Ethical Non-monogamy or Polyamory

POLYAMORY

Ethical Non-monogamy or Polyamory

With so many options today and many professionals independent and not interested in settling down, people are looking for new romantic options that fit their modern day attitudes and lifestyle. Though it isn’t a significant part of the population yet, ethical non-monogamy, also known as polyamory, is a growing trend. So what is polyamory? It comes from the Greek meaning many loves. There is no hard and fast definition. The practice is having more than one loving or sexual relationship at a time, which all parties involved knowledgeable and consenting. No one should be pressured into entering into this kind of relationship. It should be an arrangement all parties are interested in. Another definition less often used, it could also mean a couple taking part in non-monogamous activities such as swinging. Many believe that the human heart is too wild and free to be tamed by a certain social construct. Outside of such expectations, no one can really say who they will love or how many they have the capacity to love, be it one or twenty. Though we have familial love and friendship, polyamory refers specifically to having romantic relationships that include intercourse. The point is to grow strong relationships, enjoy the powerful feelings and the act and have deep, profound intimacy in all of them. Everyone involved has to be consenting. These need to be open-minded individualists. But they also need to be good communicators.

It isn’t a competition. No one should be keeping score. Instead, it’s about making an emotional connection with others and not dictating to the heart who and how. Some believe that we have the capacity to love many others without constraints. They say this is a way to escape serial monogamy. In monogamous relationships there is the problem of the relationship going sour. Another problem is cheating, lying and hurt feelings. Here, those things are eliminated. Of course, there can be jealousy. But it’s how that jealousy is managed that counts. Really jealous people should steer clear of this sort of arrangement. There are all kinds of poly relationships. What most people are looking for is the freedom to love how they wish without hurting others, and the ability to determine what kind of arrangement works for them. How long does such a relationship last? Just like all relationships, it depends on the people that are in it and how they relate to each other. Some last for years while others only for a short while. Each person in any type of relationship brings baggage and pre-conceived notions. Communication is really what it all comes down to. You don’t have to be bisexual to be poly. Some couples are looking for an extra to form a triad. Some triads are open, others closed.

For those who live together, arrangements such as everyone having the same bedroom and bed, to each person having their own separate bedroom, to certain people maintaining a schedule where they sleep in a certain bed on a certain night are all well-known arrangements in poly communities. If it’s a closed triad, it’s important that each member relate to the other, and spend time with each other so no one feels left out. Each person’s relationship has to be strengthened. Sometimes a schedule is formed so each member can have quality time with each other. Some people practice polyfidelity or polyfi meaning their triad is closed. But others are more open. There is also a unique term called compersion in the poly community. This is when someone you love is being loved well and taken care of by another, and it brings you great joy. Certainly there is no test of whether or not you are poly. Most are of a very open-minded, progressive mindset and nonreligious and so not tethered to monogamy as such. Many are intellectuals and professionals. To learn more of whether or not polyamory or ethical non-monogamy is right for you read, More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert.

Scientists Isolate the Monogamy Gene

monogamy

Scientists Isolate the Monogamy Gene

Some men seem like they were born for monogamy. Others have someone new nearly every time you turn around. So how can a girl know if a guy is in it for the long haul, or if she is just the latest in a legion of lovers? Someday we may be able to take a genetic sample to see who has the monogamy gene and who doesn’t. It sounds like science fiction, but it’s closer to reality than you think. Scientists believe they have isolated the monogamy gene. Recently, there has been some speculation surrounding the hormone vasopressin. It is present in monogamous species but absent in others. Prairie voles are small monogamous rodents which carry vasopressin within their systems. Randy meadow voles however don’t have this hormone and so refuse to settle down. These little guys instead are forever promiscuous. Oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” is the equivalent of vasopressin in humans.  It is the pair bonding hormone which triggers the “calm and cuddle” response, what our systems do to get us ready for love. This is considered the polar opposite of the “fight or flight” response. As the New Scientist puts it, “Now it seems variations in a section of the gene coding for a vasopressin receptor in people help to determine whether men are serial commitment-phobes or devoted husbands.”

Researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden conducted the study. The lead researcher was Hasse Walum. 552 Swedish participants, all in heterosexual relationships for at least five years, took part. Each person was tested for a gene variation in their vasopressin receptor, the section of which is called RS3 334. This gene designates how a man will bond with his partner, according to researchers. A man can either have none, one, or two copies of RS3 334. Researchers soon found that the more copies a man had, the less likely he was to stay monogamous. Those who had two copies of RS3 334 were more likely to be single then those men who had none or one. If they were married there was a higher likelihood of a crisis in their marriage. Walum says that due to the fact that this data was collected from another study, researchers couldn’t ask the men whether or not they were faithful in their relationships. The study was published in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Though scientists are convinced that multiple copies of RS3 334 affect the expression of the vasopressin receptor, it is not clear how. In theory some animals have their brain split into two “motivational” centers. One is for social perception, the other reward. In marmosets and the aforementioned prairie voles, both of these receptors sit next to one another on cells. That means they are closely associated. Here social activity is felt to be rewarding, so these mammals are monogamous. Scientists want to know if the same phenomenon is active in people. Post-mortems are likely to be studied in order to see where these vasopressin receptors are within the human body. Scientists will also have to see what variations exist in the number of copies of RS3 334. Bond coupling isn’t the only social effect this gene has. The same section of genetic coding was found to set off the amygdala, a portion of the brain responsible for feelings of trust. Another study looking at altruism found that those who had multiple copies of RS3 334 exhibited unusual social behavior. Walum and his colleague will begin a new study testing a nasal spray containing vasopressin to see whether or not it affects altruism and jealousy. To learn more on the science of love and bonding read, The Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People by David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton.

Fidelity and Promiscuity; Evolutionary Adaptations found in Both Sexes

INFIDELITY

Fidelity and Promiscuity; Evolutionary Adaptations found in Both Sexes

Conventional wisdom states that men always have a wandering eye. Though many settle down to healthy, monogamous relationships, it is believed that they are still prone to promiscuity and always wanting sex. For women, however, they are supposed paragons of fidelity. Once a woman finds a man she wants to settle down with, her heart is his. She won’t stray unless he treats her terribly, or so it is thought. At least these are the messages we are fed through the media, our families, and our cultural superstructure. But is it true?

Practically, we’ve probably all observed a “one woman man” who makes a great husband and father and wouldn’t dream of cheating. We also know women who would prefer not to settle down and see their love life as one unending adventure. So what’s going on here and what does science tell us? A recent study out of Oxford University is illuminating our view on the sexes and how fidelity and promiscuity play a role in our evolution. Oxford researchers believe that the faithful and the not-so-much are actually pretty evenly distributed throughout the sexes. What’s more, each person’s position fulfills a specialized role.

To conduct this study, Dr. Rafael Wlodarski and his Oxford team combed through data from two other studies. One was called the “sociosexual orientation inventory.” Here 600 people answered a questionnaire which investigated their tendency to enter sexual relationships without commitment. The other study measured the length of people’s index and ring fingers. 1,300 participants took part in total. The length of one’s ring finger in comparison to the index means more exposure to testosterone in the womb. This finger phenomenon holds true for all primates, and is associated with higher levels of promiscuity. Men were in fact more likely to engage in promiscuity than women. Dr. Wlodarski and his colleagues weren’t surprised by that, but what researchers wanted to know was if each sex had a separate sexual strategy that they engaged in. Researchers found, however, that being promiscuous or faithful were strategies that both sexes engaged in, and have genetic underpinnings.  Dr. Wlodarski and colleagues believe our sexual strategies are in fact phenotypes.  They are the outward expression of underlying genes. Here’s where natural selection comes in. Perhaps genes that promoted successful mating strategies were passed down from one generation to the next.

Phenotype differences between men and women are surprisingly similar. For men, promiscuity to faithfulness was expressed in the ratio of 57:43. For women, promiscuity was outdone by faithfulness but only by a slight margin 53:47. What’s shocking is both of these ratios are really close to 50:50. During the Stone Age, childbirth was dangerous business and a child under four had a low chance of survival. The more women were inseminated the more likely our species would survive. Also, the greater gene variety, the healthier our species would become. Therefore, in a mere evolutionary sense, men and women benefited to a certain level of promiscuity. The faithfulness part comes in as a young child requires both parents to survive in the wild. Therefore, the expression of faithfulness and continuity between parents helped children and our species continue.

Biologists have considered this in theory, but Dr. Wlodarksi’s findings add weight. That theory is called evolutionarily stable strategy. This theory states that those behaviors that helped the species survive become more prominent, whereas those that did not became less so. But what does this mean for the state of modern love and marriage? In the future will doctors be able to genetically test a person and tell them which pattern of love fits their makeup and who is their best match, be they faithful or promiscuous? Does this mean that certain couples would fare better with an open relationship while others would naturally be more monogamous? Science is still a long way away from helping us engineer or hack our love lives. But it certainly is food for thought. If you want to know how science can make your love life sweeter read, Principia Amoris: The New Science of Love by John Mordechai Gottman.

