What Is Polyamory?

A brief guide to the most common questions about polyamory and how it works.

Like a lot of polyamorous people, I have to answer the same questions repeatedly from folks who don’t yet understand how polyamory works. I don’t mind that, but I’m also awfully lazy, so I thought I’d just write them all down in one place I can just point people at. These are the most common questions poly folks hear, and the clearest answers I know how to write.

What does polyamory mean?

It’s the practice of maintaining multiple romantic/sexual relationships concurrently. A polyamorous person might have multiple girlfriends, boyfriends, or both, and may also be married. Their partners may also have other relationships. Everyone involved knows about everyone else involved.

Isn’t that just called cheating?

No. Cheating involves lying and breaking promises. Polyamory works best—only works at all, really—when it’s built on a foundation of very open, very honest communication. It is still possible to cheat in poly relationships; for example, you might get involved with someone after telling your current partners you wouldn’t. That’s extremely bad practice: nobody, poly or otherwise, likes a cheater.

Don’t you get jealous?

Sometimes. Most poly people don’t get jealous easily, but in practice it’s possible to feel shortchanged for attention in favor of another partner, or inadequate, or left out, or any other reason you might feel jealous. The difference is that jealousy doesn’t have to be a dealbreaker. It can be something like irritation or frustration; anyone who’s never been irritated or frustrated with their partner is either a saint or a liar, and there’s not a lot of saints in the world. We don’t dump our partners over these minor annoyances, though; we talk about the source of the problem and handle our feelings like grownups. Poly people strive to handle jealousy the same way.

Further, most poly people often feel an emotion we call compersion, which has been described as the opposite of jealousy. Compersion (adjective form: compersive) is the pleasant sensation one feels on seeing one’s beloved being happy with someone else. Compersion is when your partner texts you saying “Having a great time on my date!” and you smile with genuine pleasure. For monogamous folks who might have a hard time picturing that: think of how you feel watching your beloved enjoy something they really care about, but that isn’t your cup of tea. Like if they’re into running and you’re not, the way you feel seeing them come in from a run, drenched in sweat and breathing hard, excitedly telling you about the personal best they just beat. Yeah, it’s like that.

So you just have sex with whoever all the time?

Oh, heck no. Polyamory is about more than just sex. Sure, sometimes you’ve got relationships that are basically just fuckbuddies, but the “amor” is in the name for a reason. Poly people can and do feel deep, romantic love for multiple people simultaneously. For those who feel that way, it can be rewarding on a very profound level, but it does mean you have multiple serious, emotional relationships to maintain, and one of the ways you maintain those relationships is by not just having sex with whoever. Negotiation and communication, again, are absolutely key.

But there are lots of orgies, right?

Depends on who you ask. Some people have been poly for decades and never had more than two in a bed. Others can’t get through a weekend without a threesome or more. On average, over a large sample, the median number of orgies per capita per year is approximately way less than you probably think.

Doesn’t it get complicated?

Yes. Yes it does. Even just scheduling time… the standard joke in poly circles is that Google Calendar is the greatest gift polyamory ever got. More than that, though, relationships take work. There’s an old saying that every marriage is a threesome, because there’s you, your spouse, and your marriage, and all three of you have needs. And that’s with only two people. As the number of people increases, the number of relationships goes up geometrically, and they all have needs. Some are high maintenance, some are low, some are full-time, some are part-time, but none are simple and none can be taken for granted. Add in the complicating social factors, where you can’t invite Carl to the dinner party because he just broke up with Mabel and it would be awkward, and Mabel’s husband is asking if he can bring his new girlfriend Ellie, but Ellie and Darren had a falling out over Drew last month, and Darren’s definitely coming… I’m really not kidding about Google Calendar. It’s all worth it, though, if this is how you love best.

Isn’t having sex with a lot of people dangerous?

Technically, yes, insofar as there’s a greater risk of STD and STI exposure than there is in a totally monogamous relationship. However, in practice there are two major factors that affect that math. First, if you know you’re doing something risky, you take steps to mitigate that risk. Driving cars is dangerous, so we wear seatbelts and obey traffic laws. Similarly, safer sex practices and regular STD tests are strongly encouraged in poly circles, and most of the folks I know personally wouldn’t ever date someone who forgoes either. Second, the open communication that polyamory depends on reduces risk enormously. There are a lot of people in the world who caught an STD when their monogamous relationship turned out to be less monogamous than they thought, and their partner couldn’t start using condoms because it would look suspicious. Careful habits and clear communication make for safer practices, and not just when it comes to sex.

You can’t really love two or more people just the same, can you?

First, who says we can’t? Second, who says we have to love them just the same? Love has a lot of forms, and much of the fun of polyamory is getting to experience multiple kinds of love at once. With a little luck, you can feel that warm, comfortable, well-broken-in-jeans love, that crazy, unpredictable, dare-you-to-try-it love, and that close, chummy, finishing-each-other’s-sentences love, all in the same week. Well, with a little luck and Google Calendar.

Some folks rank and prioritize their relationships in a specific way: primary, secondary, and tertiary is one terminology system I’ve heard, for example. Others like to keep a more free-form model and let each relationship grow in its own way. There are advantages to having different types of relationships; it makes it easier to maintain perspective. For example, poly folks talk about New Relationship Energy, or NRE: that feeling when you’ve just started seeing a new person and you’re all wibbly over them, you can’t shut up about how great they are, and they are temporarily the most interesting person in the whole world. With multiple relationships going, it’s easier to understand that that feeling is lots of fun, but it doesn’t last, and it should be allowed to fade into a more stable kind of love in its own time.

What happens when you break up with someone?

If it was an amicable breakup, we cry a bit, mope a bit, and go on with our lives. If it was acrimonious, we cry a bit, swear a bit, complain they were never any damn good, and go on with our lives. Why, what do you do?

