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Polyamory (from Greek πολυ (poly, literally “multiple”) & Latin amor (literally “love”) is the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time with the full knowledge and consent of everyone involved. Polyamorous perspectives differ from monogamous perspectives, in that they respect a partner's wish to have second or further meaningful relationships and to accommodate these alongside their existing relationships.

The term polyamory is sometimes abbreviated to poly, especially as a form of self-description, and is sometimes described as consensual and/or responsible non-monogamy.

Polyamory is usually taken as a description of a lifestyle or relational choice and philosophy, rather than of individuals' actual relationship status at a given moment. It is an umbrella term that covers many orientations and modes of relationship. There is fluidity in its definition to accommodate the different shades of meaning which might be covered. Polyamorous relationships are themselves varied, reflecting the choices and philosophies of the individuals concerned.

Polyamory is distinct from polygamy, being closer to a personal outlook than a predefined bonding system. It is grounded in such concepts as choice, trust, equality of freewill, and the more novel idea of compersion, rather than in cultural or religious tradition.


Enlarge picture
Start of polyamory contingent at San Francisco Pride 2004.
Source: A good third party source on polyamory is the paper "Polyamory - What it is and what it isn't" (Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 6, Feb. 27, 2003 online version) which reviews some of the core beliefs, perspectives, practicalities and references in polyamory
Because of its fluid nature, polyamory is not clearly defined. Though there is no general agreement on its exact boundaries, people who identify as polyamorous typically reject the view that sexual and relational exclusivity are always necessary for long-term loving relationships. Those who are open to, or emotionally suited for a polyamorous lifestyle, may at times be single, or in monogamous relationships, but are more typically involved in multiple long term relationships.

Polyamorous relationships, in practice, are highly varied and individualized. Ideally they are built upon values of trust, loyalty, negotiation, and compersion, as well as rejection of jealousy, possessiveness, and restrictive cultural standards.[1] Such relationships are often more fluid than the traditional "dating and marriage" model of long-term relationships, and the participants in a polyamorous relationship may not have preconceptions as to duration.

Sex is not necessarily a primary focus in polyamorous relationships. Polyamorous relationships commonly consist of groups of more than two people seeking to build a long-term future together on mutually agreeable grounds, with sex as only one aspect of their relationship.


Polyamory is a hybrid word: poly is Greek for many (or multiple) and amor is Latin for love. The word has been coined, seemingly independently, by several people, including Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, whose article "A Bouquet of Lovers" (1990) is widely cited as its source [2] (but see below), and Jennifer Wesp who created the Usenet newsgroup alt.polyamory in 1992. [1] However, the term has been reported in occasional use since the 1960s , and even outside polygamous cultures such relationships existed well before the name was coined; for one example dating from the 1920s, see William Moulton Marston. There are no verifiable sources showing the word "polyamory" in common use until after alt.polyamory was created. The older term polyfidelity, a subset of polyamory, was coined decades earlier at Kerista.

Most definitions center on the concepts of being open to, or engaging in, a lifestyle that potentially encompasses multiple loving relationships (of whatever form) where all parties are informed and consenting to the arrangement. However, no single definition of "polyamory" has universal acceptance; two common areas of difference arise regarding the degree of commitment (when does swinging become polyamory?) and whether it represents a viewpoint or a relational status quo (is a person open to the idea, but without partners at present, still "polyamorous"?). Similarly, an open relationship in which all participants are long-term friends might be considered "polyamorous" under broader usages of the word, but excluded from some of the tighter usages, since polyamorous relationships may or may not also be polyfidelitous (non-open, or faithful within the relationship).

In 1999, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart was asked by the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary to provide a definition of the term (which the dictionary had not previously recognized). The words "polyamory/ous/ist" were formally added to the OED in 2006.[3] The Ravenhearts defined and expanded the term as follows:

The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.

This term was meant to be inclusive, and in that context, we have never intended to particularly exclude "swinging" per se, if practitioners thereof wished to adopt the term and include themselves... The two essential ingredients of the concept of polyamory are more than one; and loving. That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other's lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, "cheating," serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as "mate-swapping" parties.

The terms primary (or primary relationship(s)) and secondary (or secondary relationship(s)) are often used to indicate a hierarchy of different relationships or the place of each relationship in the speaker's life. Thus, a woman with a husband and another partner might refer to the husband as her "primary". (Of course, this is in addition to any other term of endearment). Some polyamorous people use this as an explicit hierarchy of relationships, while others consider it insulting to the people involved, believing that a person's partners should be considered equally important. Another model, sometimes referred to as intimate network, includes relationships that are of varying significance to the people involved, but are not explicitly labeled as "primary" or "secondary." Within this model, any hierarchy may be fluid and vague, or nonexistent.

Symbols of polyamory

Although people who are polyamerous have adopted a number of symbols, none has universal recognition. The most common symbol is the red white heart suit () combined with the blue infinity sign ().

The poly pride flag consists of three equal horizontal colored stripes with a symbol in the center of the flag. The colors of the stripes, from top to bottom, are as follows: blue, representing the openness and honesty among all partners with which people who are polyamerous conduct their multiple relationships; red, representing love and passion; and black, representing solidarity with those who, though they are open and honest with all participants of their relationships, must hide those relationships from the outside world due to societal pressures. The symbol in the center of the flag is a gold Greek lowercase letter “pi” (), as the first letter of "polyamory" . The letter's gold color represents the value that people who are polyamerous place on the emotional attachment to others, be the relationship friendly or romantic in nature, as opposed to merely primarily physical relationships.[4]

The symbol of ILIC (Infinite Love in Infinite Combinations) is a reference to the Star Trek kol-ut-shan or symbol of philosophy of Vulcan IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations).[5][6]

Another is the image of a parrot, since "Polly" is a common name for these birds.[7][8][9]

Forms of polyamory

Forms of polyamory include:

Open relationships v. polyamory

The expression open relationship denotes a relationship (usually between two people) in which participants are free to take other partners; where the couple making this agreement are married, it is an open marriage. "Open relationship" and "polyamorous" are not identical in meaning. Broadly, "open" usually refers to the sexual aspect of a non-closed relationship, whereas polyamory involves the extension of a relationship by allowing bonds to form as additional long term relationships (sexual or otherwise).

The terms are capable of independent usage. People may be in sexually exclusive relationships and yet still self-describe as polyamorous, if they have significant emotional ties to more than one other person. Conversely, people who self-describe as polyamorous may accept monogamous relationships with given partners, either through negotiated agreement and respect for that given partner's choices, or because with that partner monogamy feels "right" (whereas for a different partner perhaps it would not be as appropriate).

See also forms of nonmonogamy for other types of nonmonogamous relationship.

Related groups and concepts

The definitions of polygamy (when that word is being used as a synonym for polygyny) and polyamory allow a great deal of overlap: any loving polygamous relationship could also be considered polyamorous, and many polyamorists consider themselves to be married to more than one person. In current practice, however, connotation often separates the words: "polygamy" is more often used to refer to codified forms of multiple marriage (especially those with a traditional/religious basis), while "polyamory" implies a relationship defined by negotiation between its members, rather than by cultural norms. Modern polyamory is culturally rooted in such concepts as choice and individuality, rather than in religious traditions.[10]

Polyamory is more closely associated with values, subcultures and ideologies that favor individual freedoms and equality in sexual matters — most notably, those reflected by sexual freedom advocacy groups such as Woodhull Freedom Foundation & Federation [2], NCSF [3] and ACLU [4]. However, polygamy advocacy groups and activists and polyamory advocacy groups and activists can and do work together cooperatively (see LovingMorePolyactive[5] and PolyLegal[6] and Principle Voices[7]). In addition, the two communities have many common issues (poly parenting, dealing with jealousy, legal and social discrimination, etc.), the discussion and resolution of which are of equal interest to both communities regardless of any cultural differences that may exist. Moreover, there is considerable cultural diversity within both communities. Religiously motivated polygamy has its Islamic, Mormon fundamentalist, and other subcommunities; similarly, modern polyamory encompasses everything from polyfidelity to intimate networks, and many polyamorists also have cultural ties to Naturism [8], Neo-Pagans[11], BDSM, Modern Tantra, and other special interest groups. For example, a significant degree of overlap exists between practitioners / advocates of polyamory and those of BDSM. The two groups often face similar challenges (e.g. negotiating the ground rules for unconventional relationships, or the question of coming out to family and friends) and cross-pollination of ideas takes place between the two. [12]

Legal status

In most countries, it is legal for three or more people to form and share a sexual relationship (subject sometimes to laws against homosexuality). However, most jurisdictions do not permit marriage among more than two people. Nor do they give strong and equal legal protection (e.g. of rights relating to children) to non-married partners — the legal regime is not comparable to that applying to married couples. Individuals involved in polyamorous relationships are considered by the law to be no different from people who live together, or "date", under other circumstances. Usually one couple, at most, can elect to be treated as "married".

Bigamy is the act of marrying one person while already being married to another, and is legally prohibited in most jurisdictions. Some bigamy statutes are broad enough to potentially encompass polyamorous relationships involving cohabitation, even if none of the participants claim marriage to more than one partner. For instance, under Utah Code 76-7-101, "A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person."

Having multiple non-marital partners, even if married to one, is legal in most jurisdictions; at most it constitutes grounds for divorce if the spouse is non-consenting (or claims to be), or feels that the interest in a further partner has destabilized the marriage. There are exceptions to this: in North Carolina, a spouse can sue a third party for causing "loss of affection" in or "criminal conversation" (adultery) with their spouse [13], and more than twenty states in the US have laws against adultery [14] although they are infrequently enforced.

New Jersey's 2004 Domestic Partnership Act can be combined with marriage in order to legally connect any number of persons (albeit imperfectly) using a combination of marriage and domestic partnership, provided that any of the following is true: (a) the number of males and the number of females are equal; (b) the number of males and the number of females differ by one; (c) the number of males and the number of females differ by two and both numbers are even. For example, 8 females and 6 males would work, but 8 females and 5 males would not. Nor would 5 females and 3 males, or a single-sex community of more than two people.

At present, the extension to multiple-partner relationships of laws that use a criterion similar to that adopted in the UK, i.e. "married or living together as married" remains largely untested. That is, it is not known whether these laws could treat some trios or larger groups as common-law marriages.

If marriage is intended, most countries provide for both a religious marriage, and a civil ceremony (sometimes combined). These recognize and formalize the relationship. Few countries give either religious or legal recognition — or permission—to marriages with three or more partners. While a recent case in the Netherlands was commonly read as demonstrating that the Netherlands permitted multiple-partner civil unions, [15], this belief is mistaken. The relationship in question was a , or "cohabitation contract," and not a registered partnership or marriage (Dutch-language source, English-language source). The Netherlands' law concerning registered partnerships provides that:
  1. A person may be involved in one only registered partnership with one other person whether of the same or of opposite sex at any one time.
  2. Persons who enter into a registered partnership may not at the same time be married.

