Episode 2: An A to Z of CNM Part II

In episode two Zayna and I continue with our overview of the ideas and terms used in consensual non monogamy, and once again we’re helped by Daniel Cardoso. Daniel is a research fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he studies CNM activism in Portugal (where he grew up) and the UK. We also have help, once again, from Angus and Nita, both involved in organising not only the UK’s annual Polyday event but also much of the London poly calendar .

Why start with the basics? Well, doubtless plenty of you will know all this backwards but, even if you’re not new to things, it’s always useful to double check we’re all on the same page. And if you are new to things where better to start.

In episode two we deal with the N to Z of CMN. Most of these topics we’ll delve into in more depth in the months to come.

Obviously we can’t namecheck absolutely everything but this episode we cover: new relationship energy (NRE), open relationships, one penis policies, polyfidelity, polycule and primaries (and secondaries). We look at quads and triads, and consider how CNM makes space for queer folk. There’s also the legendary relationship escalator, the concept of relationship anarchy, safe sex swinging and solo poly, and then we wrap up with unicorns, ‘V’ and ‘W’ configurations and YKINMKBYKIOK! Zayna is, of course, our Z!


Zayna Ratty: Hello, and welcome to Beyond Monogamy, the podcast that explores relationship options outside the mainstream. I’m Zayna Ratty,

Jonathan Kent: and I’m Jonathan Kent, and this episode is the second half of our two part run through an A to Zed of consensual non monogamy.

ZR: And with us again from Manchester is Daniel Cardoso research fellow at Manchester Metropolitan University. He studies CNM activism in Portugal, where he grew up, and the UK.

JK: And as with the previous episode, we’ll also have contributions we recorded with Angus and Nita, who are responsible for organising many of the UK polyamory scene events. Thanks all for joining us.

JK: Last time, we got as far as the letter M. Daniel let’s pick up again with N for NRE or New Relationship Energy.

Daniel Cardoso

Daniel Cardoso: 4:10 What is it? Get out it’s a trap. No, I’m just kidding. What I mean to say is that new relationship energy is usually the term that’s used to address that giddiness that you get with when you meeting someone new when you’re entering into a new relationship, but it also has the issue that it might cause some imbalance in your life in the sense that you might forget about what your long term priorities are and become sort of caught up in the moment and potentially forget about other people and forget even about yourself.

ZR: That is sometimes people can kind of forget that it has a knock on effect and that actually is ERE which is existing relationship energy isn’t it.

DC: Yeah, exactly. And those two things sort of communicate with one another and they interact with one another. And it’s really difficult to think about consent self consent and the existing relationship energies that already flowing around us, when we are under the thrall of new relationship energy

JK: Giddy? I don’t know about giddy I’m more Marvin about these things; ‘brain the size of a planet and they want me to get excited about a new relationship.’ Open relationships, now that’s a bit of an umbrella term but it also means something a bit more specific especially amongst researchers doesn’t it a particular form of consensual non monogamy

DC: Yet usually within a research context and in a more like people approach an open relationship is when you have a couple that is socially monogamous so they have their life, their finances, etc. All set up together but then they have sexual relationships, outside of that main relationship, in a way, and so there is something that we’ll talk about shortly enough, sort of a primary relationship and everything else orbits around that it’s more to do with sexuality and sexual pleasure rather than romanticism or more intimate connection so to speak.

JK: And it often involves don’t ask don’t tell not universally but it’s not uncommon.

DC: Yeah, it’s not uncommon and it’s also very much, usually perceived as a very heterosexual thing, even though there’s a lot very long history of open relationships within the LGBTQ community.

ZR: We’ve got, I don’t know why I’m introducing this Jonathan because this seems to be a bit of a favourite of yours. It’s one penis policy. It’s like the one ring from the Lord of the Rings, except with penises. So Daniel would you mind explaining what is a one penis policy and why could it be a problematic term.

DC: One penis policy is what happens when you grab a bit of misogyny add a bit of transphobia and sort of sauté it with fragile masculinity, and that’s one penis policy. 