Seriously, the main difference with poly breakups is that we’re less likely to dump someone for not being the one perfect person we want to spend the rest of our lives with. We don’t ask anyone to be that, which allows breakups to happen for less dramatic reasons. Maybe they’re not the same person we fell in love with any more, maybe they’ve done something irretrievably hurtful, maybe they’re causing trouble with our other relationships. A lot of things can drive a couple apart, but we do have incentives in place to stay friends if possible. We’re likely to run into our exes socially, after all, but more than that, polyamory means that each individual relationship doesn’t have to be the one perfect true love, it can just be what it is, and when that ends, it’s a little easier to put it in perspective.

 So you think everyone should be poly?

Heck no. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s cool. Oh, you’ll get the occasional overenthusiastic dork saying that we’re more highly evolved and those poor monogamous saps deserve our pity, but let’s face it, you get that dork in every group sooner or later. Some folks are happier poly, some folks aren’t, and like anyone else, most poly people just want everyone to be as happy as they can.

The one area where poly people do have an advantage is that we have more of an incentive to get good at communication. It is, structurally, much harder for us to take things for granted, leave assumptions unspoken, or not share our feelings. The practices and habits of communication that have been developed in poly communities have a lot of application to monogamous relationships; there is no relationship in the world that wouldn’t be improved by better communication.

I knew someone who tried polyamory and [one awful outcome or another] happened. Doesn’t that show that polyamory doesn’t work?

That sucks. It’s always a shame when someone has a bad experience with love and sex; those should be sources of joy in our lives, and it’s terrible when they become sources of pain instead. Before you condemn polyamory as a whole, though, ask yourself this: how many people do you know who’ve had nasty, painful experiences with monogamous relationships? Cheating, lying, abuse, assault, or just lousy relationships? Do you take those as proof that monogamy, as a system, doesn’t work?

How do I know if polyamory would work for me?

On a certain level, that’s between you and your heart. If you need some help, though, there are a few questions you can ask yourself. Are you good at emotional communication, or at least willing to get better? Are you able to be honest with people you’re close to? Are you good at putting conscious work into relationships, or do you tend to take things for granted and let them slide? Are you comfortable with your partners having other relationships, or do you get jealous easily? Do you have a history of being able to talk through issues and resolve fights that have come up in your previous relationships? The answers to these might not tell you if polyamory is what you truly desire, but they can help you figure out whether you’d suck at it.

What are some good resources to learn more about polyamory?

Franklin Veaux has written some useful stuff on the subject, including his notorious Map of Nonmonogamy, which clarifies a number of important distinctions with practical examples. In books, Tristan Taormino’s Opening Up and Dossie Easton’s The Ethical Slut are two good, down-to-earth guides to how polyamory works in real life. There may also be a local polyamory group in your area, and this site is a decent starting point for finding them.

 

Speaking just for myself, polyamory has enriched my life beyond measure and I am perpetually grateful that I embraced it. Others have had other experiences with it, some better, some worse, and that’s their own business. I respect those who make monogamy work for them (Who doesn’t love cute old couples that have been doofy in love with each other for half a century?) but that’s not the path I choose to walk. For those on other paths, I hope that this article has clarified things for you. As I mentioned earlier, honest communication and improved understanding help make everything better.

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About Noah Brand

Noah Brand is an Editor-at-Large at Good Men Project, and possibly also a cartoon character from the 1930s. His life, when it is written, will read better than it lived. He is usually found in Portland, Oregon, directly underneath a very nice hat.

Comments

  1. “Polyamory is about more than just sex.”

    If the sex was NOT present, would these poly relationships exist? I do not think so. It’s sort of like saying swinging is about more than sex.

    I still think the foundation of poly relationships IS sex. The only difference is it is supposedly open, honest, and consensual.

    This is in stark contrast (IMO) to polygamy where the foundation is often religious based with full blown families, emotional relationships, responsibilities, commitment, marriage, etc.

    Thanks for the education on poly. Well explained.

    • Jules, you’re right in saying that swinging is about more than just sex. but the difference in swinging is that the relationship is at the level of friendship or acquaintance plus sex. In polyamory the relationship is about love and intimacy plus sex. You could also say that sex is the foundation of marriage, but we all know that marriage is about far more than sex.

      As far as books go, I much prefer Tristan Taormino’s style in Opening Up than Easton’s style in The Ethical Slut. More theoretical books that point out that our current view of marriage has always been the norm are also helpful in learning about polyamory. I’m thinking mainly of Sex at Dawn but there are others too.

    • Valter Viglietti says:

      @Jules: “If the sex was NOT present, would these poly relationships exist?”

      Hah! If the sex was NOT present in monogamous relationships, how many of them do you think they would start?!? :mrgreen:
      For most of us, sex is a foundation in relationships, mono or poly.

      • @ Valter: Hear here. Same too with we plygs. It’s impossible to separate sex from any sexual relationship.

      • @Valter..

        Yes. that is my point.

        The poly inclined folks seem to want to deny this fact. Under polygamy, because these marriages are more religious and spiritually rooted, I think sex is less critical to their vitality than the poly folks.

  2. I have got another question.
    What do you mean by romantic?
    I am asking because many people love more than one person, are all these polyamorous?

  3. I have no problem with other people being polyamorous but I have to admit, I don’t think it would be my cup of tea. I don ‘t think personally that I could avoid feeling inadequate and lonely. I have no desire to force my BF to lead a monogamous lifestyle if he doesn’t want it. If I am not making him happy, he can break up with me — in fact, I’d prefer it. I don’t want any favors!

    Part of my issue, I suppose, is that (1) I’m not terrifically attractive, so I don’t have tons of options man-wise and (2) I rarely meet men who I am attracted enough to want to have sex with. I think it would be a challenge for me to find more than one at a time! If my partner was sleeping around, I would feel I had to as well, so I might force myself into relationships I didn’t enjoy much. I don’t have a deep craving for sexual variety so I think I would feel burdened by polyamory more than liberated.

    But, everyone is different

  4. Just to say there are many of us having multiple relationships out there who do not identify as poly, seeing the label and community as just another bunch of people who want to tell others they are doing it wrong.

