On Monogamy and Non-Monogamy As a Continuum

Are monogamy and non-monogamy an either/or choice? Or is it more of a continuum?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about monogamy and non-monogamy: mostly because of a recent post I wrote about it, and the subsequent comment conversation about that post. And I had an idea I wanted to toss out there. It’s probably not original to me, I may well be re-inventing the wheel here: but I haven’t seen it talked about a ton, and I think it could be useful.

The idea is this: Monogamy and non-monogamy are not an either/or choice. They’re more of a continuum.

I think many of us tend to think of it more as either/or. We tend to think of people, and relationships, as either (a) monogamous or (b) non-monogamous. And we tend to see these as fundamentally different approaches to relationships, with fundamentally different philosophies behind them, and with a fairly sharp divide between them

But people who call themselves monogamous, who are on the more monogamous end of the spectrum, will often have very different agreements about what does and doesn’t fit into their definition of “monogamy.” Does having cybersex fall within their monogamy agreement? What about going to a strip club? Enjoying the entertainment of a stripper at a bachelor or bachelorette party? If watching a stripper is okay… what about getting a lap dance? Is it okay to do these things alone, or just together as a couple? Is it okay to have threesomes? Some couples who see themselves as basically monogamous are fine with enjoying any or all of these activities. (I’ve even heard of couples who call themselves basically monogamous, who agree that if one of them is traveling, sex on the road “doesn’t count.”) Other couples consider some or all of these activities to be off-limits. Still others are so far on the monogamous end of this spectrum that they consider flirting with other people, watching porn, even masturbating, to be cheating.

Ethical Slut book cover
And people who call themselves non-monogamous (or polyamorous, or poly, or open, or some other term — I’m using “non-monogamous” here to contrast it with “monogamous”), people who are on the more non-monogamous end of the spectrum, also often have very different ideas about what does and doesn’t fit into their non-monogamy agreements. That’s especially true for poly people in a primary or core relationship, with secondary or peripheral relationships outside it. Are certain kinds of sex off-limits outside the core relationship — such as penetration, or kink? Are there limits on how often you have sex with outside partners? Is it okay to have pretty much any kind of sex outside the core relationship, but not okay to spend the night? Is it okay to have outside sexual relationships, but not romantic ones? Outside romantic relationships, but not Capital-R Relationships? I’ve known lots and lots of non-monogamous folks in my day, and the ones who are in couples or other committed relationships have almost universally had some sort of agreements about what is and isn’t okay outside the partnership. There may be poly couples and committed partnerships where everything goes and all bets are off… but if there are, I haven’t met them.

In other words… well, I guess I’m just going to re-state the thesis here. Monogamy and non-monogamy are not an either/or choice. They’re more of a continuum.

I think looking at it this way would help in a lot of ways. I think it would help monogamous couples — or rather, couples on the more monogamous end of the spectrum — to negotiate limits in their relationships. Most people still see monogamy as the default choice… and as is often the case with default choices, that choice tends to go unquestioned. I think if we saw monogamy/ non-monogamy as a continuum rather than an either/or choice, more couples would be more likely to consider non-monogamy as an option. And if they do decide to be on the monogamous end of the spectrum, they’d be more likely to openly discuss and negotiate where exactly on that spectrum they’d like to be. When people reflexively assume that of course they’re going to be monogamous, and therefore don’t discuss that choice, they often assume that “monogamy” means the same thing to both of them — and this can have bad, sad consequences.

I also think this “spectrum” view would help monogamous people be more understanding and accepting of poly people. I think they’d be less inclined to see poly folks and poly relationships as radically different: as slutty, selfish, greedy, unable to commit, etc. I think they’d be more inclined to see us as people who just draw the lines about their relationships in a different place.

