More people are interested in non-monogamous relationships. According to a YouGov poll, 39 percent of respondents said their “ideal relationship” is not completely monogamous. But what exactly does that mean? In truth, ethical non-monogamy – an umbrella term encompassing approaches to relationships where individuals have more than one romantic and/or sexual partner at a time – can look various different ways and is preferred for a multitude of reasons.
Some consider having non-monogamous relationships for sexual or emotional diversity and personal growth, while others are interested in fantasy fulfillment or simply reject the construct of monogamy. For anyone considering consensual non-monogamy, I applaud you. Curiosity is healthy, and as a sexologist, I hope more of us explore the things we really want. Personally speaking, as someone who has been in a non-monogamous relationship, I can tell you that there are some incredibly beautiful and powerful lessons to be learned. Even so, these types of partnerships can sometimes be complex, emotionally taxing or not right for you.
If you’re interested in consensual non-monogamous relationships, here’s what you need to know.
Monogamy and monogamish
In the US, monogamy means two people are emotionally and sexually exclusively committed to one another. Monogamy offers comfort in knowing, and continuously getting to know, one partner over your lifetime. Yet while monogamy can be a great fit for many people, trends like “monogamish” culture, where partners make agreed-upon sex exceptions with other people, as well as the explosion of casual dating apps show consensual non-monogamy is becoming more common.
Consensual non-monogamy refers to a relationship where people have more than one romantic and/or sexual partner at the same time. The key word here is consensual. There are several types of ethical non-monogamy relationships: swinging (an open relationship wherein partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activities with others at the same time), polyamory (intimate relationships with more than one partner), open partnerships (one or both partners have and act on desires for sexual relationships outside of each other) and more. But whether you’re just dabbling or are completely living the open lifestyle, you should be enthusiastically choosing it. Consensual non-monogamy is very different from non-consensual non-monogamy, or cheating.
More of us are trying them.
Non-monogamous relationships are becoming more common today. About 5 percent of people are currently in consensual non-monogamous relationships. That percentage may sound low, but interestingly 39 percent of people say their “ideal relationship” is not completely monogamous. This number is even higher for people under 30 (51%) and people of color (61%). So how many of us are actually trying consensual non-monogamy if almost half of us say we ideally want one? One study found that 1 in 5 people report having at least one consensual non-monogamous relationship at some point in their life.
As a sexologist, I would argue that these trends clearly show that more of us are not only curious about alternatives to monogamy but are also motivated to try them. Like many poorly taught sex ed concepts, however, it is also clear to me that we aren’t taught enough about how to engage in different types of relationships: where to start, what to consider, how to communicate effectively and so on.
Are they right for you?
People in non-monogamous relationships tend to have better communication around sexual desires, STI safety and difficult emotions. If you want to get serious about trying a consensual non-monogamous lifestyle, I highly recommend learning more via credible books, talking to others in poly or open relationships and doing lots of self-evaluating first. It could be great for you … or it could be not so great for you. You decide!
Here are some great beginning self-evaluation questions from Tristan Taormino’s book Opening Up to help you get started.
- What are your beliefs about monogamy?
- If you’ve been in monogamous relationships before, how did you feel in those relationships, and how did they work or not work for you?
- Do you believe someone can be in love with more than one person?
- What role does sex play in relationships? What does it mean to you?
- How available are you?
- Do you have time to nurture and grow more than one relationship?
- Do you have access to potential partners who have nonmonogamy experience and strong relationship skills?
- How do you handle feelings?
- Are you able to determine what your boundaries are and communicate them to others?
- Do you have the self-knowledge and communication skills to be in an open relationship?
- If you are in a current relationship, have you evaluated it?
- What is the state of your relationship? Does it feel stable and secure?
- Do both partners want to explore a different structure?
- Do you have sexual needs, desires, and fantasies that aren’t being fulfilled?
For more information, I recommend picking up Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships ($17.95) and The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities ($16.99) over at the Bloomi marketplace, and signing up to our newsletter for sexologist-approved sex and relationships advice.