Is it unethical to date someone who is in a monogamous relationship?

Is it ethical for a polyamorous person to pursue or date someone who is in a monogamous relationship (married or otherwise) and does not have the consent of their partner? I am getting some mixed input from friends, so I figure more feedback the better. Thanks.

Just to clarify, I considered dating someone who hit on a monogamous married man in front of me and she didn’t have an issue with it but I did.

/u/_whataboutjohnny, /r/polyamory.
Manki Kim, @kimdonkey. Unsplash.

There is actually a lot of nuance here. So my quick answer is that it depends on the circumstance.

As a polyamorous person, there is a world of difference between dating a monogamous person who is currently single and dating a monogamous person who is in a monogamous relationship with another. And both of those are completely different in the context of dating a monogamous-minded person compared to hitting on a monogamous-minded person. All of it boils down to intention, and statement of those said intentions.

When a polyamorous person dates a monogamous person, the onus of consent lies exclusively with the two individuals in the engagement. Each person has an opportunity to consent to the relationship they are each participating in. The polyamorous person will have to acknowledge that the person they are dating is monogamous. As such, dating monofolks come with an added emotional commitment to deprogram existing monogamy-based societal norms, to manage emotional/sexual insecurities, and to facilitate their commitment in a meaningful and fruitful way. In turn, the monogamous person will have to acknowledge that the person they are dating is polyamorous. As such, dating polyfolks come with the added emotional commitment to accept their ability to form multiple connections, to familiarize themselves with literature surrounding ethical non-monogamy, and to acknowledge and accept that polyamory isn’t always about sex. With those two layers of consent, a mono-poly relationship can be ethical.

This is a completely different experience than dating a monogamous person who is already in a monogamous relationship with another person. In this particular scenario, there is an existing exclusive agreement that the monogamous person has in their monogamous relationship. Sometimes, that agreement isn’t explicit. After all, we do live in a world where monogamy is the accepted standard. Consent of all involved parties is core to ethical non-monogamy. Therefore, pursuing a relationship with someone who does not have explicit consent of all involved would be unethical, even if the person consenting is unaware.

Both of these scenarios are completely different in the context of flirting. Personally, I am a shameless flirt. I am outwardly effusive and generous with genuine compliments. So even with people I know are unavailable for me to date and even when I’m not looking to date, I tell people what I like about them. I generally operate under the function that I’ll let the interested parties know if I am actually interested in pursuing them as partners. In all other occasions, my friends understand that it is harmless flirting, a general way to spread acknowledgment and validation of their inner and outer beauties. As such, my explicit intention puts an arbitrary boundary on my flirting so that it isn’t misunderstood or misconstrued. So I would consider that flirting in itself isn’t unethical, especially when the intentions are explicitly stated.

On the other hand, if the intentions about flirting are dishonest, then it would be unethical. So for example, if the intention of your poly-identified friend when they hit on a monogamous married man was to coerce and entice him into engaging in an unethical behavior with them (i.e. cheating), then it would be non-consensual on his partner’s behalf and therefore unethical. I would say that, for me personally, that type of behavior would be unbecoming of a partner as it reflects deep character flaws that could mean that they might otherwise facilitate other unethical behaviors in my relationship with them as well.

So the ethics of it all really boils down to…

  • Was it consensual?
  • Was it intentional?

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Advice – Words for a poly newbie.

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/u/TheAudity writes on /r/polyamory…

“Hello everyone! I guess I should start by talking about my situation: I [26F] recently married an incredible person [26M] (we’ve been married for about a month now), and am lucky enough to have an incredible husband who is very open and actually like, talks about feelings and shit. Anyways, we’ve struggled with sexual incompatibility for the better part of a year (differences in libido, emotional hangups, one partner having strong kink desires while the other has none, etc). None of these have been dealbreakers for us, as sex is the least important part of our relationship, and has no impact in how much we love each other, but there’s no denying that it’s been rough on both of us (moreso for him).

So, that leads to where we are now. The other night, we were at an amazing New year’s Eve party, surrounded by love and friends, and my husband reconnected with an old friend of his from college! And oh my God she’s just the sweetest person, and we know she’s poly, and we both got the impression that she’s like, really into him. We started talking about it the next day (yesterday, actually) and it started with us just joking about, but we came to the conclusion that I actually wouldn’t mind at all if he wanted to pursue intimacy with other people, and he let me know that he really wouldn’t mind if I wanted to find a Dom. Our only hard rule is that we would want to know each other’s partners, and keep communication open and make sure everyone is genuinely comfortable with our arrangements.

So, that’s where we are now. It’s still just the two of us, but we have laid a foundation for being comfortable with polyamory. This is where all of you incredible people come in. We’ve only just started this conversation, and I’m sure there are a million complications and questions that we haven’t thought of yet. So, what questions would you recommend a previously monogamous couple ask one another to make sure they’re on the same page, and can actually make a polyamory work?