When a couple split up, non-consensual non-fidelity ("cheating") is often grounds for an unfavorable divorce settlement, and non-fidelity generally could easily be seized upon as a prejudicial issue by an antagonistic partner. Married people with partners external to their marriage might need to consider carefully the laws in their jurisdiction, to ensure that they are complied with, and consider how to ensure that the mutuality of their decision within their marriage is clear.

There is an ongoing discussion among polyamory activists regarding a legal model of polyamorous marriage (i.e., the extension of the legal concept of marriage to include polyamorous families). One approach under discussion envisions dyadic networks , whereby existing laws against bigamy are revised such that people are perfectly free to be concurrently married to multiple other persons, provided that each such new marriage is preceded by a legal notification regarding the pending new marriage to all those to whom one is already married; failure to provide that legal notification would then constitute the updated crime of bigamy. Dyadic networks would result in what might be thought of as a "molecular" family structure — one which might be best represented by the molecular diagrams commonly used in chemistry. In this way, marriage would remain a dyadic relationship (i.e., a relationship between two persons), thus minimizing any changes to the existing system of legal marriage, but the introduction of concurrency would provide access to legal marriage for polyamorous families.

The alternative "all-with-all" marriage paradigm assumes that everyone is equally involved with everyone else, even though this is almost certainly not the case. Dyadic networks provide tailored contexts specific to each interpersonal relationship. With the "all-with-all" paradigm, one agreement has to fit all. This will inevitably result in a much greater difference between a given individual's preferences and the precise terms of the "all-with-all" agreement than would be the case between that individual's preferences and the precise terms of the person-by-person agreements that individual has. In short, the dyadic system has what might be thought of as higher resolution.

Dyadic networks can function in much the same way as watertight compartmentalization functions in naval vessels, i.e., to limit and contain damage. An intense disagreement between two persons takes place within the context of their marriage, and need not greatly involve (or threaten) the relationships between other participants. The "all-with-all" paradigm makes any conflict into a conflict with global implications. A single dyad could break completely without materially affecting the rest of a well-connected network, but the withdrawal of a single participant will fundamentally redefine the nature of an "all-with-all" agreement. Dyadic networks may therefore be thought of as being more damage-resistant.

Polyamory as a lifestyle

Separate from polyamory as a philosophical basis for relationship, are the practical ways in which people who live a polyamorous lifestyle arrange their lives, the issues they face, and how these compare to those living a traditional monogamous lifestyle.

Values within polyamory

Unlike many other forms of open relationship, relationships classed as polyamorous involve an emotional bond and often a longer term intent, though these distinctions are a topic open to debate and interpretation. Many people in the swinging and polyamory communities see both practices as part of a continuum of open intimacy and sexuality.

Also note that the values discussed here are ideals. As with any ideals, their adherents sometimes fall short of the mark — but major breaches of a polyamorous relationship's ideals are taken as seriously as such breaches would be in any other relationship. Common values cited within such relationships include:
  • Fidelity and loyalty: Most monogamists define fidelity as committing to only one partner (at a time), and having no other sexual or relational partners during such commitment. The poly version of this is polyfidelity, a specific form of polyamory defined by a lasting, sexually exclusive commitment to multiple partners. Polyamorists generally base definitions of commitment on considerations other than sexual exclusivity, e.g. "trust and honesty" or "growing old together".[16]
  • Trust, honesty, dignity and respect: Most polyamorists emphasize respect, trust and honesty for all partners.[17][18] A partner's partners should be accepted as part of that person's life rather than merely tolerated, and a relationship that requires deception, or where partners are not allowed to express their individual lives, is often seen as a poor model.
  • Mutual support: This requires that each partner will support, and not undermine, the other, and will not deliberately use a secondary relationship to harm another party or relationship.
  • Communication and negotiation: Because there is no "standard model" for polyamorous relationships, and reliance upon common expectations may not be realistic, polyamorists often advocate explicitly deciding the ground rules of their relationships with all concerned, and often emphasize that this should be an ongoing process of communication and respect. Polyamorists usually take a pragmatic approach to their relationships; they accept that sometimes they and their partners will make mistakes and fail to live up to these ideals, and that communication is important for repairing any breaches.<ref name="polyoz_values" /><ref name="s.org" />
  • Non-possessiveness: Polyamorists believe that restrictions on other deep relationships are not for the best, as they tend to replace trust with a framework of ownership and control. They tend to see their partner's partners in terms of the gain to their partner's life rather than the threat to their own (see compersion). Poly relationships do vary and some can be possessive or provide for the primary partner's veto or approval, whilst others are asymmetrical—possessive one way, but not the other.

Sharing of domestic burden

Claimed benefits of a polyamorous lifestyle include the following:[19]
  • The ability for parties to discuss issues with a (separate) partner within the relationship itself, tending to add mediation and stabilization to a relationship, and reduce polarization of viewpoints.
  • Emotional and similar support structure provided by other committed adults within the family unit.
  • A wider range of experience, skills, resources, and perspectives that multiple adults bring to a relationship.
  • The ability to share chores and child supervision, reducing domestic and child rearing pressure upon adults' time without needing to pay for outside child carers.
  • Greatly reduced per capita cost of living.
  • Increased financial stability—the loss of one income is not the entirety of the family income (if only one parent works), or half the family income (if both parents work), but may be far less.

