What is Consensual Non-Monogamy, And Why Is It So Intriguing And Controversial?

Let us look at something most people shy away from, and frown upon – Consensual non-monogamy.  

Consensual non-monogamy covers many ways of structuring relationships where people within the relationship do not want to adhere to a conventional one partner arrangement: the three most common forms of CNM are: 

  1. Open Relationships  
  1. Swinging  
  1. Polyamory  

Before we tackle what each of these are or what they entail, the overriding aspect that governs all of them is in the description, and that is consensual. Partners all freely agree to the terms under which they live their “different” lifestyles.  

Having gotten that out of the way let’s look at the 1st one: open relationships – this is the one that more people are likely to understand – well maybe not understand but know what it is and for those who do not – it is a relationship where the couple has agreed that they may have sex with someone else, someone who is not their nesting partner. I use the term nesting partner (stealing it from the polyamory dictionary) and this is a term for the partner that you live with and share your bed with. -create your nest with.  

An open relationship has neither a poly element nor a swinging element, interactions with others are not that structured and can often be on the fly, though always with the other partner’s consent. Sometimes they agree to a blanket consent – the sort of just let me know where you are and when you will be home, for others it can be a discussion each time there is a wish to engage with another, as with most things within alternate lifestyles, there is not a rule book, each finds their boundaries and determines their own rules, parameters, and boundaries.  

This leads us to swinging: often those in open relationships will end up in the swinging scene as it’s a way to find others who have a similar mindset and are open to intimate interactions outside of the boundaries generally set by society.   

The word Swinging will often bring to mind the swinging of the ’70s and ’80s, you went to a party with 4 or 5 other couples – put, for example, keys in a bowl, who ever’s keys you pulled out you went off with that person to have sex. This may still happen in private parties – often as a fun ice breaker or for a laugh, but with the knowledge that the sex may not happen – as consent is still foremost. The couple swap also still happens – either via clubs or online on swingers sites where you can chat and “meet” then generally meet in real life and see if there is chemistry between parties and take it from there. The clubs can be a nice way to meet like-minded people. However, swinging is not limited to couple swaps – it can include a myriad of combinations – some examples threesomes – be it MMF (male, male, female), FFM (female, female, male) often the more popular one – on a side note here – a mistake newbies make is thinking any threesome is either MMF or MFF, however, the order of the letters also means something. MMF means the male is the centre of this sandwich, so both men need to be bisexual, if you both want to work on her and leave each other alone its MFM – some men have gotten themselves into trouble as you can imagine. So, if you want the two ladies working on him its FMF – if you are like me and prefer being the lady in the middle, it’s FFM.  

Back on aspects of swinging. Some couples at the clubs go so only one of the couples can get some fun with another, and then clubs offer the chance for exhibitionism, voyeurism, orgies and other types of engagement. Many of the people attending a swingers club are there not for finding sex outside their relationship, but to enjoy the sexually charged atmosphere and the prevailing feeling of not being judged.  

If this is something you and your partner have considered doing, I will give you another piece of advice that I was given, and it proved very worthwhile following: decide your limits and boundaries before you get to the club, only hands, no penetration, only together, only kissing, no kissing, whatever you are comfortable with, the boundaries are discussed and agreed on beforehand. When at the club do not change those boundaries even if you both keen, the charged atmosphere can be intoxicating, and you can make choices in the heat of the moment you regret later. discuss and renegotiate the next day or even days later and define your new boundaries in a more settled, non-charged, sensible brain engaged atmosphere.  

Lastly, we come to polyamory. This is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than 1 partner with the informed consent of all partners. You can see from this that an open relationship is not necessarily a polyamorous situation, polyamory requires an intimate relationship with more than one person – not an occasional roll in the hay outside of your primary relationship.   

Poly relationships can also be so, so different. You can have a throuple situation where all three live together and have equal relationships between them, you can each have a paramour (or more than one) only one of you has a paramour, but I must reiterate here that it is with the consent of all parties.   

You may ask why? Why would anyone want any of the above – I’ve often heard say that “they are asking for trouble” “they can’t love each other enough” as people try and find a reason because they could not envisage themselves sharing a partner. It boils down to something so simple: we are not all the same, for some the idea of living with the love of your life forever and only them is the only thing they want, for others that scenario makes no sense, they feel that they have love for many, just like you can love many kids, and for them, it works. For some its more visceral than that, it can improve your sex life, it can give it that extra little something that so many relationships lose, and for some, it’s a means to an end or a practical agreement.  

A friend of mine recommended that her husband find a girlfriend, because she only relates to BDSM sex and she isn’t the loving cuddly type (that’s why we get on so well) and he needs vanilla sex and the cuddles and romantic aspects of a vanilla relationship, and because she didn’t want to pretend to be something she wasn’t, she knew it would create resentment at some stage, she recommended a girlfriend for him who could give him what he needed that she couldn’t or had no wish to. It may not make sense to some; it makes sense to me.  

All that having been said (and make no mistake I am a proponent of consensual non-monogamy) here is where people make a huge mistake – Do not think a consensually non-monogamous relationship will fix the one you are in – if you already have issues in your current relationship, the complexities of a CNM relationship will just aggravate things, fix your relationship first.  

If you are agreeing to be the secondary partner – understand what that entails – and understand that if you want more, there may never be more, we come back to brutal honesty requirements.  

This is just a surface look at this topic, and I would advise that if it interests you, research it and talk to as many who live a CNM lifestyle so you can get an idea of what might work for you. If your partner is the monogamous type, do not go the CNM route, it will destroy them – and I am not exaggerating, I’ve seen it happen too many times,    

Before I sign off, I must tell you one of my favourite questions that I have heard asked more than once “why can’t you just cheat like a normal person” it astonishes me that people find cheating more acceptable than an open consensual decision to seek something outside the relationship and just in case there was any question – no, cheating is not a form of consensual non-monogamy – the hint as to why is in the name.  

If you have any questions, comment or topics you want me to tackle please contact me on mommabear@nawtynniche.com –  my only request is even if you want to disagree with me, please do it with respect and kindness.  

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