sleep and date other people outside of the triad. As you can see, there are a myriad of configurations even within triads, which is already a specific subset of polyamory!
There are also different rules that couples have for one another. Some couples don’t want to hear about their partner’s partners, whereas some folks want to meet their partner’s partners to “okay” them. Sometimes partners are only allowed to have sex with other people outside of the bedroom, as the bedroom is considered a “sacred” space. Some folks are only allowed to sleep with others when on vacation, and consider themselves monogamish.
These are just a few of the many definitions and rules that come from non-monogamous relationships. The list goes on and on, and the more non-monogamous folks I encounter, the more I’m shocked by the number of configurations and variety of rules that exist within the non-monogamous community.
In a recent YouGov study (which I helped to conduct!) only half of millennials stated they wanted to be in an exclusive monogamous relationship. The YouGov study was the first study (that I’m aware of) that analyzed monogamy and non-monogamy on a 7-point spectrum, similar to the Kinsey scale, instead of as a dichotomous variable. The study helped to reveal that not all non-monogamous relationships look alike, and people want to have various non-monogamous relationships to varying degrees.
So I know that many people in monogamous relationships have interest in exploring some form of non-monogamy. That’s why I created this video. In the video below, I discuss how to go about asking your partner, with whom you’re currently monogamous, for a non-monogamous relationship.
But before watching the video, I recognize that there are some unique challenges that bi people face when attempting to open up their relationship with their partner, due to vicious stereotypes, and also the fact that bi people would (likely) be sleeping with people of various genders. Here, I would like to address them specifically
The “you’re going to leave me for another gender” fallacy
Let’s say you’re a bi man, and you’re in a relationship with a straight woman. If she hears you want to be in an open relationship, and you plan on sleeping with men, odds are, no matter how understanding she is of your bisexuality, she’s going to have this thought cross her mind, “Oh God, he’s going to leave me for a man!” This is something I would preemptively address if your partner is monosexual (either gay or straight) because there’s a 99% they’re going to have this fear. Make it crystal clear that you’re not “leaving them” for anybody. You want to be with them. You want to be non-monogamous because you want to be with them, and you think this is how you’ll be able to stay with them in the long run. Be patient. Be understanding. Say whatever you need to say — as many times as you need to — to make them fully believe that you are not going to leave them for another gender. Because if they have this thought in their mind, there will be big problems in your non-monogamous relationship.
STIs are real, as you’re very well aware. A man who has sex with men does have a higher risk of contracting HIV than a man who sleeps exclusively with women. That said, a gay man who uses condoms 100% of the time has the same likelihood of acquiring HIV as a straight man that uses condoms 100% of the time: very, very, little. Sexual orientation doesn’t predispose you to acquiring HIV, unprotected sex does. That said, nobody’s perfect. At times, we forget to use condoms or they break, and if you’re a man bottoming for another man without a condom, yes, that’s when you’re at high risk. You need to be discuss with your partner how you and s/he are going to protect yourself from STIs. And if you or your partner is having sex with multiple other partners, I would highly consider using Truvada. It’s a blue pill you take daily that decreases the likelihood of acquiring HIV by 99%. Because the truth is, life happens. Sometimes condoms break or you’re drunk and forget to wear a condom. We all make mistakes. So it’s good to have this additional safety measure. You don’t want to put yourself or your partner(s) at risk.
Full disclosure: I have unprotected sex with my boyfriend, or as the poly community calls it, we’re fluid bonded. I also take Truvada and use condoms with everyone besides my partner. My partner does not take Truvada. He was one of the few people who had nasty side-effects from it, so he can’t take it. He also uses condoms with all the other people he has sex with. If a condom breaks, or one of us forgets to wear a condom with another person, we simply tell each other. We then use condoms for two weeks until we get tested. Once the results come back negative, we stop using condoms again. That’s how we keep ourselves safe.
It’s important, since you’re going to be sleeping with multiple people of various genders, to discuss with your partner(s) how you plan on practicing safe sex.
Alright, with all that said, I think you’re ready, as a bi person, to learn how to ask your partner for a non-monogamous relationship. Watch the video below! (Then, move on to Bi and Poly Part III: Managing Jealousy)
Zachary Zane a Brooklyn-based freelance writer, speaker, YouTuber, and activist whose work focuses on (bi)sexuality, gender, identity politics, relationships, and culture. He's a contributing editor at The Advocate Magazine, a columnist at Bi.org, and currently writes for The Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Out Magazine, and PRIDE.