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What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy? Its Types And Rules

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Relationships were previously viewed as binary in Western Culture. Meanwhile, many indigenous cultures have practiced ENM (Ethical Non-Monogamy) over time

ENM is a relationship style that allows for consensual and ethical involvement with multiple partners.

Let’s explore the various ENM types and the associated rules that make them respectful and ethical.

What Is Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM)

Maybe you are asking yourself, what is ENM exactly? 

ENM (Ethical Non-Monogamy) is essentially an umbrella term that covers a range of types of relationships that involve connections with other people apart from the primary partner. With permission and full understanding from all people involved, partners are free to explore emotional and physical relationships with others.

Types of Ethical Non-Monogamy


Polyamory involves having multiple fully-fledged romantic relationships simultaneously, not limited to the physical.

This can involve a pair of individuals who are committed to other partners of their own. It can also involve several people in a relationship together (sharing partners).

Another dynamic involves one person who is polyamorous and one who isn’t. This can be complex, but doable with consent and clear boundaries.

Open Relationships

Open relationships are partnerships that maintain a primary relationship while allowing partners to engage in sexual or romantic involvement with others.

This relationship type is ideal for those who enjoy being in a relationship but want to still participate in romantic or physical acts with others. 

There’s generally no commitment to other people, and the primary partner is prioritized.


“Swingers” have chosen a lifestyle in which they, as a couple, engage in sexual activities with others. This can take the form of two or more couples swapping romantic partners to engage in physical relationships with someone else privately.

Alternately, swinging can be set in a group environment, with multiple partners, or together as a couple with another couple.

Relationship Anarchy

Relationship anarchy is a belief system that rejects assigning a conventional definition to a relationship.

Individuals who choose this non-hierarchical relationship dynamic believe relationships should be adaptive and organic, developing according to both partners’ needs and desires.

Priorities are autonomy, personal freedom and fulfillment, and connection fluidity. Everyone is treated equally. No restrictions and limits are imposed.

Rules and Guidelines in Ethical Non-Monogamy


“Ethical” implies consent. The foundation of ENM is that all parties are enthusiastically willing to be in this type of relationship. Lack of consent leads to hurt, friction, and potential relationship loss.

An individual who forces ENM on their partner is acting unethically. Partners must be fully honest about their comfort levels, rather than consent out of fear of losing their partner.


Communication is fundamental to a healthy ENM relationship. Communicate better by engaging in regular check-ins, practicing active listening, and keeping your partner in the loop.

Check-ins involve open and honest sharing about everyone’s comfort with the setup, and what’s working and what’s not.

Individuals in an ENM relationship inform and remind their partners about the intimacy they engage in with someone else.

Setting Boundaries

Healthy ENM partnerships involve defining clear and respectful boundaries from the outset. Everyone must be comfortable with these limits to prevent conflict.

For example, there may be certain activities a couple would like to keep special between themselves. Maybe they don’t take another person to their favorite restaurant, or introduce another person to their family.

Safe Sex Practices

Many sexual partners naturally increase the risk of developing venereal diseases. Therefore, safe sex prevents this occurrence, as well as negates the risk of unwanted pregnancy.

This means using protection and setting certain rules for sexual intimacy. One option to protect everyone’s safety is to ensure all partners involved undergo testing for STIs periodically.

Emotional Considerations

There’s ample space for jealousy in ENM. Consequently, it’s important to address and process jealousy, insecurities, and other emotions in a healthy way.

If/when an issue arises, a way to help the relationship grow is to avoid the blame game. The discussion is not about pointing fingers, but calmly and empathically discussing the issue, reaching a unanimous resolution.

Time Management

Time management in ENM is a challenge. However, everyone needs to manage their schedules and be fair in their time allocation for each of their partners.

Partners must never forget to make time for special moments with their partners and keep sight of their long-term relationship goals.

Privacy and Discretion

Not everyone is fully comfortable with being publicly open about their ENM relationship. Partners must respect this and keep the relationship to themselves. 

This involves avoiding talking about or making the relationship dynamic obvious in public situations. And ties in strongly with open communication.

Hierarchy vs. Non-Hierarchy

ENM can follow a hierarchical or non-hierarchical relationship structure. 

A hierarchical structure involves primary, secondary, and tertiary partners. A primary partner is given more importance, attention, and priority. The other parties understand that the primary partnership will be closer to each other than them.

A non-hierarchical structure doesn’t involve these titles. Everyone is treated equally. 


Jeff Campbell