JK: Oh come off the fence (laughs)

DC: No, I’m serious. I’m serious, which is basically what happens when you have someone trying to control someone else’s sexual and emotional behaviour by declaring that the other person usually a man saying this to a woman can only interact with their own penis. And so, this takes us back to the notion of hierarchy, this divine power and in this case it’s the power of the penis. I’m sure Lacan would love this, the power of the penis to make everything about itself, and to usually unethically coerce other people into not interacting with other penises.

JK: You’re not selling it to anyone.

DC: Well I hope I’m not. That’s sort of the point is to not sell the one penis policy to anyone.

JK: I suppose it’s one of those things that’s okay if everybody consensus that’s what absolutely everybody positively wants and wants to sign up for, then it’s like anything else, consenting adults.

DC: But then it’s not a policy. That’s the thing between that’s the difference between a rule and a boundary. If someone does not want to interact with other penises it’s their own boundary, not a rule of the relationship and therefore it is not a policy of the relationship, it is a boundary of the person.

JK: So it’s implying non consent.

DC: As it is usually used to end understood one penis policy. Normally implies a situation of non-consent or that very weird term which is ‘coerced consent’ where people are technically saying yes but they’re being pressured in more or less subtle ways into saying

JK: yes okay, well, P is for Poly fidelity, among other things, and this is how Nita sees it.

Nita: ….is a group of three or four or more people will decide to stay in that group. So they will meet in their bubble and they will date each other, but they don’t date other people outside that group of two to seven or eight or whatever the number is.

JK: So, that’s poly fidelity. Is it very common?

DC: It is somewhat common but as far as I know, and as far as the research shows, it is not the most common way of poly people in consensually non monogamous people to organise their relationships because poly fidelity is usually very strict, in the sense that those people tend to not date, not engage with sex or relationship of intimate relationships, outside of that polycule. And so you can find it in some places you can find it in some more closed down communities and so on, but it is relatively rare.

10:12 ZR: So, P is also for primary and we touched on this in the last episode slightly when we talked about hierarchal polyam. Remind us what a primary is.

DC: So, a primary would be someone who has a more central role in someone else’s life for a primary relationship where that relationship is more important than any other type of relationship, and usually primary and secondary are used in the context of hierarchical poly polyamory, but I think it’s important to note that you can read this in two different ways. So if I want to dedicate my attention solely to one relationship, then that relationship is my primary relationship, but there’s no hierarchy because there’s no abuse of power or imposition of power over someone else, it just means that I don’t want to give my time my energy my attention to anyone else, it does not mean that I’m being forced to focus my time my energy onto that person.

JK: Also, bringing P to a conclusion we have Polycule, we touched on that too in the last episode, What is a polycule?

DC: A polycule is basically the equivalent to the CNM equivalent of a family, in the sense that it attempts to delineate a grouping and arrangement of people who feel that they are part of the same family of the same structure of relationships, even if they’re not all relating to one another directly and this is where the idea of metamour and meta-metamor comes in

ZR: and moving on to the first of our Qs, a rather nice muscle, but also quads

DC: Quads are a type of polycule specific configuration arrangement where you have four people who usually all are in a relationship with one another, and it’s usually meant to signify that that is a poly-fidelitous relationship so it’s a close relationship between those four people

ZR: And how common do you think that is amongst that community?

DC: I don’t think a quad in that very strict sense of a closed off for people relationship is all that common, and I think they usually people tend to have sort of ‘V’ or triangle relationships that are still open, rather than, than quads, but there’s still not enough research on models and types of relationships for me to feel comfortable to, you know, talk about it too much because I don’t feel I have enough data to talk about it properly.

JK: Q is also for queer. Now, in the previous episode we talked about the way that consensual non monogamy makes space for people with different orientations because it removes a lot of the traditional models which don’t necessarily make space. Let’s turn that one on his head. How much does consensual non monogamy as we see it, practice in various ways owe to queer culture, because it has quite strong queer roots doesn’t it

DC: Consensual non monogamy does have quite strong queer roots. But as we usually say in academia, queer is a doing, not a being word, and so you can actually be consensually non monogamous and not queer at all in the sense that you’re not working towards the subversion of existing power structures and discriminating systems and so on. So I would say that, yes, CNM is a very good space for you to explore an experiment with gender with sexuality sexual orientation and so on. But queerness in the sense of a political attitude towards life does not necessarily relate to polyamory or other forms of consensual non monogamy unless you’re actively engaged in trying to disassemble the hetero monogamous patriarchal systems that surround relationships.

