Polyamory, birth control & STIs: A (quick) comprehensive guide

Getting everyone on the same page

It may seem like everyone’s trying it nowadays, but in reality, it’s no fad. Polyamory, a form of consensual or ethical non-monogamy, has been around for a long time. Polyamory means different things to different people (just as monogamy means different things to different people), but at its heart, it’s the relationship orientation or practice of engaging in multiple romantic relationships at the same time with everyone’s informed consent. It’s not just about having multiple romantic interests–it’s about emotional, sexual, romantic, and often long-term connections with various partners.

There’s a lot to be gained by practicing polyamory, like self-fulfillment, a broader network of intimate connections in your life, greater self-knowledge, and freedom from the constraints of a traditional system that isn’t working for you. There’s also a lot to consider when you’re polyamorous, including everyone’s feelings and boundaries, birth control choices, and STI prevention and protection.

And honestly, most monogamous relationships could benefit from the tools needed to navigate polyamorous relationships, so whether you’re poly or not, there may be helpful tips here for you.

Choosing the right birth control for you

For those who are able to get pregnant and who are engaging in sexual activities with multiple partners, one important question is: “Which birth control method aligns with my needs?” Fortunately, there are many choices for birth control, from options that you can use for a longer period of time if you want, like IUDs, to barrier methods, such as condoms, which also offer STI prevention. No matter what method or methods you choose, open communication is paramount. It’s not just about protection but also mutual understanding. Making sure your partners are informed about your choices and consent to a sexual relationship with those choices in mind is critical to fostering a safe and supportive environment for everyone.

STIs in polyamorous (and non-monogamous) relationships

Relationships are as unique as fingerprints, and sexual health is an essential part of many of them, especially in non-monogamous settings. Being proactive about STI check-ups, whether with a reproductive health care provider or a primary care provider, is essential. Openness about your STI testing history and recent test results isn’t just courteous; it’s a pillar of trust and safety, ensuring everyone can confidently navigate their relationships.

The role of agreements in polyamory

One key part of polyamory is making (and keeping) agreements. In polyamorous dynamics, agreements are more than just casual understandings; they’re the bedrock of relationships. They include clear definitions of boundaries, expectations, and the myriad nuances that make up relationships, like barrier usage, scheduling, disclosure, and so much more. Think of these agreements as relationship GPS systems, offering directions and clarity, ensuring everyone involved knows the route and destination.

For example, you may have an agreement with one of your partners that you will check in with them about scheduling a date before it’s confirmed with the other person. Another common example is when, with whom, and for which sex acts you use condoms or other barriers and why. Every relationship (monogamous or not) has agreements, but many of them aren’t said explicitly. Polyamory sets the expectation of talking explicitly about your relationship agreements with your partner(s) and even writing them down–something that could be helpful to people in relationships of any structure.

Family planning in poly dynamics

Envisioning the future in polyamorous relationships can be both an exciting adventure and a complex maze. Plenty of folks are polyamorous and parents, and just like anything else, it requires a lot of communication and agreements. Conversations for people in polyamorous relationships who are co-parenting may span the division of child care, household chores, financial responsibilities, and living arrangements. On this complex journey, open dialogue isn’t just beneficial; it’s essential. Through these conversations, every individual’s hopes, fears, and expectations can be voiced and valued.

Navigating polyamory requires a blend of trust, communication, and mutual respect. By staying informed and proactive and by maintaining clear agreements, you can pave the way for fulfilling, healthy relationships, no matter how many hearts and bodies are involved.

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