What is monogamish?

A breakdown of nine relationship types from polyamory to relationship anarchy


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Dr. Jess says 20 per cent of daters have tried a consensually non-monogamous relationship

Across the city, your neighbours, friends and colleagues are engaging in a wide range of relationship arrangements. Although serial monogamy is idealized as both a default setting and prioritized goal, research suggests that other relationship arrangements are both common and fulfilling.

Twenty per cent of daters, for example, have been in a consensually non-monogamous relationship, but CNM covers a wide range of relationship types.

“Polyamory” is often used as an umbrella term to refer to the consensual and simultaneous engagement in multiple intimate, loving and/or sexual relationships.

It’s more common than you think, as Toronto-based writer Jenny Yuen uncovers in her book, Polyamorous: Living and Loving More, to be released in November.​

Yuen digs into why open relationships are being normalized and how they can be a practical alternative to monogamy.

There are many forms of polyamory, including polyfidelity, hierarchical polyamory and non-hierarchical polyamory. Polyfidelity often refers to a group of three or more who practice polyamory exclusively within their group.

“It’s like we’re monogamous, but there are three of us,” explains Parkdale resident Dani* who has been part of a triad for six years. “Some say we’re not really polyamorous, but to me it works because we have more freedom than traditional monogamy, but with just three of us we can still have a deep, intimate connection.”

Hierarchical polyamory generally involves a ranking system in which one of your relationships takes priority over another; for example, you might have a primary partner with whom you spend more time and that partner might have a say (including veto power) in your other relationships. Oftentimes, a hierarchical relationship begins with a couple agreeing to engage with other partners, separately or together, but continuing to invest more time and resources into their primary relationship.

“I was someone’s secondary once, and I felt like I was too easily discarded." 

Non-hierarchical polyamory refers to multiple partner arrangements in which no one partner is prioritized over another.

Midtown resident Jeff* believes this is essential. “I was someone’s secondary once, and I felt like I was too easily discarded. When my wife and I discussed it, we both agreed that we’d never want to be on the other side, so we don’t have primary, secondary or tertiary partners. We have multiple partners and we’re all equal.”

Affectional relationships preclude sex and focus on other elements of a relationship including physical affection — snuggling, kissing and other non-genital touch. Rosedale resident Susan* has both a husband and an  affectional partner who is 20 years her junior.

“I’m polyaffectional. I love my boyfriend and I find him attractive, but sex is off the table. I have a great sex life with my husband but really like that my boyfriend and I have this special relationship that includes all sorts of other components.”

Another form of CNM is swinging, which often refers to couples engaging in sexual activities with other couples but can also include groups and singles. Great variety exists in all types of relationships, and some swingers insist that it’s just about the sex, whereas others emphasize the importance of friendships.

Those who are primarily monogamous but are curious about non-monogamy sometimes explore a territory that I refer to as monogamish. These couples might look at, fantasize and talk about other people, attend sex parties and/or participate in voyeurism or exhibitionism without actually touching another person. They consensually push their comfort zones in order to inject excitement and a degree of calculated risk into their stable, secure relationship.

Others, like downtown residents Sheila* and Micky*, who identify as platonic parenting partners, are challenging the way we raise children. They care for one another deeply and raise their seven-year-old as non-sexual partners.

“Micky started as a friend and babysitter and means so much to our son. Transitioning to co-parents has enriched all of our lives,” says Sheila.

Although each of these relationship arrangements offers differing benefits and challenges, they’re all governed by a set of rules negotiated and defined by the couple or group. One approach to relationships, however, is an outlier in that it subverts culturally  imposed rules, entitlements, labels and hierarchies. Relationship anarchy highlights individual autonomy drawing from anarchistic political philosophy

This doesn’t mean that anything goes, but relationship anarchists carve out individual paths to freedom and fulfillment and don’t necessarily prioritize sexual relationships over platonic ones.

Fulfilling relationships come in many forms and don’t necessarily include romance or sex.

*Names have been changed and relationship details have been shared with permission from all parties.

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Jess O’Reilly is a sought-after speaker, author and sexologist. SexWithDrJess.com.

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