Understanding Ethical Non-Monogamy

Hi friends,

Growing up, I understood that many people dated, slept together, broke up, dated someone else, and so on. It was a kind of serial non-monogamy.

However, a new trend is called “ethical non-monogamy”: engaging “in sexual activity with someone other than their primary partner — with their primary partner’s permission” (Lindsey Sanders, YouGov). Here’s YouGov’s chart, showing how many American adults would prefer this option:

Already, among 18-44-year-old men, some kind of non-monogamy is preferable to monogamy.

The Wall Street Journal reports on how this trend affects people using dating apps. Increasingly, participants experience a mismatch between someone seeking a monogamous relationship and someone looking for an additional relationship.

The article quotes a Hinge spokesman:

Gen Z is the most fluid generation in terms of their sexuality and identity, and they need their relationships—and their dating app as the meeting point—to support their openness to different types of connection.

Similarly, the Journal reports, “A Tinder spokesman says the app doesn’t ‘limit the possibilities of sparking something new somewhere unexpected.’”

As I sit with this new trend, I predict we will both see a lot of enthusiasm… and heartbreak. Many people will be excited about the idea of sexual experimentation - that’s human nature.

I understand that the ethics of ENM (ethical non-monogamy) are often grounded in principles like consent, open communication, and mutual respect. Practitioners may argue that as long as all parties involved are informed and agree, the arrangement is ethical.

But eventually, I think this approach will often backfire. And even if it is “successful,” calling it ethical doesn’t mean that it is right.

In particular, this “new” challenge reminds me of the richness of Scripture. In particular, my take is that a close reading of Genesis shows us how polygamous relationships caused harm to everyone involved.

I know some argue, “Abraham was polygamous, so God approves,” but my understanding of these stories is that they lead the careful reader to discover how poorly polygamy works in actual practice.

Still, this connection needs to be made with care, as polygamy in a patriarchal society has substantive differences from progressive sexual practices in a more egalitarian context.

I think it’s clear that God’s design is for one man and one woman to love each other in a marriage that lasts their entire lives. Or alternatively, either men or women live in celibacy but still experience love, purpose, and joy with their friends and community.

Another kind of story is also helpful. From the Gospels, we know that Jesus often ate meals - and built high-trust friendships - with people whose lifestyles were not respectable.

For his openness to people, he experienced judgment and scorn. His response? In Luke 5:31-32, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “It is not those who are healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

It’s a high standard. On the one hand, Jesus and sinners enjoyed being friends with each other. At the same time, Jesus was calling them to repentance.

Do you have friends who practice ENM (“ethical non-monogamy”)?

How do they define the ethics of these relationships?

What pathways do you see to invite them into the better life that Jesus offers?

What helps you build connections with people who identify this way?


I hadn’t heard of the term ‘ethical non-monogamy’ but after looking into it, I realised it was another term for what I did understand as ‘poly-amoury’.

I don’t know anyone who has adopted this lifestyle, so can’t speak from that vantage point. What struck me though is that this ideology or lifestyle choice is based on a redefinition of words.

‘Love’ seems to have been redefined to roughly mean ‘accepting of a person’s choice’. So for multiple people in a ‘love relationship’, they have to resign themselves to accepting that they will not be the only focus in the relationship. Their reward: to enjoy not having to commit to one person either. This love places the self’s desires as central.

In contrast, Biblical love, both in friendship and marriage is patient, kind, not self-seeking, not envious, not boasting, not arrogant, not rude, not irritable and doesn’t keep a record of wrongs (1 Cor 13:4-6). And this type of love in all it’s fullness only flows from the One who is love (1 John 4:8). Therefore, by enacting a relationship that abuses God’s design of love, the possibility of true love is limited at best, and non-existent and worst.

Secondly, it strikes me that the term ‘ethical’ may be used in a manipulative sense. The Merriam Webster dictionary describes ‘ethical behaviour’ as ‘conforming to accepted standards of conduct’.

I think this term is being applied in polyamorous relationships in 2 subtle ways. Firstly, as the people within the polyamorous relationship all agree to the terms, they are defining their own category of relationship ethics. It’s like a code of conduct for an exclusive club. This is the ethic they agree to and adhere to within their circle.

But secondly, and possibly more subtly, is that until now, the normative accepted standard of conduct in Western society has been two people in a committed and exclusive relationship. Those who do not wish to conform to this standard have inserted the word ‘ethical’ on their new conduct to place a burden on everyone to accept their new standard of conduct. If society at large doesn’t accept them, then they are being unethical.

My concern is that by applying the term ‘ethical’ to polyamoury, the door is left open to applying this to any other ‘relationship’ situation, including ones that are currently illegal.
Ethics becomes yet another component of morality that is entirely relative and subjective.

And, as you say, it is another opportunity for precious individuals who are so in need of love and acceptance to be left broken, disillusioned, and desperate for true love, unable to function in a healthy, committed relationship.

Therefore, for any Christian who is friends with someone involved in ENM, demonstration of unconditional love, clearly defined by Godly boundaries will be essential. A faithful friend who lives out the love of Christ will be a city on a hill for those in darkness.

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Hello Carson,

New terms for old sins.
Wonder what it was called in the time of Sodom and Gommorah?

My wife and I have been married for 44 years and are each others best friends. We enjoy being able to finish each others sentences,
Glad to be old fashion and following GOD’s plan of marriage.

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Hi @richard7,

God has given you and your wife an incredible gift! What a testimony to his grace at work in your lives. I look forward to celebrating that kind of marriage in a few more years. :slight_smile:

How do you think the gift of your marriage could help you both build bridges and help people who are living an ENM lifestyle? What would it look like to show them the love of Christ and invite them to follow Jesus?



Yes, GOD has blessed Jeanne and I with a long marriage. Credit for it goes to living by HIS plan. The journey has had it’s ups and downs, but we did not quit on each other. THAT IS PATH TO A SUCCUSSFUL MARRIAGE.

How do we reach generations that are raised in a society of so many selfish motivations, To list a few…
It is all about me!!
If it feels good to me, do it.
If it does not work throw it away. (Relationships included)
Now society, social media and advestisting glamourizes all of the above and more.
Add to the above, a society that has turned it back on GOD.

To reach those in the EMN lifestytle or any sinful lifestytle, we need to be willing to meet them where there they are, share how GOD loves us and how HE loved us so much HE gave HIS SON JESUS to cover our sins by sharing how that love impacted our own lives.