Can an Open Marriage Prevent Divorce?

open

Can an Open Marriage Prevent Divorce?

A new study shows that the idea of an open relationship is more prevalent than ever before. The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships recently published a study by University of Michigan psychologist Amy Moors that showed that married couples today are more open and willing to try this type of arrangement. The technical term is consensual non-monogamy. This means that both partners agree that they are allowed to have outside sexual or romantic relationships. There are polyamorists who want to have multiple loves, and swingers who prefer to have multiple partners. But instead of cheating, both partners are open and honest with one another about the other relationships they take part in.

A study conducted previously found that between four and five percent of couples practice some form of consensual non-monogamy. What isn’t known is if there are more people or couples who would consider such an arrangement but fear bringing it up. 1,280 heterosexual adults between the ages of 18 and 67 took part in this latest study. Most were single or in a monogamous relationship, none were in a consensual non-monogamous relationship.

Most of the respondents, male and female, thought it was okay for others to take part in a consensual non-monogamous relationship. People were fine with others taking part in this arrangement, but few wanted to do so themselves. Men were slightly higher at just over two percent where women were almost two percent in favor of taking part in a consensual non-monogamous relationship. Psychologists believe that in our culture we are socialized to believe that monogamy is right and that cheating is wrong. There are lots of different ways for this type of arrangement to occur. For instance some couples say they can have sex with whomever they wish, but must use condoms. Others say that they can’t have sex with the same person more than once. Some insist that the marriage must be the topmost relationship. Others invite a third person in to share the relationship and all treat each other as equals. Some are allowed to pursue other romantic relationships in addition to sex. It all depends upon the arrangement.

So can an open marriage prevent a divorce from occurring? Though with the number still low of people who desire taking part in this type of arrangement, for certain people in a certain kind of relationship, with open and honest communication it can be beneficial. Though for most, the guilt and shame, and the feeling that they’ve strayed too far from the norm may make them avoid this type of arrangement. Certainly the communication level must be high, as well as the trust level, and jealousy must be low or well managed, or else it isn’t going to work. For more on this topic try, The Mantra of Love: One couple’s story of turning love into the freedom of non-monogamy by Jay Vincent and Marcy Lynn.

Used to be the Seven Year Itch, now It’s Just Three

MARRIAGE-DOOMED

Used to be the Seven Year Itch, now It’s Just Three

50% of women and 60% of men admit to having an affair sometime in their lives. It’s inevitable that many people will start to question their marriage or even monogamy itself at some point. Many experts believe that this is happening earlier nowadays. It used to be the seven year itch, in other words at year seven people were wondering about their marriage, but today it’s happening at year three. Once the nuance wears off and we start to really get a sense of who the other person is, and what their faults actually are, disillusionment about the relationship, even marriage itself can set in.

Once the thrill has worn off the sex often declines and the couple feels disconnected. At this point some people question the relationship. Did they really know this person before tying the knot? Was something overlooked during the dating phase? They wonder if they settled or somehow made a mistake. First, understand that this is a normal, natural pattern that lots of couples go through. There are ways to reignite the spark. One is to practice compassion for your partner with absolute abandon. Show them your gratitude. Love them despite of their drawbacks. Practice radical acceptance and deep love.

Next, take part in novel experiences. What gets your heart racing? Find out how to answer that question the same as your partner and go and do that thing. Studies have shown that taking part in exciting activities can help reignite the spark. Work on bringing novelty into the bedroom. Plan a romantic evening together where you two open up to one another and start talking about your fantasies. Make plans to fulfill them, first one person’s then the others. Understand and mitigate the influence of society, particularly the fairytale fantasy and the idea of instant gratification. The media is constantly in movies, TV shows and so many other places showing us labor free, perfect relationships and uninhibited, instant mind-blowing sex. In the real world, things take investment, commitment, time and energy. Don’t think of it as work however but growing your relationship, deepening it and enhancing it.

Sometimes people get so busy with the bills, work, the kids and other responsibilities that they forget to save a little time to invest in one another. But it’s so important. Happy parents and happy workers lead to happy kids and a great working environment, advancement and productivity too. Find time to talk, show your appreciation for one another, do things that are fun and exciting together and you’ll never feel that itch at any year in your marriage. For more on keeping things hot and exciting read, The Spark: Igniting the Passion, Mystery, and Romance in Your Marriage by Jay Laffoon, Laura Laffoon and Ken Davis.