Polyamory Primer

Polyamory Primer

The next several posts will be about polyamory, so today we get a quick primer.


Monogamy is the idea that one person should or will fulfill all of your romantic and sexual needs (or at least, that you should only be having sex and romantic connections with one person). There’s nothing inherently wrong with monogamy, and it’s a stable and practical and loving and fulfilling relationship style for many, many people*.


For many other people, however, expecting one person to fulfill all of their sexual or romantic needs feels impractical or unreasonable. For those people, there is non-monogamy!


Non-monogamy is any kind of relationship where there is sex or romance outside of an established dyad. It can be done ethically (discussed below), or unethically. Unethical non-monogamy is generally called “cheating.” Don’t do that. (other kinds of unethical non-monogamy generally involve emotional abuse. Don’t do that either.)


There are a number of kinds of ethical non-monogamy. The four most common are: open relationship, swinging, casual dating, and polyamory.


An open relationship is a relationship where two people are romantically partnered with each other and are permitted to have sex with other people per the rules of their relationship. It’s not about feelings – they can’t have another romantic partner – it’s just about sex. Within that structure, there are several variations – each set of partners work together to come up with the rules that work for them. Some include: being allowed to have sex with other people when outside of their home city/state, only one-night-stands, allowed to “share” and have a third person in the bedroom for sex, only allowed to have sex with someone of the same gender, don’t tell each other about other sexual partners, etc.


Swinging is where two people are romantically partnered with each other, and go find other people – usually other couples – to have sex with. It’s an activity they take part in together – it usually isn’t considered “swinging” if one person has sex when their partner isn’t somehow involved. Occasionally couples will pair up long term, and swap partners for repeated sex (but still not romantic feelings).


Casual dating is done by many people, whether they identify as ethically non-monogamous or not. Sometimes also called “dating around.” Often, monogamous people will casually date a number of people, all with the expectation that they’re not the only person dating their partner. Generally, however, this ends once one partnership becomes “serious”, or looks like it will become a long-term monogamous relationship – both partners will inform their other dating partners that their casual thing is over, at least until they’re single again.


Polyamory is a relationship style where participants may have multiple partners. These partnerships may be romantic, sexual, or both. The umbrella of polyamorous relationships contains many, many variations. The four most common are:


Hierarchical polyamory, where two people are indicated as “primary partners” to each other. Both are permitted to have other secondary or tertiary partners, but some kind of rules exist which maintain the initial partnership as most important. These rules may be anything, but some common ones are: no sex in our shared bed, partners must sleep at home every night, partners must ask permission/check in before having sex with someone else for the first time, X night is a sacred date night which may not be scheduled over, etc. Sometimes, limit-defining rules don’t exist, but both partners agree that their partnership is first before all other relationships. This is not to say that secondary/other relationships aren’t valued and loving and healthy, just that the initial partnership is primary.


Relationship anarchy, where partners are not “primary” or “secondary” in any kind of way defined by rules, but rather, all people make their own decisions about how important their partners are to them based on their feelings and their free time, without having to ask permission to date someone new from their existing partners. An existing relationship is not by definition more important than a new one – each relationship exists on its own terms.


Poly-fidelity, where people involved have more than one partner, but aren’t open to new partners, or a closed group involving three or more participants. This is often a triad – three people dating each other – but is not exclusively that model.


Solo poly, where one person doesn’t have a primary partner or partner that they live with, but has multiple partners or are open to having multiple partners. Solo poly folks may prefer relationship anarchy, or hierarchical polyamory, or poly-fidelity, but are currently existing as a person without a foundational partnership. This term is the most loosely defined, mostly because solo poly folks call themselves that descriptively when they find themselves as polyamorous people but “dating around,” or in a number of serious relationships with people they don’t live with. I’ve found that many solo poly folks have partners who are in hierarchical dyads with other people, but that’s not a defining characteristic, just an observation.


This is just a loose conglomeration of information, so feel free to ask general questions about polyamory in the comments below or add information about any of the terms I’ve defined here!


* I’ll probably talk about healthy monogamy sometime in this run, too

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s