Thank you, and I look forward to learning more!”

Dear the Audity,

You and your husband are both so sweet. I love the deep well of affection you have for your husband and the intentional perspective you’ve both set about this new transition in your respective lives.

Reading your post originally made me think about what I would have liked to have known when I first started my journey into polyamory more than three years ago. The first is that I would not be able to recognize the person I am today if the three years ago me encountered the me today. Some of the changes was expected; the freedom to love others provided many a venues for me to continue to improve on myself and become a stronger person. Some of the changes were not at all anticipated; polyamory can be really difficult even with the people who are on-paper perfect matches. There are so many questions to ask each other when you two are first starting out.

First and the most obvious is “What do you expect this phase of our relationship to look like six months from now?” And do not accept the answer “I don’t know.” Best part of life is in setting expectations and intentions about the overall direction even if the full picture is unclear. Keeping pace with all the growing pains and ongoing changes will make your first steps of opening up the smoothest. Talk about what those first couple months are going to look like for you. And talk about any anticipated changes as you are each experiencing them.

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And let’s talk about that word: change. In my own personal experience and in others’ relational experiences, the only constant in these relationships is change. The common advice among people opening up for the first time is to communicate, communicate, communicate. And that is because there are intense growing pains and unanticipated changes associated with exploring and growing through other relationships. In face of those changes, all we can do is to prepare for, to engage with, and to reconnect when changes force all of us to grow and adapt. Talk to each other about how you’ll stay connected with each other in face of these expected and unexpected changes. How will you stay in touch? What kind of reconnects will both of you two require? How will you two continue to place importance in your marriage while he explores his connection with his newfound poly connection and you explore your kink space with a Dom?

A 2015 study about gender and power in poly relationships has found that managing jealousy was integral to the polyamorous skillset. Most people experience jealousy due to socialization of our mono-normative society, basic innate human insecurities, and baggages from previous relationships. Talking about and making plans to deal with jealousy from not just your perspective but also from your husband’s perspective will be necessary. In my column, you’ll also find many advice posts linking to and discussing the topic of jealousy in great detail. You should also take a look at those as well.

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Most of what I learned about polyamory came from personal experience. Heartbreaks, NRE, falling in love, and all different shades of human experiences in between. Along the way, I found a couple resources I’ve enjoyed myself, as well as many others who have journeyed prior to and alongside me.

My first foray into non-mongamy started through the Ethical Slut. It provides a great overview of broader non-monogamous relationship styles and orientations. I’ve personally found it to be a phenomenal primer for what to expect through polyamory before my journey had even begun. Some critics might say that the Ethical Slut feels outdated. To them, I would say it is necessary to learn about our origins and history, as the Ethical Slut has been the most basic poly scripture available for the longest time.

Since you are kink-minded, you will also benefit from reading the New Bottoming Book, written by the very same Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton who wrote the Ethical Slut. I’ve also read the Dom version of this book – The New Topping Book. I can vouch for all three of these books personally, as literature I’ve personally read and recommended to many others to read.

Columns like mine are good places to read more about polyamory. I also really like Poly Land, and they do a daily publication of poly-related content.

If you are more interested in audio variety, Multiamory is as good as it gets in terms of a polyamory-related podcast. They discuss so many different aspects of polyamory and talk a lot about some of the personal challenges they’ve had to overcome in their own respective journeys. I’ve listened to most of their episodes, but I often find myself re-listening to and recommending to others some of my favorite episodes (Pursuit & Withdrawal, Basics of Boundaries, and RADAR). If you like Multiamory, one of the hosts – Dedeker Winston – also authored a book as well.

Lastly, find your own community. Online is a great place to start, but I have personally found that developing your own personal poly connections in the meatspace was the most valuable resource of all. It is lonely to be poly sometimes, as non-monogamy at large is long ways away from becoming fully accepted. Finding a poly-friendly therapist to talk through poly-related struggles was key for me and many others in forging the necessary tools to survive polyamory-related troubles. If you live near a big city, regularly attending meetups will help you get more engaged with your local poly scene as well.

Photo by Andrew Neel on

This is a great time for you to explore polyamory.

Non-monogamy is gaining social traction and wider recognition. More and more people are trying out different types of ethical non-monogamy as fewer and fewer people are by default settling into monogamous agreements. Some of polyamory is paved with coarse pebbles that hurt to walk on them. But the journey itself is entertaining, sexy, and life-affirming.

Feel free to drop by six months from now to let us all know how your experience is going.

Good luck!

Tea Time with Tomato is an informative relationship and sex advice column for both monogamous and polyamorous folks. By submitting your post, you agree to let me use your story in part or in full. You also agree to let me edit or elaborate for clarity.

