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What is Ethical Non Monogamy?

Presented by BetterHelp.

Most people believe that monogamy – i.e., having only one partner at a time – is “natural” or the only “right” way of being in a relationship. But technically, monogamy is extremely rare in the animal kingdom.

Research shows that less than 5% of mammals are monogamous, and even among seemingly monogamous animals, many still engage in ‘extra-pair copulation,’ which is when an animal mates with another one that’s not their regular sexual partner. Scholars think this behavior may be a way for females to gain extra protection, food, or nesting materials, since it’s very common among birds.

It is also believed that until the Paleolithic period, when humans were still nomads, the idea of the monogamous couple didn’t exist. In fact, studies suggest that early humans started shifting towards monogamy about 3.5 million years ago, although scientists still don’t know for sure why this happened.

Nowadays, only 17% of human cultures are strictly monogamous. And many societies embrace a mix of marriage and pairing types – although most couples define themselves as monogamous.

Within this context, many people believe that monogamy may not be so much a ‘natural’ human behavior, but a social construct that we are taught from very early in our lives. Some scholars even go as far as proposing that long-lasting monogamy is unrealistic and could be one of the contributing factors to the high rates of divorce.

What is ethical non-monogamy?

Ethical non-monogamy is simply an umbrella term used to describe any form of relationship style outside of monogamy that’s consented to and agreed upon by all partners. Basically, people who participate in ethical non-monogamy can have more than one romantic and sexual partner at a time. For a non-monogamous relationship to be ethical, everyone involved must be aware and participate voluntarily in the dynamic, without coercion, guilt-tripping, or pressure.

Read more about ethical non-monogamy here

Isn’t that the same as cheating, though?

The concept of cheating in a relationship involves one person violating the boundaries or standards of the relationship by becoming romantically or sexually involved with someone other than their significant other. But ethical non-monogamy is rooted in consent, meaning that you and your partner have to agree to practice it beforehand, so it is not cheating.

That doesn’t mean that unfaithfulness can’t exist within a non-monogamous relationship. Going against what both parties agreed upon, whether or not it involves sex, would still be considered cheating. In other words, breaking agreements and lying about it is and will always be cheating, whether you are in a monogamous or non-monogamous relationship.

Types of ethical non-monogamous relationships

The term ethical non-monogamy encompasses all the different ways a person can explore love and sex with multiple partners in a way that’s ethical, respectful, and consensual for everyone involved. Here are a few types of non-monogamous relationships.

  • Polygamy: being married to multiple partners.
  • Polyamory: the act of having intimate relationships with more than one person at a time.
  • Hierarchical polyamory: having intimate relationships with more than one person at a time, but having a primary relationship. This is, for example, a married couple that chooses to explore polyamory but still considers each other and their relationship their main priorities.
  • Solo polyamory: the opposite of hierarchical polyamory. This can look like a person who is in multiple relationships but doesn’t need or want a primary partner.
  • Polyfidelity: a relationship between a group of people who are all equal partners and choose not to engage in sexual or romantic intimacy with anyone outside the group.
  • Open relationship: this often refers to a couple that agrees to have sexual relationships with other people, but generally doesn’t involve forming sentimental connections outside the primary couple.
  • Casual dating or casual sex: when two individuals who are dating also see other people and everyone is aware.
  • Swinging: when a couple “swaps” partners to have sex with another couple.
  • Relationship anarchy: this relationship approach rejects any rules or expectations except the ones agreed upon by the partners in the relationship.
  • Monogamish: a colloquial term used to describe a mostly monogamous couple that dabbles in non-monogamy occasionally, without lying or cheating.

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