Polyamory

Polyamory is the practice, state or ability of having more than one loving, sexual, relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved. The relationships would normally be intended to be long-term and may be live-in arrangements. Polyamory may also include swingers, who primarily seek sexual gratification from more than one partner but may be more closely involved emotionally. Persons who enter into or consider themselves emotionally suited to such relationships may define themselves as polyamorous, often abbreviated to poly. Such relationships are also sometimes termed “nonmonogamous”.

In power exchange relationships, the dominant will often have the determination of sexual partners for his submissive(s). Sometimes, there will be more than one dominant in a poly household, more commonly there will be a single dominant controlling multiple submissives. The term is sometimes extended to refer to similar committed familial relationships that are not sexual in nature.

Terminology

The two essential ingredients of the concept of polyamory are “more than one” and “loving.” That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other’s lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, “cheating,” serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as “mate-swapping” parties.

History of term

Polyamory is a hybrid word: ‘poly’ is Greek for ‘many’ and ‘amor’ is Latin for ‘love’. The word has been in use since at least 1920 and had a revival since the 1960s. The word saw renewed use from several people including Morning Glory Zell Ravenheart, whose article A Bouquet of Lovers (1990) encouraged the popularization of the term, and Jennifer Wesp who created the Usenet newsgroup alt.polyamory in 1992.

Even outside polygamous cultures, polyamorous relationships existed well before the name was coined.

Forms of polyamory

Poly relationship

There are various forms of relationship, depending on dominant gender, internal social structure and the ethos agreed upon for external relationships.

  • Polyfidelity, which involves multiple romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted to specific partners in a group. Such relationships are polyamorous, but not open.
  • Sub-relationships, which distinguish between “primary” and “secondary” relationships (e.g. most open marriages).
  • Polygamy (polygyny and polyandry), in which one person marries several spouses (who may or may not be married to or have a romantic relationship with one another).
  • Group relationships, line marriage and group marriage (also sometimes termed polygynandry), in which several people all consider themselves equally associated to one another, popularized to some extent by Robert Heinlein (in novels such as Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress), by Robert Rimmer and also by the author Starhawk in her books The Fifth Sacred Thing (1993) and Walking to Mercury (1997).
  • Plural marriage, a form of polygyny associated with the 19th-century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and with present-day splinter groups from that faith.
  • PolyFamilies, similar to group marriage, but some members may not consider themselves married to all other members.
  • Networks of interconnecting relationships, where a particular person may have relationships of varying degrees of importance with various people.
  • Mono/poly relationships where one partner is monogamous but agrees to the other having outside relationships. This is a common occurance in Master/slave relationships, where the owner may decide to have another slave and may or may not allow the slave use by anyone else.
  • “Geometric” arrangements, which are described by the number of people involved and their relationship connections. Examples include “triads” and “quads”, along with “V” and “N” geometries. The connecting member of a V relationship is sometimes referred to as a “hinge”.

Some people in sexually exclusive relationships may still self-describe as polyamorous, if they have significant emotional ties to more than one other person.

‘Open relationship’

Open relationship denotes a relationship (usually between two people) in which participants are free to take other partners; where the couple making this agreement are married, it is an open marriage. ‘Open relationship’ and ‘polyamorous’ are not identical terms:

  • Swinging, similar to open relationships, but commonly conducted as an organised social activity
  • Group sex and orgies involving more than two participants at the same time
  • Menage a trois, a sexual (or sometimes domestic) arrangement involving three people
  • Some relationships permit sex outside the primary relationship, but not love (cf swinging); such relationships are open, but not polyamorous. This can often be the position of a slave, where she is permitted, or required, to have sex with another but is not encouraged to have emotional ties other than with her/his owner.
  • Some polyamorists do not accept the dichotomies of “in a relationship/not in a relationship” and “partners/not partners”; without these divisions, it is meaningless to class a relationship as ‘open’ and ‘closed’.

