Ethical Nonmonogamy | Polyamory, Love & Relationships

Health and Wellness in Polyamory: (or how reading about the coronavirus turned into a blog post)

Here’s something most people don’t know about me. While I don’t react with sheer terror or panic to the idea of developing a life threatening illness, I’m almost always convinced it’s a real possibility whenever my body does something new or unexpected. Last year, my fingertips started periodically getting unbearably itchy to the point where I would have to excuse myself from a conversation to go run them under lukewarm water to get relief. I still don’t know why they do that (probably dry skin), but thanks go the almighty Google, the possibility of liver disease is on the list. Then there is, of course, the time I was convinced I had intestinal worms after going to the bathroom only to remember a day later that I’d eaten a ton of enoki mushroom prior to that “incident.” As I get older, my mom is growing accustomed to frequent phone calls asking “is this a normal thing that women in our family experience or am I dying?”

The question is partly asked with humor, but beneath the humor there is definitely some concern.

So now, with all the news about the coronavirus having touched ground out here in California, I can’t help but think that my next drippy nose or dry cough might be a sign that I’m one of the unlucky 2% who will develop life-threatening form of the disease (as compared to 0.2% for your run-of-the-mill flu virus.)

Again, I say this with a hint of dark humor in my tone, while acknowledging that there is some real concern beneath it all.

If you’ve ever been part of or adjacent to a dynamic polycule (where there is at least one person who’s openly dating), you know that once someone catches a cold there’s a good chance it’s gonna spread through all the branches like wildfire. It can be hard to avoid, especially if one of the branches of your constellation has young children who are notorious for picking up and spreading germs.

This thought prompted me to reach out to my polycule’s group text and ask if there were any resources that shared helpful advice and suggested protocols specifically for the polyamorous and ethically non-monogamous communities during times of mass flu / viral outbreaks.

Turns out the general advice out there is pretty much common sense. According to the CDC website, you should endeavor to avoid people who are sick, wash your hands frequently, clean and disinfect your surfaces, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth, and cover your mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then toss the tissue in the trash. Also, (interestingly), the CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask if you are well, but they do recommend wearing one if you are sick – to help prevent transmission of the illness.

All of that is great advice on how to limit your exposure to contagious illnesses, but if it were that easy, mass panic-inducing flu epidemics would only happen in the movies.

So, while I’m probably not the person to write the post that tells all the polycules ten surefire ways to avoid getting and transmitting coronavirus, I am the person that writes the post that tells all the polycules that the conversation about establishing your polycule’s health and wellness protocols should be included in your polyamory starter-pack.

It’s just as important a conversation as the one on sexual health boundaries and protocols, because – as one of my metamours responded to my text earlier: “Polyam ‘authorities’ do tend to gloss over stuff like how to handle cold and flu season, how to navigate changing dates and plans due to illness, how to support each other if illness takes someone out short term, and stuff like that.”

So, here are some questions to consider asking yourself, your partners, and your metamours as the case may be as part of the “Health and Wellness” conversation within your polycule:

  1. What is our polycule’s stance and protocol around getting the flu shot each year? Is it mandatory for everyone (who is able to have it)? Strongly encouraged? Up to each individual? If the issue for someone is affordability, how can we help?
  2. Who, if anyone, in our polycule is immune compromised and what responsibility do we each have in helping to protect them from exposure?
  3. Who, if anyone, in in our polycule is at greater risk of the tangential consequences of getting sick or having necessary medical intervention because of a lack of access to health insurance or paid sick time from work? How can we help them get the care and rest they need to recover?
  4. What is the protocol for spending time with a hinge partner when we may be contagious? Do we cancel our dates? Sleep separately? Limit any physical contact? Wear a surgical mask and gloves? What if we share living space?
  5. What is the protocol for spending time with a partner whose nesting partner, roommate, or child is or has been sick? Is that an automatic cancellation? If you personally feel it is an acceptable risk for you, are you willing to forego saliva swapping with other partners until you’re certain you haven’t been exposed?
  6. If a date is cancelled due to illness, does it get “made up” at some other time, or do they just slide back into the schedule once the person has recovered. What would be the circumstances under which either of these options are the optimal one?
  7. Who in our polycule lives alone and might need help when they’re sick or recovering from medical treatment? How can we make sure that they have their needs met? Are their dogs getting walked? Cat boxes being cleaned? Do they have access to food and hydration?
  8. If you are that person: How can you make sure that you’re not letting pride, fear, or stubbornness get in the way of asking for help when you need it?
  9. If we’re practicing any form of parallel or DADT polyamory, how do we communicate the necessary information about any of the above to a partner who prefers not to talk about or acknowledge their metamours?
  10. How do we communicate our health and wellness protocol to new people who might join the polycule?

Does your polycule have conversations about managing health and wellness? What are some of your agreements that have helped keep people as healthy as possible?

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