I meet Blythe and Tom in a bar in Clapham. Blythe's pastel-pink hair is easy to spot from a distance. Slim, sandy-haired Tom sits beside her. As I approach, their heads are together and they're giggling softly. They look every inch the loved-up couple. I introduce myself and slide on to the sofa next to them, hoping three won't be a crowd. I needn't have worried.
The pair have been polyamorous from the beginning of their relationship after both realising, separately, that monogamy wasn't doing it for them. Polyamory is an umbrella term for intimate relationships that involve more than two people. The expression covers everything from swinging to triad relationships. Typically, these encounters involve sex, although it's not a prerequisite.
The dating website OkCupid recently became the first dating site to add a "polyamory" function for its users, allowing already established couples to search the site for people to join their relationships. The feature will also be available to singletons looking for open relationships to join.
The lead singer of the British band Vaults, Blythe Pepino, 29, and her partner, Tom Jacob, 27, agree to meet me to shed some light on what it's like to be non-monogamous. The couple dissolves into giggles when I ask if they've had time to prepare for our interview. Exchanging knowing looks, they tell me they tried to do some planning that afternoon but got "distracted". Cue more titters.
Love and sex news: in pictures
Love and sex news: in pictures
1/18 'Weird' sexual fetishes are actually very normal
A number of sexual fetishes considered anomalous in psychiatry are actually common in the general population, a study has found. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), sexual interests fall into two categories: normal (normophilic) and anomalous (paraphilic). Researchers asked 1,040 Quebec residents, representative of the general population, about their experiences of sexual behaviour considered abnormal by the DSM-5. The study, published in The Journal of Sex Research, found that of the eight types of anomalous behaviour listed in the DSM-5, four were found to be neither rare or unusual among the experiences and desires reported by men and women
2/18 Gym 'used as a hook-up spot'
People who hope to find love and get fit in the New Year may find it surprisingly easy to tick off both goals, as a new survey has revealed that half of adults use the gym as a hook-up venue, while a quarter admit to having sex there. Apparently not put off by the surroundings, a new survey of how Britons behave in the gym has found that 25 per cent claimed to have had sex there at least once in the past 12 months
3/18 Erectile dysfunction 'linked to risk of early death'
Men who suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED) are 70 per cent more likely to die early, a new study has found. US scientists believe that the disorder may be linked to poor cardiovascular health, and suggested that men with ED should be screened for health issues that could cut their lives short
4/18 39 per cent of workers have sex at Christmas parties
The festive season may be a time for good will and sharing – but it’s also apparently the perfect excuse to hook-up with the cute person from accounts, according to a survey which has revealed that 39 per cent of people have had sex at their work Christmas party. Even more people admitted that the annual knees-up offered the chance to kiss a co-worker, with over locking lips at the event. A survey of 2,000 UK adults by high-street lingerie retailer Ann Summers revealed that IT and HR are the professions most likely to snog or have sex with a colleague or get incredibly drunk at the Christmas party, at 63 per cent and 56 per cent respectively.This was compared with 27 per cent of those in education and 29 per cent in health
5/18 Durex calls for a condom emoji
Emojis have come a long way in recent years - since they were first integrated into Unicode in 2010, we've gained emojis of all different ethnicities, emojis for every flag in the world, and even the middle finger emoji. However, we're still missing a condom emoji. Durex wants to change that. It's easy to suggest sex with emojis (think aubergine, peach, the 'OK' sign), but there's nothing that shows safe sex. So, to coincide with World AIDS Day on 1 December, Durex is encouraging its customers to call upon the Unicode Consortium, who oversee the introduction of new emoji, to give the world a condom emoji in their next update
6/18 Spliting the housework equally is the secret to a better sex life
Better communication, getting more exercise, oysters, more date nights, time away from the kids – these are just a few common theories for how couples can improve their sex life. But now, a new study has offered up a different one, suggesting that the key to being more satisfied between the sheets could in part be down to taking it in turns to wash them. According to the study from the University of Alberta, couples enjoyed more frequent and satisfying sex for both partners when the housework is split equally across men and women
7/18 Arguing with a partner is beneficial
Arguing in a relationship is not often seen as having a positive impact on both partners. But a new study from US psychologists suggests that if each party feels understood, falling out does not have a detrimental impact on their satisfaction in the relationship. Researchers at the University of California said feeling understood appeared to improve a relationship on its own, regardless of any practical consequence of that understanding. And when people felt their partners understood them, the conflict was not only not harmful but actually good for the relationship
8/18 Ireland gay marriage
Same-sex couples in the Republic of Ireland can officially get married after the country voted overwhelmingly for the change in a referendum in May. Legislation legalising gay civil marriage, passed following the vote, came into effect on 16 November 2015. The first couples to be affected will be gay couples who married legally abroad – whose unions will now automatically be recognised by the Irish state. But the race is now on to see who which couple will become the first gay newlyweds to legally marry in Eire itself
9/18 'Female Viagra' approved
A drug dubbed the ‘female Viagra’ has finally been approved by the US Food and Drug administration but concerns have been raised over the drug’s possible side effects. Flibanserin, produced by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, was approved by the FDA on the third application in five years – after twice failing over concerns regarding possible side-effects.
