If you’re like me, there was probably a time in your life when you aspired to non-monogamy and thought you were the only one. Maybe you’d seen some articles or heard about others doing it and thought, “Wow, that’s wild!” and then immediately dismissed the desire arising within you. 

But, if you’re reading this, chances are that at some point you actually met someone in real life who was practising non-monogamy, and helped you to normalise that desire. 

This is one of the reasons I think that finding community in consensual non monogamy is so important: normalising your desires for multiple relationships, normalising the challenges of multi-partner relating, and empowering everyone with collective wisdom, resources, and narratives to help us find our way. And, if this wasn’t enough, a healthy community of non-monogamous people in your life can also help you see when something is happening in your relationships that isn’t typical for non-monogamy, such as deception, manipulation, or other forms of abuse.

Generally speaking, people in the non-monogamous community are enthusiastic about creating and participating in groups: as with any kind of fringe or niche interest or way of life, we find a certain sense of affirmation in knowing that we aren’t alone, and in having others to talk to about our experiences. With still relatively few resources to guide us in non-monogamy, we learn from each other.

people of multiple ethnicities putting their hands together to signify community and common purposeBut saying “non-monogamous community”, as if this is some kind of monolithic, homogenous collective entity, would be inaccurate. The non-monogamous world is made up of many groups, all of them with their own flavors, values, and spins on the ways they explore and practice open relating. There are libertarian polyamorists who see consensual non-monogamy as an exploration in free-market romance liberated from state sanctioning, the social anarchists who aspire to community building through networks of intimate relationships, there are the heteronormative (and sometimes homophobic) conservative swingers, and there are the wild and free queerdos who don’t care about what’s in your pants, only what’s in your heart. And, there is everything else in between. The kinds of non-monogamous groups you might encounter are as varied and diverse as the people practising non-monogamy themselves are.

I remember my first time going to any kind of community event in the polyamorous world: it was an arts and crafts event. I’d been openly polyamorous for about a year, and engaging in discussion in a couple of local online groups for several months. I already had the impression that there were some very different hot takes on polyamory going around, but I had only just started describing myself as being my own primary partner. 

This event was held at a private residence, and I remember feeling uncomfortable from the moment I walked in: the living room furniture had all been moved aside, and there were about twenty wooden chairs placed around in a circle, but no one was sitting in them. People stood in the kitchen, a large room that seemed to be missing a stove. I got the impression the space was under renovation and asked, but was told it was not. One of the men in the group, about 20 years older than me, made multiple attempts to invade my personal space. And, by invading my space, I meant he encroached so close as to graze my body with his hand multiple times. Everything about it felt like it was straight out of a 1970s B-movie, and I was the ‘fresh meat’ that everyone craved. Before more people could swarm into my personal space, I made my way outside crafting space; eventually a couple showed up who were close to me in age and I glued myself to them as we crafted together.

It was many years before I ever went back to any events hosted by that particular group, and only then because the entire team of people organising it had changed. 

a person blowing a large, wobbly bubbleThis was unfortunately my first (but not last!) encounter with one of the types of Non-Monogamy Groups that are out there: the Boundary-less Bunch (my name for them!), a group of well intentioned people, but often lacking in boundaries and awareness, that often results in an space that is unsafe for singles and minorities, and as a result become a space that can attract people who behave in predatorial and unsavory ways. Newcomers may feel like they are treated as the shiny new thing and experience a lot of attention — or conversely, may feel like it’s challenging to understand how to engage because there’s no structure or guidelines. Although in my experience there wasn’t any alcohol (that I remember, anyway!) these groups will often focus on social events that are centred around alcohol consumption, eg at a craft brewery or sports bar. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with hosting events at such a venue, but if those are the only spaces, and purchases are required/encouraged, and there’s no other structure to the event, this can be an indicator of a space that lacks a clear sense of both boundaries and inclusivity.

