So You Want To Be Non-Monogamous…

So today it’s time to talk about a tricky subject: monogamy.

We’ve talked about monogamy before and why it’s not our natural state, but it’s worth addressing again. Life – when stripped away of any philosophical or intellectual meaning or value – is solely about making sure that we survive long enough to spread our genes. Ideally, we hang in there long enough to ensure that our offspring live long enough to spread their genes even further, but once we’ve raised children to puberty our job as a living organism is technically done. Most of our biological drives are oriented towards that one goal. Males want to ensure the survival of their genes at the expense of their competitors; if it’s possible for them to con another male into raising their offspring, so much the better. Females also want to spread their genes; because the investment (and subsequent risk) is much higher, they will want someone who will help provide and support their child and those traits don’t always match up with the genetic traits that will her theoretical children survive. As a result, sometimes the father of the child isn’t necessarily the one raising it.

Our very bodies evolved with the idea of multiple sexual partners in mind. Scientists theorize that part of the point of a woman’s orgasm is the vocalizations it causes, which attract other men. Our entire reproductive system is designed with sperm-competition in mind. The penis’ flared head acts like a squeegie inside the vaginal canal, scraping out seminal fluid from a competitor. Men who believe that there is a chance that their partner has had sex with another man will actually produce a greater volume of ejaculate in order to flush out a competitor’s sperm. Hell, there have been studies that suggest that humans have goddamn hunter/killer sperm cells – ones that can’t actually penetrate the ovum but instead serve to block other people’s sperm like tiny Terminator linebackers.

An artist's concept.

Once again: this is strictly a strictly value-neutral observation. The fact that monogamy is not our natural state does not mean that monogamy is inherently bad or a poor choice, nor am I saying that it is one way or the other. What I am saying is that it’s goddamned difficult. Being monogamous means that you’re not having sex with other people, not that you don’t want to.

And for some people, monogamy is a poor choice, the sexual equivalent to trying to shove a bear into a tutu and trying to make it dance. It might work for a little while, but it’s all going to end in blood and tears.

So let’s say you’re one of those people who understands that they’re just not cut out for monogamy. Or perhaps you’re someone who has been happily monogamous for years but now you’re feeling the need for variety. Can you be non-monogamous without being an asshole who cheats on his or her significant other?

Yup. As long as you follow the rules.

Rule #1: If You Are Non-Monogamous, You Must Be Up Front.

A lot of people who know that they’re bad at monogamy – or who aren’t interested in it in the first place – will frequently hide this fact from their prospective partners; they’re thinking (correctly) that this is going to be an immediate deal breaker to a sizable number of potential dates and therefore they should keep it to themselves until the other person is emotionally invested and will thus have a harder time objecting.

I really hope I don’t have to explain just how shitty this behavior is, but just in case: it’s incredibly shitty. You are lying to someone about who you are and what you have to offer, and a lie of omission (“Well, the subject never came up…”) is still a lie.

I’ve found that it’s best to establish early on – that is, before sex – whether or not exclusivity is on the table for the future. It can be hard to bring up without sounding a little abrupt or presumptuous, but being direct and up front about making sure that the two of you are on the same page can save a lot of heartache and recriminations in the future.

Fewer dry-cleaning bills too.

If you’re in an exclusive relationship and you are interested in opening things up, you need to have an open and honest conversation about it with your partner. It will be tricky – it’s hard to tell someone “I want to have sex with other people” without making them feel hurt or somehow inadequate. Paradoxically, a long period of sexual exclusivity can actually make opening up a relationship easier – being able to prove that you don’t need outside partners and that you’re enjoying the sex you’re already having can make opening the relationship less threatening to both your partner’s ego and to your relationship itself.

Rule #2: Find The Level Of Non-Monogamy That Works For You

The first thing that people need to realize is that monogamy isn’t a binary state; it’s not just a case of either you’re having sex with one person for the rest of your life or you’re taking on all comers1 with an “any hole is a goal” attitude. There are varying degrees of being non-monogamous, monogamish (to steal a term from Dan Savage) if you will. A couple – or triad or several involved people – may switch between them repeatedly. For some, it’s a case of just not dating anyone exclusively, leaving both parties free to date – or bang – anyone they see fit. For others, it’s a case of opening up the relationship to varying levels – only permitting oral sex with other people while reserving full penetrative sex for their primary partners for example, or allowing one’s partner “off the leash” on occasion for an extramarital dalliance. Some may invite others into their bed as an occasional guest star while others will embrace polyamory and welcome more than one love into their hearts as well as their bed.

It *does* make it hard to decide whose family you're staying with for the holidays, however

The point being is that non-monogamy – or transitioning from a monogamous relationship to an open one – is not an all-or-nothing state. Both (or all) partners should be in agreement as to the degree of outside involvement that’s permissible.

Rule #2a: You Always Err on the Side of The Less Open Partner

Any relationship is a matter of compromise and a non-monogamous one is no different in this matter. However, because this involves sex and sex can frequently be a minefield of known and unknown insecurities and hang-ups, you will always err on the side of less openness. If your partner is interested in everything but penetration and you’re only comfortable with hand-jobs or manual stimulation, then handjobs are the outer limit of what you are both permitted. Similarly, if you’re interested in full-on sex with strangers but your partner will only be comfortable with make-outs and oral, then your limits are blowjobs and sloppy make-outs.

Side note: This doesn’t necessarily mean that there can’t be uneven degrees of openness if both parties agree to it, or that both parties have to partake in the full spectrum of what’s allowed. Some people are OK with letting their partner off the chain while remaining monogamous themselves. Others like the power exchange inherent in only being allowed a certain degree of play outside of the relationship and get off on it.

Rule #3: Establish Ground Rules

You want to establish certain rules regarding your relationship in order to ensure the comfort and safety of everybody involved. For some this means no sex in your marriage bed. For others it means that partners are only allowed off the leash once per year or on months that end in “Y’. You may both agree not to bring someone home with you, to only allow for outside partners while you are out of town or to not see the same person more than a limited number of times. If you have threesomes, you may forbid sex with your third except when everybody is present. These rules apply to both of you unless you agree in advance to a lopsided agreement. What’s good for the goose, etc.

Rule #4: You ALWAYS Practice Safe Sex

This is one rule that is a core part of any open relationship. If your relationship is open to any degree beyond oral (and possibly even before), condoms aren’t just a requirement, they’re a sacrement. Sex is a full-contact sport with inherent risks; increasing the number of partners means that you’re increasing the chances of contracting a sexually transmitted infection. Condoms are the only form of birth control that protect against HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis and lessen the risks of herpes or HPV exposure. An open relationship requires trust. Part of that trust means your partner is trusting you with his or her health.

By the by: this means you’re using condoms when you’re with your primary partner as well. Sorry. Once you step out of a mutually monogamous relationship, doing it raw is officially off the table.

Rule #5: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Full and open communication is a critical part of any relationship. When you’ve opened things up to outside partners, with all the possible jealousy or insecurities that can come with it, it’s doubly so. You don’t necessarily need to share the nitty-gritty details (although there are plenty of people who actually get off on that), but you do need to be providing updates on who and how often (for safety’s sake, at the very least) as well as how you both feel without feeling as though you have to hold back or choose your words carefully. If you can’t have a frank and honest conversation about stepping out of your relationship without feeling pressured to go along with it, you have no business opening it up.

Many potential problems can be nipped in the bud if you’re willing and able to communicate clearly. Ever watch a romantic comedy and think to yourself how everything could have been fixed with a simple conversation? Same thing applies here.

One Sole Exception:

If the relationship was not monogamous in the first place (i.e. you’re dating casually with no expectation of exclusivity) you may be best served by a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy regarding other partners. Even so, open lines of communication can keep problems – such as changing expectations – from cropping up in the first place.

Rule #6: Both Partners Have Veto Power

If your partner is going to trust you with non-monogamy, you have to show that you’re worthy of that trust by giving him or her a certain degree of control. Even the most open of relationships will set boundaries as to who everybody can and can’t play with, whether it’s close friends, co-workers or people that either partner might think are a legitimate threat to the relationship. Both partners can veto a potential playmate, no questions asked or answered. If your partner drops the hammer on someone then they’re off limits. Sorry. You have to show that you’re willing to abide by your partner’s comfort level. That’s part of what this trust business is all about.

