Every day we hear more and more about polyamory and its different expressions: throuples, polyfidelity, relationship anarchy, hierarchical polyamory, open relationships… But do you really know what polyamory is as a option for a romantic life?
The evolution of humanity, its thinking, and reasoning bring us more and more questions about how things are agreed upon and constructed. And among all this, questions about two of the most interesting topics for people arise: love and relationships.
Couples and single individuals increasingly doubt traditional love, monogamy, and fidelity. Because the world has evolved, and being with one person for a lifetime is no guarantee of happiness. This is where polyamory comes into play.
WHAT IS POLYAMORY?
According to different sources, the definition of polyamory could be:
- A type of relationship in which a person has more than one relationship with the full knowledge and consent of all their relationships (Elisabeth Sheff).
- A romantic relationship, simultaneously, involving three or more people, with the consent and knowledge of all those involved (Wikipedia).
In short, polyamory is a romantic or romantic-sexual relationship among more than two people with the knowledge and consent of all involved.
The word itself comes from the Greek combining form poli- (plurality) and the term “amor” (love). The concept originated in the English-speaking world as “polyamory” (which would be translated as “poliamor” in Spanish). But let’s set aside the definitions and move on to more interesting topics…
HOW LONG HAVE THERE BEEN POLYAMOROUS PEOPLE?
As early as the Paleolithic period, relationships between multiple human beings were contemplated without the need for absolute fidelity and exclusivity. And why are the majority of human beings monogamous or enter into a monogamous relationship one after another? The root of this may lie in the Neolithic period when monogamy was practiced to:
- Prevent children from being killed by rival males.
- Allow males to have only one female since there was a scarcity of them.
- Prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
- Preserve inheritance, stemming from the emergence of private property.
It is clear that the above four points have no place in today’s developed world. So why does monogamy continue to be the most common form of romantic relationship among us? It is due to the cultural influence imposed by European expansion, spreading monogamy to all colonies, and from there to the Western world to the present day. Marriage is conceived as the only natural and moral form of sexuality and relationship.
The same applies to politics, religion, and society with their laws and norms. Monogamy is based on something that cannot be sustained, as human beings have no limits when it comes to loving or desiring other people, which is why infidelity exists. In other words, we are not designed to have a single sexual and emotional partner for life.
RELIGIONS AND BELIEFS THAT ACCEPT POLYAMORY AND OTHERS THAT REJECT IT:
- ACCEPT: Unitarian Universalist Church, Paganism, various New Age religions, and practitioners of Sacred Sexuality.
- REJECT: More conservative branches of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism.
You might have been intrigued by the mention of Sacred Sexuality. So, what is it? It refers to a complete sexual education without taboos, dogmas, or other conditioning from the present or the past that hinders the ability to experience sexuality in a healthy, natural, and beneficial way. It involves using sexual energy for evolutionary purposes and draws inspiration from original Tantra, sometimes incorporating elements from Taoism and Buddhist Tantra.
Polyamory is considered to be more honest and consensual compared to monogamous beliefs or traditional romantic love. However, people who practice polyamory are not against monogamy; they simply recognize that it does not satisfy their needs or provide what they seek in their romantic lives. Therefore, they prefer other options.
BUT IS POLYAMORY JUST ABOUT LOVE, OR CAN IT INVOLVE MORE?
As mentioned before, polyamorous relationships can be based on affection alone or include both affection and sexuality. However, it’s important to note that sex is not the primary focus, as it is possible to love someone without engaging in an intimate relationship with them. Even individuals who identify as asexual can be polyamorous!
Of course, at any given moment, your romantic relationship can evolve into a different type of relationship that also includes a sexual component. However, it is crucial to have clear and open communication with all parties involved, respecting the agreements and rules established beforehand.
WHAT IS NOT A POLYAMOROUS RELATIONSHIP?
Infidelity is the major issue faced in monogamous relationships, where one deceives their partner by hiding emotional or sexual relationships with others outside the marriage. This happens because monogamy is blindly believed to be the only way to be with someone, and it is falsely thought that keeping it a secret will prevent hurting the partner. Sometimes it works, either due to convenience, acceptance, or purely for the convenience (financial or emotional) of one of the parties.
In polyamory, everything is clear and explained from the beginning, and our partner knows who we go out with or have intimate relationships with at all times.
AN OPEN RELATIONSHIP
In an open relationship, there is no obligation to explain who you’re with, who you go out with, or who you have sex with. It is not a requirement to inform the other party, so there isn’t the same level of trust and honesty that is demonstrated in a polyamorous relationship. It could be similar to the saying “out of sight, out of mind,” but consensual. In reality, a couple opens up to fulfill their individual fantasies separately, but always prioritizing the unity of the couple above all else.
