What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy?

By Michael Arangua|Updated June 14, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Ann-Marie Duncan, LCMHC

Are you and your partner thinking about opening your love and considering an ethical non-exclusive partnership but are unsure of where to start and how to do it right? How do you comfortably discuss the proposition of polygamy as a non-issue? This concept has been around for as long as time but has caught attention in recent years. Continue reading to learn how this non-exclusive dynamic can work for you and your partner, as well as become familiar with the different types. Therapy, working with an online therapist, can help you and your partner find what works best for you and communicate effectively.

couples can learn more about an ethical non monogamy

Are You Considering Ethical Non-Monogamy In Your Life?

Ethical Non-Monogamy

Ethical non-monogamy is the practice of staying with one romantic/sexual partner for the duration of that relationship. If you begin relations with another person during that time, this is a breach of the relationship's understanding, and you are no longer considered exclusive. This is often considered unethical ENM. Therefore, ethical non-monogamy means having multiple sex partners. To practice ethical non-monogamy safely, both parties must understand the different types of relationships. Here are some examples we'll cover in more detail later:

  • Polygamy
  • Open relationships
  • Swinging
  • Monogamish
  • Polyamory
  • Relationship anarchy

Ethical non-monogamy, or having multiple partners, is not for everyone, and that's okay. Most people are in committed relationships with just one person, meaning a monogamous relationship. However, it's estimated that over one-fifth of Americans have engaged in consensual non-monogamy relationships (21.9%). Unfortunately, those interested in multiple partners often lack social support and understanding. Since the concept is relatively new, it can be difficult to breach the topic with friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. There are also harmful stereotypes about non-monogamy, which may intimidate those interested in it. When couples make the consensual decision to embark on the a-traditional journey, it can be challenging. However, the partners that receive help in the beginning stages have a greater chance at success-and you can, too!

Why Some Choose This Relationship Type

Here are some of the more common reasons why people don't practice monogamy or engage in a non-monogamous relationship:

  • They want to explore their sexuality. To some people, one partner at a time makes them feel like they can't explore their sexuality to the fullest. Ethical non-monogamy allows them to explore their sexuality while still being fully emotionally committed to one person.
  • They love more than one person at a time and are better suited for this type of relationship. Some people are programmed to romantically love two or more people and feel that they can be their truest selves with non-monogamy.
  • Partners believe monogamous relationships are the product of jealous or possessive feelings. Non-monogamy involves letting go of these feelings to experience more love.
  • Some people like having variety in their sex life, and a non-monogamous relationship allows them to do so without receiving negative consequences.
  • One partner may not be able to meet all of their needs. In some cases, a partner may not be in a position physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally to have sex. For example, one person may be into BDSM but their partner is not. In many cases, this type of relationship allows these desires to be fulfilled by a different person.

Definition And Types

When most people think of an ethical non-monogamous relationship, they don't associate it with rules. But to be successful, you and your partner must agree to a contract. This contract will outline what does and does not count as infidelity, and both must be equally on board. In ethical non-monogamous relationships, it's important to follow the contract-if not, resentment may develop. Most people share society's view of polyamory as unethical, regardless of consent. Yet, many married people are unfaithful. About a quarter of men and about 15 percent of women cheat. However, ENM has an ingredient cheating lacks open and honest communication.

When someone is cheating, they aren't communicating ethically, and this does not count as ethical non-monogamy. They are lying, deceiving, and disrespecting their partner. In reality, there should be open communication. All people involved in ENM reveal as much as they agree to in the contract. For some couples, this might be every detail of who, what, when, and where. Others might not want to know more than a name.

There are many different types of non-monogamous relationships, and all require communication and consensual agreement:

Open Relationships

Open relationships are when at least one person in a committed relationship is open to sex with other people. Open relationships require much communication, which can change over time as the partnership evolves. It's become an umbrella term for any sexual relationship.

In the past few years, Dan Savage has popularized the term "monogamish". Monogamish is when a couple is mostly monogamous but allows the occasional sexual relationship with others. Like other similar ethical non-monogamy relationships, there are many rules the participants must follow. These determine things such as the frequency of partners, frequency of meetups, and types of sexual activities. Ultimately, it's up to the couple to decide.


Put simply, swinging is when couples exchange partners. Swinging can involve partners, clubs, friends, parties, and so on. 


Polyamory is when someone is in an open relationship with multiple people at once. It can be sexual or romantic, and everyone involved in the polyamory circle stays informed through communication, making it ethical non-monogamy. Polyamory is different from polygamy, as marriage is not involved. 

 man and woman smiling and playing music on the beach, man sitting looking up and laughing at woman, both are holding cups of coffee and are near a window sill. Her hand is on his shoulder as they talk

Relationship Anarchy

Relationship anarchists want to end the barrier between sexual and romantic relationships. Our society values sexual relationships over friendships. Relationship anarchy wants to judge the value of relationships on a case-by-case basis, independent of sex. According to relationship anarchists, every relationship is unique and evolves with time. A relationship anarchist may believe in the abundance of love, and that people can have as many relationships as they want.


People practicing polyfidelity agree that all members in their relationship are equal. This form of relationship involves people in the relationship exploring sex with each other (and not with others outside of their relationship).


We've all heard of polygamy. To be considered a polygamist, you must marry more than one person. Polygamy is mentioned in many religious texts, and some sects still practice it.

Polyandry & Polygyny

This form involves a wife having multiple husbands. Whereas polygyny involves a husband having multiple wives.

BetterHelp Therapist Reviews

"Celine is wonderful and has been instrumental in helping me through some difficult times with my relationships … Her insights always give me another angle to look at things from, which is excellent coming from a person who prides themselves on being able to see all sides of things. I can't say enough great things!"

Dr. Celine Medlock, online therapist at BetterHelp lmft

Are You Considering Ethical Non-Monogamy In Your Life?

"A year ago I was experiencing difficulties in my relationship, which highly affected my psychological state and interfered with my work. At one point, I decided to try BetterHelp.com. My counselor Dr. Brewer helped me to see some things I couldn't on my own and encouraged me to prioritize myself. It was a huge help for me at that point, which led to the decisions I am happy about."

review of Dr. April Brewer, online therapist at BetterHelp dbh lpc


Monogamy is not the only relationship option.

Engaging in a relationship of ethical non-monogamy is not only possible, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Open, honest communication will guide your way, and online counselors are here to help light the path.

Helpful mental health resources delivered to your inbox
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.