JK: Okay, pushing in a slightly different way then you could say that certainly a gay community were trailblazers, in that sense, moving away from the idea of queer to LGBTQIA, it definitely has precedence in the gay community and going back a long way really…

DC: That is that is very much true, so we owe a lot to trailblazers that are now part of the LGBTQ plus community, just like we owe a lot to feminist thinkers that were already, you know back in the 19th century, questioning the role of property and the state of the family, etc. but all of those things need to be looked at in context and whenever something moves from the queer spaces and the queer communities on to the wider world. It usually tends to be somewhat whitewashed being quashed, all, all kinds of washing that sort of watered down the queerness that came with it so let’s not rely too much on that idea of the trailblazers to then think that we’re also special just because we’re consensually non monogamous. 

ZR: I think that’s something that I, I mention quite a lot is being really careful about not being Polyam evangelists, and saying that if you’re not polyamorous, then you’re not doing it right. How do you feel about, there’s been some issues lately around inclusion at prides for instance, and how do you feel about polyamory being present at pride?

DC: Well, I do feel that there is a space for things like polyamory and consensual non monogamy to be present and at pride, just like I feel there’s space for things like kink and BDSM to be present at pride. But being present and taking centre stage is not exactly the same thing. And it’s for me it’s more to do with how you’re doing that presence than just the dichotomous notion of are you there, or are you not there, for instance in Portugal, the Portuguese polyamory group called Poly Portugal, was one of the founding members of the pride march of the second biggest city in Portugal, with a very anti-heteronormative, anti-capitalist stance, so with a very queer stance, and that’s totally different than just going and saying oh but we want to marry three people at the same time and that’s it.

ZR: I don’t know why anybody would want to actually marry three people at the same time, maybe one after each other…

DC: They’re going for it though.

ZR: Yeah, absolutely. But I think there’s there is a part of the, the LGBTQIA plus community that feels that polyam, fet and kink, pups and leather pride for instance that they don’t necessarily have a place at pride whereas actually pride to be inclusive of everyone, and not just necessarily the mainstream LGBTQIA plus community.

DC: Yeah, and I think about how for instance the lesbian leather community in the USA, was a lot more trailblazing than your average middle class, gay cis men, and white, obviously very white.

JK: I think it’s worth pointing out that Zayna actually is an organiser and the chair of Oxford pride so you are actively involved in this…

ZR: Yeah, absolutely. And we every year we have a dog show obviously this year it was virtual. And we, we had an email from somebody said you’ll come up, can I enter the dog show? We said, ‘Absolutely’. So we actually had a pup take part in our dog show this year, and they got a special certificate to say thank you for taking part.

DC: How lovely that is so wholesome…. 

ZR: Obviously, we did it all virtually, and we actually put it out on our virtual feed as well make sure you spot the pot but if you’re listening. If you’re not listening. Why aren’t you, but if you are listening then. Hello. Come back to Oxford, anytime. So we’re now going to move on to relationship anarchy and here’s Angus,

Angus: That is usually doesn’t involve any kind of preconception about where relationships are going and a person who identifies as a relationship anarchist, as I understand it, all their relationships, including friendships, just are what they will be.

ZR: And Daniel, there’s a bit more to relationship anarchy than that, isn’t there.

DC: Yeah, relationship anarchy is part of a wider political project that has to do with changing the world in an anarchist way. And recognising that interpersonal and intimate and sexual relationships are part of the politics of life. But relationship anarchy, has also lately been co opted as a way of avoiding interpersonal and ethical responsibility for the things that we do in the world. And that is a problem that is sort of common to every type of social movement, everything can be co opted, if there’s one thing that neoliberal capitalism does very well, is co opting stuff. And that’s what’s been happening with relationship anarchy is this idea of, Oh, I’m my own agent, I do what I want, and you do what you want. So I don’t have to be responsible for anything that happens as a consequence of our interaction. And that is not anarchy.