    • Jemima, I thought the whole point of polyamory is that there is no wrong as long as you agree to it and nobody is being exploited or hurt. Okay, it is a little more complex than that, but that’s a good approximation. I’m not part of the polyamory community (I’m in a monogamous relationship), but if there are people out there telling others they’re doing it wrong I think they’re deeply misguided. The most they can really say is “This is what has worked for me.” I’m sure they would take umbrage at monogamous people telling them polyamory is wrong.

      Sarah, I think I’m the same as you for (1) and (2), but I wouldn’t feel the need to do it just because my partner was so I don’t mind if she does.

      • If my boyfriend was sleeping with multiple women and I was monogamous, I think I’d feel taken advantage of. I think I would only consider doing it if I could have sex with MORE partners than he was :-). Ok I’m kidding a little, but if I agreed to it, it would have to be mutual, I think.

      • I generally say poly is a term used by people too posh to swing, but yes, go on any poly group and you will find numerous people giving out rules. The term is trendy right now, but it ignores the fact there have always been non monogamous relationships based on openness and honesty. Meh, some people need a group to belong to, I suppose it gives them a sense of belonging.

  5. Good summary. I’ve be poly for over forty-five years But I agree completely that poly is not a panacea. I was in a marriage with a sex addict and my coming out and saying that I didn’t have a problem with her lovers didn’t help at all.

    So in spite of my best efforts it was ten years of hell. She was rather clueless.

  6. courage the cowardly dog says:

    There are so many problems with what you espouse I am not sure where to begin. I guess first and foremost what if in the course of your multiple lovemaking you get one or more of your partners pregnant. As the impregnator you better be ready to up ponyup pal because you are about to get a bill for 18 years of child support for one or more children. Or do you go the easy way and stick a need up the woman’s utereus and puncture the baby’s head killing it instantly. Jules makes an excellent point, would these relationships exist without sex. You seek to assign some legitimacy to the relationships by saying you are deeply in love with one of your polyamorous partners. Giving more time to one partner over another, and there really is no way to avoid that, is likely result in feelings of mistrust and betrayal. But according to you, you just have a little temper tantrum and get over it, but what if your partner in the belief that you are committed to them in some way because you have expressed feelings for them acts in a way that they might not otherwise have acted ultimately to their detriment in the event their relationship with you doesn’t develop to the extent they expected. The feelings of hurt are likely to be more than just temporary. This is one of those self centered stupid ideas of the narcissitic generation. It is destructive to the order of society, terrible for our children. For every failure of monogamous marriage I can cite you 5 that were and are sucessful. My neighbors are in their 90’s and they just celebrated their 67th wedding aniversary. Not once in the course of their marriage did either stray. They are by far the happiest people I know. They have 5 grown children and 15 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. That is the kind of thing that is the bedrock of this country. What you espouse is a loose connection of people not fully committed to any one of the persons in this loose association of free love without commitment or responsibilities. Sounds like something right out of the 1960’s when people like you argued for the free distribution of LSD and other mind altering substances which is one reason why we have huge rates of mental illness and drug and alcohol addiction. Poorly controlled jealously has resulted in people getting seriously hurt. You call jealousy a kind of irritation. This is great creating another source of irritation with your boyfriend or girlfriend. This may work to some extent amongst unmarried couples, but for marriages this is a recipe for disaster. What you advocate is destructive to society as a whole.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Sorry to break the news to you, your data on 1:5 marriages failed is incorrect. The current data is around 50% of marriages fail.

      Also, how do you know those successful marriages were always monogamous? How do you know they were faithful? Do you realize how many couples in that generation of your neighbors featured husbands with mistresses?

      And gosh, your “destructive to society as a whole”sure sounds like those who say same-sex marriage is destructive for society. And 30 years back, interracial marriage, and before inter-religion marriage… I could go on.

      Just because YOU don’t like it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work for someone. And contrary to what you believe, the *proper* use of condoms as well as other birth control methods are amazingly effective at preventing pregnancy.

      • I agree with you that historically men were never required to be truly monogamous. They had girlfriends and mistresses and visited prostitutes and it was all acceptable in a wink-wink-nudge-nudge way. Even in the Bible, despite the 10 Commandments, there are passages in the Old Testament about the proper way to have sexual relations with slaves and women captured in battle and so on. What Ilike about the idea of modern polyamory (tho I don’t think it’s my thing) is that women can have multiple partners as well. What’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose!

      • courage the cowardly dog says:

        Sarah:

        Two times I have tried to respond and been deleted in mid sentence. When I made the 1:5 reference I was limiting it to people I know not to national statistics. As far as my friend is concerned he is in his mid 90’s he has no reason to lie. He served his country honorable in WWII and lost a finger and an eye in so serving. I am an attorney and a former cop who is pretty good at spotting dissembling and dishonesty. I asked him point blank if he had ever strayed and he said “No”, thought about it, but never did it. Every study known supports the assertion that the best environment for raising kids is one female mother and one male father, while anything else might not be bad, it is not as good as the traditional nuclear family that is so familiar. No life has every originated in a homosexual relationship. Life can only be produced in a heterosexual relationship. A child raised in a homosexual coupled family is bound to wonder at some point who his biological mother/father is and why the absent biological parent chose not to raise him which plays havoc on one’s self esteem and sense of self worth. Again, another reason why heterosexual parents are the preferred model for raising children. Only one form of birth control works 100% of the time and that is abstinence, everything else could result in the creation of a life and if that happens (even if unlikely) a life has been created in the midst of a less than fully committed relationship in a polyamorous situation. There are those who may be willing to take that chance but if they do they best be prepared for the full extent of the consequences and that is taking responsibility. Polyamory is an irresponsible practice conducted without regard to the consequences.

        • Yes, the only 100% way to avoid pregnancy is abstinence, but you also have a small chance of getting into a car wreck and getting injured/dying on your way to the movie theater. Does that mean you should never see movies? And there are plenty of stable, happy children raised in homosexual relationships. Additionally, you’re assuming that everyone WANTS children. Not everyone does–hetero, homosexual, poly, asexual, or otherwise. Why does it matter so much what consenting adults do in their bedrooms? I’m not going to judge someone who is asexual because that’s not how I want to live. I’m not going to tell them that they’re irresponsible and need to change their orientation.