PARTNER SWAPPING OR SWINGERS
In the case of swingers, it is purely sexual, and the main focus is having sex with another couple, one person (threesome), or multiple individuals (orgies). Generally, continuous and repeated encounters with the same individuals are not allowed, although it can happen if people who go to swinger clubs encounter each other again. The emphasis is placed on emotional exclusivity, which is reserved for the primary couple. Yes, among swingers, there can be open relationships and even emotional (and sometimes sexual) infidelity.
In polyamory, you can establish emotional, sexual, or any other type of relationship, regardless of how long it lasts or its repetition or periodicity. The key is that everything is discussed and agreed upon, so that all parties in the polyamorous relationship are aware and accepting of it.
Polyamory is not the same as polygamy at all. The main characteristic of a polygamous relationship is that only one member of the couple has the right to have relationships with other people. For example, a man married to multiple women. In that case, the man could be with each of them, but they would have to remain completely faithful to him. The opposite of polygamy is polyandry (a woman married to multiple men).
In polyamory, the aim is for both partners to have equal freedoms, but with open communication and reaching agreements on what is allowed and not allowed, and with whom they engage in relationships.
Relationship anarchy is the closest concept to polyamory, although it differs in how relationships are approached:
- There is no hierarchical difference between a lover, a friend, or a boyfriend/girlfriend.
- It rejects any kind of rules and labels for the relationships you may have.
- Nothing is predetermined or established in advance.
- A group can expand or shrink as desired, and everything is allowed to flow.
Each person does what they feel and believe is right without hurting others, of course. Every relationship you have is unique and different. It aims to change how we connect, rather than focusing on the number of people we connect with. All relationships hold equal value (sexual, emotional, or purely sexual). It can be seen as 100% free love.
HOW MANY TYPES OF POLYAMORY ARE THERE?
There are several types of polyamorous relationships because the practice of polyamory requires everything to be explained and well agreed upon among all its participants. Therefore, let’s explain the main types of relationships that exist or can be established:
It could be said that this type of polyamory is the one that most resembles the traditional relationships we know in our cultures, or at least in Western countries, as there is always a strong hierarchy with the primary couple at the top, followed by secondary or tertiary partners (depending on their level of importance). Let’s not confuse this hierarchy with ranking individuals; it refers more to privileges such as cohabitation, sharing expenses, raising children, being introduced to society, sharing more intimate and important moments together, etc.
The primary relationship always holds greater intensity and weight than the others. Decisions regarding the other individuals involved are always subject to the decisions made by the primary couple.
Hierarchical polyamory is therefore the most conservative type of polyamorous relationship as it places the primary couple above other loves.
Relationships based on polyfidelity have certain limits. Once it is decided who they want to be with, no one else can enter that circle since everyone commits to sexual fidelity and cannot have sex outside those relationships (unless negotiated otherwise).
The couples can feel and do whatever they want as long as it is within the predetermined circle. While hierarchical polyamory allows for any desired relationships (always with a primary partner), in this case, it is closed to four, six, or however many individuals they choose.
This type of relationship can include triads or throuples (relationships among three people), quads (relationships among four people), or clans (five or more people). However, these groups can sometimes merge with others, and some members may be free to be involved with other partners or groups. Anything is possible.
In this case, we refer to emotional relationships between:
- Metamours (partners of your partners).
- Friends who have an intense and sentimental relationship without being official romantic partners.
Naturally, there is no sexual involvement in these types of relationships. The focus is on developing connections beyond mere friendship, for example, with the other partner of your partner.
Yes, in polyamory, you can also be single and have relationships with multiple individuals or couples at the same time (without considering yourself part of any specific couple). These relationships can be long-lasting and intimate.
What does this mean? It refers to when a monogamous person is with a polyamorous person. Is that possible? Yes, but it requires sincerity and an open mind. On one hand, the monogamous person believes they are happy being with only one person, while the polyamorous person, for different reasons, feels the need to be and love others.
This situation can arise when one person is more sexually passionate than their partner and needs more frequent sexual encounters or when both spend long periods of time apart. This way, the relationship remains intact, and there is always honesty from both sides as nothing is hidden, and they continue to love each other. It is not an open relationship because one person remains monogamous, and the other communicates everything to their partner.
CHILDREN, POLYAMORY, AND FAMILY
Although our society tells us that the only way to have a family with children is through a monogamous relationship, it is clear that this is not the case. A polyamorous family can be as healthy as any other. As Dr. Elisabeth Sheff states in her book “The Polyamorists Next Door,” what does matter is how the members of a family behave in their relationships.
No family, whether monogamous or polyamorous, will ever achieve perfection. However, according to various studies, families with more than two adult individuals can offer many advantages to their children, as long as they find the right balance in their relationships.
