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The Intersection of Ethical Non-monogamy and Psychedelics: Catalyzing Personal Growth

I’ve always been attracted to growth and self-exploration. Some of the first books I remember reading were self-help books. I first stumbled into non-monogamy in 8th grade when I was dating two people and did not inherently see that as a problem until I saw other people’s reactions. For the next several years, I found myself in *unethical* non-monogamous situations. I was lost, confused, and ashamed of who I was and what I was doing. Then fate lead me to study at the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana, where I learned about many different *alternative* sexual and relationship practices in a nonjudgmental setting. I felt affirmed and validated and decided I wanted to be a mental health therapist specializing in helping other queer people who live outside the margins of the cis-het-mono-normative patriarchy.

After completing my undergraduate studies, I moved to Phoenix for grad school to pursue my dream of becoming a therapist. I felt lost in the big sprawling city and disconnected from a like-minded community so I decided to move to a smaller, quirkier, queerer town called Tucson. When I got to Tucson, I quickly sought after the local ethical/consensual non-monogamy (ENM/CNM) community and couldn’t find one, so I decided to start one with a few friends we had met from Okcupid who were in a similar life stage and also frustrated with the lack of community. Over the next few years, it grew to over 400 people and that’s how I met my other partners, and many of my best friends including my co-creator Southwest Love Fest, an annual conference on non-monogamy, relationships, identity, community, and psychedelics.

artwork of three hands holding each other
Polyamory Art Print by David Medina

A Short History on Non-monogamy

Just like the use of psychedelic plant medicines, the practice of non-monogamy is really nothing new or radical. But much of the history has been forgotten, appropriated, and white-washed. For example, queer people, especially queer trans people of color are systematically excluded from research on polyamorous people and in the psychedelic research field. Queer and non-monogamous people have often been resistant to oppressive norms and I would venture to say that non-monogamy has been a way for some marginalized people to not only buck compulsory cis/het/mononormativity but also to band together and support each other’s existence and resistance to an oppressive system. I see ethical non-monogamy as intersecting with psychedelics when each is practiced with intentionality. I know that for me, my psychedelic and queer non-monogamous worldviews actively inform each other and are intricately connected.

Monogamy is a relatively new concept in terms of human evolution. Only about 17 percent of human cultures are strictly monogamous. The vast majority of human societies embrace a mix of relationship types. In “Sex at Dawn”, Christopher Ryan posits that for most of human history, non-monogamy was the norm, and monogamy was invented along with industrialization and capitalism as a way to pass down property and ensure paternity. I recently attended a beautiful talk at Southwest Love Fest this year by Mikaela de la Myco all about ancient polyamorous cultures. There are so many ways people have been doing it all over the world for thousands of years. And there are so many ways people are defining their own relationships in the here and now as well.

I want to be careful not to be “poly-er than thou” or advocate that everyone should be non-monogamous. Monogamy is a beautiful and valid choice especially if made consciously and consensually. It’s compulsory monogamy that can be problematic and seems to be challenging for many people.

Polyamory is more common than we might think, judging by the lack of representation in the media. One in nine Americans have been in a polyamorous relationship, and one in six would like to try one (Moors, 2021). So who is attracted to this lifestyle? Some studies suggest that people attracted to this lifestyle are less neurotic, more extroverted, more open to new experiences, more conscientious, and less rejection sensitive than the average person (Wismeijer, A, 2013). The vast majority of non-monogamous people that I’ve met and worked with are really trying to challenge compulsory monogamy conditioning in themselves and society, redefine what relationships can be, and learn to be more authentic and vulnerable.

One of the biggest reasons I resonate with non-monogamy is because I want to divest from the nuclear family. I want to reimagine what family and community care can look like in my life. This was highlighted for me when I went through a brutal bout of postpartum depression after having my first baby a few months before the pandemic. I want my children to have more than two primary caregivers, to share the joys and burdens of life with a larger web of people rather than a community of one other adult (which is sadly so often the case in our mononormative culture).

artwork two women about to kiss
Artwork: moishpain

Exploring Relationship Orientations With Psychedelics

I also do psychedelics because I want to connect to that larger web all around me, reconnect with my ancestors, and remember what I’m passing on to my descendants. When I’m in the medicine space, it’s so easy to see how I could love everyone I come in contact with. There’s a saying that goes: love is not a finite resource, but time is. But those who are experienced in the medicine space realize how subjective time is too. Often, when I ingest psychedelic medicines, I feel connected to an all-present universal love. Everything feels possible. But it can be so fleeting, which is why integration and giving yourself space to slowly re-enter the default world is so important.

Probably most people reading this already know that psychedelics aren’t a magic healing pill, they highlight all the work that needs to be done. They can often allow things that we’ve been in denial about to come into view that can no longer be ignored. This can (but not always) drastically change a person and their relationships. It’s not uncommon for people to come out of a non-ordinary state of consciousness more sure of decisions or changes they want in their life or relationships. I think this is often because they connected to *Self*- the experience helped to quiet all the conditioned personality parts that often get in the way of being connected to your Self, your essence and that same essence in others.

But things don’t automatically shift because of this remembered connection, you have to actually go back into your life and make those changes, have those hard conversations, and make difficult decisions. It’s a path of work, a path of healing. Not unlike realizing and claiming a new sexual identity or relationship orientation.

Altered states can often highlight this underlying wisdom that everyone is lovable and that everyone is capable of so much love, but we don’t live in the psychedelic space 100 percent of the time (unfortunately). It’s very easy to fall in love with people you are sharing an altered state with, and it doesn’t necessarily translate outside of the psychedelic space. The late John Welwood said something really wise in an interview, something to the effect of: Your heart will break when you realize you can’t actualize all the love you are capable of. So be careful who you share psychedelic space with and remember, it’s not advised to make any major life decisions during or immediately after psychedelic experiences.

One potential benefit of using psychedelics to explore relationship orientations and non-monogamy is that psychedelics can facilitate open and honest communication with others. They can help temper the limbic system and act like a truth serum for people to share their true thoughts and feelings while also being able to hear others’ without being as reactive. Psilocybin and MDMA have been shown to increase empathy and emotional openness, making it easier for partners to express their desires and feelings. *

Entheogen means “soul revealing” and I think polyamory is soul revealing too. It can show you many places you’re stuck. In my work with psychedelics and with non-monogamous clients I try to get ahead of magical thinking that this relationship orientation or this particular mind-altering substance is the key to enlightenment and healing. They both are non-specific amplifiers, so they just illuminate the path and the work that needs to be done if one chooses to do it. And the work is never done. Just like psychedelics, non-monogamy can catalyze all of our personal and relational strengths and weaknesses. I know I wouldn’t have it any other way!

About the Author: Kate Kincaid is a licensed professional counselor in Tucson, AZ. She runs a group private practice that specializes in working with LGBTQIA2S+ clients, people in ethically non-monogamous relationships and people seeking psychedelic integration therapy. She is trained by MAPS in MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy and utilizes Ketamine Assisted Therapy in her practice as well as KAP provider trainings. She is passionate about perinatal mental health and is an advocate for innovative psychiatric treatments for PMDD and postpartum depression. Her interest in doing relationship therapy started when she studied at the Kinsey Institute- a renowned school for the study of sexuality and gender but flourished when she began actively organizing in her local queer and nonmonogamous communities. She is the co-creator of Southwest Love Fest, a conference on ethical non-monogamy, relationships, identity and community. She is also the author of “Polyamory Journal: A Relationship Book”.


Instagram @okatekincaid or @tucsoncounselingassociates


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