When I talk about ethical non-monogamy, I'm talking about relationships who consciously choose to allow space for intimacy between more than just two people. They might identify as swingers, polyamorous, or in open relationships.
But in all cases, intimacy is shared with more than just one partner. This could mean sexual, sensual, emotional, or physical intimacy that typically in monogamous relationships is saved for just two partners.
There are four key elements that make this different than infidelity or cheating- which can sometimes be confused for ethical non-monogamy (I often call those examples unethical non-monogamy). You can use these elements to help keep yourself in check if you're asking "How do I know if I'm practicing ethically?"
This is what separates solo polyamory from traditional dating, and monogamy from default monogamy. Intentionality means making a conscious choice about the kind of relationship you want to create and being upfront with all people you want to be intimate with about your intention. It might sound like this:
"I'm really not looking to commit to an on-going relationship, but I want to sleep with you."
"I want more than one love in my life. I hope we can continue building our love while I connect with other potential loves."
"My partner and I often see other women together and individually. I hope you're comfortable knowing I am not interested in finding another life-partner, but I really want to spend more time with you."
The examples above also demonstrate the kind of honesty required in ethical open relationships. Unfortunately, it's not always easy to get clear about what you want, and (just as in monogamous relationships) sometimes what you want changes.
If you're going to practice ethically it's essential you have a way to get clear about what you want. This might mean hiring a coach or counselor, joining a polyamory support group, or telling a few close friends who can help you work through the sometimes confusing desires you'll have in non-monogamy.
Lots of folks also benefit from having a meditation or writing practice where they can tune-in to themselves and find clarity so they can chare it honestly with the people they care about.
The bottom line is: you cannot practice ethically if you cannot practice honestly.
Here's the really big difference between ethical and unethical non-monogamy. If you're practicing consent (meaning each partner gets to sign on, yes, they want in on this arrangement) then you 've got this ethical thing down.
But the thing about consent is, it can shift at any time. So to practice consent well you have to have a process to communicate about and circle back checking-in to make sure folks are still on the same page.
And a lot of times not everyone is on the same page. I mean in a two-person relationship it can be difficult to find agreement, so the more folks you have the more complex this can become. It can become especially difficult when one of you wants to "take things slower" than the other.
Finally, ethical non-monogamy means respecting the boundaries of each partner in the dynamic. Here are a few ways I've seen boundaries violated in unethical non-monogamy:
In primary relationships:
- reading each other's texts without permission
- online stalking new partners
- using technology to follow a partner on a date
- pushing a partner or trying to convert them to something they don't want
- prying for information when a partner returns from a date
In additional relationships:
- sharing online profiles with original partners
- sharing photos with primary partners
- giving other partners private, identifying, or demographic information without checking in first
- pressuring a partner to change their agreements with other people
Just be sure you have consent to offer whatever you're sharing. Agreement and checking-back are key to consent.
If you want help implementing ethical non-monogamy for the first time give me a call. That's my favorite topic to chat about!
Hi! I'm glad you're reading. Let me know if I can help you:
- reconnect with passion & desire in long-term relationships
- move beyond jealousy, fear, and insecurity
- manage intense emotions that arise in conflicts
- change communication & codependent relationship patterns
- open your relationship & practice ethical polyamory
I lead couples retreats, host workshops, and see private clients online (and in Portland, OR).
Call me for a free consultation to rethink the way you do relationships.
Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.