What is Ethical Non-Monogamy?

By: Michael Arangua

Updated December 21, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Ann-Marie Duncan

Are you and your partner thinking about opening your sex life but aren't sure where to start? How do you comfortably discuss the proposition of sex outside your relationship? The concept of ethical non-monogamy has been catching attention in recent years, and it might be what you and your partner are looking for.

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What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy?

To understand ethical non-monogamy, let's first look at monogamy. Monogamy is the practice of staying with one sexual partner for the duration of that relationship. If you enter into sexual relations with another person during that time, you are no longer considered monogamous. Therefore, non-monogamy means having multiple sex partners.

To practice ethical non-monogamy, both parties must understand the types of non-monogamous relationships. Here are some examples we'll cover in more detail later:

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

Understanding Ethical Non-Monogamy

Having multiple partners is not for everyone, and that's okay. Most people are in committed relationships with just one person. However, it's estimated that over one-fifth of Americans have engaged in consensual non-monogamous relationships (21.9%).

Unfortunately, those interested in multiple partners often lack social support and understanding. Since ethical non-monogamy is a relatively new concept, it can be difficult to breach the topic with friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. There are also harmful stereotypes about the kinds of people that don't want to commit to only one person, which may intimidate those interested in ethical non monogamy.

When couples make the consensual decision to embark on the non-traditional journey of ethical non monogamy, it can be challenging. However, the partners that receive help in the beginning stages have a greater chance at success-and you can, too!

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Why Do People Enter Non-Monogamous Relationships?

Here are some of the more common reasons why people don't commit to just one person, or engage in ethical non monogamy:

  • 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. Some people are programmed to romantically love two or more people, and feel monogamy holds them back from their truest self.
  • Partners believe monogamy is the product of jealous or possessive feelings. Ethical non-monogamy involves letting go of these feelings to experience more love.
  • Some people like having variety in their sex life, and ethical non-monogamy 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. One person may be into BDSM but their partner is not. In this case, ethical non monogamy allows these desires to be fulfilled by a different person.

What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy Really?

When most people think of non-monogamy, they don't associate it with rules, but to be ethically non-monogamous, you and your partner must agree to a contract. This will outline what does and does not count as infidelity, and both must be equally on board. If not, resentments will grow.

Most people share society's view of non-monogamy as unethical, regardless of consent. Yet, many married people are unfaithful. About a quarter of men and about 15 percent of women cheat. However, ethical non monogamy has an ingredient cheating lacks: open and honest communication.

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When someone is cheating, they aren't communicating ethically. They are lying, deceiving, and disrespecting their partner. In ethical non-monogamy, there is ethical communication. All people involved 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.

What Are The Types of Non-Monogamy?

There are many different types of non-monogamous relationships, and all require ethical communication and agreement. These include:

· Polygamy. 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.

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

· Swinging. The concept of swinging is often a trope. Put simply, swinging is when couples exchange partners. Swinging can involve partners, clubs, friends, parties, and so on.

· Monogamish. 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 ethically non-monogamous 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.

· Polyamory. 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 ethical communication. Polyamory is different from polygamy, as marriage is not involved. It may also involve multiple but separate committed partners.

· Relationship Anarchy. Relationship anarchists want to end the barrier between sexual and non-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.

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Ethical Communication Is Key is Ethical Non-Monogamy Relationships

Non-monogamy is becoming more popular, but many people lack the ethical communication skills that generate success. Instead, boundaries get crossed, jealousy creeps in, and the relationship falls apart.

If one wants to try ethical non-monogamy, it will require open, honest dialog around sex and feelings. The contract you make may evolve over time, and both partners need to make sure they are comfortable before getting involved with others.

One way to ensure all forms of communication are clear is to talk to a relationship counselor or sex therapist. And in addition to therapy, try the following:

  • Share your mundane experiences with your partner. Studies show making small talk about the insignificant parts of your day strengthens emotional ties. Researcher and psychologist John Gottman found mundane moments have a greater effect on relational health and happiness than the memorable moments.
  • Actively listen. It can be hard to stay in the moment when your loved one is sharing the boring details of their day. However, it's important to put aside our thoughts and remain attentive to our partner. Then, show you are listening by asking clarifying questions and reflecting back what they said to you in different words.
  • Compliment each other and say thank you often. A few extra nice words a day helps both partners feel loved and appreciated.

