When we think of polyamory, cheating and affairs often come to mind. It can be a difficult subject to broach for us monogamous folks. Many people assume that because someone is non-monogamous, they are free to act in ways that harm others. This could not be further from the truth. Here’s an in-depth exploration of ethical non-monogamy.
What Is Ethical Non-monogamy?
Ethical non-monogamy, also called consensual non-monogamy (CNM), is an umbrella term that encompasses the many ways of having multiple sexual and romantic partners with the full knowledge and consent of all those involved.
The idea behind ethical non-monogamy is that there’s no such thing as “one true love.” People often think they’ll find “the one” in their 20s or 30s, but many end up marrying someone else after discovering their first partner wasn’t “the one.” Ethical non-monogamy allows people to explore their sexuality without feeling guilty about it or being afraid of losing their partner.
Differentiating Non-Monogamy from Cheating
There’s a lot of confusion around ethical non-monogamy and cheating. Many people don’t understand the difference, which is why it’s so important to talk about it.
Ethical non-monogamy is built on consent and openness. When dating someone with other partners, you must be honest with yourself and them about what you want and expect from the relationship. Open communication is key — if you want something different from what they’re offering, discussing that before getting involved is important.
Key aspects of ethical non-monogamy include:
Consent: All parties involved in the relationship are aware of and explicitly agree to the non-monogamous structure.
Transparency: There is open and honest communication about the relationships.
Respect: The agreed-upon rules and boundaries of the relationship(s) are adhered to by all parties.
Cheating or infidelity is when one partner has sex with someone outside of their relationship without their partner’s knowledge or consent. Cheating can include anything from flirting with another person online to having sex with them in person.
Key aspects of cheating or infidelity typically include:
Deception: The relationship outside the agreed-upon boundaries is hidden from the other partner(s).
Breach of Trust: The cheating party breaks established rules and agreements about the relationship, leading to a trust breakdown.
Lack of Consent: The other party is unaware and has not agreed to the extraneous relationship.
Types of Ethical Non-Monogamy
Ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term that describes different types of relationship structures involving more than two people simultaneously. There are many different kinds of ethical non-monogamy, but they all have some things in common.
An open relationship is one in which both parties agree to have sexual or romantic relationships with other people outside their primary partnership. An open relationship can be as simple as occasionally hooking up with a friend or acquaintance, or it can involve having multiple ongoing partners who know about each other (for example, in group dating).
Open relationships may differ from polyamory because they don’t always adhere to strict rules about what happens when you date someone new. There’s no expectation that your partner will always be your main focus.
Polyamory is the practice of having multiple romantic relationships with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Polyamorous people often refer to these relationships as “relationship agreements” or “relationship contracts.” Poly folks may have one primary partner whom they share their lives with and have sex with regularly, but may also have other partners on the side whom they see less frequently or maybe only once in a while for sex or romance.
Related Read: Everything You Need to Know About Unicorn Polyamory
Swinging is a form of ethical non-monogamy in which partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activities with others, often on a recreational basis. Swinging is generally focused on sexual experiences rather than forming deep emotional connections or romantic relationships outside the primary partnership.
RA is a relationship between consenting adults where all members are considered equal and have an equal say in the direction and future of the relationship. RA doesn’t include rules or regulations; instead, it encourages individuals to communicate openly about their wants and needs so that everyone involved knows where they stand.
Monogamish is a term coined by Dan Savage to describe sexually exclusive relationships that allow for some degree of sexual exploration outside the relationship. It defines a relationship that exists between a monogamous relationship and an open relationship.
It varies for every couple but generally is not fully closed or fully open, permitting some degree of flexibility in intimacy outside the primary partnership. Both individuals are committed to one another, but there is an understanding that each member of the relationship may engage in a certain level of sexual activity with others.
Ethical Non-Monogamy vs. Non-Monogamy
Ethical non-monogamy is a consensual, ethical relationship in which all partners are honest about their limitations, boundaries, and desires. It is also known as ethical polyamory, ethical open relationships, and ethical swinging.
