While things look bleak right now for those who believe that everyone has a right to consensual sexual pleasure, to live free of hate and fear, to have access to sexual health services, and be able to define their own lives according to to their needs and desires, there are still many good reasons to be optimistic about the future.
A perfect example of this is the growing acceptance of polyamory. Depending on who you ask, the current percentage of people engaged in open relationships in the United States is anywhere between 5 and 20 percent - and maybe as much as one in five having at least an active interest.
Another good reason for poly people not to despair is the wide range of tools that have become available to manage and, best of all, enjoy open relationships. Because, let’s face it, maintaining a polyamorous life can be all kinds of complex: we all need as much help as we can get. More importantly, these tools also allow poly people to understand that having loving, open relationships is also about cataloging and respecting all kinds of critical details, some of which may even be potentially life threatening.
Here are five tools poly folk can use to better manage their relationships.
Know Your Partners
Sadly, it’s not something that comes up in polyamory how-to books but understanding, really understanding, the people you are involved with is tremendously important. Needs, wants, desires, fears, concerns, as well as hard/soft limits have always been at the core of maintaining poly relationships. Yet, understanding should also be pragmatic.
For example, when you put your partners’ info into your address book, you should also make notes of their medical needs, such a previous conditions and current medications.The reasoning here is that should something happen, you will have access to this information. You'll be able to share it with doctors or emergency personnel.
Allergies, of course, should also be listed. This is for more than just emergencies. It can also help you plan and prepare meals accordingly. If your partner has a severe allergy, know where their medication is - or even have some on hand at your place.
Make sure that your contact information also includes other partners they may have, doctors, friends and family. As with kink, you should always hope for the best and plan for the worst.
Additionally, you should discuss with your partners whether they have any privacy concerns. It will save everyone involved a LOT of grief, for instance, knowing that you should never like or share their content on Facebook because their parents or employer are also there.
More than anything, don’t trust your memory for these things. These days, there are all kinds of contact management systems to choose from. There’s no excuse not to add in these important details.
Speaking of contact management, you will often hear poly people say, "Google Calendar is your friend." Sure, there are other scheduling programs out there, but when it comes to keeping track of who you're seeing and when, there’s really not much that’s better.
The best thing about Google Calendar is that you can create and share your schedule with anyone. This way, your partners can see when you might be free and when you’re busy. You can even create several personal calendars if you’re nervous about mixing business and pleasure.
You can also link contacts directly to events. This means that you have your partner(s) important info right there instead of having to look it up in a separate program if you need it.
Even better, it’s cross-platform compatible. Whether your partners use iPhones or are into Android, you're good to go.
Everyone seems to have their favorite form of messaging. That can be a major headache. Bob is on iMessage. Carol uses Google Hangouts. Ted is on Skype. Alice is on … something no one ever uses.
While convincing all your partners to use the same communication platform might seem daunting, it’s at least worth a shot. Personally, I recommend Skype since it handles files, pictures, voice and its own - albeit not great - version of texts. It has the added benefit of, like Google Calendar, being compatible with every kind of phone and computer there is as well as being able to handle multiple chats at a time.
You also have to consider everyone’s communication style. Maybe Bob will always quickly respond unless he’s asleep or driving, while Carol only checks her messages in the morning. Meanwhile, Ted only sends emojis, and Alice keeps losing her phone. It's nearly impossible to get everyone to use the same style and timing of communication. The trick here is to know and recognize how your partners communicate and work with it, such as making notes as to how and when is the best way to reach them rather than forgetting their preferences and getting frustrated.
Reach Out and Really Touch Someone
Here’s where things get really interesting. Poly, after all, is all about love, to be sure. However, there’s usually also a lot of sex involved. What if, for some reason, there are miles between you and your partners? Sure, there’s always sexting, dirty phone (or Skype) calls, or things like FaceTime, although they’re never the same thing as physical contact.
Enter the wonderful world of internet-connected SexTech. Once just the fevered dreams of nerds, there are now dozens of different companies selling all kinds of devices that won’t just tickle whatever your particular fancy is and also connect with similar toys across town - or around the world.
This gives you another great tool for your poly relationships: a way of having an intimate physical experience when you can’t actually be together.
A bonus cool thing about SexTech is that many types also allow you to record things like vibration patterns, oscillations, and more and play them back on a similar device, meaning that you could create a sexual composition just for you and your partners to enjoy. Sure, it might be a proxy touch, but it’s better than than no touch at all.
New Tools for New Kinds of Relationships
Then there’s the last - and possibly the best - tool of them all. Something else that is far too often left out of poly books is that while there can be much love, sex and personal growth, having open relationships is also a lot of very hard work.
There are contacts and important information to juggle, schedules to maintain, positive as well as negative emotions to process, and unexpected ups and downs that will seemingly spring from out of nowhere. Like I said: very hard work.
The tools discussed can definitely help, and may even get you through or even prevent unpleasant experiences. Yet, the fact is that when things do get challenging, poly people can often end up feeling alone. After all, in a world that is still predominantly monogamous, it's hard to find someone who knows what you're going through.
Enter this last tool, the same one I used to discover that five to 20 percent of people have at least tried nonmonogamy: the internet. When things get scary in your relationships, or the world itself, be sure to reach out for friends and support. Poly, after all, is about opening yourself to love - especially when you need it the most.