Ethical non-monogamy or consensual non-monogamy has been gaining more and more traction in the past years. More people are sharing their personal experiences online with others, removing the stigma around polyamory and open relationships.
Despite the best efforts to educate people on the ethical non-monogamy, there is still a lot of misunderstanding around the concept. So, let's talk about consensual non-monogamy, why people might choose it, and how to practice it healthily if you are interested.
What is ethical non-monogamy?
Ethical non-monogamy is a concept when people engage in sexual and romantic relationships with more than one partner. Some people still believe this to be cheating; however, that's not the case.
The terms "ethical" and "consensual" are crucial here and indicate that all parties involved in these relationships are aware and consent to being a part of the relationship. If even one party involved doesn't know about the true nature of the relationship and doesn't consent to it, it's no longer an ethical non-monogamous relationship, but infidelity.
It's important to note that consensual non-monogamy is also an umbrella term that houses different non-monogamous relationships. So while it might seem that all non-monogamous relationships are the same, that's not true.
If you want to see a visual representation of how complex and intricate non-monogamy truly is, check out the Map of Non-Monogamy that perfectly showcases how many different ways of being non-monogamous there are.
An open relationship is most often described as one or both partners seeking sexual relationships with other people outside their primary relationship. They can seek out other people separately or together, and most often, it's about finding what's missing in the current relationship outside of it.
People are very individual, and there are no set rules for conducting an ethical non-monogamous relationship. So, for some people, an open relationship can involve an emotional connection with people outside the primary relationship, while for others, love is reserved for their primary partner only.
A polyamorous relationship is a relationship between multiple people who are all coming to a relationship with the intent of falling in love with multiple people. There isn't as much separation in a poly relationship as in an open one.
Also, some people believe that being polyamorous and able to love multiple people simultaneously is part of their identity and not just a way to spice up their relationship with their partner.
Couples who engage in a partner "swapping" and so-called swinger parties where one can engage in sex with multiple people at the same time together with their partner also fall under the ethical non-monogamy umbrella.
Consensual casual sex/dating when one or both partners engage in non-committed sexual activities or dating with other people are also part of ethical-non monogamy.
Polyfidelity is technically a branch of polyamory when all partners in that polyamorous relationship agree that they're not going to engage in romantic or sexual relationships with people outside of their circle. It can also be referred to as a closed poly relationship.
A throuple relationship is a romantic, loving, and sexual relationship between three consenting adults. It is not to be confused with a threesome, a sexual experience between three people.
A throuple is a three-way relationship and falls under the ethical-non monogamy umbrella. Depending on the people involved in the relationship, it can also be closed or open and polyamorous or not.
Why do people choose to pursue ethical non-monogamy
Ethical non-monogamous relationships are very individual and personal to every person involved. So, there are different reasons why people might consider choosing non-monogamy over monogamy:
- Looking to improve their current relationship: sometimes, one person cannot always fulfill all of the needs of another person. In this case, looking into ethical non-monogamy could be a solution.
- Mismatched libidos: if partners' sex drives don't match while other aspects of the relationship work, opening the relationship is one way to deal with it.
- Kinks: if a person has a kink and enjoys seeing or knowing that their partner is having sex with other people, open relationships or swinging are safe ways to satisfy the kink.
- Experiment with your sexuality and love: love and sexuality don't have boundaries, and maybe a person wants to explore different aspects of it.
Surely, there are other reasons why someone would choose to pursue non-monogamy, and every reason is valid as long as the relationships are consensual and ethical.
Things like anger, revenge, or anything else that involves negative feelings towards your partner are not a reason to pursue open relationships or polyamory. And if your partner is not aware that you're having sex with other people, then it's considered infidelity.
How to set boundaries in an open relationship
If you're thinking about venturing out of your comfort zone and experimenting with opening your relationship, here are some easy steps you might consider taking:
Step 1: Identify your true intentions and needs
Before you talk with your partner about your needs and wants to pursue an open relationship, it's important to be honest with yourself about why you're interested in that in the first place.