However, there is enough overlap between the two concepts that ‘open relationship’ is sometimes used as a catch-all substitute when speaking to people who may not be familiar with ‘polyamory’.

Values within polyamory

Unlike the general case of swinging, polyamorous relationships generally involve an emotional bond, though the distinctions made between swinging and polyamory are a topic open to debate and interpretation. Many people in both the swinging and polyamory communities see both practices as part of a continuum of open intimacy and sexuality.

Note that the values discussed here are ideals. As with any ideals, their adherents sometimes fall short of the mark – but major breaches of a polyamorous relationship’s ideals are taken as seriously as such breaches would be in any other relationship.

Fidelity

Most monogamists define fidelity as committing to only one partner (at a time), and having no other sexual or relational partners during such commitment. By contrast, most polyamorists define fidelity as being honest and forthcoming with their partners in respect to their relational lives, and keeping to the commitments they have made in those relationships.

Honesty and respect

Most polyamorists emphasize respect for all partners. Withholding information — even a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” agreement — is often frowned upon, because it implies that partners cannot handle the truth or trust those they love to keep their commitments. A partner’s partners should be accepted as part of that person’s life rather than merely tolerated. Because this is the same foundation needed for successful power exchange relationships, poly living comes easier to loving couples in such relationships.

Communication and negotiation

In monogamous relationships, participants can settle on a common set of expectations without having to consciously negotiate them, simply by following societal standards (a husband and wife are expected to support one another financially, for instance). Because polyamorous relationships cannot rely on societal standards as a starting point, much more within the relationship must be chosen along the way by talking and by mutual respect and understanding, rather than assumed. If not considered and discussed fully, participants in a relationship may have differing ideas about how that relationship should work. If not addressed, such mismatched expectations can be extremely harmful to the relationship. For this reason, many polyamorists advocate explicitly deciding the ground rules of a relationship with all concerned. The agreement for a polygamous or monogamous relationship can be included in a contract between partners in a power exchange relationship.

Polyamorists usually take a pragmatic approach to their relationships; they accept that sometimes they and their partners will make mistakes and fail to live up to these ideals. When this happens, communication is an important channel for repairing any damage caused by such breaches.

Non-possessiveness

People in conventional relationships often agree not to seek other relationships under any circumstances, as they would threaten, dilute or substitute for the primary relationship. Many polyamorists believe these restrictions are in fact not for the best in a relationship, since they tend to replace trust with possessive prohibitions, and place relationships into a framework of ownership and control: “You are mine”. This reflects cultural assumptions that restrictions are needed to stop partners “drifting”, and that additional close relationships would be a serious threat or dilution of that bond. Where possessiveness and polyamory can mix well is within a Master/slave relationship, especially if the slaves are emotionally bonded.

Polyamorists tend to see their partner’s partners’ in terms of the gain to their partner’s life rather than the threat to their own. The old saying “If you love something, set them free, if they come back they are yours, if not they never were” describes a similar type of outlook. For this reason, many polyamorists see this ‘possessive’ view of relationships as something to be avoided. This takes a great deal of trust. (A simple test of success: would seeing one’s lover find another partner be cause for happiness [compersion] or alarm?)

Although non-possessiveness is an important part of many polyamorous relationships, it is not as universal as the other values discussed above. Alternatives include arrangements in which one possessive primary relationship is combined with non-possessive secondary relationships (common in open marriages), and asymmetrical relationships in which ‘ownership’ only applies in one direction.

Related groups and concepts

The definitions of polygamy and polyamory allow a great deal of overlap: any loving polygamous relationship could also be considered polyamorous, and many polyamorists consider themselves to be married to more than one person. In practice, however, usage separates the words: “polygamy” is more often used to refer to codified forms of multiple marriage (especially those with a traditional/religious basis), while “polyamory” implies a relationship defined by negotiation between its members rather than cultural norms.