I want to hear your thoughts and feedback! Please feel free to send me your questions and comments at If you liked my advice for this post, please follow me on Facebook and Twitter. You can also subscribe below to get alerted when my next advice column is published!

Are hierarchical relationships bad?

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/u/kjones139 asks on /r/polyamory…

“I have had another connection end while describing the hierarchical polyamory my wife and I practice. Apparently the new in thing is relationship anarchy. I am committed to my wife. We share finances. We have a home together. We take care of each other when we are sick. We ask the most from each other while other relationships are more related to fun. I keep getting flack from relationship anarchists, but at 6am when her car breaks down my wife can call me and I will be there. When I get home and want to quit my job my partner is there for me. Am I missing something here?”

I personally practice non-hierarchical polyamory. To me, that means that while I distinguish a strict boundary between people I consider to be friends and people I consider partners, there are no explicit or prescriptive hierarchies that strictly forbid one partner from reaching a threshold that another has already crossed with very limited exceptions. In short, friends are friends, but all partners operate on fair playing field.

This being said, I do not believe that there are anything inherently unethical about hierarchical relationships, as long as everyone knows about and consents to those hierarchies in place. Properly done, hierarchical polyamorous relationships can and are just as fair and ethical as non-hierarchical polyamorous relationships.

Many forms of hierarchies are natural and very often organically develop over time. For example, the longer you are engaged with one person, the more people in their lives you’ll get to meet. That level of openness and broader acceptance of your relationship is gradual but definitive. Some hierarchies are more forceful and driven. A good example of an ethical, driven hierarchy is financial enmeshment. As you get more and more enmeshed with your partner, it might make a lot of sense to gather all of your financials into one place for more sensible budgeting.

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Challenges of hierarchical polyamory

The challenge in the most ethical practice of hierarchical polyamorous relationships come in:

  1. Inflexibility of hierarchies,
  2. General miscommunication around priorities, and
  3. Social stigma around that label.

Here is an example of an inflexible hierarchy: marriage.

Marriages are natural hierarchies that develop over time, but are deeply inflexible due to legality. It is a state-recognized status & symbol and family/friend-recognized status of a relationship. Outside of getting a divorce (which can be costly), it is a hierarchy and a threshold that a lot of polyfolks in this mononormative society will have to address.

Then there is the miscommunication around priorities of different partners. When designating someone as a primary partner over another secondary partner, it is often doneso for the sake of appeasing one partner’s insecurity over another (potential or realistic). And while your enmeshed, nesting partner will have more opportunities to be prioritized, asserting strict priority when comparing different needs makes this part of hierarchical polyamory unethical.

How you balance one partner’s need over another partner’s wants is a very critical aspect and a learned skill in polyamory. A very practical application of this hierarchy is in celebrating which partner you’re going to celebrate which holidays and events with. Unless we possess the Time-Turner, it is impossible for us to be in two places at the same time. What happens if you are invited to an event and you can only bring a plus one? Does your wife always get the first say because she is your primary partner?

But the biggest challenge most hierarchical polyfolks face is in the perceived stigma of being in hierarchical polyamorous relationships. It is a big price of admission due to a lot of really negative past experiences surrounding dating explicitly hierarchical polyfolks. It is now a major price of admission to be classified as someone’s secondary partner as hierarchical relationships are no longer the current trend of polyamorous relationships. And because fewer and fewer people settle for relationships that do not work for them, the stigma is going to grow and grow.

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Ethical practice of hierarchical polyamory

With all this being said, I do think that there are ethical ways to practice and improve on hierarchical polyamorous relationships.

First is to do your best to analyze and assess existing hierarchies. Why are they here? Who are these hierarchies for? Do these hierarchies have to be exclusive to one person? This step is really important because it is a necessary prep work that allows us to forge a more sound connections with not just each other but with ourselves as well. Recognize that the flaw in hierarchies isn’t that they exist, but that they externally bar another from crossing that threshold for reasons completely unrelated to their respective relationships.

After revisiting those hierarchies, communicate those hierarchies with those affected parties as impeccably as you can. If there is a specific threshold a particular relationship cannot cross, it’ll be so much more hurtful to hit that glass ceiling with your head when you come upon it. So do your best to mindfully explain what those hierarchies are, why they’re there, and why they have to stay there. Ideally, these discussions about hierarchies would take place prior to seriously engaging with anyone on a romantic level. If you are already romantically entangled, today is a better day to have these discussions than tomorrow.

