What Does Polyamorous Mean?

woman and man being intimate
WANDER WOMEN COLLECTIVE DigitalVision/Getty Images

To be polyamorous means to have open sexual or romantic relationships with more than one person at a time. People who are polyamorous can be heterosexual, lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and relationships between polyamorous people can include combinations of people of different sexual orientations.

What Is Polyamory, and What Isn't It?

People in polyamorous relationships may or may not be married, although people who identify as polyamorous tend to be rejecting of the restrictions of the social convention of marriage, and particularly, the limitation to one partner.

Polyamory should not be confused with bigomy, which is marriage to more than one person, and which is illegal. Nor should it be confused with "wife-swapping," or "swinging" in which couples in established relationships have pre-arranged casual relationships with the opposite sex partners of other couples. These arrangements both involve sex outside of a committed, legally recognized relationship, which polyamory may not.

Polyamory is not the same as an "open" relationship, which involves a committed couple agreeing that one or both partners are permitted to have sex with other people, without necessarily sharing information on the other partners, although polyamorous couples may also have open relationships.

Sex Addiction and Polyamory

Sex addiction is not a defining characteristic of polyamory, and polyamorous people may not engage in excessive sexual activity. However, people with sex addictions based on the desire for multiple partners may be particularly drawn to the polyamorous community.

While some polyamorous individuals emphasize the need for clear communication and boundaries among all concerned, clearly the complexity of interrelationships between polyamorous partnerships leave some individuals vulnerable to exploitation.

While there are many people who are involved in consensual polyamorous relationships with two or more partners, there are there also many people who self-identify as polyamorous and also meet the criteria for sexual addiction.

Most in the polyamory community reject the idea that polyamory and sex addiction have anything to do with one another. According to the Polyamory Society: 

"Polyamory is the nonpossessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously.  Polyamory emphasizes consciously choosing how many partners one wishes to be involved with rather than accepting social norms which dictate loving only one person at a time.  Polyamory is an umbrella term which integrates traditional mutipartner relationship terms with more evolved egalitarian terms.  Polyamory embraces sexual equality and all sexual orientations towards an expanded circle of spousal intimacy and love.  Polyamory is from the root words Poly meaning many and Amour meaning love hence "many loves" or Polyamory.  Of course, love itself is a rather ambiguous term, but most polys seem to define it as a serious, intimate, romantic, or less stable, affectionate bond which a person has with another person or group of persons.

  This bond usually, though not necessarily always, involves sex.  Sexualove or eromance are other words which have been coined to describe this kind of love.  Other terms often used as synonyms for polyamory are responsible, ethical or intentional non-monogamy."

Continue Reading