Equity vs. Equality in polyamorous relationships

Justice in polyamoury, but in what context?

Society is becoming more open about the idea of polyamorous relationships, even though there is still quite a lot of polyamorophobia (a word I just invented). Therefore, I am getting more people in my office seeking help to negotiate their relationship contract. Every couple has some form of understanding about what they consider to be fidelity and hence a relationship contract.

Even monogamous relationships have one, but they rarely actively discuss it, which can create issues down the line. Some contracts are explicitly talked about with clauses and articles while others are implicitly implied and assumed by one or both partners.


Sign with your blood here, please!

So you’ve decided you wanted to open your relationships to the joys of multiple partners. This requires that the couple reflects on their individual needs and desires so that they can reach an agreement as to how this will unfold. We can open the relationship either sexually and/or emotionally and you and your partner may not necessarily agree on how open and what you want from this experience or lifestyle you are embarking on.

Contracts can be relatively simple to very complex and ongoing discussions are essential to maintain a healthy relationship and avoid jealousy and possessiveness down the road. Some take a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” approach which can greatly simplify the discussions but can eventually lead to some mishaps and misunderstandings.

One of the dilemmas I keep hitting with my couples in therapy is the debate about equality vs. equity in their agreements. One partner might want to open up only sexually and the other person needs some form of emotional intimacy to engage sexually with a new partner. Certain couples aren’t in the same context where one of them is more easily able to find new partners because of different circumstances such as being more desirable and excels in seduction or opportunities to meet new people is easier due to free time or hobbies they might have. There is also a gender difference to consider in heterosexual relationships where presenting to new partners an openness in their relationship might enact different reactions depending on the sexual orientation and gender of these potential new partners.


I’m comfortable, but wait a minute

As needs and desires are different for everyone, this creates negotiations and discussions that aren’t always easy. Some might want equality in their agreement and others are seeking equity and in some cases, they may want both. What exactly is the difference anyways between the two, you ask?


The notion that both partners must respect the same rules without taking into consideration individual needs and desires from each partner. For many, this rule allows feeling justice in the agreement. Everyone has the same number of partners, dates, style or acts of sex that can be shared and no one feels like they are getting less or more than the other. It avoids the complication of dealing with different needs that might create jealousy for one of the partners. The issue is that it might actually answer one of the partner’s needs more than the other, which can feel unjust for some. This agreement works great especially if both partners are seeking very similar things in a non-monogamy arrangement.


The notion that every person’s needs are taken into consideration during the negotiations even though they might differ or even contradict one another. This typically requires more complex negotiations because one partner may want to have only sexual partners, while the other wants more affection in their extra-conjugal relationships. The issue is that some needs might provoke jealousy or possessiveness or a loss of uniqueness and exclusivity in the relationship. Couples who choose poly-quity need to work more on their level of differentiation and tolerating the uniqueness of each partner’s needs.


So…poly-quity or poly-gality

Well, that really depends on your situation and desires. Not one style is better than the other, but depending on your situation you might want to decide which one fits better. You and your partner may have different circumstances that don’t allow for the same rules. While other couples will thrive in poly-gality because they both want similar things in their other relationships. We also have to ask ourselves why we instill certain rules and what are the motivations for them. Are we trying to protect the couple and our values by keeping our integrity or are we trying to avoid our insecurities and protecting our egos? Being honest with ourselves and our partners is key to making these negotiations and this life experience enjoyable for all.





sexologue montreal

Francois Renaud M.A.
Sex therapist & psychotherapist Montreal

Specialized in couple’s and sex therapy

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