What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy? Its Types And Rules

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,” “vee,” or “quad polyamory,” ethical non-monogamy was added. It’s a complicated form of relationship in the urban world. So, without any further ado, keep reading to know more.

In This Article

What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy?

Ethical non-monogamy is a type of relationship where the partners are free to explore physical 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

Image: Shutterstock

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, there are often problems associated with polygamy in the religious context. Recently, the concept of monogamish has been introduced for people interested in polyamory. 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 romantic partners to have physical 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 romantic 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 physical 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 romantic 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 intimate relations. 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. However, in hierarchical polyamory relationships, priority may be assigned to certain partners over others. It means having a “primary” partner, “secondary” partner or “tertiary” partner.

5. Polyaffective

Polyaffective is a type of ethical non-monogamy

Image: Shutterstock

Polyaffective relationship is a non-intimate 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 intimacy 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-gender 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 physical preferences 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.

protip_icon Do remember
Never confuse cheating with ethical non-monogamy. Cheating involves forming a secret romantic or physical 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

Image: Shutterstock

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 physical or romantic tendencies with multiple partners simultaneously. Three polyamorous people may not want to be in a relationship (known as a throuple or polycule) 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 physical relationships freely outside a committed relationship. Thus, the predominantly intimate 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) romantic 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.

Why Does Someone Choose Ethical Non-Monogamy?

Every individual has their unique reasons for choosing ethical non-monogamy. While some may want to explore their sexual boundaries, a few could be confused about their orientation and may be looking for answers. Some may not be satisfied with their monogamous relationship or craving for emotional attachment outside the relationship. It is also possible to have desires that are being fulfilled in ethical non-monogamous settings (1). There could be several other known or unknown reasons for choosing ethical non-monogamy. Irrespective of the reason, it should be understood that an ethical non-monogamy relationship should be based on communication and trust.

Also, certain rules must be followed when you are a part of an ethical non-monogamy relationship.

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 infidelity or open marriage is illegal where you live, you will face legal consequences if you pursue a romantic or physical 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

Image: Shutterstock

Another important aspect of being ethical and safe is to keep your partner informed if you engage in romantic or lovemaking 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.

protip_icon 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 intimate 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

Image: IStock

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 venereal diseases . 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 intimacy. You can even go a step further and ensure all the parties involved undergo periodic tests for leading venereal diseases 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 physical satisfaction, especially if they do so with the clear and specific goal of addressing unmet intimacy needs 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 romantic desires, change over time. Ethical non-monogamy allows them to explore their persuasion and enter into a romantic relationship with their partner’s consent.

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

Romantic variation, large social networks, feelings of compression (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 desirability 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

Get the high-quality PDF version of this infographic.

Download Infographic in PDF version

Key Pointers

  • Exploring different dimensions of a relationship is what ethical non-monogamy looks like.
  • Trusting your partner enough to allow them to build physical 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. What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy, and Could It Help Your Relationship?
  2. International study finds consensual non-monogamy can be ‘healthy’ relationship option.
  3. Consensual non-monogamy: Table for more than two, please.
Was this article helpful?
The following two tabs change content below.