5 Things People Get Wrong About Non-Monogamy

Non-monogamy has long been practiced in some circles, but recently, curiosity about the topic has increased.

According to Google data, the term “ethical non-monogamy” has seen search traffic increase by more than 250% over the past year. A 2020 YouGov poll of 1,300 US adults found that a third of respondents said their ideal relationship was non-monogamous. And more than 20% of single Americans have engaged in consensual non-monogamy at some point in their lives, according to 2017 research published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.

“This is not just a new trend,” polyamory educator Leanne Yau told Talk News. “People have been non-monogamous for a long time. I think people are talking about it more now.”

So what does it actually mean? Non-monogamy is an umbrella term that covers a variety of non-exclusive sexual and/or romantic relationship styles between two people.

Sarah Stroh, a non-monogamy writer and creator behind the Instagram account @monogamish_me, described it to Talk News as: “Any relationship structure that is consensual and open non-monogamy means — or more likely both — partners in a couple have a relationship. romantic. and/or sexual contact with anyone other than each other.”

You may have come across the term “ethical non-monogamy”, sometimes referred to as “ENM”. The word “ethical” is used to differentiate this kind of relationship – where all parties have discussed and agreed to the agreement – ​​from a relationship where fraud occurs.

“This is not just a new trend. Society has been practicing non-monogamy for a long time. I think people are talking about it more now.”

– Leanne Yau, polyamory educator

But some experts take issue with the term, said Zachary Zane, sex columnist and sex expert for Archer, a new dating app for queer men. In his book “Boyslut: A Memoir and Manifesto,” he explains the pushback from researchers, educators, and activists regarding the use of the word “ethical.”

“They don’t like the term ‘ethical’ because it implies that non-monogamy is inherently unethical. Why else would you feel compelled to start with ‘ethical’?” he wrote in the book.

“It also holds non-monogamy to an unfair and higher standard than monogamy. Monogamous people constantly lie and cheat on their partners, and they don’t necessarily preface their behavior with (being) ethical or unethical, so why do non-monogamous people do it? Of course, many ENM relationships are unethical. You can definitely still be a fool even when practicing ENM.”

Instead, many people prefer terms like “consensual non-monogamy” (CNM) or simply “non-monogamy.”

There are four main types of non-monogamous relationships.

Common non-monogamous relationship structures include: monogamy, swinging, open relationships, and polyamory.

Delmaine Donson via Getty Images

Common non-monogamous relationship structures include: monogamy, swinging, open relationships, and polyamory.

Some common relationship structures that fall under the non-monogamy umbrella include monogamy, swinging relationships, open relationships, and polyamory.

“Things can vary greatly between the two, but generally, I see them falling into four types,” Yau said.

Monogamy is a term coined by sex and relationships author and podcast host Dan Savage, and refers to predominantly monogamous relationships where “sexual activity outside the relationship is seen as the exception and not the norm,” says Yau.

“So, that might look like having threesomes on special occasions, or sometimes going to a sex party. Or if there are kinks you want to explore, tell your partner and then find someone to talk to,” he explains.

Swinging is when a couple has sexual experiences with multiple partners, usually (but not always) as a single unit. This often involves swapping partners or engaging in group sex, among other types of sexual play.

“Swinging is something couples do together, as is sleeping together with other people, and interacting with other singles and/or couples. So it might look like threesomes, foursomes, orgies, orgies and things like that,” said Yau, noting that the term “swinger” is no longer popular. Some people, especially the younger generation, may prefer to say that they are part of a “lifestyle”.

An open relationship is usually a relationship that is sexually non-monogamous, but romantically monogamous. (Previously, however, people used the term to describe non-monogamous relationships, Yau says.)

“So if someone says they are in an open relationship, I mean they are only romantically involved with one person, but both can have casual sex with other people, either alone or together, on the side,” Yau said.

Polyamory is the only form of non-monogamy “where you not only have sexual non-exclusivity, but also romantic non-exclusivity,” Yau said. In other words, you are part of several love relationships at the same time. This is different from the other non-monogamous relationships described above, where everything outside of the primary relationship is “maintained sexually or casually, whatever that definition is,” explains Yau.

While there may still be some hierarchy in certain polyamorous relationships, “it’s the type where there’s not necessarily a focus on the primary romantic relationship,” says Yau.

Many common assumptions about non-monogamy are incorrect.

Non-monogamous people dispel some of the most common and enduring myths.

Jordi Salas via Getty Images

Non-monogamous people dispel some of the most common and enduring myths.

Non-monogamy may get attention but it still goes completely against the grain of our monogamous cultural norms. Stigma and misunderstandings about this type of relationship still exist. One common misconception: Non-monogamous relationships aren’t serious or lasting.

“My partner and I are not monogamous and are expecting a child in January,” Stroh said. “Non-monogamy is not just a phase or structure for people who want something casual.”

Zane echoed similar sentiments: “There is a perception that ENM, especially polyamory, is unsustainable long-term, meaning eventually you and your partner will break up,” he said. “Of course, that’s not the case. There are poly people who have been with their partners for decades.”

Some people mistakenly believe that non-monogamy is cheating, but it isn’t. In a non-monogamous relationship, everyone must be aware, involved, and “participate enthusiastically,” Yau says. Honest communication, established guidelines, and recurring check-ins are fundamental here, just as they are in any healthy relationship.

“Non-monogamous relationships, just like monogamous relationships, require that everyone is aware and consenting,” says Yau. “It’s not the same as going behind someone else’s back and just doing your own thing and having multiple partners without anyone knowing.”

“My partner and I of more than three years are not monogamous and are expecting a child in January. Non-monogamy is not just a phase or structure for people who want something casual.”

– Sarah Stroh, a non-monogamous writer

Another common misconception is that non-monogamy is only a last resort for couples trying to save their marriage.

“Of course, there are some people who try ENM because their relationship failed, and often, it doesn’t save the relationship,” says Zane. “But not the majority of people are ENMs.”

In fact, if your relationship is in a bad place, practicing non-monogamy will probably only make things worse, says Yau.

“Because non-monogamy requires a considerable sense of security and trust in your partner in order to be involved in a sustainable and healthy way,” he said. “A relationship that is coming to an end may not be the best choice for that.”

Monogamous people may also assume that non-monogamous people are naturally less jealous, and this may not necessarily be true.

“Non-monogamous people are still people,” says Zane. “We are still jealous. We just – hopefully – handle it better. Rather than lashing out at our partner, we acknowledge that we feel jealous and insecure, try to get to the root of the jealousy and work together to find a solution.”

There is also the assumption that at least one person in a non-monogamous relationship was pushed into the relationship against their will.

“What this means is that one partner would prefer to be monogamous but ‘can’t get their partner to commit to them,’” Stroh says. “Of course, these things are sometimes true for people who claim to be polyamorous, but often they are not.”

The perception that one partner gets sucked into it and cries themselves to sleep every night is “very unfair,” Yau said.

“It paints non-monogamous people as selfish or toxic or abusive when we’re not interested in dating monogamous people,” says Yau. “We want others who fully accept and validate us and our desires.”

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