What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy? Its Types And Rules

In This Article

When the idea of relationships came into being, people believed them to be binary. However, as the world continued to evolve, the meaning got broader, and the term ethical non-monogamy was added. Just like other types of relationships, such as “friends with benefits,” ethical non-monogamy was also formed. It’s a complicated form of relationship in the urban world. So, without any further ado, keep reading to know more!

What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy?

Ethical non-monogamy is a type of relationship where the partners are free to explore sexual or romantic relationships with other people. Unlike conventional non-monogamy, partners in ethical non-monogamy give consent to one another to have intimate interactions with other individuals. Therefore, the most notable hallmark of this form of relationship is that all parties are willing to be in this type of relationship.

Types Of Ethical Non-Monogamy

Although it’s easy to lump all ethical non-monogamy together, there are many types of ethical non-monogamy. Each of these applies to different individuals and caters to various desires and levels of comfort.

1. Polygamy

Polygamy, ethical non-monogamy

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Polygamy is older than conventional monogamist marriages in many societies around the world. Some religions permit people to have several spouses, a widespread practice in some countries. Although this has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and there are often problems associated with polygamy in the religious context. Polygamous relationships may be safe if all parties agree.

2. Swinging

Swinging is likely one of the earliest known forms of non-monogamy outside of marriage. Swinging typically entails two or more couples consensually swapping sexual partners to have sexual relations with someone else.

This is a relatively common type of non-monogamy with a reasonably well-established social subset of people who practice it (“Swingers”). It may also include having a third sexual partner of either gender or even multiple partners in a group environment, rather than simply “swapping” partners or spouses.

3. Open relationships

The word “open relationships” refers to those who enjoy being in a relationship but will often participate in romantic or sexual acts with other people, with their partner’s permission and approval. It is not limited by age or gender and often involves bringing other people into a couple’s sex life. However, most open relationships have pre-established guidelines that adherents are supposed to follow for their pleasure, protection, and to prevent unwanted feelings, such as envy.

4. Polyamory / Polyfidelity

A few aspects of Polyamorous relationships are similar to open relationships. However, polyamorous interactions are not limited to sexual intimacy. Instead, it is about forging full-fledged romantic relationships with other people. A person in a polyamorous relationship will have a romantic, love-based relationship with people beyond their primary romantic partner. Such relationships involve going on dates or celebrating anniversaries with other partners.

5. Polyaffective

Polyaffective is a type of ethical non-monogamy

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Polyaffective relationship is a non-sexual relationship between two individuals usually related to one another through a polyamorous relationship. For example, two persons in a polyamorous or open relationship with the same person could become close to one another, but without any sex in the equation. Such individuals could be considered to be in a polyaffective relationship.

People in polyaffective relationships could be in a heterosexual or same-sex polyamorous relationship. They typically regard each other as good friends or best friends.

6. Relationship anarchy

Relationship anarchy is a niche of non-monogamous individuals who do not like to give a conventional definition to their relationship at all. Rather than adhering to relationship expectations and meanings, they prefer to have an organic relationship that can develop and adapt according to both partner’s needs and desires.

They are frequently critical of relationship definitions that categorize people based on their sexual orientation or marital status. They oppose the idea of defined rules and limits in a relationship, believing that love should push the boundaries of a relationship rather than imposed restrictions. They firmly believe that people can have a fulfilling relationship without conforming to societal expectations or compromising their needs.

Do remember
Never confuse cheating with ethical non-monogamy. Cheating involves forming a secret romantic or sexual connection with someone outside the relationship, while ethical non-monogamy involves consensual and open relationships with multiple partners.

Ethical Non-Monogamy Vs. Polyamory

Ehical non-monogamy may include polyamory

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Although people who are ethically non-monogamous can practice polygyny (having multiple wives) and polyandry (having multiple husbands), polyamory is based on having romantic feelings for more than one individual.

“Poly” means “multiple,” and “Amor” means “love.” Polyamory differentiates itself by its intent to explore sexual or romantic tendencies with multiple partners simultaneously. Three polyamorous people may not want to be in a relationship with someone outside the trio, while a non-monogamous couple or trio might be open to such a relationship. Therefore, non-monogamy may include polyamory, but it is not synonymous with it.

Ethical Non-Monogamy Vs. Open Relationship

Ethical non-monogamy could include other aspects of a relationship, such as love and emotional intimacy. However, open relationships are often focused on having sexual encounters freely outside a committed relationship. Thus, the predominantly sexual nature of the person’s desires when seeking an external relationship differentiates plain or standard ethical non-monogamous relationships from open relationships.

People in open relationships also tend to avoid investing too much emotional energy in their partners because their primary motivation is to have another (or multiple) sexual partners with their partner’s consent. Many open relationships have rules to ensure that neither party is too emotionally invested in the relationship to prevent crossing the line from casual to serious.

Ethical Non-Monogamy Rules

Non-monogamy can get messy and complicated. Before entering into an ethical non-monogamous relationship, one must develop rules to prevent things from becoming complicated. We have compiled a list of some rules that non-monogamous couples may follow.

1. Ensure your partner is willing to engage in ethical non-monogamy

If one pursues non-monogamy and their partner is not on board, things could go wrong in a partnership or marriage. In reality, this removes the “ethical” aspect of the “ethical non-monogamy” since doing so without the partner’s consent is unethical and immoral.