JK: I’m not going to do the washing up because I’m a relationship anarchist.

DC: I think that relationship anarchy is very powerful and very transformative. If it’s done in a way that is ethical that is politically aligned with the principles of anarchy as a political project, when it just becomes an excuse to be emotionally irresponsible, then it becomes a problem. But then again, I would not call that relationship anarchy, I would call that a misuse of the term relationship anarchy.

JK:  Now, I was just suggesting that some people do use it as a bit of an excuse to be a bit of an asshole. But one of the key things of relationship anarchy is that you do not have to privilege romantic relationships over other relationships. I mean, one of contributor to our episode on consent, Dr. Meg-John Barker, they really prized their relationship with their siblings, and they don’t really want to have to feel they have to put other relationships above those, necessarily. So when Angus says it’s about things, finding their own level, it’s a lot more about maybe freedom to break away from the idea that just because we’re in a romantic relationship, or a sexual relationship with someone that somehow has to take priority.

DC: Definitely, definitely this idea of breaking down the default presuppositions of where a relationship should be in our list of everyday priorities and life priorities and so on. It’s fundamental to the notion of relationship anarchy. But that preoccupation with breaking down those presuppositions only exists because of the concept of anarchy itself, which means that there is no centre of power. So anarchy, meaning without a ruler, so without a type of relationship that serves as the ruler or as the guide for our everyday lives and for the aspirations that we have as individuals as subjects. But yeah, that that’s both true and super important,

JK:  Kind of leads quite neatly to the next R, which is relationship escalator. Because it’s almost the opposite end of the spectrum, from the way from the from the system of no rules that you have to follow, you can build your own system to the relationship, escalator which is handed to you. What is it?

DC: Yeah, it’s the opposite in a way of relationship anarchy. And it’s this idea that whenever you step on to a relationship, you should ideally reach a predefined top, a predefined moment in that relationship that just keeps getting more and more and more intense. And if you don’t reach the top, you have somehow failed or the relationship has somehow failed. So the relationship escalator is that set of expectations that we are pushed into having and that we replicate in our own lives. And that comes from this mononormative culture that says that relationships need to look like this, this and that.

ZR: And we are off S And unlike my grandmother, who used to say ‘make sure you lock the door’ what really is safe sex?

DC: Well safe sex is also called masturbation. If you’re asking about safer sex, that is a set of concerns and conversations that you can have to minimise the risks that you and all your partners have when you’re engaging in any form of sexual activity. For most people, that means using condoms, using gloves, using dental dams, and being very mindful and communicative when it comes to testing for ISTS. And reporting back to your other partners about whether you have been tested positive for any kind of ISD etc. But it also has to do with you finding your own risk profile and being able to communicate your risk profile to your partners.

JK: We touched on primaries that leads us to secondaries. One could probably guess what that means. But let’s talk also about the difficulties. For some people of being a secondary, what’s the secondary, one of the potential pitfalls?

DC: Well, in the non-ethical sense, the secondary is that person that does not get the primary focus of attention from someone else. And that might cause some issues for some people, because sometimes it just means that their needs are not being met. And so maybe being in a relationship where they are framed as the secondary might not actually be a good idea for them. But for some other people, it actually frees them from the pressure of having to be there and sort of be that important person. So some people actually feel better as being someone else’s secondary. And I don’t know, sometimes it feels that my primary relationship is actually to my job. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but hey, I need to eat and everything else seems sort of secondary and sometimes we treat ourselves as secondary relationships. So we need to think about primary and secondary more of how we apportion our energy and our resources rather than this very hierarchical approach which, as I’ve said before is very problematic when it becomes abusive or toxic for people.

ZR: And so we’re next we’re on to another S and it’s Solopoly or SoPo as its sometimes said isn’t it, apparently is on the rise, we’ve got a whole episode on SoPo, so watch out for that coming along soon. SoloPoly What is it, how can people do it.

DC: Solopoly is this idea that again, your primary relationship is actually to yourself, and everyone else that is in your life is in it in a more secondary ways not, If they don’t get as much attention or energy or focus, then you yourself get from yourself. It might mean that you choose to live alone or that you choose to live with people with whom you are not in a relationship, and it has a lot of crossover with relationship anarchy, I would say.

