Ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term; people practice it in various ways.

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The popularity of ethical non-monogamy has increased in recent years. This article introduces what the term means and why it has been gaining traction. We then provide some examples of the different types of ethical non-monogamy and explain how it is practiced in relationships.

What is Ethical Non-Monogamy?

Ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term that refers to taking part in multiple sexual and / or romantic relationships simultaneously. This is in contrast to monogamy whereby two individuals commit to each other exclusively without having any romantic and / or sexual relationships with others.

While there are many ways to practice ethical non-monogamy, the term “ethical” represents what they all have in common – mutual consent and open communication between partners. In other words, in ethical non-monogamy, it is crucial that no one is kept in the dark about other partners, and that no one feels forced into accepting any relationship terms. If a person is involved in other relationships without the consent of their partner, this would be considered cheating, or unethical non-monogamy.

Why Is Ethical Non-Monogamy on the Rise?

There are many possible reasons for this, including media coverage and hearing about others who have tried it out. Some other common reasons why people choose to practice ethical non-monogamy include:

  • When a person feels that they can or want to love more than one person at a time.
  • To seek more variety in romantic and / or sexual relationships.
  • If a person desires to explore their sexuality (eg by being able to date people of different genders at the same time).
  • To be able to have multiple partners who each fulfil different needs of the individual.
  • When each partner has a different level of interest in sex (eg if one partner is asexual while the other is not).
There are many different types of ethical non-monogamy.

Types of Ethical Non-Monogamy

What ethical non-monogamy looks like can differ greatly from one individual to the next, and even from one relationship to another. It all depends on individual preferences as well as what consenting partners have agreed on. This section introduces a few types of ethical non-monogamy.

Polyamory

Polyamory refers to having intimate relationships with various people simultaneously. There are many different variations of polyamory, some of which we will discuss below. To illustrate these, we shall use the fictional example of Persons A, B, C, and D.

Hierarchical polyamory

In hierarchical polyamory, there is prioritisation among partners. This means that a person might be considered a “primary partner” or a “secondary partner”. Primary partners may live together (also called a nesting partner, where nest means home) or be married and make various life decisions together. An example would be if A and B are married (the primary partners), and they date C and D respectively (the secondary partners).

Non-Hierarchical polyamory

Unlike hierarchical polyamory, there is no prioritisation of any one partner over others, meaning that there is no classification of primary and secondary partners. Everyone can negotiate their own relationship dynamics. For instance, A has been dating B and C, and then starts to date D as well. B and C are not prioritised over D.

V polyamory

Think of the letter V. Now imagine that person A is at the bottom of the alphabet “V”, while persons B and C are at the left and right top corners of the “V” respectively. Simply put, A is dating B and C separately, and there is no connection between B and C.

Triad, or more colloquially, throuple

Persons A, B, and C, are all connected to each other romantically and / or sexually.

Quad

This concept is similar to that of a triad or throuple, but with four people instead of three. There are different ways in which this arrangement could have resulted. For instance, two couples could have decided to become a quad, or a throuple may have added a new member.

Kitchen table polyamory

A “polycule” is the term used to describe a group of individuals who are connected through romantic and / or sexual relationships. The members of a polycule may or may not all be in relationships with each other. This is because a polycule may include a partner’s partners within the polycule, with whom an individual is not in a relationship with; the word used to refer to a partner’s partners is “metamours”. Kitchen table polyamory is the idea that members of a polycule (ie one’s partners and metamours) may sit around a kitchen table and dine or sip coffee together.

Garden party polyamory

Unlike kitchen table polyamory, some people would rather not get too close to their metamours, although they might not mind meeting them from time to time. As the name “garden party” suggests, they may only socialise with or see their metamours at larger events like birthdays, for instance.

Solo polyamory

In solo polyamory, a person may have various close relationships while adopting a more independent lifestyle, such as by living on their own. The individual may not feel a need to achieve typical relationship milestones, such as owning a home with a partner, managing finances together, starting a family with someone, and so on. Essentially, instead of having a primary partner, a person practicing solo polyamory prioritises themself.

