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Atypical Sexuality

What is Atypical Sexuality?

Atypical sexuality refers to sexual preferences that fall outside of traditional cultural norms, such as consensual non-monogamy, polyamory, and alternative sexual preferences (e.g., BDSM, consensual exhibitionism, group sex, etc.).

What is Consensual Non-Monogamy?

Consensual Non-Monogamy (CNM) refers to relationships that are not sexually or romantically exclusive—partners agree to engage in sexual activity and/or have romantic relationships with people outside of their primary relationship. CNM relationships may be romantically exclusive and not sexually exclusive (sometimes called an open relationship), sexually exclusive and not romantically exclusive, or both sexually and romantically non-exclusive (polyamory).

Individuals in CNM relationships may enjoy unique privileges while also facing unique obstacles. Since these relationships are not bound by the rules or constraints established in monogamous relationships, individuals in these relationships may enjoy a unique sense of sexual/romantic freedom. However, the freedom granted by such relationships permits partners to more easily engage in behaviours that may violate the sense of trust at the core of their relationships (e.g., exploitative behaviour). As a result, such relationships may face unique challenges with respect to the management of jealousy and, paradoxically, infidelity. The importance of values and ethical behavior is often emphasized in CNM relationships.

What is Polyamory?

Polyamory is a form of CNM that emphasizes the importance of values and negotiation over general/predetermined relationship rules. Polyamorists may build their relationships based on values such as trust, honesty, love, compassion, empathy, dignity, respect, and/or freedom, while ignoring conventional rules associated with monogamous relationships. Polyamorists may live in multiple-partnermultiple partner relationships (e.g., a three person relationship or triad) or interconnected networks of CNM relationships called polycules.

What are Alternative Sexual Preferences?

Alternative or atypical sexual preferences refer to sexual preferences that lie outside of the mainstream or what is considered normal within a culture. Examples of alternative sexual preferences include: preferences for group sex, BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism, and/or masochism), consensual exhibitionism (e.g., exposing oneself on a public online webcamming platform), specific objects/apparel, and many others. Alternative sexual preferences refer to preferences for consensual sexual activity and are not the same as behaviours/preferences related to non-consensual sexual activity (e.g., pedophilia).

How do I know if I need therapy for concerns related to atypical sexuality?

Therapy can help you sort out complicated, confusing, or distressing thoughts, feelings, fantasies, or behaviours so that you can cultivate clarity, compassion, and self-acceptance.

Therapy may be helpful if you’re:

  • Feeling distressed or confused about your sexual or relationship preferences
  • Feeling like you have to choose between your current romantic/sexual relationship and your alternative sexual/relationship preference
  • Coping with judgment related to your sexual or relationship preferences
  • Wanting to discuss concerns about your CNM/polyamorous relationship(s) in a safe environment
  • Thinking of coming out or telling others about your CNM/polyamorous relationship(s) and you have fears about doing so
  • Feeling distressed or unsure about how to support a loved one
  • Seeking therapy services for any concern, and would like to do so in an environment that is welcoming and accepting towards people of all sexual, romantic and gender orientations/identities


Primary relationship:

A committed romantic relationship that is privileged over other romantic/sexual relationships. Individuals may live with the partners in their primary relationship and not with their secondary partners.

Open relationship:

An open relationship (or open marriage) refers to a relationship (or marriage) that is predicated on sexual non-exclusivity. An open relationship is usually romantically exclusive.


A metamour is someone who is your partner’s partner, but with whom you have no romantic relationship. This can be your partner’s other boyfriend or girlfriend or your partner’s spouse.


A polycule is a word that refers to all the people in a network of CNM relationships. Polycule can also refer to diagrams of these relationship networks.

Kitchen table polyamory:

A polycule in which metamours are expected to know one another and be comfortable in each others’ company (enough so that they may regularly get together for meals).

Hierarchical polyamory:

There is a primary romantic relationship that is privileged, and all other relationships are secondary to it.


Polygamy is the practice of marrying multiple spouses. Polygamy refers to a relationship that is sexually and romantically exclusive or closed, and therefore differs from typical CNM relationships because it endorses certain rules and expectations found in monogamous relationships.

Parallel polyamory:

Relationships between metamours are kept separately. All may be aware of each other but are not expected to be friends, to interact, or to discuss each other.

Solo poly:

Refers to a lifestyle in which a polyamorous individual does not have a primary relationship, but does have CNM relationship(s) with others. Solo poly individuals usually do not live with their partners or share finances. They generally do not identify as being part of a couple (or triad, etc.).


Three individuals in a primary relationship with each other. A triad involves four separate relationships. A relationship between person A and person B, a relationship between person B and person C, a relationship between person A and person C, and a relationship between all three people.


Four individuals in a primary relationship with each other.


A sexual activity in which both singles and partners in a committed relationship sexually engage with others for recreational purposes.

Friend With Benefits (FWB):

A genuine friendship that includes a sexual relationship, but does not involve a commitment to a romantic relationship. Usually, FWB relationships begin as friendships.

Group sex:

Sexual activities involving more than two participants at the same time. If the sexual activities involve three people, it can be called a threesome.

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