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What is monogamy?

A while ago, we touched on the problematic history and implications of compulsory monogamy in our society (see A Compulsory Monogamy Callout), but what actually is monogamy? And is it all bad?

This week, as part of our Back to the Basics series, we're defining monogamy. And, perhaps more importantly, we're defining the different kinds of monogamy; specifically intentional and compulsory monogamy.

Monogamy is everywhere and it is deeply intertwined with our conception of sex, sexuality, gender, family, success, etc. But at it's core, monogamy is simply a relationship structure. It is just one of many, many different ways to be in relation to other people. Specifically, monogamy is the practice of being in a partnership with one person at a time. Sometime, monogamous relationships can be closed or "exclusive." Sometimes monogamous relationships can be open, meaning partners engage in certain sexual or romantic practices with folks outside of the partnership. Either way, monogamy centers on two people who are in partnership with only each other.

Sometimes, especially in radical queer spaces, we can perceive monogamy as "wrong" or outdated. Typically, these messages have more to do with the compulsory nature of monogamy, rather than the actual relationship structure. Monogamy isn't inherently good or bad, but compulsory monogamy can be harmful and perpetuate anti-queer, sexist, and racist ideas.

Intentional vs. Compulsory Monogamy: What's the Difference?

The difference often boils down to a conversation. In intentionally monogamous relationships, other options are considered and discussed. Part of that conversation includes explicit discussions about boundaries and expectations for the relationship. Partners should can about what they consider "cheating" or "flirting," what they are comfortable with, and their expectations for their partner. In intentionally monogamous relationships, monogamy is the ideal option for both partners.

Compulsory monogamy, on the other hand, does not involve any sort of conversation about ideal relationship structure, boundaries, expectations, or preferences. Compulsory monogamy assumes that once two people are dating, there is no room for cheating or flirting, and that we should all have the same definitions or understandings of these terms. Compulsory monogamy can contribute to harm in relationships because discussions of boundaries and structure, as well as mutual understandings of terms and expectations, are essential to maintaining a comfortable, consensual, and healthy relationship structure.

Check in next week for our Back to the Basics mini-zine on non-monogamy!

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