And I think this “spectrum” view would help many poly people — or rather, people on the more poly end of the spectrum — be more understanding and accepting of monogamous people as well. I’ve heard more than one poly person argue that polyamory is superior, that monogamy is unnatural and unhealthy, that jealousy is irrational, and so on. And I’ve heard more than one poly person give lip service to the idea that monogamy is a valid choice, while being obviously judgmental of people who make that choice. This isn’t universal, but it’s all too common. And I think seeing monogamy and non-monogamy as a continuum rather than a sharp divide could alleviate this. Again, I think it might make poly people less likely to see monogamy as radically different, and more inclined to see monogamists as people who just draw the line in a different place. After all, if you and your partner have a “no kink outside the relationship” agreement, or a “no sleeping over outside the relationship” agreement… is that really so much more obviously rational and healthy than a “no sex outside the relationship” agreement?

opening up book cover
I don’t think we need to completely replace our language about this with “more on the monogamous end of the spectrum” or “more on poly end of the spectrum.” (Which, admittedly, is pretty cumbersome.) I don’t think we need to entirely get rid of identifying ourselves and our relationships as “monogamous” or “non-monogamous/ polyamorous/ open/ etc.” After all, sexual identity is a continuum too, and we still (mostly) accept people calling themselves gay or straight, even if they’re not on the absolute far ends of the Kinsey scale. And I think a case could be made that the far ends of this spectrum actually are pretty different: that having an open relationship with almost nothing that’s off-limits is pretty damn different than a relationship where even flirting with other people is verboten. The way that, for many people, being overwhelmingly gay or overwhelmingly straight feel pretty significantly different.

I just think that… okay, restating the thesis again. Monogamy and non-monogamy are not an either/or choice. They’re more of a continuum. And I think looking at it this way could be helpful. I think it could help people discuss their agreements about their own relationships more openly, and make decisions that are more uniquely tailored to work better for them. And I think it could help monogamous and poly people be less judgmental of each other.

On Monogamy and Non-Monogamy As a Continuum

39 thoughts on “On Monogamy and Non-Monogamy As a Continuum

  1. 1

    First off, I agree.

    Out of curiosity though, does it count as being “totally open, anything goes” if my wife can do anything she wishes, genuinely no rules on her behavior at all, but she chooses to not invite any other partners to live with us or share “primary relationship” status with us (among other “rules” that she obeys for no reason other than that they are her preference)?

    “After all, if you and your partner have a “no kink outside the relationship” agreement, or a “no sleeping over outside the relationship” agreement… is that really so much more obviously rational and healthy than a “no sex outside the relationship” agreement?”

    Aye, there’s the rub. As a rule, I don’t want to put any limits on my wife’s behavior at all; she indulges kink and sleeps over with other partners whenever she wants, etc.

    … okay, I don’t want to judge other people who do have such relationship rules. I really, REALLY don’t want to do that. And often, rules are just simple preferences (my wife just doesn’t want a household of more than two people). But very often relationship rules are based on jealousy in some way, and … I honestly can’t help but get a smidge squicked out. I’m hella jealous that my wife often needs to talk to other partners about science or disability or what-have-you (due to my ignorance/lack of education/lack of interest/etc.), but I’d never even consider asking for a rule that she not do so (even if she shares similar jealousies with me!).

  2. 2

    The idea of a continuum makes sense. Of course, I also think vanilla people have a lot to learn from kinky people when it comes to negotiations and boundaries, so why wouldn’t people on the monogamous end of the spectrum have a bit to learn? When we go along with the cultural narrative, we don’t always challenge our assumptions, and then can end up discovering in bitterly unhappy ways that our assumptions don’t line up with those of our partners.

    My view is that a relationship–regardless of whether it’s monogamous or not, the genders involved, or levels and types of sexual interest–is an ongoing conversation. For my sake, I need constant checking and rechecking of where everyone is and what they want and what they think of the situation. Not out of paranoia or distrust, but because it’s how you best keep yourself and your loved ones comfortable and happy. For me at least, that’s true regardless of what the specific boundaries of the relationship are.

  3. 3

    I agree, except insomuch as I think it’s probably even more complicated than spectrum allows for. I also think it’s interesting how many different types of things this happens with. There was a time when I thought gender was binary. There was a time when I thought sexual orientation was binary. There was a time when I thought monogamy versus poly was binary. There was a time when I thought the possession of consciousness was a binary – you’re either a conscious being or you’re not.

    I don’t think any of those things are binary anymore; I wonder how many more things I’ll come to that realization about in the future.

  4. 5

    Blogger SuggestiveTongue blogs about her open relationship as a continuum of sorts, writing that they have an always-open relationship but with phases of monogamy where they just don’t have outside sex partners for a span of time. She writes about her and her boyfriend’s different rules and how they function as an open couple, etc.
    I’ve also been in a monogamous relationship with more lax/open “rules” like being apart means we could have physical relationships, but not date, other people, things like that being just a natural part of our relationship because we’d spend weeks, sometimes a month or more, apart.