Specific issues affecting polyamorous relationships

Polyamorists cite the human tendency towards jealousy and possessiveness as major hurdles in polyamory, and also as personal limitations to overcome:<ref name="guardian1" />
"Possessiveness can be a major stumbling block, and often it prevents what could be a successful polyamourous relationship from forming. When people are viewed, even inadvertently, as possessions, they become a commodity, a valuable one at that. Just as most people are reluctant to let go of what little money that they have, people are also reluctant to "share" their beloved. After all, what if [their beloved] finds someone else who is more attractive/intelligent/well-liked/successful/etc.. than [themselves], and decides to abandon the relationship in favor of the new lover? These sorts of inferiority complexes must be resolved, completely, before a polyamorous relationship can be truly successful" [20]

An editorial article on the polyamory website Polyamoryonline.org as at 2006 proposes the following issues as being worthy of specific coverage and attention: [21]
* Helping children cope with "being different."
* "Coming out" as polyamorous (and explaining polyamory) to children.
* Polyamorous parental interactions.
* Polyamory social settings (involving children).
* Legal (parenting) issues.
The author, herself in a polyamorous relationship of three adults, comments that:
"The kids started realizing that there were three adults in the house that they had to answer to. **Big Shock** Then came the onslaught of trying to 'befriend' a particular adult and get what they wanted from that one adult. Another big shock when they found that it didn’t work and that we all communicated about wants or needs of any given child. After this was established, we sort of fell into our patterns of school, practices, just normal life in general. The kids all started realizing that there were three of us to care for them when they were sick, three of us to get scolded from, hugs from, tickles from; three of us to feed the small army of mouths and three of us to trust completely in. After trust was established, they asked more questions. Why do we have to live together? Why can’t I have my own room? ... Why do you guys love each other? Why do I have to listen to them (non-biological parent)? We answered them as truthfully as we could and as much as was appropriate for their age. I found that it was more unnerving for me to think about how to approach a new kid and their parents than it ever was for the kids."

Polyamory in a same-sex setting

Polyamory and (more generally) non-monogamy are "a well-accepted part of gay subculture", although "often viewed by some therapists as problematic";[22] somewhere between 30%[23] and 65%[24] of men in male couples report being in a sexually non-monogamous relationship. (These high rates are not exclusive to same-sex couples; figures between 20% and 36% are submitted[25] for illicit sex by heterosexual couples, in addition to the significant proportion who have permitted some form of consensual non-monogamy). According to Coleman & Rosser (1996), although a majority of male couples are not sexually exclusive, they are in fact emotionally monogamous.[26] Shernoff states that:

"One of the biggest differences between male couples and mixed sex couples is that many, but by no means all within the gay community have an easier acceptance of sexual nonexclusivity than does heterosexual society in general [....] Research confirms that nonmonogamy in and of itself does not create a problem for male couples when it has been openly negotiated." [27]

Polyamory and parenting

Many polyamorists have children, either within the relationship(s) or from a previous relationship. Like other elements of polyamory, the way in which children are integrated into the family structure varies widely. Some possibilities are:
  • Parents are primarily responsible for their own children (biological, adoptive, or step-), but other members of the relationship act as an extended family, providing assistance in child-rearing.
  • Adults raise children collectively, all taking equal responsibility for each child regardless of consanguinity.
  • Parents are wholly responsible for their own children, with other members of the relationship relating to the children as friends of the parents.
  • Children treat parents' partners as a form of step-parent.
The choice of structures is affected by timing: an adult who has been present throughout a child's life is likely to have a more parental relationship with that child than one who enters a relationship with people who already have a teenage child. (The issues involved often parallel those of step-parenting.)

The degree of logistical and emotional involvement between the members of the relationship is also important: a close-knit triad already living under one roof with shared finances is far more likely to take a collective approach to parenting than would a larger, loose-knit group with separate living arrangements:

"Some poly families are structured so that one parent can be home to care for the children while two or more other adults work outside the home and earn an income, thus providing a better standard of living for all concerned. More adult caretakers means more people available for child care, help with homework, and daily issues such as transportation to extracurricular activities. Children thrive on love. The more adults they have to love them who are part of the family, the happier and more well-adjusted they are. There is no evidence that growing up in a poly family is detrimental to the physical, psychological or moral well being of children. If parents are happy in their intimate relationships, it helps the family. Happy families are good for children."[28]

Whether children are fully informed of the nature of their parents' relationship varies, according to the above considerations and also to whether the parents are "out" to other adults.

In one possible case indicative of the law related to parenting and polyamory in the United States, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court in 2006 voted 5-1 that a father in a custody case had the right to teach his child (age 13) about polygamy (and hence possibly by implication about other multiple partner relationships), and that this right "trumped" the anti-bigamy and other laws which might apply and was not deemed inherently harmful to the child. (Note: this decision was made in the context of religious freedom, but religious freedom would not apply if there was harm to the child.)[29]

Custody ramifications

Parents involved in polyamorous relationships often keep it a secret because of the risk that it will be used by an ex-spouse, or other family member, as grounds to deprive them of custody of and/or access to their children. The fear is that it will be used in family disputes much as homosexuality has been used in the past.

In 1998, a Tennessee court granted guardianship of a child to her grandmother and step-grandfather after the child's mother April Divilbiss and partners outed themselves as polyamorous on MTV. After contesting the decision for two years, Divilbiss eventually agreed to relinquish her daughter, acknowledging that she was unable to adequately care for her child and that this, rather than her polyamory, had been the grandparents' real motivation in seeking custody.[30] The Tennessee case is not necessarily normative for the entirety of the United States, since family law varies significantly from state to state, and sometimes even within a state. US state law is, of course, not normative for laws of other countries.