Oh now that's just MEAN.

Keep in mind: trust works both ways. Just as both partners have to respect the other’s veto, they also have the responsibility to not abuse the power. A person who continuously vetos his partner’s potential playmates is not acting in good faith; this necessitates another long conversation about the relationship.

Rule #7: Cheating Is Still Cheating.

Just because you’re in an open relationship doesn’t mean you can’t cheat on your partner. Going farther than you’ve both agreed upon is cheating. Ignoring your partner’s veto is still cheating. Breaking the ground rules you’ve agreed upon is cheating.

Cheating is grounds for immediately closing the relationship again. Cheating proves that you aren’t trustworthy and a lack of trust is poison to relationships, non-monogamous ones.

Rule #8: The Level of Openness Is Up For Renegotiation At Any Time

Like I said earlier: couples will frequently transition between different levels of openness over the course of a relationship, in both directions. You and your partner may decide to open your relationship just a crack at first, only to decide that you’re both comfortable with a greater degree of play with outside partners. Alternately, you may start off with a greater degree of openness only to find that one or both of you are less than comfortable and want to dial things back. This renegotiation can be initiated at any time and isn’t finished until both partners agree (as subject to Rule #2a.)


The only exception is that either partner can close the relationship unilaterally for any reason. If, for example, only one of you is able to find an outside partner (as is often the case with hetero couples; the woman frequently has an easier time finding sex than the man does) and the other resents the one-sidedness of the arrangement, it is well within his or her rights to shut things down until a later date.

Can this be unfair at times? Yes. But it’s also an indicator of the trust the two of you are placing in one another – the right to pull the plug on the experiment is a critical one, especially if either of you have doubts or second thoughts. Your willingness to abide by your partner’s comfort level is a sign that you are willing to place his or her concerns above your own desires… which is a key component to any happy relationship.

  1. fnar. []

  • Roger

    I'd like to disagree with you on #6. Veto power is nothing more than a way to avoid addressing insecurities. Nothing in a non-monogamous relationship should ever be described as "no questions asked". The very notion refutes point #5 — communicate. The simple fact is, if the level of communication is high, then there is no need for a veto, because there is room for discussion and compromise.

    And besides, like any imposed "rule", it's only as effective as those it is imposed upon will allow it to be. If the communication is there and the trust is high, rules are not necessary. If the communication isn't there and the trust is low, rules are not sufficient.

    • Claudia

      The partner can veto for the sole purpose that they do not find the other person their partner is proposing attractive. does not necessarily point to insecurities, just differing levels of taste.

  • #corrections
    "Being monogamous *doesn’t mean* that you’re not having sex with other people, not that you don’t want to."

    Change to: "Being monogamous means that…"

    • Dr. NerdLove

      Rassum frassum typos.

      • James (Thortok2000)

        The typo monster strikes again. Sentence that ends "a lack of trust is poison to relationships, non-monogamous ones." seems to end weirdly.

  • Sarah

    Thank you for writing an article that applies to my own relationship!

    I never thought I'd have a boyfriend in high school, but then all of the sudden this wonderful guy and I were dating. I didn't want to lose him when we both left for college, but I knew that I wanted to be able to pursue other people at college as well. So we talked, a lot, and after thinking about it he said it was fine, so long as I 1) kept him posted on what was going on and 2) didn't do anything with other people I hadn't already done with him. So far, so good. I told him about this guy I had a crush on, who I'd kissed the night before, and my boyfriend said enthusiastically "kissing is good!" I have the best boyfriend ever.

    Strangely enough, lots of people at my supposedly "liberal" arts college have reacted with confusion and even hostility towards me when I say I'm in an open relationship. My "friends" tell me I shouldn't be upfront about that at first because it'll scare people away! It'll scare people away that I'm being honest? I'm gonna continue to be upfront about my relationship status, it's not fair to my boyfriend, myself, or the person I'm flirting with otherwise.

    • Yuki

      I'm envious of your relationship!

      I think people have this idea drilled into them that being non-monogamous lessens your character as a person (which is complete and utter bullshite.) I would argue that being able to have that level of trust with someone demonstrates the reverse.

    • Nikki

      what the fuck is the point of an open relationship? if you're upset cause you "love" a guy but want to fuck other people (boo hoo) you don't love them. sorry.

      • Yuki

        Wow, lack of respect for other people, much?

        It's one thing to politely disagree or ask why someone does something/thinks a certain way to try and understand it and maybe see a flaw in it, but you're just coming on here and bashing people. Really.

        You don't seem to have any kind of idea what goes on in peoples' minds when they enter this sort of relationship. What it looks to me is that you've taken a surface impression of what it looks like to you, without understanding what goes on underneath, and use it as the end-all basis for judgment.

        Not your place to judge, hon.

        I could do the exact same thing to you and decide that because of your attitude, you're a stick-in-the-mud with a piece of petrified shite up your arse, and maybe draw conclusions that you're also a religious traditionalist who goes around telling people how to live their life. I could decide that you're a bitter old sexless hag who's jealous of the way other people are having fun enjoying life.

        Would I be right? Probably not. But that's the first impression I'm getting from you! Think about it.

        • Dr. NerdLove

          Hey now. Watch the personal insults. Even in the hypothetical sense.

          • Yuki

            Yes, sir. Sorry. Just trying to give her a bit of a mirror to look through. =/

          • Leigh

            How about global insults?

            I am Poly' and as a whole our community tends to find it insulting to have people violently disregard our social interactions then insinuate that we are not good people because we love more than one person.

            Yes, sometimes there's sex involved. No, it's not a prerequisite for any of our relationships. With the added fact that it's no one's business if someone is "fucking" their boy/girlfriend or not.

            I do find some of these comments confusing and angering. However, when I see one person who was wrong chastised while another who repeatedly verbally abuses others, publicly asigns unfair judgment to whole groups of people, and is LOUDLY misanthopic whenever someone mentions that they have or want sex has been given free reign to do so, is absolutely confounding.

            While it is my understanding that everyone is encouraged to state their oppinion about the article without repremand from the author, is it too much to ask that we not be cyberbullied about our sexual orientations by a random reader who has stated that they don't even like what they're reading?

            I would love to hear the oppinion of an asexual atheist, misanthropy and all… without the abuseive language, repeated insults and socially disruptive behavior I think that kind of outlook would be very interesting.

        • Nikki

          first off I'm an atheist. good try though. I also don't give a DAMN if I have sex or not I have better shit to do. This isn't me being bitter either I really don't even care. So your insult doesn't even phase me.

          though please I'd love to know how wanting to fuck other people IN A RELATIONSHIP is a justifiable emotion. please do explain! I'm dying to know! please tell me why this makes you such an oh so moral and wonderful person!

          I'm against and judgemental because I'm sick of people who think it's ok to do this and it can still make you a decent person. It's a set up failure in the end and this is not how a healthy relationship works. I'm sorry. that is not showing someone you love them. It says they're not worth enough of your devotion because it's just too damn hard to not have your sex BOO HOO.

          also another reason I ain't bitter is because I won't have to worry about if I'm ever pregnant or filled with an STD or not with some random hack who most likely won't step up and take care of shit with you. YAY ME.

          • Yuki

            Nikki. I'm trying to give you perspective on how you're coming off to us. I highly doubt you're what my hypothetical said you are, which is what I'm trying to do– point out to you what you're doing. The problem seems to be that you think that people who don't want to be monogamous don't care about their partners and are lying, cheating scumbags. Am I right?

            Because if that's it… well, that's a whole 'nother ballgame than this.

        • Nikki

          I don't care what the hell people do with their bodies as long as they're not trying to justify shit like this and play innocent that you're not someone whose good and monogomy. If you suck at monogomy thats fine but don't bring someone along for the ride to get screwed over by your "love" in the end.