  5. 6

    As researchtobedone mentions (and as with other qualities like gender and orientation) there are nuances not captured by the spectrum model, improvement though it is upon the binary model (which tends to be interpreted as a contrast between “traditional” monogamy and either patriarchal polygyny or free-love sluttery, depending on who’s fabricating the comparison). Elizabeth Emens (in Monogamy’s Law) distinguishes two axes in particular: “exclusivity” and “numerosity”. There’s a pretty big difference between talking about inviting someone into a relationship and talking about opening it up to separate outside lovers! Along with “partneredness”, i find these mostly adequate at mapping the landscape.

    On your point about the undiscussed assumptions of de facto monogamy, there is at least this one study that quantifies the problem (among college students, of course).

    @Christopher Stephens #1, while there are rule adherents and rule detractors, my favorite take is that rules can be helpful to people who are new to non-monogamy and in many cases are better thought of as training wheels. Still, some families of choice get along just fine with some consistent rules in place, monogamy being an oft-overlooked example.

  6. 8

    researchtobedone @ #3, and others: I totally agree that “spectrum” or “continuum” is something of an oversimplification. If for no other reason, it’s not like (for instance) “genital sex but no kink” or “kink but no genital sex” are obviously closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. I considered getting into that in the piece, but decided it would be distracting.

    But very often relationship rules are based on jealousy in some way, and … I honestly can’t help but get a smidge squicked out.

    Christopher Stephens @ #1: I guess I’m somewhat puzzled by this. I mean, if you don’t want to make relationship rules and guidelines based on jealousy (or trying to avoid triggering jealousy), of course I understand and support that. But even if you think that jealousy is totally irrational (I don’t agree, but for the sake of argument)… for me, a big part of being in a loving relationship is accepting my partner’s irrational preferences and dislikes, and having them accept mine. Ingrid has irrational dislikes of talking on the phone, and sitting anywhere on a plane other than the window seat; I have an irrational dislike of broccoli, and an irrational fear of learning to drive. So she always gets the window seat when we fly, and she has to do all the driving. For us, part of loving each other is being willing to work around those feelings.

    Also, I’m reminded of something Nina Hartley said in a conversation about a similar topic: “By setting up the agreements so that triggers aren’t pulled, trust is built between primary partners. ‘H/she is listening to me and I feel safer. I have space to take a closer look at my triggers/issues to see how I can resolve/decrease some of them.’ Over time, triggers can be, and have been, reduced significantly or even eliminated, with a little showing of respect and patience by the primary partner.”

    …they have an always-open relationship but with phases of monogamy…

    sc_ee049fb1ae6c78b58d33a79f5b61a12a @ #5: You know, I’ve heard other couples describe their relationships this way, and I’ve always been puzzled by it. For me, if I’m in a non-monogamous relationship, it’s still non-monogamous even if neither of us is currently boinking anyone else. For me, non-monogamy is about that option being available and on the table, not about whether anything is currently being done about it. (It’s a bit like how I’m always bisexual, even if I’m currently only having sex with a person or people of one gender.) How do other people frame this?

  7. 9

    This makes me think of a blog I recently discovered, called ‘Solopoly’ (which is maintained by someone who engages in polyamory without a primary relationship). She’s running a survey right now for a book she’s working on about the wide range of polyamorous relationships, which I took and … wow, I hadn’t ever thought about the diversity of relationship structures possible (such as ‘polyfidelity’). I look forward to the completion of that book, and I’m sure what it discusses will be relevant to this post (by the way, the survey is open to everybody, regardless of their relationship status or history, because the writers want to hear about a wide variety of experiences).

  8. 10

    While I think that this post is generally right, I think that it is the wrong approach to the question. I write about polyamory all the time, and in a recent post I discussed how one of the main problems with default monoamory (I don’t use monogamy unless I’m actually talking about marriage) is that it assumes a goal, rather than a process.

    In short, we should approach relationships as a process of trying to ethically and transparently satisfy our desires, rather than obtain a (set of) relationship structure goal(s).

