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Episode 22

In the first episode of our two-part interview with Dr. Heath Schechinger, we talk about terminology and learn the nuances between different types of nontraditional relationships. We touch on jealousy and how much there is to be learned — regardless of what type of relationship you’re in — from the important communication required to navigate such a complex emotion.

We talk a lot about how much there is to be learned from all of the open communication required for non-traditionally structured or CNM relationships. Lastly, we discuss the evolution and the expectations of monogamy.

Dr. Heath is a researcher, psychologist at The University of California Berkeley, and co-chair of the American Psychological Association Division 44 Consensual Non-monogamy Task Force.

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Sasza Lohrey: Hello, and welcome to the BBXX podcast. Let’s Get Intimate. I’m your host Sazsa Lohrey And we’re here to challenge the way our culture has conditioned us to talk about sexuality, intimacy and healthy relationships, to question everything, to embark on a journey of self understanding, and to begin to rewire some of the backwards thinking that we’ve absorbed from the subconscious influences that have shaped us all. Our hope for you, and for myself, and for all of us here at BBXX, who are here with you on this journey every day is that through a better understanding of our own identity of who we are, and why we are that way, we can form deeper connections with other people and live healthier, more fulfilling relationships as a result. Join us as we change the conversation, and the culture surrounding intimacy and relationships. And remember that better relationships equals a better life.

Dr. Heath is a researcher, psychologist at the University of California Berkeley, and co chair of the American Psychological Association division 44 consensual non monogamy Task Force, the task force was recently deployed by the American Psychological Association, and it is the first of its kind. Its purpose is to promote awareness and inclusivity about consensual non monogamy and diverse expressions of intimate relationships, such as training clinicians, and how to approach and treat patients from an informed perspective on a complicated theme. In the first episode of our tuber interview with Heath, we talked about terminology, understanding the nuances and important differences between different types of non traditional relationships. We touch on jealousy and how much there is to be learned. Regardless of what type of relationship you’re in. From the important communication required to navigate such a complex emotion, we talk a lot about how much there is to be learned from all of the open communication required for non traditionally structured relationships. And lastly, we discuss some of the expectations of monogamy.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Heath. To start out, I would love to just have you tell our listeners a bit about you study gender, sex and relationships, but through the lens of and with a focus now on consensual non monogamy. So how did you come to be interested in this theme? And why do you see work in this space being so important not only to those who identify with it, but to others outside of it as well?

Dr. Heath Schechinger: It’s a great question. Well, first of all, thank you again for having me. And in terms of my story, it started in grad school, when there wasn’t really many people looking into this topic, I had the good fortune of having a roommate who studied sexuality and as a sex researcher. And through our interactions, we started having conversations about consensual non monogamy. And really, it came from more of a social justice perspective of just learning about the number of people that identified this way as being comparable in size to the LGBT community. And then when I started having conversations with my co workers and colleagues about the topic, just the polarized reactions that I got really peaked my curiosity. And so I started looking into it further. And I would say there’s also parts of it that really impacted me personally, as I was also just as a human being wanting to sort through my own sense of how to navigate relationships effectively. And there was something about non monogamy that seemed refreshingly authentic, and it felt honest and that the people that I was speaking to, and the narratives that I was reading, and as I started to look into just a very little research that was out at the time, that that emphasis on wanting to grow, wanting to learn wanting to be authentic really appealed to me. And then I would say, from a social justice standpoint, That just I felt this urge to want to speak to that issue. And just really look into what the data suggested is if if it was something that aligned with the myths or some of the stigma that that seemed to, to exist. And so I started looking into it further. I attended a research conference called the Society of the Scientific Study of Sexuality. And I just I met a now good friend and colleague named Dr. Amy Moore’s. And we, she was the only one giving a talk on the topic at this conference. And I met up with her and we spoke about our mutual interest in conducting research. And then fast forward now about 10 years. And we are now the CO chairs of the American Psychological association’s division for consensual non monogamy task force, which is the first ever task force of the type in a large national organization that we’re aware of.

