by Michael Love
You’ve found this magazine and picked it up, and you may be wondering… “What the heck is ENM? What is this magazine all about?”
ENM stands for Ethical Non-Monogamy. This article will help you understand what Ethical Non-monogamy means to us, and it will serve as a launching point for a series of articles where we will break down the many different types of Non-monogamy, their philosophies, and a little history. We will explore the various ways we all engage in our crazy lifestyle, and the many ways we all do it… I mean… not “do it”… sex is a very prevalent part of our lifestyle, and that part is a pretty basic human function… However what we really want to do is provide an exploration of how we engage in the many ways we connect and how we relate in our connections.
It stands to reason that the first thing we should cover is ethical non-monogamy in general. What is ethical non-monogamy, why do people do it, how do people do it? What does it all mean?
Here is the definition of non-monogamy according to Wikipedia:
Non-monogamy (or nonmonogamy) is an umbrella term for every practice or philosophy of intimate relationship that does not strictly hew to the standards of monogamy, particularly that of having only one person with whom to exchange sex, love, and affection. In that sense, “nonmonogamy” may be as accurately applied to infidelity and extramarital sex as to group marriage or polyamory.Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-monogamy
More specifically, “non-monogamy” indicates forms of interpersonal relationship, intentionally undertaken, in which demands for exclusivity (of sexual interaction or emotional connection, for example) are attenuated or eliminated, and individuals may form multiple and simultaneous sexual or romantic bonds. This stands in contrast to monogamy, yet may arise from the same psychology.
While Wikipedia is not necessarily a reliable, citable source, I think this is a good definition, and it covers pretty much everything I would. Indeed, Non-monogamy is the spectrum under which all types of non-monogamous relationships fall. From swinging, to polyamory, and consensual non-monogamy, to cheating and “don’t ask don’t tell.”
“Ethical” non-monogamy takes the non-ethical forms of non-monogamy out of the equation. Things like cheating and other forms of non-consensual non-monogamy are excluded from our spectrum because they are the things that make what we do less wholesome, and are intentionally harmful to the integrity of a relationship. There is a huge difference between having sex with multiple partners with full disclosure and consent, verses the deceptive practice of cheating and non-disclosure.
I love the term “umbrella.” Whether you’re a swinger or polyamorous, we all kind of reside in the same corner of the community… under the same umbrella, in that we all engage in sexual and romantic interactions to some degree with multiple partners.
I really see ethical non-monogamy as a spectrum. One one end of the spectrum, you have those who engage in non-monogamy purely for the frisky friction, the sexual gratification with no emotional connection what-so-ever. The “stranger sex” thrill seekers, and random casual sex lovers would fall into this extreme end of the spectrum.
On the other end of the spectrum you have the people who seek multiple partners for the emotional connection, and sex may or may not even be a part of their dynamic. People who are polyamorous in nature tend to gravitate nearer to this end.
The reality is, very few people actually actually reside on either end of the extremes of the spectrum. Swingers are often engaging in sexual encounters with friends, sometimes regularly… they often times pair up and sometimes, have in place agreements where they don’t play outside of their dynamic. There is at least a friendly connection, and this pushes them further away from the “strictly casual” side of the spectrum more toward the middle with some loose feelings attached.
Likewise, some Poly people tend to keep their relationships more loosely connected, or they may also engage in more casual relationships occasionally. This also pushes them more toward the middle. The reality is, everyone has a different approach, expectations, and desires in what they are looking for, so when you start trying to categorize and label people, things can get sticky.
What makes Ethical Non-Monogamy “ethical”? It’s really about communication (disclosure), honesty, and respect. Ethical non-monogamy means that you are acting with the full knowledge and consent of your partners. It means you’ve communicated with your partners about sex and intentions, and the risks associated with it. It means you have established boundaries, and are acting within those boundaries. Different people will have different boundaries so it also means you’ve talked with your prospective partners about what their boundaries are, and are staying within those boundaries.
Being ethical, means to be fully prepared to “give” what you expect to “get”. One of the most common forms of unethical behavior in Non-monogamy, in my honest opinion, are people who impose double standards on their partners. Situations where its ok for one partner to have multiple partners, but the other partner is more limited, or not allowed at all to seek other relationships. The One Penis Policy is a very real thing for some couples, and are among many forms of unethical behavior in open relationships. The One Penis Policy exists in a coupling where the couple can seek out as many partners as they want, but the male part of the couple is the only male partner allowed. (See also Unicorn Hunting)
“Ethical” also means disclosure. An important part of any conversation with a prospective partner is a conversation about STI’s. What your status is, especially if you’re potentially exposing someone, is an absolute. This is formal conversation that does not always happen but, if you knowingly have an STI and you engage with someone without disclosing you are definitely not being ethical.
All of this is a really long way of saying “ethical” means to do no harm. You’re not setting out to hurt any of your partners, you’re acting in a way that respects everyone’s needs and wants, and is fully disclosed, and done with enthusiastic consent.
“Aren’t you just giving each other permission to cheat?” It’s a phrase we hear often among our more vanilla friends. As someone who has been married more times than most would consider healthy… And having had the majority of my relationships end because of infidelity, it really surprised me that I was able to not only participate in non-monogamous relationships, but I thrived in then. With my history of having been cheated on so many times, I grew to have an inherent distrust in my partners and was insecure in my relationships. I could not imagine ever being in a place where I would be ok with my partner having sex with other men. I was pleasantly surprised when I found that by having the ability to give my consent, and being included in the conversation, it didn’t feel at all like I was being cheated on, in fact… it felt like an adventure! The icing on the cake was that I got to have adventures of my own, which was really exciting for me.
The hurtful part of cheating, isn’t that your partner is rubbing their sexy parts with someone else’s sexy parts… when it comes right down to it, it’s really about the deception. It is about the “I’m keeping you locked up in a committed relationship, while I go out and sow some oats behind your back and without your knowledge.” With ethical non-monogamy, that is taken out of the equation. Ethical non-monogamy means it’s all above board, done with full disclosure with your partners and their consent, with negotiated boundaries, and respect. Other than the fact that the whole rubbing sexy parts still happens, it is almost the polar opposite of cheating.
Why do people engage in Ethical Non-Monogamy? This is a question for which the response will be huge. There are probably as many reasons for engaging in multiple sexual relationships as there are people. I think humans are not really designed for monogamy. If you look at our nearest primate relatives, most interact in “communities” and provide for each other, and procreate with multiple partners. Arguably, humans are more civilized and we have been “programmed” for monogamy. Monogamy attempts to create a more stable situation for lifelong relationships, but for most people it doesn’t work. While some relationships last for decades, the reality is that statistically after 6-10 years people tend to get bored, or need some kind of change. It is the “programming” that pushes people beyond that point…some are successful, but many are not. This often leads to serial-monogamy… where we are monogamous with one partner, until that relationship ends, and then we get into another monogamous relationship… think about how many people do this on and on until they die.
I have an analogy that I like to share with people that goes like this… I LOVE pizza… Like… I really love it. I think I could live on pizza and eat it for the rest of my life. Yes… I love it that much. Imagine eating nothing but pizza for the rest of your life… Like… Life will be REALLY good for awhile… but after awhile, pizza isn’t going to have that “treat” feel anymore… You’re going to get really tired of it. After awhile a cheeseburger is going to sound really good and the more you’re forced to eat a steady diet of pizza… the more and more that cheeseburger is going to look like filet mignon. Until the day comes when you do it… you sneak out, and grab yourself a cheeseburger… I mean… it’s just food right?
I know, you’re saying… but pizza is an inanimate object… Pizza doesn’t care if you step out and grab a cheeseburger. People have feelings… people will care. EXACTLY! So after years of a steady diet of the same person… You’re desiring something with someone else, but you resist it why? Because this person you’ve committed to will be hurt? What about your needs? Will you holding in these needs really make the relationship better? Or will it be a catalyst that will ultimately drive you to the breaking point? What if your partner could be a true partner in every sense of the word? Your partner could say… “You know? Things have gotten comfortable to the point of being kinda stale… Maybe we should explore this non-monogamy thing?” And have it be something you do together. The most successful couples come into non-monogamy looking to find adventure and excitement, and that excitement enhances the beautiful relationship that they already have (even if they choose to play and date separately).
When my wife and I stumbled into non-monogamy… And I mean that in every sense of the word, we were not looking for non-monogamy… Weren’t even curious about it, we didn’t even realize how stale our relationship had become. We were incredibly close even then, but when we both started engaging with other people both sexually and non-sexually… We were excited by the energy. The thing we loved the most was the way it opened up pure and honest expression. Almost immediately, I found that in our vanilla lives, just walking through the grocery store, either she or I would notice someone we thought was attractive. Before we discovered non-monogamy we would keep any thoughts of our attraction to this stranger to ourselves and avert our attention. Now we could not only express how we felt honestly and share openly with each other, but if an opportunity magically came our way, we could even act on it with the full support of each other. We found that this energy added life to our relationship what we had not even known had faded. It brought us closer together and made us stronger.
Why do we pair bond with one partner for life? Why does monogamy exist at all? We don’t do this in any other relationship in our lives? We don’t say to people… You’re my best friend, I’m committed to this friendship, there will be no other friends for the rest of my life.” That would be kind of creepy wouldn’t it? Why are we forced to choose one partner to have sex with for the rest of our lives? That’s a lot of pressure… Choose wisely, if you’re lucky the sex will be amazing, if not… It’s only for the rest of your life. No room for learning, no room for growth… Oh… and I hope they like EVERYTHING you like… because there won’t be anyone else to share that experience with… just pizza… for life!
In ethical non-monogamy, we have a mentality of no one person can be your everything. That too would be a lot of pressure. I’ve learned through my non-monogamous adventures that I enjoy a lot more than what my wife and I have done alone over the years. I’ve discovered a bit of a dominant sadist side of myself that I didn’t know existed because she is not into that sort of thing. I thought I was pretty good at the sexy stuff, but I’ve learned more about how to please a woman in the eight years I’ve been non-monogamous than I did in my 40-something years before it. My wife has learned new things too… she gave a pretty good blowjob before, but now…. The difference is mind blowing.
I have a friend who says… “I have many different things I like to do, and no one person loves to do all of those things. I have a poker buddy who doesn’t like to go fishing, and I have a fishing buddy who doesn’t like to watch sports, and a have a friend I hang out with who loves to watch sports, but doesn’t like fishing or poker. We can “settle” for the one person who will fill a handful of needs for the rest of our lives, or we can choose to engage with all of them and live a more fulfilled life.”
Indeed it’s true… No two of my relationships are the same, in fact some of them are very different. My wife LOVES sushi… I cannot stand it, I don’t even like being around people eating it. In monogamy world, she would have far less opportunities to go out and eat sushi with someone she cares about. I LOVE that she has partners who love sushi, who take her out to eat sushi regularly… because I don’t like limiting her. I can’t be her everything, I wouldn’t even want to try, but by supporting and empowering her relationships with other people, by being a loving and supportive non-monogamous partner I’m helping her enjoy all of the aspects of life that she desires.
Personally I actually LOVE the ability to explore the different kinds of relationships with people. I love knowing as I’m meeting this person that there is no limit on where our relationship will go other than what we choose… We may be just friends and hang out, or we may have some extra benefits, or even a more serious relationship, where we will date, and have all of the aspect of a full on relationship. Exploring these things with people is very fulfilling for me… Monogamous people will never have this, and will never truly understand it.
How do people connect in Ethical Non-monogamy? Where do I find partners who are open? This can be more of a challenge in some places than others. There are swingers clubs for those who want to explore more casual sex connections. There are organized groups if you can find them, most of them tend to be more polyamorous in nature because the swinging and casual sex crowd tends to be more closeted and secretive, but they do exist. Almost every dating site, and singles site, now has a non-monogamous option for relationship preference… So they can be good ways to connect. Sites like Adult Friend Finder, and Fetlife will also help you find partners who may be looking for casual connections and friends with benefits. There are also sites out there that are designed with swingers in mind. Most have them have limited functionality for free, but offer a lot for a small monthly fee. Check out Kasidie.com, Quiver.us, and Swinglifestyles.com.
Myself, like most guys, are less appealing on paper than we are in real life. I don’t consider myself to be conventionally attractive in most social circles. I definitely cannot compete with the shallow mentality of most dating sites, there are just so many men, my looks do not stand out. If anything they are a detriment. I find I do a lot better meeting and connecting with people by getting out to social events, and use my social skills, and personality. A lot of times, people who would never even give me a second look, are drawn in by my personality and my complete respect of my potential new friends.
In what ways do people engage in ethical non-monogamy? That will truly be the purpose of this series of exploration. In the coming months, we will explore the various different ways people go about their exploration of ethical non-monogamy. From the very casual connections of random sex encounters to swinging, to “friends with benefits”, to the more emotionally connected versions of polyamory, solo-poly, Kitchen Table Poly, Relationship Anarchy, hierarchial and non-hierarchial polyamory. We will take an in depth look at the various forms of ethical non-monogamy, the philosophies behind them, the benefits and drawbacks, and maybe a bit of history too.