January 9, 2019
Open Relationships in Toronto
This piece was originally published in Post City Magazines.
In my line of work, I’m privy to an often unsolicited glimpse into the intimate lives of couples from all walks of life. From chatty Uber drivers to long-lost childhood friends, it’s not uncommon for people to open up as soon as they find out what I do for a living. One of the trends I’ve observed in these conversations over the past ten years involves an increase in consensual non-monogamy (CNM). Data from two representative samples of to 8,718 adults suggests that 21% have been in some form of a CNM relationship. And though non-monogamy has always existed in multiple forms (e.g. cheating), it seems that consensual non-monogamy may be on the rise.
Some, like Mandy from Forest Hill, say CNM is a more realistic option given the divorce, infidelity and marital dissatisfaction rates. “I didn’t want to be another statistic. After watching my parents and so many of their friends and siblings, I knew there had to be another way.”
Others discovered CNM by chance and were pleasantly surprised. “It had nothing to do with our upbringing,” says Yorkville resident Petra. “My parents have been happily married for fifty-something years. But monogamy just isn’t the best fit for us. We opened up twelve years ago after talking to some new friends we met in France and we couldn’t be happier.”
There are, of course, many reasons people opt for CNM and no two relationships are alike. And though Mandy and Petra see CNM as the key to relationship success, people in monogamous relationships view monogamy similarly. This is because we have a tendency to generalize our own desires and estimations as universally ideal. The data, however, suggests that both CNM and monogamy can be successful. Though those practicing CNM exhibit higher levels of trust and lower levels of jealousy, research reveals that levels of satisfaction, commitment, and passion levels are similar.
I believe that whatever arrangement you choose, your chances of success increase when you thoughtfully consider your options in advance and opt-in as opposed to simply accepting one relationship structure as a default setting.
Just like monogamy, CNM does not work for everyone (there is some preliminary evidence that certain personality types are drawn to it) and it is not the answer to a failing monogamous relationship. It won’t eliminate common relationship stressors related to time, extended family, household labour, kids and money. But its benefits might include expanded support networks, alternative openings for personal growth and an emphasis on exploration over restriction. As CNM requires greater specificity with regard to delineating relationship boundaries and expectations, it can lead to more voluminous communication which has the potential to increase intimacy and decrease tension.
“I also feel less pressure around sex than I did before,” says Petra. “I feel like it helps us to connect in other ways and because we’re open and about other people, I’m not afraid of losing him to someone else.”
CNM, of course, is about much more than sex. And though often dismissed as a way to condone sexual infidelity, there is a clear
distinction between CNM and cheating: consent by all parties involved.
Midtown residents Jules* and Frank* laugh when friends assume that it’s all about sex. “We spend way more time talking about sex than having sex,” says Jules.” And since we’ve had to talk about our expectations when it comes to dating others, it has helped us to talk about expectations in other areas like parenting, housework, and money. It’s not sexy, but it has been good for us.”
Frank adds, “We could do without the judgment though. When something goes wrong, friends and family blame our open relationship, but when things are going well, they wouldn’t consider giving it credit.”
Whether you’re enticed, unmoved or perturbed by the concept of CNM, there are lessons contained herein. For example, like CNM practitioners, it’s important to acknowledge that you cannot expect one person to fulfill all of your emotional, practical and spiritual needs. It’s equally important to spend time apart from a partner to support individual growth. Many people in CNM emphasize the value of talking about potential issues including needs, desires, insecurities before they arise and this preventative communication can benefit monogamous folks alike. Others report feelings of compersion which refers to deriving pleasure and fulfillment from a partner’s pleasurable or fulfilling experience; this is an interesting concept to explore regardless of how many partners you have as it applies in and out of the bedroom.
And if the idea of others practicing CNM upsets you, it may be worth examining why you find it so threatening. Your judgment of others reveals more about your relationship issues than theirs.
Want to learn more about CNM relationships? Listen to the Sex With Dr. Jess Podcast: