Written by Jay Johnson

Everywhere I turn on dating app profiles, I see “non-monogamous,” “poly and partnered,” or my favorite, “monogamish.” What does this say about our generation? Do people these days need multiple fuck buddies more than ever or what? Does this mean that no one likes committed single-partner relationships anymore? I don’t think so, but it is a fascinating new trend, if I can call it that. With the world constantly changing, this relationship style might eventually be the new normal, just like our handy masks. But how is it that people can shift their focus from one partner to the next? How can they keep up with the dates and anniversaries? How can they make time for multiple partners and how can they make sure that no one partner gets jealous and everyone gets the attention, affection and sex, they need? And is there a limit on how may partners can be taken on? I know! Lots of questions come to mind when dealing with non-monog relationships! You ask one, and three more surface in the mind.. so after much dating, researching, and asking the right questions to the right people, I have some of the answers that might shed light on this emerging dating fashion that taken [mainly] the queer world by storm.

What is non-monogamous or ethically non-monogamous?

First things first, we need to define what a non-monog relationship is.. it’s simply the practice of having more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship, where each relationship is consensual by all participating. There are many forms of NM relationships and they each have their own rules and guidelines, based on their intended outcome. Cheating, or one person having a romantic or sexual relationship with another outside of their committed relationship, is the oldest form of NM, and for many reasons, doesn’t always work out for the couple. In this case, one partner is usually left in the dark about the other’s extra-relational affairs, and most often ends with a broken heart, or windows.

Many people have recently found that rather than cheating, they can move into a NM relationship and enjoy all the benefits of multiple partners, without the heartbreak.. or windows. Most dabble first in what’s called Swinging. Swinging is the practice of couples exchanging partners for sexual acts, either at parties specifically resigned for this, or clubs and other events. This gives the couple the freedom to sleep with other couples for either a brief encounter, or to build a relationship with another couple or groups of friends for years, and have long-term relations with them. Those who want a bit more than swinging, which is typically about sex only, move to another form of NM relationship called Open. In an Open relationship the couple seeks other partners, outside of the primary partnership for sexual and romantic relationships. Each Open relationship is different and operates under the rules specified by all participants, so only those involved know what’s ethical and what’s not. Polyamory is the most common type of Open relationship and it allows for multiple partners for sexual purposes as well as emotional and non-sexual purposes. Polyfidelity and Polyaffective are part of the Polyam practice and can include couples, thirds, fourths, groups, and much more. Monogamish is also becoming popularized amongst young, dating adults in that it gives the primary partnership the added benefit of taking on partners for sexual relationships. It also includes slightly more restrictions like one-night stands only, or just kissing, etc.

So that about sums up what NM relationships are. Now, how do they work? I’m going to share my research findings in the next few sections. I’ve ventured a bit in different forms of ethical non-monogamy myself and I’ve spoken extensively to those in the community (and out of it!) to get the general consensus on how it all works so that everyone is a ‘happy camper.’

How Non-monog relationships work

The basis of any successful NM relationship is communication. Without communication, even the most understanding people will fail to consider their partners successfully. If you are considering or already involved in a NM relationship, keep communication at the forefront of your mind, so everyone is respected, loved and being treated fairly and honestly. I heard a story recently, from a friend in a “throuple” (three-way couple) relationship with their partners. One partner they spent lots of time with and basically lived with, while the other was on her own and a little more separated from the other two. Communication hadn’t been the priority for the one living on her own and she ended up being left out of a fun date. It wasn’t intended to leave her out or exclude her, but the more time the other two spent together, the more they forgot to communicate and check in on their out-of-house partner. Now this didn’t cause a huge rift in the relationship and they were able to talk through it, but it could have ended in a breakup of one of the partners. Always communicate.

Needless to say when entering into relationships that involve so many people there must be clear guidelines to follow so that no one gets hurt or feels left out or disrespected. Whatever the relationship rules are, adhere to them so as not to upset and potentially risk losing a partner. Consideration is also key when dealing with so many moving parts (literally) so always considering your actions and how you would feel if a partner behaved the way you’re considering, will be greatly beneficial to the success of your relationships.

Consideration also means cleanliness with sex toys and STI testing. Always making sure to keep separate dildos and anal plugs at different partners’ places, so as not to mix, will greatly help to reduce the mingling of juices from one partnership to the next. We know sex is a huge part of the reason most people enter into NM relationships, so having the right tools (toys) is always a must. Some join into NM relationships because they’re looking to explore more of their sexual nature. A swinger couple I’m acquainted with always had desires to try BDSM, and after joining their first club, they were able to express themselves more freely and achieve the sexual highs they’d been looking for. For some people, sexy toys like anal plugs, gags, floggers, handcuffs, etc, have all been deemed taboo in their lives, so beginning a NM lifestyle helps them to explore themselves and using these toys. Knowing the proper care for your toys is a must though, so if you’re not using warm water and soap, a compatible toy cleaner, then you should be boiling your toys that aren’t motorized. Keeping yourself and your partners safe should be one of the main precautions you take.

Regular STI and HIV/AIDS testing is also something to greatly consider when entering multiple partnerships situations. Making testing mandatory and having separate toys for all partnerships is something I’ve heard is non-negotiable in most cases.

Interesting in trying a non-monog?

My advice to anyone wanting to dip into the NM pool, is to just try different things out with other consenting adults in your life. If you’re already partnered and monogamous, make sure this is something your partner is on-board with, or you may find yourself in a you-nogamous relationship of one, ha! If your partner is not ready to share or be shared, you might wanna close that chapter OR find a different partner that will consent. I’m all for everyone living their most authentic lives, and sometimes that means admitting to yourself that you weren’t built to just nest with one person for the rest of your life. Or even a series of one persons for the rest of your life.

Some people feel that non-monogamy is a lifestyle while others feel it’s actually a sexual identity. I don’t make any claim to knowing which it is, but I do know that whether or not you choose to live non-monogamously or feel the NM life chose you, if you have any extra-relational desires that won’t go away, you should strongly consider exploring the practice for a while. The last thing you want is to be jumping from one relationship to another, ending them because you’re always cheating and looking for sexual release through other individuals than you’re partnered with. If you always have the wandering eye, it may be in your best interest to explore the practice to see how it fits into your lifestyle.

Until next time..