Consensual Non-Monogamy Primer (Part 1?)
Consensual Non-Monogamy (CNM) has gotten a lot of news lately all across the internet. And from conversations I’ve been having there are some misconceptions and terminology issues due to the reporting being done, predominately by people that are not really all that familiar with, or living, the lifestyle. So in the interest of sharing my experience and knowledge, as a longtime member of this lifestyle, here is a little terminology primer for those that are interested.
Consensual Non-Monogamy: CNM has multiple different facets and definitions. I’m just going to focus on the main three branches here. But first we need to understand the basic idea of CNM before we get into the specifics.
Monogamy: the dictionary defines monogamy as follows: “the practice or state of being in a relationship with one person at a time. The practice or state of having a sexual relationship with only one partner.” Therefore, it stands to reason that Non-Monogamy would be the opposite for that: “the practice of being in a relationship, romantic and/or sexual, with more than one partner.
Consensual: Consent it defined thusly: “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” That’s a pretty generic definition and really doesn’t cover all the bases when CNM is concerned. In this lifestyle communication is absolutely essential. Consent is a huge part of that. Here’s an example. Couple A&B decide that they want to open their relationship. Not only do both A and B need to give consent for that to happen, the extra persons C, D, and E all need to know all the details relevant to be able to give their consent to become involved with either A or B, separately or together. It is this concept of consent given by all parties involved that separates CNM from just cheating. So with all that in mind lets continue with Polyamory.
Polyamory: Broken down polyamory means “many loves.” The act of having more than one romantic relationship. This relationship will predominately have a sexual aspect to it as well, but it is not the central tenet of the relationship. Polyamory, i.e. “Poly”, has become the blanket term for all forms of CNM, but that’s just not right. It is one facet of it, and not all inclusive the way mainstream media portrays it. Poly can have both couples, and single people, in a multitude of various configurations that I’m not going to get into because it can get really complicated. In a nut shell poly is mainly focused on the romantic aspects of CNM rather than the sexual side of it. I personally have never had a poly relationship, but because it is of interest to me I have done extensive research into it on the chance that I may someday have that possibility and not horrendously botch it up.
Swinging: Swinging has been around for a long time. It was especially prevalent during the 60’s and 70’s, and garnered a lot of publicity at that time. But it’s actually been around a lot longer than that. The basics of swinging are that couples that are in a committed romantic/sexual relationship have sex with other people. This can take place in a variety of venues: house parties, hotel takeovers, resort destinations dedicated to that purpose, or just in your own home. Swinging is different from Poly in that the romantic element is absent. The focus of swinging is the sex, rather than the love. That is not to say that many people that are involved in swinging don’t develop deep lifelong friendships with others in the lifestyle. But that’s where it usually ends. Friends that may have sex with each other, but are not allowed, or even inclined, to progress to a romantic attachment. While there are a number of single people that can be found in the swinging culture, it is predominantly for couples that are in a committed relationship with each other and no one else. While swinging is a couples’ activity for the most part, it does not mean that it is only couples playing with other couples. It’s very common for either partner of the couple to go off with someone, by themselves, to have a little fun. But at the end of the night, that couple came together, and they went home together, more than ever committed to each other. I have been an active swinger for about 6 years.
Open Relationship (OR): OR is that last of the “Big 3” of CNM. OR is where one, or both, of the persons in a committed relationship to each other are allowed to have another person, or persons, to have sex with outside the relationship. One of the benefits of an OR is that you can get certain needs fulfilled that your partner may not be interested in fulfilling for whatever reason with someone else. These needs can be taken care of without an emotional investment being made. They don’t replace your partner; they just supplement them. This is not poly as the “extra person” is not a romantic relationship. May, or may not, even being a real friendship. It’s not swinging because it’s not usually something that a couple does together. Rather each person is on their own to find the extra activity that they are looking for. I personally have had several OR’s in the past and learned a lot from them.
Now why would anyone even consider having a CNM relationship? The reasons are just as varied as the types of relationships you can find in CNM. You have to decide for yourself if all of your needs are being met by your partner, or not. And would getting those need met by someone else, in a safe and consensual manner, be something that you are going to be able to do. CNM is a not a lifestyle that everyone can do, either mentally or emotionally. Our society has decided that Marriage/Monogamy is the “Right” and only way that couples can interact with each other. I personally disagree but then no one listens to me anyway. Time will tell if the old traditional values that we were all raised with will survive, or if new ideas with become the new normal.