Last step is ongoing maintenance and regular check-in on those hierarchies and boundaries. Like any other personal boundaries, hierarchies need to be self-enforceable. And just because a hierarchy threshold has not been exercised does not mean that they do not exist. So for example, if the specific hierarchy/privilege in your primary relationship states that you are not allowed to any more than two overnight stays a week with secondary partners and you haven’t done any overnights lately with any secondary partners, that does not mean that you don’t need that space. That space might not be for current relationships, but they might be for future ones. Expanding and shrinking hierarchical arrangements need to be approached with incredible caution.

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Comparative Relationship Anarchy

I do want to come back to the main post’s points about relationship anarchists.

I do agree that RA seems to be a more trendy relationship pattern among polyfolks these days. However, there is nothing common in between one person who practices relationship anarchy from another aside from the overarching aspiration and vision to approach each of their relationships without any preset rules. One person’s practice of RA might not look at all like another person’s practice of RA. So when you are receiving negative press from folks who identify with RA, please do not lump all RAfolks into one bucket.

And I’ll also make a point about recognized subtle hierarchies. Some call them “sneaki-archies” or dishonest egalitarianism. Even if you might not recognize a specific hierarchy internal in your marriage to your wife, others could recognize it from a distance that there is a built-in hierarchy to your marriage that you or your wife might be in denial about. I think it’s important to realize that your version of reality might be a little different from your former paramours versions of reality. Instead of pointing fingers outward, maybe you should take some time to look at the common denominator and see if there really is truth to the hierarchies others see in your relationship style.

Dating Polyamory Newbies

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/u/d_arizona7 on /r/polyamory asks…

“I would really love to hear from as many of you as possible on this. I see a lot of “I refuse to date newbs.” So, in the sweetest way possible, please fill me in, why? Because newbs are inexperienced and likely to have a difficult time adjusting? It seems a lot like a person just starting out in the real world, trying to build a career… How are you supposed to get experience if experience is a requirement from the get go?”

Anyone who has applied to any new jobs in the past ten years can attest to how silly it is to see a job posting for an entry level position asking for years of industry experience. It has become a sort of a red herring and a catch-all for frustration – especially among my millennial peers – regarding the job application and interview process.

And the same level of frustration has extended to poly dating as well. I have encountered many experienced polyfolks in both my off- and online poly communities who have expressed their hesitance or even hard boundaries against dating poly newbies.

In this post, I will go into why some experienced polyfolks might be dissuaded from dating a newbie, discuss perks of dating inexperienced polyfolks, and outline what we as a community can do better to accept polyfolks at all levels of experience.

Difficulties in Dating Poly Newbies

One of the biggest challenges in dating people trying out polyamory for the first time is that the first steps of exploring polyamorous relationships are ripe with some intense and incredible growing pains. There are some unique challenges for both an existing dyad opening up for the first time and a single person exploring solo polyamory for the first time. And there are some overlaps between the two.

For a couple opening up for the first time, there are issues such as:

  • Acknowledging and dissolving couple’s privilege.
  • Identifying and managing each person’s own jealousy.
  • Allowing and providing space for each partner to process their own jealousy.
  • Accepting the inherent gender and orientation differences.
  • Creating and maintaining new spaces for each new relationships to live and thrive in.

For a single person exploring solo polyamory for the first time, there are issues such as:

  • Managing your increasingly complex schedule and dates.
  • Properly communicating and disclosing non-monogamy status with every match.
  • Developing fair boundaries & agreements with each connection.
  • Applying proper filters to distinguish quality matches.

For both couples and single people, there are issues such as:

  • Learning the specific language and terminologies associated with ethical non-monogamy.
  • Managing new relationship energy.
  • Learning to manage all different forms of inter- and intrapersonal insecurities.
  • Shedding monogamous social conditioning and engineering.
  • Determining long-term expectations away from the relationship escalator.
  • Determining comfort level around and managing various metamour relationship styles (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Parallel, Kitchen Table).

That is a lot!

And as an experienced poly human who has dated some poly newbies in the past, I can personally attest to how difficult some of those initial growth stages are. Understandably, not a lot of experienced polyfolks have the emotional or romantic bandwidth to take on that “mentor” role, to walk poly newbies through those treacherous first steps of polyamory.

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Perks in Dating Poly Newbies

And while there are some obvious challenges, there are some incredible rewards to dating poly newbies as well.

First is that newbies do not have the same kind of history and baggage other experienced polyfolks might have. Poly dating is often inundated with heartbreaks, unexpected vulnerabilities, and emotional baggage from previous relationships. And while there are some baggage in dating poly newbies as well, they are much more manageable and consistent. It can often feel refreshing to date someone who is completely new to the vast world of polyamory.

Another major bonus to dating poly newbies is in being able to play the coaching role. As outlined above, there are some major challenges to anyone trying out polyamory for the first time. Being able to help and guide people to experiencing great first experience with polyamory can feel incredibly rewarding. To know that you have had such a tremendous impact on someone else’s life can feel really good, even if the overall experience was negative.