10/18 Grindr users surveyed on sexual preferences
Grindr users are not that gay, at least according to a new survey. More than 300 users on the gay dating app, contacted by Pink News as part of an informal study, did not identifying as exclusively attracted to men. The study used the Kinsey scale, based on the work of sexologist Alfred Kinsey, which ranges from 0 (exclusively straight) to 6 (exclusively gay) and also allows identification as asexual (X). Pink News found that the average answer was around five, with the most frequent answer being five, followed by six and then four when they contacted users from their office in central London.
11/18 Watching porn does not cause negative attitudes to women
The average porn user may have more egalitarian views towards women than non-users, a contentious new study has suggested. Researchers at Western University in Canada have even argued that many pornography fans might be “useful allies” in women’s struggles for equality in the workplace and in public office. They reported in the Journal of Sex Research that the 23 per cent of people who said they had watched an “X-rated” film during the previous year were no more or less likely to identify as feminists than those who did not watch porn.
12/18 The characteristics of men who pay for sex
Men who pay for sex share similar traits to rapists and sex offenders, according to new research. A study from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), claims that men who have sex with female sex workers feel less empathy for them than men who do not buy sex. Part of this reason is due to the fact that they view them as "intrinsically different from other women,” according to the authors.
13/18 How much sex we have (and how much we'd like)
As a nation, we don’t have as much sex as we would like, a survey has (somewhat unsurprisingly) confirmed. In a poll of 1523 people by YouGov, 64 per cent of Britons said they would wish to have sex at least a few times a month. The same sample said that only 38 per cent had sex at least a few times a month. In addition, 10 per cent said they wished to have sex every day, a goal which only 1 per cent admitted reaching.
14/18 One per cent of Britons 'have never felt sexually attracted to anyone at all'
An estimated 1% of Britons have almost no interest in sexual activity, according to researchers. The identity, which describes rarely or never experiencing sexual attraction, has moved from a diagnosis of mental disorder in the past to a sexual orientation in its own right today. As public interest in “asexuality” grows, researchers at Glasgow University have found that romance and intimacy is still very much on the cards for those who take the label.
15/18 Women really are more attracted to men who make them laugh
Researchers at an American university have claimed that humour is a key factor in human “sexual selection”, with women appearing to be more attracted to men who make them laugh. Jeffrey Hall, an associate professor of Communication Studies at the University of Kansas, found that when two strangers meet, the more times a man tries to be funny and a woman laughs, the more likely she is to be interested in dating. The reverse was not true for women who attempted humour, according to his study “Sexual Selection and Humour in Courtship: A Case for Warmth and Extroversion,” which has been published in the Evolutionary Psychology journal.
16/18 What makes a perfect penis?
Scientists have now answered one of these great unknowns. According to a new study, “general cosmetic appearance” is the most important penile aspect when it comes to what women value down there. This is swiftly followed by the appearance of pubic hair, penile skin, and girth. Length comes in at number six, with the look of the scrotum trailing closely behind. The least important facet of the phallus, say the scientists, is the “position and shape of meatus”, the vertical slit at the opening of the urethra.
17/18 Students who marry after studying the same subject
Picking a university subject is already difficult enough for young people. But here’s an extra piece of data to weigh on your decision: you may be picking a life partner as well. Dan Kopf of the blog, Priceonomics, analysed US Census data and found that the percentage of Americans who marry someone within their own major is actually fairly high. About half of Americans are married, according to the 2012 American Community Survey (part of the Census). And about 28 per cent of married couples over the age of 22 both graduated from college. (The survey didn’t recognise same-sex marriages for the 2012 data, but it will for 2013 onwards, says Kopf)
18/18 Half of divorcees had doubts on their wedding day
Over half of divorcees considered abandoning their husband or wife-to-be at the altar on their wedding day, a new study has revealed. On top of likely worrying about wedding favours and making sure guests behave on their big day, 49 per cent of divorcees admitted they were unsure before the ceremony that their marriage would last. Some 15 per cent of divorcees polled said they were so wracked with doubt that they felt physically sick in the run up to their wedding.