Thus, although polygamy and polyamory are often treated by outsiders as similar concepts, the two groups are based on very different philosophies and ideals, and little interaction occurs between self-described “polygamists” and “polyamorists”. Instead, polyamory is more closely associated with those subcultures and ideologies that favour individual freedoms in sexual matters – most notably, gay and BDSM advocacy.

The polyamorous values of respect, honesty, communication and negotiation are akin to those espoused by the BDSM subculture. (Indeed, several prominent polyamory advocates are also BDSM advocates). Many of the problems encountered in polyamorous relationships have close parallels in BDSM, and can be resolved by similar methods; both groups benefit from a cross pollination of ideas.

However, individual attitudes vary widely; within each of these groups, some members find the other groups objectionable.

Criticisms of Polyamory

Religious objections

Most major religious denominations (including all major Christian ones) expect a person to choose one sexual or marital partner, even though many religions texts advocate or instruct on polygamy, especially polygyny. Religious leaders have said little on polyamory, but this is probably due to its low public profile compared to other relational/ethical issues such as homosexuality, and because polyamory is neither widely known nor widely identified as a distinct lifestyle.

Division of love

One common criticism of polyamory is rooted in the belief that by dividing one’s love among multiple partners, that love is lessened. This is a Malthusian argument, so called because it treats love as a commodity (like food or other resources) that can only be given to one person by taking it away from another.

Polyamorists reject this view of love, arguing that love need not be lessened by division. A commonly-invoked argument is that a parent who has two children does not love either of them any less because of the existence of the other.

Those who value monogamy often point to the strength and trust that can be built up within a long standing couple, who only are focussed on each other and have no other partners.

An intermediate viewpoint is that maintaining a loving relationship requires time and energy, and neither of these are infinite resources; hence, while it may be possible to love several people just as well as one, there is a point beyond which relationships begin to suffer.

Perceived failure rates

Polyamorous relationships are often criticised as “not lasting”. It is hard to come by accurate numbers on the longevity of polyamorous relationships versus monogamous ones, so this is difficult to measure, for a variety of reasons.

Like many groups with non-traditional relationships, polyamorists often do not publicize their relational status. Commonly, only the ones which fail in public become known. The participants’ criteria for a “successful” relationship also do not always coincide with the usual expected “goal” set by conventional monogamy. Polyamory is far more fluid than traditional marriage, so polyamorous relationships change or end as those within them feel right. A relationship that enriches the lives of its participants will usually still be considered a “success” even as it comes to an end. Since this is part of the flow of polyamory, it can be done without the souring that accompanies the end of many marriages.

Because sex and sexuality raise so many deep feelings in people, it is difficult for people to be non-biased in their casual assessment of the “success” of polyamorous relationships, with polyamorists and those opposed to polyamory each making assessments based on a selective choice of evidence that supports their view. For example, those who are not inclined towards such relationships may judge the type of relationship based on the failure of a particular instance of it, even if they do not judge the entire institution of marriage a failure simply because a particular couple got a divorce. Other criticisms may be based on observation of non-traditional relationships which lack an emphasis on honesty, negotiation, and respect.

With a lack of disciplined academic study in this area, there is simply no research comparing monogamous relationships with polyamorous ones, either in terms of longevity (as a measure for those relationships which do make a “life-long” commitment), or in terms of meeting the expectations of those participating. While a casual observer might see many polyamorous relationships ending, supporters of polyamory note that relatively few monogomous relationships are truly successful either: citing the divorce rate, the number of marriages which hold together in name only, and the number where partners are unhappy or cheat. So until proper studies are done, claims either way should be taken as anecdotal, potentially biased, and certainly unscientific.

Inability/unwillingness to commit

Polyamory is sometimes seen as an inability, or unwillingness, to make a lasting commitment to one partner — especially a commitment to sexual exclusivity to one person for one’s entire lifetime, as in traditional monogamous marriage.

Polyamorists commonly see themselves as making more commitments, much as a parent is committed to loving all her/his offspring. One expression used by polyamorists is that “We are faithful to ALL our lovers”.

