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The A-to-Z Guide to Open Relationship Terminology

Article By Sophie Saint Thomas

~ NOVEMBER 2021 ~ Opening things up is more complicated than hot sex with lots of partners. It’s also going to involve some intense conversations, and having the right words can be a big help.

An open relationship is incredibly mainstream at this point—more and more people are recognizing that monogamy only works for some people, and there’s nothing wrong if that’s not you.

But if you’re new to ethical non-monogamy, you may have questions. For instance, are you a cuck for feeling compersion, or a CPOS for experiencing jealousy?

No, but you should brush up on your terminology before entering a monogam-ish relationship. Opening things up is more complicated than getting down with lots of partners. (Fingers crossed for you, though!) Putting the “ethical” in “non-monogamy” typically involves a lot of conversations.

Even the question of “what is an open relationship” doesn’t have a single answer. You hear a lot about polyamory or monogamy, but the truth is that there’s a relationship format for every couple. All an open relationship means is letting go of traditional attachments to monogamy. As with BDSM, having the right terminology is going to be a good first step. “Regardless of relationship structure—whether monogamous or non-monogamous—every single relationship is different.

Even for people who identify as strictly poly or strictly monogamous, there’s no one definition of what those terms mean, they shift according to the agreements of the parties involved,” says gender, sexuality, and relationship therapist Dulcinea Pitagora, PhD. “More important than how you label your relationship structure is how you communicate about it with your parters or partners.”

But knowing a few open relationship terms is a good starting place. So, check out this list and learn the lingo, consider sharing this glossary with your metamours, and start talking through what kind of relationship that works and truly makes you happy.

Bigamy

This old-fashioned term refers to the practice of marrying someone when you’re already married to someone else. Bigamy is actually illegal, so make sure to check the timeline on that second marriage.


Boundary

Boundaries are rules that you establish if you’re going to practice ethical non-monogamy, and they are crucial to its success. For instance, some couples only date other people together, or keep any emotional exes off the menu. An agreement to use latex barriers with all other parties is a common (and important) boundary.


Cheating

Cheating is simply unethical non-monogamy. Cheating usually ends up with one (or more) parties hurt, so please choose an ethical version of non-monogamy if you know that the whole one-partner-for-life thing isn’t for you.


Compersion

Compersion is a warm emotion some rare people get through seeing their partner’s joy or sexual gratification from another person.


CPOS

A term coined by the sex writer Dan Savage, it stands for “cheating piece of shit.” We can poly preach all that we want, but not everyone is going to be interested in ethical non-monogamy. Some people get off on the thrill of cheating, and doing things ethically would remove that sexy sneakiness.


Cuck

Before the word “cuck” was hijacked by the alt-right, it referred to a perfectly good kink. Speaking traditionally, a cuck gets off on watching his wife (known in this situation as the hot-wife) have sex with another man. The female version of a cuck is known as a cuckquean.


Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

This doesn’t refer to the military policy— but it can also be disastrous. In Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) relationships a couple is allowed to sleep with other people, but they agree not to talk about it. Not generally considered the best way of going about things.

Photo by Tỷ Huỳnh from Pexels

Dragon

A dragon is the male version of a unicorn, the mythical and hard-to-catch beautiful bisexual who will fly in, have a fun and hot threesome with a couple, and leave their relationship undisturbed. But there’s no reason to keep things so rigidly gendered—we say identify as a unicorn or dragon purely on mythical creature preference.


Ethical Non-Monogamy

Ethical non-monogamy, or ENM (not to be confused with EDM, although there is massive overlap at Burning Man) is an umbrella term that includes all the various ways to have an open relationship.


Fluid-bonded

Fluid-bonded means a partner you don’t use condoms with. Fluid-bonding is more intentional than simply having unprotected sex–ideally you both have been tested and know one another’s statuses. (Like, if one partner has herpes the other probably does, too.) It is possible to be responsibly fluid-bonded with more than one person—perhaps in a closed throuple—but complications increase exponentially with every new person.


Hierarchical Poly

Hierarchical poly is a polyamorous relationship in which there is a clear pecking order. One primarily partner prevails, but the couple has other “secondary partners” who they get to bone on nights away from their spouse.


Jealousy

Photo by Leonardo Santos from Pexels

This emotion is experienced by monogamous and non-monogamous people alike. In open-relationship contexts, it’s often felt as anger, betrayal, and insecurity triggered by your partner’s relationship with or desire for another. Managing and talking through these feelings is often at the center of successfully practicing ENM.


Metamour

Metamour is a pretentious poly term for your partner’s partners. “Evan is cool, I’ve never gone down on them, but they’re my metamour.”