It could hurt your partner and cause friction, resulting in the loss of your relationship or marriage. If adultery is illegal where you live, you will face legal consequences if you pursue a romantic or sexual relationship outside your marriage. However, it should be noted that non-monogamy should not be forced on the partner. Oftentimes, some partners give their consent, fearing losing the partner. Hence, this should be taken care of.

2. Inform your partner when you engage in non-monogamous acts

Inform your partner when you engage in non-monogamous acts

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Another important aspect of being ethical and safe is to keep your partner informed if you engage in romantic or sexual activity with someone else. Even if they are aware of it, it is essential to remind them before the next encounter to ensure that they are still okay with what you will do and with whom.

Quick tip
If you and your partner are considering a non-monogamous relationship but are having difficulty agreeing, you may seek the help of a therapist. A therapist can provide a neutral space for you to discuss your feelings and help find a solution that works for both of you.

3. Define boundaries

Establishing boundaries is crucial if you and your partner are in a non-monogamous relationship to prevent conflict and fallout. There could be certain activities that you would like to keep between you and your partner and not share with someone else.

It could be sexual or something as simple as not taking the other person to your favorite restaurant or introducing them to your family. The secret to making this relationship work is that everyone is equally willing and comfortable observing certain limits.

4. Prioritize your primary partner

A primary partner is the starting point for the majority of non-monogamous partnerships. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize your primary partner. It means giving more importance to your primary partner in situations where they need more attention.

If you and your primary partner have a common relationship with another person, they must accept that you are a couple who will be closer to one another than them.

5. Communicate any hierarchy in the relationship

There will certainly be a hierarchy if you and your partner are in a non-monogamous relationship with a person or multiple common people. This must be made clear to you, your partner, and other persons involved. It can help prevent one or more people from getting emotionally involved and hurt their feelings at some point.

6. Address jealousy rationally and calmly

When more than two people are romantically involved, there is often space for jealousy. If you encounter such a situation, deal with it calmly, focusing on the resolution rather than proving who is at fault. Discuss the issue and the solutions unanimously so that all are on the same page regarding the relationship.

7. Give importance to everyone’s privacy

Avoid talking about your relationship in public places

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Not everyone is comfortable in coming out with their non-monogamous relationship status. Ensure you or your partner respect any of the involved party’s privacy and keep the relationship to yourself. Avoid talking about your relationship or making it obvious in public places. Select a dedicated place with adequate privacy where you may express your feelings without letting anyone else know.

8. Prioritize safety

Having multiple partners inadvertently increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It may also lead to unwanted pregnancy due to carelessness. Your safety and that of your partners should be paramount in an ethical non-monogamous relationship. Use protection and set rules for acceptable sexual acts. You can even go a step further and ensure all the parties involved undergo periodic tests for leading STIs to ensure maximum safety.

Although many people may not favor non-monogamous relationships, there is an upcoming trend where many couples prefer it. The advent of dating apps and other internet-based platforms has made it easier for people to forge such relationships. Despite the flexibility of approach, an ethical non-monogamous relationship works best when all partners provide voluntary consent and respect one another’s privacy and safety.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is ethical non-monogamy healthy?

Yes. According to research, consensual or ethical non-monogamy is a healthier option in a relationship. Individuals who engage in ethical non-monogamy report significant increases in sexual satisfaction, especially if they do so with the clear and specific goal of addressing sexual incompatibilities in their relationships (1).

2. Why is ethical non-monogamy on the rise?

Ethical non-monogamy is rising since people’s feelings, particularly romantic and sexual feelings, change over time. Ethical non-monogamy allows them to explore their sexual preferences and enter into a romantic relationship with their partner’s consent.

3. What are the benefits of ethical non-monogamy?

Sexual variation, large social networks, feelings of compersion (the opposite of jealousy), and personal growth are advantages of ethical non-monogamy. Individuals in ethical non-monogamy relationships are also said to be happier, more satisfied, and committed in love (2).

Ethical non-monogamy is a complicated relationship type that more people are accepting. Couples may prefer it for several reasons, such as to explore one’s sexuality or for a thrill. Although people generally view all non-monogamous relationships as the same, ethical non-monogamy has different types. Further, whether a couple wants to be in an ethical non-monogamous relationship or not is their choice. However, certain rules, such as obtaining the voluntary consent of all partners, defining boundaries, and respecting each other’s privacy, should be followed to make the relationship work and avoid complications.

Infographic: Ethical Non-Monogamy Rules

A relationship opposite to the typical rules of being with someone is what ethical non-monogamy is about. If you are curious about it or are considering the idea of such a relationship for yourself and your partner, here is a concise and easy-to-understand rule book to get you started.

ethical non-monogamy rules [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Exploring different dimensions of a relationship is what ethical non-monogamy looks like.
  • Trusting your partner enough to allow them to build sexual relationships with an outsider takes courage and faith.
  • The fundamental rule of engaging yourself in ethical non-monogamy is to ensure your partner is comfortable with the idea.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. International study finds consensual non-monogamy can be ‘healthy’ relationship option.
  2. Consensual non-monogamy: Table for more than two, please.

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