          • courage the cowardly dog says:

            You not understanding my point. All I am saying is that if you engage in activity that has some chance, albeit small, you nonetheless must ready and willing to accept the consequences of engaging in that activity. Your solution, and the one shared by many, is to kill the “problem” instead of taking responsibility for it. As anyone who has tried to get pregnant knows, the more sex you have the greater the likelihood of pregnancy, even in those situations when you are not trying to get pregnant you have a greater likelihood of a pregnancy occurring with the increased amount of sex. What people of your viewpoint believe is that regardless you are going to engage in activity that brings you pleasure and if a life is, by chance, is created in the process you will just terminate it. If you believe that the fertilized egg is the beginnings of a human life then you have placed your personal pleasure over the importance of human life and I find that sick and depraved.

          • wellokaythen says:

            “Yes, the only 100% way to avoid pregnancy is abstinence…”

            Actually, “abstinence from vaginal intercourse if both people are fertile,” to be specific. When it comes to oral sex, abstinence or non-abstinence makes absolutely no difference in terms of pregnancy risk – zero in both cases. Mutual masturbation also provides zero risk of pregnancy. Getting a hysterectomy is 100% in preventing pregnancy, even with unprotected vaginal intercourse.

            Too much lack of precision or lack of imagination when Americans talk about “abstinence” today…. : – )

      • courage the cowardly dog says:

        I wasn’t thinking national statistics, I was relating what I know of the experiences of people with whom I am familiar with. The traditional nuclear family of one female mother and one male father is the best (see today’s London Telegraph). No life was every created in a homosexual relationship only in a heterosexual relationship. Society as a whole as a vested interest in the continuation of the species. Homosexual couples won’t serve that interest. The only birth control that works 100% of the time is abstinence, all other forms of birth control leave open the possibility of a new life being created and if you don’t want to pay the bill you kill the baby. Your advocacy for this life style is contrary to the interests of society as whole, it is selfish and narsicisstic.

      • courage the cowardly dog says:

        I was not considering national statistics, but only the experience of people I am familiar with. The couple of which I speak, I know well. I asked the man point blank if he had ever strayed and without equivocation he answered “No.” The only form of birth control with a 100% success rate is abstinence. Married heterosexual couples are the best model for raising children, all other models do not compare for that purpose. Couples from similar backgrounds have fewer marital problems. What you advocate undermines the stability of society.

        • wellokaythen says:

          If the main issue is not getting pregnant, then there are LOTS of foolproof options besides complete sexual abstinence. Complete abstinence from all forms of sex is not required to avoid pregnancy. See my comment above.

          Shoot, I forgot to mention another obvious example — sex between two people of the same sex is also a 100% guarantee against pregnancy. Sex between men is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy….

    • @courage the cowardly dog….

      SEX is at the core of this lifestyle. If swinging is whole milk, then poly is 2% milk.

      This is nothing more than America’s new cultural elite creating a new lifestyle for itself that is both self serving and narcissistic.

      Oh well.

    • Dude. It’s called birth control. It’s called condoms. It’s called the morning after pill. Use them.

      • Aya,
        as it stands, if a man or boy ejaculates while having sex with a woman he agrees to having a child with her. For a woman having intecourse bares the biological risk of pregnancy. Don’t pretend that having sex is not from of commitment.

      • courage the cowardly dog says:

        The only form of birth control to work 100% of the time is abstinence, all other forms of birth control have some rate of failure. Are you ready, willing and able to take responsibility in the event of that failure? If not, I would suggest you go with abstinence.

        • If something does fail and I’m not ready, I am pro-choice. Additionally, you take the same risk by having sex with your monogamous husband. Every time a woman has sex with her husband, she is risking pregnancy. You assume that two people who are monogamous married are ready to have a baby. There are plenty of couples out there who don’t want children, aren’t ready for them, cannot afford them, or don’t have the time for them. Most of my monogamous friends would have an abortion if birth control failed. I think most boyfriends and husbands would not be too happy if their partners decided to practice abstinence.

          • courage the cowardly dog says:

            O my God! So your solution is if the birth control fails you abort the baby? So really you want abortion to be a form of birth control. Yes, you have the same risk of getting pregnant with a monogamous husband, but if you are married to the husband you ostensibly entered into the marital relationship as a committed relationship, committed to the possibility that you would love and support the product of that relationship even children, if that should happen and with that I am fine. If the committed couple does not feel ready to have a child, there are millions of couples around the world (maybe more) who due to medical reasons cannot have children and would gladly and gratefully adopt any child including children that may not be so healthy. In that instance you are truly doing the work of God, because you are bringing life into the world and giving life to a couple who can love and nurture that life. ( Polyamory does not require that level of commitment and what if the person you impregnated doesn’t want to have an abortion, are you going to make them have the abortion?) Polyamory is about one’s own personal pleasure without regard to the well being of others or society at large. I believe it is time to stop being such a narcissistic society and consider what is good for the society at large.

            • Your moral system and claims of what your god wants are duly noted.

            • courage the cowardly dog says:

              I am glad they are duly noted. I, and many others, will continue to fight for a morally appropriate society. One that recognizes the value of life and responsibility. I take it you are going with narcissicism? Good luck with that.

            • As someone raised by a devout Roman Catholic who now is atheist, I was implying that your moral system is not due much respect.

              Narcissism? Hardly. It’s taken decades for me to unlearn the idea that denying one’s desires in pursuit of some imagined Greater Good is a virtue. Now I’m ready to stand up for myself, to advocate for my desires.

              I don’t know if polyamory would be for me; I do know that my current monogamous relationship leaves me sexually unfulfilled.

              Polyamory is about one’s own personal pleasure without regard to the well being of others or society at large.

              I challenge any authority claiming that non-monogamy is more harmful to society than sexual repression. Also “one’s own personal pleasure” is an important part of one’s well-being. I give consideration to the well-being of others commensurate to the consideration I expect them to give to mine.

            • @Arium: You’re not wrong. Do unto others and that.

