Morality is: a personal or social set of standards for good or bad behavior and character, or the quality of being right and honest (Cambridge English Dictionary)
When I first was first introduced to the idea of non-monogamy, nearly a decade ago, it really shook my moral code. I spent a lot of time soul searching, reading, and absorbing every item that mentioned non-monogamy. It took a lot of hard work, but I ultimately reached the conclusion that I was still the ethical and moral member of society that I was in my previous monogamous relationship. I rationalized that my sex life was no one’s business, and as I didn’t judge anyone else’s sexual choices, I felt safe and comfortable making my own adult choices. But, as many of you reading this article know, we do not live in a bubble, and making a personal decision does not always extend beyond that.
While I came to peace with my sex life, and my relationship desires, something that I wasn’t fully prepared for was the questioning of my choices from those who cared about me. No matter how hard I tried to live in an ethical and moral way, a friend, co-worker, or family member would always have a question that threw me for a loop. One in particular sticks out in my mind. My mother asked me, on more than one occasion, what I would do when I had kids? Because, she went on, you just cannot raise children in a non-monogamous household, as it is not right. As much as I had come to terms with my personal standards for living, I felt ill prepared to deal with the societal monogamous standards. I think that is one of the many reasons why so many of us stay hidden from view, with private parties, secret online profiles and groups, and of course a very stringent application process for events. Opening up the minds of the masses is tough work, and if you have experienced any backlash or judgement, you realize only too late, the importance of anonymity and protecting yourself.
Whether you come from a religious background or not, at some point the question of morality in non-monogamy will come up. Even though the number of people admitting to having an open relationship is on the rise, as a whole, North America is still a primarily monogamous society. As such, questions arise both from outsiders and these same questions I am sure you asked yourself in the beginning. For example; is sleeping with people outside of your marriage, ethical? What are the moral implications for me or my family extending my relationship beyond two people? Would I feel comfortable defending my morality if my church, workplace, or social circle found out about my extra curricular bedroom activities? The list of questions is endless. Morality and non-monogamy is a complicated issue.
When I read stories of people being outed, losing their friends or family as a result of their adult sex lives, I am whisked back to that initial feeling of guilt and dread I felt when talking about it for the first time. I even went so far as to create an anonymous blog so that I could work out the feelings I was having in a shame free way. No matter what new experience arose, I would always come back to the how I was raised versus how I chose to live. In other words, does your core morality lie within your monogamy? And if you step outside of that, are you somehow, less ethical? For help with this complicated issue I looked to a few great thinkers who debated the issue of morality and ethics.
Freud and C.S. Lewis
In the novel, The Question of God, Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., puts the letters and philosophical arguments of Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis, two men who never met, into a riveting philosophical debate. Lewis (an atheist turned religious man) for example believed that God created humans with a moral law, that they must follow, which he supported with biblical teachings. “I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their hearts” (Jer. 31.33). Whereas Freud taught that “ethics are not based on a moral world order but on the inescapable exigencies of human cohabitation” (Freud, The Question of a Weltanschauung, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works, vol. XXII, pp. 164–164). Does anyone else find comfort in knowing that even two great minds debating the idea of the chicken or the egg scenario when it comes to ethics and morality, will never be laid to rest fully? And while we could debate these issues for hours, and I would happily do so over a few beers, let us instead look at some practical ways to deal with the moral police that seem to pop up when you least expect them.
What Can You Do?
While it would be easy to say, just grow a thick skin, and don’t let other people’s opinions affect you, that is not always a viable option. There is a line between living authentically and being a contributing member of our society. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t judge peoples consenting adult choices, but, as we all know we are just not evolved to that level of thinking in a group yet. So, until we all get on the same page here, here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself, and your partners.
First: Plan Ahead
Have that tough discussion about what you are willing to put out there, and have people find out. If there are risks of losing your job, community, church, etc., then exploring elements of non-monogamy may not be possible in your own town/city. You may have to look into traveling, private hotels, and keeping all of your extra activities outside of your community. You may have to create anonymous profiles, omitting your faces, etc. This does not mean you should lie, or misrepresent yourselves, but know the risks going in, and exactly what information you put out. I know couples who even go so far as to use aliases when participating in lifestyle events. It is much easier to know the risks going in, than to deal with the damage control if something gets leaked.
Second: Ask Permission Before Sharing Anything
It is never OK to share a photo (cropped or not) of anyone without their express permission. Do not share photos, information, names, etc. of anyone you are interacting with, unless you have their express permissions. Protect yourself and those around you. Do not take pictures, save couples information on public places, or do anything that could potentially out you or your partners. If you are listening to a podcast or reading a lifestyle blog, do not guess the identity of the authors in the comments, or brag to your friends that you know them. Even harmless praise, could have damaging effects. Use only the information that these amazing contributors give freely. There are no exceptions to this rule, ever.
Third: Explore Within Your Own Ethical Framework
This one is pretty simple, and yet, will have the most impact on how you sleep that night. Do not do anything that you will not be comfortable in the morning. To facilitate that ease up on the drugs, and alcohol if you have a habit of making bad choices, and taking things too far. Let the sex, adventures, etc. be your adrenaline. Have fun, but be aware of what your choices will look like the next day. Live the ethical way you feel comfortable. Know that the word “no” is always an option. We all know the golden rule, so live by it.
No one wants to feel judged, however, we humans are curious by nature and questions will arise. Know that you have a choice. Only answer what you are comfortable with, and only ask what you are comfortable knowing. Over the years, I have often felt like I am on display, and people will ask an obscene amount of questions if you let them. If you decide to tell people about your non-monogamous adventures, know that you can say no to any question that is asked. Let your own moral compass guide you. It got you this far after all, so trust yourself, and do not let someone else project their own beliefs on you. If every action you make in non-monogamy feels ethical then you are helping to build this incredible community. Be a “brand ambassador” for the part of the community you best identify with. Be the person you wish you had as a mentor when you started. Live the very best life that you can!
Do you have a question that threw you for a loop or that you get asked often in regards to being non-monogamous? Please, leave a comment. Share your experience and join the conversation to end the stigma!