What is Ethical Non-Monogamy?

By Michael Arangua

Updated October 15, 2019

Reviewer Ann-Marie Duncan

Source: pixabay.com

Our stance on relationships and how they work have evolved over the years. From same sex relationships to non-monogamous relationships, we have evolved our views of relationships quite a bit. Today, we will be looking at ethical non-monogamy, a concept that has been catching some attention in recent years.

What is Monogamy?

In order to figure out what ethical non-monogamy is, let's first look at the definition of monogamy. Monogamy is when you are involved with just one sexual or relationship partner in your lifetime. If you break up with this person and get with another person, you are considered a serial monogamist.

Therefore, it's safe to say that non-monogamy is when you have multiple sexual partners at a time. There are many stereotypes about non-monogamy. Some may see it as cheating, or a practice done by a religious cult. Others may look at non-monogamy and think it's an excuse to have as much sex as possible.

Why People Do Non-Monogamous Relationships

There are many reasons as to why people are not committed to just one person. Here are a few reasons why.

  • They want to explore their sexuality. Having one sexual partner in your lifetime or at a time means that you may not be able to explore your sexuality fully. Non-monogamy can allow you to explore your sexuality while still being committed to one person.
  • The person may love more than one person at a time. Some people are programmed that way, and by being in a non-monogamous relationship, they can spread the love more.
  • They are comfortable enough with their partner that they can see other people without being jealous or possessive. For some, monogamy is a bad thing because it involves much jealousy. Non-monogamy involves letting go of jealousy.
  • Some people just like having more than one sexual partner, and non-monogamy can allow them to do it without suffering any consequences, as long as the communication is good.
  • Sometimes, your partner may not be able to meet all your needs. Your partner may have gotten injured, and they may be in a position where they can't have sex. There may be different types of sex that you're into that they're not. The idea of non-monogamy is to have different people to satisfy their needs.

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Non-monogamy is, of course, not for everyone. If you want to stay with one partner, that's great. We're just explaining the motivations of a non-monogamous person.

What is Ethical Non-Monogamy?

Simply put, it has rules. Someone in a non-monogamous relationship may not be someone who has sex with anyone they want. There may be different rules, such as the type of person and the involvement of the other partner. If the rules are broken, it's equal to that of cheating.

Of course, there may be some people who see non-monogamy as cheating regardless of the consent and the rules. They may argue this from a religious or ethical standpoint. While it's up for debate, ethical non-monogamy has something that most forms of cheating do not have: communication.

When someone is cheating, they aren't communicating. They are hiding secrets behind someone's back and not telling them what is going on. In ethical non-monogamy, there is full communication. A person knows who their partner is seeing and their partner can approve the relationship. By communicating more, it can reduce the risk of STDs as well.

Many people in marriages cheat, even though our society views cheating as bad. About a quarter of men cheat, and about 15 percent of women do it as well. Thanks to the Internet, cheating is easier than ever, but it has also allowed people to explore their sexualities and has helped to normalize non-monogamy.

Types of Non-Monogamy

There are many different types of non-monogamous relationships one can have, and these include:


Odds are, you may have heard about polygamy. It involves marrying more than one person, and it's a concept that has been around for a long time. You've seen it mentioned in many religious texts, and some religious sects still practice it to this day. There are different types of polygamy. Polygyny involves one husband and many wives. This is a result of religions such as Islam. Polyandry is the opposite. There is one wife and multiple husbands. It's rarer because women typically have less power worldwide, but it can still happen.

Open Relationship

Open relationships can be many things. This term is an umbrella term for any non-monogamous relationship that is sexual. The term "open" comes from the fact that the people in the marriage are open to sex with other people. This relationship involves more people who aren't involved with the relationship as much. They may just be friends with benefits. The couple may have sex with this person separately or do it together. They also may have a relationship with the person outside of their marriage, but the person they are married to is still their number one. As you can see, open marriages require much communication, and they can change over time as the relationship evolves. Open relationships are definitely interesting in many different ways.

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Swinging is a term you may have heard of, but may not know the full concept of. Simply put, swinging is when couples exchange their partners. Husbands may exchange wives, and vice versa. Swinging can involve partners, clubs, friends, and so on. Its diversity has made swinging quite an interesting subject to study. Swinging has had a history, too. It first began after World War II and was known as wife swapping. Because of its beginnings in heterosexuality, it was mostly considered a heterosexual act. The wives may get together, but relationships between men were less common. Of course, as same-sex marriages evolve, so does the concept of swinging. There are plenty of homosexual swingers as well.


Dan Savage has popularized the term monogamish within the past few years. Monogamish is when a couple is mostly monogamous, but they do allow occasional sexual relationships with other people. Like any relationship that is ethically non-monogamous, there are many rules the participants must go by. Sometimes, there may only be one-night stands, and only certain types of sexual activity are allowed. Sometimes, there are different times that are allowed. The rules may be a lot stricter, but they still are a part of the umbrella that is ethical non-monogamy.

Polyamory and Polyfidelity

You may have heard the word polyamory being tossed around quite a bit in the past few years. Polyamory is simply when someone has an open relationship with multiple people at once, and they can be sexual or romantic. The idea is that everyone involved in the polyamory circle knows about what is going on. Meanwhile, polyfidelity is more closed and involves a closed group of more than one person. Polyaffective is when someone in a polyamorus relationship is involved in a relationship that is emotionally intimate, but quite nonsexual. However, it should not be confused with people who are just friends. Polyamory is different from polygamy, as marriage is not involved.

Relationship Anarchy

This is another concept that has quite a few definitions. When you think of anarchy, you may think of chaos, but this may not be the case. Relationship anarchists want to end the barrier between sexual relationships and non-romantic ones. They are critical in our society, which tells us that sexual relationships are more valuable than friendships. Relationship anarchy instead wants to take relationships in a case-by-case basis, and not because a person is having sex with them. Every relationship, according to a relationship anarchist, is unique and evolves with the times. A relationship anarchist may believe in the abundance of love, and people can have as many relationships as they want because of it.

A relationship anarchist may not believe in the rules of a relationship. For example, they may believe that demands are to be resisted. With other forms of ethical non-monogamy, there are usually rules to follow by. Someone who is a relationship anarchist may believe that rules aren't meant to be followed and instead make different types of relationships on a different value. A relationship anarchist believes that all relationships are equal, and putting rules on people just holds back who they really are.

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Communication is Key

Non-monogamy is becoming more popular, but many people do not have enough communication. Boundaries get crossed, jealousy happens, and the marriage falls apart. If one wants to try ethical non-monogamy, it will require communication and knowing what is okay and what is not. These rules may evolve over time, and the partners need to make sure that they know what they want before they get involved with a relationship with other people.

One way you can make sure all forms of communication are clear is to talk to a marriage counselor. A counselor knows about the inner workings of relationships, non-monogamous or not, and they can give you advice and ways to keep the relationship ethical.

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