Polyamory advocate Phoenix Mandel discusses consent and honest communication in polyamorous relationships.

Phoenix Mandel’s biggest poly relationship or ‘poly family’ consisted of five people living under the same roof, sharing a makeshift bed that stretched from wall to wall to accommodate everyone. Photo by Leslie Song.

The core components of polyamory require “consent, honest communication, and agreement between all people involved,” sexuality educator Phoenix Mandel told a crowd in a Nov. 7 speech in Argyros Forum.

As a polyamorist, Mandel speaks to educate others on alternate relationship styles to make polyamory more widely accepted and understood. Mandel, who goes by the pronouns they/them, said that even people who practice monogamy can improve their relationships by incorporating advice applicable to polyamorous relationships.

Mandel has been practicing polyamory since freshman year of college and was at one time in a sexual relationship with four other people. Mandel is currently in a triad – a polyamorous relationship with two other individuals. Mandel has a nesting partner, who they currently live with, in addition to a girlfriend who lives elsewhere.

Polyamory is the practice of having multiple, open relationships at once. These relations can range from sex to meaningful committed relationships, they explained.  

“With romantic love, [monogamous relationships] can be very limiting,” Mandel said.  

In polyamory relationships, physical and emotional needs can be met by being with more people, Mandel said.

Debunking polyamory perceptions was a main focus in Mandel’s presentation.

Polyamorous relationships need to be structured in an ethical way with honesty, fulfillment of the needs of all parties and encouragement of personal growth, Mandel said.

Questions about cheating and jealousy are often raised, said Mandel, but the key to successful polyamory is candor, negotiation, and honesty.

Cheating and polyamory are not synonymous, Mandel said.

“People who cheat usually aren’t the best at polyamory,” because trust and transparency are still needed in polyamorous relationships they said.

Polyamory involves compromise, just as monogamy does, Mandel said. It’s important to remember that these are relationships with complicated human beings and consideration for each party’s feelings and desires must remain a priority, said Mandel. Coming to agreements and outlining expectations is crucial.

“Polyamory is the ability to talk about uncomfortable topics,” Mandel said. “There is no room for assumptions in both polygamous and monogamous relationships.”

Mandel stressed the importance of open, honest communication and consent among all parties. Breaking trust by seeing others or doing acts that were not agreed upon can lead to break-ups and unhealthy relationships, they said.

Jealousy can also afflict polyamorous people and must be addressed, Mandel said. The feeling of jealousy arises from unmet needs, insecurity and cultural programming, they said.

“You are not a jealous person, you have jealous feelings,” Mandel said. The idea of being jealous to show that you care or that you really love someone is “toxic nonsense.”

People who question the validity of polyamory may doubt an individual’s ability to love more than one individual at the time, but love is not a finite commodity, Mandel said. In familial relationships, for example, the amount of love for children does not vary, Mandel said.

“Don’t legislate the exact level of feelings for others,” Mandel said. “Not only is it not possible and not fair, it doesn’t give a relationship room to find its level and to express relationship growth.”

While love has no limits, time certainly does.

“Google Calendar is a poly person’s best friend,” Mandel said.

Mandel also emphasized the importance of an egalitarian approach when practicing polyamory. Though relationships can promote power play with the incorporation of bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism elements, Mandel believes that negotiations and agreement are key to a functional polyamorous relationship.

“Most heterosexual men think that they’re going to get a harem,” Mandel said.

Instead, polyamorous people can expect to get their needs met in a consensual way through negotiations and a high level of communication. Realizing practicality without having a ‘one true love’ mindset and emotional intimacy are among the many benefits, said Mandel.

Depending on the structure or number of parties involved, a polyamorous relationship can fulfill sexual and emotional needs that are not completely met in a monogamous relationship, Mandel said.

Leslie Song

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