Non-monogamy has been practiced for centuries by various cultures and religions worldwide. Even today, it is considered by some to be a spiritual practice rather than just a sexual one. Some non-monogamy advocates go as far as saying that monogamous relationships aren’t real relationships at all! The main difference between ethical non-monogamy and non-monogamy is that the former is based on ethics while the latter isn’t.
Why Are More Couples Opting for Ethical Non-Monogamy?
There are many reasons why ethical non-monogamy is on the rise. Some people choose non-monogamous relationships because they feel a traditional relationship isn’t the right fit. Others find they want to simultaneously be involved in multiple romantic relationships but want to ensure everyone is treated with respect and care.
Social media has also played a big role in the growth of ethical non-monogamy. It’s easier than ever to find like-minded people with whom you can share your experiences, whether they be personal or professional.
And finally, technology has allowed people to explore their desires without leaving their homes or offices. Online dating sites and sex apps have made it easier than ever to seek out partners who share your interests and preferences — whether those interests include multiple partners or just one partner who happens to have another partner on the side.
Why Ethical Nonmonogamy Is Awesome
The benefits of ethical non-monogamy are numerous and varied. Many people find that they can have more satisfying relationships by practicing this form of consensual non-monogamy. Here are just a few:
- You can be honest about your needs and desires without shame or fear of judgment.
- You can explore and express your sexuality in new and exciting ways.
- You can find partners who better match you emotionally and physically.
- You can improve your communication skills by discussing relationship boundaries with multiple partners openly and honestly.
- You can enjoy the freedom to pursue multiple relationships at once or just one at a time — whatever works best for you!
How to Practice an Ethical Non-Monogamous Relationship
Ethical non-monogamy can be a wonderful way to build a healthy relationship, but it’s not for everyone. It requires honest communication, thoughtful consideration of others’ needs, and respect for boundaries.
The most important thing about ethical non-monogamy is that you first discuss it with your partner(s). If you’re considering opening up your relationship or marriage, ensure your partner is on board before you start flirting with others.
If they’re not ready to be in an open relationship, don’t try to pressure them or move ahead without their consent. Once they’ve agreed to try an open relationship, there are some things to keep in mind:
- Suppose you’re not currently in an open relationship. In that case, this means telling your partner that you’re interested in exploring being with other people — but only if it’s something they’re OK with, too! You should also agree on what kinds of relationships will be considered “ethical.” For example, some couples consider only sex outside the relationship acceptable, while others allow for romantic relationships as well.
- Talk openly about your experiences with non-monogamy, what worked for you, what didn’t, and why those things happened (or didn’t happen).
- When it comes time for a new person to meet each other (whether at a party or via online dating), make sure both parties are comfortable with the meeting beforehand.
- Don’t put pressure on yourself or others to have a physical relationship with other people immediately after opening up your relationship — or at all! Take things slowly so everyone feels comfortable with what they’re doing before moving forward into new territory (or old territory if it’s been closed off for a while).
- You can’t expect your partner(s) to know what works for you without talking about it first — after all, there are no hard and fast rules for non-monogamous relationships. But suppose you both agree on certain boundaries (such as only having sex outside of the relationship or using protection). In that case, it will make things easier for everyone involved when those boundaries get tested.
Consensual Non-Monogamy Can Be a Positive Experience
Ethical non-monogamy has the potential to be incredibly positive for people who are seeking a relationship model outside the confines of traditional monogamy. It can help those who have previously struggled with monogamy find peace and security in their relationships, allowing their partners to benefit from a relationship model that is a good fit for them.
Of course, the success of ethical non-monogamy depends on careful planning, communication, and understanding from partners working as a team. Still, overall, there’s nothing that says ethical non-monogamy shouldn’t be an option for those who want it.
Overall, we found that non-monogamy was less about sex and more about building meaningful relationships openly. It’s not a free-for-all of casual hookups; it’s about opening up your romantic life and finding deeper connections with the people you love.
If you’re interested in exploring this further, there are many online communities (as well as in-person meetups) to connect with. There’s also a great deal of writing related to non-monogamy—personal accounts and expert opinions—which you can find by searching the web.