Monogamous to polyamorous scale

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NOTE: This page is a daughter page of: Graphic Scales

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The 0 to 10 "monogamous to polyamory" scale below is a playful callout to our (largely polyamory) human evolution and our nature as sexually curious animals. It's almost impossible to be on online dating these days and not see a growing number of people who identify as polyamorous and/or ethically non managamous. Especially if you live in a liberal city like San Francisco! Many of my favorite people - including two of my best friends in the world - identify as polyamorous, and a huge fraction of my friends have experimented with polyamory at some stage. Most have a really bad or really good story to tell about their experiences - rarely anything in the middle. The ones that do poly well are usually highly intelligent and fun people to chat with because they have - largely by necessity - become amazing communicators and advocates for freely expressing feelings and thoughts. In 2022 I had the epiphany that polyamory and monogamy should not be seen as binary conditions. It's a scale. The concept of being straight or gay is rarely binary, and very few people can claim to be 100% one way or the other because if there was no other option on earth all of us still crave touch and connection.

Now let's say you are identify as very monogamous. You are only ever in love with and loyal to one partner at a time. That's wonderful! Do you still have the occasional fantasy about a threesome though? Threesomes can be amazing. Maybe, at heart, you are only 99% monogamous, and that's okay. You are more than happy with one partner, but occasionally dream of adventure, or you might be enjoying time sharing five partners, but dream of having better security with just one. We're all most similar than we think, we all want both security and adventure to different extents.

My Graphical Representation of the "Monogamous to Polyamorous Scale" (0-10)

The unofficial straight to monogamous to polyamorous scale.

(full res widescreen image)

Humans are sexually curious creatures

Throughout evolution, humans have had battles between craving stability and craving adventure. One of the most fascinating documentaries I've ever seen is Monogamy, explained. It's currently free to watch on YouTube and only 18 minutes long. It blew me away because I had never really thought about how the construct of marriage was born from the constructs of ownership, colonialism and religion. Historically we are more like apes - largely promiscuous tribes that all looked out for the children of the tribe, regardless of the biological parents. Often you wouldn't know who the father was. Seriously, watch the documentary and your mind might be pretty blown away. If nothing else it will give you more empathy for both people who believe in "one true love, for the rest of your life" and people who believe "marriage and monogamy is failing". What is right for you is not necessarily right for someone else.

Is being sexually promiscuous a form of polyamory?

With internet dating, more and more people enjoy dating around for a while. A common scenario is for an attractive, sexually progressive man or woman to be going on multiple dates, and sleeping with more than one person, yet with the goal of choosing one. That's very common in today's world. Does dating multiple people at once make you a little bit polyamorous if your romantic intention is to pick just one person? I honestly don't know! You can probably have two very different answers to this scale for where you'd like to be with partner(s) sexually (typically short term) versus romantically (typically long term).

Is anyone really 100% polyamory or 100% monogamous anymore?

Generally speaking, gay rights have been increasing over time. Gay people can get married, and most people are starting to acknowledge that sexual orientation is a spectrum, not a binary. I hope it's a matter of time before people realize that monogamy is a spectrum too, not a binary identity of "us and them". You can also be very much ambiamorous.

Marriage has evolved. What was once mostly about ownership and bettering your family has become the journey to find lasting love and stability. Not enough stability makes us crave stability, but too much stability or boredom often makes people crave adventure. We live longer than ever before, and finding stability in old age and keeping a relationship interesting for 60 years are both difficult problems. For people who claim to be 100% monogamous, I would ask if they've ever been tempted sexually or romantically by another. For people who claim to be 100% polyamorous, I would challenge them to ask if they've ever felt jealousy and wishing one of their partners was always there for them alone, to have their back no matter what. Maybe you are only 90% polyamorous, and hey, that's okay too. People are people, and once we realize that everything is a dynamic spectrum, maybe we have a little more empathy for each other as we slowly find out where we really (really) fall on the scale.

What is Polyamory and Ethical Non Monogamy (ENM)

Let's start with the definitions:

  • Polyamory "is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners involved."
  • Consentual and Ethical non-monogamy "the practice of non-monogamous intimate or sexual relations that are distinguished from infidelity by the knowledge and consent of those involved, and from polygamy by the various partners not being in a single marriage"

At the time I moved to San Francisco in 2012 I had never heard the word "polyamorous" before, but now I see it everywhere. The concept of "Ethical Non Monogamy (ENM)" is even more common here, and generally speaking, is based on the concept: "well most of us are dating around anyway, let's be honest about it and protect each other in terms of emotions and sexually transmitted diseases". These concepts are spreading well beyond liberal areas though, books like The Etical Slut (I haven't read it, but I heard it's good) have become very popular reads, and Dan Savage brought the expression "Manogamish" (making your own rules about your relationship that would probably make your pastor blush) into the mainstream. First let's call out, however, that polyamory is so diverse it is very hard to do it justice on a single scale.