Law

In most countries, polygamy is outlawed, although some nations (including the UK) have recently considered, or are considering, forms of legal acceptance of the existance of non-institutionalised live-in polyamory.

External Links and Resources

compiled by tequilarose

Fetlife

There are a TON of polyamorous groups on Fetlife. I did some searching and found a handful of groups that most might find helpful.

Poly & Kinky This is Fetlife’s biggest polyamorous group. There are tons of threads all dealing with different aspects of polyamory.

Ask A Poly a Question The title says it all. People come here to ask questions to other people about polyamorous relationships.

Poly Parenting How to balance being in a polyamorous relationship and dealing with children.

D/s-Poly Support This group is for people who are not only in a power exchange relationship, but polyamorous well.

MonoPoly-The New Game!  This group is for those individuals who are in a mongamous relationship with someone who is polyamorous.

Practicing Polyamory Like with Poly & Kinky, this is another group where people can ask questions and discuss topics about polyamory.

The Poly Support Group  This group hasn’t been very active recently, but there are a lot of past threads and a list of some great resources listed.

Books

There are A TON of books out there written about polyamorous relationships. There’s no possible way that I could list them all. The ones I am including are ones that I have read myself or have had recommended to me by others.

The Ethical Slut by Janet Hardy and Dossie Easton For anyone who has ever dreamed of love, sex, and companionship beyond the limits of traditional monogamy, this groundbreaking guide navigates the infinite possibilities that open relationships can offer. Experienced ethical sluts Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy dispel myths and cover all the skills necessary to maintain a successful and responsible polyamorous lifestyle–from self-reflection and honest communication to practicing safe sex and raising a family. Individuals and their partners will learn how to discuss and honor boundaries, resolve conflicts, and to define relationships on their own terms. You can read lunaKM’s review of the book here.

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino Relationship expert and bestselling author Tristan Taormino offers a bold new strategy for creating loving, lasting relationships. Drawing on in-depth interviews with over a hundred women and men,Opening Up explores the real-life benefits and challenges of all styles of open relationships — from partnered non-monogamy to solo polyamory. With her refreshingly down-to-earth style and sharp wit, Taormino offers solutions for making an open relationship work, including tips on dealing with jealousy, negotiating boundaries, finding community, parenting and time management. Opening Up will change the way you think about intimacy. You can read my review of this book here.

Power Circuits: Polyamory in a Power Dynamic by Raven Kaldera Power Circuits is an alliance between two alternative lifestyles: polyamory, or multiple open and honest romantic relationships; and power dynamics, relationships that choose to be consciously and deliberately unequal in power, such as dominant/submissive or master/slave. Both lifestyles are on the cutting-edge frontiers of romantic and sexual relating, and for a long time practitioners of both have found little sympathy in either camp. This is the first book of its kind that navigates the waters of effective polyamory and power exchanges, with many essays from the brave practitioners who swim there.

More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert This wide-ranging resource explores the often-complex world of living polyamorously: the nuances (no, this isn’t swinging), the relationship options (do you suit a V, an N, an open network?), the myths (don’t count on wild orgies and endless sex but don’t rule them out either!) and the expectations (communication, transparency and trust are paramount). More Than Two is entirely without judgment and peppered with a good dose of humor. In it the authors share not only their hard-won philosophies about polyamory, but also their hurts and embarrassments. Living poly is not always an easy road, and they hope that by reading this book, you’ll avoid some of the mistakes they’ve made along the way.

