Busting Poly Myths

14+ Myths and Misconceptions about Polyamory: Separating Fact from Fiction

By on January 25, 2018

It seems like polyamory is everywhere we look these days and, yet, there is still a TON of terrible information floating around. Many of my clients, friends, and colleagues who identify as polyamorous spend a great deal of time discussing the impact of all this bad information. It can be really daunting to tell people that you’re polyamorous because the next thing you know you’re drinking from a fire hose of myths that are being hurled at your face. It’s exhausting having to explain/defend yourself to every new person you meet! So, let me help you out. Whether you’re a poly person who needs an article to share with someone who is confused, or you are the confused person who just received this link from your loving polyamorous friend, hang tight. We are about to bust some myths.

Polyamory is just another word for cheating.

Well, cheating is one form of non-monogamy, but it’s not an ethical one. Polyamory is a type of ethical or consensual non-monogamy. This means that everyone involved knows what’s going on and has consented to be there! If you’re in a sexual or romantic relationship with two people and one of them thinks you two are exclusive (read: if you’re cheating) that’s *NOT* polyamory. This doesn’t mean that polyamorous folks never cheat. There are liars and cheaters in every corner of the earth and polyam communities are no different. But, just the same way we shouldn’t blame monogamy if a monogamous person cheats, when a polyam person cheats, it’s that they’re being shady, not that polyamory is fundamentally flawed.

Polyamorous people don’t want to/are unable to commit.

There’s a difference between commitment and exclusivity. A polyamorous person can be very much committed and in love with all their partners! Have you ever had more than one close friend? You were committed to being their friends and to making those relationships work. You wanted to be a good friend to both of them and you loved them each, as individuals. Well, it’s kinda like that. Commitment is a very important part of the way most people approach polyamory. Polyam folks are committed to engaging in relationships that are ethical, which center on consent and healthy communication. If a polyamorous person breaks their commitments to one or more of their partners – like if they cheat or lie, for example – this is likely to be received as just as big a betrayal as it would be in the monogamous community.

Polyamory is the same thing as an “open” relationship.

Some polyamorous people feel very open and available to new love and romantic connections. Some are in closed relationships that just happen to include more than two people. A person being polyamorous is not the same thing as a person being “on the market”.

Polyamorous people are sluts who want to sex with as many people as possible.

Some polyamorous folks do really enjoy having a lot of sex, and they may even enjoy having it with a lot of people… but not all of them do. Polyamory literally means “many loves” and it refers to multiple, simultaneous romantic relationships that may or may not include sex. In fact, there are a lot of asexual and demisexual people who are part of the polyam community, partly because of the lack of emphasis on sex. The great thing about polyamory is that there are almost as many ways to practice it as there are people who are practicing. This means that every time a polyamorous person meets someone new that they would like to date or become partnered with, they have an opportunity to collaborate with that person on exactly the type of relationship that’s best for everyone involved. If that includes wild orgies 6 days a week, excellent! If that includes lots of snuggles, but no sex at all, that’s excellent, too!

Polyamory is just a phase. (Or, you just haven’t found the right man yet.)

For some people who practice it, polyamory is a very deliberate lifestyle choice they are making because they’ve decided it is the most ethical way for them to form relationships. It may be something that is part of their life for a season or it may be part of their lives forever. There are other folks, however, who practice polyamory because it is their relationship orientation – a part of their identity and necessary for them to lead rewarding and authentic lives. Polyamory is a very sincere part of who they are as people and they can’t choose to be polyamorous any more than a person chooses to be straight or LGBTQ. Whichever one of these groups a person is in, their polyamory is valid and they deserve respect. Calling it a phase is not only wildly dismissive, it’s factually incorrect.

Polyamorous people are totally down for anything when it comes to sex. (Or, your poly friend totally wants to date you.)

While it is true that there is some overlap between polyamorous communities and other alternative sexualities (like swinging, kink/BDSM, etc), just because someone is polyamorous it doesn’t mean they’re into wild sex (see above). Even if someone is polyamorous AND into wild sex, that is no substitute for consent. Approaching someone and assuming they’re a “yes” to sex violates their consent and autonomy, and, frankly, it just comes across as creepy. Also, being polyamorous does NOT mean a person will have sex with YOU. If you are interested in connecting with a polyamorous person, treat them with respect and have a sincere conversation with them.

Polyamorous people don’t get their hearts broken during breakups.

