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By Ruth Kedikilwe
With the clause hindering sexual preferences out of the way the choices of an intimate partner or partners has been rendered limitless and this week the Sunday Standard took a closer look at polyfidelity and how it can(not) be applied in the context of Botswana. With the soaring numbers of HIV infections, divorce, intimate partner violence that exists in Botswana it wouldn’t hurt to consider alternate forms of relationshiping* from the conventional boy meets girl, falls in love, get married, have children and live happily ever after.
Like the name suggests Polyfidelity involves a group of people in an intimate relationship with each other, it could either be men, women or combined. In some instances polyfidelity could be considered monogamous as all the members are confined to the group and any other intimate connections outside the group are forbidden whilst any new members are unanimously decided upon by all the members of the group. In simpler terms, “Opening a WhatsApp group, add members and everyone is free to have intimate encounters with anyone in the group however prohibited to have any connections with anyone outside the group.”
Counseling- Psychologist Keletso Tshekiso broke down polyfidelity whilst applying it to the context of Botswana starting off by citing that there is a clear concise existing history of polygamy in Botswana which is still being practiced in some parts of the country. Tshekiso further explained that the more conventional and socially accepted monogamy is currently considered as the romantic norm for establishing family, kinship and is sanctioned by factors like religion and society. According to Tshekiso, “Polyfidelity works well in societies founded in a collectivism culture because there is support and room for unlimited expansion which is contrary to our modern society. Today couples want to be alone together and alternative relationships such as polyfidelity may get faced prejudice and social stigma. It is important to understand that polyfidelity denotes an egalitarian and reciprocal spirit where all members benefit from the relationship in a non-exploitive manner, the question is are our modern day individualistic social beings ready to share to this extent?”
For Polyfidelity to work in Botswana Tshekiso stated that there are various changes that would need to take place which are mindset and cultural changes. Culture has strong bearing on how people think and behave therefore Batswana would need to adopt a more liberal non judgmental view of things. There would also be an inherent need for putting in place support systems for this like having multi-culturally competent therapists available to the public.
The rampant failure to be monogamous has lead to people being in ‘open relationship’ thus perpetuating casual sex whilst in a ‘committed relationship’ thus leading to the spread of sexually transmitted infections and the rising divorce rates. When asked whether or not polyfidelty could curb either of the two, Tshekiso explained that it could go two ways. She said, “Some people have reported that it curbs sexual jealousy since there is closure and a proper arrangement and consequently results in a much happier union. However, polyfidelity may not the best intervention for unfaithfulness or cheating. Cheating is a behavioral problem, a cheat is deficient of commitment skills and may cheat in any arrangement including polyfidelity. Hence it may not be the most effective way to control or manage unfaithfulness and sexual indiscipline amongst social beings. We therefore need to explore other ways if we want to address the current high divorce and new HIV infections.”
As a side note worth considering polyfidelity could just be what the doctor ordered for people who are monogamous by nature and bisexual by design seeing as members function as one unit like a monogamous pair.