          • djteslarose


            Calm down. I think if you read what you wrote, you'll realize that you come off as a very negative angry person. Clearly this issue has touched a nerve. An ex-boyfriend? Dad? It's a matter of trust and doing what is right for each person. Now, I personally do not care to be in a polygamous or open relationship of any kind. My boyfriend is with me on that (yes, we've discussed our feelings on that matter). However, that doesn't mean we don't find other people attractive. Our attitude is that we are in a relationship and not blind or dead and it does not mean we love each other less. However, though we may be attracted physically to another person, we don't have the emotional connection with others that we reserve for our sex life and for our relationship. And that is what works for us. However, I have close friends who enjoy polygamous and/or open relationships with great joy as well. And I've been propositioned by them to join or be a guest star. Though I've declined, it doesn't make me think less of them, in fact it is flattering in a way. And my boyfriend gets a kick out of it when girls flirt with me. And that is what works for them. It only becomes a moral issue when lying is involved. If you have to lie, then you probably are cheating in one way or another. Sex and love are very separate things. Love and trust go hand in hand. Having sex with another person with the full consent of your primary partner and everything pre-negotiated does not mean you love your primary partner less. Breaking your primary partner's trust, well, that isn't showing love and respect in any way. Lying is the problem, not the sex. And in regards to other people's sexual choices: their choices aren't hurting you, so live and let live. K?

          • Summer

            Your attitude and anger are not appreciated. We're trying to have an intellectual discussion here and your rudeness is really not welcome. If you want to start a flame war, go elsewhere. If you want to be polite then we can have a reasoned discussion. You brought up a fine question to ask, but you asked it in a very judgmental way and that is not ok. Worse still, you did it while insulting another commenter. I suggest you apologize to Sarah and make your future comments more polite.

          • Andreas

            May I suggest reading the poly bible “the ethical slut” it might shed some light. short answers to what you said:
            polyamoury acknowledges that not one partner can possible fit all desires and needs. You partner is straight, you might be bi. or your a top and she is a bottom or you like outdoor sex while he does not. its simple a matter allowing your needs to be filled by another person and thereby a) taking weight of your partners shoulders having to share all kinks with you and b) having your needs met and be a happier person.

            as mentioned before “consent” is the key here. you cant/shoulnt force your partner to allow yourself to find others. its something that should be discussed and approved by both parties. also the exact boundaries can negotiated as the doc has pointed out. maybe this brief insight helps you a little.

            I got one beef with the doc as well:
            #4 safer sex.
            primary partners can be fluid bonded (bareback/raw/no barrier sex) and can stay this way. if they have sex with others it should be safe. If your having sex at a club, condoms will be appropriate for the safety of others of course.

      • Paul

        Nikki that is pretty offensive I think.

    • Leigh

      DO NOT let them convince you to hide your long term relationship! Unless you are ashamed of him, which I read that you are not, be honest. It'll only drive away the people who don't want to be in an open relationship. Since you want an open relationship, honesty is the means to your goal!

      Your boyfriend does sound like a sweetheart!

  • IMC

    An addition:

    I have seen relationships where one party wants to open the relationship and the other does not. The partner who wants monogamy still goes along with opening the relationship, however, because s/he is afraid that s/he will lose his/her sweetie if s/he does not agree to an open relationship, or thinks that non-monogamy is what a "cool" person would want.

    If that's you, please remember that non-monogamy is an *option*, just one of many options in the world of love, relationships, sex, etc. You're not weird or stodgy if it isn't for you. And yes, you may lose a partner who strongly wants to date other people if you don't agree to a non-monogamous relationship. If that person doesn't have the same ideas about this part of life, however, you're both better off with other partners. This is not a place to compromise. There are plenty of date-able monogamists out there, and you'll be much happier with one of them.

    If you're the person lobbying for more openness, keep in mind that you can sometimes pressure a "yes" that isn't really an agreement. It's an indication that your sweetie doesn't want to lose you. If you value the relationship, make sure "yes" is really yes, and don't pressure or manipulate your honey. And if you don't value the relationship particularly, if "I want to sleep with other people" is your no-balls version of a breakup, then for pity's sake grow a pair and break up with your primary partner before you go off to the explore your other options. It's some pain now versus a great deal more complicated pain later.

  • Sheena

    I think, Roger, that if you're at a point in a polyamorous relationship where rules aren't necessary, you might be above the paygrade of this advice. I don't think the idea of "no rules" works for any relationship I've ever seen, and more than two thirds of my friends are in open relationships. It's pretty hard to communicate with perfect openness and honesty in a monogamous relationship, and the more people and emotions are involved, the harder it becomes.

    I also wonder about the "no veto" issue. I didn't take Dr. Nerdlove to mean that you weren't literally allowed to discuss the matter of a veto further, but that at the end of the day if someone says "no way", there's no wiggle room in that. I've known a lot of polyamorous couples that seem to think that it's their duty to weed out any insecurity or envy in their partners, and get frustrated when it doesn't work like that. What causes jealousy or insecurity in people is certainly worth talking about, but being aware of your issues doesn't erase them. I think many people in these relationships feel a lot of personal and external pressure to never feel jealous or insecure at all, which for most people isn't very realistic. So instead of acknowledging their own boundaries and being real about how they feel, they say "yes" when they mean "no", or "wait — can we talk about this?", and that doesn't serve the relationship or the other parties involved. By giving your partner veto power, you give them the security to know that they can be honest about their boundaries without feeling pressure to never feel insecure or jealous. I think this builds trust and intimacy between partners rather than lessening it.

  • Yuki

    I can see you've read Sex At Dawn cover-to-cover. 😀

    Competition for mates without the caveman act is an amazing thing, isn't it?

  • Nikki

    I'm sick of people using open relationships as an excuse to have sex with other people in a relationship. You can't have your cake and eat it too. If you're not good with monogomy just go have one night stands. An open relationship is not a relationship of love. It's just a stupid excuse for a fuck buddy.

    and no I'm not trolling.

    • Anthony

      You are entitled to your opinion, but just remember that it's only that – an opinion. Just because you don't like open relationships doesn't mean they don't work for everyone. Personally, I don't think I could have an open relationship because I don't think it would work for me. But I don't care what other people do. Sex is a lot of fun, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to have sex with many different people. Love is a lot more than just sex, and while sex often implies some kind of emotional component as well, sex is not the same as love. And attraction certainly isn't the same as love. You can love someone and still be attracted to other people. An open relationship is admitting this to each other and agreeing that some kind of extra-relationship activity is okay and wanted by both people.

      Also, fuck buddies isn't the same as an open relationship. Fuck buddies implies a whole lot less emotional involvement than someone you are in a relationship with. It is more likely that you'll care about your fuck buddy than some random Joe or Jane walking down the street, but not as much a person you wish to call your partner in a relationship sense. It is perfectly fine for you to have your opinion, but unless you don't mind offending others, you can choose a better way to express it. Your post comes off as almost hostile, and even though I side more with you rather than others, I felt put off by it.

      • Nikki

        "I love you but I also wanna fuck other people cause I have no self control."

        • Nikki

          if you're not going to be responsible enough to have true respect and devotion for someone you "love" because it's just not worth doing without getting your jollies on because it's OH SO HARD, then no you shouldn't be in a relationship.

        • Anthony

          I think that you have absolutely no idea what is going on in the head of people who do want to be in an open relationship. What about a married couple of 20 years, both of whom were faithful the entire time, decide they want to change things up a little bit? It's not about self control, they both proved that with 20 years of monogamy. And I would say 20 years of marriage means they probably pass the responsibility test, too, although that certainly isn't guaranteed. But now they have BOTH agreed that finding a third for their first threesome would be a fun and exciting thing to do together. Is their marriage now invalidated?

          You used respect and devotion to describe a relationship, and say that you can't have either of those and also be in an open relationship. But who are you to tell other people what kind of feelings they can and can't have? It seems to me like you're presenting a scenario where only one person in the relationship wants to have sex with other people, in which case, yes, there is a major problem with that. But if both people agree, and actually agree, and not just appeasement, then why is it so harmful? What about open relationships hurts you so much? You've pegged them as being inherently bad, without providing any evidence, even anecdotal evidence, to back it up. Prove to me that an open relationship can't have true respect and devotion. Prove to me that people in open relationships don't have self control. You think that your opinion is the only way it works in this situation, and unless you have an extreme amount of evidence to back you up, why is your opinion the only one that works?