            • @courage the cowardly dog…

              While I would agree with you in principle on some of what you have mentioned, you fail to realize that our great nation was founded on the belief in individual rights and liberties. Hence our Bill of Rights.

              Yes, we have a narcissistic society and increasingly so. I do believe that this poly jazz is nice a pig with lipstick. But, like so much in America, we American just hate dealing with reality. We prefer to PRETEND all is well, reinforced by loads of psychotic meds to boot.

              However, just as you wish to continue your fight for a “morally appropriate society”, I will continue to defend individual rights and liberties. Neither you nor I have the right to tell these poly folks how they should live. I do question the purpose of their lifestyle. And yes, they are being delusional if they think they will be immune from STDs, STIs, unwanted and unintended pregnancies… But, I am not a part of that craze.

              Remember this quote? “Give me liberty or give me death!”

            • wellokaythen says:

              I’m wondering as a practical matter what the solution would be, for example if it is to be classified as a murder.

              In that case, would the police tape off the uterus like a crime scene? Would the cops have to investigate every miscarriage to make sure it was not deliberately induced? The idea that the state would have institutions devoted to telling the difference between an induced miscarriage and a “natural miscarriage” would be pretty laughable. You know that when there’s a miscarriage, doctors perform a procedure that’s virtually indistinguishable from an abortion, right?

              Theoretically, you would have to ban every substance that might accidentally or on purpose trigger a miscarriage. Carrot seeds, for example – eat a whole bunch and you induce a miscarriage. Punishable as murder or not? The totalitarian state you would need to make such a ban effective would be enormous. Pregnancies would have to be officially registered, or else how would the state ever know that an embryo/fetus ever existed in the first place?

              Yes, you can call it legally sanctioned murder, I don’t mind. Governments engage in legally sanctioned forms of murder all the time. I freely admit I don’t think every form of homicide has to be illegal.

      • courage the cowardly dog says:

        Would you jump off a cliff attached to a bungy cord knowing that 1% of the time the bungy cord fails? If the bungy cord fails you are almost certain to die or suffer very serious permanent injuries. Knowing that would you do it? Regarding the success rate of condoms check out this reference:
        http://www.hli.org/index.php/condoms/139?task=view

        If you are willing to take on the responsibilities if your condom fails then go for it. But if not, refrain.

  7. I’m confused by the naysayers and the person who went straight into talk of abortion. I’m guessing you at least are some sort of troll. This post specifically stated that its not for everybody. The point is that Q&A for a better understanding of the reasonings behind Polyamory. Monogamy is not a cure all pill for what ails the heart, following your instincts and being in the relationship that best suits who you are as a person, an individual as well as companion should be the sole end goal in any relationship, that means for some people its polyamory, or bigamy, or monogamy. Monogamy has not always been the sole form of lasting companionship. Polyamory was all over the ancient world. Pick up a history book, learn about the cultures that preceded us. Pay attention to the natural world however sentient (which is questionable if you ask me) we maybe we are still animals, not all animals are monogamous. Some are some aren’t. Rather than being rude and jumping to the fearmongering as Joanna pointed out try evolving and expanding your thoughts on what is or isn’t acceptable.

    • courage the cowardly dog says:

      Could you define troll for me? Is it a name you give someone who disagrees with you. Who brings up the unpleasantries that are problematic of the lifestyle you advocate? Let’s not consider the problems associated with the lifestyle and forge ahead come what may. Let’s live for today and to hell with everything else. As Robert Bork so eloquently put it in Slouching toward Gomorrah, we are a nation on the decline because of the lifestyle choices we have made. I am sorry if I do not agree with you,. but I will defend to the death your right to say stupid things, because our Constitution gives you that right. Will you do the same for me?

  8. @Nicole…

    “……..try evolving and expanding your thoughts on what is or isn’t acceptable.”

    The march of human history has been one of clear progress on all fronts. So, this natural evolution towards monogamy is solid progress. Would you like for us to return to the days when men had multiple wives and concubines? Or I guess you would much prefer both men AND women have multiple wives/husbands as well as concubines?

    As a human, I am a superior life form than an animal. So, I resent the comparison to animals.

    As for poly being “all over the ancient world”, I beg to differ. What existed was one-sided male domination of women. Men such as King Solomon with his hundreds of wives and concubines. Since there was so much abuse and discord, Jewish law was revised to restrict wealthy and powerful men to 18 wives…Later, a man was permitted only one wife, what we call monogamy today.

    Hence, there is no history whatsoever of poly in Ancient times.

  9. “Compersion (adjective form: compersive) is the pleasant sensation one feels on seeing one’s beloved being happy with someone else. Compersion is when your partner texts you saying “Having a great time on my date!” and you smile with genuine pleasure.”

    I guess this is what your typical cuck feels when he sees his wife is getting hammered by her black lover.

    Compersion. LMAO!!!! Only in America.

  10. Polyamory is just a fancy term for promiscuity.

  11. Another try:
    If we take sex out of the equation, what are detectable differences between polyamory and monogamy?

    • @Alberich…

      It (poly) would not exist! SEX is at its core.

    • The difference between polyamory and monogamy is that the poly people are honest about their emotional relationships with other individuals and the depth of them instead of having “work husbands/wives” or other partners that they are emotionally intimate with who they are untruthful with their spouse about.

      One can have non-sexual cheating in a monogamous relationship too. And there are sexually monogamous people who maintain many romantic and emotionally intimate relationships with people who are not their sexual partner.

      • Most people have close emotional relationships with more than one person and, in my experience, they are usually honest about it. I really don’t get it. Say there is a person, whose behaviour I can witness for a month. How do I determine if they are monogamous or polyamorous (if we forget about the sex)? How do I know if I am polyamorous or monogamous?

        • I do not describe myself as poly, it has too many rules imposed by others, however there is a simple test as to whether you are non monogamous, how do you feel about your partner having sex with others? For me there is only pleasure that they are having fun and pleasure.

          Everything else has to be worked out between you and your significant others.

          • Thank you for the response, but I asked about polyamory besides sex.
            Noah claimed:
            “Polyamory is about more than just sex.”
            Is it? If yes what is the “more2 and how is the “more” different from what pretty much everybody does?

