The Morality of Love and Sex

A reader brought up a very good point regarding polyamory: the morality of it. Most of the people in our culture were brought up in one of the many sects of Judeo-Christian thought, and they find it difficult to come to terms with the concept of nonmonagamy.


I was brought up Catholic, and had you asked me about this 20 years ago my reaction would’ve been the same. If you had asked me 10 years ago, five years after I left the church and Christianity as an organized religion, my reaction would still have been the same. However, as one gets to know themselves and their significant other (SO) better, and assuming one is being honest with oneself and their SO, attraction to the opposite (or same) sex does not go away with “I do.”

As I’ve stated before, sexuality is biological. We are sexual beings. It’s part of our makeup. The need to be loved and for sexual satisfaction (and sometimes sexual variety) are as natural as hunger and thirst.

Let’s look at the Judeo-Christian concept of the Ten Commandments.
“Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”

Yet, why is adultery more acceptable in this predominately Christian society than polyamory? Polyamory is not adultery. If your SO knows and agrees, then there is no cheating. The cheating lies in the deception, not the sexual desire or the sexual act.

One of the things that must be covered between you and your SO is the meaning of sex in your relationship. Define it. Is online flirting sex? What if it’s only “harmless” flirting, which is rarely harmless. Ask yourself if your spouse would be okay with what you are saying to your online flirts. If not, it’s cheating. And that is harmful to your SO and possibly to one or both of the flirts when feelings get involved or if there is a misunderstanding of intent, far from “harmless.”

What if that flirting goes past public “harmless” flirting and into private DMs, messages, and emails? What if it becomes more and more suggestive? Is that sex?

Then there is cybersex, phone sex, and sexting, where two people actually describe sexual acts to each other with or without masturbation. Is that sex?

Holding hands? Kissing? Touching? Oral?

Only you and your SO can decide how to define “sex” in your relationship.

Don’t kid yourself that just because penis does not enter vagina that it’s not sex. Even if there is none of the above sexual contact but you have feelings for another person…it’s an emotional affair. That is cheating.

Ask yourself if your SO would be okay with it…better yet, ask your SO first.

As Dr. Phil says, “Want to know if something is cheating? If you wouldn’t do it with your spouse standing there, it’s cheating.” (Not a fan of Dr. Phil, btw…but his site has some very nice snippets of wisdom on the subject.) Now in the realm of polyamory, depending what you and your SO decide, they may or may not be standing there, but the question remains if they know and approve of your behavior.

Somehow in our culture it has become acceptable to deceive ourselves and our loved ones behind closed doors as long as no one finds out about it. My husband says that stems back to the Puritans: Public Piety, Private Debauchery, a frequent topic of Hawthorne’s work. Politicians, clergy, pundits, celebrities…the list goes on.

Too often, people are more sorry and guilty about being caught than about doing the act itself. Just think of the “celibate” priests of the Catholic faith and what they have been caught doing over the decades (nay, centuries). Is that morality?

When we deny our basic human needs, they have a tendency to find their way out in unhealthy and often abusive ways.

This all said, let me reiterate that polyamory does not necessarily mean having other lovers. You do not have to have sex with other people to be polyamorous. It’s more a state of mind and a healthy state of an honest and open relationship. Whether or not you take it to the level of experimentation, whether that is just online flirting or actual intercourse with someone other than your SO, is up to you and your SO.

The beginning of a polyamorous lifestyle is about being true to yourself and your needs and being true to your SO and their needs. It never needs to go further than that if you and your SO are not comfortable with it going further.

Let’s say that you have cheated before, but you do not want to cheat again. Still, the urge to do so is still there. Or, if not the urge, the desire to have other experiences and to feel desired by (or to express desire for) another.

This is completely natural. You are married/committed, not dead.

The key is to communicate this to your SO.

“I know I have hurt you in the past with my behavior, and I never want to hurt you like that again. I am committed to this marriage/relationship, and I love you dearly. I am not going to leave you, and I don’t want you to leave me. We’re in this together. However, I need to feel safe to express my feelings to you instead of just hiding them and being afraid of hurting you. I’m afraid that if I hide them away it will be more detrimental to me and to our relationship. I’m not saying that I want to sleep with other people, but I do feel the need to flirt and talk sexy (or whatever your need is, again you and your SO decide the boundaries) with people. You can see all my communication if you’d like. I want to be completely open with you, and I want to earn your trust back. Yet, I want to be honest with you and I need you to love me for who I am, not who you want me to be. And I want to know you that completely, too. Wouldn’t you like to feel attractive to another man/woman? Perhaps we can go to out and flirt a little, then come home and devour each other. It will be exciting and new.”