    Monogamy/monoamory/polyamory/etc are relationship structures, where we end up, and we should not be concerned with that per se. Rather, we should be concerned with the process of how we build and maintain our current and potential relationships; we should love each person as we actually love them, no more and no less, and allow the relationships around us to be what they can be without consideration for the structure of our relationships (but certainly with consideration of the people involved). If we do this, many people will end up with multiple sexual/romantic partners of varying (or equal, in some cases) significance. Others (few of many as they are) will find themselves with only one sexual/romantic partner. This last bit I refer to as “accidental monoamory.”

    The issue is how they got there, not what kind of relationship they decided to build. Deciding to be monogamous or polyamorous is absurd if your actually desires lean another way. You can decide to have one partner, but when you love 2 or 3, that decision is inauthentic.

  9. 11

    @shaunphilly, while i agree with you in principle, my experience has been that that principle requires a great deal of personal insight and self-discipline to adhere to. While we’re all (supposed to be) working on this all the time, it can be beneficial to have structures and agreements in place that limit the range of evaluations and decisions (and communications along the way) one is forced to make on a frequent and ad hoc basis. Yes, this does preclude some possibly advantageous opportunities, but those sacrifices must be weighed against the stresses of instability. This may be especially relevant for people under professional constraints and workloads or people who regularly experience discrimination (speaking again from personal experience). Even if we keep ourselves open to unexpected arrangements, there’s nothing wrong and arguably a lot right about having a sound idea of the kind of arrangements that work well for us, and providing for that in our pursuits—which, to affirm the principle you outline, can only be done through at least some degree of searching in the first place.

    @Greta, i wonder if some of the poly supremacists you’ve encountered define polyamory differently than in this post. A lot lump monogamy (and monoamory) under the umbrella of polyamory, as yet more variations on the theme of relationship openness and diversity. It strikes me as a poor choice, being incongruous with common usage. (What’s the philosophical term for choosing definitions to best capture common use?) Admittedly, i’ve also encountered people who take the positions you describe.

  10. 12

    It all seems rather academic to me.

    As an (involuntarily) single man, my declaration of ‘polydom’ or ‘monogaminity’ is completely in the abstract. I find myself in the position of being too kinky for the ‘straight’ and too vanilla for the kinky. Declaring my monogamous history, or my potential polyamory are equally meaningless.

    The need for a distinction, binary continuous or otherwise, assumes that the future can be predicted. I want to be partnered, romantically/erotically. I have no way of knowing if I might subsequently find another partner or partners on the horizon.

    The monogamous have a long tradition of having their predictions collapse in the face of sexual reality. I have heard that ‘poly’ arrangements tend to collapse as well.

    Can we do better than to be simply honest? To do what we want now with the person(s) we want to do it with, always recognizing that things may change.

    ‘Open’ would be a good term for this, but the word has already been co-opted.

  11. 13

    But even if you think that jealousy is totally irrational (I don’t agree, but for the sake of argument)… for me, a big part of being in a loving relationship is accepting my partner’s irrational preferences and dislikes, and having them accept mine. Ingrid has irrational dislikes of talking on the phone, and sitting anywhere on a plane other than the window seat;

    I do consider jealousy to be largely irrational, but otherwise I agree with this one. For which reason, there are more rules and restrictions on my outside activities in my relationship with my husband than he has, because he has some feelings of jealousy (and some issues regarding past relationships abusing his trust). Or, put differently, what Nina Hartley said.

  12. 14

    This is a really interesting topic, and a really interesting take on it. Thanks for that.

    For myself, I think monogamy and non-monogamy really are different in an absolute way. I’d say you are monogamous if there are certain kinds of intimacy, whatever those things are, that you’ll only engage in with your significant other – and you’re polygamous if that definition doesn’t apply. However (and this is big), you still need to decide what we mean by intimacy. And here there is a continuum. Interestingly, this approach would make people who currently consider themselves polygamous to be really monogamous couples who define that question differently. For instance, if you say any sex out of state is okay, or any one night stands with no further contacts is okay, or whatever, that’s still monogamy for me – you’re setting boundaries and staying within them. That’s how I tend to think of the topic; I get that others may parse it differently.

    Btw: First time commenter here (I think). I just subscribed to your blog after Libby Anne (Love-Joy-Feminism over at Patheos) mentioned your blog as one she fellows.

