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How to Safely Practice Non-Monogamy During the Pandemic

It's not a set of rules-it's a state of mind.

Right now, engaging with polyamory means adapting to our wack times and doing our best to have fun (and get off) consensually and respectfully despite the new limitations we're facing. If it's time to renegotiate previous boundaries and get a little more creative about when and how often you spend time with multiple partners, here's how to think about respecting everyone involved.

Figure out what kind of safety measures everyone can agree on before anything else.

Your poly lifestyle is not worth other people getting COVID. If you do intend to see multiple partners in any way, shape, or form-which is hella risky, and which you probably shouldn't -make sure everyone's on the same page, and take meticulous safety measures.

Your chances of contracting or spreading COVID-19 are increased with any human-to-human contact. Unless your alternative partners are willing to move in and commit to an exclusive relationship within your polyamory bubble or polycule, body-to-body sexual contact with them is probably not doable, and everyone needs to have a straightforward discussion about that. A new guideline may be that you ask your partner(s) both inside and outside of the primary relationship to disclose who they are also sexually and physically involved with, offer them the same information, and figure out how to adjust your situation to minimize risk based on what you learn.

If you do continue to see others in person, outside of your primary partnership, remember: "Whatever you do outside of the home can impact your partner. If this is something that you are risking, you need to set up a strict testing routine," said sex educator and researcher Wendasha Jenkins Hall. That may look like getting tested every two weeks or once a month. Realistically, testing regularly is still an unpredictable mode of protection, given the likelihood of keeping tabs on exposure to partners outside of your primary partnership is slim AF.

Ask questions of all of your partners if you go forward with continuing to be with them physically. You'll need to know:

    "Who else are you sleeping with?"
    "How many partners have you had in the last month?"
    "What safety precautions are you taking?"

When each additional person opens you up to the risks of their own network, the space for error can compound very quickly, so the most responsible and safe thing you can do is temper your expectations in regards to in-person dates and rely mostly, if not solely, on virtual connection outside of your primary partnership.

If testing is not available to you, or you and your partners decide to abstain from sexual and physical contact for health reasons, it doesn't mean your relationships have to be placed on hold.

"My femme partner and I actually decided to not have sex or kiss for another month because of our schedules-plus, testing won't line up [for us] until then. We decided based on a lot of revolving factors, like the amount of people a partner is around, how socially distant [their] outings are, etc.," said Gabrielle Smith, a 25-year-old bisexual solo-polyamorous person based in Brooklyn. For now, the two of them are still going on socially distanced dates and communicating without physical contact.

Check in with your partners about whether your previously established emotional and personal boundaries are still working.

Being largely limited to one environment, possibly alongside one partner, means choosing how and when you will interact with multiple partners with everyone's comfort and well-being in mind, emotionally speaking.

Emily Morse, a doctor of human sexuality and the host of the podcast and Sirius XM radio show Sex With Emily, told VICE that it's helpful for polyamorous couples adapting to the pandemic to revisit their needs about their relationships. She suggested a framework like, "'Are our previous boundaries still working for us right now? This is how I felt six months ago, but after living together, I might be open to, you know, ABC."

New parameters for the relationship may also tip the scale in terms of physical and emotional interactions. You might ask your partner, "Are dating sites still off limits?" given that in-person meet-ups aren't an option and you are looking for people to connect with virtually. Shifts in boundaries may look like, "Do you want to try talking about the people we're curious about?" or, "If you're comfortable answering, how's it going with X?"

If you had policies with your primary partner where you didn't disclose other encounters, they might feel more difficult to uphold if space and time are an issue. If you want to readdress th, they may feel less lenient than before. You can ask questions like, "Hey, are you still video chatting with X?" or, "When's the last time you and Y spoke?"

