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May 2, 2024

How to explore consensual non-monogamy

Hey, Citymaggers! It's another glorious week in Adelaide, with autumn leaves falling and the temperature dropping. This week’s question is a great one, and one I find a lot of people asking: What is the best way to approach consensual non-monogamy?

Adelaide sex advice
  • Words: Jamie Bucirde
  • Picture: Morgan Sette
  • This article was produced in collaboration with Adult Bliss Erotica.

So many people seem to be becoming non-monogamous and just jumping into it. What’s the right way to approach consensual non-monogamy (instead of slowly exploring and finding boundaries).


Read the entire back catalogue of On the Cusp here.

Hey reader! It seems like consensual non-monogamy (otherwise known as ethical non monogamy or ENM) is the new relationship buzzword. Everyone seems to be non-monogamous and open and thriving within their relationships. But how do you do it?

In my opinion, ENM is a great alternative to a traditional relationship, and for certain people, it’s a relationship structure that really works for them. It does, however, take a lot of work, communication and a deep understanding of yourself and your partner/partners. It takes trust and honesty.

Let me be clear, if one partner is lying, hiding information or breaking rules without the other person consenting, that’s not ENM, that’s cheating.

If you’re interested in exploring ENM, I would first get you to consider these points:

  • What are the reasons I want to explore? (for the experience, lack of needs being filled, wanting variety, curiosity)
  • Have I always been in monogamous relationships because it suits my needs or because society tells me to?
  • Am I naturally jealous?

Whether you want to try ENM as a single person or within a relationship, it is important to communicate.

Each relationship dynamic will be unique, with each partner having their own boundaries and expectations. It’s important to establish rules early on instead of just jumping in without any guidelines. That is when things can get messy and feelings get hurt.

These guidelines can look like:

  • Will you talk openly about other sexual or romantic partners?
  • What does the sexual line look like? Is kissing, oral sex or genital sex allowed?
  • Does the other person need to always wear protection (This should always be encouraged with the rise of STI’s in Australia)
  • Is it ok to hook up with friends or are friends off limits?
  • Is it ok to hook up with someone in the same city or only interstate?
  • Can you date other people or just be sexual with them?
  • What are your physical vs emotional boundaries for the other person?
  • Can you only hook up with someone sober or is drinking or drug taking allowed?

American-based sexologist, Dr Emily Morse, created a great resource to use when exploring your rules and boundaries – a Yes, No, Maybe guide for everyone to explore.

Regular check-ins

Organise time to regularly check to see how the other is feeling.

It’s important to give space for any emotions that come up and create a safe environment to share vulnerability. This is where you can discuss the rules and your boundaries, and talk about if there are feelings of hurt, resentment or jealousy. This is the true space for growth.

Combating jealousy

Jealousy can be a really healthy emotion that can tell you if something’s wrong with the situation.

Professor, author and world-renowned researcher Brene Brown says “jealousy is when we fear losing a relationship or a part of a valued relationship that we already have” so no wonder it can feel like a punch to the gut.

Jealousy usually stems from more deeply rooted emotions of anger, fear of abandonment or rejection, a fear of not being enough or feeling like the relationship is being threatened.

If you’re feeling jealous, it’s important to articulate where the jealousy comes from, and express that openly to your partner.

Go slow

Exploring ENM can be challenging, rewarding, create vulnerability and push boundaries.

It is important to go slowly, be mindful of yourself and the others involved and always put wellbeing at the forefront of your decisions.

I’ve spoken with couples who have taken years to figure out their true ENM style and rules that work for them, while other single people have different rules for different people they’re dating.

It’s important to keep an open mind, be safe and honest, communicate regularly and understand that it’s ok to push the boundaries to discover where yours lie.

Go easy on yourself, stay safe and stay sexy!

If you’re interested in exploring this further, try these!

Podcasts to listen to:

Books to read:

  • The ethical slut by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
  • Opening Up: A guide to creating and sustaining open relationships by Tristan Taormino
  • Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel

Jamie Bucirde has a postgraduate degree in sexology from Curtin University. Her advice is of a general nature and should be taken in the spirit of the column.

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