The biggest benefit to dating poly newbies is in just the sheer availability of new newbies to date. Polyamory is an incredibly small subset of an already small subgroup of ethically non-monogamous. There might not always be a lot of people available to date at any given time, especially outside of more liberal metropolitan areas. To rule out a major subsection of an already small group is to hamstring your overall scope of people available to date. There will always be new people willing to explore ethical non-monogamy for the first time. And while not all of them will come fully formed and prepared, being more open to dating inexperienced polyfolks becomes almost necessary in some communities.

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What can we all do better?

Dude, suckin’ at something is the first step to being sorta good at something.

Jake the Dog, “My Hero” S01E25, Adventure Time, Cartoon Network.

I just really love this quote. None of us arrived here fully formed with the perfect ideas of who we were prepared to be. And I think it is important to keep in mind that we all started out as newbies who probably sucked at doing relationships. And that everyone has to start from somewhere. I think we as a poly community can be much more open minded about welcoming people who practice radically different styles of non-monogamy. Whether they identify as swingers, strictly hierarchical polyamorous couples, respectful unicorn hunters, or a relationship guru with decades of poly experience under their belt, you never know when you’ll encounter that one person who will nullify all the previous experiences you might have had and make you start back from space zero. Sometimes, the Universe has an interesting way to shake things loose for all of us. And sometimes, the Universe sends us interesting newbies who uniquely challenge our experiences and ingrained perspective in wildly different ways.

So let’s all try to keep an open mind and be respectful of everyone regardless of their gender, orientation, or levels of experiences.

Positive Masculinity in Polyamory: Confidence and Male Sexuality

[This post is a second part of a previous column post Oct 17th]

In our last look at positive masculinity, we looked at possible positive male role models and what we can learn from them. Our discussions extended to not just role models who are male, but also role models who display good masculine characteristics.

In this post, we will be addressing the second part of …

  • How do you find perfect role models who consistently commit to nontoxic masculinity and and inspire responsible male sexuality in an imperfect world?
  • How do you balance a respectful read of subtle consent with confident display of male sexuality in modern dating?

We will first talk about consent, how it folds into confidence, and how vulnerability can be healthily expressed in modern male sexuality.

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Let’s first talk a bit about what consent means here. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) defines sexual consent as “an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity.” Consent at large covers a much larger variety of agreements and participants than just sexual activities. It can also include activities such as but not limited to cuddles, massages, and even school work coordination. Consent should have these following qualities:

  • Clear – Were the terms of the agreement clearly communicated? Were the responses clearly received by all parties?
  • Informed – Do the parties know what they are consenting to within a reasonable frame of mind? Does everyone clearly understand the ramifications of a breach in agreement?
  • Mutual – Has all affected parties agreed to the discussed terms?

Consent do not require but also should also have the following qualities:

  • Proactive – Were consents provided ahead of time and not under pressure?
  • Ongoing – Has there been any changes since the first agreement? Do all parties still consent to the outlined terms in regards to those changes?
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How Consent relates to Confidence

I am going to go on a small tangent here and tell you readers a story.

I love archery. I grew up watching Olympic archery competitions in Korea. So the archery form and practice has always interested me. But I did not pick up archery until very recently, when my partner and I experienced archery together at a practice range at a Renaissance Faire. Since then, both of us have bought our own bows, maintain our own equipment, and took intensive lessons on proper archery form and techniques. In specific, archery is much more about the headspace than the two hands in contact with the string and the bow. When you are releasing an arrow, you are following discrete steps to functionally standardize your form. I am good with the practice of fine-tuning and perfecting my form. But I used to have a really difficult problem with maintaining my mental state after a bad shot. After one bad shot, I get overly critical about that one mistake and the frustration leads to the next bad shot. That negative feedback would snowball and I would usually end my round in a downward spiral.

One of my teachers sat me aside after such experience and inquired about my mental process when it comes to tilt. And he told me that maintaining healthy perspective is more about trusting your own process than the end result. That the correct process of firing an arrow is much more important than whether or not that arrow lands in the middle. He first had me shoot normally. Then, he had me shoot my end of three arrows without looking at the end result after every shot. After both ends, he had me compare. I could tell from the first glance that my first end was scattered. I overcorrected after my first bad shot and there was no grouping in my shots. The second end was not anywhere near the center of the target. But it was much more bunched up in a tight grouping. My instructor adjusted a couple things for my mental game which significantly improved my own experience with archery.