Sasza Lohrey: So you kind of touched on the cultural sensitivities and mixed reactions that people still today are getting, but there has kind of been this upsurge in in media in coverage and in Google searches, having to do with this theme. And so I’d love to kind of get a big picture. Look at what movements in the past few decades and kind of what different groups of people have played into this kind of new surge of interest and kind of information and research into this theme.

Dr. Heath Schechinger: When you say that the image of standing on the shoulders of giants comes to mind and just in a sense of, there is no way we would have had the response that we’ve had so far with non monogamy in terms of the quick, I would say quick upsurge that we’ve seen in the research and even the recognition in the field of psychology and other related fields. If it weren’t for the gay rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, I also think of even just birth control. And and that, I suppose, combined with the internet and helping share information all played a role in I think just creating the right environment, for non monogamy to take off like it has it, it just seems like that our culture is now more ready than we ever have been. before. I would say that the topic of non monogamy has been around those since as long as humans have been alive. But it’s more that our conceptualization of it and how much we’re willing to tolerate talking about it in this way, seems to be more new. And even the term polyamory has only been around since around 1990. And so it’s it’s I would say it’s a construct that is new in terms of how we’re talking about it, but not new in practice.

Sasza Lohrey: And what kind of parallels do you see between those movements that you mentioned? And the non monogamy movement and kind of where do you see things that are learning they’re being applied now? And as well as maybe some differences in different struggles.

Dr. Heath Schechinger: So even I think that one of the reasons why non monogamy hasn’t been already on our radar is that to our knowledge, there’s not the same level of stigma or oppression. People aren’t getting killed in the same way for, say, the trans community or the LGBT community. And so in some ways, monogamy or non monogamy is privileged and holds privilege. And I think it’s important to name that privilege and even when we are talking about it and navigating, coming onto the scene sort of speak. It’s important that we acknowledge the people that have come before us as well as the forms of privilege that non monogamy holds. And it’s also clear that there’s really robust and significant stigma that’s directed toward this community as well. That does parallel and I pull a lot from the especially the LGBT community, and in particular, people talk about the difficulty of disclosing their status and the way that people respond to them. They in terms of the stages of development or what that process looks like, also in terms of housing discrimination or job discrimination, access to marriage, in terms of child custody, concerns that there’s a number of forms of stigma that do parallel or do look like there, there are some similarities. But there’s also forms that are unique to other marginalized populations. And I think it’s important to try to identify the points of convergence, as well as the points of divergence.

Sasza Lohrey: I think it would be really helpful now for our listeners to get into term clarification so that people aren’t kind of confounding polyamory, which is very different than polygamy versus open relationships versus non consensual monogamy and so many other things.

Dr. Heath Schechinger: Great. So, yes, I’ll start with maybe more broad terms, consensual non monogamy is used as an umbrella term, to capture all forms of consensual relationships where everyone involved in the relationship is agreeing that it’s permissible to have multiple concurrent sexual and or romantic relationships with other people. Specifically, polyamory is the state or practice or an orientation of having multiple sexual and romantic relationships simultaneously, again, with the consent of everyone. So it’s similar in terms of its definition. But historically, there’s more of an emphasis on permitting romance and love with other people. By contrast, or to distinguish between that and open relationships or swinging for example, there’s typically more restrictions on romantic connections in swinging or open relationships. Swinging typically, is has more of a focus on heterosexuality and tends to happen to where there’s more swapping or trading partners at say an event. And again, these are all broad terms that capture the different subsets of non monogamy. But it behavior doesn’t necessarily match identity. So someone who behaviorally may can duck themselves in a way that looks like this looks like a swinging relationship, but they might embrace the term polyamory. For example, another term is monogamish. That is going to be your couple that predominantly thinks of themselves as monogamous. And just periodically might see somebody on the side or when they’re traveling, but they are predominantly monogamous. And polyamory, again, differs from polygamy, where because there’s an with polygamy, there’s an emphasis on marriage, it is, by definition, being married to more than one person. Historically, though, the differences between again, polyamory and polygamy is that I would say the big one is gender is not prescribed in polyamory. So it’s much more queer focused or queer firming in terms of queer relationships are permitted. And I would even say encouraged. And also in terms of the foundations in feminism versus religious fundamentalism. Polyamory has more of a an emphasis or foundation and feminism. Versus polygamy has more of its historical foundations and religious fundamentalism. And again, it’s not associated polyamorous not associated with marriage at all.

