Round table: Could Mononormativity Lose Its Edge (in Croatia)? Discussing Conceptual and Empirical Outlines of Polyamory

Participants: Branka Galić, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, dr. sc. Željka Kamenov, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Senka Sekulić Rebić, Ženska Soba.
Moderators: Goran Koletić, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Jasmina Mehulić, Department of Psychology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Luka Jurković, Department of Sociology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb

Intimate relationships have undergone various changes in the past few generations. Majority of relationships are still a gateway to marriage, mainly by focusing on pragmatism, long-term partnership and progeny. However, the modern western lifestyle – fast, individual-oriented and alienated from familial social bonds – potentially enhances a need for emotional connection beyond dyadic structures. Intimate relationships have thus attained a new purpose: providing emotional sustenance, but with a new prerequisite – fragmented intimacy. Some would argue intimacy requires stability and security, which can over time subdue the fulfillment of other needs, such as the need for novelty and the need for excitement. For this reason, many long-term intimate relationships enter phases of complacency, a routinization that encourages partners to seek the fulfillment of their needs elsewhere. However, not all couples go about it the same way – some ignore their habituation, some endeavor in new and creative techniques to keep their relationship going, some have hidden relationships with third parties, and some decide to change their monogamous relationships to non-monogamous. But what happens when intimacy is achieved with more than one person? What happens when more than one person fulfills equally important needs and elicits equally strong feelings? Well, some decide to engage in consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships. These practices (un)intentionally question the prevailing structure of intimacy, usually based on mononormativity.

Mononormativity is a dominant discourse about relationships aimed to ascertain the assumed naturalness and normality of monogamy – a system established to control female reproduction and thus quell paternity concerns. From its perspective, consensually non-monogamous relationships are another controversial form of intimacy that undermines the concept of traditional (nuclear) family, just as various forms of same-sex partnerships do. Generally, CNM is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of open relationships, in which all partners agree that extradyadic romantic and/or sexual relations may occur. CNM commonly encompasses swingers, polyamorous, and otherwise open relationship, and it should not be confused with secret extradyadic sex (i.e., cheating) or infidelity. Although first studies were conducted in the late 70s, over the past decade, CNM gained a substantial attention in general public and academic community. These debates and studies are mainly conducted in the US, Canada and Great Britain. For example, roughly 4-5% of individuals in the US engaged in CNM relationships and approximately 20% of individuals reported having CNM experience at one point during their life (Conley et al., 2013; Haupert et al, 2016). One possible reason for recently increased attention, as well as controversies, is related to assumptions that alternative romantic configurations, compared to monogamous ones, have equal or better quality of relational adjustment in terms of relationship satisfaction, commitment, trust, passionate love or safe-sex practices. Some of the aforementioned assumptions are empirically addressed, but only in sociocultural settings characterized by a more liberal and permissive approach to sexuality and relationship configurations.

This round table focuses on polyamorous relationships, a romantic configuration in which partners consensually enter and maintain non-dyadic committed, intimate and sexual relations. Round table will begin with a brief overview of pop-cultural references and recent media coverage. Next, definitions of consensual non-monogamy and polyamory will be provided, together with possible theoretical perspectives. Prevalence, sociodemographic/psychosocial correlates and relationship characteristics will be described according to recent research studies, followed by a brief description of research shortcomings, methodological issues and potential biases. Further, we will discuss implications of polyamory on several key relationship processes, such as jealousy, trust and partner violence. After describing conceptual and pragmatic differences between monogamous and prototypical polyamorous relationships, several social aspects of polyamorous relationship, including the question of stigma, will be addressed. Finally, we hope to discuss polyamorous relationships in the sociocultural context of a post-communist country with a religious component embedded in its values, thus reproducing restrictive regulation of sexuality and partnerships (#Croatia).