  13. 17

    @martalayton: I find that a very curious definition of mono/poly – if you have any kind of rules you’re mono? Maye this is just my lack of imagination, but I have real trouble imagining any relationship where nothing at all is defined in terms of boundaries, even if that boundary is something as small as “tell me when you’ve had sex with someone else” or “don’t break dates with me to screw around”, or even “no unprotected sex with other people”. By that definition, my partner and I are monogamous even though I had sex with someone else last night and then came home and told my partner about it.

  14. 18


    I write about polyamory all the time, and in a recent post I discussed how one of the main problems with default monoamory (I don’t use monogamy unless I’m actually talking about marriage) is that it assumes a goal, rather than a process.

    That makes no sense whatsoever.
    Being at the monogamous end, my 7+ years realtionship didn’t change suddenly when we got married. And not all married people are monogamous.

    This post reminded me of your “are we having sex or what” post: Those definitions are vague and people fill them with their individual lives.

  15. 19


    The ‘-gamy’ part of “monogamy” means marriage.

    Just like polygamy and polyamory are not the same word, neither are monogamy and monoamory. It’s just that our culture has had less reason to have a term for a person committed to one person but who is not married, because in times past such a thing would have been difficult to do, given older traditional mores. Now those values have changed, and we need more words to reflect that.


  16. 20

    My husband and I are monogamous.He had poly relationships in the past when he was younger. One issue even in some monogamous relationships is competition from others. Some of his past relationships and others I’ve seen have threatened the primary relationships, because the other person may actually want one of the primaries for themselves exclusively. Their motives are disingenuous. Is it a myth that polyamorous relationships have more drama than normal?

  17. 21

    I think society has already found a way for that. The meaning of “monogamy” has simply changed, it is no longer limited to marriage. You’re not making understanding easier or more precise if you try to change it back to the etymlogical meaning.

  18. 23

    I was trying to find the original Blowfish blog piece, “The Best Non-Monogamy Advice I Ever Got” that was referenced in the Nina Hartley link in #8.

    It looks like the whole Blowfish blog no longer exists.

    Any chance this piece is saved anywhere else? Google is not being helpful.

    Thanks for any help!

  19. 24

    The meaning of “monogamy” has simply changed, it is no longer limited to marriage. You’re not making understanding easier or more precise if you try to change it back to the etymlogical meaning.

    Yeah, if I used Shaunphilly’s definition I would be monogamous, but damn, that word means something to people in general that doesn’t reflect how my relationship works. Language is described by it’s uses, it doesn’t define them.
    And so, I don’t use the term monogamous, nor does polygamous, or even polyamourous fit. We play widely, we live narrowly, if that makes any sense.

  20. 25


    So, you re not sexually or romantically exclusive to one person with whom you are married? If you are not, you are not monogamous. Monogamy includes sexual/romantic exclusivity (or at least the attempt at such). I think that it’s useful to distinguish between those who are married and those who are not, even if examples of both are sexually/romantically exclusive.

    The level of commitment between married and unmarried people is relevant socially and personally (I’m including in this “illegal marriages,” whether due to gender, as with gay marriage, or number of spouses, as in polygamy). If someone is committed to being exclusive to one person, but is not married, that means something a little different than a person who has the same exclusivity but who is married to that person, so I think it is helpful—useful—to have different terms.

    I know that the use of ‘monogamy’ has changed, but despite that the word has still held onto some cultural baggage (such as couple privilege, hierarchical relationship structures, and the idea that an exclusive relationship is inherently more meaningful, somehow). Because of the cultural shifts in how we look at relationships, I think it is useful to re-evaluate the words we use, why we use them, and decide if many we might want to stop using words a certain way. My view is that because there is a difference between being married or not, but yet there is a transcendent consideration (exclusivity/not exclusivity) which can be applied to both of those categories, we should distinguish between mono people who are married and not with different words.

    Describing a couple who have been together for a few weeks with the same term as a couple who have been together for many years seems to be missing something fundamental about relationships. A new couple, intending to remain exclusive, are monoamorous. If and when they get to the point where they make that social and cultural step to make that commitment (ideally) permanent, then they are making a transition to another level of relationship (this, of course, does not imply that all marriages are necessarily more serious or important than non-marriages, but that is the cultural tradition we use to make this distinction, usually). There should be a linguistic corollary to this shift in relationships, and I think ‘monogamy’ works well for that.

