For centuries, monogamous marriage (or a marriage that is presumed to be monogamous) has been the romantic ideal. However, the sexual revolution and the feminist movements of the 20th century have worked together to redefine what a relationship can or should be. As cultural values around gender and sexuality have shifted over the past few decades, alternatives to the heteronormative concept of marriage as a union of “one man and one woman” both legally and emotionally has started to fade which has made way for a rise in non-monogamous dating.
Non-monogamy is certainly not for everyone. There has, over the years, been a debate about whether monogamy is “natural” (ScarJo thinks it’s not) or whether non-monogamous dating is “moral,” but at the end of the day it’s pretty simple. There isn’t an inherent value judgement on either (or there shouldn’t be). Both monogamous and non-monogamous relationships are valid and right, it’s just about information and communication with your partner (or partners).
In the name of information, let’s talk about the varying approaches to non-monogamous dating and relationships… You might realize that it’s something you want to try!
(an outlook on life and how love and sexuality work)
This is probably a concept that most people are familiar with. It’s basically when a couple decides that they would like to sleep with other people despite being in a generally monogamous relationship. Usually those in “open relationships” are committed to each other emotionally while the “openness” refers to an agreement between them that it is alright to engage in sexual activity with other people so long as they follow a set of rules agreed upon between them. Those in open relationships may or may not tell each other when they sleep with other people, but often they are not seeking an emotional connection or long-term partner outside of their relationship with each other (but they might be).
An open relationship might also refer to a couple who regularly engages in sexual activity together, but with additional partners (perhaps the same person for an extended period, or maybe not). The key to what makes it an “open relationship” is that the core relationship—the original couple, if you will—is committed to maintaining their relationship to each other above all else.
Polyamorous (or “poly”) is a sort of umbrella designation that refers to someone who is interested in maintaining multiple, committed relationships with various partners at once. It can also refer to the dating style of a couple or group who are interested in the same. Specific relationship styles that fall under the umbrella of “polyamory” are:
- Polyfidelity: This is exactly what it sounds like—a group of people who practice polyamory but only within their group. The specifics of what exactly polyfidelity look like can vary from relationship to relationship, but the summary is that it’s essentially sexual and emotionally fidelity within a specific group of people rather than with just one other person. A group engaged in polyfidelity might also be in a “group marriage,” which, again, is exactly what it sounds like.
- Hierarchical Polyamory: Hierarchical polyamory is used to refer to relationships in which there are “primary” and “secondary” pairings—which essentially means that bonds between specific members vary and the needs of one couple (or triad) might be placed above another and that hierarchy is discussed and decided upon by those involved. Open relationships might fall under this umbrella, though there are many other ways to do this.
- Solo Polyamory: This term refers to someone who is polyamorous, but whose partners might not be. They might, to the knowledge of their partners, be dating multiple people while their partners are not involved with each other.
- Mono/Poly: This would be what you would consider a couple where one is solo poly. It basically means that one person in the couple is not interested in seeing other people, but has agreed that the other can date outside of their paring.
Fetishes, Sex Acts, and More
(specific acts a person might engage in that don’t necessarily indicate a non-monogamous outlook)
Cuckolding is a sexual fetish that touches on non-monogamy (in the sense that it requires outside partners to participate with a couple), but it’s not really a relationship type. Those who enjoy being cuckolded are considered to fall into the BDSM spectrum and are aroused by humiliation, which is one of the oldest fetishes in the books.
These are pretty straightforward. Group sex is fun sometimes and people do it. It’s outside of monogamy, but often times it’s just an experience to spice things up. That said, people in different types of poly relationships might engage in group sex with their partners as well depending on the relationships defined within int group.
Swinging came about as a movement of sorts in the 1960s (though, I’m sure it happened before then) and is a recreational activity wherein committed couples “partner swap.” It can be done casually between two willing couples, but it often takes place around specific gatherings or events. There are also a number of websites now in place that cater to couples interested in swinging.
There is Relationship Anarchy, which is a dating philosophy that (as the name implies) views dating and relationships to be outside of the realm of definitions or rules. While others might define the activities of a relationship anarchist as being polyamorous, monogamous, or otherwise, those who practice relationship anarchy resist labeling their activities at all viewing that labeling as inherently relative and defined by social pressures. A relationship anarchist may or may not tell their partners about their other relationships, viewing each as existing as in independent entity.
There are many other ways to approach dating, sex, and relationships—and certainly too many to detail here—but this is a pretty good overview of the basics. Maybe one of the things here piqued your interest, maybe not, but in the end there is something relatable in all of these.
Whether you are interested in non-monogamy or not, all of these outlooks put open communication and understanding at the forefront, just like monogamy. Human sexuality is more complex than we’ve acknowledged in the past, but I think it’s clear that in the end, we’re all after the same thing: companionship, emotional fulfillment, and a deep connection. Being interested in one person or many doesn’t change that.
Original by Hannah Briggs