So ask yourself what is more moral: being true to yourself and your SO, being open and honest with each other, which can only serve in bringing you closer together, or to pretend you don’t feel such things, letting them build up and fester, or worse yet, act out on the desires behind your SO’s back.

Adultery lies in deception. The act is secondary.

If everything is open, you are not breaking any commandments.

As far as the rest of the world is concerned, it’s none of their business. You don’t have to tell your friends or family or pastor or priest. It’s akin to discussing your favorite sexual position with them. It’s simply none of their business.

Perhaps you were raised to believe that monogamy is the right way or only way to be. Unfortunately, many of us are. The problem is that it goes against our biological nature. *Very* few people are actually monogamous.

Monogamy is one mate for life.

At best, most of us adhere to “serial monogamy,” being with just one partner until that relationship ends, then finding another. You and your SO likely had lovers before this relationship. If this one ends, you’ll have lovers again.

That’s serial monogamy.

But think of this: you’ve built a home and a family with this person: a good life. Are you willing to risk all of that, throwing it away for something unsure? Risk losing your children? For what, fleeting passion? It’s ludicrous.

Passion is really hot, no doubt. But please let me remind you that the word passion comes from the Greek pathos, meaning “to suffer.” No doubt. Passion generally carries suffering, especially if it ends suddenly.

A new, exciting lover, especially if “forbidden” is very, very hot. But the rest of your life won’t be like that. People who try to sustain that level of passion quickly get very exhausted, as it’s constant suffering. Sexually passionate relationships are often “passionate” in other areas, like fighting, perhaps even abusive behavior.

Ultimately, we cannot sustain such levels of passion, so when it fades, and it will, what will you have then? You will have given up your SO and possibly your children for something that burned hot for a few days, weeks, months…

Cherish the life you built with your SO. Respect them and yourself and just be open with how you feel. You might be surprised.

TAKE IT SLOW…if you’ve deceived your SO in the past, you will first need to Heal Your Relationship and earn back their trust. You must do whatever it takes for however long it takes, if you are committed to this person. But this doesn’t mean you have to deny your needs. Going behind their back, even for something as seemingly innocuous as online flirting is still deception. What you are deceiving them about is not important…*the deception itself is important.*


Please read my other articles on the subject:

Polyamory as an Alternative to Infidelity
Dispelling 5 Myths of Polyamory
Talking to Your SO About Polyamory
Healing Your Relationship
Healing Yourself


Please note that all these articles are for healthy relationships. If you are in an abusive relationship, if your partner threatens you, emotionally or physically abuses you, get out. Fast.


Dr. Phil’s Vignettes:


~ by omgrey on February 2, 2011.

19 Responses to “The Morality of Love and Sex”

  1. I’ve really enjoyed this series of articles and found myself laughing and agreeing often 🙂

  2. This is a great series, and I’ve gotten a lot out of it. I’m a terrible flirt, but we have worked out the limits of my amorous tendencies. It was a struggle, but as you have said, communication is the key. It is difficult when two people have very different ideals and sexual views, but anything can work if two people work at it.

    • Communication is definitely key. Once communication stops, the relationship loses ground. It becomes stagnant or just dies. As long as healthy communication is open, things can be worked out.

  3. […] Polyamory as an Alternative to Infidelity Dispelling 5 Myths of Polyamory Talking to Your SO About Polyamory Healing Your Relationship Healing Yourself Writing for Survival Suicidal Tendencies The Morality of Love and Sex […]

  4. […] Original Blog Post […]

  5. The only problem I have with polyamory is too many people think or expect that the male is one with the piece on the side. Women are still expected to just have only one and to be the submissive one the relationship. If people would be more open about women being the dom or they wanting more, then I would be pleased with polyamory.

    • That’s interesting, because I’ve experienced exactly the opposite. It was me who had the idea and brought it up with my husband. In fact, I have a greater need for satellite relationships than he does. Every couple is different, and although there are mono/poly relationships, where one person remains monogamous while the other is poly, most I’ve met are fairly equal.

      “People,” meaning the bulk of our society, aren’t open about polyamory whatever the rules. They are more accepting of nonconsensual non-monogamy, like infidelity, although not openly so. But since that is the norm, that’s what our society is comfortable with.

    • I agree 100%. IMO, what’s good for the gander MUST be good for the goose!

