How do you define monogamy? And have you and your partner(s) discussed what monogamy means to you? This is among the most important of conversations to have, as research confirms that definitions of monogamy vary from person to person.
For example, in some relationships (and some cultures), dancing sensually is considered a form of cheating; in others, however, fretting over a little bump and grind is considered much ado about nothing.
In some relationships, flirtation with anyone other than your partner violates monogamous boundaries; in others, flirtation with outsiders is key to bringing home a healthy sexual appetite.
And in some relationships, fantasizing about another person while having sex with your partner causes discomfort and discord; in others, it’s a core component of a satisfying sex life and intimate connection.
These differences exist because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to make a relationship work. What works for you may not work for you neighbors and vice versa.
Some people thrive in monogamy and others are most fulfilled in consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships. Many of us, however, fall somewhere in between in the territory I refer to as monogamish.
When I was a kid I overhead an “uncle” (we call all adults Auntie and Uncle in Jamaica) joke that he and his wife were “monogamish”. I had no clue what he meant, as I was too young to really understand the concept of monogamy or the reality that it’s prescribed as a default norm.
Years later, I heard Dan Savage refer to his relationship as monogamish, but his definition was far closer to a sexually open relationship than what my uncle had described.
My definition of monogamish is intended to address the grey area between absolute monogamy and a CNM relationship. And it’s underscored by consent of all parties involved.
You can be monogamish and only engage with people other than your partner in thought — but not action. For example, you might fantasize about someone who turns you on and linger on those thoughts — in and out of the bedroom. You might share these thoughts with your partner and indulge in the intimacy of sharing desires that might be considered taboo or forbidden in other relationships. Many people report that talking about forbidden thoughts serves to reduce their power and decrease the likelihood of acting upon them.
You can be monogamish and only engage with people other than your partner in talk — but not touch. You might flirt with other people — while respecting their boundaries, of course. You might even flirt with others together and then head home and allow the consensual flirtation to fuel your sexual flame. And there is no reason why the talk itself needs to evolve into anything more. You can stop there if that’s what works for you.
You can also be monogamish and engage with people other than your partner in specific situations like a strip club or sex club. Many monogamish couples opt to visit sexually charged environments even if they choose not to participate in a sexual manner. You might visit a sex club and agree to dance only with one another and avoid interactions with other guests. Or you might visit a strip club, burlesque or boylesque show and enjoy one another’s company and conversation against the erotic backdrop of the entertainers. You may even opt to flirt with other singles or couples in these venues, but agree that touch is forbidden.
Other folks who consider themselves monogamish live primarily monogamist lifestyles, but make exceptions once in awhile to keep the passion alive. They might enjoy a lap dance or strip tease on occasion. They might even celebrate their anniversary with a threesome or public sex, but opt not to identify as open, as they’re primarily monogamous.
You might argue that this last group is ultimately CNM, but it’s really up to them to decide how they identify. In some cases, behavior is a matter of sexual expression and not identity.
Many (younger) couples, for example, reject labels altogether. They may, for example, engage in activities that swingers would classify as swinging (e.g. playing with another couple in a hot tub), but reject the label as outdated, limiting or incomplete. Ultimately, it’s up to them to identify as they see fit, as identity shapes their reality.
However you identify, you can custom-design your relationship to make it work. You do not have to embrace all of the above mentioned options to be monogamish. It’s entirely your call. And remember that when someone else judges you, they’re really judging themselves.
If you’re considering exploring monogamish territory, you’ll want to begin with a series of conversations while bearing in mind that expressing vulnerabilities (fear, insecurity, jealousy) is essential to cultivating intimacy.
There exists no exhaustive list of questions and concerns you’ll want to address, but here are a few to get you started:
Why do you want to be monogamish?
What elements of a monogamish relationship appeal to you?
What elements of a monogamish relationship make you nervous?
What do you hope to get out of exploring a monogamish lifestyle?
What do you fear about being monogamish?
What makes you feel insecure?
What makes you feel loved and secure?
What will do if one of you feels uncomfortable or changes their mind about an element of monogamy or being monogamish?
When you close your eyes and envision a monogamish scenario (take 60 seconds to do so in silence), how do you feel — emotionally and physically?
How do you feel when your partner pays attention to someone else? What factors affect your reaction (e.g. how the other person responds to you, your mood, stress levels, recent sleep patterns, exercise)?
How do you feel when your partner flirts with someone else? What factors affect your reaction (e.g. how the other person responds to you, your mood, stress levels, recent sleep patterns, exercise)?
How do you feel when your partner fantasizes about someone else? What factors affect your reaction (e.g. how the other person responds to you, your mood, stress levels, recent sleep patterns, exercise)?
How can your partner reassure you and express love when you’re feeling insecure?
How would you respond if you felt uncomfortable during a monogamish interaction?
How would you want your partner to respond if you expressed feeling uncomfortable during a monogamish interaction?
How do you feel about other people viewing you as monogamish?
These preliminary questions will help you to get the conversation started and it’s essential that the conversation remain ongoing. It’s not a one-shot deal.
Whether you opt to be monogamous, monogamish or CNM in the end, conversations about monogamy and its many grey areas are essential to a happy, lasting and fulfilling relationship. You may worry that talking about these topics involves treading on dangerous territory, but for those who acknowledge their limits, admit to their vulnerabilities, offer their partners reassurance and revere their relationship above else, it has the potential to strengthen the bond. Being willing to push your boundaries is a testament to your commitment and increases the likelihood that you’ll be just fine — whether you opt for the monogamous, CNM or monogamish route.
Jess O’Reilly began working as a sexuality counsellor in 2001 and she has never looked back! Her PhD studies involved the development of training programs in sex education for teachers and her education and undergraduate degrees focused on equity and sexual diversity.
Her training includes courses in counselling skills, healthy relationships, resolving sexual concerns, sex education, clinical sexology, sexual development, sex and disability, group therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Alongside her academic and television credits, Dr. Jess is also an accomplished author with three best-selling titles. Her latest, The New Sex Bible, has received rave reviews from professionals and clients alike and her first book Hot Sex Tips,Tricks and Licks is in its fourth print! Look for her monthly column in Post City or catch her on Tuesday mornings on Global TV’s The Morning Show, Wednesdays on 102.1 The Edge and Saturdays on PlayboyTV.
Dr. Jess’ work experience includes contracts with school boards, social services agencies, community health organizations and private corporations. A sought-after speaker, her sessions always attract a full-house at conferences and entertainment events alike.
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