Polygamy

Polygamy refers to being married to more than one person at the same time. The terms used to refer to a woman who has multiple husbands and a man who has many wives are polyandry and polygyny respectively.

Polyfidelity

Polyfidelity happens when all the members are equal partners in an exclusive romantic and / or sexual relationship. In other words, it is mutually agreed that romantic and /or sexual activity will only occur between members of the group. An example of polyfidelity would be a “closed throuple”, where all three partners date each other only.

Open Relationship

An open relationship takes place when two people in a primary relationship agree that they may have more than one romantic and / or sexual partner at a time.

Casual Dating

Casual dating may involve having one or more romantic and / or sexual partners without any of the relationships being too serious.

Swinging

Swinging occurs when there is swapping of sexual partners within a group, possibly on a regular basis.

Of course, this list is non-exhaustive, and the terminology may evolve as time goes on and people find more suitable ways to describe their relationship structures. There are also partners who create or add their own rules and stick to them. Likewise, instead of relying on labels or preconceived notions (we all have them to some degree), keep in mind that every individual and relationship is different.

How Does Ethical Non-Monogamy Work?

What does ethical non-monogamy look like in relationships? How do such relationships begin? What kinds of topics are brought up? While there is no one fixed road map, this section delineates some of the common practices.

Examine Your Beliefs and Reasons

What are your ideas about monogamy or non-monogamy? Where might these beliefs come from? What are some of your reasons for and against ethical non-monogamy?

If you are currently in a monogamous relationship and are considering ethical non-monogamy, what difference would it make? In what way can you bring up your thoughts and feelings with your partner?

While ethical non-monogamy as a relationship structure works wonders for some people, it is not a magical cure to problems that exist in a monogamous relationship. For instance, if you have trouble expressing your needs to your partner while monogamous, you are likely to face the same difficulty in an ethically non-monogamous relationship as well. The reality is that any type of relationship requires effort.

It can be helpful to read up on the multitude of resources available online and to speak to trusted others. There are also various books about ethical non-monogamy available on Amazon and Book Depository.

Discuss Boundaries

It is important to discuss early on, what all parties are comfortable with and not comfortable with. This applies to various aspects of the relationship, depending on what matters more to those involved.

For example, boundaries may relate to how much information one shares about any new relationships entered. Some people may prefer to meet all partners involved, while others may only wish to know minimal details. What kind of information will you be comfortable sharing with your partners, and vice versa? How detailed will the shared information be? Also, what constitutes cheating, and what does not?

Boundaries can also relate to time. For instance, how might a person divide their time among different partners? Who would they spend major events and holiday with? What would the living arrangement look like, if relevant?

Physical boundaries may include how you feel about public displays of affection or PDA and what kinds of touch you are comfortable with, while sexual boundaries may involve discussions regarding safe sex practices and regular testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Other types of boundaries include emotional, intellectual, and financial boundaries. What might be some dealbreakers for you and your partners, if any?

Of course, we cannot possibly plan for everything. As life ebbs and flows, we learn new information all the time, both about ourselves and our partners. Consequently, you may wish to revisit the topic of boundaries with your partners whenever necessary.

Be Comfortable with Your Emotions

We all have different ways of dealing with our feelings. What do you tend to do when “heavier” emotions like anger or frustration arise? For example, some of us may confide in others, address the situation head-on, or avoid them altogether. Learning to regulate one’s emotions is a key life skill. Professional therapy can also be very helpful in building self-awareness and coping skills.

It is no surprise that jealousy is likely to surface at some point; that is a normal experience in ethical non-monogamy. What would you do when that happens? How might you manage your emotions? Being aware of and curious about your feelings puts you in a better position to communicate honesty with your partners.

An honest and open communication between partners is of utmost in all relationships.