          • Nikki

            what the hell you stay monogomous for a few years and you get free token pass to start experimenting then? what is this irrelevant trite.

            ugh you don't get it when you love someone you don't let other people in. what the hell dot hey have to do with anything?

            I also don't wanna pay for your STD bills with my taxes

          • Dr. NerdLove

            Just out of curiosity, how old are you?

          • Anthony

            If you are asking me Doc, 23.

            But to Nikki – you have no right to say what other people do jn their relationships. If I want to let another guy have hot sweat monkey sex with my girlfriend because she is interested and it makes me horny, so be it. I personally don't ever want to live a life where I am connected to one person and don't let any one else in as you have suggested. I want to make connections with people I care about, and I hope to care about more than just my significant other. I already said I am not super keen on non-monogamy, but that doesn't mean I want my world to revolve around only one person.

            You keep stating your opinion as if it is the opinion of society, or at least it should be. But that is not your job. Someone else suggested this might be a personal issue for you, and I feel the same way reading your comments. It sucks if something bad happened to you, but it doesnt give you the right to tell other people what to do or how to live. And your comment about STDs is bullshit. I'm a healthy, in shape guy who eats right and exercises. I don't want my taxes to go to people who don't take care of themselves health wise. But too fucking bad for me, because I live in a society that does that. Instead of bashing unhealthy people on the internet, I try to positively influence those around me. I think their way of life is awful and I would be miserable. But this is my life, and I won't live it that way, so everyone else does not matter.

            This was on the phone, so sorry if there are any typos. Couldn't wait for a computer though.

        • GentlemanJohnny

          You say that, I say "that guy's hot. Go get him if you want. I know our relationship isn't threatened by it."

        • PizzaSHARK!

          Love and lust are not mutually exclusive, nor are they inseparable. It's possible to love someone and still desire someone else; love is more than just physical affection and sex is not necessarily the highest means of communicating your love for a husband or wife.

          I'm a monogamous type of guy, but I have no difficulty understanding why some people are more comfortable in a more open relationship, or how it can be healthier for some people.

          Just because someone's viewpoint isn't the same as yours doesn't mean their viewpoint is automatically null and void.

    • Yuki

      On the contrary, I think I shall have my cake and eat it too.

      Thank you very much for your opinion.

      Mm. Cake.

      (Anyone else got the Portal soundtrack stuck in their head now?)

      • Nikki

        have fun with your failed relationships!

        • Robert

          So a relationship between more than two people, all of whom consent to the arrangement, is doomed to "fail"?

          See, that's what I think you're overlooking: consent. You seem to be assuming that, if there are more than two people in a relationship, then at least one of them is always not consenting. However, logically, there is no reason why this always has to be the case.

          It may be the case with you. It may be the case with me. But for some people, it is not. And a relationship with more than two people in which all of them are consenting can "succeed".

      • djteslarose

        Cake is awesome. Variety is the spice of life, and of sex. Whether your spice is opening up the relationship, inviting a third, or engaging in some experimental play with your primary partner, new additions can make a sex life go from ok to OMG WHEE!!! Pre-negotiation, trust, and communication are absolutely key!!

      • PizzaSHARK!

        Pie is very much superior to cake. Especially a nice peach pie, or maybe lemon.

        • Maggie

          I am also of this opinion! Make pie, not war! Fresh Berry pies are the best thing about summer

    • Mike

      How, exactly, are you not trolling? A simple, judgmental statement that dismissesanyone who disagrees with you and leaves no room to engage you in a discussion is very much the behavior of a troll. Your perception of non-monagomous relationships is clearly uninformed and your obvious distaste for them precludes the possibility that will change. If you're not planning to add anything useful to the discussion or make an honest effort to learn about it, then just stay out of it.

      • Dr. NerdLove

        Disagreement isn't trolling. Debate and opposing ideas are welcome here as long as everyone keeps it civil.

        This goes doubly so for a controversial or potentially heated topic.

        • Summer

          I agree with you completely, however I would argue that she isn't being civil. This is an excellent community with great discussions that up to now has been very polite and reasoned. She is personally insulting other commenters and dismissing everything that disagrees with her opinion. Personally, I think she crossed the civility line long ago.

        • Yes, but if you have one single person creating a huge imbalance in a discussion, from the outside it looks like a lively discussion, while in fact the entire energy of the group is expended at disproving one person.

          This much reminds me of Open Source Projects and Poisonous People

          (I watch this talk at least once every two months)

        • Mike

          Sorry to be among those fanning the flames, but she's not disagreeing, Doc. As I said in my comment, she's dismissing those who disagree with her and leaving no room for a discussion. That's the very antithesis of debate. Here's the difference:

          Debate: "I don't understand. I would be heartbroken if my boyfriend wanted to have an open relationship; doesn't love mean devotion? How can you love someone and want to see other people?

          Troll: "People who do this sort of thing are just wrong in the head. Love is devotion; you can't love someone and want to see other people. That's just sick!"

          Everyone in this discussion seems so open to debate that they're looking for cracks in what Nikki says, hoping they might convince her to open up — which is exactly what trolls feed on. Sorry, Doc; you've got yourself a genuine, accept-no-substitutes troll here. It's not civil to engage in the hateful crap she's spewing. The non-manogamous, as she claims, "have no self-control." Your other readers are clearly doing their best to be civil, but Nikki has no interest in civility.

          • Yuki

            Well… I MAY have hypothetically crossed the line of civility.

    • James (Thortok2000)

      If you don't like non-monogamous people, don't date one.

      Who are you to say what is right or what is wrong between consenting adults that have nothing to do with you? Why should they even care about your opinion?

      Why should you even care whether other people are 'really in love' or not?

      If some non-monogamous person has burned you or someone you cared about in the past, possibly because /they broke one of the rules in this article/, then be mad at that person, not all of non-monogamy.

      And especially don't be mad at those mature enough to follow these rules. Read carefully and figure out what a non-monogamous-inclined person who is following these rules would do if they were dating you. Here's a hint, they'd either A) stay monogamous with you, B) dump you, or C) never date you in the first place.

      And if you're always this aggressive and negative I'm leaning towards C.

      And no, I'm not trolling.

    • Cat

      Isn't it better to be up front with someone if you absolutely know that you can't be monogamous? Isn't it better than lying and saying you'll be exclusive, and then cheating later, when you know all along that you're going to cheat? Isn't it better to say, "Look, this is who I am, and how I am, and I'd rather be honest about it than sneak around behind your back."?

      Because, trust me, there are people out there who, no matter how hard they try, and no matter how good their intentions are, just won't be able to be faithful to one partner for very long.

      Personally, I'd rather be in an honest, non-monogamous relationship than a monogamous relationship with a guy who ends up cheating on me.

    • Kenny

      I agree. Just be single.

    • You may not be trolling then you are just stupid. For MOST normal people marriage is much more than just sex. How much more depends on the people. If the value of YOUR marriage only depends 20% on YOUR sex life, what difference does it make if you mutually decide it will be non monogamous? 80% of you marriage can still be perfect. The only prople that should be absolutely monogamous are those that believe that sex is the only function of marriage.

    • open relationships arnt always about sex. ive been in a polyamourus relationship where sex was off the table for the non primary partner. and polyamory means loving more than one person. swingers are typicaly out there just for sex.

  • Joanne

    This is good advice absolutely, because if you're going to be non-monogamous you have GOT to talk straight and honestly with your partner and be willing at the drop of a hat to stop and talk about it some more.

    I've been married twenty years now to a man I love and adore and we have a nearly-grown son. At the beginning of our relationship we talked about faithfulness and our expectations and for the first five years or so did a lot of experimenting. We came to the conclusion that I was more permissive, allowing him more freedoms and decisions than he was really comfortable with giving back to me. He veto'd a LOT and that was okay.

