Mainstream media is portraying greater variety in relationship structures and orientations all the time. We are seeing shows like Sister Wives, Polyamory: Married and Dating, House of Cards, Girls, You-Me-Her, Brother Husbands, and Big Love, and features in major media outlets like the New York Times, CNN, NPR, BBC, The Guardian, and The Independent all showing us alternatives to the traditional monogamy narrative. As a result, Polyamory has become a buzzword.
So, with this in mind, here’s what polyamory’s all about…
First off, what actually is polyamory?
Polyamory literally means many loves (poly = many, amory = loves). It is a version of consensual, ethical non-monogamy that refers to engaging in (or being open to engage in) multiple, simultaneous romantic relationships. Sometimes there’s sex, sometimes there isn’t. There are almost as many ways to do or be polyamorous as there are people who call themselves poly, but the unifying keys are ethical behavior and consent.
Is polyamory the same as polygamy?
If polyamory is an umbrella, polygamy falls underneath it. Polygamy is the act of having multiple spouses at the same time as is frequently, but not always, associated with spiritual or religious practices. Polyandry refers to a woman with more than one husband, polygyny refers to a man with multiple wives. The most familiar example most folks have of polygamy is the Fundamentalist Mormon practice of sister wives. Some polyamorous folks will do commitment or marriage ceremonies with multiple partners, some polyamorous relationships will do commitment ceremonies as a group, and some will never do anything like this at all.
Can anyone be polyamorous?
In theory, sure, but not everyone is, and that’s okay! Think of it like a spectrum with monogamy on one end and relationship anarchy on the other end (and infinite points in between and, for some, the ability to move fluidly up and down the line). Some folks describe their polyamory as part of their sexual or identity orientation. Even when they are single or with only one other partner they think of themselves as polyamorous and they negotiate their relationships with that built in. Other folks think of polyamory as a practice they engage in and could move in and out of easily. These folks don’t feel that polyamory is a necessary part of who they are, but they may choose to engage in ethical non-monogamy as a lifestyle choice. Still others consider themselves innately monogamous and/or very much want monogamy from their romantic or sexual partners.
Is polyamory effectively cheating?
. . .
Oh, sorry, I guess I should expand on that. Remember above when I said, “the unifying keys are ethical behavior and consent”? Well, since cheating is unethical and involves opening up your relationship without the consent of everyone in it, it categorically isn’t polyamory.
So poly people are kinkier?
There isn’t a lot of statistical data on the overlap between kink and poly. What do we know for sure? Some poly people are really kinky. Some poly people are not. Poly and kink/BDSM are not the same thing. Just because someone is kinky it doesn’t make them poly, and vice versa.
Fore more on the kink-poly overlap, check out The kink-poly confluence: relationship intersectionality in marginalized communities (Pitagora, 2016).
Do poly people get jealous?
Yup. Some poly folks say they don’t experience jealousy, but most do. Jealousy, like any emotion, is a pretty natural human reaction. One interesting thing a lot of polyamorous people do report experiencing, that may make feelings of jealousy more manageable, is compersion. Compersion is a feeling of joy at seeing your partner happy, for a lot of poly folks this can come up particularly when their partner is feeling romantic or sexual attraction to someone else. They’re happy because their partner is so happy.
For more on jealousy, check out “But What About Jealousy, Though?”
Are poly people more honest?
Not necessarily. Honesty is an important part of any healthy relationship, and when you’re engaged in multiple intimate relationships you get a lot more chance to practice these skills. Polyamorous folks tend to work hard at being open and honest, and often seek out those communication and relationship skills.
So – have we all learned something today?
Want to learn more? Read Polyamory Definitions: Learn What These Poly Terms Mean
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