When I first sat down to write a glossary, I thought there would just be a few words to add. Then I realized just how many terms and expressions I’ve learned since opening up in 2006, not just related to non-monogamy, but sexuality as a whole. Over 100, it turns out. See below for further explanations of both common phrases used in the book, and here on the site, as well as additional expressions that you may encounter on your journey.
Abundance: Having so much of something, perhaps love, that it’s overflowing, making it much easier to share with others.
Activism: Working to achieve political or other goals, such as marriage equality, using methods such as demonstrations, protests, speaking out, etc.
Advocacy: Acting to further a cause by speaking on behalf of others who may not be able to; supporting, or recommending changes to those with the power to make them happen.
Age Play: A sexual activity that allows people to role-play that they are acting at a certain age. See also, babygirl/boy, little.
Agreement: A set of terms, either expressed verbally or in writing, by lovers engaging in non-monogamous activities. These often need to be revisited as people and circumstances may change.
Asexual: Having a low or nonexistent interest in sexual activity, or a lack of sexual attraction. Asexuality is considered to be a sexual orientation by some. Asexual people may still engage in sexual activity for a variety of reasons.
Babygirl/boy: An adult submissive who looks up to their Daddy (or Mommy) Dom as a parental figure, craving the protection and gentle care they offer, sexually or otherwise. Unlike littles (a form of babygirl/boy), they generally don’t feel or act a specific age, more a range of ages. See also, age play, dominant, little.
Baggage: All the fun leftover emotions we carry with us from past relationships. Some baggage we can part with, while the rest of it becomes a permanent part of our emotional make-up.
Bisexual: A sexual orientation where a person feels romantic or sexual attraction to both men and women.
Bottom: In a BDSM scenario, the partner who takes the receiving position, underneath the top or dominant. Being a bottom is not always equal to being submissive. Additionally, in the gay male community, bottom refers to the partner who receives anal sex.
Boundaries: Emotional, BDSM, sexual, or other relationship limits that a person, couple, or group agree upon, and share with others they are dating or playing with. These can be fluid.
Cheating: (infidelity) When one partner engages in sexual or emotional interactions with other lovers, without the prior knowledge or consent of their current partner(s). What constitutes as cheating varies depending upon the individuals.
Chlamydia: A sexually transmitted bacterial infection found in semen, vaginal fluids, and secretions from the cervix. Chlamydia can be treated with antibiotics, but if left untreated can cause other serious problems, including male and female infertility.
Cisgender: Gender identity where an individual’s self-perception of their gender matches the sex they were assigned at birth. See also, transgender.
Closed Relationship: A time when members choose to not become sexually or romantically involved with additional partners. This period can be as short or as long as needed.
Coming out: The act of revealing one’s sexual or relationship orientation to family, friends, co-workers, strangers, etc. There is never just one coming out moment as it’s an ongoing process.
Commitment ceremony: A gesture of love, usually performed between members of a multiple family, where lovers express their dedication to one another in front of family and friends. Considered an alternative way to bond family members in places where multi-partner marriage is not legal.
Community: The people, lovers, friends, and friends who are lovers, who surround us. Non-monogamy can feel isolating, so having like-minded people around can be beneficial.
Compartmentalizing: Turning your thoughts from one lover to the next, without having other memories, fights, or fantasies bleed over too much. (Not always possible.)
Compersion: Considered by some to be the opposite of jealousy, compersion is an emotion we can feel when our lovers are happy, emotionally or sexually, with others. Compersion isn’t always necessary for a successful open relationship, but it helps.
Condoms: When used correctly, condoms are highly effective in preventing STI transmission and pregnancy. They are a valuable tool for anyone practicing safer sex with multiple partners.
Conflict averse: Being afraid of conflict. Not helpful in open relationships, as there can often be issues that arise requiring discussion before moving forward.
Consent: To permit, agree, or approve. Successful non-monogamy relies on consent (and compromise) to succeed. Additionally, sexual acts should never be performed without consent being given by those involved.
Cuckold: A sexual fetish where the fetishist is aroused and stimulated by their committed partner having sex with others.
Cuddle party: Originally founded by Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski, these non-sexual workshops/social events provide adults a no-expectation friendly space for giving and receiving affection, while respecting needs, desires, and boundaries.
Dams: Originally inspired by dental dams, these, often latex, thin squares are used to protect sexual partners during cunnilingus and analingus. They are available at most sex shops.
Dominant: The opposite of a submissive, the dominant takes the role of the person in control, in BDSM. Dominant play can include things like psychological play, impact play, bondage, and instruction. See also, top.
DTF: A slang way to say “Down to fuck”, used in online dating.
Dyad: A partnership of two people.