    Eventually we worked the highjinks out of our systems and settled into monogamy for the next decade or so. Recently we've talked about some of my feelings and needs that have changed in the last while and he's given me some liberty to touch base with that side of myself, even though he's not particularly interested outside the marriage bed anymore.

    Love isn't a static item on a shelf. Trust isn't something given once and never questioned again. What you do with your body has nothing to do with what you do with your heart. With all due respect to Nikki's opinion, it's kneejerk moralism that you used to find in bubblegum packs. Choosing to be monogamous is a great choice. But it's certainly not the only one.

  • Laura

    Monogamous and non judgemental with it. This was an interesting read, even if it's not for me.

    I also burst out laughing when I saw this- the little 'Be sure to share!' buttons took on a whole new meaning here!

    • Leigh

      HAHA!!! I didn't even think about that!

      … now I can't stop… Gee! Thanks a LOT! (/sarc) XD

  • Gman

    This was a interesting read, although it felt completley unrelated to me – as a 24 year old virgin that has never been in a relationship before, reading this feels kind of like looking into the future – first I need to build myself into getting together with a girl, then worry about relationships – although this did give me a few things to look out for when the time will arrive.

    Personally, I believe that monogomy is the way that is right for me – I mean if I am still struggling getting the attention of ONE girl, how on earth will I be able to maintain the attention of SEVERAL girls at the same time?!

    P.S. I will say though that your website has given me A LOT of great advice that is begining to prove itself in real life… it's a slow but noticable process 🙂

    • Mike

      Baby steps, Gman. You're absolutely right; get comfortable with dating before trying the varsity-level stuff. Still, it's a good idea to think about the romantic future you want. Just realize as you do that what you want can change. I realized I was nonmonogamous not too long ago, but spent my twenties dreaming about a hypothetical "one" (who, being a figment of my imagination, was really just me, only a woman).

  • Matt

    What I find fascinating about the assertion that our natural state is one where we're polygamous is the issue of jealousy. It's an interesting contradiction; from a purely logical viewpoint I'd think that if it were so natural for us to by polygamous, then why isn't everyone so naturally comfortable with it and in particular why does jealousy seem to be a very large factor? How does our natural propensity to be jealous reconcile with our natural propensity to be polygamous?

    For me personally, at this point in my life, a polygamous relationship isn't for me – personally, I'm not comfortable with the idea of my girlfriend sleeping around with other guys because I know it'd cause me uncertainty and turmoil. I'm not against the idea per se at all, in fact I'd have no problem with it if I knew that I could handle it emotionally but I'm not at that point and honestly don't know if I'd ever be at that point myself. Thus, I'd never expect a girlfriend to extend the same courtesy to me – the one sided "I want to sleep around but you can't" is just hypocritical.

    • Dr. NerdLove

      To start with: don't forget that our bodies are designed to try to prevent other people from impregnating our mates. So part of the point of jealousy is competitive.

      It's also extremely cultural. Virginity and sexual exclusivity were incredibly important to Western and Middle-Eastern cultures because of how we viewed parentage and child birth. There are other cultures that don't share the same views of exclusivity or parentage that don't have the same feelings of sexual jealousy.

    • And you've got to bear in mind that in evolutionary/biological terms polygamy/polyamory and jealousy aren't in any way exclusive or opposing drives. It's just that indulging both of them makes you kind of a dick 🙂

      I like to see both those impulses the same as any other biological/genetic predisposition: You can't deny that they're part of us, but what makes us human is transcending our biological drives, our animal nature. Most people, due to cultural conditioning, learn to (mostly) transcend their polygamy/polyamory drive. A few, myself included, learn to (mostly) transcend our jealousy drive. They're both triumphs of the human.

  • mmarple

    I'm leaning towards Nikki with this one. Open relationships, for the most part (YES THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS) do not work. other wise it would be the norm, but its not. multiple sexual partners either way isn't healthy. would you really be all right with someone you love deeply saying they wanted to sleep with someone else? I wouldn't be, even if I loved that other person. personal opinion, feel free to disagree aaand cue the backlash.

    • Dr. NerdLove

      Well that all depends on what you define as a relationship "working", doesn't it? If breaking up is a sign of an open relationship not working, then by that same logic "standard" relationships are doomed to failure as well.

      • GentlemanJohnny

        All relationships end in two ways, break-up or death. Its what happens in between that matters.

    • @mmarple: Dan Savage would disagree with you. Your belief that open relationships don't work is based entirely on selection bias. You have only become aware of those relationships that don't work out. There are many others that do work out – at least as well as monogamous ones – but you don't know about them because most of them are kept relatively secret to avoid discrimination. In addition, we are used to monogamous relationships not working out so we don't make a big deal of it. However, when a non-monogamous relationship doesn't work out we say, "See, those things never work out."

      It is similar to the fear of flying. Airplanes are actually safer than cars. But, when a plane crashes, everyone makes a big deal out of it, even though cars crash all day every day.

      • GentlemanJohnny

        My only issue with selection bias argument is that it implies that somewhere someone has hard statistical data on monogamous vs non monogamous relationships to compare to. In truth, neither side of the debate has a big enough unbiased sample to talk about the statistical comparison between the two.

    • Nikki

      THANK YOU. someone who gets it.

      • Mike

        Take a lesson, Nikki; mmarple stated her disagreement respectfully and received a respectful response in return.

    • Mike

      mmarple, I wonder if you would feel the same if you ever found yourself in a relationship with someone whose sex drive was considerably less than yours? I've seen what the sexually satisfied are like, and no, they don't need another man beyond the one she has, but what if you found yourself completely unsatisfied with your partner and he was unwilling or unable to do more for you? Some people would end the relationship and find someone with whom they're more sexually compatible, but if you really love the person, if you'd talked earnestly about having children and building a life together and all the pieces are in place except the sex, would you still feel the same way? If you're open to the possibility that an open relationship might work in that scenario, might it then also possibly work for other couples as well?

      • Chez

        I'd wonder if a relationship could survive if a partner felt sexually inadequate–and I feel that would be the inevitable conclusion in a situation in which one partner tells the other, "I'm not satisfied." And there could be any number of reasons for that, but somehow I feel the reaction's not going to be "oh well, we're good in these other aspects of our relationship," it's going to be "I'm not good enough" and that's going to start poisoning the rest of it.

        • Mike

          It's called "tact," Chez. Big, relationship-altering revelations aren't the sort of thing one blurts out when one's partner is at their most vulnerable. It's often preceded by "can we talk" and presented in as sensitive a way as possible. It's true that some people will come away from a conversation in which their partner spends the entire time explaining their own need and want to see other people as a part of their personality, as a part of who they are, with the idea that "they're just trying to spare my feelings. I'm not good enough for my partner." Unfortunately, that's just how human ego works. Look, I'm as sympathetic to that as anyone, but there's a point in which your partner's fragile ego and your own relationship dissatisfaction have to collide, and while ideally one would do it with tact and sensitivity, there's only so much one can do. If the choice is between asking for an open relationship and wallowing in a stagnant relationship, then something's gotta give.

        • Cat

          It also depends on the source of the lack of satisfaction.

          It doesn't necessarily mean that the one who is dissatisfied is dissatisfied because the other partner "isn't good enough." It could be that the dissatisfied partner wants and needs sex once a week, while the other wants and needs it once a month (or even less frequently). It could be because the other partner has lost interest in sex completely. It could be any number of things.

          And yes, the conversation needs to be had in a sensitive and non-judgmental way. Not to say that someone's feelings won't get hurt, but if you're really in a loving relationship, then you should be able to share your feelings in a respectful way, and expressing your needs while still taking the other person's needs and feelings into consideration.

  • What I find odd is that people cite the caveman analogy – wherein men compete to get their sperm in as many women as possible and women try to get sperm from physically fit men yet try to get other men to raise and support the children of those physically fit men – and then, in the same breath, claim that cheating is bad. The caveman system is entirely based on cheating. If the supportive caveman knew he was raising the child of the physically fit caveman, then he would just kill the child or leave and stop supporting it. If the cavewoman knew the caveman was spreading his sperm far and wide she would rightly suspect that his resources for supporting children may be spread a little thin as well. Therefore, she is going to want a man whom she can con into NOT spreading his sperm while she still seeks more physically fit (and less gullible) men to actually sire her children.