Sasza Lohrey: And so you kind of judging from those definitions, and what I’ve understood from my research, as well, there’s this whole kind of scale, as well, it’s kind of this fluidity and some people might have certain labels and behaviors that say otherwise. But there’s this whole range of people who might just be in what people understand is an open relationship, which I think is what people jump to in their heads most often. But then other people who might be married and have kind of other emotionally involved relationships as well or even have kind of two predominant partners with whom they are in love with or share romantic love with versus having a primary partner etc. So we’d love to kind of just learn a bit more about what kind of people are drawn to this and get some of the other myths out of the way to complement the terms that we just went over.

Dr. Heath Schechinger: Yep. So as I mentioned, a little earlier, we spoke about how we’re first starting to get nationally representative samples and we’re starting to get a look at who’s drawn to non monogamy and why. And what we’re finding is that there’s it kind of crosses all spectrums in terms of the types of people that are into non monogamy and Ely, Dr. Ely Chef even wrote a book and she named it the Polyamorous Next Door, and even captures how normal non monogamy can be and is for many people, at the end of the day, it’s just people who want to connect with other people and are doing the best that they can to have fulfilling relationships, I would say differences that there’s not a starting point that we necessarily have to or should be sexually or romantically monogamous. I would say that that is that that is challenged. I would say that we also some of the themes that come up and some of our research are that people who pursue non monogamous relationships, talk about how it really promotes self growth or self awareness and this idea of looking within and gather a greater sense or a sense of who we are. And we also have data that suggests that people that are drawn to it are also drawn to it for the emphasis on autonomy and freedom or just having a little bit more flexibility to explore connections with others. Also, I mentioned it being a little bit more queer friendly, that people talk about that there’s more space to explore those types of connections with people regardless of their gender or gender expression, in terms of some of the myths about non monogamy that are some of the main ones that oftentimes come up. The first one is that consensual non monogamy doesn’t work or that it somehow negatively impacts relationship. But we have a number of studies and even meta analyses that have looked into the major indicators of relationship quality, so duration, satisfaction, study sexual satisfaction, commitment. And they all come out to say that consensual non monogamy is an equally viable alternative to monogamy. So there’s no evidence to suggest that non monogamy will necessarily harm or relationship or that non monogamous relationships are more happy or satisfied, but they’re also not less happy or satisfied in the relationship. So essentially, across the majority of these indicators, they’re essentially equivalent. On some indicators like jealousy, surprisingly, non monogamous relationships actually demonstrate having less jealousy. Another myth is that consensual non monogamous relationships are more likely to incline people to contract STIs. It makes sense that you people have more partners on average. But what the research shows is that with consensual non monogamy since it is in the open, there’s more communication about it. So people are talking about who they’re sleeping with. Consensual non monogamous people are more likely to use safer sex practices, such as routine testing, using condoms. And they also just with the frequency of infidelity, and the the way that that typically happens, and the lack of communication around that, the STI rates end up becoming equivalent between the two populations. So from a statistical standpoint, you are not increasing the likelihood of contracting an STI, or that someone who identifies as polyamorous let’s say, is no more likely to have a current or previous experience of having an STI, as someone who identifies as monogamous and even there’s a couple papers that talk about monogamy being a protective fallacy, and even potentially harmful in the sense of, let’s say in medical providers that aren’t testing people for STI is because they identify as monogamous and also sees it as problematic for sexual health brochures, let’s say promoting monogamy as a safer sex practice when there’s just not data to back that up. And then I would say a couple other myths that an upcoming a lot of a lot are that monogamy necessarily protects against jealousy. When we actually have data that suggests that people in consensually non monogamous relationship have lower levels of jealousy, we’re not sure if it’s because people who are just have lower jealousy levels are drawn to it. Or if non monogamy acts as a form of exposure, let’s say similar to anxiety, where you’re afraid of something. And when you confront that fear, let’s say you’ve been hit by a dog and you the more that you’re exposed to a topic that with support around that, that you can lessen your reactivity to that thing that you’re afraid of. And so we’re not sure why that is, it’s probably a combination of those two factors. But consensual, non monogamous people in these relationships tend to experience lower levels of jealousy or experiences less obnoxiously. And I would say the other big one is children, that there’s concern about the impact of children or the impact that these relationships have on children. But with all the blended families that we have any more I think there’s a lot of assumptions that it’s just when people see more than one or more than two parents out in public that there’s this assumption that it’s just a blended family. And Dr. Ely Chef has done a lot of research on that this suggests that there’s that non monogamous children are not faring any better or worse than monogamous.

