Three people sat around a table with text overlayed: Everything You Need to Know about Ethical Non-Monogamy socials

Everything You Need to Know about Ethical Non-Monogamy

My first interaction with ethical non-monogamy (ENM) was actually back when I was 18 or 19. I was kind of dating someone who was in an open relationship with their girlfriend. They’d decided to do it because they were both living in different countries and honestly, I’m not completely sure why else. But they were doing it. They both had rules about what the other was able to do and these rules changed according to their experiences. That hasn’t been my only encounter with non-monogamy but I’ve already written about my threesome experiences so if you wanted to read those, go back and read How (not) to Have Your First Threesome, Is Monogamy overrated?, The Risks of Being a Unicorn and Navigating Polyamory: Lessons from a Unicorn. I’ve written plenty about non-monogamy before but this time I want to explain the different types of ENM and talk a bit more about types I haven’t discussed before.

What is Ethical Non-Monogamy?

Just a quick definition of what ENM actually is. Ethical Non-Monogamy is having romantic or sexual relations outside of your primary relationship with consent from your primary partner. In other words, you have your main partner and then can also have other people involved with either just you, just your partner, or both you and your partner. So ENM is an umbrella term, and there’s plenty of ways of practising it.

And many will claim it’s cheating, but there’s one big difference between ENM and cheating and that is knowledge and consent. Legal cheating if you will. To make non-monogamy ethical, the other person involved in the relationship has to be aware of the other relations being had and also consent to them occurring. 

I’m just going to go through a few different types of ENM and how they work.

Different Types of Ethical Non Monogamy


Polyamory is simply put just having multiple partners at once. Not necessarily that one is more important than the other. I’d say most times it’s that all partners are equal. Also, just because you have another partner, your other partner doesn’t need to be involved with them. I think that’s a common misconception. Each relationship can also be of equal worth, or different relationships have a different status, for example you could have a primary relationship and a secondary relationship. These secondary relationships are still relationships and not necessarily just physical.


So this is actually where you’re in a three- (or more-) way relationship where all partners are involved with one another. The thing that people tend to think polyamory is. So, “a throuple”: three (or more) people all in a relationship with one another. 

Casual sex

Kind of does what it says on the tin. It’s just having multiple partners with whom you have casual sex essentially. All people involved are aware of the situation. They know they’re not the person’s primary partner. 


So this is a form of ENM that’s essentially monogamous but sometimes the couple somewhat open up the relationship. So, monogamous with the occasional open relationship. 

Open relationship 

This is a more casual form of ENM. It’s not having multiple partners, but having a primary partner and then also casually dating around. It’s casual but not always so casual that it’s just casual sex or one night stands. And within open relationships there are also subgroups. 


This when one partner watches the other partner having sex with someone else. Normally the partner watching doesn’t get involved, but it can happen. Also, that person doesn’t always need to be present. Sometimes being aware of the fact their partner has slept with someone else is enough to excite them. 


This is when two couples swap a partner. In other words, one couple swaps partners with another couple. This can also happen between more than two sets of partners. 


The one I know oh too well. Is when a couple get another to join them. But it doesn’t necessarily need to be a couple. It can also just be three people sleeping together. When it’s specifically couples trying to find someone to join them, it is also referred to as unicorn hunting, but that tends to just be when they’re searching for bi women to join them.

One-sided ENM

This is actually the reason for the article. Isabella and I were discussing one-sided ENM and how you would actually go about it, and she thought it would be a good topic for me to explore in an article. So firstly, one-sided ENM tends to be when one partner has a higher libido than the other. Their solution is to open up the relationship where the person with the higher libido is able to sleep around. The person with the lower libido then does not sleep around. However, I’m not sure if they’d sleep around less or just not at all. 

Several commitment padlocks with initials on them locked to a bridge

Read more from Bea the Bud

Is Monogamy Overrated?

How do you go about one-sided ENM?

The relationship Isabella and I were discussing we knew for sure that one partner was very very kinky and the other not at all. They had an open relationship. He was allowed to do whatever he wanted. Their personal relationship policy was that she would never find out what he’d been up to. 

I’ve been reading some stories of this kind of ENM on reddit and it seems like the same story pops up over and over. One is kinky and the other is not. One is super sexual and the other is not. And all their policies include not telling one another about what happens outside. 

Other rules tend to include: don’t take the other person to places where the couple tends to go like bars and restaurants, no kissing in the car outside of their house, showering after having relations with other people, and not bringing the other people into their shared home(s). 

In a world where monogamy is the norm, it must take a lot of courage and understanding for this kind of relationship. For some it must come easier than for others. But with other open relationships where both partners are dating or having relations at more equal rates, it’s harder to point fingers and give the other the blame.

So, any advice on opening up the relationship more for one partner than the other? Of course like with any relationship, talk openly about it with your partner and always try to understand and see it from their perspective. If need be, a relationship therapist will aid massively in helping you along with your ENM journey. And, just as a final note, my favourite reddit reply stated a hiking analogy. When opening up a monogamous relationship, you have to go at the same speed as the slowest walker. On a hike you wouldn’t leave the slowest behind. If you can’t or don’t want to slow down then it’s a matter of deciding if the relationship is worth continuing. 

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