They have been an item for two years and live together in south London. Blythe also has a girlfriend, Alice, whom she's been with for over a year. Alice – an artist – lives in Bristol, so they don't get to see each other that often. Tom is seeing another girl, Sian, whom he met on Tinder. In addition to this, Tom and Blythe recently started dating a couple, Nich and Sonya, whom they met at a specialist club night in London. Blythe tells me they "fell in love with them as a couple" and now hang out regularly. Sometimes they go to the movies, sometimes they have group sex. Blythe and Tom also have one-night stands with people, although these happen less frequently. "I'm just not that good at them," Tom says.
A common misconception, they tell me right off the bat, is that people in polyamorous relationships don't get jealous. That, apparently, is not the case at all. In fact, both Tom and Blythe readily admit to having experienced feelings of jealousy at some stage in their relationship. The trick, they say, lies is how they deal with that emotion. Namely, through talking. Open and honest communication is essential to polyamory. Blythe and Tom tell me that whenever one of them sleeps with someone new, they schedule a meeting the following day to discuss what the latest tryst means for their relationship.
"When we started, we had one rule, which was that we'd always talk about it," Tom says. "If one of us had been with someone else, we'd put a bit of time aside the next day."
My eyes must widen at this point because they start to chuckle again. It all seems so well-organised. I'd imagined multiple-partner relationships to be driven by red-blooded lust and a desire to sleep with as many people as possible, but Blythe and Tom's account suggests there's quite a lot of admin involved, too. "It would be very disingenuous if I said it wasn't a lot of work," says Tom. "But it's so worth it."
OkCupid made "open relationship" and "non-monogamous" relationship status options back in 2014, but this is the first time the website has allowed couples to actively search for partners. The new feature comes after the site noticed an increased interest in polyamory over the past five years. When asked in 2010 whether they would consider dating someone who was already involved in an open or polyamorous relationship, 42 per cent of all OkCupid users said yes. When asked the same question in 2015, half of users said yes.
"Finding the right partner is extremely important. Hence, users should have the option to best describe who they are and who they are searching for," OkCupid's chief product officer, Jimena Almendares, says. "We identified a trend towards more openness, and even curiosity, regarding non-monogamous and open relationships."
According to the Relate counsellor and sex therapist Peter Saddington, polyamory is becoming more common simply because people are being more open about the way they conduct their relationships. "To some extent there may be some links to thinking about gay and lesbian communities," he says. "It's always gone on and as it's become more acceptable and more recognised, more people talk about it."
Although he doesn't accept that people are becoming disillusioned with monogamy, Saddington does think children's upbringings could impact their future relationships. "Lots of children grow up in families where parents separate," he says. "I suspect some of that is starting to have an impact on how children, when they grow up, perceive relationships."
In fact, Blythe tells me that her desire for a polyamorous relationship did stem from disillusionment with more traditional relationships, of which she's had a few. "I kept having relationships where there was not enough trust or communication," she says. "So it kind of was born out of a need to start having relationships that were totally fearless or aware of one's fears."
Blythe and Tom inch closer to one another on the sofa as the interview progresses. Every now and then they reach out and touch each other, threading their fingers together as we talk. It's obvious they're extremely close and I don't doubt their commitment to one another. At one stage, when Tom self-deprecatingly describes himself as a skinny little blond boy, Blythe grabs his hand and cries: "I like you skinny!"
We talk about children, too. Although they're not sure yet that they want a family, Blythe says she can't think of a better person to be a father than Tom. "I mean, the way you fill the dishwasher is just incredible, so precise," she says, laughing and quickly dispelling the myth that polyamory is all about seduction. Tom says he's sure that parenthood and polyamory would work together.
Incidentally, both sets of parents are fully aware of the couple's non-traditional situation and are very open-minded about it. Tom says he thinks his mum always thought he was gay so polyamorous was a "curveball".
But when I ask the pair whether they would use a dating site like OkCupid to invite other people into their network, they're unsure. Tom thinks they wouldn't. "In general, we prefer these things to happen naturally of their own accord," he says. Blythe agrees but says she can see how a website like OkCupid might be helpful if you wanted to make your relationship status obvious from the off. They both think polyamory is becoming more common.
Do they plan to be in a polyamorous relationship for ever? Although they're typically open-minded about the future, they have no immediate plans to change. Tom says: "At the moment what I'm doing now is just too good."