As we already discussed before, everyone will have different reasons for pursuing ethical non-monogamy. So, what are yours? Are you looking for more freedom? Or are you unsure about your sexuality and want to explore same/opposite sex relationships without compromising your current relationship?
Whatever your intention for pursuing an open relationship is, it's important that it would be about you and making your relationship happier and better. If you want to have sex with other people so you could hurt your partner or punish them for something, then it might not be the right thing to do. Instead of opening your relationship, choose to repair the current one.
Step 2: Communicate with your partner
Once you know your reasons and intentions for a non-monogamous relationship, the next step will be communicating with your partner. It might be challenging if you're not very good at communicating in your relationship. But don't let it stop you.
Be honest and transparent with your partner when you share your needs. Don't try to put the blame on someone else or point fingers. Instead, it should be an open discussion, a safe space for you to share your thoughts, and then for your partner to do the same.
Now, don't expect to have only one conversation with your partner and be on your way to having sex with other people. There might be a long period in your relationship when both of you have to communicate your needs and emotions. So take your time, and don't rush.
People need to process their emotions, and it can take time. So, be respectful of your partner's needs and feelings. And listen to them just as much as you share so that you're both on the same page at all times.
Step 3: Set your open relationship rules
If one of the reasons why you're seeking out an open relationship is to be free and less restricted, it might feel counterintuitive to set rules and boundaries. But you and your partner must do that before you start exploring outside your relationship.
Educate yourself and your partner on what ethical non-monogamy is. Explain what different relationships are, and then both of you should settle on which one is acceptable for your relationship. For an open relationship to work, both partners have to be comfortable with their agreement.
For example, maybe your partner would like to always be aware of your relationships outside of the primary relationship. On the other hand, others might not want to know. Or maybe you have a partner who is open to exploring the ethical non-monogamy with you and wants to be an active participant.
It's important to discuss things like sexual relationships and expectations. For example, some people might want to have a primary relationship, while others are fine with an open concept where everyone is equal.
Take the time to figure out the agreement of your open relationship and set clear boundaries and rules before you do anything else. Remember: this is not forever, and both of you are free to change and amend the rules whenever you want in the future.
Step 4: Don't abandon your partner's emotional needs
Naturally, your partner might feel insecure or jealous at the beginning. While it's not possible to stop them from feeling that way, there are things you can do to reassure them that they're still important to you despite your new open arrangements.
Don't dismiss your partner's needs or any comments they might bring up while in an open relationship. Be honest and transparent, and don't shy away from communicating with them.
Communication doesn't stop once the relationship's boundaries and rules are set. It's just the start. And as you go along with your open relationship, you must pay attention, communicate, and empathize with your partner. This will help avoid any negative feelings, resentment, and arguments.
Step 5: Start small
When you're new to the open relationship, the possibilities are endless. There are so many different things to try and people to meet. While exciting, it can also be daunting.
An excellent place to start exploring this new side of your sexuality is by educating yourself and your partner. There are many great sexual educators who do an amazing job of helping people navigate open relationships. The book The Ethical Slut by Janet W. Hardy is an excellent resource if you’re looking to learn how to manage, for example, jealousy in a healthy and human way, which is a natural emotion people experience even in ethically non-monogamous relationships.
Then, you can explore your sexuality slowly. Start by casually dating and meeting new people. Always let them know your relationship status and what you're looking for, even if you're just casually meeting someone for drinks. For non-monogamy to be ethical, all parties involved have to know and consent to it.
If your partner wants to be involved in activities outside the relationship, a good place to start is by attending sex parties or sex clubs together. There you will meet many like-minded people in a safe and contained environment. You can participate in activities or simply watch; whatever is more comfortable for you and your partner.
Ethical non-monogamy is a journey
Take your time exploring different things inside the boundaries and rules you and your partner have set for your consensual non-monogamous relationship. This will help you enjoy the process and get to know yourself, your sexuality, and your relationship better.
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