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You Have More than One Partner? : An Intro to Non-Monogamy

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You Have More than One Partner? : An Intro to Non-Monogamy

Girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, and wives, generally when we picture these relationships in our minds, we think of them as including just two partners.  Ah, but that’s where we may benefit from expanding our lovey imaginations.  These types of “typical” boyfriend-girlfriend, girlfriend-girlfriend, and boyfriend-boyfriend etc. relationships are called monogamous relationships.  However there are several other relationship styles that people choose to participate in that include more than two partners, these are called non-monogamous relationships.

When someone says they are in a non-monogamous relationship, that could mean one of several things.  They could be in a casual, open, swinging, polygamist, or polyamorous relationship.  There are several other variations of non-monogamous relationships, but for the purposes of this article, we will just stick to these five common types.  Everyone has different definitions to go along with these types of commitments, but here is a general definition break down of all the ways people get their lovin’:

Monogamous – Most of us are pretty familiar with this one, but just to be clear…a monogamous relationship is a sexually and emotionally exclusive relationship between two partners where there is an agreement that the partners will be committed to each other and have no outside partners.  If there are outside partners, this is generally considered cheating or being unfaithful.

Casual – Generally, there is no sexual, emotional or romantic commitment in casual relationships.  However, there is at least an emotional or sexual bond or attraction between the partners.  In short, the partners get along together really well and are sexually and/or emotionally compatible; they just don’t expect commitment from each other.

Open – This relationship style is a bit more flexible such that its definition can change depending on the couple.  A good rule of thumb definition is this: an open relationship is between two partners who have decided that they will both have outside sexual partners while remaining emotionally exclusive with each other.  Some choose to have a “don’t ask don’t tell” or a “not in our house/bed” policy about their outside partners, but again it depends on the couple.  Also, things such as STDs/STIs and sexual safety concerns are also generally talked about regularly within open relationships.

Swinging – Can sometimes be known as “partner swapping” and/or a social activity, where a committed couple has decided to have sex with other single partners or couples; sexually engaging with these outside couples generally happens as a couple.  Often, swinger couples find like-minded play partners through swinger meet up groups or websites.

Polygamy – This type of relationship has seen a lot of attention lately through the reality shows such as Sister Wives or My Five Wives. Polygamy generally consists of one person (typically this person is a male) who has married several spouses (generally females), this specific type of polygamy is called polygyny (man marrying multiple women).  A rarer form of polygamy is polyandry (woman marrying multiple men).

Polyamory – This may be the most complex of the non-monogamous relationships because polyamory tends to take on more of a fluid/flexible approach to relationships, while also having its own set of boundaries.  Simply, polyamory can involve an individual who has multiple sexual/emotional/intimate partners with none of those partners taking priority over the others.  Another form of polyamory includes primary and secondary partners; where a couple is each other’s primary partner, and both of them date secondary partners.  Of course, there is the possibility of primary partners becoming secondary partners and vice versa, or having an intermingling of lovers and partners.

There you have it, your first introduction and glimpse into different types of non-monogamous relationships.  Gives a new meaning to the more the merrier, yeah?

Nicole Nelson, Freelancer

Nicole Nelson

A queer, non-monogamous, vegetarian, feminist. Nicole is currently a practicing clinical social worker doing family therapy with a focus on couples therapy and LGBTQ issues. Nicole has worked in the fields of gender and sexuality for the past four years through her academic career and started out in the field at the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health in Rhode Island. Nicole is also a part of the LGBTQ Domestic Violence Coalition in Boston, MA. She continues to grapple with sexuality goodness through her outreach and freelance work.


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