Polyamory is Fascinating and Diverse

For a lot of highly religious people, thinking about anything outside of marriage and "death to us part" is blasphemy and you might really hate me for writing this article which suggests that "a conventional marriage is not for everyone". And then there's the mormons who have denounced polyamorous during this life, but many still believe that being good in this life means you might be rewarded with multiple wives in the afterlife. It's complicated. But even if you find all these concepts disagreeable, surely you can agree that polyamory is fascinating. It just is!!

You have people that live in throuples (a relationship between three people who have all unanimously agreed to be in a romantic, loving, relationship together with the consent of all people involved), people who might have a primary partner, but date other people in a sexual or romantic way. People who might have many independent relationships. People who are monogamish, they might have a single partner, but decide on their own rules like "if you or we are on vacation we can play with others" or "you can cuddle other men" or "do energy play with other people but no kissing" or infinite agreements I haven't thought of. I've heard a few, but there are infinite possibilities when you talk about multiple people. Even just admitting to your partner that you find other people attractive (because you are a human) but would never act to it breaks the convention of "only one apple of my eye". It's all types of relationships. There are also swingers and I didn't explicitly put that on this scale, but would generally consider that part of the "monogamish" territory with the specific agreement that you and your partner can have sex together with other couples, *but* not get romantically attached. Swinging is apparently very popular in the south, where the biggest taboo is "to sleep with thy neighbor"... and people often naturally rebel against what society tells them what they cannot do. In liberal societies like SF, the worst thing you could do is hit or disrespect a woman, and this is where BDSM (whipping women or men) is most prevalent. Bet you never thought about that, did you?! Look it up.

Finally, this scale is dynamic. How you feel today might be very different from where you fall on this scale one year from now when you meet someone who broadens your mind to the possibility to date openly with them or become totally exclusive with them if the love is that strong!

My First Encounter with Someone Poly

I love telling this story, so my apologies if you've heard it before. I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2012, and my first ever date here couldn't possibly better epitomize the Bay. We matched on online dating, and she asked me "are you up to try something different", to which I replied "hell yes" I picked her up and she took me to my first ever ecstatic dance - which kind of changed my life forever - and we flirted on the dance floor. Turns out she was a Harvard professor, writer of a best selling book, but on our second date she sat me down and told me she was "poly". I replied "what does that mean". Keep in mind I grew up in Australia. I had basically never heard the word polyamorous before, but I was fascinated to hear that she had 3 girlfriends and 2 boyfriends. I asked her how that was even possible, and she explained that to be polyamorous successfully you need two things:

  1. Excellent Communication. I would be later told by other poly people that often there's way more talking and in many cases crying than actual sex. It's a myth that polyamorous people will just sleep with anyone, if anything, most of them are far more discerning about who they sleep with and they are very good at safe sex conversation because they need to be!
  2. Google Calendar. This made me laugh, because I work for Google and I wonder how many Googlers realize that this technology helps polyamorous people with multiple partners manage their time.

This was fascinating, but I told her it didn't sound like my thing, so we became friends.

Ethically Non Monogamous is Everywhere and Spreading

It didn't take me long in the bay to realize a tonne of people have the word "poly" or "ENM" (Ethically Non-Manogamous) on their Tinder dating profile. So I kind of thought it was just a bay area thing. But then in some of my travels, including Europe, Mexico, Australia and Hawaii... I started to see this everywhere on online dating profiles! I'm sure it's far less in certain communities, but maybe it's just more underground. The concept of ENM is gaining traction in people who want better honesty and transparency in dating multiple people at once, up until a time they may decide to just date. Many people feel boxed in by societal expectations of the dating scene but with gen Z carving a new freedom through ethical non-monogamy, fluidity, in both sexuality and gender (source). Yet it's just just the younger generation trying ENM. A 2016 study in the US found 20% of Americans had tried some form of ENM and this will only grow (source). Unconventional dating websites and apps like Feeld are growing in user base. Some countries and cities are far more open about non-monogamy than others, but make no mistake. It's everywhere.

Polyamorous Heavy Communities and Activities

One other thing that I quickly realized is San Francisco, is that certain communities here are very poly heavy. Most notably any type of "spiritual" community will have a few ENM people. Most of my friends I've made through ecstatic dance are ENM in some way, and I've heard that certain communities like the acroyoga community, dungeons and dragons people (hey, no judgment to game nerds, I played Settlers of Catan once) and probably theater, are petty high too. I'm actually not well versed to know what other communities around are more monogamous than polyamorous... because even in your conservative book club you might be surprised to learn that the lovely married couple there have recently opened their marriage. You just don't know these days. I imagine church groups are generally totally monogamous, but hey - I don't know that for sure. For sure, if you go to a sex party in San Francisco, then you're talking 100% ENM people!