Monogam-ish

Monogamish is another term coined by Dan Savage, and describes couples who are basically monogamous, but respect human nature. If someone’s on a business trip and makes out with a hottie, or asks permission to get some side action once in a while, there’s no dramatic fight or breakup.


Monogamy

Monogamy means that two people agree only to love and fuck one another until the end of time (or until they meet someone else that they want to be monogamous with). It is an excellent option…for some people!


Nesting Partner

A nesting partner is a live-in partner, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re a primary partner. In fact, they may be relationship anarchists who don’t even have sex, but they will definitely hear you have sex, because they live with the person you’re boinking.


New Relationship Energy

Or NRE, this describes that buzzy high you get early on in a relationship. It’s usually just good sex, but it can mess with your brain and feel a lot like love. It’s responsible for people jumping into relationships too quickly only to realize that they left their true love for an idiot who is good in the sack. The practical aspect of open relationships allows you to enjoy NRE without needing to dump your primary partner over it.


Old Relationship Energy

While NRE is bouncy and fun, old relationship energy, or ORE, is the comforting, dependable, and (if you’re lucky) still-orgasmic experience of a healthy long term relationship.


One Penis Rule

The one penis rule (or OPP, one penis policy) is a mostly frowned-upon type of open relationship in which a couple dates other women, or people with vaginas, but there’s only one dick to rule them all. These are often the couples you see on Tinder unicorn-hunting.


Open Relationship

Open relationship is an umbrella term that includes poly people, swingers, and anyone else who agrees that they aren’t cut out for monogamy.


Paramour

A paramour typically refers to an illicit lover of a married person, so it’s technically an unethical non-monogamous term—but can be a fun way to refer to a partner if everyone is on the same page.


Polyamory

Polyamory literally translates to “many loves.” It’s a form of ethical non-monogamy that invites not only sex with more than one person, but romantic and emotional relationships with more than one person.


Polycule

A group or network of people in a polyamorous relationship. “Sorry mom, I can’t come visit because of COVID, but I will be quarantined upstate in an Airbnb with my polycule for the rest of winter.”


Polyfidelity

Just because there’s more than two doesn’t mean that fidelity is off the table in poly relationships. Polyfidelity refers to a poly family who are all equal partners, restrict sexual activity to those in said poly family, and basically act like a monogamous couple except there’s many more people.


Polygamy

Polygamy is the practice of being married to more than one person—not the same thing as polyamory!


Poly-preaching:

Poly-preaching is the act of rambling on about how poly relationships are superior to monogamous ones. If you hear someone reference the mating rituals of bonobos or utter the words “You know, humans aren’t meant to be monogamous…” then you are likely a victim of poly-preaching.


Primary Partner

Your primary partner is your bae, your husband or wife, your boyfriend or girlfriend, your one true love, your life partner, and the main romantic interest in your life. Many folks in open relationships have a primary partner and then secondary or shared partners (see: Hierarchical Poly).


Quad

Photo by KoolShooters from Pexels

Nothing to do with university landscape architecture in this case—a quad is four people who are in a relationship together.


Relationship Anarchy

Practitioners of RA use anarchist concepts to deny hierarchy within relationships and forgo imposed expectations. They don’t give special treatment to their sexual relationships—in RA, a relationship that is sexual doesn’t take priority over a relationship that is platonic. An intimate friendship, romantic partner, and a roommate (see: Nesting Partner) can carry equal weight and importance.


Relationship Orientation

While your sexual orientation determines who you are attracted to, a relationship orientation refers to which relationship format is right for you. Are you monogamous, poly, or somewhere in the middle? Please figure it out to reduce broken hearts.


Sexually Open

Sexually open relationships allow for sex with others but ask you to hold the romance and emotions. They’re a fantastic option for couples with high sex drives who want to have their emotional monogamy but eat out others, too.

One word of caution about sexually open relationships is that it can be much harder to regulate emotions than expected, so don’t be surprised if someone catches feelings.


Solo Poly

While some poly people want a primary partner (see: hierarchical poly) others dislike hierarchy within their relationships and want everyone to be on the same playing field.


Swinging

It’s a widely-used term that’s mostly an aesthetic rather than practical description. It typically refers to a couple, maybe a bit older, who pork other couples, perhaps at special resorts.


Throuple

In case the cute play on words didn’t give it away, a throuple is three people who are in a relationship.


Unicorns

Unicorns (see: dragons) are often female or non-binary mythical creatures who just want to come over and fuck a couple and leave nothing behind.

While a unicorn can call themselves a unicorn, it’s considered distasteful for a couple to go unicorn hunting. (It’s a sign that not enough consideration is going into the needs and desires of the person on the other side of the hunt.)

A version of this article originally appeared here on gq.co.za

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gq.co.za

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