Sasza Lohrey: Hello, hello, and welcome back to season two of the BBXX podcast. Let’s get intimate. We’ve been counting the days leading up to this relaunch. It feels so good to be back. And we have some exciting announcements for you. Our podcast and book club will now be building off of one another. You told us you’d love to dive deeper into each theme. So that’s what we’re going to help you do. Every other week, we’ll release a new podcast interview at the beginning of the week, and a new book club edition at the end of the week, on the same topic. The week in between the new releases will send out a premium book club edition with even more content and thoughts and reflections as well as the best insights from other BBXX community members themselves. Speaking of community, you said you wanted to know what other people’s answers word of the reflection questions we send out in the book club. So we’ve got you covered there as well. We just launched our BBXX Facebook group, BBXX, let’s get intimate insiders, where we’ll be posting discussion questions and sharing exclusive content. The only catch is that for the premium book club and the Facebook group, you have to earn your way into them. A lot of you have asked us how you can help spread the word. So we’ve launched a referral program for every person, you get to sign up for the BBXX book club, you work your way up the rewards ladder and get awesome perks. For example, even if you just get one person to join, you get access to an ebook of our favorite podcast, TED talks and documentaries. Get three people to join. And you get the premium book club edition email every other week with the reflection questions. And if you get five people to join well, then you get access to the Facebook group, where you can read other people’s answers to the reflection questions and join us firsthand in changing the culture and the conversation surrounding intimacy and relationships during the month of October only to celebrate our relaunch for every person you get to join. You’ll also be entered to win an Airbnb gift card to help you sponsor a “treat yourself solo trip” or perhaps a romantic getaway with a BFF or a new adventure with a partner. And if you leave us a podcast review on iTunes, you get three bonus entries for the Airbnb gift card. Just be sure to email us to let us know you left a review so we can be sure to count it. Lastly, we’ll also be launching an ambassador program soon. So contact us if you’re interested in becoming a BBXX ambassador. That’s all for the announcements for now. Thank you so much for listening, and be sure to share this info with your friends. You can also find the info for everything I just mentioned at bbxx.world/lazy which has all your go to links.

