What is Consensual Non-Monogamy?

Consensual non-monogamy is sometimes abbreviated as CNM, creating a linguistic parity between this lifestyle and other non-traditional sexual practices like BDSM. People involved in CNM tend to feel very strongly about community values. Words like “openness,”  “inclusivity,”  and “authenticity” are frequently used by members to describe the feel of the community.

Clearly, consensual non-monogamy and cheating are not the same thing. Couples who are involved in consensual non-monogamy are, as the name implies, both willing participants.  It’s not the same thing as being a “swinger” either, as being a couple is not necessarily part of the lifestyle. Many single people are involved in polyamorous lifestyles as well, which is not the same thing as being involved in “hookup culture.”

So just what IS consensual non-monogamy?

Between 4.3 and 10.5 percent of relationships are estimated to be non-monogamous, but studies have shown that most people have negative stereotypes about consensual non-monogamy, and people involved in this kind of lifestyle. That’s a higher percentage than the LGBTQ population, a group that has happily seen a much more positive general reception in recent years. Beliefs that CNM couples have a “less trusting and less meaningful relationship” are especially prevalent.

Consensual non-monogamy is also often called “being in an open relationship.” Committed partners are also free to engage in sex with partners outside of their relationship. Many CNM participants believe this kind of relationship promotes honesty in communication, and prevents “infidelity” from coming between them, ruining their relationship. In fact, CNM people are more likely to use protection, and not engage in drinking or substance use, than people who cheat while in monogamous relationships.

Is this a cure for sex addiction?

Absolutely not. Sex addiction can include elements of dishonesty, mistrust, fear, manipulation and coercion. This is opposite of consensual non-monogamy. Non-monogamous relationships only can work with openness, trust, and honesty. Those who are in an addictive dynamic most likely will be missing some or all of the requirements to make a consensual, non-monogamous relationship work.

Robb Weiss, a leader in the field of sexual addiction, writes in her book Mending a Shattered Heart, people are “free to engage in whatever sexual situations they have settled on as long as the rules are respected” (Carnes, 2011). However, for many people who are dealing with sexual addiction, there has been gas lighting and manipulation. Therefore, a non-monogamous relationship can be a source of trauma for clients.

Wouldn’t it make you jealous?

The potential for jealousy within an open relationship may seem greater to those who have never been involved with consensual non-monogamy, than amongst followers of this sexual practice. It may be something you feel when first becoming involved with CNM, but will likely become unimportant later on, as long as you and your primary partner keep to a mutually-beneficial agreement.

Sometimes CNM practitioners feel ashamed of feeling jealous because this is what they “signed up for” by being in an open relationship. We are all wired differently, and feeling jealous is not something that should bring you shame. It may be hard to discuss with your non-CNM friends, so finding a like-minded community can help bring you peace of mind.

Believers in CNM may find that their feelings of jealousy do not really involve their partner — an important self-discovery, perhaps not made in a monogamous relationship. For example, poly advocate Diana Adams learned her jealousy was related to low self-esteem during her youth. When she felt jealous over her partner’s new partner, it was triggering those feelings from long ago about being unattractive, or unworthy of sexual interest.

Why consensual non-monogamy?

From the time we were little, most of us have had our ideas of what love and relationships should be shaped by those around us, the media, and fairytales. Some people get that fairytale ending, but others seek it aimlessly…not perhaps, because Mr. or Ms. Right isn’t out there, but because just one Mr. or Ms. is not right for you.

What kind of “rules” are involved?

Rules can be about frequency, type of sexual acts, location, or even types of people (ex: mutual acquaintances/friends or not; only other people involved in open relationships or single people as well).

Couples who engage in CNM usually have their rules written out before opening up their relationship. That’s not to say these rules are “commandments” written in stone, but it helps to prevent any misunderstandings or hurt feelings. The rules can always be changed with mutual agreement as your relationship grows.


Carnes, S. (2011). Mending a Shattered Heart. Carefree, AZ: Gentle Path Press.


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