a group of swingers, of various ethnicities, sit with a sheet covering them, and a pineapple placed on the sheetThis isn’t the only type of non-monogamous group you’ll encounter. There’s also the groups that are open about being a space to find dates or play partners: Pleasure Promoters. They aren’t just sex positive, they’re sex forward. These are usually kink or swinger based, and will still have events that are clearly named as social meetups, both as a way to ‘screen’ people for invites to the orgies and play parties, but also as a way for people to get to know each other in a low-pressure environment. Some may have a more formal set up, such as being a club or society that you purchase a membership for, or pay to attend certain events (such as workshops, conferences, or hotel takeovers). They usually have some set of guidelines to support a safer space, and these guidelines can sometimes expand into work on accountability and repair for the times when something untoward does happen at an event. Whilst these aren’t spaces I participate in very often any more, I greatly appreciate the transparency and honesty about their sex forwardness, and the efforts that are gone to in order to create a safer space.

multiple people in a bed, only their feet visibleNot to be confused with the sex-positive party scene, there are the Prowling Posses. These might look similar at first glance: sex forward spaces with a clear expectation that anyone who is there is “DTF”. Unfortunately, the prowling approach to being sex-forward might skip or bypass consent, or might fail to recognise the impact of power dynamics on the ability of people to consent to activities (for example, people may feel a pressure to say yes to sexual activity with the host because they don’t want to risk being excluded from future events). In these spaces the overall sense of personal boundaries might feel blurry, and individual agency may feel like it’s ignored. These events aren’t always sex parties: they might be a mixer or social event where there is a strong subtext of expectation that everyone (women especially) are there to be ‘hit on’, and there may be little or no support from organisers if a person voices having felt uncomfortable with an interaction. The organisers of these spaces are often not great at accountability themselves, and may exile someone who calls attention to their problematic behaviour rather than engaging in a process around it.

three people expressing joy over breakfast, two of them share a hifiveYou’ll also find the Nerdy Nexus groups, primarily focussed on learning and discussion. They’ll hold meetups that have clear guidelines, usually with a strong sense of intersectionality and inclusion. Or they might exist mostly online, and contain lots of positive, well thought out discussion and peer support. They might organise a mix of social and learning events (group outings, book clubs, pub evening discussions, movie nights), and even bring in guest speakers or facilitators. They usually have a team of admins who are equally engaged in creating community. These marvellous nerds might not have accountability and repair figured out yet, but they know where those resources are and will be keen to engage with them when the opportunity arises.

black and white photo of people throwing their hands in the air

And then there’s the Cults: usually run by one person or polycule who attempt to date most of the new people who join the group. They tend to shirk accountability or be responsive to call ins, and will remove anyone who challenges them. The leaders may cultivate an “us versus them” mentality, leading people to believe that “normal regular people” will never be able to understand them, encouraging members to see that the only people who will ever understand them are… the other people in the group. They may encourage people to cut off ties with family members and friends entirely, but often they will focus more on cultivating the group as an exclusive ‘clique’. You may sense that there is an ‘inner circle’ within the group who know more about the workings of things than general members, and there won’t be a lot of effort to meaningfully empower individuals (unless they are sleeping with the group leaders, or the group leaders are wanting to sleep with them). There might be a lack of financial transparency about where any money collected goes, and anyone who challenges the decisions of the group leaders will likely face gaslighting and public abuse before being socially exiled. 

In over a decade of non-monogamy, I’ve encountered all of these and at least attempted to participate in all of them: sometimes with more success than others. And, there’s probably other types of groups that I haven’t accounted for here, so please don’t take these descriptions as the totality of what’s out there.

As my friend and colleague Marcia B reminds me often: we tend to mislabel groups as communities when what they really represent is a ‘scene’, and personally I find the way that social media functions and names things has played into this further: the encouragement from social media companies to treat the online spaces they host for us as communities is reflected in some of the languaging they use and how they format groups. The marketing around social events increasingly portrays events as a space where you might find community, and a sense of belonging.

True Communities don’t emerge overnight: they are interconnected webs of relationships that form over time, where people share diverse common values, not just about sex and partnership, but also about social organisation, agency, guidelines, aspirations, and where they find a common sense of purpose. Some communities may form based on common background and experiences, such as holding immigrant identities, or shared war traumas. Communities contain a wide range of ages and go through chapters of life together: babies are born, children are raised, parents are supported, non-parents are celebrated, the disabled and elderly are included. Communities are able to navigate conflict without too heavy a loss of relationship. Diversity is celebrated.

