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Polyamory is when a person engages in romantic or sexual relationships with more than one person at a time. Polyam people are often overly sexualized and poorly portrayed in the media.
Even today, there’s still beaucoup confusion around some relationship styles. People in polyamorous relationships take a lot of flak for simply being honest about who they are and what they want. And much of the criticism stems from a lack of understanding.
A lot of people — not just boomers — don’t even know what polyamory is.
It’s time to clear the air and debunk common myths about this type of relationship. But first, here’s a quick glossary:
- Primary. Your ride-or-die, your main squeeze, your top-shelf bae. Not every polyam person has a primary partner, but if you do, they might be the one you live with or spend the most time with.
- Secondary. Your more casual partner. You can still be totally committed to this person, but your life is likely less intertwined with theirs than with your primary partner’s.
- Thruple. A situation where one person is dating two different people, or all three are dating each other. This is also called a triad.
- Quad. A relationship involving four people, with each member of one couple dating one member of another polyam couple.
- Full quad. Four people who are sexually or romantically involved with each other. Sometimes there are primary partners involved, sometimes not.
- Polycule. A network of romantically connected people. Think of it along the lines of the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”: you ⇢ your husband ⇢ his girlfriend ⇢ her husband ⇢ his girlfriend ⇢ her husband.
- Metamour. Your partner’s partner, who you don’t hook up with or have a romantic connection with.
- Paramour. The outside member of a marriage or union. For example, your wife’s girlfriend.
- Solo polyamorous. When you do your own thang. You’re not interested in having a primary partner, but you may be a secondary or casual partner to multiple other people.
- Compersion. The opposite of jealousy — this is when you’re genuinely stoked for your partner when they’re happy with another partner.
- Nesting partner. A nesting partner refers to one or several partners who live with you. Does this mean they’re also your primary partner? Not always. But some people use “nesting partner” as an interchangeable term for their main squeeze.
- Polysaturated. Polyamory involves more than two people — but not all the people. Sometimes, enough’s enough, and that’s what polysaturated means: You have as many partners as you’re comfortable with or have time for, and you’re not looking for anyone else to build a relationship with.
- Vee. This describes a particular type of thruple in which one partner acts as a “hinge” dating two separate, romantically uninvolved people.
There are a lot of buzzwords surrounding polyamory. You’ve probably heard of free love and open relationships. But what about ethical non-monogamy?
These phrases seem to get jumbled together when, in reality, there’s a difference. Here are some common misconceptions about polyamory that need to be debunked.
Myth #1: Sharing is caring, but it’s also cheating
Some people associate polyamory with cheating, according to a study. But that’s because a lot of people define relationships as a romantic or sexual bond shared exclusively between two people.
Whether you’re polyam or not, the definition of cheating is a hotly debated topic. To some people, watching porn is cheating. To others, it’s not cheating until things get physical. Then there’s the divide between physical and emotional cheating. But in general, cheating involves feelings of betrayal.
In polyamory, cheating is not a “yes or no” scenario. It’s all about agreeing on your definition of cheating and establishing healthy expectations for you and your partner(s).
Myth #2: They’re commitment-phobic
It’s an old cliché that people interested in a polyamorous relationship simply want to have their cake and eat it too — meaning they’re afraid of a real commitment, but they don’t want to be totally alone either.
A lot of polyamorous people are committed to more than one person at a time. So, the idea that all polyamorous people are scared of commitment is nonsensical.
Myth #3: They’re just horny
Fake news: Polyam people just want to have sex with as many people as possible.
Maybe consensual group sex or threesomes are your thing. While that’s totally fine, not every polyam person is down for the ménage à trois life.
A lot of polyam people have a “one at a time” policy. Others are asexual and don’t engage in any sexual activities. So, to say the polyamorous lifestyle is all about sex is an unfair and inaccurate statement.
Myth #4: Polyam people have different values
FYI: Polyamorous people aren’t sex fiends with loose morals.
Polyamorous people need to follow the same tenets of a healthy and rewarding relationship as anyone else. It all comes down to:
- Trust. It shouldn’t matter if you have one partner or several. Any time you’re swapping feelings or fluids with another person, you need to trust that person on a basic human level at the minimum.
- R-E-S-P-E-C-T. No matter who you’re sharing your time with, you need to respect their body, values, and mind. And you have the right to expect the same in return!
- Communication. Being polyam often means being emotionally available to more than one person at a time, so communication is key.
- Consent. Polyamory isn’t a sex free-for-all. You need to take time to discuss your beliefs and values with your partner(s).