    Bear in mind: I am NOT saying that cheating is good or bad. I am merely stating that it is part and partial of the caveman system of mating. So, to call upon the caveman system as a reason why some of us find it difficult to be monogamous while claiming that a major part of that system is unacceptable seems to be disingenuous, or at least confused. I must also point out that I have seen no actual evidence that the caveman system was ever in use. It is only conjecture. It is widely-held conjecture, even among evolutionary sociologists, but it is conjecture just the same. All we do know for sure is that humans are so horny that they are willing to have sex with other species – as is evidenced by the 1-4% of neanderthal DNA in modern humans (

    So, if anything at all can be drawn from what science actually knows about the history of human mating, it is that people like to have sex. EVERYTHING else is mere cultural bias. If it weren't for STDs then I can easily imagine a culture wherein so-called "cheating" was the norm (France maybe?). There are primitive tribes where damn near everyone has sex and everyone shares in raising the children and everything else in the village. Having sex with someone other than your primary mate is not considered cheating. It is considered increasing the size of the family. What a concept! Everyone helping each other instead of competing!

    Again, I am not saying whether cheating is good or bad. Merely that – if one is going to call upon the caveman analogy – then one must accept cheating as part of that system. If you don't want cheating in your system, then you have to invent a new analogy for a new culture.

  • I've been polyamorous to varying degrees for about six years now; I've been in an open relationship with my current boyfriend for just under two. Lots of this advice is great, although I think the "veto" bit is mostly a sub-section of negotiating and communicating in general. I don't see veto of a potential partner as more special than any of the other negotiations you have to go through or things you might give up in order to have a successful open (or, I think, closed) relationship.

    I want to add a more specific tip for bringing up an interest in non-monogamy early on with a new person. If I have even an inkling that I might be romantically or sexually interested in someone, I'll find a way to casually work polyamory into the conversation. I'll just drop it in as information about myself, or I'll mention a book I've read about it, or a polyamorous cocktail hour I go to, or whatever. That way it doesn't have to be an awkward/abrupt/forward thing, it can just be a topic we happen to be talking about. Gauging their reaction, before we've really started to flirt in earnest, lets me see whether I should proceed or not.

    Nikki: I probably shouldn't engage with you, but I just want to point out that there's no right or wrong here; there's nothing to "get." So long as people are being honest and behaving with their partners' consent, then it's fine and kind of awesome if different people like different kinds of relationships. (Diversity is cool!) I have no beef with people who want to be monogamous; I may not totally understand them, but I support them in doing what makes them happy. I hope for the same respect in return. I feel like my polyamory is as much a sexual and relational orientation as my bisexuality, and it's painful to read comments like yours which denigrate people like me. I'm old enough now and have enough experience with this that it doesn't bother me much, but I'm very aware of the potential feelings and vulnerabilities of people who are new to non-monogamy. I personally would appreciate it if you could use a less judgmental tone.

    • GentlemanJohnny

      Personally I'm currently in a monogamous relationship but have been in open ones before. That said, if someone "casually" drops the word polyamory. . .or kink, or BDSM or any number of others into a conversation, its an immediate turn-off for me, like "absolutely never ever going to happen now" grade turn off.

      Its a combination of a lot of small things. First, if you're bringing up the details of your sex life when you first realize you might be interested, you're probably telling me more than I want to know at that point. I'm taking early to mean in your first hour or two of conversation with someone who you think you might be interested in. It feels sort of like being told "I'm interested in you for sex but only on these conditions" when I might well still just be getting to know an interesting person, so it can be a bit jarring.

      Second, I personally avoid pigeonholing myself with buzzwords for a couple of reasons. First because my preferences are largely situational. Whether its monogamy vs not or anything else, the person is what's important and the details follow from what is mutually satisfying for both of us. When people start defining themselves as "I am polyamorous" or "I am a submissive" it sort of feels like they're pigeonholing themselves and thus the type of relationships are on the table. For some people, that is exactly the case. They won't be in a relationship where that sort of thing can't be satisfied. That's fine, that's good to know going in. On the other hand it is taking away a lot of other options without giving things a chance to see how they work with this particular human being across the table.

      Third, I have often seen buzzwords used as a substitute for personality. This is not to say that you, or any other individual, are not interesting. That said, I've heard "I'm polyamorous" early on because the person saying it thought that it would make them seem cooler or more approachable or whatever. More often than not, hearing something like that early on has been a warning sign of trouble to come so I'm wired to react accordingly.

      In truth, there's more subtlety than what I've presented here. There's specifics of tone, body language, fitting the ongoing conversation etc that don't immediately trigger my alarms. Little things like saying "I was in an open relationship with my last boyfriend" instead of using "polyamorous" or "I like a guy who takes the lead" as opposed to "submissive" make a big difference. In the former case of each, it sounds a lot less like someone picked a cool term and molded themselves to fit it and more like they are who they are and that term might apply.

      • Well, you and I probably wouldn't end up dating. 🙂

        For me, I'm not at all interested in a monogamous relationship. I've been through enough heartache from getting involved with people who wanted one and having it not work out. It's a priority to keep that from happening again. That, to me, is worth the fact that it does indeed limit my options.

        As for using these terms as identification, I can see where you're coming from. I think that in general it's annoying when people take one facet of themselves and use that to completely define who they are. I think that goes for anything. What I'm suggesting is actually more like "let this be out in the open just like any other facet of yourself that's important to you, like nerdiness or interest in movies or what your job is, etc." When you think of non-monogamy as another thing that interests you, and perhaps one of many things that are interesting about you, then it's easy to bring it up early on.

      • Maggie

        I like the way you put that. I feel so… Excluded from certain debates because I refuse to use labels on myself, mainly because as you said, a lot will depend on the situation and people involved

  • Oh, two of the main non-monogamy resources in print are Tristan Taormino's book Opening Up, which also has a website: and The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy. You'll find in these a whole lot more detail on a lot of the things the Doc discussed above. I've found them helpful in figuring out my own style of non-monogamy.

  • Laura

    One point- I'm not especially keen on evo psych explanations for a lot of behaviour (since it's mostly made up out of scant, overgeneralised archaeological evidence to support whatever theory people want it to support). People and whole groups have taken every kind of approach to sex, relationships and taboos across time and around the world. If we can describe anything as our natural state, I'd say it's this capacity for individual and cultural variation.

  • Skelly

    When my man and I first got together, he was very devoutly monogamous, whereas I was so late-blooming that I had thought myself asexual for years before I had any sexual interest in anyone, much less had any relationship experience. I made it perfectly clear from the get-go that I was open to, even somewhat partial to, the idea of a polygynous household structure, whether that involved multiple sexual relationships or just romantic friendships with multiple women.

    This being said, I follow the rules of classical polygamy: I am comfortable with him having other (in our case, committed) partners. Beyond group cuddling, I would never involve myself intimately with ANY of those others. Classical polygamy ≠ threesome, even remotely. It is more along the lines of when a lady had paramours or a man had mistresses, back in the day. These were usually relatively stable secondary relationships, but they only involved one member of the couple.

    Normal completely reasons for this sort of relationship include: low sex drive on only one side of the relationship, unusual urges on each side that the primary partner is unwilling or uncomfortable fulfilling, one partner far from home for extended periods in the same location, a desire to have children on one side but not the other, fear of pregnancy — you get the idea. Reasons that typically don't work out? Well, discomfort with the idea of settling down would be a big one. Polygamy involves at least ONE long-term relationship — usually several. It is not the sort of flit-from-girl-to-girl "harem" scenario that people seem to expect, when people first consider the subject. Unfortunately, people tend to conflate "exclusive" polygamy with the polyamorous situations you describe above (that is, threesomes and the like). It is a rather troublesome assumption.

