How polyamory became a ‘new normal’

Polyamory, open relationships, free love, non-exclusive arrangements… however you choose to describe it, ethical non-monogamy is certainly nothing new. The term polyamory, where both partners can have multiple intimate relationships at the same time (not to be confused with polygamy, where one person has multiple partners) originated in the early 1990s, though multi-partner relationships have dated back decades, or even centuries.

The Ethical Slut, published in 1997, is known as the original bible of ethical non-monogamy — though for decades it still felt like the subject was on the fringes. More recently though, leading sex therapists like Esther Perel have brought polyamory into the public discussion.

On screen, TV and movies are starting to explore less conventional relationship models. In last year’s Passages, one half of a gay married couple begins a heterosexual relationship with a woman. Upcoming Luca Guadagnino film Challengers, starring Zendaya, has been described as a “polyamorous tennis romp” – though it’s not clear whether the threesome hinted at in the trailer extends to a full-on relationship.

More than a fashion

However this idea that polyamory is “in vogue”, is causing some pushback. The author of More resides in Brooklyn’s affluent Park Slope neighbourhood and, coupled, with the New York Magazine article, there’s scepticism over polyamory being packaged up as the latest lifestyle choice for well-off urbanites. “The very class of Americans who most reap the benefits of marriage are the same class who get to declare monogamy passé and boring,” writes Tyler Austin Harper in The Atlantic.

Yet statistics do back up the idea that it’s becoming more common. According to Pew Research, 51% of adults under 30 in the US think that open marriage is acceptable – while YouGov data shows a third of Americans describe their ideal relationship as something other than complete monogamy.

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