Emotional intelligence: Connected with being self-aware, having EI potentially allows people to handle delicate situations with more maturity and grace than others who aren’t as advanced.
Emotional planning: Taking time to prepare mentally for scenarios that you have to deal with, like meeting your primary’s other lover(s). Non-monogamy can be much easier when you make time for this.
Equality: Often confused with symmetry, equality is when everyone in a relationship can have their own personal needs, boundaries, desires, and interests met or respected. Things don’t always need to be literally the same to be equal.
Feminist Porn: A genre that strives to respect performers while showing a more inclusive, diverse, and alternative vision of human sexuality and desire.
Fetish: An object, outfit, or scenario that causes sexual arousal in a person. Fetishes can range from red lipstick and high heels, to rope bondage and suspension hooks.
Fluid-bonded: A set-up where lovers choose to have unprotected sex with each other, within their dyad or group dynamic. Safer sex is then practiced only with outside partners, if they exist.
Friend with benefits: Friends who engage in casual sex. It’s always good to be wary of this set-up, in case feelings end up changing, or being left unsaid, causing complications. See also, playlationship.
Gender expression: How individuals present themselves either as feminine, masculine, neutral, or a combination of them all.
Gender identity: How individuals interpret and view their gender, as male, female, or any of a wide variety of other available identities in the spectrum between the two. Also see, cisgender and transgender.
Genital herpes: A virus that usually causes oral herpes, a chronic infection that can be brought on by stress. Condoms or dental dams can help reduce the risk; but sores may be on other parts of the body. There is no cure for genital herpes.
Gonorrhea: A bacterial infection transmitted through sexual contact, treatable with antibiotics. If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease, and infertility in both men and women.
Group marriage/unit: A dynamic where three or more people choose to be primary partners. May be open or closed.
Guidelines: A less harsh way of saying rules.
Hepatitis A: Transmitted when infected fecal matters gets into the bloodstream, usually by food, but also possible through unprotected oral-anal sex. There is no treatment, but the virus generally goes away in a few weeks or months, depending on the strength of the patient’s immune system.
Hepatitis B: Most likely to be transmitted through sexual activity, 95% of adults who contract hepatitis B recover with two to six months on their own without medication or treatment.
Hepatitis C: Passed through direct contact with an infected person’s blood, hepatitis C may be fatal in some cases, with approximately twenty to thirty percent of patients becoming disease free thanks to medication.
Heteronormative: A viewpoint that assumes heterosexuality as a given, instead of being one of many possibilities, in media, education, law, and society in general. Can be harmful to those that don’t fit within its perceived limitations.
Heterosexual: A person who is attracted to the opposite gender. An alternative common slang version is the word straight.
Hierarchy: A way of classifying additional relationships, based on their level of importance or commitment. The use of hierarchy can be considered controversial, and at times disrespectful to the people involved. See also, secondary.
HIV and AIDS: Transmitted through bodily fluids, with a higher concentration in blood and semen, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. There is no cure for AIDS, but with advances in medical science, people are living longer and healthier lives than before.
Homonormative: A very new term, similar to heteronormative, in that it’s meant to describe a certain assumed way of life by gays and lesbians in the homosexual community.
Homosexual: A person who is attracted to the same gender. Alternative common slang versions include gay, lesbian, and queer. Unlike heterosexual, homosexual is a much more broad term, used perhaps by heteronormative people to put other sexualities into boxes that they can understand.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV): A virus with multiple types, which can be transmitted through sexual contact. HPV infection is a cause of nearly all cases of cervical cancer and can generally be detected with a Pap test. There have been very recent changes to the frequency of needed testing, and vaccine regulations, so talk to your doctor for the most up to date information.
Impact play: A sexual activity where one person is struck by another person, often repeatedly, either by hand or a toy, for the sexual pleasure of all involved. Spanking is a common form.
Intersex: A general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.
Jealousy: An umbrella term that covers many different emotions, such as insecurity, fear, loneliness, and envy. Some say that to be an evolved non-monogamous lover, you must remove all jealousy. An alternative view is that being open helps us to work with and accept jealousy, without letting it rule our lives.
Key Party: A dated style of 70s swinger party, where female partners from heterosexual couples, would randomly select keys from a bowl and then have sex with the keys’ owners.
Little: A type of baby-girl/boy that tends to appear childlike in their behaviour, identifying with a specific, or range of ages, depending on where their needs and emotions are at. Often confused as age-play. See also, age-play, babygirl/boy.
Metamour: Used to refer to a partner’s other lover(s). Could be just as easy to use their name, depending on the audience.
Monogamous: A closed, two-person relationship.
Munch: A social gathering in a public venue, such as a restaurant, for people who are into BDSM. Munches are particularly valuable for those who are new to the scene, and could be considered similar to a meetup or happy hour.
New Relationship Energy (NRE): The honeymoon phase of a non-monogamous relationship (or any relationship, really). This time can be challenging for other partner’s to deal with, as the initial goo-goo ga-ga phase of a new lover takes over. NRE can last quite some time in relationships where partners don’t get to see each other that frequently.
Non-monogamous: A relationship dynamic, outside the realms of standard monogamy, that does not require sexual or romantic exclusivity. There may be more than one relationship at a time.
Non-primary: Additional lovers, generally not tied to you through legal or economic commitments. Non-primary is a much less hierarchal way to refer to secondary or even tertiary partners.
Non-violent communication: A way to engage in conversation that focuses on owning ones’ feelings vs. blaming others.
Open marriage / relationship: A non-monogamous dynamic for two or more people. The parameters that make up these relationships are as individual as the people involved in them.
Orgy: A sex party involving multiple partners.
Pansexual: A person who rejects the gender binary, feeling sexual attraction and desire and/or romantic love and affection, toward people of all gender identities and biological sexes.
Pegging: The act of intercourse where a woman wears a strap-on dildo and has anal sex with a man.
Personal pronouns: Third person words such as he, she, they, etc., used to refer to an individual. As it’s possible that someone’s gender may not be obvious to you, it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution and respect, and ask people which they prefer.
Play party: A social party where individuals, couples, or groups can engage in sexual activities with one another. Often refers specifically to BDSM social events, but not as a default.
Playlationship: A relationship that focuses on sexual and/or kinky play, for the most part. See also, friends with benefits.
Poly-mono: A relationship dynamic where one partner chooses to remain monogamous, and the other is free to explore polyamorous relationships. More common than you might think; this can work with lots of communication and respect.
Polyamory: A form of ethical non-monogamy where partners are free, sometimes within boundaries, to form multiple loving and sexual connections with additional partners. Polyamory is gaining in popularity as an alternative lifestyle choice with people from all ages and backgrounds.
Polyandry: Having two or more husbands at the same time.
Polydarity: Showing pride and solidarity with other members of the community.
Polyfidelity: A group dynamic where everyone involved promises sexual and emotional fidelity to the group. Additional primary partners may be added with the group’s consent.
Polygamy: Having multiple wives or husbands at a time. Made “popular” by television shows such as Big Love, many people, outside of non-monogamy, often confuse this with polyamory.
Polygyny: Having two or more wives at the same time.
Polynormative: A new term, referring to a modern, media driven viewpoint of polyamory in the 21st century. Often equated with a white, male-female couple, engaging in hierarchal style non-monogamy; the polynormative couple is merely a sampling of the many different types of people engaging in ethical non-monogamous relationships.
Polyphobia: Disliking or fearing polyamory.
Polysexual: Very similar to pansexual, with one distinct difference. Polysexual people are attracted to multiple genders and/or sexes, but not necessarily all.
Primary: In a non-monogamous dynamic, with additional external partners, the primary is the one with the strongest bond. Often, primaries are the long-term partner, or married spouse.
Privilege: An advantage, given or assumed by someone or a group of people, that is not usually available at all, or as easily to others. Often attached to race, heterosexuality, and class status.
Processing: A necessary part of successful non-monogamy where time is given or made to work through emotions, feelings, and reactions to conversations and new situations.
Quad: A multiple partnered relationship with four members.
Queer: Originally, and still at times, used as a derogatory term to describe homosexuality; queer is being re-claimed by some members of the LGBT community, as well as non-monogamous folks, as an umbrella term to describe many alternative sexuality viewpoints that differ from heteronormativity.
Rape Culture: A concept in society that often normalizes, excuses, tolerates, or even condones rape. Victim-blaming, slut-shaming, misogyny, and sexism are all a part of this way of thinking.
Rules: Boundaries and guidelines, put into place by some non-monogamous people. Rules can help people feel safe as they slowly get used to their setup, especially in the early days. Some people choose to go without rules, allowing for more initial freedoms, but the potential for more unexpected risk and upset.
Safer Sex: Sexual play, using protection, such as condoms or dams. The expression used to be safe sex, but nothing (except abstinence) protects us 100% from STIs or pregnancy.
Self-aware: A state where a person is aware of many or all of their emotional triggers, boundaries, reactions, and sensitivities. Non-monogamy offers a crash course in being self-aware to the willing, although there are always people who will ignore their emotional cues in order to reach their sexual or romantic goals.
Self-care: Being good to yourself, because it’s deserved, and also because it helps to make you a better partner, friend, and lover to others. Self-care can include things like getting a good night’s sleep, knowing when you’re too tired or emotional to join the orgy, or indulging in a personal passion that fills you with joy.