  6. As I see it, the problem is that that we are brought up in a culture that largely believes in (indeed supposedly cherishes) monogamy. However, it’s very easy to promise whatever the other (and society) expects when one is in lust with that person at the start, but what of when the passion dies (and it usually does)? It is frequently missed by both partners even though they may love each other and have a family and so on…

    I’m not advocating infidelity, or even polygamy, I’m simply asking the question and I believe it is a very difficult one to answer.

    I agree entirely with the suggestion of being honest and open, but that really only works if we can do it from the very outset of the relationship and, like I said, at that stage, most of us will promise anything to our significant other and believe that the passion we feel will carry us through, but it rarely does.

    • I’ve met lots of couples who deepened their intimacy after years, and sometimes decades, of living virtually separate lives.

      As to the passion dying…that initial passion, it most certainly does. In every. single. relationship. It’s biology. It is missed by both partners. And since it’s missed by both, that’s the perfect open to a conversation about options. The option doesn’t have to be sleep with other people, but take that initial step and talk with your spouse or SO because they’re feeling the same thing. Just ask open ended questions? What would you like to do about it, honey? Any suggestions?

      Some people just openly flirt with others and then come home and devour each other. Go to the “Romance & Relationships” category in the right sidebar and read some of my earlier posts on polyamory.

  7. I both agree and disagree with your statement about polyamory and sex. I think that love transcends labels. For me, another sexual partner is an unacceptable risk of illness. Close friends-whom-are-loved are completely acceptable, but I know too much of how less than fastidious some of my poly friends are with fluid bonds. It’s their body, they can make those choices, but I do not want to join them. As soon as more people are added to the mix, my ability to trust that all of them are completely honest, and use the same definitions as I do, drops dramatically.

    Because of this, I draw a very solid line between poly and not-poly. For one to claim poly, one must be open to the possibility of sexual interaction with more than one partner. The defining line *is* sex in my universe, even if the sex never actually occurs. While Polyamory doesn’t have to contain sex, it does have to contain the possibility of sex; otherwise you are beloved friends.

    • I think that love transcends labels, too.

      I agree with your assessment of polyamory to contain the possibility of sex. Indeed. I’m trying to make the distinction for people just starting to think about polyamory, that it must start with open communication, honesty, and very clear rules between the couple. Too many people think that it’s just about sex with other people, and it’s not.

  8. i’ve never quite understood how Bible patriarchs all had multiple wives, but now we have a judeo-christian position that monogamy is normative. it seems clear the Bible shows some practical consequences that were unpleasant, but I never saw any thou-shalt-nots.

    The immorality of adultery includes not only the violation of one’s own partner, but it also entails injury to the cuckolded party.

    i think polyamory (i may have the definition wrong), if solemnized in some civil or religious ceremony is more moral than fornication. Clearly, using a woman as a sex partner without some formal commitment puts her at a great disadvantage, particularly if she becomes pregnant.

    Martin Luther, when pressed, advised a nobleman in an unhappy union to take a second wife. Ergo, I think you’ve got a case that polyamory is lawful (if not expedient).

    You may find this ridiculous, but I think my comment is largely consistent with my understanding of Puritanism. Nathaniel Hawthorne was a propagandist as far removed from the Puritans in time as we are from him. Puritans were roundly condemned by Catholics for being OK with sex (within marriage), whereas from Augustine on down, Catholics have had this neoplatonist notion that the deed was evil except as necessary for procreation. And the Pietists were much worse as they lay back and thought of England.

    • Those are some very interesting observations. Polyamory is different than polygamy. There may or may not be some sort of ceremony, depending on the arrangement of the primary couple or triad.

      I’d love to have that source of Martin Luther! Could you tell me where I could find that?

  9. “This all said, let me reiterate that polyamory does not necessarily mean having other lovers. You do not have to have sex with other people to be polyamorous. It’s more a state of mind and a healthy state of an honest and open relationship”.

    THANK YOU! 🙂

    My partner and I weren’t really identifying as poly – or even really non-monogamous when we came to some top line sex positive, inclusive, non-vanilla, and non-monogamy friendly podcasts. And the advice being given to callers, the skills to work on? Was just as spot on when applied to relationships that were (officially at least) just two partners…

    • Would those be the Savage Love podcasts? They’re mostly brilliant, although I don’t agree with Dan’s stance on certain types of deception in a marriage/LTR being okay and “protecting” the spouse/SO. Most of what he says, though, I’m right there with him.

  10. Reblogged this on evolution of the chicken and commented:
    This very topic has been on my desktop all day. Another great post.

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