Relationship Types


Just as there are many forms of gender identity and sexuality, there are many types of relationships. By exploring the options available, you can find the type or types that are right for you! 

Basic definitions:

Relationship: a mental, emotional, physical, sexual, and/or spiritual connection that one person has with another person. An umbrella term for the various types of connections one person can have with another person.

Friendship: a platonic relationship with another person based on feelings of mutual regard, respect, and care. A friendship can develop into many other types of relationships, just as any type of relationship can simultaneously be a friendship. Generally, to be in a friendship means spending time with a person without a sexual component.

Professional: a relationship where two or more people connect with each other in a work setting; a relationship that develops based on the work that two or more people are doing, either outside the work environment or at the same time.

Abstinence: choosing to refrain from sexual activity. This term is often used in schools as an alternative lifestyle choice for teenagers and youth who do not wish to engage in sexual activity.

Abstinence can be understood as a short- or long-term decision as well as on a case-by-case basis.

Celibacy: this term is similar to abstinence; however, it was originally used by religious officials to describe their “sacred vow” to avoid engaging in sexual activity (which also extends to romantic relationships and marriage). To be celibate implies a long term commitment to abstaining from sex, potentially a lifetime.

Courtly love: to have romantic feelings for someone, to be in love with them, but to never have a physical relationship together. Courtly love is an older term used in Medieval Europe to describe “forbidden” romantic relationships, usually between two married people who never made their relationship physical.

Long distance: to have a romantic and/or physical and/or sexual relationship with someone who lives in a different place (city, province, etc). Sometimes these relationships develop over the internet, dating sites, letters, or Skype.


Types of Relationships: 

Dating: refers to the process of going on dates/hanging out with one or a variety of potential romantic partners (separately or at the same time) in order to get to know each other better before deciding whether or not you want to form a deeper relationship.

Monogamy: mono means “one,” and refers to a romantic, emotional, sexual, and/or friendship-based relationship between two individuals. Gender and/or sex do not factor into the description of monogamy.

Polygyny: a relationship type in which a man is in a romantic, emotional, sexual, and/or friendship-based relationship with more than one woman; the women are typically married to the man. Gender and sex do factor into polygamous relationships, and these relationships often revolve around gendered power dynamics (i.e. the man is the leader of the household).

Polyamory: a person who may have multiple (2+) partners and whose partners may also have multiple other partners. Polyamory is not limited by gender or sex and does not necessarily imply that married couples are involved.

Polyandry: this is a relationship in which a woman is in a romantic, emotional, sexual, and/or friendship-based relationship with more than one man; the men are typically married to the woman. Gender and sex do factor into the description of polyandry, and these relationships often revolve around gendered power dynamics (i.e. the woman is married to multiple brothers in order to retain land and financial resources).   

Open relationship: a romantic relationship where one or both partners seek sexual relationships with other people outside of their relationship. This relationship type is often confused or connected with polyamory, and sometimes the two are one and the same; the big difference is that, often, the additional relationships are more sexual in nature.

Friends with benefits: a sexual relationship with little to no romantic components.  Also referred to as having a “fuck buddy” or a “fuck friend,” these relationships often stem from friendships.

Swinging: this term is used to describe a committed, married couple who engage in sexual relationships with other married couples. Swinging relationships can be developed at parties or anonymously. These relationships can sometimes expand into polyamory, though swinging is usually understood as separate from polyamory.

Orgy: an orgy is a group of people (3+) who elect to have sexual relations in a group setting. This term describes only the sexual act of group sex, not a type of relationship.

Dominant/submissive: used to describe a relationship that typically occurs between two people who experience sexual enjoyment from adopting dominant (having control) and submissive (subservient to the dominant) roles. This type of relationship is an element that can fit into many other relationship orientations, such as monogamy, polygamy, etc. Oftentimes these relationships can involve a certain amount of role-playing, which helps to explain the connection between dom/sub relationships and kink/fetishism.

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