Polyamory in the 21st Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners by Deborah Anapol Unlike other books on this topic, Polyamory in the 21st Century weaves together research and facts to provide an informed and impartial analysis of polyamory as a lifestyle and as a movement, and to place it in a psychosocial as well as an historical context. Anecdotes and personal experiences allow the reader to develop a better understanding of polyamory and the people who practice and enjoy it. Anapol addresses the practical, the utopian, and the shadow sides of this intriguing, mysterious, yet often threatening lifestyle. It honestly addresses difficult issues such as the nature of commitment without exclusivity, balancing personal needs with loyalty to a partner, evaluating beliefs about love and relationship, the impact of polyamory on children, and the challenges that arise when one partner wants monogamy and another prefers polyamory. Without judgement, she explores this increasingly common practice, and reveals the true nature of a lifestyle that many do not understand.

The Jealousy Workbook by Kathy Labriola A counselor and nurse specializing in polyamorous singles, couples and groupings, Kathy Labriola has spent many years helping people to understand and manage their jealousy. This book is a compendium of the techniques and exercises she has developed, as well as tips and insights from the polyamory community’s top educators, therapists and authors. These accessible, simple techniques are designed to be easily implemented in the event of an intense jealousy crisis. They are even more useful if undertaken over a period of time before a jealousy crisis happens, to build a skill set that will be at hand to help managing jealousy when and if it does occur.

Also, to find more books about polyamorous relationships, you can click here and check out Polyamory in the News blog’s book section which includes articles about books and reviews as well.

Websites

Polyamory in the News This website covers anything polyamorous that is in the media, including Internet articles, books, television series, and conferences.

The Polyamorous Misanthrope This website is run by The Goddess of Java and is dedicated to the idea that you can be polyamorous, make good choices for your life and not let being poly mean you’re cutting a swath of chaos and destruction into the world around you.

Loving More  Loving More® is a national 501c3 nonprofit organization, educational website, online community and magazine dedicated to support and education of polyamory and polyamorous issues. Loving More has been supporting the polyamorous community both nationally and internationally for more than twenty six years and a charitable nonprofit since 2006.

More Than Two  More Than Two is the home of Franklin Veaux’s pages about polyamory and ethical non-monogamy.

PolyInfo  There are many wonderful sites on the web for information about polyamory. This page is meant as a short list of some of the best of them. This site is a “front door” for people just finding out about polyamory, and want to know where to start, or for those who are involved with someone who is polyamorous.

Loving Without Boundaries This is a personal blog by Kitty Chambliss and her experiences with being involved in polyamorous relationships.

Opening Up  OpeningUp.net is a website for people interested in open relationships of all kinds, including monogamy with benefits, nonmonogamy, partnered nonmonogamy, swigning, polyamory, polyfidelity, solo polyamory, mixed orientation marriages, and other relationships styles beyond monogamy. It features a blog, an extensive resource guide, message boards, and the Open List, a list of professionals (therapists, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, consultants, relationship and life coaches, doctors, lawyers, etc.) who are experienced and knowledgeable about alternative sexuality, lifestyles, and relationships. The site is also an online “home base” for the book Opening Up and its author, Tristan Taormino.

Social Media Sites

Reddit Poly  While some people may not be fans of Reddit, and while there can be some huge idiots on the site, there are also a lot of people who genuinely do want to help others. I haven’t looked through all the threads, but there are a lot of great topics going on.

Polyamorous Passions A 100% FREE polyamorous dating & social networking community site specifically for polyamorous singles, and poly-curious singles.

Poly Match Maker  PolyMatchMaker.com (PMM) is about finding others who believe in ethical non-monogamy, open relationships, open sexuality, equality, freedom, choice, love, sexuality, sincerity, hope, trust, happiness, and especially Polyamory.

Polyamory Social Network PolyamoryNetwork.com is a private social network dedicated to polyamory for members only (Completely Free).
It’s a place where you can share thoughts, opinions and experiences related to everything polyamory.

Beyond Two The 100% free Polyamorous dating and Polyamory dating and social network community site. What is the definition of Polyamory? Find research, reviews, information and articles on polyamory. For more information on different types and varieties of polyamory, read through our glossarypage. Our purpose is to bring all types of families worldwide together in one place as a community. Whether you are poly dating or just looking to make polyamorous friends we welcome you.

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