Marriage Beyond Monogamy

I just finished reading Christopher Ryan’s Sex at Dawn for the second time, which makes the case that, at our core, we humans are not monogamous creatures. Many people are giving Mr. Ryan credit for making it safe for people to talk about monogamy, polyamory and open marriage in public, and he certainly did deliver the opening salvo.

But I am thinking that it is the disclosure of Newt Gingrich’s ex-wife, and the defensive embarrassment of the conservative Republican Presidential hopeful that has really taken this conversation to the center of the stage.

It is obvious that Newt has had some difficulty with long term monogamy. He has had several wives and affairs. Even if the disclosure from his ex-wife in regard to his request for an “open marriage” was not true, he certainly was playing outside the confines of a traditional monogamous marriage. Some might even say that he was “cheating” with his now current wife before he was divorced. We can point fingers at Newt if we wish, but we know the truth. Newt has a lot of company out there in the land of sexual infidelity. Shall I mention Kennedy here, or Clinton? Or is it your best friend, your neighbor or you?

Monogamy is a societal concept that many would say has been imposed on us by religion and many other factors. I lived in a completely monogamous marriage for 23 years, and then I needed more. But for me, it was too big a leap from being completely monogamous to having an open marriage or polyamorous lifestyle. My husband and I were never going to be “swingers” either.

So how do I have more and stay married? That is when I embraced a new definition of marital sex, which some of us call being “monogamish.”

My memoir, Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner, is all about the beginning of my journey on that path.And as I have traveled further down the path of the brave new marriage with my husband, there are so many conversations in the sex positive community about what we each mean by all of these labels and terms. We all don’t agree on the definitions of anything.


There is monogamy, serial monogamy, monogamish, open marriage, polyamory and swinging! Ask a group of sex positive people to define one of these unions and you will get a lot of very different and passionate answers. The fact is that the state of marriage and its very definition is going through a tremendous transition and the beautiful thing is that we are talking about it! Even in the New York Times.

So what about the growing group of us that are looking for a middle ground? What if you want to stay married and the person you said your vows to is the most important person in the world to you? Can you go outside your marriage to explore sexuality on any level? Can you get more and not move into the world of open marriage, polyamory and swinging?

I believe there is a solution that can fulfill this need for more without having to suffer through serial monogamous relationships that end badly. I believe there is something that can fill the gap between monogamy and full out polyamory or open marriage. I call it monogamish. I didn’t coin the term – Dan Savage did – but I am living it, and so are countless other people. The fact is that many of us monogamish folks are more shy than the open marriage or poly communities, so we don’t talk about this much to our neighbors and friends.

Before I heard Dan Savage talk about being “monogamish,” I thought I had coined the term “expanded monogamy,” but alas a quick search on Google turned up several references to expanded monogamy with different definitions. In my definition of expanded monogamy, a couple sets the rules of sexual exploration that fit their own set of personal boundaries.In my marriage’s rule book, it does not include taking a traditional lover.

In my interpretation of expanded monogamy or being monogamish, I am not talking about what has been called an “open marriage.” My version has very real boundaries that may seem outside of the box for some, but for others may seem quite restrictive.

What is agreeable to one couple may not be agreeable to another. As I shared in my story in Shameless, I created a form of expanded monogamy and, with my husband, developed a way for me to explore my sexuality that did not fit the traditional defnition of monogamy, but was not polygamy either. I explored the concept of polyamory by reading a wonderful book on the subject by Deborah Anapol, but the concept was not quite right for my life. I needed a different way, and I needed new language.

If I have learned anything in my years as a fertility advocate and sex educator, it is if we don’t have language for something, we can get very confused.

We are also not good at finding middle places in our society. Many people on my book tour kept asking me questions like “How did your husband feel about you going to a tantra workshop?” or “Did your husband get jealous of you working with hands-on sexual healers?”

No matter where I am in the country, I am asked the same questions over and over again about my adventures into the underground world of sacred sexuality. In my search for language, I am embracing the term “expanded monogamy” and the “monogamish marriage.”

In my own expanded monogamish marriage, I have room to attend sexuality workshops that allow me to explore my own sexuality within my boundaries with myself and with others, and usually in a supervised setting. I am able to be playful in my sexuality which keeps my own inner fire alive and my marriage sexually interesting.

It has become essential for me to be able to explore who I am as an individual as well as in my marriage.In my own expanded monogamous marriage, both my husband and I have the space to work with sexological body workers and sacred intimates who are there to support us on our own individual paths. We attend tantra workshops, which may include us working with sexual energy techniques with other participants – like moving our breath or eye gazing.

