Exploring Polyamory and Ethical Non-Monogamy as a Latina Woman

Exploring polyamory as a Latina woman

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

In my mid-20s, I began navigating the waters of polyamory. It started off when I began seeing a guy I matched with on Tinder. He had a sexual relationship with a woman in a long-term relationship, who had a primary partner that was completely open and aware of their arrangement. He and I had chemistry, and after a short period of taking some time away from each other, we both realized that the connection we did have was worth pursuing no matter who else we were sharing our beds with. 

Having been raised in a traditional Mexican-American household with a patriarch as the figurehead, pursuing this format of dating was completely outside the realm of how I was raised to believe a relationship should look.

Due to an exaggerated sense of masculine pride, known as machismo across Latinx culture, the man is traditionally the center of the relationship. And yes, all relationships are typically assumed to be exclusively heterosexual due to deeply entrenched homophobia across the communities.

It’s important to note that Latinx culture is vast and encompasses a wide range of countries and identities, and in this context, I am pulling from my lived experience as a Mexican American living in the United States. 

A staple example of machismo is how in the most traditional heterosexual Latinx households, a man is not expected to serve himself his own food. The woman must do so. A woman must cook, clean, and take care of the children, and the man, no matter what his job may be or how he may provide or not provide for his family, is inherently believed to deserve nothing but the utmost respect. 

Machismo and polyamory are mutually exclusive. To engage in a polyamorous lifestyle is to subvert the very foundations of my culture's traditional relationship style, and to freely live and navigate these relationships as a pansexual person is also to go against the fixed homophobia in many traditional Latinx communities. 

To be myself, however, I needed to explore. 

Navigating Machismo, Ethical Non-Monogamy, and Open Communication 

My first few weeks in the lifestyle were an education. My casual dating partner and I defined the terms of our relationship in an hour-long open dialogue and landed on ethical non-monogamy (ENM). ENM means that partners in a relationship are free to be romantically or sexually involved with others as long as everyone knows what’s going on. ENM is an umbrella term that encompasses polyamory, open relationships, and other types of relationships.

We both agreed that in our previous monogamous relationships, we’d felt stifled, and especially as young people navigating hookup culture and the dating world in the United States, we wanted the freedom to engage with other people while also returning to each other on a regular basis to talk, hang out, provide emotional support, have sex, and act like a friend when we needed one. That night, we expressed our feelings and fears and determined that because there was an emotional component to our connection, ENM is what would work best for us. 

Our dialogue was deep, open, and emotional. For him, as a Latinx man, this went against one of the foundational components of machismo: to not talk about your feelings. In polyamory, however, you cannot have a relationship without doing so.

For men raised in machismo culture, talking about feelings is seen as a weakness. The effects of this patriarchal norming can of course be seen outside of the Latinx experience, but for a man raised in a small, traditional Mexican-American community to openly express how he feels was a beautiful and radical act of fully being and believing in himself.

Although in machismo, men inherently are seen as deserving of respect no matter what, oftentimes men still do not get to engage in the full truth and spectrum of their emotions due to this extreme and stifling biological gender-based conditioning

As a woman in this relationship, I also felt safe and comfortable sharing my full truth with my partner from the get-go. It was a part of the terms we established when creating our relationship, and one that is central to a polyamorous lifestyle: open and honest communication. 

It was apparent from the first time we hung out that we were both capable of talking to each other in this way, and as we continued to explore our connection, the ability to communicate all feelings (including the difficult ones) became integral.

As a woman who has previously dated men who lean further down the spectrum of being traditionally machismo, and as a survivor of sexual trauma and emotional abuse at the hands of men, setting the groundwork for open and safe dialogue was game-changing. It was unlike any relationship I’d ever been in, as it was supposed to be.

In polyamory, we were both seen as equal, autonomous beings, both deserving of respect, support, honesty, and openness, a radical disruption to the nature of machismo culture.

My First Experience On My Own 

My first connection outside of my primary partner was someone I met on the Feel’d app. It’s like Tinder, but for poly folks. This connection was with a heteroflexible man who was actually originally from Guatemala but now lives in the States and had a primary partner in Los Angeles. He was visiting my city for work and he was on the app for play. 

A common misconception about polyamory is that it’s all about sex, and that’s simply not true. Although polyamorous folks can determine to have exclusively sexual relationships with others, that is not always the case for every relationship. However, when I met the Angeleno, we knew that with the short amount of time he was in town, the relationship that he and I would engage in would be both intellectual and sexual. In short, he’d been practicing polyamory for more than a decade, and he was interested in sharing what he’s learned over coffee, and if we both wanted we could then move into the bedroom.

My partner and I determined that we could talk about the people we see outside our relationship if it came up after a check-in. If at the time of our conversation we were both at an emotional place to talk about our forays or other partners, we could do so. However, we did not need to check in before going out with others to respect the flow of everyday life. 

I met up with the Angeleno at a restaurant in the downtown part of my city after a few days of exchanging some-parts-steamy and some-parts-vulnerable text messages. That afternoon, and because the vibes were right, we’d have safe consensual sex. A few days later, we’d meet up again to go out with his primary partner. She flew out from Los Angeles to explore the city. Two days later, the two would leave on a flight back home. 

I checked in with my primary partner after I spent the weekend with the couple, and he provided nothing but support and curiosity. It was exhilarating to have made it to a place in a relationship where I could both assume my freedom and autonomy, and also have someone to come back home to and love on. It felt right, just like the Angeleno told me over coffee, for some folks, this just aligns more with who we are.

As a Latina whose relationship models were always exclusively heterosexual, to spend a weekend with a polyamorous couple made up of a man and woman was to explore my own pansexuality in a fluid, safe, and romantic way. 

What I’ve Learned as a Latina Exploring Polyamory 

Polyamory isn’t easy, but subverting the sociocultural norms of Latinx culture is worth it. As a part of my mental health and spiritual healing journeys, becoming who I am as authentically as I can be has become central in navigating the type of life I want to live. 

If I had told my conditioned teenage self raised in a traditional Mexican-American household that one day she would explore polyamorous pansexual relationships, I would know she’d think I was pretty rad, but she’d only say that in the closet. Outwardly, she’d worry because the conditioning that we often go through as Latinas living in machismo culture does not fluidly allow for this type of self-exploration to happen. 

Polyamory, to me, is about choice, openness, and respect, and becoming who we want to be fully— even if it means choosing a lifestyle others may view as taboo or out there.

It is inherently countercultural and does take more work than could be expected. I also feel that in choosing this exploration of relationships and self, it's okay if I were to choose to have an exclusively monogamous relationship one day. Because in exploring polyamory, I’ve learned how to navigate deep emotional relationships to the utmost degree. 

Polyamory is all about doing what you feel is good and right for yourself and others, and as a Latina, woman, and pansexual person, this freedom and faith in dating—especially in my mid-20s while I’m figuring out what I want in life—is all I could ask for. 

By Ixa Sotelo
Ixa is an Austin, Texas-based writer and contributor for Verywell Mind, where she explores the intersections of Latinx culture, spirituality, non-monogamy, mental health, and queer identity.