    (Also, pardon my referring to things in terms of one man: several women. That is my current situation, and it is also far more common than the reverse; moreover, in societies such as Nepal where it is common for one woman to marry many men, the woman is actually marrying an entire "set" of biological brothers — a whole different can of beans, again.)

  • Jenny

    I just don't like condoms. I'm monogamous by nature and I just like the feel of comfy, familiar dick way more than new penis. I just get way more turned on and satisfied when it is "mine." It's really not a judgment against anyone else. I get treated like a virginal self-righteous prude for it, though–which kinda sucks.

  • I would say that, for me, under certain circumstances, and with the proviso that it will always be an increase in risk, rule #4 is a little fungible. In particular, if I'm using protection with other partners/playmates I wouldn't necessarily use condoms with my girlfriend. There's also the Fluid Bond, where everyone concerned is tested and nobody "crosses the line" without protection unless they're tested too. Again, each increment of this increases risk and puts more dependence on the honesty and reliability of everyone concerned, and you've gotta have the confidence and self-control to close the blast doors if there's any chance the system's been breached.

    Also, can I put in a plug for "polyamory" over "polygamy"? Apart from the fact that (I assume) none of us are actually *marrying* multiple people, "many loves" is what it's all about for me. Despite being (last time I checked) a dude, I mostly get turned off by the whole just-sex concept, and the beauty of an open relationship for me is being able to extend my intimate, loving experiences beyond a single partner. Not just because it enables me to experience so many flavours of love – fiery and sexy, deep and spiritual, warm and comforting, friendly and fun – but because every relationship you experience gives you a new mirror on yourself, from which you can learn something new about who you are…and how much more so when those relationships are the most intimate of all?

  • Lee

    With the exception of the part about condoms, I disagree with this article. I think it's politically correct nonsense, and employs ethical reasoning which takes no account of real life situations and basic human nature.

    In our society, if you don't want to be monogamous, you'd have to be CRAZY to ever tell that to people you're dating, because doing so will basically cripple your own love life. You say it's "shitty" to withold this information from a potential partner. Well, it's also shitty to never be able to find a boyfriend or girlfriend. It won't just be a "sizable" number of people who will not want to be with you, it will be almost everyone. You're not morally obligated to do something to protect someone else from hurt or some other hardship when doing so will cause you comparable or greater harm than it will protect the other person from. As far as I'm concerned, creating a situation which guarantees your relationships will be few and far between is worse than getting "cheated" on. While the latter is certainly not pleasant, the person can move on. If someone does what you advocate and is always immediately up front about not wanting to be monogamous, they're setting themselves up to be stuck in a situation of endless frustration there's no escape from. No thanks. It's far wiser to either not raise the subject at all, or if the issue comes up, say that you'll be monogamous. Doing this isn't being an "asshole"–it's showing a little common sense. Furthermore, "open" relationships don't seem to work out very often anyway, because people are jealous even if they don't expect their partners to be monogamous. So you're asking people to do something that will not only make it exceedingly difficult to find a partner, but that will probably cause their relationships to fail even with the rare person who says they're willing to accept them not being monogamous. Again, someone would have to be crazy to take your advice on this.

    Secondly, you say that if someone's already in a relationship where monogamy is expected, and they want to be with someone else, they should tell their partner. Really?!?! What if they can "cheat" and probably never be found out? Is it still better to do something which itself will almost certainly cause hurt feelings and torpedo a good relationship? Your reasoning here reminds me of communism–in theory it make sense, but in practice it shows no regard for human nature. People break all sorts of agreements and rules all the time without it being regarded as immoral. So why is "cheating" automatically considered to be so? Being honest is NOT always the best policy.

    Third, I have a huge problem with the whole idea of "open" versus "closed" relationships. Such terms imply that the right to sleep with who you want is something that's granted or not granted by the "terms" of a relationship. I disagree with this. I think sleeping with who you want (assuming the person wants to sleep with you) is a fundamental personal right, like speaking. It's not of your partner's business whether you're sleeping with other people or not. I agree that if you do so, you must use protection (condoms and such) to protect your partner's health. But I certainly don't think they have a right to "veto" you having other sexual partners. Being dumped hurts, yet people don't have the right to prevent their partner from dumping them to keep their own feelings from getting hurt. So why should they have the ability to make their partner be monogamous for the same reason?

    • I…just….

      • Yeah…

        I think it's safe to say that Lee lacks empathy for other humans in a big way, so let's not consider that a valid response to this article, eh? It is a little terrifying that people exist who'd be so unabashedly dishonest, but I think (I hope!) it's a small minority.

        I want to reiterate, though, that I am always upfront about not being monogamous and have never had a problem meeting people who are either already the same way or are willing (or excited!) to try it. It's not everyone, but that's okay; I'm pretty good at polyamory, but I don't think even I could handle being in a relationship with *everyone*.

        I know lots of people who are in polyamory communities or who just date openly who've had similar experiences. Once you open up, it gets so much easier. The point is finding people who want the same thing you do, and they really really do exist. Maybe you have to be a little more patient to find them, but I think you'll be surprised when it's not as hard as you expect.

    • Anthony

      I'm curious if someone has cheated on you, and if you were totally okay with that? And if it hasn't happened, how do you think you'd feel if it did?

  • Lee

    Anthony–no, I wouldn't feel happy about it. But I would feel pretty bad if someone dumped me too. In both cases, it wouldn't mean the person wouldn't have the right to do it.

    • Anthony

      Well, you're advocating that not only is it within someone's rights, but it should be accepted and practiced. Cheating, if it's found out, is often followed by either a dumping or some incredibly hurt feelings and possibly a poisonous relationship. A dumping can hurt a lot, but I don't think a dumping alone hurts more than cheating can.

      You're also talking about having pretty much no respect for your partner. Saying that cheating is okay is saying, "I don't respect you enough to be honest with you, and if you're feelings get hurt, it's not my problem." Whether or not you feel that's how the world should work, it doesn't. Interpersonal relationships, romantic or not, are usually based upon trust and mutual respect. Breaking that respect and trust is destroying the relationship. Being open about your feelings can also cause problems, but feelings can be articulated and hopefully you can get your partner to understand how/why you're feeling a certain way. There is nothing to articulate about a lack of respect – it's just that.

      Being open with someone about the possibility of an open relationship is putting their feelings in their own hands. You say it's a personal right to sleep with whomever you choose, and I don't disagree. But we make sacrifices and compromises to be with the people around us, and even more to be with a romantic partner. If you're not willing to compromise you're own right to sleep with everyone, I question how much you can really care about your partner. You're not protecting yourself or them. You're being selfish.

  • Lee


    With regard to relationships, the world "works" however the people involved choose to behave. And if we're going to talk about "respect" and being selfish–I don't think asking someone to be exclusive, to give up an important personal freedom just to prevent your own feelings from being hurt, shows someone much respect. It itself is being selfish and, in my view, a coward. Empathy is a two-way street. If someone says they don't want to know if their partner has other people, and if they do, that they want them to practice safe sex, that's one thing. I don't have a problem with that. But trying to impose either exclusivity or "relationship rules" on others–sorry, that doesn't fly with me. I don't see how this is showing a lack of "respect" for your partner if you believe your partner has the right to be the same way with you.

    And I'm not convinced there are all these people who would be fine with it if someone said they weren't going to be monogamous simply because a few strangers on the Internet say so. Maybe I'm wrong. But I'm going to need more real life evidence before I'm convinced, and so far I haven't found that. Perhaps that will change. But given that there's virtually no couples who publicly acknowledge being like that, it's certainly a legitimate concern to raise when someone says "if you're not monogamous, be honest about it."

    I don't believe in hurting people maliciously. But I also don't believe that you have to avoid living your life the way you want in order to not hurt people's feelings. I wouldn't expect anyone to do that for me.

    • Anthony

      I live my life so very different from the way the rest of the world does. So I know that the way the world works doesn't mean much. But you're still being selfish. You want someone to care about your feelings – you don't want them to impose their will on you, preventing you from acting how you want. You're not preventing them from doing what they want, but you're still imposing your will upon them. We're not going to agree on this. I don't think you've been cheated on, so I don't think you can possibly be aware of how it feels. But by saying I'm going to sleep with whomever I want and not tell you, you're essentially proving their feelings aren't important to you. If you truly don't get upset by people disrespecting you, then you're a unique person.

