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Consensual Non-Monogamy, Polygyny and Polygamy: Where the Difference Lies?

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Polygamy, polygyny, consensual non-monogamy, serial monogamy. These notions seem to be alike, but are they synonymous? And what is the use of distinguishing between them?

When in relationship that is different from monogamy, we face the need of attributing to it some presentment, of giving it a name. We study and define notions from the realm of alternative relationships in order to know what is correct to use for denoting our type of intimacy, and what is totally inappropriate.

Roots of consensual non-monogamy

Here’s a brief review of intimacy evolution in recent 20 000 years:

  •         caves and promiscuity;
  •         feudal system and significance of the legacy transfer;
  •         harems;
  •         fires for women found guilty in promiscuity;
  •         aristocratism and blue blood (i.e. it’s ok for adultery; the most essential point is having a child);
  •         Victorian era – ban on promiscuity with the largest ever amount of prostitutes per citizen;
  •         constitutional monogamy (monogamy that’s been raised to the law form) in socialism;
  •         constitutional monogamy (monogamy that’s been raised to the law form) in democracy.

The latter two have simultaneously and each on their own generated “non-consensual non-monogamy”. Non-consensual non-monogamy stands for intimacy outside the couple that the other partner is not aware of. Or to put it plain language – infidelity. Alternative and half-banned, non-consensual non-monogamy is trying to get out of the shade and grow into consensual and legal phenomenon by overthrowing the power of monogamy and the monopoly it has set.

Just like any other revolution, the revolution in relationship has given rise to new words. The first one that actually denoted the relationship was coined by Ziegler Conley in 2013. The word “consensual” emphasizes the element that monogamy misses – the agreement that comes from inside the couple instead of preset commitments ordered from above. Defining by negation seems to be strange, but so far this is the most relevant name coined.

Consensual non-monogamy is an umbrella term that embraces all types of relationships free from ban on intimate and romantic relationships outside the couple – given there is consent coming from another partner (-s):

The key point of originating a new term lies in creating a media space that’s been rectified from the notion of “adultery”. In terms of consensual non-monogamy breach of commitments is not considered as a betrayal yet viewed as a cause to reconsider rules and subject them to amendment, transformation. While the ability to transform is what has been for centuries and millennia helping species survive and adopt themselves to the new environment. So what monogamy takes for infidelity, consensual non-monogamy renders as the absence of rules that suit the person, a logical result of inattentiveness to their needs and desires.

Consensual non-monogamy serves the principles of individuality and liberalism, by making it possible to turn every case into relationships that each participant is comfortable with. While monogamy is a henchman of standardized society that stays next to totalitarianism.

Maybe this is the reason of why consensual non-monogamy is not very popular in communist states and counties that are still teenagers in terms of their political age. The level of state development leaves an imprint on complex character and diversity of intimate relationship types. And as to mature and immature relationships, learn more from out article  Mature Love As A Basis Of Alternative Relationships.

Polygyny vs polygamy

Polygyny has been historically the most widespread type of relationships. Of more than 1200 ethnographic communities analyzed:

  •         588 have featured massive polygyny (sororal marital composition with cowives in same or separate dwelling);
  •         453 come with occasional polygyny;
  •         186 are monogamous;
  •         4 are represented by polyandrous families.

Polygyny is a type of polygamy that implies one having several wives. Another type of polygamy – polyandry – stands for women having several husbands.

Polygyny is not the case of Muslim states only. In the USA it is a norm for the community of Mormons and other religious subcultures. Polygyny has been also represented in Catholic and Christian myths (all nuns in the world are “engaged” to Jesus Christ).

Polygamy definition

Polygamy includes:

  •         the relationship in that a partner of one gender simultaneously has more than one partner of another gender;
  •         multiple marriage (partners of different genders are in parallel relations with each other);
  •         multiple sexual relationships (in sociology and zoology).

The word “simultaneously” contained in the definition distinguishes polygamy from serial monogamy.

Polygamy does not run contrary to consensual non-monogamy unless polygamy is coercive. One may put the equality sign between polygamy and consensual non-monogamy in case participants have voluntarily agreed on polygamy having the variety of other options available. Whether there is multi-choice in Muslim countries or religious subcultures that are secluded from the external world is still a question of philosophic character. Thus we think not every polygamy is consensual.

In our search for answers explaining us the difference between polygamy and consensual non-monogamy set in this article we were assisted by:

- the movie Escape From Polygamy,  

- the dissertation The Casualization of Intimacy: Consensual Non-Monogamy And The New Sexual Ethos,

- the research Understanding Consensual Non-Monogamy In College Students & Implications For College Health Professionals.

Find more on alternative types of relationship from our article Effy Blue’s (New York) Open Relationship Test.

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