Let’s bring this back. In that story, I leaned heavily on my physical skills to uphold my mentality. Once my mentality fell apart, so did my process. And with my process, it didn’t matter how physically talented I was. Confidence in male sexuality boils down to a fine balance between assertiveness/charisma and emotional intelligence. Very few are good at both. A lot of people are really good at one thing, but not another. For me personally, I felt easier expressing charm and charisma; it came naturally to me. So I decided to consciously focus on the emotional intelligence and be extremely mindful of boundaries and consent. I personally leaned on knowing my assertiveness and charisma will come out if I could focus on boundaries. One of the most common positive feedback I have received after that particular readjustment was that my partners found my sensitivity and emotional intelligence to own my own emotional labor incredibly sexy. Mentality, meet physical skill.

I have also heard of many other experiences from men who found it easy and natural to respect consent and boundaries, but struggled with displaying confidence and charm. In the past, I’ve given advice to those men to focus on what makes you feel passionate. Dive deep into why you feel passionate about the hobbies or interests you have, and expand on how you can better display and frame those same fire and intensity. Enthusiasm and passion are sexy by default. Learning to channel that same energy in a medium that your potential partners can see can be a difficult challenge. But success will build upon success.

Greg & his son Steven Universe from the Cartoon Network show Steven Universe. Greg Universe is a model father figure.

Image credit to Steven Universe: The Movie and the Detroit News.

Vulnerability in Male Sexuality

It’s not easy to ask. And a lot of artists have a problem with this. Asking makes you vulnerable.

Amanda Palmer, “The Art of Asking” TED Talk. 2013.

Asking for clarification on intention can be sexy. Asking to elaborate on a stated boundary can be sexy. Asking for space while you vulnerably process your own emotional labor can be sexy. Asking for your partner to hold you while you struggle with anxiety or depression can be sexy. Asking for a safe space to be vulnerable in your partnerships can be sexy.

Male sexuality has been so incredibly warped and twisted to mean never showing any vulnerability whatsoever. It’s true. How many times has the media embraced the defiant, firm male stereotypes who never allow their male characters to be vulnerable and emotionally exposed?

Strength can be sexy. But the strength required to ask for help when you need it, strength to ask for more, strength to remain composed in a vulnerable space is incredibly alluring. It does not make you any less of a man to be in touch with your own emotions. Be strong and dare to be vulnerable in your next intimate encounter with your partner.

Life is full of struggles and mistakes. Openly embracing that vulnerability too should be a part of positive masculinity, of healthy male sexuality.

Positive Masculinity in Polyamory: Male Role Models

Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman, openly and ethically non-monogamous icon. Image credit to Neil Gaiman’s Journal.

There was one recent discussion on /r/polyamory regarding male role models, especially in the poly community. And based on the discussions on that thread, two main questions emerged.

  • How do you find perfect role models who consistently commit to nontoxic masculinity and and inspire responsible male sexuality in an imperfect world?
  • How do you balance a respectful read of subtle consent with confident display of male sexuality in modern dating?

This will be a two-part series. I’ll be discussing the first question on this post.

Personal Reflection on Masculinity

Like many of my generation, I too have had a very speckled personal history, one that is marred with toxic masculinity, disappointing male role models, and constant external judgments and assessment on what kind of man I should or should not be.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized how insignificant those external factors were in determining my own personal idea of a positive male role model.

I can recall that exact moment very clearly.

I was 21, sitting at a bar in East Village in New York City. I remember I had absolutely no plans other than to spend some quality time with myself and this book I wanted to explore. I don’t remember the name of the bar or the book I was reading at the time. But I do remember perusing through the scotch selection and settling on Balvenie 12 DoubleWood. Bartender took a one quick look at me and realized I probably wasn’t going to stay for long, or tip very much. So she went to hang out with some of her friends at the patio table facing the street. I tried really hard to stay focused on reading, but I felt so incredibly out of place. Disoriented without being inebriated. Wandering but not lost.

And I remember looking out onto the streets at all these people who had better places to be or at their own respective destinations. And I remember feeling so incredibly daunted at the idea of knowing exactly what you wanted. That concept of self-assuredness eluded me for so long. I had never had that kind of visibility into my own ego, certainly not in the ways I’ve projected how clearly others might understand themselves. It’s weird to think about now. Even at my current age of 29, I do not believe I have achieved that unrealistic level of self-clairvoyance.

Jeff Goldblum, the idealized masculine sex icon. Image credit to the Independent.

I remember tossing my book between my hands, thumbing through pages that I’ve promised myself to read. I remember blankly staring at pages, swimming among the words without absorbing any of it. I took a sip and then it suddenly hit me.

I was right where I wanted to be. It didn’t matter that my then-girlfriend was at London. It didn’t matter that I had no job lined up, staying at my aunt’s rent-free. I felt so incredibly content with just meandering among people I’ll never encounter again at a bar I’d never visit again in a city I’ll probably never get to live in again.

