Why is Gen X increasingly drawn to polyamory?

Legs of one man and two women lying in bed covered with paper hearts, top view. Concept of polyamory and LGBT

Do we hit a certain age and think monogamy just isn’t enough for us anymore? Apparently, yes…

Our forties and fifties are a time of transition. For many of us, life around this time will involve a number of challenges, whether that’s bringing up children, caring for ill family members, facing redundancy, or dealing with divorce. And coming out the other side of these events can leave us feeling like different people. But why is Gen X increasingly drawn to polyamory? Because studies show that this certainly seems to be the case.

Going through these tough times can lead to a re-evaluation of your professional and personal life. And for many people this will include their sex and love life. Some couples who have been in a long-term marriage may feel that their relationship has been neglected or become stale due to the other demands being placed on them. Research has shown that Gen X-ers are more likely to go through divorce than other generations.

Midlife might be the first time in years that an individual has had the time and energy to address their sexual desires and unmet needs and, for some, that could be an exploration of polyamory or ethical non-monogamy (ENM).

What exactly is polyamory and why is Gen X all over it?

Polyamory is the act of being in a number of sexual and/or romantic relationships with different people, with the consent of everyone involved. It is different to swinging in that the relationships are romantic, and can be long-term. And it’s not necessarily always about sex.

Polyamory is something which has become popular with the younger Gen Z, which tends to have more progressive views on social and cultural norms, and often rejects the traditional relationships of their parents.

But why is Gen X choosing to explore this new sexual frontier when many will have spent many years being with just one person?

Time to explore your updated needs?

Therapist Susie Masterson says, “Growing up in the 70s and 80s, relationships were predominantly both monogamous and heteronormative.  Education around consent was still scant, and society was clearly gendered. This informed Gen Xers ‘relationship blueprint’.

“Many of my Gen X clients recognise that having an entrenched position to things – whether that’s relationships, politics or spirituality – effectively means shutting themselves off. This coincides with a time in life when they have fewer practical constraints and responsibilities.”

For the first time in many years, couples will find themselves alone in the house again…

These responsibilities could include your children growing up and moving out. For the first time in many years, couples will find themselves alone in the house again and clinical sexologist Marie Morice says this means that “there is actual physical space and time to feel sexual again. Just between you and your partner to start with. And you can then explore more if you feel like it.”

Tessa Krone, a polyamory advocate and the founder of the podcast Open Nesters, rejects the use of the label ‘empty nesters’ for these couples. “We are the Open Nesters. We are the Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers who reject the traditional roles that our parents played and the empty nest syndrome. We defy the stigma of ageism, ailing health, empty retirement and a passionless sex life.” She describes having this new freedom to be more sexually adventurous and curious as an ‘Act 3’ in life.

David

This is something David, 56, found when his children were grown up and no longer living with him. He had always been in monogamous relationships but when his marriage ended, he realised he was less keen on being tied down to one person. “I don’t think I’ll ever do that again,” he says.

I’m able to get all those needs met, by having relationships with a few different people

“It seems incredible to believe that we can have all our needs met in one person. In my own marriage, I loved my wife, but as the years passed, we stopped having sex, for example. We had amazing fun together, and made each other laugh. But I found myself missing things that I wanted to experience, because I’d committed to having just the one relationship. And now I find I’m able to get all those needs met, by having relationships with a few different people.”

Read a different article: Why I cheat on my husband

Liv

Liv, 47, is happily married and has four children who still live with her, but has recently been exploring polyamory with her husband. She has a demanding day job and a busy family life but says enjoying sex with other people has made her relationship stronger.

…they are happy for each other to play out their sexual fantasies with people outside their marriage

“This is my blowout. I get to let my hair down and get to be incredibly sexually liberated with the consent of my best friend,” she says. While the couple isn’t looking for separate romantic relationships, they are happy for each other to play out their sexual fantasies with people outside their marriage.

Liv says apps like Feeld and Hinge have made it easier for couples and individuals to meet others interested in ENM. Masterson says this is what happened with her client Karine who was re-evaluating her sexuality, having only experienced monogamous, heterosexual relationships previously.

After navigating a number of life transitions from divorce to kids leaving home as well as changing careers, Karine started using dating apps to explore connections with women. Masterson says Karine now only dates women and is currently in a polyamorous relationship with two people.

Polyamory takes some work…

A move away from having previously monogamous relationships does have to be treated with caution. Particularly if you were monogamous before, but have decided to open the doors to others in an already-existing relationship.

Issues such as resentment and jealousy can easily rear their heads if you’re in a relationship, or more than one. Psychotherapist Paula Gardner says “Strong communication skills, honesty, and setting boundaries are key to making this work, and that often means a lot of work which people might not want to do at this stage in life.”

You can’t predict what’s going to happen, so there’s a need for a lot of communication

Morice agrees that honesty is key to ENM working. “By their very nature and their level of uncertainty, open and polyamorous relationships are more intense than typical monogamous relationships. You can’t predict what’s going to happen, so there’s a need for a lot of communication to work through and navigate the unpredictability and the excitement on the journey.”

Communication is something Liv says has been key for things to work smoothly with she and her husband. “We trust each other completely, and where there’s an element of doubt we talk about it immediately,” she says.

“There’s a recognition that we need to be open all the time about how we feel, what we liked or didn’t like and being able to move on and learn from mistakes.

“I feel sad that I didn’t meet my husband earlier in my life as we could have been enjoying this before we reached middle age!”

Top tips for making poly great…

Open and honest communication
Regularly discuss your feelings, boundaries, and any changes in your needs or desires. Open communication helps prevent misunderstandings, and builds trust.

Set clear boundaries
Establish and respect each other’s boundaries. This includes discussing what is acceptable in terms of physical, emotional, and time commitments.

Practice compersion
Compersion is the pleasure of seeing joy in others. Cultivate joy and satisfaction from seeing your partner happy, even if you haven’t created that. This helps reduce jealousy and strengthens the overall relationship dynamic.

Manage jealousy constructively
Understand that jealousy is natural, whoever is feeling it, and can be managed through communication, discussion, and reassurance. Work on the root causes of jealousy rather than letting it fester.

Schedule quality time
Ensure that you spend quality time with each of your partners. Balancing time fairly helps each person feel valued and prevents neglect.

Be transparent
Be honest about your other relationships and any changes in your feelings or circumstances. Transparency prevents misunderstandings.

Prioritise self-care
Take care of your own emotional and physical wellbeing. Taking care of yourself helps you stay well, and be able cope with the complexities of polyamory.

Seek out your tribe
Polyamorous relationships are still in the minority. Join polyamorous communities or groups, or seek advice from a therapist who understands polyamory if necessary. External support can provide valuable perspectives and coping strategies. Not everyone is going to support what you do, probably.

Educate yourself
Read books, attend workshops, and engage with resources about polyamory. Continuous learning helps you understand different dynamics and improve relationship management skills.

Respect each relationship’s unique dynamics
Recognise that each relationship is unique and may require different approaches. Tailor your interactions and efforts to meet the specific needs of each partner.

Stay safe
Make sure all of you in your extended relationship practices safe sex, or is regularly checked for STIs and so forth. Take care of each other.

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About Kat Storr
Kat has been a digital journalist for over 12 years after starting her career at Sky News where she covered everything from terror attacks to royal babies and celebrity deaths. She has been working freelance for the last five years and regularly contributes to UK publications including woman&home, The i, Stylist, ES Best, Metro, and more.

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