Geographical and cultural differences

Social views on polyamory vary by country and culture. For example, a 2003 article in The Guardian by Helena Echlin argues that "British people are if anything more tolerant than in America which is perhaps why British polys are less in need of support groups", and quotes a UK source as stating: "We have a tradition of people minding their own business here. People might disapprove, but they won't try to mess up your life. In America, they might call social services."[31]

Philosophical aspects

As with many lifestyles, there is considerable active discussion about philosophical approaches to polyamory.

In Echlin's article in The Guardian, five reasons for choosing polyamory are identified: a drive towards female independence and equality driven by feminism; disillusionment with monogamy; a yearning for community; honesty and realism in respect of relational nature of human beings; human nature; and individual non-matching of the traditional monogamous stereotype. Jim Fleckenstein, director of the Institute for 21st-Century Relationships, is quoted as stating that the polyamory movement has been driven not only by science fiction, but also by feminism: "Increased financial independence means that women can build relationships the way they want to." The disillusionment with monogamy is said to be "because of widespread cheating and divorce". The longing for community is associated with a felt need for the richness of "complex and deep relationships through extended networks" in response to the replacement and fragmentation of the extended family by nuclear families. "For many," Echlin writes, "it is a hankering for community …we have become increasingly alienated, partly because of the 20th century's replacement of the extended family with the nuclear family. As a result, many of us are striving to create complex and deep relationships through extended networks of multiple lovers and extended families". Others speak of creating an "honest responsible and socially acceptable" version of non-monogamy — "since so many people are already non-monogamous, why not develop a non-monogamy that is honest, responsible and socially acceptable? …It seems weird that having affairs is OK but being upfront about it is rocking the boat." "Polys agree that some people are monogamous by nature. But some of us are not, and more and more are refusing to be shoehorned into monogamy."<ref name = "Guardian Women" />

A sixth reason, a couple's response to a failure of monogamy, by reaching a consensus to accept the additional relationship, is identified by other authors.[32]

Because of the heightened trust and self-determination required for a polyamorous relationship, some who practice polyamory consider it a superior form of relating to people. Monogamist opponents of polyamory often claim that it weakens, or is a failure to adhere to, the values that others in society uphold. Many who practice polyamory would probably prefer not to philosophize, but simply hold that polyamory works for them.


Research into polyamory has been limited. A comprehensive government study of sexual attitudes, behaviors and relationships in Finland in 1992 (age 18-75, around 50% both genders) found that around 200 out of 2250 (8.9%) respondents "agreed or strongly agreed" with the statement "I could maintain several sexual relationships at the same time" and 8.2% indicated a "lifestyle that best suits" at the present stage of life would involve more than one steady partner. By contrast, when asked about other relationships at the same time as a steady relationship, around 17% stated they had had other partners whilst in a steady relationship (50% no, 17% yes, 33% refused to answer). [9] (PDF)

Polyamory in a clinical setting

There is little research at present into the specific needs and requirements for handling polyamory in a clinical context. A notable paper in this regard is Working with polyamorous clients in the clinical setting (Davidson, 2002),[33] which addresses the following areas of inquiry:
  1. Why is it important that we talk about alternatives to monogamy now?
  2. How can therapists prepare to work with people who are exploring polyamory?
  3. What basic understandings about polyamory are needed?
  4. What key issues do therapists need to watch for in the course of working with polyamorous clients?
Its conclusions, summarized, were that "Sweeping changes are occurring in the sexual and relational landscape" (including 'dissatisfaction with limitations of serial monogamy, i.e. exchanging one partner for another in the hope of a better outcome') ... that clinicians need to start by "recognizing the array of possibilities that polyamory encompasses" and "examine the culturally based assumption that only monogamy is acceptable" and how this bias impacts on the practice of therapy ... the need for self-education about polyamory" ... basic understandings about the "rewards of the poly lifestyle" and the common social and relationship challenges faced by those involved ... and the "shadow side" of polyamory -- the potential existing for coercion, strong emotions in opposition, and/or jealousy.

The paper also states that the configurations a therapist would be "most likely to see in practice" are individuals involved in primary-plus arrangements, monogamous couples wishing to explore non-monogamy for the first time, and poly singles.

The decision to explore polyamory

Morin (1999) states that a couple has a very good chance of adjusting to nonexclusivity if at least some of the following conditions exist: [34]
* Both partners want their relationship to remain primary.
* The couple has an established reservoir of good will.
* There is minimal lingering resentments from past hurts and betrayals.
* The partners are not polarized over monogamy/nonmonogamy.
* The partners are feeling similarly powerful and autonomous.

Green & Mitchell (2002) state that direct discussion of the following issues can provide the basis for honest and important conversations: [35]
* Openness versus secrecy
* Volition/equality versus coercion/inequality
* Clarity/specificity of agreements versus confusion/vagueness
* Honoring keeping agreements versus violating them
* How each partner views nonmonogamy.

According to Michael Shernoff[36] if the matter is discussed with a third party, such as a therapist, the task of the therapist is to "engage couples in conversations that let them decide for themselves whether sexual exclusivity or nonexclusivity is functional or dysfunctional for the relationship."