    So yes, words change meanings through use. But sometimes that use ends up changing in a direction which does not make much sense when you think about it and apply the adjacently related concepts to it, thus we should try and re-direct the use in a better direction. Will it work? perhaps not, but that will not stop me from trying to be more precise.

  21. 26

    A fascinating topic and a great post Greta, thanks for writing it. After five years of marriage my wife and I decided we were monogamish as per Dan Savage. It makes sense for us. In the subsequent five years of being monogamish, I’ve asked her for permission only three times, and she’s only asked twice. Neither of us said no. We seem to be really happy in this particular sexual framework. I don’t know how possible this scenario would have been even ten years ago, socially speaking.

  22. 27

    I don’t rightly recall how Greta prefers disputes to work on her blog. Suffice to say I am very upset by your words and wrote far too much to just drop it here without a better understanding of her needs. I don’t understand you at all and think your use of terms shrinks me out of consideration. I am married, I am not monogamous. Bringing up the origins of that word is very distracting and makes me feel like you don’t believe I exist.

  23. 28


    I think you’re missing Dhorvath’s point. There are perhaps more consequences than you’ve considered if the gamy/amorous endings convey distinct and separate meanings, the first about marriage, the second about loving/committed/sexual relationships whether or not in the context of marriage.

    I believe that Dhorvath is saying that that relationship is monogamous in the sense that Dhorvath has married precisely one person, though Dhorvath is polyamorous in that the single legal relationship does not limit Dhorvath to exactly one loving relationship, one committed relationship, and one sexual relationship which are all the same relationship. [And, according to your proposed distinction, even if Dhorvath was monamorous, that single loving/committed/sexual relationship need not be the same relationship as the legal relationship which might be an outgrown relationship maintained in law for purposes of taking care of children, or providing health insurance to someone who, while no longer a partner, is still someone about whom Dhorvath cares, etc., etc.]

    If I’m wrong, Dhorvath, LMK.

    Although I tend to be with you, shaunphilly, that a distinction between the concepts can be highly useful, it seems that you yourself don’t draw the distinction. Otherwise, why would you talk about being “sexually or romantically exclusive” when Dhorvath only mentioned “monogamy” which would be solely an issue of marital status?

    If you are drawing the distinction consistently, and you’re having a conversation with others who do the same, it could allow for some interesting and useful dialog. As it is, I don’t think it works.

  24. 29

    Oooops, my post was being written while Dhorvath was posting.

    Short note: I was right about what Dhorvath was saying.

    Longer note: I didn’t anticipate how much what you said, shaunphilly, would impact Dhorvath. When you set up the distinction and then don’t follow it, it leads to exactly the situation that Dhorvath highlights: invisibilizing people with marginalized relationships.

    I should have spent some time on that in my post above. Apologies for my insufficient response, Dhorvath.

  25. 30


    I am baffled how my words are hurtful. I was not intending offense, but merely linguistic clarification. I’m trying to make a philosophical distinction between terms. Perhaps I am blind to how I offended, because it is essentially impossible to offend me, so perhaps that’s a privilege I’m blind to.

    In my polyamorous life, I make a distinction between being exclusive with a partner (what is often called ‘monogamy’ in our culture, but which I prefer to call ‘monoamorous,’ monogamy being a specific type where said relationship includes a marriage) and not being exclusive. The umbrella term “non-monogamous,” meaning either swinging, polyamory, or some other possibilities (such as monogamish) covers those who are not exclusive.

    Either a person is in an exclusive relationship with one person, or they are not. Being exclusive and married is generally, in my experience, called “monogamy.” My first comment above was to say that if a similar, but not marital, exclusive relationship exists I think it’s useful to have a separate word for that; monoamory.

    I’m polyamorous. I am in a committed relationship with two women, one to whom I am married, the other is married to another man (we all live together). I am not monogamous (as I use the term) because while while I’m only married to one person, I have another relationship (and the possibility of having other relationships as well). I would not describe myself as monogamous, because the term monogamy, throughout the vast majority of my experience, is not used to describe what I’m doing.

    @Crip Dyke

    I am not using the term monogamous to mean someone who is married to one person regardless of whether they have other relationships or not (and I have almost never run into anyone who does use it that way). The use of ‘monogamy’ I have includes sexual and romantic exclusivity by definition, according to the tradition of my culture. I think what is happening here is a mis-communication of some sort, likely semantic-based.

