What is Ethical Non-Monogamy?

Most societies promote monogamy as the normal, natural, or even moral way people are supposed to engage in relationships. Monogamy is defined by two people getting romantically and sexually involved only with each other – until they break up or death parts them. There are, however, relationship style options available to us beyond monogamy. That’s where ethical non-monogamy comes in.

Ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term that encompasses the various relationship styles beyond monogamy. They are defined by an mutual agreement and consent from all parties involved. The agreement and consent bit is particularly important in ethical non-monogamy – without it, it would just be cheating. So essentially, ethical non-monogamy is any type of relationship style in which more than two people are involved in a consensual sexual or romantic way.

One subset of ethical non-monogamy that is not discussed in this article is open relationships. Learn more about open relationship rules and definitions here.

Pros and Cons of Ethical Non-Monogamy

Like any relationship style, there are benefits and pitfalls to ethical non-monogamy. For those who feel limited, caged, or stifled by the confines of monogamy, ethical non- monogamy could be the answer. It allows you to create relationships that work for you – whether that means having multiple sexual partners and experiences, or having multiple relationships of different flavors.

Ethical non-monogamy challenges anyone who undertakes it to learn and grow through relationships, to work on their self-awareness and on any jealousy issues they may have. (Check out also these interesting Open Marriage Statistics!)

One of the most cited reasons why couples decide to venture into the world of ethical non-monogamy is the belief that it’s impossible for any one person to be everything their partner could ever want and need. We all have different needs, and for a majority of the time, these needs cannot be met by one person within the confines of a monogamous relationship. In order to engage in this type of relating though, it is imperative that all involved are willing to engage in self-reflection. They must be willing to process feelings with others, and rationally deal with conflicts when they arise because misunderstandings are bound to happen.

While there are many benefits to the non-monogamous lifestyle, there are also some challenges that come along with it.

For example, more relationships equal more work – especially emotional work related to confronting feelings of jealousy and insecurity. Some people will experience a sense of freedom in this style of relating, while others will feel a sense of insecurity in their relationship. And, depending on whether or not you are “out” about your non-monogamous relationship, you may have to deal with the disapproval of family, friends and your larger community to boot.

Ethical non-monogamy can include polyamorous relationships.

Polyamorous Relationships vs. Open Relationships

When we are looking at polyamorous relationships vs open relationships, we find many different options:

Partnered Non-Monogamy is when a committed couple decides to have a relationship that is erotically non-monogamous but is romantically monogamous. In other words – they are emotionally monogamous with each other, but have sex with other people.

How deeply involved the people in this committed relationship are with others can vary. They can consists of one-time encounters to recurring ones. Typically though they are non-romantic, casual, temporary, and commitment-free trysts. Partnered non-monogamy is a good choice for those who want their primary relationship to remain the priority. But they want to explore sex and/or BDSM with other people, or  fulfill fantasies like group sex.

Swinging is partnered non-monogamy, but with a deeper focus on engaging in sex with others as part of a social activity or recreational event.

Swinging parties welcome couples or single women to their events, and participants can engage in anything from pure voyeurism to full-on partner swapping. Like partnered non-monogamy, sexual diversity and exploration is the main purpose of this relationship style – not forming deep, emotional attachments with other couples. Although, of course, some swinging couples choose to get to know each other outside of the swing club and become good friends.

Monogamous/Non-monogamous combinations are another popular form of ethical non-monogamy. Here, a couple adopts a hybrid style of open relationship, with one partner being non-monogamous while the other partner remains monogamous.

This style is a good choice if there is one party that wants to explore more and/or different sex with additional partners. while the other doesn’t. The mono/non-mono combination can help to accommodate sexual incompatibility or differences between partners. It supports partnerships in which one partner is straight and the other gay/lesbian, bisexual, or kinky. It also accommodates relationships that pair people that are sexual and sexless, have a low libido and high libido, are suffering from a sexual dysfunction, or are disabled.

How a Sex Coach Can Help

If you want to embark on an ethically non-monogamous journey, it can be helpful to have an expert talk you through the process. When looking for a sex coach to help you with this, make sure they are familiar with and supportive of the relationship choices you are considering.

A sex coach can help you navigate through any challenging topics or triggers that might arise. They can assist you with articulating your desires to see which structure will be best for you. They can also make sure you have covered as many bases as possible before you dive into ethical non-monogamy. This way you will be less likely to have major misunderstandings and more likely to get as many of your desires met as possible.

The Somatica Core Training is a safe space where you can play with and explore ethical non-monogamy. Consider joining their Free Intro to see if the training is a good fit for you.

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Danielle Harel
Danielle Harel, PhD is the Co-creator of the Somatica® Method and the Co-Founder of the Somatica® Institute. She trains coaches in the Somatica® Method of Sex and Relationship Coaching. She has her own private practice in Sunnyvale, where she supports her clients in having amazing sex and relationships as well as passion-fueled lives. She has published original research on Orgasmic Birth and is the co-author of two books, Cockfidence - The Definitive Guide to Being the Man You Want to Be and Driving Women Wild and Making Love Real - The Intelligent Couples Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion. Danielle Has her Masters in Clinical Social Work From Haifa University in Israel and her PhD in Human Sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality (IASHS). She is a Clinical Sexologist and a Certified Sexological Bodyworker. Danielle is a Certified Body Positive Facilitator and took many trainings in embodied and mindfulness based therapeutic approaches such as Hakomi.