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What is Ethical Non-monogamy?

Ethical non-monogamy is when a partner – or both partners – consent to take part in romantic/sexual relationships with more than one other person. These relationships have always been here, existing throughout history as multiple spouses and concubines to name only a few.

But when coupling up became the common approach, having more than one partner started to be seen as taboo with polyamorous marriages now being classed as illegal in the UK. Today, many have returned to their non-monogamous roots, choosing to settle on multiple partners rather than just the one. 

The history of non-monogamy

Non-monogamous relationships have existed throughout history, dating all the way back to Ancient Mesopotamia. Concubines were widely accepted as sexual partners for a married man. Some anthropologists believe that monogamous relationships gained popularity at the same time as farming and for similar reasons – to grow wealth and to protect future offspring. However back then, polygamy was seen as key for procreation. If your spouse was unable to procreate, taking on more than one was deemed as an act of survival – of prolonging a bloodline. Whereas nowadays, non-monogamy can be implemented for many reasons, such as exploring one’s sexuality.  

Non-monogamy today

A US survey from 2016 showed that one in five participants had previously been in a non-monogamous relationship. In the age of online dating, open relationships are on the rise with people dating more than one person at a time, even if only for a short period. Open relationships mean having more than one sexual partner at a time. Another modern take on non-monogamous relationships is the sugar daddy and sugar baby dynamic. While this mutual arrangement involves money, 34% of sugar daddies are married. While polyamory is the most heard of when it comes to non-monogamy, it is not the only form out there. Polyamorous relationships are committed, however they are not exclusive in terms of romantic or sexual connections.  

What makes non-monogamous relationships ethical?

Easy – consent. Non-monogamy involves having a conversation with your partner to see if they consent to entering a non-monogamous relationship, whereas cheating in relationships is done without the other partner’s consent. This doesn’t mean that cheating doesn’t happen in non-monogamy! When entering a non-monogamous relationship, you and your partner set any needed boundaries. For example, you might be comfortable with your partner partaking in other sexual relations but not romantic ones. Yes, emotional cheating is a thing, and if these boundaries are crossed, it’s cheating. Clear communication of your needs from all involved parties is crucial for a successful relationship.  

'Non-monogamy involves having a conversation with your partner to see if they consent to entering a non-monogamous relationship'

Why non-monogamy might be the answer you’re looking for

Are you having issues with your partner? Not in the sense of, you should end this, but in the way that there are things they can’t do for you. There are many reasons as to why a non-monogamous relationship might suit you and your partner’s lifestyle better. For one, it can allow you to explore your sexuality. You may have found out something new about yourself: maybe you’ve discovered that you are attracted to both men and women while in a committed long term relationship with a man that you don’t want to end, or maybe you enjoy a certain sexual fantasy that makes your partner uncomfortable. In a monogamous relationship, there is a pressure to meet these needs, so an open relationship might alleviate this pressure. Humans have always had emotional and physical needs that might require more than one person to fulfil – whether a friendship or another relationship can solve this is up to you.  

Online dating has become commonplace in a society where it’s not always easy to go out and meet new people. Many people who use apps such as Tinder have reported that they will usually date a few people at a time before settling on who they can see themselves staying with out of their options. This kind of open relationship can give you or your partner/s the freedom to go on different dates with different people before choosing a monogamous relationship with one. It could also help you discover that maybe monogamy isn’t for you.  

The key ingredients for success

The key for successful non-monogamy is trust, honesty, communication and vulnerability. Aren’t they needed for every healthy relationship? Yet the word vulnerability can be daunting. Being vulnerable might not be easy but having those uncomfortable conversations can make all the difference. Trust is also key, since if you don’t trust your partners and yourself, jealousy can arise and no one wants that. An honest conversation is the starting point but remember to bring them with you throughout your journey.  

Recommended reading

Janet. W. Hardy published a book titled The Ethical Slut which kickstarted the discussion back in 1997. The book is still within the top 20 on Amazon for Sex, Ethics & Morality and Family & Social Groups – making it a must-have read for anyone who might be curious.  

Polysecure by Jessica Fern explores attachment and trauma and their influence on relationships, offering six strategies to help secure attachments in multiple relationships.  

Love’s Not Color Blind explores race and representation within polyamory. Written by Kevin Patterson who co-runs a website with Dr Liz Powell, which runs a skills course on how to tackle jealousy and how to treat your partners respectfully, among other issues that can affect a non-monogamous relationship.  

Thriving in Non Monogamy an Ethical Slut’s Guide: Overcome Jealousy, Enjoy Sex, and Honor Yourself by Erin Davidson RCC MA addresses the key issues and hurdles you might face when starting out in a non-monogamous relationship – this book is available on Kindle Unlimited, making it a good place to start.  

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