Sasza Lohrey: You mentioned the polyamorous next door and so I’d also just kind of going off of that concept. And while we’re talking about these benefits love to clarify for people that it’s not necessarily something that people in the community or people who research it are saying that everyone should try because there are these great benefits. But that there are certain types of people who are predisposed to being happier in these types of relationships, and experiencing more benefits versus other people. And you once gave the kind of analogy of there being cat people and dog people, and they’re just different types of people with very different preferences and different kind of companionship preferences to be very specific, that aren’t necessarily going to change. And just because you’re a dog person, doesn’t mean you should try buying a cat, that’s actually irrelevant. You know, there are studies though, that show people who are high socio sexuality, who do experience less relationship satisfaction when in a monogamous relationship, can then experience more satisfaction in these consensual, non monogamous relationships. But it’s not necessarily meant for be, to be something that that people need to try. And a lot of people if they’re curious, you can read more. But there’s also a lot of intuition and kind of knowing yourself. And as you, that, you mentioned, it kind of requires people to become more self aware and step into this more authentic space and can even with yourself, as you’re learning about this, you can step into that space and kind of learn about whether or not you think this would be something for you. But regardless of that, and for as many people it’s not something that they see benefit from, there are, I think so many things that can be learned, like with jealousy, as you just mentioned, and especially with communication, that is present, and non monogamy, with kind of confronting different situations that people even in happily, monogamous relationships can learn from.

Dr. Heath Schechinger: Yeah, and we do have data that study that just came out recently that suggested that match in terms of your ideal relationship structure, that people have the highest relationship satisfaction when there is a match, there was a recent Canadian sample that 10% of Canadians indicated in this day that they want to be in a or that non monogamy is their ideal. But there wasn’t a full 10% that identified that way. But the people that had the highest satisfaction levels, and it didn’t make a difference, whether it was monogamy or consensual non monogamy that that to your point, that it’s about match. And it’s about doing what is good for you, regardless of whether that’s in the monogamy or non monogamy because there’s pros and cons of both. And I think it’s important to have a model, that contrast is one size fits all model that is considered to be respectable, so that we have a way of contrasting and even creating more space, within monogamous relationships, to be authentic and to, to to normalize, that even in the context of a happy, monogamous relationship, that it’s normal to experience attraction to other people. And if we can create more space for people, regardless of the relationship structure, if that’s a byproduct of the consensual non monogamy movement, then I think that that’s a beautiful win and in a contribution that the non monogamy. I’m not sure if it’s a movement. But how I see that benefiting anyone regardless of their relationship structure.

Sasza Lohrey: You just mentioned that fact of attraction and how that exists, regardless of relationship structure, often, but in consensual, non monogamous relationships is obviously addressed very differently. I was just talking last night actually, as I was researching this and talking with two of my best friends who are married, happily married happily in a monogamous relationship. And they both said that they would never be willing or interested in trying this. But what I have learned from them that is very different than I think a lot of other couples I know is that they are extremely open about their attractions to other people. And it’s actually when they’re out at a party, for example, and they see somebody who they think is attractive, they actually enjoy pointing it out to the other person and kind of talking about it and why they think the other person is attractive and if somebody is kind of being flirted with at a party, it’s more of kind of a funny joke, or it’s, it’s not a threat in any way. So the whole way that they frame their monogamous, committed relationship around this is is so non traditional, but in another way, not in its structure. But in kind of the communication surrounding these in denial things at some point, you know, people won’t ever stop finding somebody attractive on the street, etc. But if they are freely able to express that and even share it with a person, their partner, then it can become kind of this cathartic thing rather than this sort of tension that might build up or forced you to ask questions and what ifs in your head that often lead people astray, I think.

Dr. Heath Schechinger: You’re reminded me of one of my favorite books on the topic is a book called Mating In Captivity, by Esther Parral. And I think she does a beautiful job of providing language for capturing how it seems to be a relative universal experience. Not for everyone, of course. But for many people have this experience of wanting this desire for long term security, and commitment in a relationship and perhaps to be with someone for a long period of time or the rest of their life. And for a lot of people or the majority of people, we also experienced this desire for novelty, or newness, or for something to be fresh, and we are titillated by that. And I think that it’s important, regardless of your relationship structure, that you’re creating a safe space to talk about that in a truly authentic way, and just really rolling out the red carpet for your partner to be able to name when they are experiencing attraction to someone else. I, we don’t have data on this, but I hold curiosity about how much will this impact if at all infidelity rates, and if people had more space in a relationship to talk about their attraction to other people, would that prompt people to cheat less, or if we remove the stigma, from having these periodic deviations or whatever type of designer relationship that you want that we create these these socially acceptable models for exploring or experimenting, having some level of openness in the relationship and we’re not automatically condemning a partner for experiencing that and wanting to talk about that in a relationship. I wonder how that might influence the quality of the relationship or whether people end up cheating, which is one of the top reasons for ending relationships in the first place.