Having the space to explore and experiment with my sexuality within the boundaries of an expanded monogamy has supported my 30 year marriage where both my husband and I are happy and in a place that keeps the light burning in our own marriage bed. Having room to explore and expand your sexuality may, over time, turn a once sexless marriage into something else. Creating some room in our relationships for turning up the heat on our sexuality does not have to mean leaving the marriage or having an affair or polyamory which opens the door to another set of issues.

If we give ourselves the room to experiment and expand our own sexuality without shame, I believe that more people would stay within their relationships. We just need a little more room to breathe. It’s about creating sexual agreements that work for each partnership, and allowing each other the room to grow without ditching our lives.

What to do after reading this article?

I would love it if you left a comment, “liked it,” shared it via email or through Facebook, Twitter or your favorite social media.

Check out the resources that I mention here: Christopher Ryan’s Book “Sex at Dawn” and Deborah Anapol’s book on polyamory.

Check out my personal story: Shameless: How I Ditched The Diet, Got Naked, Found True Pleasure and Somehow Got Home in Time to Cook Dinner!

Non-Monogamy: Do Open Relationships Work?
Polyamory: More Love or More Confusion?

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Tanya Selth
Tanya Selth1 years ago

Im a monogamous person with some guys but also are poly if Im with a poly person, Ive even dated two guys at once (they were best friends and wanted to do that.. I bet people will jump to wrong conclusions on reading that.. note I only ever had sex with one of them at a time thou.. I'd spend time with one and then he'd drop me to his mates house for me to spend time with the other). It was great being able to date two guys at once.

There are all types out there and to myself, it all depends on how my partner is how I will be. Love isnt love unless you are completely considering your partners feelings on things like this.

Nimue Pendragon
Nimue Pendragon2 years ago

You either commit totally or you don't.

Danuta Watola
Danuta Watola3 years ago

Interesting article

Heidi H.
Past Member 3 years ago

I find it very unsettling to think a partner could be having affairs while in a committed relationship. And it becomes more unsettling to me the older I get for physical, emotional and mental health reasons.

Blake W.
Blake W.3 years ago

Being faithful to one's partner means different things to different couples. There's a whole continuum of possible boundaries that they can set, and each couple should openly and honestly discuss with one another what THEY want.
Just as not everyone would be happy in the same profession, and just like some people like cold and snow and some prefer dry desert to live, likewise it is absurd to think that every couple is going to want to have the same boundaries.

Adelaide Brooks
Adelaide Brooks3 years ago

That's what I what I would call healthy monogamy. Whether we are meant to be monogamous or not is irrelevant. What is relevant is the commitment you make to your SO and that is different for each couple. It isn't cheating if you have your SO's approval.

Mark Stephens
Mark Stephens3 years ago

After wading through the whole boring article, I finally found out what "monogamish" means - it's monogamy with sex education. The name for that is "monogamy".

Cassandra Holly
Casian Holly3 years ago

I'll never understand why people think they need to protect children from this. That's the same kind of messed up logic that says kids with gay parents or kids with single parents are somehow not getting the best because their family isn't the mainstream norm.
I know a lot of fantastic parents. My mother is straight and monogamous and one of the best I know. Her neighbor decided at 40 that she wasn't going to find someone and through a fertility clinic had children on her own; she's a fantastic parent. I know plenty of gay couples, male and female, who are raising well-adjusted, happy kids. My kids are happy and well-adjusted too and have grown up with three parents.
When my kids did finally ask about this, it wasn't "Why do we have three parents?" but rather, "Why do they only have one? That's not fair." My kids see themselves as at an advantage because they have more parents to love them and care for them and provide for them. They get a full time, stay at home mom and two working parents. They understand that the number of people in a relationship and the genders of those people do not matter. What matters is that everyone in the family loves each other and takes care of each other.

Anna C.
Anna C.3 years ago

No, thank. I'll stick with monogamy. I don't need to complicate my life, and I certainly don't need to complicate my children's. I'm more concerned about how my actions affect others, especially my children, and this isn't the example I want to set for mine.

Grainne O'Carroll
Grainne OCarroll3 years ago

It is definitely, albeit slowly, becoming more acceptable to be in a relationship that is not strictly monogamous. Amber B says that if people don't stay faithful, they don't love the other person. I don't think we can make such judgements about others. Some people are happy to spend a lot of time away from their partner (e.g. working abroad), but that doesn't mean they don't love each other. We all need to decide what is right for us without judgement from others.