Religious objections

Many religions discourage sex outside marriage (or, in some cases, a committed relationship closely resembling marriage). As a consequence, those religions effectively prohibit or permit polyamory to the same degree that they prohibit or permit polygamy. Even where polygamy is permitted, it is often limited to a rigidly-defined form of plural marriage — most commonly polygyny.

At the beginning of the 21st century, polygyny remained common in some parts of the Islamic world but was not recognized by most branches of Christianity and Judaism. There are many scriptural references in the Original Testament to polygyny, such as the story of King Solomon, an important figure to all three major Abrahamic religions. Buddhism and Hinduism do not take a stance for or against, but are filled with many people who participate in it. For further discussion and some exceptions see Polygamy and religion.

While most religions offer guidance about sex and family, religious leaders have said relatively little about polyamory, possibly due to its low public profile compared to other relational/ethical issues such as homosexuality.

Moral objections

In a 2007 editorial by the Chinese newspaper the Shanghai Daily, the moralistic argument was advanced that marriage, a vehicle for true love, should engender the "obligation to give themselves totally and exclusively, to this one person" in order to have meaning, and in consequence of this, all extra-marital activity was "worse than immoral. It's unashamed… Mutual conspiracy", and that the concept of mutual consent was "not worth refutation". Even if the partners were honest and supportive of each other, the writer stated that "marriage is considered the consecration of true love", and there was a spirit of marriage which had been betrayed.

The editorial was in response to the case of a Chinese female ex-police officer who ran a swingers website, and discussed various forms of open marriage:

"Then what about polyamory—a lifestyle of having more than one love/sex partner? If it is understood as an alternative to monogamous marriage, it is of the same ilk as swinging. It could be the case that sexual fun and passion are shared by more than two people. But true love and marriage require exclusive mutual fidelity in one couple."[37]

Division of love

In The Ethical Slut, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy (writing as 'Catherine Liszt') described an argument against polyamory to the effect that, when one's love is divided among multiple partners, the love is lessened. They referred to this as a "starvation economy" argument, because it treats love as a scarce commodity (like food or other resources) that can be given to one person only by taking it away from another. This is sometimes called a "Malthusian argument", after Malthus' writings on finite resources.

Many polyamorists, including Easton and Hardy, reject the idea that dividing love among multiple partners automatically lessens it. A commonly-invoked argument uses an analogy with a parent who has two children—the parent does not love either of them any less because of the existence of the other.[38]

A more common view is that since each relationship requires time and energy, most polyamorists do not simply acquire relationships open-endedly.

Perceived failure rates

Polyamorous relationships are often criticised as "not lasting", for example, Stanley Kurtz takes this as axiomatic when he says "Not only would legally recognized polyamory be unstable…"[39]

The problem of confirmation bias makes it impossible to accurately gauge the stability of polyamorous relationships without carefully-conducted scientific investigation.

The complex nature of polyamory presents difficulties in structuring such research. For instance, polyamorists may be reluctant to disclose their relationship status due to potential negative consequences, and researchers may be unfamiliar with the full range of polyamorous behaviours, leading to poorly-framed questions that give misleading results. (Note that the American Psychological Association has identified these same issues as potential causes of error in the context of gay/lesbian/bisexual populations.[40])

In general terms, nonexclusivity lowers the cost of entering into, and exiting, romantic relationships. More sexual relationships creates more competition for longer-term relationships. While some researchers may assume this would cause higher failure rates, the additional outlets and support may offset this to some degree. Researchers may also assume an inherently more complex structure is more prone to failure.

While predating the term polyamory, some research has been done on the stability of some forms of what might be considered polyamorous relationships in the Netherlands. Weitzman[41] lists a study by Rubin and Adams in 1986 which found no differences in marital stability based on sexual exclusivity in married relationships.

