Consensual non-monogamy
September 10, 2021

12 Relationship Types That Aren't All About Monogamy

If you thought monogamy was your only option, it’s time to reconsider everything.
Written by
Amanda Scherker
Published on
September 10, 2021
Updated on
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Our society likes to act like the only kind of healthy relationship is a monogamous one. But there are all kinds of different ways to structure relationships in your life, and learning about all your options will better help you define the relationship you want, on your own terms.

Here are just 12 relationship types to learn about, though even more exist out there. 

1. Monogamy

While this may seem like the simplest kind of relationship to define as it is the most culturally accepted and common, monogamy can take many different forms, ranging from “classical monogamy” to “serial monogamy.” At its core, though, monogamy is rooted in a high-level of exclusivity between two partners. That exclusivity may be an agreement to pool resources and to share sexual and/or romantic experiences with only each other. 

2. Monogamish

Monogamish relationships typically involve a high level of exclusivity between two partners, but with a bit of proverbial “wiggle room.” This might mean you and a partner are mostly exclusive, but allow for sexual and/or romantic experiences outside the relationship once in a while. Perhaps you give each other a “hall pass” to seek different partners just once a year. Perhaps a partner consents to you having another sexual partner who lives 100 miles away. A monogamish relationship can mean different things to different couples depending on the boundaries they define. 

3. Ethical Non Monogamy

Ethical non monogamy is an umbrella term for a number of different kinds of relationship formations that don’t fall under the “monogamy” label. The following examples (4 - 11) are a few options ethical non monogamists might healthily explore. 

4. Open Relationship 

An open relationship typically describes a relationship formation in which partners explicitly agree to explore other romantic and/or sexual experiences under agreed upon terms. It often suits couples who have mismatched libidos or different kinks, or couples who simply find that monogamy doesn’t work for them.

5. Swinger Relationship 

A swinging lifestyle generally involves sexual play amongst couples. That might include swapping partners with another couple, cuckolding, threesomes, and so on. In swinging relationships, the couple remains central, and other experiences are usually kept purely sexual.​​

6. Polyamorous Relationship

Polyamorous relationships emphasize emotional relationships outside of a two-person partnership, and often sexual ones as well. It can take many forms, from hierarchical polyamory, where you might have a primary partner and a secondary partner, or it might look like a triad, where you might have a relationship amongst three partners.

7. Relationship Anarchy

Relationship anarchy is often confused with polyamory, but it’s not centered around a couple, and instead focuses on the individual and their own sexual, romantic, and other emotional needs. Relationship anarchists will typically have more than one partner, but may stay with compatible partners for decades.

8. Kink/BDSM Relationships

Kink or BDSM relationships are consensual sexual relationships of any form that explore “kinks,” ie any consensual nontraditional sexual acts, particularly ones based in fantasy or desire, or BDSM, i.e. any consensual acts of bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, and sadism and masochism. Kink or BDSM relationships can be fulfilling in helping normalize a person’s unique sexual desires.

9. Non-Sexual Romantic Relationship

Non-sexual romantic relationships typically involve romantic intimacy without sexual acts. These kinds of relationship are frequently, but not always, engaged in by folks who identify as asexual, or across the ACE spectrum.

10. Friends With Benefits

These relationships typically include a foundation of friendship with some added romantic or sexual aspect. Though generally used to connote a “casual” relationship, “friends with benefits” can be a fluid term to describe a relationship that changes or evolves over time, which can lead to confusion if not pursued with communication and care.

11. Casual Sex

Relationships that are both casual and sexual typically involve sex without expectations of deep romantic connection, exclusivity or long-term commitments. This can take the form of a one-night stand or a prolonged series of consensual, casual sexual encounters.

12. Toxic relationship 

Toxic relationships are sexual and/or romantic relationships that contain toxic elements such as disrespect, undermining, or lack of support. Such behavior may take the form of gaslighting, as when someone makes their partner feel like their perception of reality is inaccurate, or cheating, as when someone violates sexual or romantic boundaries previously set with a partner. This relationship type is worth evaluating to see if it’s worth mending — be it through open, honest communication or couple’s counseling — or exiting the relationship altogether. 

The bottom line

Any form of consensual romantic and/or sexual relationship can be fulfilling and meaningful, so long as it’s conducted with genuine empathy, good communication, and expectations that are mutually satisfying. It’s all a matter of figuring out what works best for you and your partner(s).

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Amanda Scherker is a freelance writer and producer. She was an Associate Editor at HuffPost and is a contributor to Reductress, Artsy, Cracked and Cherry Picks. She also writes and directs video essays about pop culture for the Youtube Channel Wisecrack.

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