ENM Meaning (Ethical Non-Monogamy Definition + 10 Guidelines)

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Dating is harder than ever these days. Dating apps are filled with strange profiles, bios that just complain about dating, and people who aren’t interested in the same things as you. You come across one profile, but they have all these abbreviations in there! What is ENM? KTP? GGG? If you’re curious about ENM’s meaning and other trends in dating, you’re in the right place. 

ENM means “ethical non-monogamy.” If that phrase isn’t a complete non-negotiable for you, you might want to read on! 

What Is ENM in Dating? 

ENM means “ethical non-monogamy”, which is a term used to describe the practice of starting and growing relationships with more than 2 people that are not exclusive. This is a different approach to dating from the traditional monogamous relationships between two people who remain committed to each other.

Commitment is still an important part of ethically non-monogamous relationships, but that commitment does not equate with fidelity. 

Polyamory vs. ENM Meaning

As you’re reading about ENM’s meaning, you might be asking, “Isn’t this polyamory?” In fact, there are a lot of ways that a person might describe this type of lifestyle or relationship:

  • Open relationship
  • Polyamory/polyamorous 
  • Consensual non-monogamy
  • Polygamy

Not all of these terms describe the same thing.

Polygamy specifically refers to marriage between more than two people. In most parts of the world, polygamy is illegal, although it may be considered okay or even encouraged in certain religions. Polyamory or ENM deals strictly with relationships, although two people in that relationship may be legally married. 

Think of ethical non-monogamy, or consensual non-monogamy, as umbrella terms that describe a few different arrangements outside the typical monogamous relationship. Cheating, or infidelity, does not fall under this umbrella. Terms like “polyamory” or “open relationship” do, because they are ethically arranged or discussed among partners. 

The biggest difference between “polyamory” and “open relationship” is the people at the “center” of the relationship. Polyamory tends to describe people who date multiple people. People in polyamorous relationships may seek out multiple romantic partners, or sexual partners, or go on casual dates while dating other people. Typically, an “open relationship” consists of two people in a marriage or relationship that allow each other to date or be intimate with other people. At the center of the open relationship are two people who typically prioritize each other over other relationships. This does not have to be the arrangement in your open relationship, but it can be. 

Are Swingers ENM?

Couples who “swing” may be considered ethically non-monogamous.

Most swingers enter swinging parties or events with the mutual understanding that both people will be intimate with other people throughout the evening. ENM could be a relationship between two people who are just intimate with other people, or they could take those relationships further and enter into romantic relationships.

Swingers may be intimate with others, but draw the line at romance. All relationships are okay - as long as all parties consent to the arrangement!

Is ENM Cheating?

Ethical non-monogamy is the practice of having consensual romantic and/or sexual relationships with more than one person. This type of non-monogamy is based on the foundational values of mutual respect, communication, and consent. All parties involved are aware of and agree to the arrangement and the terms of the relationship. This type of consensual non-monogamy includes swinging, polyamory, and open relationships.

Cheating, on the other hand, is when a person in a monogamous relationship engages in romantic or sexual activities with someone that they are not in a relationship with. This type of behavior is non-consensual, as the partner being cheated on is not aware of the activities and would not agree to the arrangement.

Cheating involves dishonesty and deception, as the person is typically not honest with their partner about their activities. Cheating usually involves one-sided feelings, as the person cheating does not feel the same way about their partner as they do about their cheating partner.

Is Ethical Non-Monogamy a Sexual Orientation? 

There are some that believe that the “P” in LGBTQIAP+ is “polyamorous,” but this is incorrect. Polyamory, or ethical non-monogamy, is not a sexual orientation. (The “P” stands for pansexual, which means that you are attracted to people of all genders.)

Ethical non-monogamy is practiced by straight people, bisexuals, gay people, you name it! Talking to your parents about your relationship and polyamory may be a difficult or uncomfortable discussion, but it’s not the same as “coming out.” 