    Does that clarify, or am I unknowingly digging myself deeper?


  26. 31

    It absolutely clarifies, but it doesn’t really mesh with what you said earlier.

    Earlier you were saying that marriage and “amory” are distinct and separate. If this was true, the mono/poly qualifiers of those concepts would not be enough relate these unrelated concepts. [A pear is not a grape; likewise pears are not grapes; conversely a grape is not a pear, and grapes are not pears: the numbers involved don’t change the fact that the concepts are not related directly to each other in either direction.]

    Now you appear to be saying that the focus on “gamy” as marriage is not relevant since “monogamy” is a completely different word that transcends the meanings of its etymological roots. In this case, while “gamy” and “amory” are distinct and separate, “monogamy” and “monamory” are not. In this case, the number change the basic meaning. [Pear is no longer pear. By making “pear” plural, we somehow transform it into “fruit” and now, while a fruit is not a grape, a grape is a fruit – by prepending “mono”, we have created a logical relationship where none previously existed.]

    We had reason to believe that monogamy was NOT a special case of monamory, because you were drawing a distinction between gamy and amory.

    Then when you spoke in a way that assumed that all “monogamous” people were also “monamorous”, that precluded the possibility that someone like Dhorvath – who is only married to one person, “monogamous”, but polyamorous in the contours of that relationship – could not exist.

    How does one indicate, using your language, that one is polyamorous but only married to one person?

    It doesn’t seem possible, and thus lexicographically excludes Dhorvath from the conversation.

    Having lives/relationships that are excluded from the conversation is part of what makes marginalized people marginalized.

    Thus Dhorvath is likely feeling – with considerable justification – that your use of terminology further’s Dhorvath’s marginalization.

    That would feel sucky (hell, it does feel sucky in my experience). Thus the response.

  27. 32

    Ok, there was certainly some serious mis-communication above, because I thought what I originally said was consistent with the last comment I made. Also, alot of the above I found difficult to follow in context. I am less interested in being an archaeologist of comments and find exactly where my poor communication occurred as I am in just moving forward.

    But let me address this:

    “We had reason to believe that monogamy was NOT a special case of monamory, because you were drawing a distinction between gamy and amory.”

    Understood; I was not very clear before. There is a distinction between -amory and -gamy, but that distinction is one of a set within a set. All monogamous people are monoamorous, but not all monoamorous people are monogamous. That to me is a ‘distinction,’ just not one of non-overlapping sets.

    You asked:

    “How does one indicate, using your language, that one is polyamorous but only married to one person?”

    Such a person, such as myself (at least as I write this now) , would simply be “polyamorous.” There is no term, that I am aware of, which distinguishes between an unmarried and a married poly person, perhaps because for polyamorous people, the distinction doesn’t often matter the way it does for monogamous/monoamorous people. A married poly person is still available to date (unless, of course, they are polyfidelitous), and so they can behave in society much like single people (whether monoamorous or not).

    If polygamy were more prevalent, especially if it were legal, then perhaps such a term should exist to make such a distinction. And given my views on the importance of making a distinction between married and unmarried people, perhaps I should also want one. But the fact is I don’t know what such a term would be, and am not in the mood to coin terms.

    But a person who is married to one person who has other partners, sexual or romantic, is not monogamous, except in the strictest anthropological meaning of the term (which I don’t find especially useful here).

  28. 33

    Like johnthedrunkard, I find this interesting, but academic/inapplicable to me. My wife is completely puritanical about sex, so (by her decree) there shall be no talk about anything other than pure monogamy in this household. I actually wouldn’t mind this, but her libido hit zero several years ago.

  29. 34

    I’m with johnthedrunkard (was in his shoes for many years) and NitricAcid here. For many years, like john, this discussion would have been like a discussion of whether an Android or an iPad was a better phone to a kid living in the slums of Sao Paolo.Then for a while I was in a wonderful relationship with an enthusiastically kinky woman, but now, as with Nitric, her libido is now dropping to zilch.

    Perhaps I could get permission to go outside if I asked for it, but here’s the thing — I wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to begin looking. As far as I’m concerned, having affairs is like visiting New Zealand or base jumping — it’s something one reads about in books, but not relly a thing that I’ve ever been aware of people doing in real life. Even the kinky people we knew were pretty much all monogamous. The media and the internet tell us that there’s adultery and polyamory happening all over the place, but it all just seems way outside of my zone of my experience at work and in my family. Is all monagamish stuff concentrated in specific age cohorts or geographic areas or careers? I suppose that’s a question for sociologists.All I know is that I don’t know anyone who’s doing it.

