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Parallel, garden party, and kitchen table — these are just some of the many ways to practice ethical non-monogamy (ENM).

In this B-Side episode, Drew O’Bannon, founder of sex education platform Now Open PH, talks to BusinessWorld reporter Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson about ENM in the Philippines.

“There’s really not that big of a difference between what makes a monogamous relationship ethical versus what makes a non-monogamous relationship ethical,” said O’Bannon.

“You have to communicate with everyone involved, you need to be honest, you need to be transparent, you need to have integrity. But again, these are the same things that make monogamous relationships work. It’s just that with ENM, it has to be put on the table.”

O’Bannon said there are many “unspoken rules” in monogamy. “With ENM, there’s really no rules. It’s sort of a free-for-all, that you get to decide what that looks like.”

“There’s a variety of ways to practice this, but the main point is that everyone is informed, everyone consents, and hopefully, everyone is satisfied.”

O’Bannon also highlighted the struggles that the non-monogamous community faces, especially in a predominantly Catholic country like the Philippines.

Catholic beliefs are also notably ingrained in the widely accepted standards for relationships, O’Bannon said.

“Even with people who aren’t religious, our idea of romance as a one-to-one correspondence, a marriage between a man and a woman, is very religious in nature.”

State laws and policies are also designed to cater to monogamous people. O’Bannon said that legalizing divorce will be crucial to making society more inclusive and progressive.

“The first step is we need divorce. One of the main values in non-monogamy is autonomy and choice. We don’t like trapping people in relationships. If you want to stop a relationship, you have the right to leave.”

“You can’t say that we have the choice to have the relationship we want if we only have the choice to start them but not end them.”

Marriage laws in general are also designed to favor monogamous relationships.

“Marriage gives a lot of privileges and rights to people. The right to make medical decisions, the right to inheritance. Insurance companies often won’t let you (list down) a partner unless you’re married,” O’Bannon said.

“Why are there rights for getting married? If you give special rights to a certain kind of relationship, it’s more ‘valid’ in the state’s eyes and society’s eyes because culture revolves around the policies we have. Why do we give special rights to people who are married? Why can’t we allow people to choose who gets to make their legal decisions?”

When it comes down to it, O’Bannon said that relationships, whether monogamous or not, should not be bound by a set of rules or preconceived notions.

“Whatever you identify as, you get to choose what your relationships look like. You get to decide what you do. There is a particular script that you can follow if you want, but that’s just one script of billions.”

“If there’s one thing people can learn from non-monogamy, it’s that you have the agency and the power to decide how to conduct your relationships.”

Recorded remotely on Aug. 30, 2023.

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