Psalm Isadora is the top tantra expert in the world and a highly sought-after sexuality, relationship, and trauma expert specializing in women’s health and empowerment as well as modern sexual education. In this weekly advice column, Psalm brings her expertise to sexual and relationship issues most people face at one time or another. If you want to ask Psalm your questions (anonymously), email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: What is your opinion about polyamory?
I get a lot of questions from couples looking to spice things up by having an "open relationship." We often desire the excitement and mystery of those first sexual encounters with strangers while simultaneously craving stability and long-term companionship. Most people want a simple answer to the question, How will an open relationship affect my primary relationship? Unfortunately, there isn't one.
We're all wired differently. Sexuality exists on a spectrum, after all. We're all full of natural, primal desires. When dealing with sexuality, no matter how you like to express yours, the most important thing is to be authentic. When you ask yourself, "What do I really want? What do I really need?" What does your truth tell you?
Are you driven toward monogamy or polyamory?
Primal sexual desires can be classified as hunter's instincts and desires and farmer's instincts and desires. Once you know which type(s) best describe(s) you and your partner, you can use this information to understand your needs, improve your relationships, and make them more true to you.
Are you more motivated by excitement, change, and independent self-growth? If so, you're a hunter.
Are you more motivated by companionship, stability, and partnered self-growth? That makes you a farmer.
Whatever category you fit in, the goal of learning how to identify and understand yourself is to free yourself from any residual shame—especially the shame that we carry with us if we were raised with a black-and-white view of sexuality and partnership. The goal is to accept that we are full of natural, primal desires, and the fact that yours are different from anyone else's is a beautiful, spectacular thing. How else would we grow?
Driven by newness, variety, excitement, and change, hunters are willing to give up some stability or face loneliness because they thrive on the adrenaline of change.
The shadow side of the hunter is fear of abandonment. Sometimes they take too many risks and struggle to stay grounded. If they have a primary partner, their shadow can also manifest in emotional and physical affairs outside of the relationship—relationships they do not disclose because they want that freedom and novelty but feel shame about their inability to remain "faithful" to one single partner or because they fear losing the stability of that primary relationship.
To tell on myself a little bit: I very much enjoy variety, and I like the hunt in my own primal nature. I love that initial stage of meeting someone, when you're still getting to know each other, and every interaction holds a surprise. The pheromones, the smells—it's intoxicating. But I'm very honest about my desires. I still connect with people deeply—mentally, physically, and soulfully—even though I don't want a monogamous partner. I don't claim the term polyamorous for myself, either, because it still implies having a primary partner, which I do not at this point in my life. I have a child, I've been married (and divorced), and I have found that my authentic needs and desires are best met by having deeply connected, soulful lovers.
People who are driven to monogamy, stability, and companionship are farmers—much like my brother. His least favorite part of the dating and relationship cycle is the chase. The uncertain, will-we-or-won't-we phase. He just wants to find the right person, so they can get down to building a life together. For a lot of people, constant hunting brings up issues of insecurity and discomfort.
The shadow side of farmers is expressed in tendencies to become stagnant, to become so comfortable they lose the motivation to grow, or to make their partner feel guilty about pursuing their own personal growth, separately from the relationship.
My brother is a farmer and I'm a hunter. That doesn't mean that either of us is better or "right." We are simply different. See, even two people who grew up in the same house with the same parents and the same influences can have very different personalities and primal drivers. To some extent we are, of course, influenced by our surroundings, but on the deepest level, these characteristics are nature-given, not nurture-bestowed.
Monogamy is one description of an exclusive partnered relationship. Polyamory is one description of a nonexclusive relationship. There are countless variations and embodiments of these relationship types.
If you think it would help you on your journey to finding satisfying relationships, try to learn more about the relationship variations people have and have had in the past. If, specifically, you'd like to understand whether your desire to pursue dynamics outside of a primary relationship, explore hyper- and hypo-sexuality, I explain the different types of sexuality in my Tantra 101 class.
You may fall somewhere in the middle on that scale, and it can be incredibly affirming, liberating even, to be able to contextualize your unique appetite. Sometimes just being able to give something a name—to know that there are other people like you—lifts a burden of shame and a veil of separation that you may have been carrying your whole life.
Whatever you decide is right for you, know that if you are in a monogamous relationship, bringing in a third party is a bit like getting a tattoo. You might be really excited about it. You might have been dreaming about getting this tattoo for years or even decades. You might feel like it's going to be an expression of some deep, treasured part of yourself that has been under wraps all this time.
But applying it is painful. And once it's there, it requires care and attention to make sure the tattoo heals with your skin, and check in consistently to ensure it doesn't become infected. If you still like your tattoo years down the line, you'll be endlessly glad you chose to get it. If not, however—if it becomes infected or if your needs or tastes change—removing the mark can be a long, painful process. And even if you do remove it, you'll likely always bear some scar, some change in texture, some discoloration to remind you of the choice you made. The same will be true of your relationship—if it survives.
So, explore alternative relationship potential with caution, with foresight, and with consideration to your own future and that of your partner's. A life without risk is no life at all. Just choose your gambles with your eyes wide open.