Are Polyamorous Relationships the New Sexual Revolution?

There’s data to suggest they’re better at navigating sex and love

OOver the last five years or so, there has been an increase in media coverage of polyamory and how it seems to be growing in a revolutionary way, particularly among millennials. After being largely ignored outside of blogs and message boards, people who participate in polyamorous relationships now have more opportunities to share their stories in the mainstream. In 2014, The Atlantic shared personal stories of polyamorous people and referenced research that, among other things, suggested polyamorous people are better at navigating relationship challenges than monogamous people.

In 2018, Quartz reported on a study that found one in five people has participated in ethical nonmonogamy while also noting a decrease in polyamory activism over the last generation. And in 2019, NPR did a segment on the new “sexual revolution” driven largely by people opting for polyamory and ethical nonmonogamy over traditional monogamy. This is all fine and good but the biggest issue I’ve noticed in mainstream coverage is that it is still pretty White.

Sex-positive research, advocacy, and activism dates back several decades and most of it has focused primarily on White people and their sexual habits. If you’re conducting research about sex and sexuality and aren’t including a significant number of people of color, are you really capturing the whole picture?

Part of why I began my own work as a sex-positive feminist was because of the lack of Black women’s inclusion in conversations about sexual agency and liberation. I fully understand that sexual conservatism in Black communities is real and is often rooted in religious beliefs and the result of historical sexual trauma. I also know that people of color do have robust and diverse sexual experiences and the nuances of our sexual activity and participation in alternative sexual lifestyles like polyamory must be included in larger discussions about sex and sexuality.

FFortunately, the internet has been a vital tool in drawing people of color out of their sexual shadows and giving voice to those who have long been erased from mainstream narratives. Websites that center Black people, in particular, are growing in number as more people feel safer sharing their polyamorous preferences. In 2018, BET published an article about being Black and polyamorous in which Crystal Farmer, editor of the online magazine Black & Poly, also pointed out that the larger poly community is still pretty White and she, like so many others, feels more comfortable around other Black people in poly-focused social settings. And because it can be difficult to find romantic partners when society still ostracizes polyamorous people, Black & Poly also operates a dating site for people looking to find poly love online and it welcomes all types of poly configurations, genders, and sexual orientations.

Social media platforms have also created space for polyamorous people to educate and destigmatize by sharing research and information that debunks pervasive myths and combats negative stereotypes. Do a search for “Black poly” on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, and you’ll find tons of posts from Black people who are open about being polyamorous. Black Poly Nation (BPN) was founded by a Black polyamorous couple, Devon White and Danielle Stokes-White, in December 2018.

In less than a year, BPN already has an Instagram following of over 13,000 people, over 11,000 subscribers on YouTube, and a Facebook community group with nearly 14,000 members. According to their website, BPN is “dedicated to uplifting all forms of Poly and other forms of ethical nonmonogamous relationships” and its mission is “to create a social engagement centered community, that allows people to learn, network, and even search for love.” I reached out to them to learn more about BPN and what makes them a go-to source for all things Black and polyamorous.

“More and more people are being drawn in, coming off the sidelines, and being more comfortable and confident in how they choose to love.”

White said the decision to create the BPN community was in response to “a growing call for a change in how Black polyamorous people engage each other.” He noted that “everyday people” weren’t represented in a lot of groups and that their organization “has laid the groundwork for a new, more modern and realistic representation of Black polyamorous people, one where the focus is on building a community as a whole.” BPN shares educational tidbits about polyamory, encourages community engagement, promotes mental health awareness, and according to Stokes-White, BPN has hosted more local meetups across the country than any other organization this year. The Whites are quite proud of having become one of the largest Black polyamorous organization both online and offline.

“One of the most important parts of our organization is the ability to network with like-minded people. People are finding friendships, support, advice, business partners, and quite a few are finding love as well. We want to be a real tangible positive space that is committed to connecting black polyamorous people,” says Stokes-White. I’ve seen more of social media buddies asking for information and resources related to Black polyamory and it’s refreshing to have resources like BPN to direct them to. “More and more people are being drawn in, coming off the sidelines, and being more comfortable and confident in how they choose to love,” says Stokes-White.

TThere are also conferences that center the lived experiences of Black polyamorous people and Black Poly Pride is the newest one to enter the scene. Launched in 2019 by Chanee Jackson Kendall and Cheri Calico Roman, co-founders of The Poly Cultural Diversity Alliance, the conference was created because of the lack of Black presenters and educators at other poly conferences. “Instead of waiting to be invited to speak, we built our own table and platform. We wanted to focus on the Black polyamorous experience, exploring issues related to polyamory through a culturally-relevant lens,” says Kendall via email.

As an educator, she was tired of being asked to speak specifically about “diversity” and being Black and poly; she wanted to create a conference where Black presenters were allowed to cover all aspects of polyamory, not just race issues that are inherently part of being Black and poly. “Culture informs every aspect of how we live and love; so having a conference centering Black culture and how it affects and informs the way we practice polyamory is crucial to our growth and happiness as a community, and as individuals,” she says. Black Poly Pride’s first conference was held in Dallas, TX and was a collaborative effort with other local Black polyamory groups. A mix of educational workshops and exciting after-dark activities, the conference was largely successful and is headed to Washington, D.C. in 2020 where organizers are sure to draw more upwardly mobile Black professionals who have been exploring polyamory and ethical nonmonogamy in their dating lives.

We are witnessing a shift in consciousness when it comes to the ways in which Black people love. Polyamory and ethical nonmonogamy are increasingly popular because of the people who are unapologetic and unafraid to be open and truthful about their experiences and their love lives. Despite the regular negative backlash and marginalizing, more and more Black polyamorous people are refusing to hide and pretend to be something other than who and what they are.

“We are Black people who choose to have multiple romantic relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all involved. We’re a lot like everyone else — we’re just navigating life and love with more than one other person,” says Kendall. Can we finally get to a point when we allow consenting adults to live freely and happily without casting our judgment upon them? I believe we will get there and judging by the moves people are making, people who have issues with poly romance are going to have to accept their way isn’t the only way to be truly happy.

She/Her | Author, Activist. Philly-based, NYC-bred. #ReclaimingOurSpace #PushTheButton Google me. Twitter/IG: @FeministaJones Contact: bit.ly/ContactFJ

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