In my previous article I talked about what consensual non-monogamy, or CNM is. Let’s turn to why you might choose to live this way. Remember, consensual non-monogamy is not one thing, there are infinite variations that combine varying degrees of sexual, emotional and romantic exclusivity and non-exclusivity. Here are 10 reasons people opt out of traditional monogamy, in no particular order:
1. Non-monogamy as orientation
Like I mentioned in my previous post some people identify as non-monogamous as orientation. It is simply who they are. The best way to understand this is perhaps to think about sexual orientation. Our sexual orientation is not something we choose, we don’t say: I decide to be heterosexual, bisexual or whatever it might be. In the same way someone might know with certainty that they are in fact monogamous.
Couples who speak about sex, fantasies and relationships can be curious to try to expand their sex life or their romantic life. It is common to come into non-monogamy from a monogamous relationship, e.g. to open it up. One reason for doing so can be a wish to realise a fantasy. For example it is a very common fantasy to have a threesome and some might decide to realise that fantasy and it can be a first step into non-monogamy.
3. Sexual orientation and preferences
Non-monogamy can be a way for people to live out their whole sexuality when their partner is not able to satisfy all their needs. Examples include one partner having a different sexual orientation. For example a couple can consist of a heterosexual woman and a bisexual man, or any other combination. It can also be that one person has a kink or preference not shared by the other. BDSM is a common interest and if a partner is not into it perhaps they accept that their partner can engage in it with others.
4. A difference in sexual desire
It is very common that in a couple one wants sex more than the other one. It is a common preconceived idea that in a heterosexual couple the woman wants less sex than the man, but it can just as well be the opposite. There are ways of understanding desire and working with it together which can solve these problems without turning to non-monogamy. However, a consensual agreement that one partner can satisfy their needs elsewhere can be a solution in some cases.
Asexuality is an orientation and asexual people have no interest in sex. This of course can be problematic if the other person wants sex. In such cases non-monogamy can be a good alternative of both parties agree.
5. Infidelity can lead to consensual non-monogamy
Some couples have a relationship crisis. Maybe one or both cheated and it forced them to work through the root cause to the problems. I have seen examples of couples coming into a consensual agreement to have sex with others this way. One couple said: “We are married. Both cheated. Then we realised it is better to have sex with others together than to be unfaithful” This can be a constructive way to move on from infidelity if partners want to stay together and if unmet sexual needs was part of the reasons for the side step.
6. Falling in love with someone else
Most people have this idea that if you fall in love with someone else you cannot still love your partner. Meanwhile no parent would likely say that they started to love their first child less when the second was born. The difference is that for this love to expand is culturally expected. In society’s eyes, love for friends, family and pets can grow, whereas we have only been equipped with a finite amount of romantic love, enough for one person at the time. If you accept the idea that it’s possible to feel romantic love for more than one person at the same time, then the love for one person does not need to mean the end of another relationship.
7. A difference in sexual function
Just like there can be a difference in sexual desire between partners in a couple, there can be a difference in sexual function. This can be due to illness or handicap for example.
8. Personal growth and development
Some people do not want to limit the expression of their sexuality to one person for life. They want to experience the personal growth that can come from having multiple partners. CNM can be a catalyst for both development of a relationship, but also for personal development. CNM allows for increased freedom which can benefit self-expression.
9. Sexual diversity
Many people have had their sexual expression hampered by societal, religious and cultural norms. Those who are strong enough to cast off this invisible cloak of shame can embrace their sexuality and feel a desire to explore all of its potential expressions. These people acknowledge that it is perhaps not realistic than one single person should be able to fulfil all of our sexual needs.
10. Philosophical reasons for consensual non-monogamy
We are by default “opted in” to monogamy in society. Few people question it. But some read into the history of monogamy and take a standpoint that actually this default view does not align with their values. This can include reasons such as:
- human beings are not biologically monogamous;
- the love based, sexually exclusive marriage is an unrealistic utopia where we expect more from one single person than never before in history. Marriage was not historically about love.
- Divorce and infidelity rates suggest that monogamy is not working very well for us.
So, those were some reasons why people practise ethical non-monogamy. If you are curious whether this can be something for you I encourage you to think your own “why”. This is good to know because CNM is not an easy ride, it requires work. It’s possible that even though you and your partner agree that CNM could be something for you, that your respective reasons why you want it are different. There is nothing wrong with that but it is good to talk about it in order to avoid misunderstandings down the line.
Own survey among 157 Norwegians who practise ethical non-monogamy, conducted in 2020
Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma and Consensual Nonmonogamy, Jessica Fern, 2020
Moors, Amy & Matsick, Jes & Schechinger, Heath. (2017). Unique and Shared Relationship Benefits of Consensually Non-Monogamous and Monogamous Relationships: A Review and Insights for Moving Forward. European Psychologist. 22. 55-71. 10.1027/1016-9040/a000278
Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You, Busting Myths about Human Nature, Agustín Fuentes, 2012