What is Polyamory?
Polyamory is the practice of, or desire for, intimate
relationships where individuals may have more than one partner, with the
knowledge and consent of all partners. It has been described as
"consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy". The term
should not be confused with polysexuality (attraction towards multiple
genders or sexes).
The term "polyamorous" can refer to the nature of a person's
relationships at some point in time or to a philosophy or relationship
orientation (much like gender or sexual orientation). The word is
sometimes used in a broader sense, as an umbrella term that covers
various forms of multiple relationships, or forms of sexual or romantic
relationships that are not sexually exclusive. Polyamorous arrangements
are varied, reflecting the choices and philosophies of the individuals
involved, though there is disagreement on how broadly the concept of
polyamory applies. An emphasis on ethics, honesty, and transparency all
around is widely regarded as the crucial defining characteristic. As of
July 2009, it was estimated that more than 500,000 polyamorous
relationships existed in the United States.
People who identify as polyamorous typically reject the view that sexual
and relational exclusivity are necessary for deep, committed, long-term
loving relationships. Those who are open to, or emotionally suited for,
polyamory may embark on a polyamorous relationship when single or
already in a monogamous or open relationship. Sex is not necessarily a
primary focus in polyamorous relationships, which commonly consist of
people seeking to build long-term relationships with more than one
person on mutually agreeable grounds, with sex as only one aspect of
their relationships. In practice, polyamorous relationships are highly
varied and individualized according to those participating. For many,
such relationships are ideally built upon values of trust, loyalty, the
negotiation of boundaries, and compersion, as well as overcoming
jealousy, possessiveness, and the rejection of restrictive cultural
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Psychology Today: 7 Forms of Non-Monogamy
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According to the Polyamory Society,
Polyamory is defined as, "the nonpossessive, honest, responsible and
ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultanously.
Polyamory emphasizes consciously choosing how many partners one wishes
to be involved with rather than accepting social norms which dictate
loving only one person at a time. Polyamory is an umbrella term which
integrates traditional mutipartner relationship terms with more evolved
egalitarian terms. Polyamory embraces sexual equality and all sexual
orientations towards an expanded circle of spousal intimacy and love.
Polyamory is from the root words Poly meaning many and Amour meaning
love hence "many loves" or Polyamory. Of course, love itself is a rather
ambiguous term, but most polys seem to define it as a serious, intimate,
romantic, or less stable, affectionate bond which a person has with
another person or group of persons. This bond usually, though not
necessarily always, involves sex. Sexualove or eromance are other words
which have been coined to describe this kind of love. Other terms often
used as synonyms for polyamory are responsible, ethical or intentional
Ethical Slut: Practical Guide to Polyamory,
Open Relationships & Other Advrentures by Dossie Easton
More Than Two: Practical Guide to Ethical
Polyamory by Franklin Veaux
Opening Up: Guide to Creating & Sustaining
Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino
A polyamorous relationship isn’t about
sex; it’s about building a romantic relationship with more than one
person at a time. Some poly relationships, called “polyfidelity”
relationships, have rules not much different from a traditional
monogamous relationship, only there are more than two people involved. A
polyfidelitous triad, for example, may have three people involved, with
one person sexually active with the other two, or even with all three
people sexually involved with one another. However, nobody in the
relationship may take an “outside” lover, just as neither partner in a
monogamous relationship is allowed to have an outside lover; if you do,
it’s cheating. Cheating, if anything, is a more serious offense in a
polyfidelity relationship than in a monogamous relationship—because if
you cheat, you are betraying more than one person’s trust.
Other polyamorous relationships may permit the people involved to have
“outside” lovers under certain circumstances—often, for example, only if
the outside lover is approved beforehand by everyone involved, and only
if the outside lover knows the nature of the relationship.
The individual relationships within a polyamorous group may be very
complex, as well. In many cases, there may be one “primary” couple—a
husband and wife, for example. Either or both of those people may have
outside lovers, but those relationships are “secondary” in the sense
that they involve less involvement in the partners’ day-to-day lives
than, say, a marriage does.
(From More Than Two)
Swinging, Free Love, Cheating,
So polyamory is like swinging? Not
exactly. Swinging has a different focus. Swingers focus on recreational
sex, though friendships and deeper bonds may develop. With polyamory,
deep relationships are the focus, though the sex is often fun.
So, you have another partner on the side? No. That is something
different as well. The technical term for that is “cheating.”
The thing that defines a polyamorous relationship is that everyone
involved knows about, and agrees to, everyone else’s involvement.
If you are married, and you have a girlfriend that your wife doesn’t
know about, or that your wife suspects but isn’t sure about, or that
your wife knows about but isn’t happy with, you’re not poly, you’re
cheating. Similarly, if you’re banging the milkman while your husband is
out of town, you’re not poly, you’re cheating.
Polyamory is defined by informed consent of all the participants.
Without it, it ain’t poly. If you can’t invite your lover over to
Thanksgiving dinner with the rest of your family because you don’t want
anyone to know what you’re doing, it probably ain’t poly.
