The poly lifestyle has become somewhat mainstream in recent years, but even so, there are many misconceptions about what it is and how it’s practiced.
As someone who has been in a poly relationship for over five years, I’ve heard it all. I’ve been called a cult member, homewrecker, degenerate, and victim. I’ve been told my partner would inevitably leave me in favor of his wife and that he should.
If I chose to bust every poly myth I’ve been spouted, this post would be a novel. Instead I present to you some of the most common myths about polyamory.
Polyamory has been around longer than its moniker, but there are still many myths and misunderstandings about the lifestyle that confuses and keeps people from exploring its possibilities.
Let’s debunk a few Poly Myths that people new to the lifestyle might believe to be true:
1. Poly People Have Issues with Commitment
This myth stems from the assumption that polyamory is one big, no-holes-barred orgy and that no real emotional commitment can exist where more than one partner is concerned. While it’s true that some poly people engage in casual sex, many don’t.
Some choose the path of polyfidelity, which involves a very intense level of commitment. Not only does each member of a polyfidelitous polycule commit to one another, they also commit to their chosen relationship model, which—like monogamy—has serious, predetermined rules.
2. You Can’t Achieve Real Intimacy in Poly Relationships
Further to the above point, poly relationships can be just as deep and emotionally involved as monogamous ones. The notion that a person can’t be fully intimate with more than one partner speaks to the belief that love is a limited resource.
Poly relationships run on the premise that love is abundant and easily multiplied. While I will attest to the fact that—due to reduced contact—intimacy can take a little longer to develop in some poly relationships, it can and does. Some polycules cohabitate and raise families together—tell me that’s not intimate!
3. Polyamory Is a Fancy Word for Cheating
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Most poly relationships come with more rules than monogamous ones, and run entirely on sexual transparency. The idea that polyamory is akin to cheating is laughable to those of us who are in long-term poly relationships.
Someone who has grown weary of their monogamous bond might claim to be poly in a bid to have as much sexual freedom as they want, but they don’t represent the poly lifestyle. They’re a player and wouldn’t last long in an actual poly relationship.
4. Someone Always Comes Last in Poly Relationships
Again, this comes back to the notion that love is scarce and that there’s only enough to properly satisfy one partner at a time. If someone in a poly relationship feels that they aren’t getting all that they need from it, they’re either not poly, not advocating for themselves, are with the wrong set of partners, or are in the wrong kind of poly relationship.
If they are a secondary partner and feel unhappy about the level of involvement they have in their partners’ lives, they should probably seek out an egalitarian arrangement. In a healthy polycule, no one feels chronically neglected.
5. Polys are more self aware than monogamous people
Poly people have a different preferred relationship style, that’s all. Positive and negative personality traits are shared by both polys and monos. Being poly does not put you above others or automatically place you into the enlightened camp.
6. Anyone can be poly
Many monogamous people could probably switch to poly and have successful relationships, yes, but polyamory is certainly not for everyone. Despite the fact that most of us grow up surrounded by the belief that momogamy is the only way, some of us are just naturally predisposed for that relationship mode.
7. Polys Don’t Get Jealous
This would be like saying, polys aren’t human. No one is immune to this feeling, in fact, polys are faced with this emotion more so because they’re often more people involved in the relationship. Jealousy is neither good or bad, but a symptom of insecurity. Looking at the root of the fear and doubt is the best way to deal with the overriding jealousy.
8. Polyamory is about egalitarianism
Poly is a relationship model that embraces multiple committed romantic relationships but not all the relationships involved are necessarily given equal weight in terms of time spent together or decision-making processes. Sometimes contracts are used to negotiate these different aspects of a multi-partner relationship.
9. Polyamory is a cure for cheating
A monogamous person that cheats is not the same as a poly that seeks multiple relationships. A mono thinking that cheating is going to fix his/her flawed relationship will generally find that suddenly becoming poly is not the answer. If you can’t be trusted or show respect for one person, you will be challenged to do it with many. Strong communication skills are needed when venturing into a poly lifestyle. That said, it is possible for a monogamous cheater to shift into polyamory after realizing the cheating was directly related to not being fulfilled by monogamy.
10. Poly people are kinky
Poly is a relationship model, not a sexual practice. Whether you’re kinky or not has nothing to do with your preference of poly or mono relationships. Kink is part of many monogamous relationships and many polyamorous people prefer conventional sex. Group sex is often what outsiders of the poly community think is going on, but having more than one sexual partner doesn’t mean they’re all getting it on at the same time.
11. Less than half a percent of the population are poly.
Experts estimate that about five percent of people are practicing polyamory today. It’s true that it’s difficult to calculate numbers on a subject that we’re only just beginning to get comfortable with. But that doesn’t mean that there are less than we think—it means AT LEAST five percent, and probably many more.
12. They used to call polyamory “swinging.”
True and False. Swinging, wife swapping, consensual cuckolding, and open marriages are poly variations, but there are many other poly models and arrangements. It’s an umbrella term that can be anthropological, sociological or academic, as well as one used to let others know we aren’t looking for one-on-one monogamous relationships.
13. Polyamory is sexist like polygamy.
There is zero doubt that some expressions of polyamory are sexist, and there are polygamous cultures where the treatment of women leaves much to be desired.
Many people assume polygamous arrangements—where men have many wives, but the women are faithful to him—are not great for women, but there’s nothing inherently sexist in the practice in and of itself. In many cultures, those wives can’t imagine a world without the support, kinship, and laughter of their sister wives.
It’s worth keeping in mind that origins of polygamous practices culturally often originated from practicality, not misogyny. It wasn’t about excluding women but about caring for them. In warrior societies, there was often a shortage of available men.
The tradition of keeping multiple wives meant every woman could have a man, and sharing him with other women also meant sharing tasks and child-rearing burdens, as well as having companionship if he was away at war. And in places of low population, a man fathering children with more than one wife guaranteed the growth or survival of that community.
14. Polyamorous people are sexually insatiable.
While I unashamedly fall into that category, poly people have the same range as anyone else. It works nicely for people with higher sex drives, but for those who have very low libidos, it affords them the option of being true to themselves without constraining their partner(s) to less sex than they need.
As for most people, the sex drives of poly people shift in different directions throughout a lifetime. What doesn’t change is that non-monogamy fits them philosophically throughout those natural ups and downs.
15. Polyamory is for selfish people who are afraid of commitment.
If you have a fear of commitment or a difficult time honoring commitments, you’re going to have a lot more problems with two or three commitments over just one!
Some poly people are players, or in it for hookups, and that’s fine as long as they are honest.
I don’t see anything wrong with being independent and having an active sex life, but many in the polysphere are in several serious long-term relationships at once. These relationships may include children and mortgages and all the same things relationships involve for everyone else—only more of them.