        • There’s a difference between a friendship and someone who is confided in as much as your monogamous partner. I know I have essentially dated and been in a non-sexual relationship with more than one man who was married that I did not have sex with. Those men probably wouldn’t physically cheat on their wives (can’t say for sure) due to their own feelings about sex outside a marriage but having an intimate and emotional affair with another women was no problem for them. Their wives did not know about me. I have had numerous female coworkers over the years who have had intense emotional and intimate relationships with other men but never had sex with them. Their husbands had no idea. I know the men I was with were not divulging as much to their wives as they were to me and the women I knew told their side projects more than their husbands. No sex involved.

          How can you tell what anyone is into relationship wise by looking at them? Maybe someone is asexual. Can you tell that by looking at them? Or how about a man into cuckholding? Or people into Dom/sub relationships (when they’re just hanging around assuming work is not related to the relationship for them)? You find out if someone is poly or monogamous by asking them. Simple.

          Monogamous relationships are not typically my thing. Joe average looking at me wouldn’t think that. Even talking to me they would know about my propensity to like swinging, open or polyamorous relationships. They wouldn’t know that sometimes I like to dabble in monogamy either. Unless one has an in depth conversation with me they wouldn’t know the details of that part of my life. I learned monogamy wasn’t my thing through trial and error. Through attempting to be monogamous and struggling with the fact that I had these deep emotional relationships to more than one person at once and dealing with the guilt I felt about cheating on my partner in that way. I learned about the sexuality as I started to look into that whole “is loving more than one person at once possible.” I have the capacity to love more than one person at once. I would guess lots of people don’t have that capacity which is fine. I end up dating a lot of monogamous people. And I have had monogamous relationships. I just prefer poly ones where all that jazz is right out there in open and I’m not stuck feeling guilt or like I have tamp down part of who I am to be with soemone.

          • “There’s a difference between a friendship and someone who is confided in as much as your monogamous partner.”
            I was asking about what is the difference between the love you feel for a close friend or relative and the love in those polyamorous relationships, when we forget about sex. You didn’t answer this question.
            “You find out if someone is poly or monogamous by asking them. Simple.”
            Well, my question was which behaviour (observable from the outside of the person) indicates a polyamorous lifestyle, when we forget about sex. Your advice here seems problematic, because what if somebody lies (or is it by definition impossible to lie when answering this question?), how do I determine if I am poly?
            ” I have the capacity to love more than one person at once. I would guess lots of people don’t have that capacity which is fine.”
            I disagree, almost all people have this capacity. For example, most parents love their kids and not just one of them. Most people love their siblings as well as their best friends. Many people still love their ex-partners, although they are not committed to them. But again the question might come down to how we define love.

            • You are not going to get an answer from someone who sees poly as some great statement or belief system. Separate from sexual behavior you are not going to be able to identify someone as poly, you will be able to determine if someone believes they are a unique special snowflake though.

              There are many forma of love, and it would be an odd person who did not feel more than one of them.

            • jemima101,
              I love you because of this answer.
              But I am still interested in the people who agree with the definition:
              “It’s the practice of maintaining multiple romantic/sexual relationships concurrently.”

            • I think some people have this capacity and other don’t. I do believe almost everyone has the capacity to *love* more than person at once, but some people more of the capacity for *romantic love* towards more than one person than others. There has never been a time in my life where I haven’t been *in love* with more than one person or *in love* + infatuated with more than one person. Whether or not that was acted on doesn’t matter. Sometimes it was, sometimes it wasn’t due to being with a monogamous partner. But I have never had strong romantic feelings for just one person, sex aside (obviously I’ve been sexually attracted to men and women who aren’t my partner, but I’m talking feelings here). Yet, I know a lot of people, men and women, who are extremely monogamous. Who don’t seem to have that capacity. I’ve been with men who have refused to date other women even when I gave them the option. I think some people truly have a hard time having *romantic love* with more than one person. Many of my friends and lovers (who can be completely honest with me without judgement) are like that.

            • @Aya….

              “I think some people truly have a hard time having *romantic love* with more than one person. Many of my friends and lovers (who can be completely honest with me without judgement) are like that.”

              Maybe it is because they do not believe in it. So, it is not that they have a hard time with such. Personally, I don’t believe in sex with men. It is not that I have a hard time with it. I just don’t believe in it, period. Just as I do not believe the earth is flat.

              If people want to be poly, God bless them..The issue I have is I really think most of them are being very dishonest by saying SEX is not at its core. If there was no sex involved but purely non sexual emotional and romantic bliss, poly would not remotely exist.

              All I ask is these people to fess up and really be honest about the matter. If it looks like duck, sounds like duck, and walks like a duck it is a duck!

            • Jules–I don’t believe sex is the *core* but I do believe that it is a large part of it. Just because it wouldn’t exist without sex, doesn’t mean that there aren’t other factors that don’t involve sex that are just as important. I don’t want to have sex with someone I don’t share a strong bond. So it’s not JUST sex, nor is sex at the core. For me, the connection, the chemistry, the adventure, the sharing of things outside of sex is very important. But sex is *also* important.

              The key here: It’s BOTH emotional and sex. For me, sex would not exist without the emotional either. The emotional would not exist without the sex. I hope that makes sense.

            • My first question remains:
              How do you define “romantic love”?
              As I understand there are many kinds of love, now the definition of poalyamory given in the post:
              “It’s the practice of maintaining multiple romantic/sexual relationships concurrently.”
              needs a distinction between romantic love and other kinds of love.

          • courage the cowardly dog says:

            “dabble in monogamy either.”

            If monogamy is defined as:

            Monogamy /Gr. μονός+γάμος (monos+gamos)— one+marriage/ is a form of marriage in which an individual has only one spouse during their lifetime or at any one time (serial monogamy).[1] In current usage, monogamy often refers to having one sexual partner irrespective of marriage or reproduction.

            How do you “dabble” in monogamy?

            Dabble is defined as: to work or involve oneself superficially or intermittently especially in a secondary activity or interest

            marriage should never be considered superficial or a secondary activity. It is just this kind of thinking that has really screwed up our society.