Notes and references

1. ^ For example: When two just won't do, Helen Echlin, The Guardian, November 14 2003: "For most people, the biggest stumbling block to polyamory is jealousy. But polys try to see jealousy less as a green-eyed monster than as an opportunity for character-building." Retrieved March 27, 2007.
2. ^ CAWeb. Church of All Worlds Clergy. Retrieved on 2006-10-14.
3. ^ New edition: pleb to Pomak. Quarterly updates to OED Online (2006-09-14). Retrieved on 2007-02-16.
4. ^ Evans, Jim (1999-07-06). Jim Evans' Polyamory Pride Flag. ISOMEDIA - Business Solutions from Internet to eMedia 1. ISOMEDIA, INC.. Retrieved on 2006-02-08. “The poly pride flag consists of three equal horizontal colored stripes with a symbol in the center of the flag. The colors of the stripes, from top to bottom, are as follows: blue, representing the openness and honesty among all partners with which we conduct our multiple relationships; red, representing love and passion; and black, representing solidarity with those who, though they are open and honest with all participants of their relationships, must hide those relationships from the outside world due to societal pressures. The symbol in the center of the flag is a gold Greek lowercase letter 'pi', as the first letter of 'polyamory'. The letter's gold color represents the value that we place on the emotional attachment to others, be the relationship friendly or romantic in nature, as opposed to merely primarily physical relationships. This design is in the public domain. If you decide to use it, credit to Jim Evans would be nice, but is not required.
5. ^ West, Alex (2001-02-06). A List of Poly Symbols. Retrieved on 2002-05-11. “variations on Pi-and-the-three-colors the ILIC symbol. … The symbol that started this category, Jim Evans' Poly Pride Flag. He has put this image in the public domain. … "ILIC" stands for Infinite Love in Infinite Combinations (a reference to Star Trek's IDIC credo --- the D in the Star Trek version stands for "Diversity"). When I first listed this symbol, I did not have a copy of this image archived locally (even though the author said on his site that the symbol was public domain)
6. ^ Terry Windell (Direcor) Tim Russ (Actor).  “” Television production]. Los Angeles, CaliforniaParamount Pictures. “kol-ut-shan
7. ^ Dillinger, Ray (1997-06-08). alt.polyamory home page. Retrieved on 2007-10-09. “Parrot graphic by Ray Dillinger, placed in the public domain for use as a poly mascot.
8. ^ PolyOz states in its polyamory glossary that "The parrot is a common poly "mascot" or symbol. Punning on 'poly wanna X'".
9. ^ A 2003 article in The Guardian states "Today America has more than 100 poly email lists and support groups. Their emblem, which marks the table when they meet in restaurants, is the parrot (because of their nickname Polly)."
10. ^ From PolyOz glossary on polygamy, polygyny, polyandry and latter day saints: - "The Mormons originally practiced a form of polygamy (specifically polygyny - multiple husbands was not OK, only multiple wives). A few renegades still do. This is culturally not part of the polyamorous movement; it's yet anther alternative to monogamy." Also "These are anthropological terms, not much used within the poly movement." [10]
11. ^ From PolyOz glossary on the book Stranger in a Strange Land which "served as an inspiration to many poly folks before the term "polyamory" was even invented...[and] ... also inspired the Neopagan Church of All Worlds, which has been a long term poly hotbed" [11]
12. ^ For instance, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, co-authors of The Ethical Slut, are equally well-known as authors on BDSM; in the introduction to The New Bottoming Book, Hardy describes herself as "a standard-issue Northern California bisexual polyamorous switch".
13. ^ RUBY DEATON PHARR, Plaintiff, v. JOYCE W. BECK, Defendant
14. ^ Punishing Adultery in Virginia by JOANNA GROSSMAN
15. ^ First Trio "Married" in The Netherlands by Paul Belien, Brussels Journal Online
16. ^ Cook, Elaine (2005). Commitment in Polyamorous Relationships. Retrieved on 2006-07-10.
17. ^ From PolyOz glossary: "Not in the [linguistic roots of the term] but very important is the commitment to honesty with all partners, and openly negotiated ground rules." [12]
18. ^ From sexuality.org: "Two of the cultural cornerstones of the polyamory community are honesty and communication: it's expected that you and your existing long-term partner(s) will have talked over what you're comfortable with and what you aren't comfortable with, and that nobody is going around behind anyone else's back."
19. ^ PolyamoryOnline Polyamory 101: Consensual Non-Monogamy for the 21st Century "In a polyamourous relationship, this ['A burden shared is a burden lessened'] is doubly true. If you are having problems with one of the people in the relationship, often you can talk to another participant about it, with the added advantage of having a confidant with a good perspective on the relationship. When one person has problems, everyone else is there to help them through it. Child rearing benefits greatly in a polyamourous setting as well. Children are exposed to a wide range of viewpoints and experiences. To use a personal example, children raised in my Family… are exposed to my experiences growing up in rural Illinois, two of our Family's childhoods in the city of Chicago, and my fiancee's childhood in South Carolina. Perhaps one day we will have a Family member from outside the United States, offering an entirely different perspective. This also makes it easier to supervise a child. When many people live in the same household, they can take turns supervising the children, offering the rest of the members of the household a chance to catch up on chores, do homework, or simply go out for a while. Try doing that in a two-parent household without paying for a babysitter. On a purely practical note, having ten incomes in a household is much more flexible than just two. If one of the family suffers a loss of income, the others can help to make up for it. It is much easier to get by after losing one tenth of household income than it is after losing one half. Expenses are also significantly reduced in a polyamourous household, as they are in any situation when multiple adults occupy the same house."
20. ^ Poly 101
21. ^ A few insights (FAQ)
22. ^ Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006 [13])
23. ^ "70% of men in male couples reported being in a monogamous relationship" - Campbell, 2000 (cited by Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006 [14])
24. ^ "approximately one third of male couples are sexually exclusive" - Bryant & Demian, 1994; Wagner et al, 2000; Advocate Sex Poll, 2002; LaSala, 2004 (cited by Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006 [15])
25. ^ Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006 [16])
26. ^ Cited by Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006 [17])
27. ^ Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006 [18])
28. ^ Polyamory Online.
29. ^ Shepp v. Shepp, J-97-2004, 2006, PA supreme court. The opinion stated that: the state's interest in enforcing the anti-bigamy law "is not an interest of the 'highest order"' that would trump a parent's right to tell a child about deeply held religious beliefs, and that a court may prohibit a parent from advocating religious beliefs that amount to a crime if doing so jeopardizes the child's physical or mental health or safety, or potentially creates significant social burdens, but that in this case it was not felt that discussing multiple partner relationships as a parents' preference or presenting or advocating them as desirable to the parent, was harmful.
30. ^ Divilbiss Families Case Ends, Polyamory Society].
31. ^ ECHLIN, Helena. Women, The Guardian, 2003.
32. ^ Polyamory The New Love without Limits by Dr Deborah Anapol (ISBN 1-880789-08-6) has a chapter called "Making the transition to polyamorous relating", which deals with broken monogamous commitments from both perspectives.
33. ^ Paper delivered to the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Regional Conference, April 2002, and available online: Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 5, April 16, 2002 [19]
34. ^ Cited by Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006, in the context of same-sex relationships [20]
35. ^ Cited by Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006, in the context of same-sex relationships [21]
36. ^ Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006, in the context of same-sex relationships [22]
37. ^ Shanghai Daily.
38. ^ McCullough, Derek; Hall, David S (February 27 2003). "Polyamory: What it is and what it isn't". Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality 6. Retrieved on 2006-07-10.2003&rft.volume=6&rft.aulast=McCullough&rft.aufirst=Derek&rft_id=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ejhs.org%2Fvolume6%2Fpolyamory.htm"> 
39. ^ Kurtz, Stanley (June 05 2006). Polygamy Versus Democracy: You can't have both. Weekly Standard. Retrieved on 006-07-10.
40. ^ Herek, Gregory M. (September 1991). Avoiding Heterosexual Bias in Psychological Research. American Psychological Association. Retrieved on 2006-08-15.
41. ^ Weitzman, Geri D. (March 12 1999). What is known about the psychological and social functioning of polyamorous individuals?. What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory. Retrieved on 2006-07-10.

