Originally only the term open relationship was used for all kinds of relationships involving more partners, then we learned about swinger, poly-amory, ethical non-monogamy… and the list goes on. I decided to paint a bit more detailed image of the different structures of consensual non-monogamy.
What is consensual non-monogamy?
Consensual-non monogamy CNM is an umbrella term for relationship structures for simultaneously having more than one romantic or sexual partner while everyone is aware of the situation and consent to it.
The types of consensual non-monogamy
There are plenty of ways to practice consensual non-monogamy, because there are different needs, desires and agreement according to what is acceptable and wanted. There is no cookie cutter model for CNM, you create your own framework.
These models/structures can help you to reconsider what would serve you and your partners the most.
These structures differ in the emotional and sexual involvement and are different in rules and agreements.
I made a version of the figure of CNM structures for you from the book Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Non-Monogamy of Jessica Fern
Let’s start with the left top quadrant.
High Sexual Exclusivity / Mono-Sexual + High Emotional Exclusivity / Mono-Amorous
On the top you will find monogamous relationships, because they are emotionally and sexually highly exclusive.
Monogamish relationships are mostly monogamous with occasionally engaging with other sexual partners.
We talk about polyfidelity when more than 2 people are exclusive to each other and closed to other people outside the group. This can be a group relationship or one person connected to others who don’t date each other or other people.
High Emotional Exclusivity / Mono Amorous + Low Sexual Exclusivity / Poly-Sexual
This is the lower left quadrant. Swinging is when a couple who are highly emotionally exclusive are open to engage with other sexual partners. There is only minimal emotional/romantic involvement of the partners outside of the original relationship.
We talk about open relationships when one or both partners of the primary relationship can have mostly sexual relationships with others. The primary relationship is usually the emotional priority.
High Sexual Exclusivity / Poly-Sexual + Low Emotional Exclusivity / Poly-Amorous
Polyamory has been in the center of attention for a while now. The name derives from poly (many) amory (loves).
People who choose polyamory are open emotionally and sexually as well to have other lovers. The degree of openness defines the hierarchy of the relationship.
In hierarchical polyamory some partners have more rights and are more important than others. These primary partners usually live together, share resources, they spend the most time together. Other relationships have different agreements with lower commitment levels.
In the nonhierarchical polyamory structure there are no primary partners. The partnerships are simultaneous and there is no ranking system to prioritize any of the partners. Each relationship can evolve naturally. There is way more flexibility than in the hierarchical polyamory.
Let’s talk about solo polyamory. In this case you prioritize your relationship with yourself rather than any partner. You have more partners, you are emotionally and sexually involved with them, but you are not opting to be in a couple based relationship.
When you decide to be in relationship anarchy, you don’t necessarily prioritize romantic and sexual relationships. You can have more important friendships for example than romantic relationships. It is all up to you. You refuse to be in any kind of hierarchical model.
High Sexual Exclusivity / Mono-Sexual + Low Emotional Exclusivity / Poly-Amorous
Asexual & Polyamorous people are not attracted to others sexually, but they still can be emotionally/romantically engaged with others. Even more than one person.
Poly intimates are not necessarily sexual with each-other but they still can be emotionally close or have other relations. Maybe you travel together, have kids together.
Of course this model doesn’t describe all options. But as you see the variety, it can be liberating to know that whatever would work the best for you, you are not alone.