Forming a Christian Ethic of Non-Monogamy


According to a 2023 YouGov poll, 12 percent of Americans have engaged in some level of ethical non-monogamy. Around 4 to 5 percent identify as polyamorous, and this is on the rise, especially among people under 45 and those who consider themselves LGBTQ+. A separate study from 2017 conducted by the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that over half of people who identify as LGBTQ+ have practiced some form of non-monogamy – double the rate of heterosexual people.

For affirming churches, this will almost certainly be one of the pressing issues of the next decade or two, and religious leaders should be prepared to meet the challenge by remaining informed and empathetic when dealing with people who practice non-monogamy. But what, exactly, is non-monogamy? 

Types of Non-Monogamy

Monogamy is when two people agree to an exclusive romantic and sexual relationship. Anything outside of that is considered non-monogamy.

  • Polyamory: Polyamory is the practice of having or being open to having romantic relationships with multiple people. The people who consider themselves polyamorous may also practice hierarchical polyamory (meaning that a primary relationship, perhaps by people who share a home or children, comes before other romantic connections) or solo polyamory (a person who is undefined by a single romantic partnership and typically lives alone, forming connections as they want. The relationship dynamics could be a vee (meaning one person is in a relationship with two other people separately who do not date each other), a throuple/triad (meaning three people are all in relationships with each other), a quad (typically meaning that two couples date each other), or many other variations.
  • Polyfidelity: Polyfidelity is a version of polyamory in which all participants choose not to seek out extra partners outside of their chosen non-monogamous dynamic, which is closed to others. It’s similar in function to monogamy, just with a different number of people.
  • Open relationships: In an open relationship, couples can pursue romantic and/or sexual connections outside their primary relationship. People in open relationships tend only to pursue extra sexual connections rather than emotional ones. Those who only do this occasionally may refer to themselves as “monogamish.” 
  • Swinging: Swingers tend to differentiate themselves from other types of polyamorous people. It usually consists of a couple that tends to seek out recreational sexual experiences together and may engage in swapping partners.
  • Polygamy: Polygamy is marriage to multiple partners, which is illegal in the USA. Most people associate the concept with fundamentalist Mormon sects, where one man may marry multiple women. This is sometimes referred to as Biblical polygamy since that is what was practiced by many male Biblical figures in the Old Testament.
  • Relationship Anarchy: Under relationship anarchy, there is no set definition of what a romantic, emotional, or sexual relationship should look like. Instead, the value is on one’s personal autonomy without the structure of a hierarchy or normativity; people are able to define their own intimate relationships in the way they individually see fit without defined expectations or structure.


While many people are openly non-monogamous, far more of them are closeted about it – especially in religious circles. If you go online, you’ll find secret corners of Christian swingers and polyamorous Christians, but it’s rarer that people are out and proud. Even at “affirming” churches, non-monogamous folks may not necessarily feel safe to come out. This goes for clergy as well as laypeople.

As of 2024, there isn’t a single Christian denomination that has explicitly made a statement that they affirm people in non-monogamous relationships, with some progressive pro-LGBTQ+ Christian organizations (such as The Reformation Project) saying that they’ll only affirm monogamous same-sex relationships, a slippery slope on the way back to more bigotry, especially considering the fact that the majority of LGBTQ+ people are, in fact, non-monogamous.

Luckily, there are still many ways that religious organizations and churches can be affirming to non-monogamous people. Start with the obvious: make it obvious in your affirming literature and advertisements that you welcome anyone of any sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or relationship orientation. One’s relationship orientation determines whether you are monogamous or non-monogamous. Whether you think of non-monogamy as a sexual identity or a personal choice (it’s kind of both), the phrase “relationship orientation” shows that people and all their partners are welcome exactly as they are.

Include openly polyamorous people in your leadership teams, especially in conversations around reaching LGBTQ+ people since there’s a huge overlap. If you’re a clergy member, perform polyamorous weddings – even if it’s not a legal ceremony. Many polyamorous people like to have weddings with their partners. I have two primary partners in a vee: I refer to one as my legal spouse and one as my non-legal spouse. If you know someone has multiple partners, invite all of them to your events – or let them know you’ve only got enough space for one, two, or three extra people if you can’t accommodate all of a person’s known partners.

