When I first heard about ethical non-monogamy (ENM), I thought, “huh, cool, I couldn’t do that though”. I thought I would have to have been in a 10-year long relationship with a non-existent sex life to even consider branching out.
In actual fact, the more I have come to terms with my sexuality, the more I have realised that ethical non-monogamy is actually something that I can really benefit from.
However, as with anything involving other people’s feelings, it can be a tricky one to navigate. Here are seven things that I have learnt in the process of pursuing ENM:
It doesn’t mean cheating
The E in ENM is important. I have been unethical, which left me crying on valentine’s day whilst explaining to my partner why I had slept with two women behind their back.
Cheating was as the result of months of having a sexuality crisis. I knew I was bi, but if I had never had a ‘proper’ sexual experience outside of cis-het men, then I couldn’t really be bi, could I? I am sure you have had similar thoughts yourself; internalised biphobia is incredibly hard to avoid.
ENM means keeping everyone in the loop; ensuring everyone is onboard, comfortable and enthusiastic.
It won’t fix everything
Although I regret the act of cheating, the incident itself made me realise how affirming it was for my sexuality. Finally, I had the experience I thought I needed to prove I was bi enough.
This thinking is rooted in biphobia and the fact I even cheated in the first place is evidence enough that biphobia can be incredibly destructive. I’m not that kind of person but that feeling was eating me up.
ENM is something that is affirming for me and my sexuality BUT I am also having therapy and doing a lot of work on myself. I know that ENM is not going to magically get rid of my internalised biphobia and nor do I expect it to.
It is, however, a lovely way to explore sexuality in a space that relies on being open and communicative.
If you’re already in a relationship, talk to your partner
I was, and still am, in a relationship when I decided ENM was something I wanted to pursue.
This meant having a long chat with my partner (or several long chats, in fact) about how it had nothing to do with them or their performance as a romantic and sexual partner, that exploring my sexuality was important to me and that this was something that made me feel more secure within myself.
It also meant listening to what they had to say, whether they were comfortable with that idea, and what problems they could see arising.
I think if anything, having these conversations made me feel closer to my partner. They were let into this internal struggle with biphobia that I was having, and it felt good to share that with someone I love.
Communication is key
It is important to remember that if you’re in a relationship and wanting to make it more open, you have to include the other person in that process.
They are as much a part of the relationship as you are, and you can’t go around making decisions that affect your partnership without consulting them. If they are not comfortable with it and you are set on non-monogamy, then I think you know what that next step is.
Communication between you and your pals* is important too. Feelings of jealousy are likely and natural. We have been brought up with monogamy as the gold standard and deviation from that feels different; it is uncharted territory and therefore it is difficult to know how you will feel until you start the journey.
With that in mind, talk, talk, talk! Talk about how you want some more one-on-one time, talk about your STI status, talk about having a break from non-monogamy if you need it. Having uncomfortable conversations will allow you to feel more comfortable in the long run.
Setting ground rules is very helpful if you’re starting out
It could be your own feelings, it could be the feelings of your pals, it could be the feelings of your long-term partner; just remember that all are valid and important.
Perhaps right now, in the middle of a pandemic, it is not the time to practice ENM. Perhaps it is the perfect time to be chatting on dating apps but not taking things any further.
Whatever the reasoning, ENM is not something to be set in stone, and taking a break is perfectly reasonable. Listen to yourself and your needs; if you need a timeout, take some!
It is meant to be fun!
The whole reason ENM was something that appealed to me was because it meant you are around more people. Those people have different personalities, experiences, sexual preferences, lives etc. and I find that both exciting and beautiful.
As long as you are honest with yourself and with everyone involved, ENM can be a perfect way to explore your sexuality, to become a more communicative individual and partner, and to have a fun time.
*pals = sexual or romantic partners, people you are non-monogamous with.