Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Ethical Non-monogamy – What do they all mean?
With so many different terms and definitions for non-monogamy, it’s no wonder that people are confused.
And how are you meant to pick the right path for your relationship if it isn’t clearly sign-posted? And what if you don’t even know what all the paths are?
What is an open relationship?
An open relationship is when you are in a committed partnership, usually a pair, but both partners desire sexual relationships outside of each other.
An open relationship consists of real emotional commitment. However, it’s accepted that one or both partners can explore sexually with others outside the relationship. There is not usually an emotional commitment outside of the couple.
What is polyamory?
Polyamory is committed but not exclusive in terms of love and/or sex and/or commitment. You can have intimate, loving relationships with multiple people.
While an open relationship means you can sexually explore but remain emotionally committed to one partner, polyamory means you can do both with multiple people.
What is ethical non-monogamy?
Ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term for any physical or romantic partnership not based on exclusivity and can involve any number of people.
What does ‘monogamish’ mean?
Dan Savage coined the term “monogamish.” This means when a couple is primarily monogamous but allows the occasional sexual relationship with others according to predetermined rules.
Does ethical non-monogamy work?
In my experience of ethical non-monogamy, both living the lifestyle and working as a dating and relationship coach, I have learned that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.
The great thing is, once you’ve decided that you can include other people or lovers in your relationship, you can make it whatever you want. It’s up to you to determine what feels comfortable.
Open Relationships: The Rules
Are you looking for more love or more sex?
Open relationships often start when one or both partners desire sex with people outside the relationship. Let’s face it, keeping the sexual spark alive in long-term, committed relationships can be challenging, and people I talk to don’t want to end the relationship or stray from it by cheating. The idea of an open relationship is that you’re not looking to fall in love with other people. Emotionally, you remain as committed as ever. But you do want to explore sexually outside the relationship.
In polyamory (“poly” meaning many, and “amory” meaning “love” or “lovers”), the whole point is to fall in love with multiple people, and there’s not necessarily any relationship hierarchy. Someone could enter into two or more relationships at the same time and view each as equal.
In their nature, poly relationships are open since they involve more than two people. But not all poly groups are looking to add more people to the dynamic and polyamorous people aren’t always actively dating. This is called closed poly, meaning the group includes multiple relationships, but there’s an expectation that no one involved is expanding the group.
What is the “ethical” part of non-monogamy about?
So many people find themselves unable to communicate in their relationships, being tempted to stray (and doing so with one-night stands or even a long-term affair), and wondering if there’s something wrong with them.
It may be that monogamy might just not be for them.
We’ll have some readers thinking, ‘oh, no, I couldn’t. I’d get so jealous.’
We’ll also have some readers thinking, ‘this is the solution I’ve been looking for.’
It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you sit on as long as you don’t judge the alternative side.
Those in monogamous relationships should not judge those in open, poly, or monogamish relationships.
Just as any exploring non monogamy should not judge those who are monogamous.
Consensual non monogamy, or “ethical” non-monogamy implies that all parties are being treated respectfully and that engaged consent to the arrangement has been given by everyone involved.
The ethical part all comes down to communication of two essentials: boundaries and limitations.
What are the rules of open relationships?
Define the rules of the game according to what works for you. Consider your rules, limits, and boundaries for your open relationships. This is relevant for open, polyamorous, and ethical non-monogamous relationships.
Here are some to get you going:
- Are sleepovers allowed?
- Can you sleep with mutual friends?
- What happens when feelings get involved?
- Do you want to raise kids together?
- Are there any sexual acts off-limits?
- How often can you sleep with other people per week/month?
Don’t be afraid to say ‘hard no’ to any of these.
Some people won’t mind their partner having sex with another person, so long as there’s no kissing.
Some people won’t mind their partner kissing someone else, so long as that’s where it ends.
There are varying degrees of being ‘monogamish’ in open relationships.
You and your partner just need to find the right level for you as you explore what it means to be non monogamous.
The options are truly endless, but it’s essential that before entering into an open or poly arrangement, that everything is on the table for discussion.
Could non-monogamy be right for you?
When we’ve grown up thinking of monogamy as the ONLY relationship template, the idea of adding another person into the mix can seem uncomfortable. You may even feel a deep sense of shame, to begin with. Because that’s how the world has been conditioned. But, for couples who have learned to communicate their emotional and sexual needs, who listen to each other, and set clear boundaries, non-monogamy can be a shared experience that brings you even closer together.
The thing about ethical non-monogamy that we could all do with learning is this:
Thriving, healthy relationships require complete honesty, open communication, recognition that one person can never meet all of our needs, respect – and ideally, a hefty old dose of humour thrown in to sweeten the deal.
And finally, whatever love looks like to you – that love is valid.
So, what do you think? Would you like to give an open relationship a try?
Asa Baav is the founder of Tailor Matched, dating for the wild at heart. If sexual compatibility is important to you, join the matchmaking community today for free by creating your introductory profile here.
Asa Baav (she/her) is the founder of Tailor Matched, a matchmaking agency for the wild at heart and the nationwide thought leader in sexual and romantic compatibility. As a matchmaker, coach, and educator she is on a mission to help busy professionals create deeply satisfying romantic relationships, inside and outside the bedroom – no matter where they are on their dating and relationship journey.