Why Do People Choose Ethical Non-Monogamy?

Although ENM is considered an ethical practice when all parties consent to engaging in multiple relationships, it is still stigmatized. Most religions and cultures claim monogamy to be the “gold standard” for relationships. So why do people choose ethical non-monogamy? There are a lot of reasons! 

Different relationships fulfill certain needs. If you have ever been in a monogamous relationship, you might have experienced being with a partner that did not fulfill all of your needs. They might have fulfilled most of your needs, but you needed to sacrifice some things you needed to make the relationship work. People in ENM relationships may date multiple people to satisfy all of their needs. This comes with a lot of hard work and other kinds of sacrifices, but it may be worth it for the person who chooses ENM. 

They’re curious. Why not try it out? ENM is losing the stigma it once had, even if some people are still confused about it. The only way to know if it’s truly for you is to try it out! At least, that’s what some people believe. They may try out ENM because they’re curious or because their partner suggests it. You do not have to commit to ENM for your whole life. Maybe you try it for a year to see how it goes. This goes for relationships, too. Maybe you and your partner open your relationship after a year of marriage, and assess what you want to do after that year is over. All of these possibilities are okay as long as all parties consent to the arrangement. 

They want more! Some people feel exhausted by all they have to give and receive in a monogamous relationship. Others have more to give! It’s perfectly normal to feel that you have more love and energy to give to others. 

There is no one “right” reason to try ethical non-monogamy. As long as you are open and honest with all parties in your relationship(s), you can’t go wrong! 

How To Explore Ethical Non-Monogamy

Interested in ethical non-monogamy and want to try it out for yourself? The first steps you should take before trying ENM involve checking in with your own feelings. 

The biggest feeling that people associate with ethical non-monogamy is jealousy. In Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy’s The Ethical Slut, jealousy is addressed. “Your authors believe,” the book says, “that most people take the destructive power of jealousy way too much for granted, that they give their jealousy far more power than it deserves.

Reading up on jealousy, loneliness, or hurt feelings can be a great way to prepare yourself for the unique challenges of ethical non-monogamy. (You can find book suggestions below!) 

Before you seek out ethically non-monogamous partners on dating apps or in “the real world,” you may also want to consider meeting with people who practice ENM. What do they like about ENM? What issues have they faced? Does your local area have meetups where you can meet other people who practice ENM? Building these connections can also prepare you for this new step in your relationship, and you might meet your next partner, too! 

If you are considering ENM with a partner, sit down and have an open and honest conversation with them. Plan ahead. Do you expect to prioritize each other first? What happens if one partner wants to go on a date and the other one prefers you stay in together? How will each partner handle jealousy on their own, and how will you address your feelings as a couple? Be as open and honest as possible - that’s what ethical non-monogamy is all about! 

Good Rules for an ENM Relationship

Creating a successful relationship requires more than just love and commitment - it also requires effective communication and mutual respect. In order to ensure that the relationship is healthy and beneficial for both partners, it is important to establish certain boundaries and expectations. Here are 10 tips to help create and maintain a healthy relationship:

  1. Respect each other's boundaries and preferences.
  2. Practice open and honest communication.
  3. Agree on safe sex practices, and establish clear boundaries and expectations.
  4. Respect each other's privacy and confidentiality when discussing the relationship.
  5. Respect the relationship and commitments of any other partners involved.
  6. Prioritize self-care.
  7. Have a plan for handling potential jealousy.
  8. Be mindful of the impact of your relationship on your existing relationships.
  9. Check in regularly to ensure everyone is still feeling secure and happy.
  10. Agree on an exit strategy if the relationship does not work out.

It's important to always community clearly and honestly when in an ENM relationship. If you are curious if your significant other or sexual partner may be gay or bisexual, we recently published an article titled "Signs That A Guy Is Pretending To Be Straight" that you may find helpful.

Can You Do ENM With a Partner? 