I started thinking about all the decisions I had to make to arrive at this moment and place in time. Graduations, funerals, birthdays. And I focused on the people that got me here. All the male role models who’ve promised and subsequently failed to deliver: my uncle, my father, and my professors. I didn’t resent any of them for what they couldn’t accomplish because not everyone was ready to live up to this impossible perfection of masculinity. I appreciated that they tried. At that moment, I realized I wanted to become a self-made man. I too wanted to try. I wanted to try and be this faceless ideal of a man who stood proud – unweathered, untethered, and confident.

I decided to continue chasing that feeling, of that minute contentedness.

Terry Crews, suave and savvy. Man of culture and responsibility. Image credit to CNN.

To round this back to the original quest to find a perfect role model for male masculinity (especially in the poly community), I don’t really think there is one.

For one, there are just fewer ethically non-monogamous people in general. Since there are just fewer of us, there aren’t as many vocal folks who can be role models. Also, not everyone has the same ethical frame of mind who can be universally righteous and fairly conduct each and every one of their relationships. Here’s a good example. Some folks consider hierarchical polyamorous relationship to be unethical, even between informed and consenting parties. Some would consider Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT) policies to be perfectly ethical, while others might disagree. There are very few absolute moral positions and ethical and mindful practice of polyamory is no exception to that rule. But most importantly, different people love in entirely different ways; to expect existence of one or even many globally accepted male role model when everyone is so different is wildly naive and oversimplifying a very complex concept.

Dossie Easton, relationship therapist and co-author of the Ethical Slut, Topping Book, and Bottoming Book. Image credit to Polyamory UK.

In polyamorous relationships, we do not expect any one particular partner to fulfill all of our needs. And because we have limited resources, not every single need that we have will be met even in polyamorous relationships. Why would it be acceptable to find one or even many role models who will fit all of our needs from male role model? Why does that role model even have to be a man at all?

At least that is my personal conclusion that I’ve arrived to.

So let me ask you readers a question. Who do you personally look up to in your own journey through relationships?

Dating separately or together?

Welcome back!

My previous post discussed all different variations of ethical non-monogamy. So I wanted to do a deeper dive into different variations within polyamory. I’ll start by comparing what it is like to date separately and dating together, from the general perspective of an existing partnership opening up for the first time. I will talk more about nonpartnered polyamory (for example, solo poly) and what long-term polyamory might look like in a future post.

Different styles of polyamory essentially boils down to two essential questions.

  • Are you dating separately/alone or together with other partner(s)?
  • Are there any explicit (prescriptive) hierarchies carrying over from existing relationship(s)?

I will be tackling the first question on this post.

Photo by Julia Sakelli on

Dating together

This is actually quite a contentious topic to discuss in some online polyamory communities. There are definite benefits each to dating separately and dating together.

A lot of folks opening up their relationships for the first time heavily lean towards dating together. Major part of that motivation is driven by insecurity (i.e. I don’t want to miss out on my partner doing amazing things). It is also marginally easier to imagine and envision “adding a third” to their existing relationship. Dating together also opens it up to more obvious group dynamics. In addition, triads/throuples has also had quite a bit of media exposure in Shameless (Showtime) and You Me Her (Audience).

Svetlana, Kevin, and Veronica explore a triad relationship in season 6/7 of Shameless on Showtime. Image credit to NBC News.

Dating together also has a lot of downsides. For one, dating together is incredibly complicated. Here is an example. Let’s say that there is a triad consisting of three people, A, B, and C. A triad has seven total connections to maintain. A to B, B to A, A to C, C to A, B to C, C to B, and A & B & C all together. In comparison, a traditional dyad between A and B only has two connections: A to B and B to A. Dating together also is really difficult because a “third” is rarely ever an equal leg of the relationship being built. I will go into a bit more about couple privileges and hierarchies in the next section of this post. The biggest downsides of dating together is in how few people are actually interested in dating a couple, especially one that has already been well-established. Considering at least two people would need to be bisexual for a het-triad (or three gay folks for a gay-triad) to function also further limits the scope.

Dating separately

Dating alone/separately also has its pros and cons. One of the many upsides of dating alone is you just have more options available. Since you don’t have to exclusively look for bi/pan partners, there are more people who are available to date. In addition to the freedom, hinge relationships are a lot easier to navigate. If B is the hinge partner from that previous example of A, B, and C, then there are four connections to maintain (A to B, B to A, B to C, and C to B). But the biggest advantage to dating separately is in the relative autonomy. As a hinge partner, you are mostly in control of your own relationships.

There are some obvious downsides to dating separately as well. One of the major downsides (in comparison to dating together) is that you’ll just have less time. Because there isn’t an overlap between different partners, people who date separately will find that they’ll have to segment and partition their time and make the best use of smaller time frames into higher quality time with each of those partners. Another major downside of of dating separately is that there is a bit more pressure on the hinge partner to expertly navigate different boundaries and agreements among different partnerships. That can be really difficult to manage for folks exploring non-monogamy for the first time. Managing metamour conflicts and relationships can be challenging as well, especially since there isn’t really a pre-determined script to follow for how to form a connection with your partner’s other partner.