Myth #5: They never get jealous
Some people think polyamorous relationships lack depth, so it’s impossible for polyam people to be jealous.
Jealousy is a human condition, whether you’re polyam or not. Saying polyam people never get jealous is straight-up dismissing the sincerity of their relationships.
No relationship is black and white. You can love more than one person at a time, and no one is immune to envy.
Myth #6: They all have a sex addiction
Being polyamorous isn’t exclusively about sex.
There’s a lot of inconsistent research surrounding out-of-control sexual behavior (OCSB). Sex addiction isn’t classified as a mental health condition, according to the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT). Polyamorous people simply define relationships in a different way than monogamous people do. It has nothing to do with how much sex someone has (or wants to have).
Myth #7: It’s the same as polygamy
If you’ve ever watched “Sister Wives,” you may have confused polyamory with polygamy, which is when a person has multiple spouses.
“Poly” means “many” in Greek, and “amor” means “love” in Latin. But that definitely doesn’t mean polyamorous people are polygamous.
Just because two words have the same root doesn’t mean they have the same definition. Plus, polygamy is illegal in all 50 states.
Myth #8: There’s a higher chance of STIs
It’s easy to assume that more partners = a higher possibility of STIs, but that’s not necessarily true.
Your chance of transmitting or contracting an STI depends on having the talk with your partners, getting tested, and using barrier methods. As long as you (and your partners) do those things, you should be in the clear.
In fact, research suggests that people in openly non-monogamous relationships are more likely to take precautions to protect themselves from contracting STIs than people in monogamous relationships who cheat on their partners.
Myth #9: They never get attached to anyone
When it comes to romance, attachment comes with the territory.
Polyamorous people can fall in love like everyone else. They may not define relationships in a “traditional” way, but that doesn’t mean they don’t fall in love or get hurt. People are people.
While figuring out if polyamory is right for you, you’ll have to do some soul-searching. Some important questions to ask are:
- Can I share intimate emotions with more than one person at a time?
- Am I comfortable communicating my needs to my partner(s)?
- Am I OK with sharing my partner with others?
- Can I handle feelings of jealousy if they come up?
Have an honest discussion with yourself about your wants, needs, and boundaries. Take your time, and only go for it if and when it feels right.
Discuss it with your current partner
If you’re currently getting your monog on, you definitely need to have an open and honest conversation with your S.O. before jumping into polyam life.
They may feel like they aren’t enough, so be sure to express your feelings in an honest and compassionate way to avoid hurting them. Make it about what you want, not about what they may lack.
And who knows — maybe they’ve also been wanting to be polyam for a while. You won’t know until you have a chat.
Establish ground rules
Whether it’s a new partner or someone you’ve been with for years, you need to form a code of conduct. Once you’ve set boundaries and mutual goals for your dynamic, you can tweak it as you go along.
In any relationship, you need to do check-ins with yourself. Figure out how your partner(s) make you feel. If things start to go sour, ask yourself, “Why am I jealous right now?” and “Do I feel secure?” or “Why isn’t this fun anymore?” Then communicate these feelings as they arise.
Figuring out what you and your partner are comfortable with is key. Maybe you’re fine with your partner having sex with others, but you’re not OK with them having emotional attachments. Or vice versa.
It’s not a one-size-fits-all lifestyle. It’s about what works best for you. And remember, you should never feel pressured into a physical situation. Don’t be afraid to say “no.”
How to make the transition
First off, do your research! This will help you write your own polyamory pro/con list. Reach out to others who have been around the polyam block and get some feedback.
Be prepared to be honest with yourself and your current partner (if you have one). Discuss why this lifestyle is what you want, and remember to take your time.
Whether you’re polyam or not, being in a relationship means sharing your time and emotions with another person. Polyamorous people can have the same values and morals as monogamous people.
As you start your polyam journey, be ready to put your emotional and physical well-being first. Manage your expectations from the start and work on maintaining healthy boundaries as you find your groove.
The resources below will help you learn the ins and outs of your new relationship(s).
- Opening Up
- The Ethical Slut
- More Than Two
- The Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory: Everything You Need to Know About Open Relationships, Non-Monogamy, and Alternative Love
Polyamory involves romantic or sexual relationships with more than one individual at the same. But whether you’re in a thruple, a quad, or a polycule, just know that you’re not alone – plenty others identify as polyamorous and develop fulfilling, emotionally deep relationships.
For more info about what it’s like to be polyamorous, check these testimonials from real polyams.