Dating Around in San Francisco

At the time I left Australia, the culture was very much "you only date one person at once", but soon into living in San Francisco I realized most girls I tried to date were flaky because they were dating multiple men at once. I could have an amazing date with a girl and they would say "I have plans with a friend tomorrow night" and it took me over a year to realize that means "I am dating someone else tomorrow". Since about 1/3 of the dates I organized in the South Bay would cancel (yes it's that flakey) I started to try organizing 3 dates a week (a hard feat in an area with more men than women!) and knew that statistically at least one would work out. Then I started straight up telling my dates that I was, in fact, dating multiple people and believed in honesty... and yes, if we were going to be intimate I wanted to know their sexual history and when they were last tested. You think this would hurt my game tremendously, and in some cases it did, but for the most part - in the Bay Area - women really appreciated the honesty. It gave them permission to talk about their sex lives and complaints about men. Suddenly more of my dates were showing up, and I was certainly making a lot more friends and improving my dating game in general. Still trying to seek a woman to take my breath away, and meeting the most fascinating friends in the process. From the lessons I have learnt from polygamous people about open communication around sex... Well, I've slept with well over 140 women, and only caught one STD - fortunately just Chlamydia, so I took the three pills and it went away very quickly. Ironically that one incident was with a girlfriend, at the start of the relationship, which makes me wonder if she was entirely honest about when she caught it, but hey, you can only employ your best judgment and hope that people are honest. Showing your STD results is a very good idea. Also, use condoms!

Breaking a Culture of Lying and Cheating

Adultery is rife around the world! Around 30% to 40% of Americans cheat on their partners (source), and I know I'm not supposed to be judgmental but I am not a fan of people who put their partners health (physically and mentally) at risk. If someone admits to slipping in a moment of weakness, they get my respect. A best friend of mine cheated on her ex-husband, but she has since made omens, and luckily used protection, and it did sound like he wasn't the greatest to her, so you could empathize with how it happened. I do have huge respect for people who will admit to their partners when they do have thoughts outside the marriage. By communicating about it, they can fix it. The most crazy thing to me though, is that someone who is an adulterer might detest the word "polyamory", but that's effectively what they are trying to get away with. More than one sexual or romantic relationship at the same time. We're all terrified of conflict conversations. I've personally never cheated on anyone, and I don't want to completely demonize people who do, but that's a guilt I could personally never live with. Unless you are a complete narcissist, why live a lie and hurt yourself and this person you love in that way. This is a challenge right now for you to become better at communication. Vulnerability breeds love, so ironically, talking about your fears to your lover is what might save your relationship and pull you back towards true monogamy if that is your intent. Alternatively, if you feel somewhat poly or "open", you would have to start the relationship by showing this scale to your love and maybe you'll be presently described. Maybe you'll have that threesome you wanted to try. Or maybe you save yourself a bucket-tonne of grief three years from now when you realize that one of you wants just one partner, and the other is constantly wanting to stray.

Removing Negative Stigma Around Polyamory

The word polygamous has so much negative stigma, I feel like people are terrified of it. We associate it with really weird people who live in communes and kidnap people. However when we imagine a spectrum like this chart, we can't really alienate people as much. Plus polygamous comes in so many forms. Rich and powerful men in some cultures have a harem of women. That's just normal. Hugh Hefner is an example of someone publicly polyamorous, because he had many female lovers, but I believe his female lovers weren't allowed to see anyone else, which seems kind-of unfair honestly! Maybe in reading this article you'll remove some of the negative stigma. What I do think is true of being "fully polyamorous" is that it makes it hugely challenging to have kids. A primary partner can work for that, but as you introduce more people, it can be more drama and hypothetically, if your mother dies and you need to leave the country, can you count on your partner to leave with you if he or she has four other lovers in that city. Polyamory with multiple romantic partners can generate very high drama (low stability) and might be something to experiment with when you are young, but then you'll just gravitate to a single household with kids in later life. Either way, I hope this article has helped you realize that it's not a binary "poly" or "mono". It's 100% a scale - and it's far more multidimensional than I can show in a single diagram, but that's what I'm limited to. I hope this has broadened your mind a little and once again....

If you haven't watched it already, watch Monogamy, explained (from Netflix).

Kind regards,


    Andrew Noske

See Also


Acknowledgements: My amazing friend Lyubov who largely inspired this scale because she's one of the few people who are near 100% authentic and openly shared with people her journey from mono to poly and back again. This isn't a static scale. It can change over time.