Sasza Lohrey: I think that unfortunately, as things are now, those conversations being brought up, would most likely damage the relationship, but because people don’t have the tools to talk about in the communicational skills, which I’d love to get into a bit later.

Dr. Heath Schechinger: We also don’t Oh, sorry.

Sasza Lohrey: Go for it.

Dr. Heath Schechinger: We also don’t have these normalized models in mainstream media about how that’s okay. We’re starting to see more of that in different popular forms of media, like I just came across Wanderlust on Netflix more recently. And so you’re starting to see more of that. And I think that that’s part of why it’s so difficult, and even why people might feel that pent up energy around that. And so much fear around it, is the fear of judgment, for experiencing that, despite all the data that we have, that suggests this is a really normal thing for people to experience, even in the happiest of relationships, to hold desire and curiosity about wanting to connect with somebody else.

Sasza Lohrey: And I’m just thinking, as you mentioned, Esther Parral. And she says that her theory behind why people cheat is often not because they’re looking for a different partner, or trying to replace that partner or seek other qualities in somebody else, but because they’re trying to connect with a different version of themselves, that they’ve lost, or that they never experienced. And so again, it’s going back to that self awareness. And even if it’s just people questioning why am I having these thoughts in my relationship about other people or whatever it is? Where do they stem from? Is it actually me looking for something different in my partner, another partner? Or is this really just me needing to become more self aware? And kind of trace these things back and find perhaps what I’m missing in myself and what qualities or what kind of desires that might not have anything to do with sex, it could be unfulfilled career goals, etc. What kind of am I searching for in myself? That I’m looking for my partner to fill? Or I feel held back from because of my partner.

Dr. Heath Schechinger: Yes. And we all do a certain degree of contorting in our relationships to maintain intimacy. And we’ve, many of us have had, let’s say, a different partner that has pulled different sides of us to the surface. And for some people, their preference is going to be to continue to work within the context of their one relationship, to try to get as many of their needs met and to meet as many of their partner’s needs as they can. For some people, though, they just are more open or open to allowing for connection with other people. And they can prescribe that as much as they want, there’s no right or wrong, I would say in terms of which model of non monogamy is ideal. I would say it gives more space to have a conversation, that if let’s say your favorite flavor of ice cream is mint, chocolate chip. I mean, but if some people would prefer to stay in that area, and other people are just more open to exploring other options.

Dr. Heath Schechinger: You mentioned that people often make adjustments or experience different versions of themselves or different partners. And that kind of leads me to one of the lessons that I learned and think that many people in monogamous relationships can kind of learn from the model of non monogamy, which is your partner can be if they’re superman, but shouldn’t necessarily be responsible for fulfilling all of your needs. to expect that from one person, regardless of circumstance, regardless of kind of life stage, etc. is, is pretty difficult for any one person to even try an attempt to let alone actually be able to do and I have a friend, a close friend who’s going through this, currently in a marriage, where they were always the couple who was together all the time, they never got sick of each other, they never wanted to hang out with other people. And that’s great. But it got to the point where maybe that wasn’t the case anymore. And she had realized how much she had left her other relationships to the side. And she’d put so much pressure on this one person in expecting everything from them, rather than looking to friends looking to family members, and cultivating those relationships that can also feel so many needs, and in some cases, better when you have that balance. And so these people in non monogamous relationships have multiple partners. And the same can be said for not necessarily having another partner but having those other resources available to you, in other people, be it friends, or what else where you can kind of live out the different versions of yourself that you might love and of course have and giving them the space to as well and relieving some of that terrible pressure.