Serial monogamy: Moving from one monogamous relationship to the next without “settling down”. When attached to destructive behaviour, such as a fear of commitment, serial monogamy can be a bad thing. But for those people who simply grow apart from a lover before the next, it’s just a part of their journey.
Sex: Besides the obvious definition, sex also refers to the biological characteristics of a person’s body, including male, female, and intersex. In relation to the act, a common misconception about non-monogamy is that it’s always about the sex. Often it can be more about processing and communication than anything else!
Sex neutral: An alternative phrase, used by some in place of sex positive, that suggests that someone’s gender, sexuality, sex, or relationship orientation should not be a focus when interacting with them, as sexuality is just like any other thing that makes them who they are.
Sex positive: An attitude toward human sexuality that encourages freedom of expression, consent, sex education, safer sex, and a focus on healthy and pleasurable sex for all. Some people prefer to use sex neutral, as positive doesn’t always encourage the alternatives, such as asexuality.
Sex worker: A general term for a worker in the sex industry, including escorts, dominants and submissives, porn models and actors, cam performers, prostitutes, and erotic dancers.
Sexpecation: Ideas that society or partners can have about our sexuality or willingness to participate in sexual activities.
Sexual orientation: The umbrella term that refers to a person’s romantic or sexual attraction to other’s sex and gender. The three main accepted categories are heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual, with asexual considered by some as a fourth, and alternatives such as pansexual or polysexual also being used.
Single-ish: A person in a primary partnership who is free to enjoy some of the personal freedoms of non-partnered single life, but could not be considered single.
Slavery (sexual): A consensual exchange of power between individuals in the BDSM community, referring to a dominant person taking “ownership” of a submissive person. The idea of owning another person doesn’t always align with non-monogamous ideals and values.
Slut-shaming: Suggesting that a woman is bad or inferior due to the clothing that she wears, or sexual behaviours that she enjoys. Slut-shaming has been around for a long time, with people praising the male “stud” for his conquests, while bashing the female “slut” for participating in the same activities. Also connected to victim-blaming and rape culture.
Societal norms: Anything considered to be normal practice by a society or culture, such as heterosexual marriage or infidelity.
Solo polyamorist: A person with multiple partners, none of which are primary.
Soul mate: The one person that destiny or fate is meant to match us with, so that we can spend eternity with them. In reality, there is more than one “one”, and many people can be kindred spirits with your soul, from lovers to friends to family.
Submissive: The opposite of a dominant in BDSM play, the submissive generally relinquishes control of a situation, whether emotionally or literally, through bondage. See also, babygirl, little, and bottom.
Swinger: A person who engages in consensual sexual play with partners outside of their relationship, most often with their primary partner also in attendance. Swingers tend to have more physical-based relationships, with less room for long-term romantic feelings, though deep friendships can evolve.
Switch: Generally during kinky play, a switch is a person who can alternate back and forth between being a top or bottom.
Syphilis: A bacterial infection that is transmitted by touching an infected person’s sore, found on the mouth, penis, vagina, anus, or skin. If left untreated, syphilis can be deadly, but is treatable with antibiotics for patients who’ve had it for under a year.
Time management: Something that all non-monogamous people need to get quite good at to maintain successful relationships.
Top: Generally during kinky play, a top is the partner who takes the control or giving position. Being a top is not always equal to being dominant as some people are tops to please their dominant partners, or because their partner has a specific non-submissive sexual request, like being pegged. Also, in the gay male community, a top refers to the partner who gives anal sex.
Transgender: Gender identity where an individual’s self-perception of their gender does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. See also, cisgender.
Triad: A loving, committed relationship between three people, where all members are equal and typically sexually intimate with each other.
Tribe: A social group, similar to a community, with a strong sense of group identity, sometimes with a family at its core.
Two-spirited: A term originating from Native/First Nations communities that usually indicates a person whose body simultaneously holds both a feminine and masculine spirit.
Unicorn: Refers to a bisexual lover, often female, who is willing to hook up with both members of a couple. The adjective “elusive” is often found before the word unicorn.
Unpacking: A necessary part of emotional processing that allows us to examine our baggage, triggers, and reactions, and understand them in greater detail.
V (vee): A relationship made up of three people where the two outside partners are less connected with each other than they are with the person in the middle, at the pivot-point.
Victim-blaming: Occurs when abuse victims, often sexual, are held partially or entirely responsible for the acts committed against them. Connected to slut-shaming, victim-blaming is a part of rape culture that suggests someone deserved to get raped based on the outfit they wore, the drinks they consumed, or the street they chose to walk on at night.