A ‘scene’ on the other hand is more like a narrow slice of community: a place (whether in the real world or virtual) where people might gather over a single shared desire, value, or purpose. In some ‘scenes’ a desire to do something different may be dismissed as either not relevant or a distraction to the expressed purpose of the group, for example if you joined a Blues dance group and wanted instead to learn a mediaeval Pavan, the teachers would probably direct you to a different class. The range of ages, bodies, or even ethnicities, may be more narrow and limited, for example: a space that excludes people who are older than 45, or a party whose criteria for attendance includes that people need to be “conventionally attractive”. Scenes don’t often have the capacity to navigate conflict: decisions may be made to exclude people due to this lack of capacity, although in some cases the navigating of conflict may be the turning point where a scene transforms into a community. When we mistake a ‘scene’ for being a full fledged community, we might find ourselves deeply disappointed when our expectations are not met.

Whether it’s a scene or a community, non-monogamy groups are going to be valuable to you in your own journey of honest and consensual non-monogamy. Many people find themselves participating in a variety of groups and spaces, and forming their own personal community from the relationships and friendships they develop there. 

But jumping right into a group can be a scary proposition, especially when you are still very new to non-monogamy. Sometimes the giddy excitement of feeling like a kid in a candy store can get the better of us and we dive in deep, investing heavily into a group and the people in it, before realising that it’s not actually the right space fo us. And on the flipside, we may so feel hesitant to engage, wary due to the horror stories we’ve heard of creepy and unsafe spaces, that we miss out on nourishing connections and struggle through our non-monogamy in relative isolation.

So, how can you tell if a group is a healthy space? And how can you know if it’s a healthy space for you?

Red Flags
Red Flags are signs to stop engaging. They indicate that there are unsafe things happening that have little to no chance of resolving any time soon. Tempting as it might be to engage with the Red Flags and jump into the role of ‘rescuer’, this is better left to people already in a group, as they have a better chance of being heard by the organisers.

  • The people doing most or all of the organising are white cis men;
  • No clear code of conduct &/or accountability/complaints procedure;
  • People of Color are silenced, dismissed, or removed from the group and/or any organising responsibilities without explanation;
  • Heteronormative, with either outright transphobia and homophobia, or fetishising of 2SLGBTQIA+;
  • All events focussed around alcohol consumption/no sober events;
  • Lots of ‘unicorn hunting’, ie couples (sometimes with a joint profile) seeking singles (usually women, but sometimes men) for sexual encounters.
  • Lack of clarity about who online group admins actually are, eg the use of “sock puppet accounts” to create the illusion of multiple admins, or admins listed who never/rarely engage in the group online or in person;
  • Special mention to a Glowing Red Flag: when the organiser(s) ask every new person that joins out on a date.

Yellow Flags
Yellow Flags can be a sign that a group is growing, changing, or at least open to change, but you may want to consider to what degree you have the capacity to engage in the group whilst they are still sorting things out. For example, if you are trans and you see a group organiser posting things that fetishise trans people, you may not feel comfortable in that space. However, it is also possible that you might feel able to call attention to the problems and invite a conversation with the person who posted it: only you know what your tolerance capacity is. Groups with yellow flags around diversity may have had challenges around not knowing how to be more inclusive, or there may be larger systemic issues contributing to the situation: it’s always good to ask group organisers about this and inquire about what’s being (or has been) done to attempt more diversity and inclusion.

  • BIPOC members are the only members tackling racism in the group;
  • Transphobic and/or homophobic comments are made in the group;
  • Conflation between polyamory, swinging, & kink relationships;
  • Events are not universally accessible: eg stairs, lack of ventilation, cover charges;
  • Sex forward, ie everyone is there to cruise or pick up;
  • No statements or action towards inclusion or equity;
  • People who are part of a couple using lots of “we” statements and speaking on behalf of their partner all the time;
  • Very little interaction from admin team;
  • No means of accountability if someone has a bad experience at an event;
  • Organisers claim expertise with no lived experience.