    I guess all this discussion of monagamish and polyamorous relationships reminds me of giant squid. I suppose there’s enough evidence that they exist, but I don’t necessarily expect to see any in my lifetime. But then when I come to a blog like this one, I’m the giant squid. It’s all very disorienting.

  30. 35

    Bruce- you don’t know anyone who is doing it; that just means they are being discreet. There are websites where one can go to find potential partners. I can’t recommend any- I know I’m not going to get permission.

  31. JEC

    Greta Christina @ #8 wrote:

    I totally agree that “spectrum” or “continuum” is something of an oversimplification. If for no other reason, it’s not like (for instance) “genital sex but no kink” or “kink but no genital sex” are obviously closer to one end of the spectrum than the other. I considered getting into that in the piece, but decided it would be distracting.

    You know, this might be worth a post / thread of its own. It’s really about the broader question of how we name and think about categories — whether they’re gender identities, or sexual orientations, or relationship styles / configurations — when binaries are inadequate and spectra aren’t much better.

    One approach is to think in terms of clusters in a high-dimensional space. For example, start with the idea of a spectrum of relationship openness, from “closed” to “open.” That’s a one-dimensional space. We can expand that to a two-dimensional space with, say, one dimension for “openness re: genital sex” and a second dimension for “openness re: kink.” Now we can talk about relationships that are “somewhat open for sex + completely closed for kink” and so forth. But we don’t have to stop there: we can add a dimension for “openness re: romantic emotion.” And another. And so on.

    But we’re still oversimplifying, because we’re still treating “openness” (of various kinds) as a single ordering. But things like “open re: genital sex only when I’m in town” and “open re: genital sex only when I’m out of town” aren’t obviously “ordered.” In fact, “openness” turns out to be a bunch of dimensions too. Now, if we feel like defining ten dimensions to be open about (and that’s a small number), and five dimensions of “openness” for each (also a pretty small number), we’re already up to fifty dimensions. And the human brain isn’t very good at thinking about fifty-dimensional space. What now?

    Imagine if we could survey every relationship in the world and “plot” each one at the appropriate location in our fifty-dimensional space. What we’d find is that the points we’ve plotted wouldn’t be evenly distributed throughout the whole space. They’d form clusters — that is, they’d tend to clump together around some number of more-or-less common configurations. And that reflects the notion that, while there are bezillions of logically possible relationship styles, a relatively small number of “regions” will account for a large fraction of the relationship population.

    When we use terms like “monogamy” or “swinging” or “polyfidelity,” I think we’re making conjectures about where those clusters are and giving them names.

    A couple of observations about clusters: First, a cluster is not (usually) a single point; it’s not exactly one relationship style. It’s a set of styles that are, in some sense, “close together,” meaning similar to one another. Second, clusters don’t necessarily have clear boundaries. There are “edge cases” that might or might not be included. Third, it wouldn’t be surprising if, when we look closely at any particular cluster, it turned out to be composed of distinguishable “sub-clusters.” That means that we can “see” different sets of categories, depending on the level of detail we choose to employ. Fourth– and maybe most importantly — the location of clusters is an empirical question. We can, in principle, at least, go do actual social science on this.

    (Now if I could just come up with a better term…somehow I don’t think “clusters in a high-dimensional space” is going to catch on.)

  32. 38

    Dan Savage talks about this a lot on his podcast and in his column. Few relationships are wide open. Successfully open couples have negotiated some rules (i.e. Not in our bad, no one I know, only when out of town, etc.). Dan has a term that I think is clever: monogamish. Basically monogamous but with an occasional dalliance. Personally, I think it would be selfish to deny my partner a quickie with an underwear model. But I wouldn’t be up for knowing that he’s screwing everyone but me (which in my experience if too often the case). I think all kinds of relationships are okay so long as both parties have been open and agreed to an arrangement they both like. What doesn’t work is agreeing to something you aren’t comfortable to keep a relationship from ending or conversely being in the dark and finding out that you’ve been in an open relationship for years without knowing it.

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