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What's ethical non-monogamy

Christo Van Meer

Have you ever heard of ethical non-monogamy? It's no secret most people seek monogamous relationships - relationships that are exclusive, as in neither of the partners are seeing other people. Most couples today are formed precisely on monogamy, be that due to social, religious, personal, or other reasons. A monogamous couple is the most understandable and common unit of relationship — both in social perception and in terms of simplicity and clarity. There are people, however, who don’t accept this model of relationships. In fact, there’s quite a lot of them: about 1 in 5, which makes up a total of 20%.

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What is ethical non-monogamy?

In the dating world ENM stands for ethical non-monogamy. ENM is a practice that involves participation in relationships that occur between more than two people. In recent years, more and more couples have been opting for relationship models that differ from the standard monogamous dynamic. Well-established communication is incredibly important in any relationship, and in an ENM dynamic, it comes to the forefront since participation requires stable self-esteem, an open-minded partner, unconditional trust, and so on. Do ethical non-monogamous relationships really work? Ethical non-monogamy can manifest in completely different ways: it could be purely about casual encounters "on the side", a romantic connection, or both. It is important to remember that each couple must agree on their own specific ENM rules that work for both of them.

Is ethical non-monogamy the same as cheating, you might ask?

No. The key difference between ethical non-monogamy and cheating is the consent of all parties involved in the relationship. 

That is, everyone has to know about the other person’s actions and motives, and all the rules are followed properly.

This is not the case in infidelity, where a person doesn’t consent to the behavior of their partner — and that is the biggest difference between cheating and ethical non-monogamy. ENM should always be negotiated in advance. It’s called ethical for a reason, meaning everything has to happen with the full awareness and consent of both partners. Nowadays a lot of people have “ethical non-monogamy” in their dating profiles.

Why do people choose ethical non-monogamy?

There are many different reasons why people or couples choose ethical non-monogamy — today I will be focusing on the ones that seem the most significant to me.

  • First, the opportunity to explore your sexuality. 

As we know, sexuality can change over time, and often people need a lot of time to come to terms with their identity and orientation. What we can see quite often is one person within a couple deciding to pursue a relationship (or an encounter) with their own gender, which, by the way, doesn’t imply they’re ready to give up the existing relationship. For these couples, an agreement on ENM is a reasonable solution. So, you can explore your sexuality while exploring ethical non-monogamy.

  • Second, not all relationships fully satisfy both partners. 

This has been said many times, but I won’t stop repeating it: most people have unrealistic expectations of what a relationship should be like. Let me remind you that it’s completely normal to experience a certain degree of dissatisfaction in a relationship. Moreover, a healthy level of frustration in a relationship is an important aspect of its constant growth and development. The same applies to intimacy. When certain needs of partners cannot be met within their relationship, ethical non-monogamy could be a rational choice. If you can deal with jealousy of course.

As you have probably figured out already, ethical non-monogamy is an umbrella term that includes a number of very different relationship models: all these models are united by the principle of dating outside of the "monogamous standard", as well as the consent of all parties involved. Ethical non-monogamy is becoming more popular, even though it’s complicating dating apps.

It should be noted that any type of relationship is a living and constantly changing dynamic, the format of which must also keep evolving to keep up with the changing needs of its participants. 

You can establish your own rules for ethical non-monogamy.

The most common types of ENM relationships

  • Polyamory vs. ethical non-monogamy

Polyamory is probably the most widely known variation of an ENM relationship. Polyamory can be pursued for various reasons and involve different dynamics within itself: the participants in the relationship can pursue something purely fun-based, but romantic connections are also a possibility. It is also possible that each of the partners has their own separate consistent partner.  

  • Open relationship

Open relationships are different from polyamory in that they usually do not imply romantic connections outside of the "main" couple; the aim here is to satisfy specific intimate desires outside of the relationship. Another important factor of an open relationship is that the relationship within the "main" couple has a higher priority over their casual encounters.

  • Relationship anarchy

Relationship anarchy, fortunately, is not directly related to anarchy. Rather, it is a form of having multiple equal relationships, in which one relationship is not prioritized above the other. In Russian, it’s usually described as a “multi-family”. All families are equally important, and the attention and resources of the participants are distributed equally among them. 

  • Polygamy

Polygamy in the classical sense is polygamy or polyandry, which is prohibited in most countries by law but takes place in some Muslim countries and countries with traditional cultures.

Pure. Let loose

Pure is an app where classic rules for dating don’t apply. On Pure, you create your own rules.

These days, the concept of ethical non-monogamy is gaining more and more attention and popularity. Ethical non-monogamy is on the rise. It’s understandable: so many opportunities and options, so little time. Whichever version of an ENM relationship seems the most suitable and comfortable to you, it’s very important to remember the basic principles of ethical non-monogamy we talked about earlier, as well as to ensure the consent of your partner (or partners) so that it doesn’t become blatant cheating disguised as another new-age term.

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