ZR: Do you think that some people could possibly be excluded from practicing Sopo on kind of socio economic grounds.

DC: I think a lot of people can be excluded from practicing solo polyamory, or even relationship anarchy. If these practices are lived in a very individualistic way. So whenever the focus goes too much into the individual isolated from their community. Then there is very high risk of people just reproducing socio economic, racial and gendered and sexual orientation kind of privileges because then you need to have the resources, the financial emotional, psychological resources to be able to dedicate that much attention to yourself. And obviously, a lot of people just can’t afford to do that or they can’t afford to live on their own for a multitude of reasons.

JK: S is also for swinging, and that used to be known back in the 60s and 70s as wife swapping and it’s become rather more formalised, definitely, along with monogamish, along with open relationships, along with polyamory, and other forms of consensual non monogamy. What sets it apart, what are the defining characteristics.

DC: Well in swinging, you tend to have a very organised formalised community, and people tend to meet, or they did before COVID, they tend to meet and to do as you said, wife swapping. It’s not always the case but swinging tends to be very hetero-centric, so centred around heterosexuality, and it tends to be very much non-political in the sense that it prioritises or emphasises issues around sexual satisfaction by this, for the sake of sexual satisfaction, rather than engaging for instance with modern normative culture, and so on, and also very interestingly what I’ve been finding out in the context of my research is that newspapers in the UK are totally obsessed with swinging. It’s just incredible.

ZR: So we are onto T, for triads, and I’m interested to know is there another way to do, to describe that that maybe isn’t as much of a problematic term for some.

DC: Well triads usually can be V configurations or triangle configurations, depending on whether you have someone who relates to two people who don’t relate to one another, or you have three people who consider themselves to be in a relationship, the three of them together but it’s like quads, it’s just one way of defining a polycule a specific type of polycule. And there tend to be from what research there is there tend to be a lot of triadic arrangements meaning people three people who consider themselves more of a nucleus of a looser structure that exists around them.

JK: U – unicorns. It’s one of those push button issues in consensual non monogamy have fun with it.

DC: unicorns! So, unicorns is a term, they usually describes a woman, that is bisexual, and that will, for some reason, be automatically interested in being in a relationship or having sex with one man and one woman. At the same time, but also usually be discarded if there’s something wrong going on and the couple just wants to get rid of that person. It’s not that it is inherently unethical for someone to pursue this type of relationship. What is an ethical is that usually the term unicorn is only employed, when there is a sort of exploitative dimension to this pursuit, in which that person is valued for being a bisexual woman, and the sexual aspect that they can get from it, rather than a person with their own needs and their own free will, basically.

JK: So the legendary hot bi babe, of which much is said.

DC: Exactly. And, and, again, the problem is not that people might want to be with a hot bi babe or that hot bi babes exist. It’s the exploitative objectifying approach that disempowers these hot bi babes and does not acknowledge them as full people only as a sort of fantasy and need fulfilment machine, basically,

JK: But we need to make it clear that some people just love to be unicorns and they get off on it, and they are happy and it happens, it’s again about consent.

DC: Yeah, exactly, it’s about it’s about consent and if these people consent to it, and if their consent is respected by someone else because if I say yes to something but the people that are accepting my yes are still objectifying me, it is still non consensual, even though I’ve said yes, because the way they are treating me is placing me below themselves. And so there, there needs to be as much parity as possible when it comes to recognition respect and power for consent to actually be valid and whole bodied, shall we say,

ZR: Okay, I suppose we could have done that objectify can be open to mind for is, is that, obviously, fantastic Kevin Patterson who says, I don’t know if somebody is really into me or they’re just after a stamp in their ethnicity passport. Is it, it is a phrase that I use a lot funnily enough. So we’re now onto

JK: V and W.

ZR: V & W, apart from being obviously a marvellous automobile as, as long as you didn’t get a diesel in the late 90s, Oh….

JK: I don’t have a have a flash motor like you Zayna.

ZR: You also don’t have the expensive tires, like I have to put on mine. 

