There’s a lot of speculation that arises when trying to understand non-monogamy: Is it ethical? Is it a 21st century concept? Is it an underground phenomenon reserved for sex addicts?
Most non-monogamous people are likely to ponder over the definition themselves because an intrinsic feature of non-monogamy is deconstructing relationships as we understand them. As a consequence, they see monogamous relationships as a choice rather than the default.
What is Non-Monogamy?
The American Psychological Association (APA) offers a simple idea to familiarise ourselves with non-monogamy. The APA fact sheet on consensual non-monogamy describes “all relationships as agreements that partners decide upon”. While monogamy is typically an agreement where people may agree to be sexually and emotionally exclusive to a single person, consensual non-monogamy is “an umbrella term for relationships in which all partners give explicit consent to engage in romantic, intimate, and/or sexual relationships with multiple people.” The nuances and details of these agreements vary according to the type of non-monogamous relationships that partners are engaged in as well as the socio-cultural factors that shape the preferences and power relations at play.
What forms can Non-Monogamy take?
Although non-monogamous relationships can be broadly distinguished into particular forms, each relationship takes shape according to the partners that make them. Once we understand this fundamental attribute of non-monogamous relationships, it helps to be acquainted with its different types so we have a blueprint of an arrangement that most closely matches our needs, values and desires.
In her book Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Monogamy (2020), Jessica Fern, a psychotherapist plots the main relationship structures within consensual non-monogamy along the dimensions of emotional exclusivity and sexual exclusivity. This gives rise to a graph that highlights these forms of consensual non-monogamous relationships. Note: As Jessica points out, these two dimensions are only one way of looking at consensual non-monogamous relationships and there could be many more ways of understanding its different forms. She is also careful to explain that the points at which the different types of relationships are plotted could vary from person to person, depending on their own conceptions.
Getting with the Non-Mono Lingo
Language is an agent of change and paints our perception of the world. Unsurprisingly, most communities that are marginalised evolve with their own vocabulary. In The Ethical Slut (1997), a book that has been described as “helping launch the modern non-monogamy movement”, the authors describe their hesitancy with even using the term ‘non-monogamy’ as it implies that monogamy is the norm and is a monogamy-centric way of understanding relationships.
When using the term non-monogamy, most advocates of ethical non-monogamy choose to describe it as ‘ethical non-monogamy’ or ‘consensual non-monogamy’ to strongly voice their call for healthy communication about aspects like forming secure attachments, navigating emotions like jealousy and discussing safe sex practices while engaging in non-monogamy. This usage of terms also helps dispel the misconception that non-monogamy is inherently unethical or less ethical than monogamy.
Here are some other terms that are commonly used in non-monogamous communities that could help you put your non-mono feelings and experiences into words, explore conversations with a partner or be better engaged when communicating with a friend who is poly:
1. Anchor Partner: A partner whom one considers to be a central figure in their life, a stable “anchor” to lean on. They are emotionally supportive and help one feel grounded. Often used as the equivalent of a primary partner in a non-hierarchical polycule.
2. Birthday Party Poly/Garden Party Poly: A relationship style where partners may not interact frequently (as in Kitchen Party Poly), but are comfortable being together in the same space for an event such as a birthday party of a common partner.
3. Closed Relationship/Closed Polycule/Polyfidelitous Relationship: A polycule where partners have agreed to not see anyone outside their existing relational networks.
4. Compersion/Frubble: The joy and pleasure one feels from knowing that their partner is having a happy and satisfying experience with another.
5. Don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT): An arrangement where partners have consented to seeing other people but do not want information about their partner’s other relationships. The details of what information is to be shared and what is not, have been agreed to by the partners.
6. Dyad: Any form of relationship between two people. A dyad may be monogamous or non-monogamous.
7. Fluid Bonded: When partners agree to going barrier-free sexually. They may or may not be fluid bonded with other partners in the polycule. There must be conversations about contraceptive use with all partners so that each partner is able to give their informed consent and ensure safe sex practices in the polycule.