      • @Kat..

        “And there are sexually monogamous people who maintain many romantic and emotionally intimate relationships with people who are not their sexual partner.”

        HA! I really scoff at the notion.

        Yes, there are probably a few. And I mean a few. Sex IS just beneath the surface.

        I know if I had an emotional and/or romantically intimate relationship with a woman, she is getting fucked. Just saying and being honest.

  12. Noah–Thank you for a very well written and informative article. This is probably the best piece I’ve ever read on polyamory.

  13. @Jules
    Your surface-skimming of Judeo-Christian history does not prove that “there is no history of poly in Ancient times.’ People originated in Africa. Most people in the world live in (wait for it, wait for it…) Asia. Countless indigenous cultures from Polynesia, the Americas, Scandinavia, etc. etc., for any number of reasons from efficient allocation of resources to spiritual purposes to “it takes a village to raise a child”, did not choose monogamy as their default model. Monogamy is a relatively recent construction, born of a culture of guilt and sin and violent pressure to convert/conform- this doesn’t jive very well with my definition of ‘natural selection’ and ‘progress’.

    Anyways, what’s so wrong with having more than one wife if they consent to it and indeed love one another and wouldn’t want it any other way?

    • @gypsysattva…

      There is nothing wrong with having more than one wife. I actually am willing to support formal polygamy.

      However, there is a big difference between polygamy and poly. Poly is rooted in SEX and not relationships as its supporters would have us believe. Polygamy is rooted in committed relationships. Poly is nothing more than just having tons of sex partners under the guise of blah blah blah.

      If you take the sex out of a polygamous marriage, the marriage would remain based on love, family, kids, religion (if applicable), etc. If you remove sex from these poly “relationships”, the majority would cease to exist. That’s being honest. Not what many of the proponents are arguing here.

      Again, this poly stuff is being pushed by the new cultural elite in America. In words of David Brooks, “they take what is profane and make sacred.”

      • Yup….which is why I am not poly, although I do have relationships with 2 significant others.

      • but if polyamoury is only about sex, than presumably monogamy is only about sex too? I mean, if you don’t think romantic love is different than friendship or family love, then monogamy just means limiting sex to one person and nothing else. but I think most monogamous relationships are about more than sex aren’t they?

  14. @Jules
    Compersion is what I feel watching two people I love love each other. Compersion is what each of them feels seeing me with the other one, desiring for her also transcendence; my seed. And yes, we’re interracial- what OF it?

  15. @gypsysattva….

    “…….desiring for her also transcendence; my seed.”

    OK. If you say so. have at it!!!!

  16. @Jules

    At the risk of alienating several members of this forum, I’m going to take your side. You may have an acerbic way of stating your points of view sometimes but you do seem to have a high regard for the importance of fidelity, which feels vital to the health and stability of my particular triad.

    With respect to the many folks who have articulated their alternate, equally valid I’m sure, reasons for entering into relationships, in my own experience the goal has always been clear: To create something eternal. Or to get your rocks off, granted- but that’s different and, as you say, rooted in sex.

    I see no problem in my partners having meaningful relationships with outside friends of whatever gender but for us, now, sex has become something different. A connection with the divine. We do it mindfully, with Purpose. If either of my partners had something on the side I would be devastated. So would they should I.

    I expect many polyamorists -stated acceptance of all lifestyles notwithstanding- equate polygamy with misogyny because of the inarguably horrific stories that have colored the headlines. But there are other of us than that. It works for us because we share each other WITH each other. I would ask my fellow polys to consider whether they consider the unions outside of their committed relationship(s) to be spiritual ones, and if not, why?

  17. Polyamours relationships can benefit women more than men.

    Women have a lot more sexual options than men. Any woman can have sex with men much better looking than her husband/bf. A womans options for a casual sex are much greater in number and quality than her options for monogamous relationships.

    If women are in such open relationships, they can benefit from a stable long term husband, frind-like figure and have sex with good looking men on the side.

    Men on the other hand dont have any option outside marriage.

    • Who’s to say that every woman *wants* to have sex with someone ‘better looking.’ A lot of women are NOT caught up on looks, much less conventional looks. Some are just looking for a different dynamic/chemistry/connection.

      • I just want to add that it’s weird that people are getting caught up with this ‘better looking’ thing. When I’m with someone/someones I truly love, he/they are the sexiest to me, regardless of conventional attractiveness. I don’t care if Idris Elba or Ryan Gosling came up to me and asked to have sex, I probably wouldn’t be terribly interested. Even within something poly, I have no interesting in looking for someone ‘better looking’ or richer or higher status than my partner–I just want connection and sometimes, I crave variety. And for the most part, when a man is in love with me or when I hear friends talk about the women they care for, to him, I/she/they are the most attractive women in the world.

        • You still have the option to have sex with men of much higher quality and looks than your husband / long term partner. Though you might choose not to exercise it.

          This dynamic is important because women almost always cheat with men who are much better looking than their husbands / long term partners. Men usually cheat with women less attractive than their wives (or with prostitutes because its difficult to find woman outside marriage who will find them desirable)

          When a relationship ends, for the average male, it might be years before he comes across another woman who finds him according to her taste. A woman can call an old male friend or a coworker that she is feeling lonely and needs some company.

          The point of saying all this is that open relationships will rarely be balanced. The woman will have way more options than her long term partner.

          • Whether or not the option is there was not what I was trying to talk about. It’s just the assumption that women want to date more conventionally attractive and richer men. To me, more conventionally attractive does not equal “higher quality.” And what’s high quality to one person is not high quality to another. Different people value different things and different combinations of things in relationships. And I doubt women are really that cruel that if a male friend or co-worker called them and said that he was lonely, that they wouldn’t give him the time of day. Most women I know try and be there for their male friends, as well as their female friends.

            • @Aya….

              I think what James is saying is that a woman can always pretty much call someone such as an old boyfriend or co-worker if she is lonely and in need of companionship.

