If you've heard the term “ethical non-monogamy” and are confused or curious about it, you've come to the right place. First and foremost, ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term for a type of a relationship style that can be practiced in a multitude of ways. The common thread is that in ethically non-monogamous relationships, all partners are aware of the open relationship dynamic and fully consent to their partner(s) being romantically and/or sexually intimate outside of the relationship.
How Do Ethical Non-Monogamous Couples Function?
Honest communication essential to its function, ENM is based on consciously choosing what works best for the relationship rather than other factors, like societal norms for intimacy. In that sense, ENM eliminates the concept of cheating because everyone involved is aware of the open arrangement.
In her book Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Non-monogamy, psychotherapist and trauma and relationship expert Jessica Fern shines light on how a deep dedication to communication is required in practicing ethical non-monogamy with a partner: “It is paramount for them to dialogue with their partner about whether or not that partner wants to be in the role of an attachment figure for them, as well as honestly assessing if the partner has enough time, capacity and/or space in their life and other relationships to show up to the degree required for being polysecure together.”
Are More People Practicing Ethical Non-Monogomy Than Before?
The practice of ethical non-monogamy may be in the rise in Western culture, or perhaps, it’s finally being talked truthfully about. Notice a theme here? It’s honesty. Using two separate samples based on the U.S. Census, Haupert and colleagues found that one-fifth of the population in the United States (21.9 percent in the first sample and 21.2 percent in the second sample) has engaged in consensual non-monogamy at some point in their lives.
While it may not be for everyone, ENM is on the rise, and hopefully, that can indicate that honest communication is trending. For those who wish to explore it, ENM can create a real opportunity to learn to communicate desires, boundaries and needs without holding back.
Here are a few categories that fall under ethical non-monogamy.
1. Solo Polyamory
Solo polyamory refers to a person who has more than one romantic relationship but doesn’t desire to have any of the traditional markers of commitment, like a joint bank account, a shared living space or a marriage with any of their intimate partners. They are experiencing intimate connections with partners on very autonomous terms. It’s pretty much like living a single lifestyle while remaining ethically open about being intimate with more than one person at a time.
Sometimes known as closed poly-monogamy or polyamory, this relationship involves three or more partners in an exclusive relationship. Anyone outside of the designated relationship is off-limits. This can look like everyone in the relationship dating each other or one person having multiple partners who are monogamous with just them.
3. Hierarchical Polyamory
Hierarchical polyamory involves a couple who consider each other their first priority or “primary partner.” With each other’s consent, they are free to pursue secondary romantic relationships. There are sometimes rules and limitations to how far the other intimate involvements can progress.
4. Non-Hierarchical Polyamory
This arrangement has no primary couple at its center. In fact, there are no labels on any of the people in the intimate relationship. The idea behind this is that everyone has a seat at the table when making decisions, rather than deferring to a primary couple.