Variations of Ethical Non-Monogamy

Hi! Welcome to my new advice column/blog Tea Time with Tomato. I am Tomato and this will be my first entry where I hope to set some groundwork for discussing non-monogamy at large. In this post, I will define what each of the larger classifications of non-monogamy and what distinguishes each subgroups from another. So grab yourself some tea and let’s talk about non-monogamy.

Photo by Pixabay on

According to this study from 2016, at least one in five individuals have engaged in consensual non-monogamy at some point in there lives. Also four to five percent are currently in consensual non-monogamous relationships according to another study from 2018. With so many people practicing non-monogamy, there are also wildly different forms and options of non-monogamy available.

There are three major subgroups that fall under the larger ethical non-monogamy umbrella.

  • Swinging
  • Open Relationships
  • Polyamory

I’ll start by talking about swinging.


“Not that kind of swing…”
Photo by Pixabay on

Swinging is largely defined as partnered or non-partnered casual sex encounters. It is often referred to in the context of partner swapping as well as non-partnered folks joining a pre-established couple in a more casual scenario. Swinging can also be defined by low emotional entanglement among its participants. Main assumption in swinging is that it is a purely sexual engagement. Swinging as a culture and lifestyle originated in WWII according to Terry Gould in his book A Look at the Erotic Rites of Swingers. But the culture didn’t really gain much traction until the 1970s. Movies like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) paved the way for this casual style of non-monogamy to thrive.

Swinging in specific varies between hard & soft swap. Soft swap would encompass making out, mutual masturbation, and sometimes oral sex. Hard swap would include all above in addition to intercourse.

Swinging mostly happens in swing clubs (such as Le Boudoir in London or the Lux in Chicago) where there is a dungeon master who keeps the place under wraps and organized. Most swingers clubs (like some kink clubs) have separate rooms where participants can leave the curtains open for others to watch. In most swinger’s clubs, only single ladies and couples are approved for membership.

One of the major drawbacks to swinging is in that it mostly implies partner swapping. It is also often plagued with heteronormativity and contentious gender dynamics.

Open Relationships

Open relationships are a more generalized version of swinging. They are often accompanied by a strong presence of a long-term committed primary relationship. Similar to swinging, open relationships often have an implicit understanding that the sexual component will be the focus.

One major difference between open relationships and swinging is that while swinging happens in specific environments (i.e. clubs) with the couples specifically seeking to swap partners together, folks in open relationships tend to be more open to meeting others outside of those specific exchange as individual people.

One popular iteration of open relationship structures is monogamish. A term coined by a popular advice columnist Dan Savage, monogamish is loosely described as a committed but sexually nonexclusive long-term relationship. In essence, it is a mostly monogamous relationship with couple exceptions to the rule.


“This is my boyfriend, Derek. And this is Derek’s boyfriend, Ben.” – April Ludgate, Parks & Recreation S02E01, NBC.

Polyamory is defined as a practice of seeking ethical and consensual committed relationship with more than one partner. Polyamory can both be a preferred relationship structure (i.e. I prefer to do polyamorous relationships) and an identity (i.e. I am polyamorous). In a future post, we will do a deep dive into all the wildly different variations of polyamorous relationships and the current trends in modern dating.

Polyamory is different from open relationships and swinging in that the focus of polyamorous relationships is in developing emotional connection rather than a sexual one. For example, I have encountered many lovely asexual folks who all had incredible practices of their own polyamorous relationships that did not include sex in their own relationships.

Polyamory is also different from swinging and open relationship in that participants don’t necessarily have to be partnered. Single folks on their own polyamorous journey would be classified solo poly. In the above captioned image, we get to see a traditional V hinge polyamorous relationship where Derek is the hinge partner between April and Ben, where April and Ben are not romantically involved.

Exclusive? Inclusive.

One of the most fascinating learnings I have personally experienced in my own journey through polyamory is that so many different people love in different ways. Swinging is just as valid as open relationships. Different variations of polyamory are all just as valid as another. In addition, you can absolutely have an open relationship-like approach while being more polyamorous. And you can absolutely attend swingers clubs to swing while you are in a traditional open relationship.

The one certain thing about life is that life is always changing. And relationship structures and preferences can change overnight. Some swingers often have to establish firm boundaries regarding emotional attachment. Some monofolks often discover that they are open to exploring polyamorous relationships after an infidelitous experience. And a lot of folks roll back to exclusive relationships or take pauses after particularly bad swinging or open experiences.