Ethical non-monogamy can be defined as participating in more than one relationship in an ethical way. “Ethical” implies that everyone involved is consenting and aware they are in a relationship where non-monogamy features, they have discussed and negotiated on the dynamics of that relationship, and everyone does their part to uphold those dynamics to maintain safety and trust.
1. Non-monogamy is the extreme form of relationship anarchy
Relationship anarchy is a term coined by Adnie Nordgren that refers to the rejection of any rules regarding relationships that are not agreed upon by the people involved in that relationship. Relationship anarchy allows us to broaden our ideas of what it means to be in any kind of relationship. Things such as cohabiting, splitting bills or raising children together are now no longer confined to romantic and life-partner relationship structures. These are things that even siblings or platonic friends can enjoy, for example. Relationship anarchy insinuates that you can literally design your own type of relationship. So it is still possible that a non-monogamous person wants to get married, have children and live in a house with a white picket fence with a dog in the yard while being in multiple relationships. While non-monogamy is a form of relationship anarchy, it doesn’t mean that non-monogamists reject all aspects of typical or traditional relationships. They just choose to what degree they want to entertain those aspects, and how those features enrich their relationships. They don’t choose them out of obligation or in an attempt to assimilate to the status quo. This is a form of relationship anarchy, yes, but you could still see features of traditional relationships in non-monogamous ones.
2. So, you’re all swingers?
Non-monogamy is an umbrella term used to describe people who enjoy being in more than one relationship. For the sake of this conversation, we define relationships as any type of connection between two or more people. This means that the relationship can be casual, purely sexual, platonic, romantic or professional, for example. While non-monogamists enjoy being in more than one relationship, that non-monogamy can manifest itself in different ways. Some non-monogamists enjoy the freedom of having multiple casual sex partners, while others require a loving, committed relationship before they can open up intimately. Some non-monogamists are asexual or aromantic and define their relationships with multiple people in their own ways that do not center sex in the way we traditionally think of it. Sex and romantic intimacy are not the only two possible components of romantic or committed relationships. They are not the qualifiers of a relationship. Similarly, just because someone is non-monogamous, doesn’t automatically mean they have multiple sex partners. And even when there are mutliple sex partners, it doesn’t mean they don’t form meaningful and committed relationships with their partners.
3. All kinksters are non-monogamous, and non-monogamous people are kinky
There is a misconception that if a person is kink-included or curious, they are automatically non-monogamous, and if you are non-monogamous, you are most likely to be kinky-inclined or curious. BDSM doesn’t imply that a person will be open to being intimate with more than one person. It is not an inherent feature of this idea of exploring and opening up our minds, bodies and spirits to other ways of experiencing pleasure. Similarly, even if a person is non-monogamous and enjoys BDSM, it doesn’t automatically mean they want to be intimately and sexually involved with more than one person. Also, just because a person is non-monogamous, it doesn’t mean they want to experiment with sex and pleasure and explore BDSM. You can enjoy traditional forms of relationship styles and sex and your non-monogamy will still be just as valid. You can be a proud monogamous person and also have a thriving BDSM journey.
4. Non-monogamy is an excuse for cheating
Cheating or being unfaithful in a relationship is when you do something you know is against the ethos of the relationship you are in, causing you to break trust and potentially hurt someone. Being sexually intimate with other people is only one form of cheating and unfortunately, it is the one that is most acknowledged or given attention. There is the assumption that people who are non-monogamous want to have an excuse to cheat. Going back to our definition of how non-monogamy is a form of relationship anarchy, the principles of the relationship have to be consensually agreed upon by everyone involved. If two or more people agree that they would like to be in more than one relationship, and they do exercise that liberty, it does not count as cheating.
This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to cheat as a non-monogamous person. A feature of your relationship could be that you have to disclose and discuss before you become sexually intimate with another partner to negotiate physical and emotional safety, for example. If you go behind your partner’s back and do not honor this mutually agreed upon condition, that can be considered cheating and cause great hurt. It has been said that because ethically non-monogamous relationships are built on huge foundations of communication and trust, breaking that trust can be extremely easy. Non-monogamous people also have to take care to respect their partners while exercising the liberty to be in multiple relationships, the way anyone else in any kind of relationship would.
5. Non-monogamous people are incapable of having meaningful, committed relationships
The myth that non-monogamous people are only interested in having the ‘permission’ to have sex with mutliple people takes away from the fact that some non-monogamous people may want or even require to have deep connections with their partners before including a physically intimate relationship. People’s non-monogamy can manifest itself in different ways. Some people have the desire of having community-like families where everyone is involved in the care and wellbeing of each other. Some people require spiritual connections with their partners and these relationships may not even feature sex or physical intimacy. By virtue of having a type of relationship with the person you are involved with, non-monogamous or not, there is a level of commitment that is required to sustain that relationship. Even when the relationship is purely physical or sexual, it is very possible for there to still be intimacy and deep connection. A great book that can help you further your understanding of non-monogamy is The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy.