Definitions of non-monogamy

Over the weekend, Hella Walkington blogged about monogamy, polygamy and polyamory. She asked me to write a little bit for it and, I have to say, I was a bit surprised by her inclusion of the word polygamy. I have never met anyone who would describe themselves as polygamous, and wasn’t even sure what it meant any more so I looked it up. Although it’s a very interesting post, and Hella reckons that the term doesn’t need to relate to marriage these days, I still think it’s a word with far too many other connotations to be able to successfully reclaim it. Besides, we have many other terms we can use instead. Below is a list of the types of non-monogamy that I have encountered, and my definitions. Feel free to add to this list, or elaborate, in the comments below.

Cheating
A sexual and/or romantic relationship with someone who isn’t your partner, where your partner doesn’t know about it. This type of non-monogamy is not considered ethical as it doesn’t have the consent of all involved.

Swinging
An arrangement between (usually) heterosexual couples where casual sexual encounters outside the relationship are allowed, within specified boundaries. This requires the consent of all involved.

Open relationship
A type of relationship where partners agree to see others, with consent. This can involve anything from casual hook-ups to long term love affairs. Swinging and polyamory are both types of open relationship.

Polyamory
A relationship style where all partners agree that love is not finite and it is therefore possible to love more than one person. Consent, communication and negotiation of rules/boundaries are key. You can be polyamorous with no serious partners at all, or many.

Polyfidelity
As with polyamory, but with a closed group. Instead of two people promising to be faithful to each other (as in monogamy), polyfidelity can involve groups of three, four or more who will not venture outside that group romantically or sexually.

Apparently there was also a discussion on BBC1 this Sunday to discuss whether infidelity can be “a good thing for relationships”. Dr Meg-John Barker was representing a more ethical and consensual point of view than the discussion may have taken otherwise, and has written about it on their blog, Rewriting The Rules. As Dr Barker points out: “As I mentioned on the programme, my major concern about infidelity is not the sex outside marriage/relationship issue, but rather the deception, secrecy and dishonesty involved.” This is why so many of us bang on about ethical non-monogamy. People view infidelity as cheating. Cheating involves lies. What we’re advocating is consent, which is a part of polygamy too. It still doesn’t make it onto my list though!

5 thoughts on “Definitions of non-monogamy

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  1. Really interesting read it laid out like that. I can completely understand why you'd feel ambivalent about the term “polygamy” and, as you say, there are plenty of other terms that sum it up without the difficult connotations.

    And thank you for introducing me to the term polyfidelity! Never heard that before, although I am aware of those types of relationships.

  2. There’s also the subset of open relationships, ‘don’t ask don’t tell’. I find this confusing! I suppose it could even be a subset of polyamory, but I don’t imagine keeping it secret from a primary partner would much help to develop an ongoing committed loving relationship. It obviously works well for some people, but for me it’s too close to cheating, even though technically it’s consensual – I once backed out of dating someone awesome because they had a kind of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ arrangement.

  3. I find this really interesting. I don’t think I fall into any of those categories but I think it’s really important from a mono point of view to understand and accept that other people have different styles of loving. And most of these are all about consent and open communication which I think is key to any type of relationship. Thank you for opening my mind!

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