A new conversation may come up that sounds something like, "Hey, six months ago I didn't think I wanted to know who else you were seeing because I didn't think I could handle the jealousy. Now that I'm more confident in our relationship, let's pivot and create rules that work for the time we're living in," said Morse. However, if it's 100 percent something you've both agreed upon that you don't ask for intel, it should be made very clear that how you continue to engage with people needs to follow those same rules, even if time and space are limited.

Communicate with all your partners about how emotionally involved you want to be with each respective person, and vice versa.

A potentially difficult angle of polyamory during quarantine is that maybe you're not looking to make emotional connections. Sure, we can have casual sexting or virtual conversations, but what does that all amount to if your desire is to meet in person? What can you do while living with your partner if you're solely interested in causal, one-off sexual experiences-but the experiences you're having are mostly taking place in more communicative than physical forms?

Hall recommends online spaces for virtual, causal relationships. Your dating app bio or initial conversations should outline exactly what you anticipate any interaction leading up to, and should actively make clear that you're poly and not looking to meet-up in person. You may set up your first conversations with, "Let's keep it light and sexy,'' or perhaps your foreplay can include your expectations about linking up online: "I just bought new lingerie that I really want to show you. Can we meet online at 10 p.m.?" All parties involved should have a clear understanding of what is going to unfold, and have little room for misinterpretation about what everyone's looking for out of the situation.

Keep an eye on the dynamics in your secondary and tertiary relationships, too, if it's a part of your agreement with your partners that certain relationships stay more casual/sexual than your primary one. It's not unusual to relate and confide in people that you typically would only engage with casually. During this pandemic, many people have found comfort in more regular check-ins with family and friends, but if you've previously defined an intimate relationship as purely physical, how do you keep any emotional needs separate in what is, for many people, a particularly tough time?

"We're not having much human connection at the moment, [so] sometimes the lines between physical and emotional intimacy get blurred because we're craving human touch and human interaction," Hall said. You may find yourself leaning more into your primary partner and existing friendships in order to alleviate the pressure on alternate partnerships to show up in a way that wasn't previously agreed upon pre-COVID.

"If you have a primary partner, it's important that you confide in them as well as family and friends in order to keep any conversations with alternate partners light, and less emotionally involved," Hall said.

Create a schedule-or, at least, discuss timing-with your partners.

The same way that many of us have created a work-from-home schedule with our partners that are respectful of space and time, you can block out times separate for your partner that don't require any explanation or follow-up. Still, there might be a little overlap, and that's something to acknowledge and prepare for with your partner.

Relationship coach Evita Sawyers lives in an apartment with her husband in Chula Vista, CA. Both have additional partners, and they're experiencing a new normal in interacting with partners that are outside of their primary partnership: She is now privy to his conversations with his other partners in a way that she wasn't before-she's suddenly hearing his videos dates in the bedroom, and vice versa, as opposed to engaging with other partners privately outside of the home. For Sawyers, it's a welcome adjustment that allows her to find "grace" toward her partner as they both adapt.

"I understand that these things can sometimes be uncomfortable to witness," Sawyers said. "You're not used to having access to those intimate moments between them, [instead of having] the privilege of those interactions happening out of earshot."

If you're both adamant on privacy-or not overhearing your partner's conversations-schedule calls with other partners when your housemate is out or or going to be away. When making plans with partners that you don't live with, conversations may look like, "Hey, I'm free for a call between one and three p.m.," or, "Let's aim for weekends only." You can also try relying on voice notes or videos or via an app like Marco Polo, which operates like a video walkie-talkie, allowing you to listen and respond to messages when you've carved out private time.

When it comes to non-primary partners, you can be just as considerate of others' space- and time-based limitations. Smith is currently dating a married, poly man who lives with his wife. Even though she is not sexually or romantically involved with his wife, they believe in complete transparency between the three of them for health and safety reasons. In the beginning of quarantine, they saw each other less often, but now, they all rely on a Google Calendar that displays their social obligations. They want to all remain in the loop in terms of how many alternate partners could potentially put them at risk.