10 Books About Polyamorous and Open Relationships
Tales of navigating sex, love, and life with more than one partner at a time
Is there such a thing as too much love and desire? Is it possible to negotiate intimate relationships with multiple partners at once without invoking jealousy and hurt? Are there people for whom desire will always be so multifaceted that it can never be satisfied by a single significant other? Navigating an open relationship, or simultaneous relationships with multiple people, means being prepared to engage with all these tricky questions.
But if you’re not quite ready to challenge conventional ideas of sexual and emotional intimacy in your own life, especially in pandemic times, the same questions about love, jealousy, exclusivity, and freedom make for great memoirs and fiction, so consider exploring them through one of the following books. (Also, you may enjoy checking out Recommended Reading’s short story “Sundays” by Emma Copley Eisenberg, about a young woman who has sex with three different partners, six days a week.)
Next Year, for Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson
Kathryn and Chris have been together for nine years and all their friends think they are the perfect couple. When Chris develops feelings for his friend Emily, Kathryn encourages him to act on them and he in turn encourages Kathryn to explore additional relationships as well. They embark on a yearlong experiment in nonmonogamy, from which at least one person will emerge stronger, more grounded, more open, and with new family in their life.
Luster by Raven Leilani
Edie, a 23-year-old Black painter working an ill-fitting administrative job at a children’s publishing house, grows infatuated with Eric, a white man twice her age whom she meets online and who enjoys violently dominating her. Breaking the rules of his open marriage, she goes to his house and is invited to dinner by his wife Rebecca, who knows who she is. After Edie loses her job for being “sexually inappropriate,” Rebecca invites her to move in, partly to bother Eric and partly on the assumption that she will know how to help Rebecca and Eric’s traumatized, adopted Black daughter Akila.
This Heart Holds Many: My Life as the Nonbinary Millennial Child of a Polyamorous Family by Koe Creation
In this memoir Creation, the nonbinary child of a queer polyamorous family, tells of their upbringing in a household with three moms, from the crowded parent-teacher conferences to the struggles sure to be found in any family. Though a poster child for their loving alternative community, Creation eventually realizes they must strike out on their own to realize their full self beyond the “shadow of their tribe” and dedicates their life to helping others find extraordinary love.
Open Earth by Sarah Mirk
Rigo is born on the space station California shortly after Earth’s complete political and ecological collapse. To her, Earth is just history while the space station is a sex-positive utopia where she and her peers can explore their honest desires in queer, polyamorous relationships. When Rigo’s feelings for one of her three primary partners begins to deepen, she must balance her wish to move into their living quarters with another partner who has the same idea, with an eye to maintaining the overall harmony and happiness of the crew. Spanish-speaking Rigo is a refreshing heroine who takes pleasure in her own curvy body in this erotic, sci-fi graphic novel.
Many Love: A Memoir of Polyamory and Finding Love(s) by Sophie Lucido Johnson
Johnson, whose parents have a close monogamous relationship of over 50 years, grows up rarely questioning conventional dating and relationship norms, but finds herself feeling intense emotional attractions to women in college and beyond. Eventually, she seeks relationships that allow her to not only date multiple men but also spend significant time with the women she is close to. With a polyamory FAQ section in the beginning, and her own comic book-style drawings and information about the history and culture of polyamory sprinkled throughout the memoir, Johnson works to demystify a practice she considers much more about “emotional consideration and communication” than unrestrained hedonism.
The Body Myth by Rheea Mukherjee
After the death of her husband in a car accident, a young widow in a fictional Indian city retreats from the world and devotes herself to her teaching job and the care of her aging father. When she meets young married couple Sara and Rahil as Sara is having a seizure in the park, she is soon drawn into their world and becomes a lover to both partners, an arrangement that sets her on the road to healing.
Last Couple Standing by Matthew Norman
Baltimore therapist Jessica and high school English teacher Mitch have been married for 15 years and have two kids. When three of their closest couple friends divorce around the same time, they decide to try an evolved marriage where they can sleep with other people, though no social media friends or repeat encounters. Jessica quickly finds herself a hot bartender but Mitch struggles to connect with other women, and both soon discover that dating has changed a lot due to apps. Will their experiment succeed as they attempt to balance their new freedoms with work, children, and other pesky aspects of reality?
Necessary to Life: A Memoir of Devotion, Cancer and Abundant Love by Louisa Leontiades
Though openly non-monogamous, in this memoir Leontiades tells of a time when years of caring for toddlers has left her anxious, exhausted, and virtually celibate. Her partner falls for a Muslim woman, Yasmin, whose family will never let them be together unless he leaves her, while she falls for a terminal cancer patient, Janus, hoping to find a mother for his children after he dies. When her own potentially fatal tumor is discovered, Leontiades must decide whether to start a family with Janus if she lives and whether Yasmin will be a good stepmother to her children if she dies.
Neotenica by Joon Oluchi Lee
In this avant-garde novella, an unnamed 28-year-old Korean American man is engaged to a Korean-born woman named Young Ae and also explores his sexuality by having sex with men. After a homophobic attack on a BART train returning from a house party in West Oakland, he refuses to describe his assailants to police, stating that he does not believe in crime prevention. Young Ae is attracted to him, and after marriage the couple continue to have many sexual encounters with other partners. This episodic story takes many leaps forward in time, including to when the couple have a 10-year-old son.
Vanishing Twins: A Marriage by Leah Dieterich
In short sections that read like prose poems, essayist Dieterich explores intimate relationships through ideas of twinning and fetal vanishing twin syndrome, in which a less viable fetus is subsumed by a more viable twin in the womb. Though as a child she felt she had found her other half in an intense female friendship, Dieterich eventually moves across the country to marry a man whom she feels to be practically “the same person” as herself, which is what she supposes she should want from love. Yet she soon grows discontent with the sameness of having one partner. As her marriage opens to allow her to explore relationships with women, Dieterich finds herself strongly attracted to filmmaker Elena, and wondering if she and her husband can live in different cities with different partners and still maintain their original passionate bond.