              You’re right; more conventionally attractive does not equal higher quality. But, I will agree with James on whom married women cheat with. Usually, the men are more conventionally attractive than their husbands. Also, the men tend to be the type whom she preferred to have sex with prior to marriage. However, it does not mean they are higher quality. Honestly, many of them are usually lower in social status than their husbands.

            • Aya, by ‘company’, I meant sex and intimacy as well. After a breakup a woman can start dating and having sex right away. I have countless men for whom after breakup or divorce there is nothing but prostitutes.

              It wouldnt do harm by recognizing the female privilege in this realm of life.

  18. I’m not sure I understand why the conversation veered off towards birth control and whatnot, but I want to point out that like any group, polyamory has a wide range of personalities and some of them resist labeling. But I think Noah still lays out a pretty good framework for what honest polyamory looks like (though I personally think not many people have the truly open heart that it requires).

    To me the definition of a healthy relationship is not what kind of love you practice, it’s how you practice. Plenty of indictments against polyamory can easily be leveled towards traditional one on one relationships as well. It’s all about having your eyes wide open and being honest, and extending that same courtesy to the people in your life, whether you are having sex with them/sharing other kinds of intimacy, or just platonic friendship.

  19. I’m somewhat amused that most of what is posted here is merely a defense of the ideal of monogamy.

    The big difference is that monogamy is male/female. Poly is not confined to male/female bias. Rather it is emotional bonding over the wide panoply of gengers and preferances. I know of groups of lesbians and gays that have five and six members to the group.

    Also my simple explaination of poly is love without limits. My females range from friends to very intense sexual lovers. I have had several lovers that were married. It was very much a relief for the husbands that I was actually supportive of the marriage. I was filling in some need that the partners needed. It might be something as mundane as someone to other interests than those of the husband in my case. I have also known a few couples where the husband was not able to sexually satisfy his wife wanting a larger lover. But also I was able to share all kinds of information that helped both realize that penis size is a small part of making love. In fact orgasms have been triggered by the caress of a hand.

    But also with some of my very close female friends were intense but had nothing to do with sex. One of the women I know is an artist and booklover. Her husband is the sterotype jock male. Since I don’t have much interest in sports we would send Saturdays visiting galleries and eatting food that she could not enjoy with her husband because of his tastes being so restrictive. I helped the situation work!

    To say that poly is the same as swinging and nothing else is also showing how little you know about swingers too. Most that I know avoid getting involved emotionally at all. They meet at clubs or houses and have sex. There is little information of the outside shared and things are deliberately shallow. When I found this out I was never temped to partisipate in the gatherings again. It would be like being taken to a Basken-Robbins and told that you could never have anything but Choclate ice-cream, no Vanilla, no Butter Pecan, no Double Choclate!

    The most important thing is that the relationships that you are in satisfy your needs not anyone else. That is why the whole marriage arguement is about lifestyle and religious values and nothing else. Why should it matter if a woman has two or three husbands as long as the members of the relationship fing it fulfilling!

    • @James W. Love…

      “I have had several lovers that were married. It was very much a relief for the husbands that I was actually supportive of the marriage. I was filling in some need that the partners needed.”

      This is just hilarious and crazy!!! So, by schtupping the guy’s wife, you were being supportive of the marriage? Essentially, they were cucks!

      Only in America. But, in America anything is possible.

    • @Mr. Love, Master Educator:

      Sorry about the all-rules-go sterile ‘swing’ parties you’ve been to. Head for the desert. Seek a tribe.

      • @gypsysattva…

        Maybe I will pull a King Solomon and get me several wives and some concubines to fill my McMansion. Just don’t want any more kids.

        The thought has crossed my mind, seriously. But, of course that means I must give of myself emotionally and spiritually to my women.

  20. Hank Vandenburgh says:

    I don’t practice polyamory currently (although I have) because I actually think the open, honest communication is the problem. For me, the processing of secondary relationships with one’s partner (or anyone) is childish, disingenuous, and a waste of too much time. This processing frequlently conceals masked high levels of jealousy. I do not have any secondary relationships going now, but when I do, I practice “don’t ask; don’t tell.” And I expect the same from a partner. DADT insulates the partner from having to hear about it. So one’s main relationship is not cannabalized by endless discussion of prople in one’s peer group. I don’t believe anyone, expecially polyamorists should use the word “cheating.” It “privileges” monogamy, even if the faux monogamy is groupogamy.

    I believe that a portion of each person’s sexuality is theirs alone (a mundane example is masturbation) to do with as they will.

  21. Thanks so much for posting this! I’ve recently had the opportunity to learn more about polyamory and polyamorous families and it’s great to be reading more and more about it. A love that is open, honest, and consensual is the truest of all forms, regardless in what package it comes in.

  22. Fabulous article. A common-sense approach to understanding polyamory. It just makes so much sense to me, and although I’m in a monogamous relationship, I really understand and value the concepts in polyamory.

  23. “Polyamory” pisses me off no end.
    It is essentially swinging for Democrats.
    It dresses up in fancy politically-correct, left-wing language what is essentially swinging or open marriages… which have been around forever.
    And those who use term – the latte-swilling set – tend to be all superior and “evolved”.
    (Have you ever met someone who describes themselves as “poly” who you didn’t want to throttle?)
    The sooner we take the gloss and holier-than-thou shine off the term, the better.

  24. Plaindrifter says:

    Seriously people! How is it any different then swinging? It is a bunch of bullsh*t repackaged to sound enlightened when it is really more neanderthalic then anything you can claim to be traditional. Civilized human beings know that marriage helps us to maintain some higher order then that of barnyard animals. That’s why CIVILATION adopted it!!!!!

    • Valter Viglietti says:

      @Plaindrifter: “That’s why CIVILATION adopted it!!!!!”

      Oh, if only the ignorant would be able to see their own ignorance… :roll:

      No, polyamory is NOT the same as swinging or open marriages (and, again, the latter two are different things).
      But I believe you are so much entrenched in your black-and-white thinking that you simply aren’t able to get the difference – even if it was under your very eyes.

      Remember, just because you cannot get or see something, that doesn’t mean it’s not there; it just means it’s beyond your limitations.

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