Finding Support

Relationship and sex therapists know about the inner workings of all types of relationships and can help you and your partner communicate openly and honestly. They can mediate disagreements, facilitate a consensus on rules, assist you in creating the contract, and teach you the tools to be successful.

Being open with a stranger about your sex life can feel awkward. Online counseling with a professional at BetterHelp makes it easier to get the assistance you need without feeling as embarrassed as you might face to face. Chatting online with someone who cares ensures anonymity and discretion about topics such as sex, relationships, and ethical non monogamy. Consider the following reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

Counselor Reviews

"Celine is absolutely 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 really excellent coming from a person who prides themselves on being able see all sides of things. I can't say enough great things!"

"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."


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

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  • What is the difference between polyamory and ethical non monogamy?

  • Can non monogamous relationships work?

Yes, they can work, but the thing is, you need to know the rules beforehand.

You also have to have a strong foundation and communicate with others. Be honest about your sexual health and history, and of course who it is that you're looking to establish a non-monogamous relationship with. Otherwise, it's going to hurt you, and it will cause trouble.


Most of these fail due to a lack of communication, breached trust, and of course, the partners falling out of love. Sometimes this happens when the partners don't take care of each other, but instead only rely on the third or other people in the non-monogamous relationship.

  • How common are non-monogamous relationships?

They're becoming more common. About one in five relationships are no-monogamous, but that's usually involving any form of non-monogamy.

  • Can you cheat in a polyamorous relationship?

Of course, you can, just like in any relationship. For non-monogamous relationships, this is when you go outside the rules. The rules of these relationships are defined by both parties, but if they're not followed, or you aren't honest, it's a form of cheating.


For example, Joe and Sally want to start a non-monogamous relationship with their friend Karen. The problem is, Joe is going behind Sally and Karen's back and is seeing another girl as well. Oftentimes, this is a form of cheating.

But it's also when you don't follow the rules. For example, if you're seeing someone that your partner doesn't like, that can be a form of cheating.

It does happen, and usually it involves breaking the rules.

  • Is monogamy natural or learned?

It's a little bit of both actually. Monogamy has been around for so long, that even basic societies had this. But some basic societies also had non-monogamy as the focus. That means, that in a sense it's a little bit of both.

But, in general people believe that monogamy is the only way. But, with changes happening in our world, non-monogamy is starting to become a popular means.

  • Is non monogamy on the rise?

In a sense yes. Some couples are trying this out. More and more younger people are getting into this.

  • Do polyamorous relationships last?

They can. It really depends on how the relationship happens.

For example, if all partners are communicating and following the rules, then it's great. There are many successful polyamorous relationships that work. But, if the rules are broken, that can cause lots of problems. It certainly can happen, and they sometimes last a long time.

But there are instances where they last only a few years before it breaks down. Definitely look at your foundation and how it is before you consider this and look at how much trust you have in each other. Just like a monogamous relationship, you have to work on the polyamorous relationship for it to be successful.

  • What makes a person polyamorous?

If a person has multiple relationships with people, whether sexual or otherwise, they're polyamorous.

It oftentimes can be as simple as one partner for sexual needs and one for romantic, to even having multiple romantic partners.

  • Why do couples have open relationships?

There are a few reasons why. For starters, some couples want to experiment, and sometimes open relationships are a way to do it.


Sometimes it involves getting needs fulfilled. Some couples realize that there are certain needs that the partner can't fulfill, so they'll seek it outside of the marriage. For example, if a person is into kinky stuff and the other isn't, they might look for someone who is in the kink community.

Other times it's to experiment. For example, maybe the woman recently realized she's bisexual and wants a girlfriend or a female friend with benefits.

Regardless of the reason, all open relationships work if the rules are established, and of course followed.

Therapy Is Personal

Therapy is a personal experience, and not everyone will go into it seeking the same things. But, keeping these nine things in mind can ensure that you will get the most out of online therapy, regardless of what your specific goals are.

If you’re still wondering if therapy is right for you, and how much therapy costs, please contact us at contact@betterhelp.com. BetterHelp specializes in online therapy to help address all types of mental health concerns. If you’re interested in individual therapy, please reach out to contact@betterhelp.com. For more information about BetterHelp as a company, please find us on 
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