Yes, polyamory is a philosophy and lifestyle meant to honor human nature and give freedom to consenting adults who choose it. Yes, we believe in open minds and hearts and the pursuit of pleasure. Yes, we see sexual variety as positive and resist jealousy and accusations of infidelity. Yes, we resist when people say “polyamory” is just a big word used as an excuse for cheating.
But that doesn’t mean cheating can’t or doesn’t exist.
Polyamory is not just a free for all, and in fact, most of us pride ourselves on a high bar for ethical non-monogamous relationships. This means honesty, communication, boundaries, and respect.
Sleeping with someone other than your partner is not how we define cheating. If you’re in an open relationship or identify as polyamorous, here’s what cheating means.
Cheating Ways in Polyamory
Using Double Standards or Different Rules
Some people make special rules for themselves and never tell their lovers about them. They have one set of standards for their own actions and expect everyone else to use a different set of rules.
If “polyamory” to you means sleeping with whoever you want while your partner is expected to be monogamous, this is just an excuse to cheat. A big part of polyamory is the desire for your partner(s) to seek pleasure on their own and to come to terms with your own emotions surrounding that freedom.
There are relationships of course where one partner takes different lovers or has freedom to do so, while the other does not. These are mutually agreed upon terms that stem from a place of trust and love. It might be kinky, like hotwifing or cuckolding. It might be practical—a way of caring for a relationship with mismatched sex drives. But in these cases, everyone chooses the rules and agrees to them.
Lying and Sneaking Around
Just because someone claims to be polyamorous and value honest communication doesn’t mean they are always truthful. If you have to lie about what you’re doing, it’s cheating.
If you are dating women who are looking for a one-on-one commitment, and you pretend you are too—neglecting to mention you are in an open marriage—you’re cheating both women out of the commitment to ethical polyamory that you have made.
Failing to Communicate Your Relationships to Your Partner
Unless you have a don’t ask, don’t tell policy in place, you don’t have to outright lie to make it cheating. If you simply don’t tell your partner that you’re hot and heavy with a new girl, it’s cheating. Don’t be a douche just because some conversations are difficult.
Ignoring Boundaries and Failing to Honor Commitments
You can cheat by ignoring the rules you and your lovers have in place.
Maybe you’ve set the boundaries in your marriage to no exes or something like that. If you found your wife getting it on with her last husband, you would call it cheating. It works both ways. If you have agreed to avoid emotional relationships, or not to do certain things in bed, and you do anyhow, it’s cheating.
Practicing Unsafe Sex
Some primary couples have fluid-bonded relationships, but unprotected sex outside of this union is a form of cheating, as it puts your lover in danger when they expect safety and trust you to act honorably. Don’t be a douche.
Have continuing discussions with all of your lovers on the best ways to have safe sex. Condoms are key, but not the only consideration.
Have you experienced cheating in your poly relationships? What did that look like?