Poly puts the kettle on
Lifestyle for people who want a whole lotta love gains a whole lotta traction
Imagine being a married man with a boyfriend on the side, a girlfriend you and your wife share and a clutch of casual lovers – and everybody is happy.
That’s what 31-year-old Capetonian Arno Breedt has as a polyamorist, a lifestyle choice made by an increasing number of South Africans.
Polyamory means “many loves”, and is an alternative relationship model in which followers have more than one loving, committed sexual relationship at a time, with the full knowledge and consent of all involved.
“Some of the core values of polyamory include honesty, openness, absolute equality of the sexes, sanctity of personal boundaries and being encouraged to make up your own damn mind about your own damn body and not being dictated to by society,” says Breedt.
His wife of eight years, Christel Breedt (28), says it works for them – and many others.
“There is certainly a sizeable non-monogamy contingent in Cape Town and we have been receiving increasing interest from people over time,” she says.
“I have many monogamous friends and I support their lifestyle choice entirely. People differ – some people feel no need to have more than one partner.
“Arno and I prefer to have more than one partner and we are secure enough in our commitment to allow each other this kind of freedom.”
Raam Naicker, a moderator of South African online polyamory group Zapoly, agrees that polyamory is on the rise in the country but has been well hidden.
“Many people will not openly admit to it for fear of retribution,” he says.
Christel says most of those who subscribe to the group’s mailing list are over 35, although there are some younger subscribers.
“Myself, my husband, both our regular partners and all of our casual partners are between the ages of 20 and 35. My best friend and her husband are also polyamorous and under 35,” she says.
“Very few real statistics exist for the number of practising polyamorists in South Africa. But I’d say there are more people of all ages who are involved in non-monogamy than most people would suspect.”
Support for the lifestyle has recently come from an unexpected quarter – science.
Evolutionary psychologist Dr Christopher Ryan, the co-author of international bestseller Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Roots of Modern Sexuality, says it is difficult for a single partner to fulfil all the emotional, psychological and physical needs of another.
“It’s a very heavy burden to place on another person. Do we have only one friend? Do we listen to only one musician? See the films of only one director? We are sexual omnivores every bit as much as we are dietary omnivores,” he says.
His research reveals that polyamory was the norm in primitive hunter-gatherer societies, but then society veered towards polygamy and monogamy.
But we continue to evolve.
“The current so-called ‘accepted models’ have proven to be problematic for most people, so we keep adjusting them in search of models that fit better and last longer. With divorce rates of about 50%, it’s clear that some tweaking is needed,” he says.
Outspoken polyamorist Terisa Greenan from the US says the lifestyle is a growing international trend. She has a boyfriend, a husband and a new boyfriend whose wife is also involved with her husband.
She says the polyamorous lifestyle is gaining more acceptance.
“We are now where the gay movement was 40 years ago.
People are starting to hear the word more and more and they don’t know it and don’t like it. But in time, perceptions will change,” she says.
But it doesn’t work for everyone, with jealousy being the main reason many opt out.
“Everyone always asks first about jealousy, but surprisingly that is not much of a problem for us,” says Christel.
“When it does happen it is usually because some need has been left uncommunicated and thus unmet. Communication really is the central core of polyamory.”