So you want to spice up your sex life, or are considering opening your relationship with a current partner. We got you, and we understand! There are so many options and types of relationships out there it’s difficult not to be curious. As Valentine’s Day gets closer, sex, pleasure and romance is on all our minds so we wanted to dive into ethical non-monogamy and what it means.
But hold your horses, because ethical non-monogamy doesn’t mean you can go wild, do whatever you want, and potentially hurt someone’s feelings or damage important partnerships. It requires a lot of emotional maturity—but the benefits may change your life in incredible ways.
So what is ethical non-monogamy, how do you go about doing it, and what types are there? Let’s dig in!
What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy?
You may be wondering what ethical non-monogamy is, and we’ll start by defining monogamy. Monogamy describes two partners in a committed romantic relationship who don’t have sex with anyone else. There’s nothing wrong with monogamy, but if you’re here you may be wondering how to begin opening up your sex life and are curious about other options.
Non-monogamy simply means a relationship that isn’t only two people, or where two individuals are open to having sex with others. This can take a lot of forms, which we’ll talk about below, but note the “ethical” part is extremely important. Ethical non-monogamy isn’t cheating, and it isn’t fetishizing queer people to suit your fantasies and sexual desires. It’s a style of living, and it requires a lot of communication, honesty and vulnerability.
Having a non-monogamous relationship isn’t for everyone, but it isn’t uncommon. According to BetterHelp, it’s estimated that about one-fifth of Americans are in some kind of open relationship. To find out if you want to join the club, let’s talk about the different kinds of relationships and non-monogamy are out there.
What Different Kinds Of Relationships Are There?
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, and there are dozens of options for non-monogamy, here are some common types of relationships you may encounter or enjoy.
Casual Sex - A lot of singles practice a kind of ethical non-monogamy without even knowing it. Are you single, dating, but not in a committed relationship? Using Tinder to hook up on occasion? Congrats, you’re already non-monogamous. In this situation you’ll want to get STI tested frequently, and if necessary, talk to any sexual partners about your choices. If you develop feelings for someone and want to enter into a monogamous relationship you always can, so stay open minded and prioritize sexual health and wellness. Keep up the good work!
Open Relationships - Open relationships often include two “main” partners who have sex with others sometimes. You might hear about couples who swing, like picking up a third person outside the relationship to bring home and enjoy together. Sometimes, couples will swing or switch partners for a night. Open relationships take many forms and often include people of multiple genders and orientations, but there is usually a core couple who invite others in, whether married, dating, or something in between.
Polyamorous Relationships - Polyamorous relationships usually involve more than two people in a committed partnership. You may have heard of a “thruple,” and this is a type of poly relationship. Healthline defines a thruple as “a relationship between three people who have all unanimously agreed to be in a romantic, loving, relationship together with the consent of all people involved.” Poly relationships can include more than three partners, but the general idea is that it’s deeper than sex and involves consent and romance between everyone, no matter how big or small the relationship is.
Just as there are dozens of types of relationships, there are as many reasons why people enjoy them. Bisexual and queer partners may feel unfulfilled if having sex or romance with only one gender. Some people may enjoy certain kinks, like BDSM, and have accepting partners who let them explore kinks they don’t share outside the relationship. Others may find it a temporary convenience, like long-distance lovers who satisfy sexual needs close to home.
Whatever your reasons, there are do’s and don’ts when going about entering into any kind of open relationship.
Is It Right For Me, And How Do I Do It?
Ethical non-monogamy isn’t for everyone, like we said. But if you’d like to explore your options with a partner or move forward in dating new partners who are open to it, we’d highly recommend you work on your communication skills and get comfortable having vulnerable conversations. It can be scary to bring these desires up to a partner for the first time, and it’s okay to ask for help! You might consider seeking therapy for yourself or as a couple to help navigate your feelings in a healthy way. You might seek out sexual wellness coaching too, as it can help you learn positions, toys to try and how the mechanics of a threesome actually work. This is especially good if you’re nervous!
Even though a lot of people think of non-monogamy as freedom, it actually requires a lot of rules. Almost a contract, if you will. Couples who want to bring other people into the relationship in any capacity, or singles who want to sleep with multiple partners have to abide by a shared set of rules to protect everyone’s physical safety and emotional wellbeing. You’ve got to stay on top of STI testing, let a partner know what’s out of bounds and communicate if something feels bad or if your emotions change.
Humans aren’t stagnant creatures, and we already know gender and orientation are a spectrum, not a binary. This means you may change your mind, or your preferences, over time and that’s okay! If you’re communicating well with your partner and focus on being honest and open, you’ll have no problem navigating both the joys, excitement and sexual pleasure as well as the emotional vulnerability that ethical non-monogamy brings.