Polyamory, the term, is derived from the Greek “poly” denoting “many” and from Latin “amor” meaning love, and it comes in as many flavors as there are polyamorous. First off, polyamory is not necessarily focused on group sex or partner swapping, though it may very well include such activities and can often grow out of group sex activities. At its base, polyamory rejects the notion that in order to have a fulfilling life one must enter a monogamous relationship with a single partner who is expected to meet your every emotional and physical need.
Polyamory does not include cheating, it requires the consent of all involved or affected by it. An individual cheating on their partner and developing feelings for “the other” is not a polyamorist, they are a cheater, and there’s a big difference. Polyamory is consensual non-monogamy, cheating by definition is non-consensual.
In the landmark book The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures, the authors define the term slut as “a person of any gender who has the courage to lead life according to the radical proposition that sex is nice and pleasure is good for you.” It also explores the myriad of exciting possibilities that await those who choose to explore this exciting path, as well as providing common sense advice for complications that can arise in poly relationships. We highly recommend reading it.
Polyamorous relationships are common in the gay community, fostered by their societal outsider status, the natural male sex drive, and lack of sexual limits in their group sex encounters due to one of the participants being of the “wrong sex.” As sexual orientation has become less of an issue as attitudes change, many couples are adding a third and fourth to their intimate encounters. And as those relationships evolve, they find themselves as practicing polyamorists in a polyfidelic relationship without necessarily even being aware that the term “polyamory” exists. These triads and quads can be stable and go on for years, and while in many cases it is agreed that one’s primary responsibility and loyalty is to the primary relationship, in a stable situation with agreed-upon rules, significant conflict rarely arises and when it does it is dealt with in a mature and open manner.
Broadly speaking, open relationships might be considered a form of polyamory, but usually implicit in such open agreements is that emotional attachments are to be avoided, rather than encouraged. Others practice polyamory by having emotional relationships with multiple partners who while aware of each others’ existence and meaning for their lover, share no connection to each other than sharing affection for the person that they both having separate relationships with.
Polyamorous groupings may live together or not, raise children together, and have varying levels of commitment and rules that are agreed upon. The foundation of successful polyamorous relationships just as in monogamous relationships is fidelity and loyalty, trust, honesty, dignity and respect, communication, and non-possessiveness.
As the polyamorous movement has become more visible in recent years, researchers have begun studying polyamorous groups. In Canada, they interviewed 1,093 poly individuals. Surprisingly the most common living arrangement was two males and a female living together. On average, participants had been in a primary relationship for 9 years and the secondary for 2½ years, though only 30% of those surveyed agreed with the labelling of one relationship as having primacy over another. Those who believe that a polyamorous relationship is a means of avoiding commitment were also shown to be incorrect, with several respondents in 20-year-long polyamorous relationships.
The study went on to interview over 100 family members, including two dozen offspring raised in polyamorous households, and found there to be no ill-effect, with both parents and those raised citing the advantages of having more than two adults available to help in their rearing. As the polyamorous lifestyle becomes more visible, more studies are certain to occur, and those engaged with an open mind will undoubtedly find that polyamory is healthy and about love, it’s not just about sex.