Yes! It’s possible to open your relationship up after monogamy. This doesn’t mean your relationship has “failed” or that one person just wants to cheat. As long as both parties consent to the new arrangement of the relationship, ENM is possible.

Some couples feel stronger after opening their relationship or trying out ENM.

Books About ENM for Beginners 

  • Marriage and Love by Emma Goldman
  • Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel 
  • The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships, and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy
  • Polyamory: Roadmaps for the Clueless and Hopeful: An Introduction on Polyamory by Anthony D. Ravenscroft
  • More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory by Franklin Veaux 

Quotes about ENM

Even if none of your friends are curious about ENM, you may find solidarity in writers and thought leaders who champion this lifestyle. 

  • “I reserve the right to love many different people at once, and to change my prince often.” -Anaïs Nin
  • “The point for me is to create relationships based on deeper and more real notions of trust. So that love becomes defined not by sexual exclusivity, but by actual respect, concern, commitment to act with kind intentions, accountability for our actions, and a desire for mutual growth.” -Dean Spade
  • “It's a false premise to say that most monogamous people have chosen monogamy. Most people belong to the religion they were raised in...because that's what's familiar. That's the milieu they grew up in, and, for better or worse, they're just continuing the pattern. Until this traditionalist mindset is shaken loose, you would likely try from reflex to impose notions onto nonmonogamy that are not only untenable in the new context but spell sudden and messy doom even in situations that otherwise could be worked out.”-Anthony D. Ravenscroft, Polyamory: Roadmaps for the Clueless and Hopeful: An Introduction on Polyamory
  • “The greatest gift you can give your romantic relationship is to become emotionally buoyant.” -Susan Wenzel 
  • “Security comes first from inside of you. Then, if you are very lucky, you will be in a position to find other people who also possess that same sort of security, and build some sort of family or community as a team.” -Anonymous 

You Know ENM’s Meaning: What Do Other Abbreviations In Dating Mean? 

Maybe you have read all of this because you saw an acronym on a dating app. ENM pops up quite a bit, but it’s not the only acronym that will make you shake your head. Here’s a quick guide to other acronyms that you might come across. 

GGG: Good, Giving, and Game

GGG is a term that sex columnist Dan Savage coined. It stands for “good in bed, giving equal time and equal pleasure, and game for anything—within reason.” 

KTP: Kitchen Table Polyamory 

“Kitchen table polyamory” is a specific type of ENM in which all partners, and their partners, can sit around the kitchen table together and be friendly. Sometimes, partners in an ENM relationship can keep different partners isolated from each other. They prefer to focus on each relationship without the “distraction” or “interference” of their other partners. If you want everyone to get along, KTP may be a better approach! 


Drug and disease free! This acronym speaks for itself. When it comes to sexual relationships, it's very important to know your partner well, including any risks involved.


FBW stands for “friends with benefits.” A person looking for a friend with benefits wants an intimate relationship without romance or commitment. 


NSA stands for "No Strings Attached". No Strings Attached (or NSA) is a type of relationship where two people engage in a physical and/or emotional relationship without any expectation of commitment or a long-term romantic involvement. It's a form of casual dating where two people have a mutual understanding when it comes to the boundaries of their relationship. There are no promises of exclusivity, and both parties are free to move on whenever they wish.


A One Night Stand is a sexual encounter that generally only lasts one night and is between two people who do not have any romantic connection. It is typically a casual and brief sexual experience, and in many cases there are no further expectations or obligations between the two people involved.


A transgender person will use these acronyms to specify the gender they were assigned at birth and the gender they have transitioned to. Many years ago, a transgender person would use “TS” before their name to share their gender identity, but this term has become outdated. 

ENM is just one of many ways to approach dating and relationships. Try it out, or don’t!

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2022, October). ENM Meaning (Ethical Non-Monogamy Definition + 10 Guidelines). Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/enm-meaning-ethical-non-monogamy/.

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