Didn’t this whole “free love” thing die out in the ’60s?
Many folks remember that movie about free love, "Bob & Carol & Ted &
Alice." In truth, "free love" never
really existed, even back then. But that’s irrelevant. Polyamory
isn’t free love. All these different flavors of polyamory have their own
dynamic, but ultimately, they are all about building relationships, not
Okay, so they are about sex as well. After all, most romantic
relationships do involve sex, and poly is about romantic relationships.
(Not for everybody, of course. There are folks who have romantic
relationships without sex. But often, for many of us, romance does
include some element of sex.) But the point is, it isn’t just the sex.
And the idea of polyamory predates the ’60s, anyway. In fact, it’s at
least as old as human history. Examples of non-monogamous relationships
can be found in many places at any time throughout history.
Isn’t this all some sexist, misogynistic, male-dominated Fundamentalist
Mormon thing? No. The image that many people have in their heads,
of one man with many women (as in the HBO series, "Big Love') is
technically “polygyny.” Polygyny (from the Greek poly many + gynos
woman) is the form of polygamy where a man can have more than one female
partner, but women are not allowed to have more than one male partner.
In societies where polygyny is practiced, women are usually seen as
little more than property. Since people have this mistaken notion of
polyamory, it’s easy to understand why they think “polyamory” means
“disrespect of women.”
But polyamory is not polygyny. Polyamory applies equally to everybody.
In an ethical polyamorous relationship, the same opportunities are
afforded to everyone, regardless of their sex. Polyamory is not about
collecting a bunch of women for your harem. Polyamory is about sharing
some part of your life and sharing your love with more than one other
person—and your lovers sharing some part of THEIR lives and some part of
THEIR love with more than one other person.
(From More Than Two)
Polyamory vs. Polygamy
Think there is no difference between
polyamory and polygamy? Think again discover the difference.
In the world of relationships, the terms polyamory and polygamy may
sound similar, but in actual fact there are several key differences
between the two that people need to be aware of. What follows are some
of the main ones and the hope is that by the end of it you will have a
far better understanding about not only the terms, but also the
lifestyles associated with the terms. Hopefully by the end of it you
will see that.
First, the term polygamy basically means "many marriages" but it can
also relate to having a number of relationships where there is a sense
of having some kind of spousal commitment to a number of people at the
This is a term that is perhaps used most when people are talking about
the Mormon faith or Islam where a man is able to have a number of wives
at any given time and it is this aspect of a number of marriages that
makes it different to polymory. In both of these religions there will,
therefore, be religious doctrine that discusses it in detail whereas
with polyamory this is certainly not the case.
The term polyamory instead means
"many loves" and the relationship aspect in this type of lifestyle does
not mean that marriage exists, but instead the person has some form of a
serious relationship with a number of people at the one time. This can,
therefore, mean that they may date one person whilst living with
another, but there is no sense of any formal certificates or paperwork
that show they are in some kind of a serious relationship with anybody.
It is also worth pointing out that whilst polygamy is often linked to
religion, the same cannot be said about polyamory.
Another difference between the two is that polygamy does tend to only
refer to the act of a man having more than one wife and it is,
therefore, based on gender. Polyamory is open to any mixture of numbers
and genders so it is just as common for a man to be in a relationship
with several women as it is for a woman to be in love with several men.
It should also be pointed out that polymory can of course involve people
of the same sex as well whereas this won't be possible with polygamy due
to its strong links to religion and culture.
It is also generally true that polygamy has a tendency to last longer
like normal marriages, but with polyamory it is more about the moment
and living in it and this means it may last for weeks, months or even
years depending on the people involved which is similar to swinger
couples or open relationships. The term "till death do us part"
certainly only applies to one and over a lifetime the person involved in
a polyamorous relationship can have a number of partners whereas the
polygamist tends to be limited to only a few.
Finally, it has to be said that people do tend to have the point of view
that there are cultural differences between the two, but in actual fact
this is not actually the case; however, how both approaches are viewed
can be different. It is perhaps true that in certain cultures and
countries the idea of having more than one wife would not cause a stir
and indeed it is common practice, but the idea of having more than one
relationship is one that may indeed be frowned upon. There is also the
idea that even in countries or cultures where polygamy is not allowed
that there is a better understanding of it whereas the same cannot be
said about multiple relationships at the one time.
So those are the key differences between polyamory and polygamy and you
should know see that they are not as similar as you may have initially
thought and indeed those that practice either of them would certainly
agree that they have entirely different approaches to life. However, it
is fair to say that a number of people will still have the same negative
opinion about both lifestyles, but due to now having a better
understanding of the two maybe you will be able to accept why some
people do indeed wish to live this type of lifestyle.
(From Your Tango)
What's the Difference: Polyamory and Polygamy
Polygamy, Polyamory, Polygyny, Polyandry, and More
Poly Coach: Non-Monogamy and Open Relationships
Association for Lesbian
Gay Bisexual & Transgender Issues in Counseling of Alabama