A friend recently asked me to point them to some things I’ve written about non-monogamy and I came up surprisingly empty-handed, for as much as I tweet and post and think and talk about it. And do it.
This will by no means be comprehensive or satisfying (like me in bed, oh!). But I want to provide a quick brain dump of some of the things I think I’ve learned about ethical non-monogamy.
1. Every benefit you can get from ENM you can get from monogamy except fucking other people
ENM isn’t any more “enlightened” or “natural” than monogamy. It’s really just different strokes for different folks. The decision on whether a relationship should be monogamous, like every other decision, is either based on some principle or a cost-benefit analysis. ENM has many benefits. I think of it like a fast-forward on personal growth. It’s a tool that forces you to be more honest with yourself and with others and learn about yourself through experience. But there’s nothing you learn in ENM that you can’t learn in monogamy except what it’s like to fuck multiple people at the same time (sometime literally) ethically.
2. Opening up will neither ruin a healthy relationship nor save an unhealthy one
It’s a stressor. It’s also exciting. It gobbles up lots and lots of time and energy. For every hour of fucking you’ll usually have to put in at least two of processing and talking. Those ratios usually flip over time, but it does take time. If your relationship is solid to begin with, opening up isn’t going to ruin it. It may expose weaknesses you didn’t know were there, like a tendency to lie or hide things or evade or withdraw from certain kinds of conflict. And it may solve certain problems that always existed, like boredom or a desire for variety or getting certain needs me. But it won’t change the bedrock of your relationship. So don’t go in expecting it to.
3. ENM comes in a lot of flavors
Okay, you’re ethically non-monogamous. What does that mean? Are you allowed to kiss? Do you have to tell each other? Is every kind of sex okay? With everyone? Are condoms required? Please, please read a book about polyamory ASAP so you can your partner can have some idea of what you need to talk about before you go and hurt each other’s feelings, or a third party’s feelings, totally unnecessarily.
4. Don’t do DADT
DADT stands for “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Don’t do it. Everyone tries it. Almost everyone regrets it. In the best case scenario, you’ll miss out on some opportunities for compersion and intimacy with your partner. In the worst case, and more likely scenario, you’ll find out everything eventually anyway, but it’ll be way more traumatic than it needs to be if you’d been open and upfront from the start.
5. Take responsibility for your feelings
This is, hands down, the best thing I’ve gotten out of ENM. Before, when I felt jealous or insecure, it immediately became, in my mind, my partner’s problem to solve. He was doing something to make me jealous or insecure and needed to stop. ENM helped me reframe jealousy as my problem to solve on my own, or with my partner if he wanted to help.
6. You’re going to fuck up
I have made a LOT of mistakes in my relationships. I’ve made promises I didn’t keep. I’ve said one thing and done another. What separates the wheat from the chaff isn’t never screwing up. It’s taking responsibility for your failures and being willing to try new things and put in work to do better in the future. Today, I promise less, admit guilt more quickly, and try to listen more.
Again, everything ENM teaches you, you can learn without it. If you’re wondering whether ENM is for you the question really is whether having sex with other people is valuable enough to you to justify the time and energy ENM requires. Please do not underestimate how much time and energy it requires to do correctly.
I could definitely, given enough time and Adderall, write 1,000-word essays on every point. And lots more points too. But here’s a start. What questions does this leave you with? What do you want me to expand on first? Let me know in the comments.
Cathy Reisenwitz is an SF-based writer. Her writing has appeared in Newsweek, The Week, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications. Her political column for the Bay City Beacon is called Unintended Consequences. Her blog is Sex and the State. Her daily newsletter is called Sex, Tech, and Pop Culture. Read more at https://cathyreisenwitz.com/