Misunderstood, dismissed and often hidden, polyamory, or having several romantic relationships simultaneously, is slowly coming out into the open in Germany aided by the efforts of a counsellor and support network.
At the age of 19, Christopher Gottwald decided he didn't want a monogamous relationship and spent the next decade searching for a partner who shared his outlook. He eventually found her and their “open” relationship has lasted 13 years.
With this experience behind him, three years ago he set up his own polyamory advice and information service, offering practical and emotional help to aficionados as well as seeking to dispel myths or misunderstandings.
“I no longer believe in monogamy. For anyone,” Gottwald, now in his 40s, told AFP.
“I don't believe we are made to be (faithful). The best thing is to say to yourself 'let's, us two, live together while remaining open to what may happen',” he said.
Gottwald organises conferences, workshops and individual chats on polyamory and helps run the PolyAmore Netzwerk association which has 120 members in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
He insists on the emotional aspect of the practice in which a relationship is conducted with more than one person but with the consent of all. “It is about love. It's not just free sex where you can sleep with whomever you want,” he argued.
Taking into account the feelings of one's partner in a polyamorous relationship can be complex, not to mention the practicalities such as who sleeps where.
Gottwald advocates complete honesty but says it's an individual decision. “The more you open up, the more you feel connected,” he said.
While such relationships have existed in secret since time immemorial, polyamory aims to break down the hypocrisy by bringing it into the open and staying true to the needs of modern-day couples who may end up spending 60 years together.
Gottwald argues it is also simply the natural next step on from serial monogamy.
Women and men seek his help in roughly equal numbers and his clients include heterosexuals, same-sex couples and bisexuals.
But he said it was difficult to say how widespread the practice has become due to challenges in defining a polyamorous relationship and the fact that many don't necessarily own up.
Despite growing media interest in polyamory, it remains difficult for supporters to be public about their relationships in a society where being faithful remains the ideal, Gottwald said.
“It's like 'coming out', with the fear, sometimes justified, of repercussions” from those around you, he said.
But people's reactions can be surprising, he added, recalling how his own “very Catholic” mother had accepted his choice. “She wouldn't live like that but she finds it fascinating and we talk about it frequently.” - AFP