Alex and Bridget look like any other attractive young married couple in New York. Sitting next to each other on a large gray sofa, they tease and smile, exuding the effortless intimacy that comes from being together for eight years. Alex wears the kind of dark clothes and ironic wire-framed grandpa glasses that would have earned him the label “hipster” 10 years ago. They live in Brooklyn and co-parent a cat. They are also in an open relationship.
“Non-Monogamy,” the first episode of a new six-part CBS documentary series called Speaking Frankly, sets out to prove that consensual non-monogamous relationships are more common than they seem. Alex and Bridget are just one couple (or throuple… or quad) that CBS interviewed for the project, which also features interviews with experts on sexuality, anthropology, and family law. Over the course of 22 minutes, the short doc dismantles the stereotype that non-monogamy is synonymous with adultery or a wild orgy.
According to Kalyn, a woman with three romantic partners, the biggest misconception about polyamorous people is “that we’re all raging sluts just trying to come in and break everybody else’s relationship up.” With a laugh, she adds, “We’re not just here to wreck the world and burn it down.”
Many of the people CBS spoke to echo this sentiment, emphasizing that like monogamous relationships, non-monogamous relationships are about partnerships, not just sex. “People think that there’s, like, this magical thing happening all the time. Half of the time we’re just chilling,” jokes one woman in a triad with a married couple. “Whoever has the energy for a big orgy 24/7, like, let me know. Tell me your secret.”
The film also captures just how many different forms non-monogamous relationships can take. Alex and Bridget, for example, were monogamous for the first five years of their relationship before opening it up. They have been married for one year and date separately—Alex has a girlfriend and Bridget has a boyfriend. They jokingly bicker about Bridget “sexiling” her spouse when she wants to invite her boyfriend over the way other couples might argue about who used the last of the milk.
There are triads, sometimes with two of the partners being married, as in the case of CJ, Brooke, and Brandi, a throuple from Kansas. Theirs is a closed non-monogamous relationship, meaning they have sex with each other, sometimes in pairs and sometimes all together, but their relationship is not open to people outside of the triad. Two anonymous women in Durham, North Carolina, explained their closed polyfidelitous quad. That means that they are both married and have sex with each other’s husbands but consider themselves one family unit. Together, all four partners care for two children.
In “Non-Monogamy,” CBS backs up these personal testimonies with statistics about the increasing prevalence of non-monogamous relationships, such as a finding from a 2016 study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy that one in five people have engaged in consensual non-monogamy at some point in their life. The film also references a 2016 YouGov survey in which only 51 percent of respondents under the age of 30 reported that their ideal relationship was completely monogamous.
One of the most compelling stories in the special was that of Mahdy, a Brooklyn man in a throuple with two women who opted to remain anonymous. Mahdy married his first partner in 2011, and they introduced another woman into their relationship a year later. When the second partner’s visa was set to expire in 2016, however, the triad was forced to make a difficult decision. In order for her to stay in America, keeping their relationship intact, Mahdy chose to divorce his wife so she could marry their partner.
“Dissolving the marriage, that was really, really difficult for me,” Mahdy tells CBS. “I don’t have the legal protections I had when me and my first partner were married. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had health insurance since.”
With the stigma surrounding non-monogamous relationships and the lack of legal framework available to guarantee polyamorous families the typical rights associated with marriage, people who practice polyamory are often left vulnerable, financially or otherwise. This is a fact Mahdy and many others have had to come to terms with.
“It’s never going to be equal for us,” he explains. “I only ask that people don’t interfere with what we have.”