Often times what polyam folks will hear is a lack of sympathy from friends or family when they experience a breakup because, “you still have so-and-so, so why does it matter”? This implies that all their partners are interchangeable, or that they don’t take our partners very seriously. Their love for their partners is just as real as it would be if they only had one partner, and loss hurts very deeply whether you have 1 partner or 10.

Polyamorous people will totally cheat on your wife/husband/girlfriend/etc. with you. (Or, polyamorous people are a threat to your marriage.)

Stop it with this one! Something happens when the world learns a person is polyam. Suddenly people start crawling into their social media DM’s with messages like, “I’m just so unhappy in my marriage. We should get coffee sometime!” Ew. This is disrespectful to your partner, to your polyamorous friend, and to yourself. Polyamory ≠ cheating (see above).

Polyamorous people never experience jealousy.

Sometimes polyamorous people even torture themselves with this one. Polyam folks are human beings just like everyone else. This means they experience a wide array of human emotions that even includes, yep, you guessed it… jealousy. The difference for polyam folks isn’t that they don’t experience it, it’s the way they handle it. Polyamorous people are committed to treating jealousy like any other emotion – a part of life that comes and goes – and dealing with their behavior around jealousy in constructive ways. One thing that polyamorous do report feeling more of is compersion. Compersion is sometimes described as the opposite of jealousy but that’s not quite right, as you can feel both feelings at the same time. Compersion is more like a happy empathy; feeling joy at seeing your partner happy.

Polyamorous people look down on monogamy or monogamous people.

There are people in every community who will judge others, that’s part of human nature. For the most part, however, this is simply untrue. Just like polyamory, monogamy is a valid and amazing choice for some people. In fact, there are many people who can’t imagine life any other way and being monogamous is their most authentic and ethical way of being. If someone is polyamorous this means that monogamy isn’t right for them and is not a judgement against monogamous people. You do you, boo.

People only become polyamorous when there are problems in their marriage.

Using polyamory to fix a failing or problematic marriage would be like pouring salt in an open wound. If a married couple is interested in opening up and exploring polyamory, they’re likely to be most successful doing that from a stable and secure place in their relationship. If a couple is on the rocks that is not a good time to open up.

All the people in a polyamorous relationship are sleeping together.

This one relates to some of the others. There is this errant notion floating around that polyamory is all about sex and we need to stop believing that immediately. Just because Tina is dating Tom and Toni doesn’t mean that she’s sleeping with either of them and it certainly doesn’t mean they are all sleeping together. Ultimately, what happens in the bedrooms of polyamorous people is none of your business, but definitely don’t assume that if people are all dating the same person or even all live together it means they all share a bed.

Once a polyamorous person gets married they have to dump their other partners, or their other partners will always be second fiddle.

Some people do practice hierarchical forms of polyamory, but many do not. The commitment a polyamorous person makes to one partner may have little or no bearing on the state/future of their other relationships. Many polyamorous people will even make life commitments to multiple partners forming small pods or other intentional family communities. Remember before when I said that one of the great things about polyamory is getting to create relationships that are best for everyone involved? That still applies.

Polyamory is the same thing as polygamy.

Polygamy is multiple spouses and, in many cases, carries a religious subtext (ex: Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints and plural marriage). Polyamory is multiple loving relationships that may or may not result in marriage.

These just barely scratch the surface of the myths that are floating around about polyamory and the people who practice it. If you’re not polyamorous, hopefully this gave you some insight into the world of people who are. However, please do not assume that you now know all you need to know about polyamory. If you are polyamorous, I hope you walked away feeling validated in your own experiences and armed with some good responses for the next time someone comes at you with their own misconceptions.

Do you have one to add to the list or a great comeback for any of these? Do you have a question about polyamory? Let us know in the comments!

Are you struggling to come out because you’re worried about the stigma? Do you have a friend or family member who has just come out to you as polyamorous and you’re not sure how to talk to them about it? Consider hiring a sex and relationship coach to help walk you through the process.

Did you know?

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About Author


Professor Sex, aka Angel Kalafatis (they/them; she/her) is a queer, kinky, polyamorous, sex-positive educator, research scientist, academic, and activist. They are currently an MSPS (Master of Science in Psychological Science) graduate student and sexologist at the University of North Florida. Angel is deeply passionate about sex-positive, inclusive, medically accurate, scientifically informed, pleasure based sex education. Angel is a certified yoga instructor, avid coffee drinker, and uber-geek (Slytherin). They can be found in a number of places online, so it's best to start at www.ProfessorSex.com and go from there.

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