Sex. Ed. Curriculum: The Non-extistence of Non-monogamy

Outlined cartoon people standing in the shape of a heart

“If the prisoner is happy, why lock him in? If he is not, why pretend that he is?” – George Bernard Shaw (as quoted by Tristan Taormino, 2008, p. xvii)

The first time I typed the word “polyamory” into Microsoft Word, it was instantly decorated with that red squiggly line that is meant as an alert to say, “You made a typo!” or “That isn’t a word!” Sure, the term itself is relatively new, despite the fact that the phenomenon of non-monogamy (including polyamory, open relationships, group relationships, and other forms) is not new by any means.

More recently, when I typed “nonmonogamy curriculum” into a google search, the first hit was this article: “Three is the new two as couples explore the boundaries of non-monogamy the people” from The Australian. I will point out the fact that, after a series of searches for curricula or lesson plans dealing with non-monogamy or polyamory, ZERO actual curricula or lesson plans appeared in the search results. But let’s just acknowledge that issue and put it aside for now. We’ll get back to that.

The article mentioned above, from 2010, refers to polyamory as “the next sexual revolution,” detailing the rise of non-monogamy into the visible public sphere and diffusing some common misconceptions. From the perspective of sexuality education, these two points  – the increase in visibility and the multitude of misconceptions – make it pretty obvious that there needs to be more education about the existence of non-monogamy in many cultures today. In the shadow of the monogamy-centric culture, non-monogamous individuals in America have reported that they experienced struggles related to prejudice from the mainstream. Another major reported challenge is the pressure to conform due to the undeniable presence of monogamy as an ultimate cultural ideal – a pressure to succumb to a standard that can feel fake or imprisoning for them.

The ZERO google hits for lesson plans and curricula is an indicator that there is still work to be done in promoting support and understanding of the non-monogamous community. Even aside from lesson plans and curricula, the non-monogamous community has expressed the sentiment that there is a general lack of resources on this topic. In a 2004 study, non-monogamous individuals themselves recommend the books The Ethical SlutLove Without Limits, and one children’s book Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies. Opening Up, another book commended by the Widener Human Sexuality program, is a comprehensive book backed by survey research directly from the non-monogamous community.

Although searching google specifically for lesson plans and curricula about non-monogamy and/or polyamory retrieved no actual lesson plans, surprisingly, searching the internet for a brainstorm of other search terms that are tangent to non-monogamy resulted in the discovery of one lesson activity…

This lesson activity takes the integrative model approach to instruction by introducing an interview of Emma Goldman which touches upon her non-conformist views toward love and marriage and by asking follow-up questions leading to the dissection of her ideas. Themes in this activity include the institution of marriage, the defining of love, and the relationship between commitment and freedom, and includes the following prompts:

“What aspects of the institution of marriage would be problematic for an anarchist?”

“What were Goldman’s feelings about monogamy (loving one person exclusively)?”

“Did she think that women could have a home and family and still be free?”

“Do you agree or disagree with Goldman’s assertion that: “No one can control the affections, therefore there should be no jealousies.”

“Discuss your thoughts on these or other contemporary issues of love and marriage: domestic partnerships, palimony suits, divorce rates, child custody, non-­marital sex.”

* * *

One lesson may be greater than zero, but as far as the representation of educational support for the understanding of the diversity of relationships in the world, there is still room to grow.

5 responses to “Sex. Ed. Curriculum: The Non-extistence of Non-monogamy

  1. Great thoughts! I completely agree that it is interesting/sad that there are no lesson plans for non-monogamy. I noticed this as well when doing a needs assessment for a sex education organization. The lesson you have posted is so very helpful as well. My first thoughts were:

    “my students probably won’t know who Emma Goldman is”
    “if they do know her, what if they dislike her?”
    “if they don’t care, why would they care what she has to say about monogamy”
    “why am I so skeptical of this lesson?”

    I then read your comment that “one lesson may be greater than zero.” And this is definitely true. I still wonder if the example of Emma Goldman has the potential to derail the discussion from non-monogamy into a political debate…

    Still, great post 🙂

  2. It’s amazing how often I find myself teaching new words to the dictionary function in Microsoft Word. I think it actually serves as a really excellent reminder that the culture of our field is rather insulated and that the language we use is not common knowledge and may take some getting used to. The power of language can’t be overestimated and I think it’s terribly important that we remember not to alienate others by using our fancy lingo. (Not that “polyamory” is necessarily that fancy! But you know what I mean.)

    I’m very surprised to see that you’ve found so few lesson plans about this topic. It seems like such a common occurrence to me, but then again…that may just be our little human sexuality bubble skewing my perspective once again. Like Mark, I’m not sure that the lesson you found would be terribly effective, but I think it has the right idea. When I was teaching reading to fifth graders I used to try to find articles that they would relate to or find interesting, helping connect a new concept to an existing one (concept mapping, no?). So in this case maybe a more modern article about polyamory would help. Perhaps even an article about polygamy, which is more familiar and can be used to start a discussion about the differences between the two.

  3. There is actually an offshoot of non-monogamy/polyamory called “relationship anarchy (and if I knew how to do a link in comment I would link to an article. But you can all Goggle it yourself) so introducing poly to students by using Emma Goldman is really interesting.

    I myself often find that a lesson on jealousy is a good place to start a lesson on non-monogamy. It’s something everyone understands and most people have felt and have strong opinions on. It can be fun and educational just prodding students to explain why jealousy is good (almost all of them think it’s good) and then challenging their ideas of possessiveness or how love is enhanced.

  4. I was actually not surprised to read how little there is regarding curriculum and non-monogamy out there for educators. A major contributing factor to this in my opinion is that is all comes down to money and funding. My current employment at a reproductive health clinic as a counselor has us stress the importance of monogamy and fidelity to each person that I counsel. Do I necessary believe or want to tell my teens that I work with this? No, but I have to document that I stressed the importance of it due to our funding stream. Our main source of funding which is consistent with other family planning and reproductive health clinic is Title X. One of the requirements that we must fulfill in order to bill is to stress the importance of monogamy. Funding may be factor to the limited curriculum that is out there.

    I also feel that teens are highly impressionable and feel pressured to conform to society’s standards as the article that you cited mentioned. This creates a lot of internal conflict that our teens are facing today. so being able to find lesson plans that are tailored to the vast needs of our students would be beneficial.

    I think that Jess’s idea of using an instructional tool like concept mapping would be a great start. We would be able to organize and structure ideas/concepts around non-monogamy including what Annalisa mentioned by using the term jealousy. This may be a great introduction for students to better grasp the concept of monogamy vs. non-monogamy. We definitely have our work cut out for us!!!


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