Dr. Heath Schechinger: Exactly. You hit it right on. And then there’s a number of people that are in consensual non monogamous relationships that report that that a big part of the appeal is that I don’t have the pressure of meeting all of my partner’s needs. And it benefits and adds to our relationship for them to not have that pressure, and their partner doesn’t feel that that pressure themselves and even when entering into a relationship. So I’ve heard a number of people name that, well, I don’t hold the same expectations in terms of them needing to be perfect. So people are maybe more relaxed going into relationship because it’s up what normally I might have really nitpicked that, that detail or really been worried or concerned about that thing that’s not quite there with this partner. But I can meet that with a little bit of a more gentle touch. Because, well, if I don’t get my needs met, or if we don’t have a perfect connection there, that’s okay, the door is enclosed, that the I still have the opportunity to connect with other people that it almost it provides space, even just knowing that there’s the option to continue to connect with somebody else. And so it holds potential for even helping oxygenate a relationship a little bit more.

Sasza Lohrey: And going off of that. I wonder exactly if relieving people of some of those extra responsibilities that maybe they don’t know how to fulfill or don’t have the skills or the language to do so. allows them to focus on the things that they’re better at. So if you go to your friends for some of these other needs, if your partner can then focus on really the value that they bring best and that they enjoy most.

This is the first episode of our two-part interview with Dr. Heath Schechinger, a researcher and psychologist at the University of California Berkeley who specializes in consensual non-monogamy (CNM). Dr. Heath is the founder and co-chair of the American Psychological Association Division 44 Consensual Non-monogamy Task Force, an organization that promotes awareness and inclusivity of CNM and non-traditional relationships.

Dr. Heath first walks us through his initial foray into the study of gender, sex, and relationships through the lens of CNM, before diving into the historical progression of the CNM movement and the nuances that differentiate non-traditional relationships.

Terminology: Defining Non-Traditional Relationships

CNM is an umbrella term to capture all forms of consensual relationships where there is unanimous consent that it is permissible to have multiple concurrent sexual and/or romantic relationships. 

Polyamory would then fall under this CNM umbrella, as it’s defined as the state or practice of having multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships simultaneously. It’s important to note that polyamory places an emphasis on permitting multiple romantic and/or love-based connections within a relationship, as opposed to permitting a purely physical connection with other people. 

By contrast, an open relationship and swinging typically focus more on the permission to experience physical connections with other people, while restricting romantic connections. As a result, it’s possible for “emotional cheating” to occur within an open relationship or a swinging partnership.

Polygamy by definition is the act of being married to more than one person. Dr. Heath notes two important historical and social nuances between polygamy and polyamory. The first being the role of gender — in polyamory, gender is never prescribed, creating a more queer-affirming and queer-focused relationship, while polygamy has historically been attached to heterosexuality. Secondly, polyamory finds its roots in feminism, while polygamy has historical foundations in religious fundamentalism and is often tied to misogyny

Finally, monogamish (a recently coined term made famous by relationship and sex columnist celebrity Dan Savage) describes a couple that predominantly views themselves as monogamous, while occasionally allowing sexual encounters with other individuals. 

Breaking Myths of Non-Monogamy

Myth #1:People who are drawn to non-monogamous relationships belong to a specific, limited demographic. 

The types of people who pursue non-monogamous relationships cross all spectrums. Dr. Heath mentions The Polyamorists Next Door by Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, a book that studies the upsurge of CNM nationally across a variety of demographics.

Myth #2: CNM doesn’t work and negatively impacts relationships.

A number of studies suggest that CNM is an equally viable alternative to monogamy. There is no evidence to suggest that non-monogamy will harm a relationship, or that those in CNM relationships are less happy or less satisfied.

Myth #3: People in CNM relationships experience more jealousy.

Research has indicated that those in CNM relationships report lower levels of jealousy than those in monogamous relationships.

Myth #4: CNM relationships have higher rates of STIs.

While people in CNM relationships have more partners on average than their monogamous peers, studies have shown that CNM partners are more likely to be open about their sexual health and are thus more likely to practice safe sex.