See also

External links

Informational Websites

Online Communities

Polyamory Related Media

  • Polyamory in the News website (a part of the Polyamory Online website)
  • Polyamory Weekly Podcast A podcast regarding polyamory and related issues.
  • Loving More A quarterly polyamory magazine that also runs two national poly conferences on the East and West coasts of the USA.
  • http://www.radio-menteabierta.com/lacasa "La Casa de los Mil Cuartos" is the first web radio programme in castilian about Poliamory. The show is broadcasted live on Thursdays at 19:30 H. but you can download it and listen anytime. Music, info, dialoge. And if you are visiting Mexico City, every first Tuesday of the month the presenters have a section in Los Martes de Enkidu [Enkidu's Tuesdays] at Teatro Arlequin, Villalongin 24 (corner of Insurgentes & Reforma Ave.) near Zona Rosa.

Research and Articles

# Working with polyamorous clients in the clinical setting - Davidson (Volume 5, April 16, 2002, also delivered to the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Regional Conference, April 2002)
# Polyamory - What it is and what it isn't - McCullough and Hall (Volume 6, Feb. 27, 2003)
# Commitment in polyamory - Cook (Volume 8, Dec. 12, 2005)

Advocacy and awareness

Affinity in terms of sociology, refers to "kinship of spirit", interest and other interpersonal commonalities. Affinity is characterized by high levels of intimacy and sharing, usually in close groups, also known as affinity groups.
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Cohabitation is an emotional and physical intimate relationship which includes a common living place and which exists without legal or religious sanction.


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Concubinage is the state of a woman or youth in an ongoing, quasi-matrimonial relationship with a man of higher social status. Typically, the man has an official wife and, in addition, one or more concubines.
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Courtship, traditionally the wooing of a female by a male that, for example, includes activities such as dating (dinner and a movie, a picnic, or general "hanging out"), along with other forms of activity, such as meeting online (also known as virtual dating), chatting on-line,
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Divorce or dissolution of marriage is the ending of a marriage before the death of either spouse.

It can be contrasted with an annulment, which is a declaration that a marriage is void, though the effects of marriage may be recognized in such unions, such as spousal
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A dowry (also known as trousseau) is either the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage or a gift of money or property by a man to or for his bride.
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Friendship is a term used to denote co-operative and supportive behavior between two or more humans. This article focuses on the notion specific to interpersonal relationships.
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Family is a Western term used to have denote a domestic group of people, or a number of domestic groups linked through descent (demonstrated or stipulated)
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A husband is a male participant in a marriage.

Origin and etymology

The term husband refers to Middle English huseband, from Old English hsbnda, from Old Norse hsbndi
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Infatuation is the state of being completely carried away by unreasoning passion or love; addictive love. Infatuation usually occurs at the beginning of relationship when sexual attraction is central.
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Jealousy typically refers to the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that occur when a person believes a valued relationship is being threatened by a rival. This rival may or may not know that he or she is perceived as a threat. The opposite of jealousy is compersion.
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Limerence, as posited by psychologist Dorothy Tennov, is an attempt at a scientific study into the nature of romantic love. The meaning of the word, which was coined by Tennov in 1977, is an involuntary
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Love is an intense feeling of affection related to a sense of strong loyalty or profound oneness.[] The meaning of love varies relative to context.
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Monogamy is the custom or condition of having only one mate in a relationship, thus forming a couple. The word monogamy comes from the Greek word monos, which means one or alone, and the Greek word gamos, which means marriage or union.
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Nonmonogamy is a blanket term covering several different types of interpersonal relationship in which some or all participants have multiple marital, sexual, and/or romantic partners.
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An office romance, work romance, or corporate affair is a romance that occurs between two people who work together in the same office, work location, or business. It tends to breach nonfraternization policies and is a foreseeable business expense.
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domestic partnership is a legal or personal relationship between individuals who live together and share a common domestic life but are not joined in a traditional marriage or in a civil union.
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pederasty has seen a number of different uses. In the classic and academic sense, it refers to the erotic relationship between an adult male and an adolescent boy (see pederasty).
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Platonic love in its modern popular sense is a non-sexual affectionate relationship, especially in cases where one might easily assume otherwise. A simple example of platonic relationships is a deep, non-sexual (i.e.
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The psychology of monogamy deals with the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that commonly occur in monogamous relationships. This article deals with the psychology of monogamy in human beings.

Psychological studies of sexual monogamy are sparse.
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