8. Hierarchical Relationship: A polycule structure where certain partners are prioritised over others. This may be influenced by factors like the duration of the relationship, having children together, or emotions like excitement that is felt with New Relationship Energy.
9. Hinge: When one person is involved with two partners who are not each other’s partners.
10. Kitchen Table Poly (KTP): A relationship style where all partners in a polycule are comfortable sitting at the kitchen table and sharing a meal together. The metamours want to have warm relationships with each other and may see each other as being part of a chosen family.
11. Metamour: One’s partner’s other partner. Often abbreviated as ‘meta’. ‘Metamorsel’ is used to describe a metamour that one finds particularly attractive.
12. New Relationship Energy (NRE): The euphoria experienced at the beginning of a new relationship.
13. Nesting Partner: A partner/s that one lives and may share financial responsibility of the home with. They may or may not be one’s primary partner.
14. Non-hierarchical relationships: A relationship type where partners do not observe a hierarchy and do not rank partners as primary, secondary and so on.
15. Old relationship energy/Existing or established Relationship Energy: The comfortable and safe feeling shared between partners that has been cultivated from being in a long-standing relationship.
16. One Penis Policy: An arrangement wherein a woman has multiple partners but can be involved with only one penis-having partner (typically a cis male). This situation is often looked down upon by people because it may be the consequence of a man sexually policing his partner. However, this may not always be the case and the woman may of her own choice decide to see one penis-having partner.
17. Parallel Polyamory: A relationship style where metamours may not be closely involved with each other and each partnership exists independently to a large degree. Often considered to be the opposite of Kitchen Table Polyamory.
18. Paramour: An alternate term for one’s partner.
19. Polycule: A relationship network of non-monogamous partners who are connected by their partners, metamours and telemours. The portmanteau of “poly” + “molecule”, highlights the diverse possible configurations of a polycule.
20. Polyfamily: When partners in a polycule see each other as family.
21. Polysaturated: When one feels that they are engaged with the most number of possible partners based on their bandwidth in terms of resources like emotions, time and finances. The number at which one feels they are polysaturated can vary from person to person as well as may be different for the same person from time to time based on their experiences.
22. Primary Partner: In a hierarchical non-monogamous arrangement, a primary partner is one who is prioritised over other partners. They may receive the most attention and other resources from their partner. They may also be able to exercise veto power to have a final say on decisions made in the polycule. Two partners may or may not be each other’s primary.
23. Relationship Escalator: The socially expected evolution of a relationship. “Real” relationships are believed to follow an order: dating, becoming sexually and emotionally exclusive, labelling the relationship, moving in together, getting married and so it goes. Often comes with heteronormative and monocentric standards which aren’t desirable to or attainable by everyone. ‘Escaping the escalator’ is a conversation that is often spoken about in polyamorous communities where it is encouraged to be authentic and consciously design relationship structures and milestones for oneself and one’s partners as opposed to going with the established norms of what society mandates from a relationship.
24. Solo-Poly: When one considers themselves to be their primary and so prioritise themselves over their partners. They may have meaningful and deep connections with their partners but may not necessarily want to use the label of being in a “relationship” or cohabitate with their partner/s.
25. Telemour: One’s metamour’s other partner.
26. Triad: A form of relationship including three people who are all involved with each other.
27. Vee/V: A relationship where two metamours are dating a common partner or the hinge partner but not each other.
28. Veto Power: Generally used to describe when one’s partner (usually the primary partner) has the power to decide if their partner can or cannot be involved with another particular partner or place boundaries on the type of relationship they can pursue with this other partner.
29. Quad: A relationship that includes four people who are all involved with each other.
30. Wibble: Moments of fear and insecurity one may experience when thinking about or seeing their partner with another.
Note: The meaning of these terms can vary and this list is to serve as a reference point rather than a definitive directory.