Can Ethical Non-Monogamy Actually Work?



On a warm Friday night towards the end of last year, travel executive Kat was getting ready for a first-date picnic with someone she’d matched with on Tinder that week. Applying her favourite Dior lipstick and dabbing sandalwood to the pulse points of her neck, she felt a flutter of nervous excitement. On the way out the door, she grabbed a six-pack of beer from the fridge – and gave her long-time partner, Chris, a kiss goodbye. “Have fun on your date, babe,” he called after her, unfazed.

This is Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM) as practiced for the past five years by Kat and Chris, and many other couples who’ve opened up their relationships. While the concept of an open relationship isn’t new, it has certainly become buzzy online. In fact, this three-letter abbreviation has become commonplace across dating app profiles, signalling that the swiper is married or in a committed relationship, but seeing other people.

The number of singles adding the abbreviation to their dating profiles in 2022 rose by 242 per cent on the dating app Feeld, while Hinge has launched a new feature allowing users to mark themselves as monogamous or ENM. The update is a sign of the increasingly fluid times. What makes ENM different from, say, infidelity, is the transparency. “The difference between ENM and infidelity is there’s no coercion or secrecy. Instead, there’s consent and agreement,” explains Elisabeth Shaw, a clinical psychologist and CEO at Relationships Australia NSW. 

There’s a misconception that ENM is always driven by men. In fact women are largely the ones instigating open relationships. “ENM is a female-led movement,” explains James Buckley, who has been non-monogamous for 15 years and is the founder of the support hub ENM Australia. “In hetero relationships, 70 per cent of open relationships are opened by the woman.” People have different reasons for turning to ENM – sexual exploration, personal growth, romantic needs – but it all comes back to seeking intimacy, says James. “It’s about more freedom, more love, more touch, more sex, more emotional support and more shared responsibilities.”

"There’s this misconception that people who do non-monogamy don’t get jealous. We definitely get jealous, it’s just that people in the ENM community learn how to understand their feelings and deal with them. We don’t run away from jealousy.”

– James Buckley

Meet The Women Making Thousands From Their Wardrobes



Read Alley Pascoe's article on what makes ENM different from infidelity—and whether couples who practise it think it works—at PRIMER.


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