Is There a Battle of the Sexes in “Consensual” Non-Monogamy?

Nov 4, 2019 by

The data suggest that we should be more skeptical about the term “consensual” in consensual non-monogamy, the umbrella term for various kinds of sexually open relationships. Perhaps we need to challenge the idea that these kinds of relationships lead to greater gender equality rather than less.

A couple months ago, a friend (of Heather’s) posted on Facebook: “With June being pride month and everything, I decided that I wanted to update everyone on the recent big point of my life. First of all, many of you don’t know, but I am pansexual. Along with that I am polyamorous, and I am currently in a triad with two wonderful people who make me incredibly happy.” After Heather reached out to her in an effort to understand, she said, “My boyfriend and I were in a relationship and then he introduced to me his long-time girlfriend and everything clicked. So now she’s our girlfriend. For our [the triad] relationship to work, it’s like any other relationship. We have to communicate.”

This type of relationship is commonly referred to as consensual non-monogamy (CNM). A CNM relationship is an umbrella term for polyamory and various kinds of sexually open relationships. This means that more than two individuals are in a relationship with all partners consenting to each other’s participation in the relationship, including all additional emotional and sexual connections. A recent study found that nearly 3 percent of U.S. adults are currently in an open sexual relationship, with 12 percent of adults reported to be in an open sexual relationship at some point in their lives. Millennials and GenXers are a little more involved with and supportive of CNM than the Silent and Baby Boom generations.

A polyamorous connection, for example, might look like one in a recent New York Times photo essay where married couple Beth and Andrew Sparksfire are shown lying next to another couple. Next to Andrew is his girlfriend, Effy Blue, with her boyfriend, Thomas Kavanaugh. Beth and Thomas, however, are not in a relationship with each other. They all say consensual non-monogamy works for them. But would it work for more than just a few? And while some may think this practice leads to more gender equality, does it?

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