    • joylouisedevil

      Your stance on this matter is not only correct but kind of a turn on! You got a lucky girlfriend!

  • Lee

    Anthony–let's not kid ourselves, everything people do in relationships is motivated by selfishness. Both asking someone to be exclusive and sleeping with someone else regardless of whether your partner is okay with it are being selfish. That was my point, that selfishness cuts both ways. I'm sorry, but I don't see how sleeping with others is "imposing one's will" on a partner. What if your partner didn't want to get involved with anyone who had been a virgin until 20 or older, and you had stayed a virgin until 21? If you lie and say you had sex for the first time at 16, are you "imposing your will" on them? I agree we're not going to agree on this, so let's just call it a day.

    • Anthony

      Most things done in relationships are agreements or compromises where both parties are involved. Relationships might be motivated by selfish reasons, but decisions are made with both people. You're taking a decision out of the other person's hands and making it totally your choice. Which, of course sleeping with people is your personal decision, but your decision to cheat affects your partner. Also, there is NOTHING requiring you to stay in a relationship with someone who doesn't want to let you sleep around. They are giving you a choice. You're not reciprocating that.

  • Lee


    Sorry, but there's no requirement that people in relationships behave the way their partner wants them to, unless we're talking about joint assets or something like that. No one has some kind of inherent right to be in a relationship where their partner doesn't sleep with others. A sexual act is between the two people involved, not a third party, whether that party is someone's partner or not. If you don't like the way your partner behaves, you're welcome to leave. Saying: "You must either only sleep with me or break up with me" isn't giving someone a choice, it's seeking to limit their choices. If the partner decides: "I don't want to be with someone who sleeps with others, and I found out my partner is doing this, so I'm leaving this relationship," they're exercising their own personal freedom while not limiting the freedom of their partner.

    • Anthony

      We're looking at the same situation and getting two different, and pretty much opposite, results. I would prefer to be given a choice rather than being cheated on. You call it limiting choices, but it's also creating expectations. I hold expectations of the people around me, and I welcome them to do the same for me. The general expectation is one of fidelity unless otherwise agreed upon.

      You are saying that if your partner doesn't like your cheating, they are welcome to leave. Well, if you don't like being 'controlled' by your partner, you have that same choice. Usually, breaking up before cheating occurs or not starting a relationship based upon false pretenses is a lot easier than doing it after the cheating has happened, and there will be a lot less emotional investment. I'm not trying to say don't execute your rights as much as you want (although rights are absolutely ridiculous – who gave us these rights? Who upholds them?), but look beyond what you can do and towards what you should do. What your scenario does is take the hard decision away from you. It's removing your accountability – "I'll do whatever I want, and if you don't like it, leave." That's rude. You can disagree, which is fine. Thankfully, neither of us will ever have to date each other, so we can take solace in that.

  • NerdFetish

    All relationships are messy and require work regardless of their stage of openness but nonmonogamy is a bit messier. I tried Open Relationship and found it wasn’t something I enjoyed. My Love was up front from the beginning about his feelings on the matter. Somehow, we did find a compromise. I remain monogamous to him both physically and emotionally. He enjoys a couple of playdates per month and remains emotionally monogamous to me. It’s not easy but it’s worth it because we work so well in other areas. It took over a year and a lot of talking and negotiating to get there. I still struggle with some jealousy and insecurity but, having lived both sides of this equation (married to a cheater vs Loving an honest man who wants variety) I would choose this any day.

  • Jessica

    I am a 33 yr old female and have always enjoyed sex with multiple partners until I find a man who I fall in love with. I met a guy who is 6 yrs younger than me who fought for our exclusivity for a few years until I finally agreed (even though I thought he was too young for a relationship). I gave up my sexual partners (I was sleeping with 2 or 3 different guys) to be with with him. We ended up falling deeply in love during the past year and everything was great until I found out he had intentions of sleeping with another woman who lives out of town.

    We came close to breaking up and he proposed that we have an open relationship because he thinks humans are polyamorous. You would think that I would be open to this idea, it is causing me a lot of pain, anxiety and grief.

    The reason why I am on the fense about non-monogomous relationships is that it takes great skill and is incredibly difficult not to build more of an emotional bond with someone who you are repeatedly being intimate with. For me it is confusing if I am sleeping with more than one man who my heart belongs to. My thoughts drift from man to man and I lose the feeling of being "grounded" like relaitonships create when the bond is strong and healthy.

    I feel like the transition going from monogomous relationship to non-monogomous relationoship would be like driving in a car and going from 5th gear to shift straight into 1st gear. I would much rather have time apart from that partner to re-establish a new set of rules….I still have such a hard time with a transition like this and feel like it would be easier to establish this from the beginning.

    My other concern with going from mongomy to non monogomy (I really feel like it would be so much easier to keep everything open from the very start) is what happens when a woman is pregnant with a child. If the relationship is open how is it fair that the man gets to sleep with other women and the mother takes care of the child and the focus should be more on the child and husband (or partner).

    I do think age is a very relative factor and I think that my boyfriend at this time in his life just wants to go out and explore other sexual experiences (which I fully support) I just don't know if I'm ready to go on that ride with him. I think he doesn't want to lose me and I am just concerned if we open our relationship up, we may stray emotionally to other people and will end up destroying our relationship.

    I have not heard that many people address how people deal with the emotional attachments to other partners besides your boyfriend/girlfriend or wife/husband. Sex naturally bonds us to our partners by releasing a phermone that can be addictive and all of a sudden our bodies are confused which partner to give yourself to.

  • riffraff

    Wish author would have used different wording than " Natural state". YES, we have evolutionary heredity. But we also have cultural heredity and meme's. One is very slow changing (our physical bodies), the other(s) change and adapt at much faster rates. IMO, All of these heredities are "natural"… no one is more important than the others.

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  • hecanjump

    The problem with "either partner can close the relationship at any time" is that it doesn't take into considerations the feelings of the other people involved. If my partner becomes romantically involved with someone, my asking to close our relationship doesn't only affect my partner, but her lover as well — who apparently doesn't get a say in the matter.

    Having the openness up for discussion at any time is far healthier; if my partner's romantic entanglement is causing me pain, I do get to talk about that with her. But at the end of the day, that pain is *my* feeling, and *my* responsibility. I don't get control over her heart and body because of my feelings.

  • Elana

    #4. Sorry, WRONG. Some of us still maintain fluid bonding with some partners, while be EXTREMELY strict about protection with all others.
    #6 Not necessarily. Some relationships decide to have veto power, some don't.
    #7 Cheating does not mean you will necessarily close a relationship.

    Sorry Doctor, I get the sense you are a little out of your depth with poly. Nice attempt though.

  • thegerrbear01

    Is love not sacrifice and devotion? A sacred, very rare, and special thing that two people can share in our short lifetime? Do some people not want to say, "I want to give everything I have to this person and cast aside all my other desires to express that devotion." Are we stretching ourselves thin emotionally, physically, and intellectually with other partners? What is to become of this world?

    • username_6916

      There's plenty of sacrifice and devotion in polyamorious relationships. It might not be what your or I am looking for, i think it would be wrong to say that non-monogamy inherently means a lack of commitment or devotion.

      • thegerrbear01

        In all truthfulness, I honestly cant wrap my head around it. It seems like a situation where jealousy could easily run more rampant compared to monogamous. Not saying monogamy doesnt have its own problems. I just wouldn't want to be compared to other men or women all the time. I guess some people are just more suited to it. The blatant jealousy would consume me.


  • ivykrautrauch

    I think that rules like these just cause arguments. I think the best way to handle it is, before anything, to want your partner and your potential metamours to be happy. The only reason to have this many rules is if you really see third parties as some kind of a threat. When people set up a bunch of rules they wind up continuously in negotiation, blame, and mistrust. Veto power is very, very cruel to thrid parties.