Polyamory Works for Them – The New York Times

The Look

Having multiple partners can mean more pleasure, but it’s not always easy.

On a recent Saturday night in Crown Heights, an angelic gatekeeper in a pastel harness did her best to assure a reporter that she wouldn’t be a total buzz kill at a private party of 200 mostly straight, mostly non-monogamous New Yorkers. “Just watching is O.K.!” she said outside the site, a loft lit like an infrared sauna. “Have a good time! Stay hydrated! And always ask for consent!”

Inside were some of the happiest-looking sober adults ever seen after 2 a.m. “It’s like ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ meets a Gaspar Noé film,” said a Scandinavian digital artist and recent Brooklyn transplant. He and his girlfriend were attending for the first time; they had read about the party, called NSFW, on the internet.

NSFW caters to the 25-to-35 age bracket, has an all-black dress code and is made up of 60 percent women, according to its founder, Daniel Saynt. Its application for membership requires a social media profile link (“It’s very curated,” Mr. Saynt said) and responses to open-ended and check-box questions (“ultimate fantasy” is a short answer; optional boxes to check include “hedonist,” “daddy” and “label-less”). That may sound like the precursor to a job interview, but the point is to ensure that the needs of attendees are met. Wouldn’t it be nice if other clubs worked that way?

“I don’t think that polyamory is somehow more evolved than monogamy,” said Zhana Vrangalova, a sex researcher who will teach an online course for couples and individuals seeking to open their relationships this fall. “But it should be an option. People should have more options.”

That was a maxim for the two dozen non-monogamous people interviewed for this article. The subjects, who represent a range of ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities and professions, agreed on this: For them, more partners means more exploration and more pleasure.

Now a cottage industry of coaches and educators has cropped up to help polyamorous partners strive for compersion, the happy-for-you alternative to jealousy. Effy Blue, a relationship coach in Brooklyn, works with all of the following: triads, or three people in a committed relationship together; individuals seeking to transparently date multiple lovers simultaneously; partners who each have intimate friends, all of whom are close; and clients cultivating long-term relationships with someone who already has a primary partner.

“There is no single model that suits everyone,” Ms. Blue said. She also wrote a book on play-party etiquette. “Consent is the cornerstone of any well-produced, healthy and fun sex party,” she said. “This makes it safer and more fun than an average nightclub on any given day.”

Ella Quinlan, a 27-year-old event planner, said she knows hundreds of peers on the East and West Coasts practicing their own flavors of non-monogamy. In her own relationship with Lawrence Blume, a 55-year-old tech investor, Ms. Quinlan’s goal is to enhance what is conventionally beloved about monogamy, she said.

“We want to show people that it’s actually possible to be in a long-term, healthy, satisfying, deeply rooted and connected emotional relationship with somebody — and do this,” Mr. Blume said.

It’s not always easy. “There’s a lot of talking, and it takes a lot of work,” said Jade Marks. When Jade began exploring non-monogamy with Tourmaline, Jade’s primary partner, the pair quickly realized they had different expectations: Jade wanted casual encounters, while Tourmaline preferred sustained relationships with multiple people.

It took a lengthy negotiating period. Boundaries helped: Jade and Tourmaline established safe sex guidelines, and a rule of not bringing any partners to the apartment they share, though Jade said they have “a clause” for unexpected encounters.

Some emotions come with the territory. “A lot of us grew up with few of examples of what supportive queer, trans or non-monogamous relationships look like,” Tourmaline said. Among the couple’s queer and trans peers, non-monogamy can sometimes seem compulsory. “It’s O.K. to feel jealous,” Jade said. “It’s O.K. for this to be hard.”

Karen Ambert, 35, met Kenneth Play, a 38-year-old sex educator, three years ago on an art bus that was touring their neighborhood of Bushwick. Two years later, Mr. Play introduced Ms. Ambert, an emergency-room physician, to the man who became her second boyfriend, Geronimo Frias, the co-owner of a parkour gym.

It’s not technically a triad, but a V, as the relationship configuration is known in the poly community. Mr. Play and Mr. Frias don’t date each other, but they do date other people. (Mr. Play employs an assistant, in part to help book his rotating cast.)

Polyamorous for most of her adult life, Ms. Ambert hid it from her colleagues in medical school and residency. “I was always worrying about the next step. How will this impact my education and career?” she said. But recently she has grown more comfortable in her professional standing, and felt ready to come out about her love life too.

Mr. Frias was sitting on a couch at the home of Mr. Play with Ms. Ambert wedged in the middle, basking in the gaze of four adoring eyes.

“Is this really my partner separating from me?” Ms. Morgan said she asks herself when feelings of insecurity arise. “Or am I struggling my own abandonment issues, and needing to clearly express to Na’Im what affirmation I need to receive?”

Instead of jealousy, Ms. Morgan said she tries to think about gratitude and send messages like, “I was thinking about how much I appreciate you,” rather than, “Where are you?” and “Who are you with?”

“There’s a lot of sex problems in the world, like harassment,” Mr. Play said of the community’s mission. “We’re trying to engineer a way to coexist and celebrate sex without harming each other.”

He, Ms. Ambert, and Mr. Frias were currently in the process of contemplating a practice new to many of their open-minded friends and acquaintances: raising children.

“We’re in an extremely happy situation, and yet with a future that’s uncertain,” said Mr. Frias, 41, who is discussing starting a family with Ms. Ambert. “Being married and having kids in a V, I don’t know anyone else personally who’s done it.”

The idea was spurred during a conversation between Mr. Play and Ms. Ambert. It started much like any couple’s might, with Ms. Ambert saying she wanted children sooner rather than later, and Mr. Play hesitating.

Then Mr. Frias was in the picture. Like Ms. Ambert, he, too, wants children.

It was precisely her quality of “accepting people exactly as they are,” without trying to curtail their individual desires, that makes talk of such a long-term commitment possible, he said. “I’m not trying to change anything about her, and she’s not trying to change anything about me,” he added.

And those are just the emotional perks, said Mr. Play, who is coming around to the idea of helping raise children who aren’t his own. “Three incomes. Three parents. No one feels like they’re drowning in responsibility,” he said. “And the kid, surrounded by more loving adults.”

“I think this is really beneficial — a good life hack.”

Yael Malka is a photographer and artist raised in the Bronx and now based in Brooklyn. Alice Hines is a writer in New York City.

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