There’s also an assumption that polyamorous people tend to be child-free, young, and experimental. While that’s sometimes true, there are plenty of people who are part of polyamorous families. I have two children, and those children have three parents. It can feel lonely being a polyamorous parent and wondering if all the other parents are judging you or afraid to let their kids hang out with your kids. Be warm and accepting! Polyamorous people are normal, I promise. People tend to sexualize us, but our sex lives are as private as a monogamous couple’s. Non-monogamy is safe for children to be around. Make sure your language is inclusive when you talk to your kids about it, too. People can have two daddies and one mommy in one house, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ve found that clergy and religious leaders, even LGBTQ+ ones who belong to affirming denominations, often remain closeted about their non-monogamy. The risk of congregational disapproval or even losing their job is often too great. At a speaking event, one woman told me she was fired from her job as a professor at a supposedly progressive Episcopalian college after they discovered that her husband had a child with his other partner. While there currently isn’t a Christian denomination in the United States that actively affirms non-monogamy, I’ve spoken to many people who are interested in learning more. There are often individual churches, especially in the loosely organized United Church of Christ, that are actively affirming. My own church here in Richmond, Virginia, is one such UCC church: my husband has served on the church council, I’ve worked for the pastor, and my other partner has performed in plays and volunteered for our church.

The deeper question for many Christians who would be otherwise affirming is: what exactly constitutes a Christian sexual ethic? While it’s more common these days for certain denominations to be accepting and progressive when it comes to LGBTQ+ people, the same is not afforded to those of us who are in openly polyamorous relationships. People have written and spoken at large about the dangers of purity culture, which taught that premarital sex was such an evil sin that women, especially, were “ruined” by it. Progressive Christians have told these people that they’re not bound by such archaic depictions of sex and that we can have a more open view of it. But why doesn’t that go for Christians who decide that monogamy isn’t for them, either? People fail at monogamy every day, whether their relationship ends in a divorce or breakup or a partner commits infidelity. It’s pretty clear that mandating a monogamous relationship orientation for everyone isn’t feasible.

That’s not to say that sexuality is some sort of free-for-all. People who consider themselves Christian should center consent in their sexual encounters but also try to see the sacredness in it, too. Before I have sex with someone, I ask myself: is this good for me? Is this good for the other person? Is this good for the two of us together? Personally, I tend to only have sex with people I feel some sort of romantic connection with. I take sex seriously. But I know many people who have casual sex regularly and still have strong faith in Christ and adhere to godly Christian principles. If we can tell teens that they’re worthy of God’s love despite whether or not they’ve had sex before marriage and that their salvation is not tied to their virginity, why can’t the same go for adults who are having loving, joyful, and consensual sexual experiences or romantic relationships with multiple people?

Many good Christians have spent the last few decades being horrified by the discrimination that LGBTQ+ people experience, especially from other conservative churches. The fact is, non-monogamous people experience discrimination also – and that discrimination is considered more socially acceptable, which is why so few people publicly come out as polyamorous. 

We can be fired from our jobs, experience being cast out from our families (I’ve been disowned by my own grandmother), see ourselves mocked in the media with unrealistic and unhealthy portrayals of non-monogamy, and, worst of all, we are far more likely to experience child custody issues. I’m lucky because I’m still married to the father of my children, who is also polyamorous with multiple partners. But if I wasn’t, my experience with polyamory could be used against me in a court of law to determine that I am an irresponsible parent. A 2021 paper published in the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy found that polyamorous parents experience far more discrimination in child custody cases despite a plethora of research stating that polyamorous families are as healthy and happy as ones with monogamous parents.

Non-monogamy is on the rise. That’s going to include religious people as well. The question is: how will you respond to that? As for me, I hope it’s going to be in an affirmatory way.

Jennifer C. Martin is a writer, editor, and speaker living in Richmond, VA, with her two partners, two children, two dogs, one cat, one frog, and six chickens. She writes, reads, and speaks about religion, politics, polyamory, sexuality, culture, entertainment, and more. When she’s not trolling on Twitter or updating her blog, Dirtbag Christian, she’s in the kitchen making baked goods, doing yoga, gaming, or reading. She is a member of the United Church of Christ.

Previous Story

Sequential Theology: Quinn Bacon on Fugitive Care Work

Next Story

6 Ways to Celebrate Pride Month