QJSex: What is non-monogamy? Part one: exploring the terminology

Thanks to Dan Savage and the coining of his wonderful catch-all term, ‘monogamish’ (a mostly-monogamous relationship), the concept of non-monogamy is starting to turn up in casual conversation, scholarly and popular writing, and of course, the blogosphere.

But with all these ideas and concepts floating around like non-monogamy, polyamory, open-relationships, or friends-with-benefits, its easy to get confused and lost within the vast world of non-monogamous relationships. Hopefully, a quick intro to non-monogamy will settle any confusion and open the door to a whole myriad of relationship possibilities.

Non-monogamy is basically a big umbrella term that describes any relationship that doesn’t follow the structure of two people only romantically and sexually involved with each other. That obviously leaves a lot of wiggle room, which is where various types of non-monogamy come into play, such as open relationships, polyamory, threesomes, or dance-floor make outs.

Open relationships involve a relationship where people have a negotiated level of intimacy with other partners as well as each other. This could involve a primary relationship and secondary relationship(s) with other partners, or a primary relationship with only casual sexual encounters outside the relationship, or any possible way you can imagine one relationship to work.

People in open relationships get to choose and set their boundaries so that they work for their individual relationship, meaning one open relationship can look very different from another.

Polyamory describes a relationship in which a person is intimately involved with more than one other person. For some people this might mean not just sexual relationships with more than one person but also relationships involving love, commitment, or emotional attachment.

In contrast to open relationships, which are usually centered on a primary relationship, polyamory involves multiple partnerships that are often of equal significance. As with open relationships and all non-monogamous relationships, a polyamorous person negotiates unique boundaries with each person they are involved with.

Polygamy/Polyandry/Polygyny: Polygamy refers to being involved with more than one person through marriage. Polyandry involves having more than one husband, and polygyny involves having more than one wife. There are a host of other sub-types of non-monogamy such as ‘friends with benefits’, swinging, and ‘monogamish’ which all describe varying level of intimate involvement with people outside of one partnership.

Finding a label for a relationship may be helpful in understanding the boundaries of the relationship, although many people also find that labels restrict their relationship, and prefer to use larger umbrella terms such as non-monogamy or not label their relationship at all.

Venturing into the world of non-monogamy can be intimidating at first, especially as we aren’t surrounded with positive role models who lead non-monogamous lives. Unfortunately, being intimate with more than one person is often seen as something shameful or scandalous in society, and words like ‘slut’ ‘whore’ or ‘player’ get thrown around with the intention of denigrating someone who engages in (or is thought to engage in) intimate activities with more than one person.

Thanks to movements like sex-positivity, people are slowly reclaiming the right to define what a relationship means to them, without all the baggage and name-calling. Support, information and resources do exist, and the SHRC is a great place to start. In our library we have plenty of resources on non-monogamy, as well as informed and non-judgmental volunteers who are more than happy to help you with any questions you have or to point you in the right direction to more support.

Next week in Part II of What is non-monogamy? we’ll move past definitions and labels to what makes up healthy non-monogamous relationships.

This blog is being run in conjunction with the Sexual Health Resource Centre, located in the JDUC, room 223. Follow them on Twitter @shrckingston.

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