Whole Lesbian Sex
Monogamy, Nonmonogamy, Polyamory: What's the Big Deal?

Felice Newman,

News flash: Not all lesbians are monogamous. Monogamy isn't necessarily the hallmark of a mature, committed relationship. Contrary to what you might see on The L Word, it's not even the cure for Lesbian Drama.

Likewise, monogamy won't necessarily send you down the lonely path to Lesbian Bed Death, and nonmonogamy won't necessarily supercharge your libido. Declaring polyamory doesn't guarantee a stream of hotties through your bedroom.

Monogamy isn't a foolproof safer-sex strategy. Some STDs can lie dormant for months or even years after exposure, which may be longer than your previous relationship. You could easily transmit an STD you didn't know you had. And, of course, many women have sex outside of their relationships without telling their partners.

Monogamy vs. nonmonogamy (or polyamory, which is having more than one sexual relationship at a time) is a construct – that is, something we have created. As with other polarities (children vs. no children, city vs. country), it oversimplifies our real needs and goes nowhere toward creating mutual satisfaction.

Be specific about what these words mean to you. What is it about monogamy that you require? Is it security and commitment? Do you need exclusivity in order to risk intimacy? Monogamy is not a remedy for jealousy, nor is it insurance against loss.

If monogamy is your goal, how do you define it? Is it monogamy if you have sex with only one partner in real time, but have online play partners? Or flirt in chatrooms? Does an occasional romp at a play party count? What about a lap dance at a charity strip show? Or when you're out of town on business? And is this arrangement explicit – something you've discussed with your partner – or something you think she knows but doesn't want to know? Does your relationship leave room for you to fantasize freely, even when your partner is not in the starring role – or do you rein in your imagination? How much head space does your relationship allow you?

Do you masturbate regularly? Does it feel like cheating if you steal a quick wank while your girlfriend's in the shower? I think masturbation is a fundamental health practice – like eating your green vegetables, only way more fun. If you don't feel free to give yourself sexual pleasure without hiding the fact, what else do you forgo in the name of loyalty? When was the last time you watched a sexy DVD all by yourself? Read a dirty book? Enjoyed an innocent flirtation at the grocery store?

If you prefer nonmonogamy or polyamory, what about them is important to you? Is it the idea of sexual freedom – or the practice of it? Nonmonogamy is not a guarantee of sexual satisfaction, nor does it prevent loss of sexual interest. Do you need to know that you can act on the erotic sparks that fuel your days? Do you need more sex than your partner? Do you want to have sexual relationships, or is it sexual variety and adventure that appeal to you? Would a birthday visit from a stripper offering more than a show satisfy your itch? A recreational play date?

What mutually satisfying possibilities might you imagine together? Would either of you feel differently if extramarital forays were negotiated and staged to involve both of you? While the idea of having sex with someone other than your lover may leave you cold, might you participate as co-conspirator and witness? What about spinning fantastic tales of made-up sexual adventure while you have sex? Would attending a sex party as voyeurs (and having sex afterward) satisfy your need for outside sexual stimulation?

As one woman said to me, "Both of us enjoy our freedom of sexual expression, and face it – playing with a woman that you will never have to see again is really fun." Amen.

Felice Newman is a founding publisher of Cleis Press, coaches individuals and couples and she is the author of "The Whole Lesbian Sex Book: A Passionate Guide for All of Us." She can be reached at Visit her at

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