Studies show that approximately 20% of individuals will engage in extramarital sex at some point in time. The reasons for infidelity are varied, including: desire discrepancy in one's primary partnership, a wish for sexual variety, an antidote for boredom, or a journey of personal growth and freedom. Many of my clients find themselves a decade or two into marriage questioning their initial commitment to a monogamous relationship structure. "I didn't know there were other options," they say, "Why I thought I could commit to one person forever, I do not know. I guess it is what society expected of me so I just went along and signed on the dot."
I am often asked to define consensual non-mongamy for clients curious about alternative relationship structures. In a consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationship, the partners involved agree that having more than one sexual and/or romantic partner at the same time is permissible. While interest in CNM relationships appears to be on the rise, they continue to remain highly stigmatized. Here is a quick primer:
Polygamy– (from Late Greek πολυγαμία, polygamía, "state of marriage to many spouses"). The practice of marrying multiple spouses. Polygyny in one husband with multiple wives (and is by far the most common form). Polyandry is one wife with multiple husbands (and is illegal in virtually every state in the world) .
Open– Open relationships tend to be the broadest category and is a broad umbrella category for non-monogamy in relationships. Open relationships simply implies non-monogamy without much detail (e.g., can refer to dating, marriage, etc.).
Swinging– In which both singles and partners in a committed relationship engage in sexual activities with others as a recreational or social activity. Swinging is the most widespread form of consensual non-monogamy. Swinging often takes place in semi-public venues such as hotels, resorts, or cruise ships, or in private homes. It is mostly heterosexually and cis-genedered focused without a lot of openness to trans or queer sexuality. Prevalence: In 2018, a study of the prevalence of nonmonagamous practices in the United States estimated that 2.35% of Americans currently self-identify as swingers and 4.76% had identified as swingers at some point in their lifetime.
Polyamory– (from Greek πολύ poly, "many, several", and Latin amor, "love"). Polyamory allows and encourages love among more than two people. Polyamorous relationships can be open, where the relational partners agree to permit romantic or sexual relationships with other people, or closed, where those involved do not engage in relationships outside of the defined set of committed partners (polyfidelity).
Monogamish– Relationship and sex columnist Dan Savage's term for a "not totally monogamous relationship." Monogamish occurs when desires of a couple cease fitting in the framework of monogamy. “Monogamish” tends to be a couple who has a connection to each other, and there is flexibility in the relationship: sexually, emotionally, or both. It varies tremendously by relationship but often allows for one-off encounters in certain circumstances that have been previously agreed upon (e.g., the ability to sleep with others while on work travel).
Unfortunately, trying to shift a relationship from monogamy to consensual non-monogamy is often fraught with challenges (particularly when only one partner is fully on board). Sex therapy can help you explore your relationship needs, desires, and aspirations.