The Various Types of Non-Monogamy

At its simplest, non-monogamy can be considered to include anything other than monogamy which is the exclusive sexual and usually martial relationship between two people at a single point of time. Thus non-monogamy becomes an umbrella term covering several types of interpersonal relationships in which an individual forms simultaneous sexual and/or romantic bonds with more than one person. Proponents of non-monogamy are not always pleased to be referred to as such since the term implies that monogamy is the norm and what they are practicing is a deviance of that standard.

Since the concept of non-monogamy is based on highly individualistic notions such as love and relationship, there are several types of non-monogamous behavior; indeed one can almost say that there are as many forms of non-monogamy as there are people practicing it. The main types often include various sub-groups as well with their own styles, which are often incompatible. Above all, there are a huge number of non-monogamous practitioners who have not joined any community, but simply do what they are most comfortable with. Despite so much variety, non-monogamy is usually divided into the basic following categories:
 

  1. Polygamy

    Globally, this is kind of non-monogamy comes nearest to social acceptance which is backed by religious or cultural sanction in certain places. Polygamy refers to an arrangement in which one person has married multiple partners. This in turn can be of various types like:

    a.  Polygyny in which a man is allowed to take multiple wives.

    b.  Polyandry in which a woman has multiple husbands

    c.  Plural marriage, a form of polygyny specifically associated with the Latter Day Saint movement in the 19th-century and with present-day splinter groups from that faith. It is also associated with an evangelical splinter group which advocates Christian Plural Marriage.
     
  2. Polyamory

    This is a kind of non-monogamous relationship where an individual has mutliple romantic and/or sexual partners but is not married to any of them. Since it is not based on marital obligation, polyamory usually implies a more fluid and flexible approach to love and relationships, but still operates on a complex system of boundaries or rules.

    Polyamorous partners can be in turn either primary or secondary partners. This usually involves situations where a couple tends to be on a typical monogamous life path – being committed to each other, moving in together, possibly children –  but they each date other people seriously. The couple in case forms the primary polyamorous partners while their dating relationships form secondary polamorous relationships. Often this effectively forms large networks of interconnected lovers. There is a certain flexibility, with primaries sometimes becoming secondary or secondaries sometimes becoming co-primary. Some people date in secondary-style relationships only, either because they prefer it or because they have not found a primary.

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  3. Open marriage or open relationship

    This type of non-monogamous behavior typically refers to a marriage or relationship in which the partners agree that each may engage in extramarital sexual relationships, without this being regarded as infidelity. Open relationships may in turn be of different styles like polyamory and swinging. But despite their distinctions, all open marriages share common issues like the lack of social acceptance, the need to maintain the health of their relationship and avoid neglect, as well as the need to manage jealous rivalry. Couples in open marriages may also agree to follow rules such as no emotional attachment, protection against STDs, never in 'our bed/home' and no illegitimate children. Sometimes the primary couple in an open marriage may also have rules about not asking who the other person is. Some open marriages are one sided as well. One partner who may need more sexual gratification than the other is free to seek it out where he/she sees fit, all while maintaining a functional emotional relationship with their full-time partner.
     
  4. Group marriage

    Also known as polygynandry, group marriage is a kind of non-monogamy in which several people form a single family unit, with all considered to be married to one another. A group marriage may or may not include group sex which are sexual episodes involving more than two participants at the same time. Yet another kind of group marriage is termed as ‘Line families’ which is intended to outlive its original members by ongoing addition of new spouses. Yet another variation in this category is the ‘poly family’, which is similar to group marriage in most respects except for the fact that some members may not consider themselves married to all other members.
     
  5. Ménage à trois

    This is form of non-monogamous relationship which is marked by a sexual, or sometimes domestic, arrangement involving three people. The phrase literally means a “house of three” in French. In contemporary usage, the meaning of the term has been extended to refer to any living relationship between three people, whether or not sex is involved.
     
  6. Swinging

    This kind of non-monogamous behavior is similar to open relationships but instead of a domestic arrangement, swinging refers to a kind of organized behavior. Also known as ‘partner swapping’, swinging refers to a practice where both partners in a committed relationship agree, as a couple, to engage in sexual activities with other couples as a recreational or social activity. Swinging may be practiced in a number of contexts, varying from a spontaneous sexual activity at an informal gathering of friends to planned or regular social gatherings to hooking up with like-minded couples at a swingers' club or through swingers’ websites.
     
  7. A casual relationship 

    This is perhaps the least complicated and thus the most common kind of non-monogamous kind of behavior. In a casual relationship two people share an emotional and/or sexual bond without being committed to each other. This is variously known as casual dating or a fling, all of which imply a non-exclusive relationship. A casual relationship differs from casual sex, which has little or no emotional element and from a one-night stand, as the relationship extends beyond a single sexual encounter. Even though a casual relationship can include mutual support and affection, the participants do not expect exclusive commitment from each other and the relationship is intended to endure only so long as both parties wish it to.