JK: And that will bring us neatly onto Y and your mileage may vary I guess we’ll come to that after we’ve done for you V&W configurations.

ZR: So, different configurations Daniel, that can look a little bit like letters can’t they, we’re gonna look at V and W right now.

DC: Yeah so V. Like I said earlier, is when one person is in a relationship with two other people but those two other people are not in a relationship with themselves, and a W is when you have someone who is in a relationship with two other people, and one of those other persons is in a relationship with someone else who is then in a relationship with another person, so any end of the letter any of the tips of the letters, basically represent a person. And I think that people just love that geometry classes basically

JK: Y I left out x but, well you know, we’ll do a whole episode devoted to x at some point. If we can take what the hell is going to be about why well I kind of like max. And we could have done a whole episode on pirate politics polyamory Couldn’t we are polyamorous pirates. 

DC: 9:08I think we can take X and talk about xeno feminism. And the way we need an integrative approach to relationships that is grounded on feminism and on contemporary contributions to feminism that just go beyond thinking about sexuality and gender and think about the whole planet as a system within which our relationships exist.

JK: Wow, you’re kind of a thinking sort of like on a vast scale.

DC: Yeah, basically because there is actually a very big impact of monogamous culture in terms of the amount of resources that we consume the amount of space that we take up on the planet, and the way that these divisions into neat little houses where only two people and 2.5 children live actually has a huge toll on the planet and we need to think about the planet as a whole and our role in it and the way we organise our families, relationships, has an impact in all of this.

ZR: Do you think recovering and kind of getting back to life post COVID is is an ideal time to be thinking about that.

DC: It would be an ideal time to be thinking about what if we didn’t have neoliberal governments, trying to kill us.

JK: Oh, just watch capitalism get back on its feet and kick everybody’s asses again as soon as it can. I thought we might just cheat with Y and ask Y like Why be consensually non monogamous but let’s not do that, you suggested YMMV your mileage may vary. I was reminded of why KINMKBYK your kink is not my kink but your kink is okay, let’s do both of them quickly.

DC: Well your mileage may vary means that my polyamory is not necessarily going to look like your polyamory, my experiences are not going to look like your experiences, it does not mean that my experiences or your experiences are valid or invalid. It just means that people are people, people are complicated and people will react differently to similar situations, and you need to take that into account. And also you need to take into account the role that trauma plays in the way we develop our relationships and everyone’s relationship with their own trauma and with everyone else’s trauma is very different, and will impact on the way they live out their relationships as to your kink is not my kink but your kink is okay it’s basically the same. But applied to kink, which means that even if you like something, it doesn’t mean I have to like it and vice versa. And that’s a very good thing within consensual non monogamy says that you can actually connect to different people who enjoy different things and therefore you can explore different kinks, whatever the kink might be, there’s always going to be someone potentially interested in exploring that kink with you, and you don’t have to feel like you can only explore this or that kink with that one person for the rest of your whole life.

JK: 12:21

Which brings us neatly to Z because if you have a kink for zebras if that is your fetish then you know stripy unicorns that’s, that’s actually, we have a z. She’s sitting there with her microphone. Daniel you rock that was absolutely brilliant Thank you so very much for joining us and taking us so adeptly through an A to Z, not necessarily the definitive one but a fairly comprehensive A to Z of consensual non monogamy.

JK: And Z is for Zayna

ZR: Thank you very much. Can I just say that any zebra, as it was in every Primary School task I ever had. It’s going to be an eight stripe pride flag zebra Thank you very much. And that’s all for this edition. Tune in for new episodes every month. And next time we’ll be celebrating the International Day of consent, 30th of November, with an episode about consent.

JK: We’ll be welcoming two awesome guests to that topic, the writer podcaster researcher and therapist, Dr. Meg john Barker, and Jenny Wilson of the campaigning group consent culture.

ZR: And in the meantime, if you do like what we do, please, please leave us a review on Spotify, Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. And if you’d like to support us visit the beyond monogamy website at www.beyondmonogamyworld, and treat us to a coffee courtesy a Patreon

JK: Intro and outro music by Jeris via CCmixter. Beyond Monogamy is a Chris P. Duck production. Catch you next time. 

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