Myth #5: CNM relationships have a negative impact on children.

Recent studies have suggested that children raised by parents who practice CNM are not faring any better or worse than children raised by monogamous parents.

Wait, does this mean everyone should be non-monogamous? 

Not necessarily. Keep in mind that there are different types of people with different types of emotional wiring and companionship preferences. Think of it like this: Just because you’re a dog person, doesn’t mean you should try buying a cat. But, maybe there is something a dog-person could learn from their cat-loving neighbor! We’ll ditch the analogy and summarize it this way: examining your own thoughts, feelings, curiosities, and doubts surrounding non-monogamy is a great way to examine your own belief system in order to deepen your self-knowledge and self-awareness.

Conflicting Cravings: Security vs. Novelty

Dr. Heath mentions the importance of communication when navigating the instinctual, yet paradoxical, desire for both security and novelty in a relationship. He references Mating in Captivity, a book written by Esther Perel that studies this common conundrum.

If people had more space in a relationship to talk about their attraction to other people, would that prompt people to cheat less?

In order to create the space for this communication to take place, we need to eliminate the shame attached to experiencing attraction outside of a relationship. But how? By normalizing these feelings and creating greater visibility of non-traditional relationship structures in mainstream media and culture. Dr. Heath briefly mentions Wanderlust, a new Netflix series that spotlights this topic. 

What can people in monogamous relationships learn from non-monogamy?  

  1. Your partner shouldn’t be responsible for fulfilling all of your needs. 
  2. Communication is essential. The process of naming our feelings out loud prevents us (and our partners) from misinterpreting and creating false narratives.

Dive Into More Research & Resources

No additional resources found for this episode.

About the Expert

Heath Schechinger - profile

Heath Schechinger

Dr. Schechinger offers therapy and consultation for individuals, couples, and multi-partner relationships from a feminist, sex-positive lens. As founder and co-chair of the APA Division 44 Consensual Non-monogamy Taskforce, he has considerable experience supporting the non-monogamous, kink/BSDM, TGNC/NB, and LGBQIA communities. He also offers support for individuals & partners processing infidelity or experiencing sexuality concerns. In addition to his private practice, he's also on staff at the University of California, Berkeley.

Episode Discussion

Home Forums Episodes 22 & 23 – "The Evolution of (Non)Monogamy" with Heath Schechinger

  • Episodes 22 & 23 – "The Evolution of (Non)Monogamy" with Heath Schechinger

  • Valentina 

    October 12, 2020 at 12:19 pm
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    • What did you learn about yourself?
    • What did you learn about culture?
    • What was your favorite quote?
    • What surprised you most?
    • What is one way you can enact what you learned in your own life?
    • How can we each help shift the culture and the conversation surrounding this topic?
  • Hope

    October 19, 2020 at 9:07 am
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    What I learned about myself from this episode was that I personally could not be apart of a nonmonogamy relationship. I feel as though my insecurities would be heightened because if my partner wants to be with other people consistently during our relationship, what am I not able to provide? However, I liked the line that nonmonogamy is for people who want to connect with other people. I do think that this could help relationships if it was discussed previously so infidelity doesn’t happen during the relationship. The most interesting things from the episode to me were the nonmonogamy myths–consensual nonmonogamy relationships are more likely to be unhappy, nonmonogamy relationships lead to contracting more STIs, and they leave negative impacts on children’s relationships with their parents. I thought these were interesting because they all seem to be assumptions made by a person who wouldn’t be able to process a nonmonogamy relationship; they don’t seem to come from someone who has personally experienced these things. The line that said monogamy leads to lower jealousy levels also stood out to me, because Schechinger ends up saying that nonmonogamy relationships actually lead to lower jealousy levels because you both understand there will be other partners involved. Whereas, monogamy entails it is just the two people. So, if someone gets hit on or if someone ends up cheating it will leave a larger impact on the relationship due to the expectations they have for the relationship.

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