Green Flags
Green Flags indicate that the organisers and members of a group have put in some work into thinking about how to create as inclusive and safe a space as possible. They may not be perfect, but they’re actively working on how to be better and do more to support the people in the group. Even if you don’t see people like yourself in the group (ie age, ethnicity, ability, etc) the green flags help indicate that you won’t be treated any differently. 

  • Gender & ethnic diversity of the group & leadership is reflective of the local area (the exception being when the group is focussed on a specific demographic, eg 2SLGBTQIA+ or BIPOC only);
  • Group includes a focus on skills building & learning alongside community building;
  • All forms of non-monogamy recognised & talked about;
  • Input is regularly sought from group members;
  • Centering of lived experience, not just ‘theoretical’;
  • Diverse ages/ranges of non-monogamy experience: elders welcomed!


Finding Non Monogamy Groups

Close-up of three kittens resting on the bed

You can find non-monogamy groups everywhere! Facebook groups, Meetup.com, and Fetlife are often good starting points. Some dating apps organise local mixers or workshops. You might ask non-monogamous people you match with on dating apps where the local group spaces are. Sometimes local sex-toy stores have knowledgeable staff who may be able to point you in the right direction! As you encounter each of these groups, I encourage you to ask questions, challenge the status quo, and prioritise your well-being: if something feels off — even if you can’t quite put your finger on what it is — don’t exhaust yourself trying to engage. Finding a space that truly aligns with your values and supports your journey in consensual non-monogamy may take time. Embrace the learning experiences, but don’t compromise your safety or comfort.

When you’re checking out your local groups and sex-positive scene, it’s good to ask lots of questions. Here’s some things you might want to ask to determine if a group is a) healthy and functional and b) the right space for you!

  • Do you have a clear code of conduct for your group and/or meetups?
  • How do you address racism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia in your group?
  • How does the group support learning and peer support?
  • Is your group sex positive? What about sex forward? If I say no to a date or to someone’s advances, and they are upset by that, do the organisers do anything to support me?
  • Who is your group for? Does your group allow people to have ‘joint’ or ‘couple’ profiles? Are people who are unpartnered or not part of a ‘couple’ welcome to join?
  • Is unicorn hunting allowed in your group?
  • Who are the group admins & if I have an issue with a group admin, is there a way to address this?
  • Who sees what I post to the forum?
  • What happens to any money/fees/donations you collect?

It might be that you don’t find the right group for you, in which case you may think about starting a group. This is exactly what I did ten years ago when I found my local community lacking in others who understood what the values and experiences of being Solo Polyamorous were like, and I’m pleased to say that the Solo Polyamory group on Facebook (which I was a cofounder of) is still growing strong, with 13K+ members from around the world!

For me, I find myself today participating in a number of groups. Local to where I live I started a group called Open Relating Comox Valley, which has run book clubs and a few outdoors, distanced social meetups through the pandemic. I also participate in online discussion with several other polyamory groups in BC, including Nanaimo Polyamory 101 and Vancouver Polyamory, as well as in some larger, non-geographical groups like Relationship Anarchy. But these spaces don’t limit where I locate my ‘community’. My own personal community is a blend of people who I have come to know and cherish through the years. My ‘people’ aren’t limited to partners (past or present), nor are they limited by geography. I find joy in a community that spans across borders, across oceans even, and is bonded in a deep trust and understanding of one another. We share in common a lived experience of practising consensual non-monogamy — albeit in different ways — and I’ve found that the values that draw us together are that of anti-oppression and anti-ableism, of being outrageously outspoken and willing to challenge the status quo, of leading with our hearts and with compassion, of being fiercely feminist and intersectional about it, of taking no bullshit and being willing to draw the line when it needs to be drawn, having a willingness to have the difficult conversations with one another, and of believing in a better world tomorrow.

A true community is more than a scene; it’s a tapestry of shared values, inclusivity, and mutual respect. I encourage you to seek out spaces where diversity is celebrated, accountability is upheld, and everyone’s voice matters.

In the realm of non-monogamous relationships, the right communal spaces will help you find your way. You’ll form friendships, partnerships, be guided through challenges, offered support, and celebrated in your unique journey; so, seek the spaces and connections that nurture and empower you, and let go of the spaces that don’t.

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