Ethical non-monogamy (or an ENM relationship) might sound a bit confusing to the uninitiated – but before you scoff at the idea of being emotionally or sexually active with others whilst still maintaining a committed relationship, they’re actually becoming more popular and to good effect.
So what is ethical non-monogamy? Well, it’s an umbrella term that encompasses a number of relationship styles: open relationships, polyamory and swinging, for example. The key difference between an ethically non-monogamous relationship and conventional non-monogamy is that all parties in the ENM relationship agree to it (i.e. it’s not just one person sleeping around without letting their partner know).
ENM relationships are not a new phenomenon, but according to new research and data from the popular dating app Bumble, an increasing number of people are opening up to the idea of being open with multiple people.
The data gathered does apply to Australians, so things might be different in your home country, but considering how high the stats are, we reckon we can make a logical assumption that the tide on relationship styles is certainly changing across the West.
Bumble has found that a third of single Australians “think ethical non-monogamy is the way of the future,” and perhaps unsurprisingly, it is Generation Z – those born between the mid to late 1990s and early 2010s – that is the group that resonates most heavily with this statement.
Polyamorous love is beautiful to me because it’s “I love you” AND “I want you to explore what excites you” AND “I’m happy when you’re happy (even if that happiness hasn’t come from me)” AND “I trust you” AND “I feel secure with you without needing to limit you”.— Ro Moëd (@unapolygetic) July 8, 2021
People that fall into this category would have most likely grown up being surrounded by monogamy and understanding the seriousness and consequences of infidelity… But they’ve also been witness to the rise of greater acceptance of minority groups and alternative expressions of sexuality – and so would be more open to exploring new pathways.
Millennials and Generation X are also on board with the idea that ethical non-monogamy has its place in modern society, just to a slightly lesser extent than Gen Z.
It’s not just singles who are open to more explorative ways in their relationships, either – quite the opposite, in fact. Those already partnered up also think an ENM relationship is worth thinking about, with Bumble’s research suggesting that 47% of Australians currently dating believe they can indeed be the way of the future.
So why are they becoming so popular? DMARGE spoke with Bumble’s resident sexologist Chantelle Otten – one of Australia’s best-known sexologists and relationship experts – about why so many people think ENM is the new M.
Chantelle says, for her, the biggest reason they’re becoming more popular is that “people are actually talking about them, and society is becoming more open to the concept.”
“Reality TV stars, media personalities and influencers are openly speaking about how it works for them and in turn, creating conversations that have flowed into the mainstream.”Chantelle Otten
Cosmopolitan shares that some notable celebrities who have discussed polyamory and who even practice it themselves include Will Smith and his wife, Jada as well as their daughter, Willow.
Will Smith’s relationship was thrust into the spotlight in 2021, predominantly due to a meme of him crying went viral on social media. Will and Jada went through a period of separation in their relationship, but have since been able to reconnect. He’s quoted as saying in an interview, “The experiences that the freedoms that we’ve given one another and the unconditional support, to me, is the highest definition of love.”
Freedom is the key word here, as Chantelle adds, “let’s be honest, monogamy is difficult and requires a lot of work, so for some [an ENM relationship] is an option to avoid infidelity.” Indeed, four in five Australians currently dating “think monogamous relationships are hard work,” Bumble’s data has found. Although they add they can still “be worth it.”
Chantelle also cites the fact we as humans are getting frisky just as much, if not more, for pleasure than for the biological aspect of having children. “In the past, monogamy was the preferred approach because women needed to be supported financially,” she tells DMARGE.
Having chemistry with someone doesn't mean you have to date them (or sleep with them).— Shaun Galanos | Love Coach (@thelovedrive) December 9, 2020
Maybe you're supposed to open up a taco truck together.
Chemistry is good for all relationships, not just romantic ones.
“And of course, the male family name needed to continue on. Nowadays, we’re no longer having sex (primarily) for procreation, it’s more so for pleasure, so monogamy is now no longer categorised as the only option… Although monogamy remains the preferred method for most people, it doesn’t work for everyone, especially when we focus on meeting our partner’s needs in a long-term relationship.”
“The fact Bumble’s data found 47% of those currently dating believing ethical non-monogamous relationships are the way of the future is great to see. Stigmas around these kinds of relationships are definitely shifting,” she suggests.
Just like in the world of fitness, where a workout or a meal plan may work for one person but not for another, the same can very much be said of relationships. There’s no one right path to take. So, we’re not here saying you absolutely have to get into an ENM relationship if you want to be truly happy in life.
But, if you’ve never even given one an iota of thought, maybe you could try and open your mind. Chantelle says “it’s up to every individual,” at the end of the day with regards to whether they should try or consider on.
“Some people decide at the very beginning of their relationship, whilst others decide to become open once they’ve been in an established relationship to bring some spice back.”Chantelle Otten
“One you’ve decided that you want to try ENM, it’s important to have an open and honest conversation about your preferences and respect your partner’s boundaries. ENM relationships require a fair amount of emotional intelligence as you need to be aware of what works for both of you, not just one of you. And should your preferences change, you should be able to articulate the new need to your partner.”
“If you’re on Bumble seeing an ENM relationship, my tip is to be honest and truthful about what you’re looking for from the very beginning. Bumble is a place where you can choose how you want to date, and who you want to date, and the app’s philosophy is built on kind, honest and respectful behaviour.”
How you choose to try ENM (if it’s something you want to try, of course) is entirely up to you. You could either find a third person to bring into your relationship or go full steam ahead and seek out a swinging resort. The luxury is that whatever you want to try, there will be other like-minded people out there, and so you’ll be able to find it.
Good luck, lovers.