Communicate Honestly

Part of what makes ethical non-monogamy successful is each partner’s ability to express their needs and wants in a relationship. This might be an open and honest conversation about your thoughts, feelings, hopes, or expectations regarding the relationship arrangement, for instance.

Respect Your Partners

Just because an arrangement is a non-monogamous one does not mean that it is automatically ethical, or immune to cheating and infidelity. Lying and deception can still occur, such as when a partner violates the “rules of the relationship” that were previously agreed upon.

Conclusion: All You Need to Know about Ethical Non-Monogamy

Ethical non-monogamy works for some people, while others prefer monogamy. However you would like your relationship to be structured, communicating clearly with your partner is of utmost importance. Consent is also key in ethical non-monogamy, meaning that both partners must agree on the “rules” of the arrangement beforehand. Just as in any other type of relationship structure (monogamous or otherwise), there is a clear line between what is ethical and what is not – it simply needs to be discussed and defined by the parties involved.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ethically non-monogamous? What is an ethically non-monogamous relationship?

Ethical non-monogamy is a practice whereby a person takes part in more than one sexual and / or romantic relationship at the same time. It is an umbrella term that encompasses many ways of practicing ethical non-monogamy.

Can ethical non-monogamy work?

It is possible. Just as being in an exclusive relationship between two people is not for everyone, the same applies to ethical non-monogamy. The important thing is finding out what works for you and your partner(s). Regardless of the structure, all relationships require hard work.

How do ethically non-monogamous relationships work?

Each ethically non-monogamous relationship may look different. Some common practices include exploring one’s beliefs and reasons, defining the boundaries of the relationship arrangement, acknowledging and being comfortable with one’s own emotions, communicating those emotions honestly, and mutual respect among partners.

Is non-monogamy ethical?

Non-monogamy can be ethical or unethical, depending on how it is practiced. An example of non-monogamy that is unethical is cheating, where a person enters a new relationship without their partner’s knowledge or consent. On the other hand, the defining features of ethical non-monogamy are partners having open communication and seeking one another’s informed consent. In other words, all partners are aware of one another, and there is no lying or deception involved.

What are some reasons why ethical non-monogamy is on the rise?

There may be many reasons why ethical non-monogamy is on the rise. For instance, a person may want variety in their relationships, or to explore their sexuality; therefore, an ethically non-monogamous arrangement would allow them to date people of different genders at the same time. Others might prefer that different partners fulfil various needs of theirs. There may also be situations where one partner is much more interested in having sex as compared to the other partner – an example would be when one person is asexual and the other is not.  Additional factors that could play a role include media publicity as well as having friends or acquaintances who have tried practicing ethical non-monogamy.

What are some types of ethical non-monogamy?

Some examples of ethical non-monogamy are polyamory, polygamy, polyfidelity, open relationships, casual dating, and swinging. Some of these may have sub-types of their own. For instance, different ways of practicing polyamory include V polyamory, triads (or throuples), quads, kitchen table polyamory, garden party polyamory, solo polyamory, as well as hierarchical and non-hierarchical polyamory.

Is ethical non-monogamy the same as polyamory?

Polyamory is merely one of the many ways of practicing ethical non-monogamy.

What is the difference between an open relationship and ethical non-monogamy?

An open relationship refers to a primary relationship between two people. The two individuals then come to an agreement that they may engage in other romantic and / or sexual relationships outside of the primary relationship. Ethical non-monogamy is the umbrella term; an open relationship is one way of practicing it.

What are the rules of ethical non-monogamy?

The rules of ethical non-monogamy can look different for every individual and each relationship. People may also come up with their own rules and abide by them.

Ethical non-monogamy jealousy: How does jealousy work in non-monogamy? Can a jealous person be in an open relationship?

Jealousy can be present in any relationship, whether monogamous or not. What matters is that open and healthy discussions take place between partners.

Where can I find ethical non-monogamy books?

You can find various books about ethical non-monogamy online at Amazon and Book Depository. Your local library may also have relevant resources.