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Open marriages or open relationships: A committed relationship where one or both partners may be free to have sex with other people individually, or the couple may invite other people to have sex with them together.
Swinging: When couples (“swingers”) get together to have sex with other couples. The groupings may be two or more couples who swap partners, or have sex only with their partner in the same room as other couples (called “same room”), or everyone may enjoy sexual play together.
Polyamory: Members of the relationship can form more than one romantic or sexual relationship with full awareness of all involved. Some people form hierarchical relationships, with different degrees of commitment at each level. These levels may be called “primary” (often a marriage-like relationship with living and financial commitments), “secondary” (fewer commitments than primary) and “tertiary” (more casual). Polyamory differs from polygamy, the custom of having more than one husband or wife at a time.
Solo polyamory: A type of polyamory where a person sees themselves as their own primary partner, rather than part of a couple or other type of relationship. They may form committed and meaningful relationships with other people, but these relationships do not necessarily lead to living together or getting married.
Relationship anarchy: All forms of love and relationships are seen as equal, whether or not they are romantic or sexual. There are no limits to how a relationship should look. The only rules are those that have been agreed on by all those involved. Love and respect form the foundation of relationship anarchy.
Casual or anonymous sex partners or fuck buddies: Relationships where there is no expectation of an emotional commitment, beyond agreements about safer sex practices for one-time or ongoing encounters.
Mixed: One person in the relationship may be monogamous while the other person is polyamorous or has other sex partners.
There are many reasons why someone might practice non-monogamy. For some people, being sexually or emotionally exclusive with one person just does not feel right for them. Other people may have left long-term relationships and now want to explore different types of relationships now that they are single. Others may be in a relationship but want to open things up. For some people, non-monogamy is the chance to build more than one meaningful emotional and/or sexual relationship. For others, it is the chance to have several sexual partners without the added emotional commitment.
Non-monogamy choices can differ between individuals and between partners in a relationship. Non-monogamy can allow each person to fulfil their needs and desires, while also taking some of the pressure off partners who do not have the same needs or desires.
If you are exploring non-monogamy, either as a single person or as part of a couple, it can be helpful to take some time to explore your own needs, desires and motivations.
Individuals in non-monogamous relationships may want to keep the following important health considerations in mind.
Talking about sexual health and safer sex is a good idea in every relationship. There is no single way to practice non-monogamy, so it is helpful to make sure that each person in the relationship has the same understanding of what the agreements and expectations are for safer sex.
For example, two or more people in a relationship may choose to fluid bond. They commit to using protection (like condoms or dental dams) whenever they have sex with other people outside that bond. In this type of agreement, it is good for everyone involved to know what kinds of sex (like oral, anal, vaginal/ internal gential) they are expected to use protection for.
STIs and testing
Some people believe that non-monogamy may increase the chances of getting or passing an STI. Safer sex can reduce these chances and regular STI testing is a good way to take care of your sexual health. How often a person should test for STIs depends on how many partners they have and the types of sex they are having.
STI screening is recommended:
- Every 3 months for someone with many casual or anonymous sex partners.
- Every 6 months for someone with a few casual or ongoing sex partners.
- Between each relationship.
- Once a year as part of an annual health check-up.
If you are concerned about getting or passing an STI, learn about ways to talk to your partners about STIs and testing.
If you feel comfortable telling your health care provider that you are non-monogamous, this will help to make sure that you and your partners get tested for STIs at the right times. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about non-monogamy with your family doctor, you can use the clinic finder to find a different health care provider or you can talk to an expert on the Options for Sexual Health SexSense line (1-800-739-7367).
- Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships (Author:Tristan Taormino)
- The Ethical Slut (Authors: Dossie Easton & Janet W. Hardy)
- More than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory (Authors: Franklin Veaux & Eve Rickert)
- Sex At Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships (Authors: Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha)
Vanpoly.ca – A resource for the polyamorous community in Vancouver, BC.
More than Two – Providing information and resources about polyamory.
Solo Poly – Information about solo polyamory.
Relationship anarchy – Information about relationship anarchy.