ADVANTAGES OF BEING A POLYAMOROUS FAMILY
Some of the advantages include:
- More time dedicated to children since adults can have different work schedules.
- More energy and patience as caregivers take turns in caring for the children.
- Children have more people to seek advice from, which exposes them to a wider range of behavior models and life experiences.
- Family life becomes more peaceful with the presence of additional individuals besides the primary couple, and everyone can contribute different methods of discipline and communication.
HOW DO WE TALK TO OUR CHILDREN ABOUT POLYAMORY?
We should adapt our approach to their age and always be honest. Even at a young age, we should not underestimate them because, for them, family is the people they see around them—the ones who care for them, educate them, take them to school, and so on. And they are not wrong. The advantage of them being very young is that we practically don’t need to explain anything to them. However, it is different when they are older.
According to Dr. Sheff, children typically notice something different about their parents between the ages of nine and twelve. From that point on, they may start asking questions.
When they are teenagers, they may worry if their parents are being unfaithful to their partner. There is nothing wrong with clarifying that mom or dad have no secrets from each other and that they have special moments with other people whom they love. Although teenagers may have to deal with explaining their family to others, if the topic arises, the positive aspect of this stage is that they are occupied with self-discovery and are less judgmental of their parents.
In any case, the advantage is that they are aware that there are other types of relationships besides monogamy (because they have experienced it) and they can choose to be in such relationships or not. The same applies to families formed by two women or two men. Long live diversity!
DIVORCE AND SEPARATIONS
Divorce is common in monogamous relationships, and most children are accustomed to living with their mother’s or father’s new partner. It is natural for our children to form attachments to some of our loved ones, and if we distance ourselves from them in the future, our children will miss them. That’s just a part of life. Polyamorous relationships evolve, and people come and go. It is possible that three or four individuals may stay together forever, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Ideally, the adults within a polyamorous relationship should establish a bond with the children that lasts beyond the relationship. In other words, if they separate, emotional connections should remain independent. However, this is not always achievable, just like in traditional relationships, and it depends on how the breakup occurred and the mentality of the adults. Nevertheless, children are ultimately independent beings who can choose their family beyond biological or legal ties.
HOW DO WE INTRODUCE OUR NEW PARTNERS TO OUR CHILDREN?
With great care and gradually. This also applies to single parents because otherwise, there is a risk that the new person will only be temporary, and our child may become attached prematurely.
If you have children and want to introduce someone new, you should:
- Meet outside of the home (for a reasonable period of time).
- Go on many dates before engaging in sexual activities.
- Seek references from other members of the polyamorous community to get their opinion about that person and their past.
WHAT ABOUT LEGAL ISSUES IN CASE OF A SEPARATION?
In the case of being unmarried and in a polyamorous relationship, there is a risk of losing custody of children to other “official” members of the family. This is because, in most cases, polyamorous families do not have the same legal rights as traditional marriages (or they simply don’t have them). Additionally, depending on the country and the judge’s perspective, if they strongly disagree with this way of formalizing a relationship, they may rule against granting custody if they believe it is harmful to the children.
IS POLYAMORY THE SOLUTION THEN?
Ultimately, polyamory is an great option for singles and couples who seek something more in their emotional and sexual relationships. The duration and success of polyamorous relationships depend on the individuals involved and how they manage their feelings and honesty with all parties. However, the success of a relationship is not about being with someone for a lifetime, but rather about finding happiness for yourself and others for however long it may be.
The challenge lies in overcoming prejudices and misconceptions that have been ingrained in us since childhood and embracing what our hearts truly desire. That is why many people prefer the simplicity, security, and exclusivity of monogamy, as maintaining a polyamorous relationship with multiple individuals can be complex and intense.
Leaving behind traditions and taboos requires a high level of self-awareness, sincerity, and trust in oneself and in one’s partner. Many people have not reached that point yet because they do not know how to address this matter. Therefore, this kind of information is always beneficial, whether in this post or in other resources you can find on Poliamoris and our polyamory blog.
As we mentioned at the beginning, polyamory is not something new; it is not an invention of recent years. It is not a quick remedy either, as it requires daily work and establishing rules that make all parties involved comfortable. However, it has been among us for thousands of years, even if not openly acknowledged, because it works and those who practice it are often happier than those who cannot find a solution to their relationship problems.
ARE YOU INTERESTED IN OTHER ALTERNATIVE RELATIONSHIPS?
At Poliamoris, both experienced polyamorous individuals and couples, as well as those interested in learning and taking their first steps in polyamory as a relationship model, are welcome. You can also meet people interested in polyamory, open relationships, swinger couples, or even friends who want to discuss polyamory without necessarily initiating new connections.
Happy Polyamory at Poliamoris!