It is not surprising there is so much confusion when the question “What is polyamory?” comes up. Words have both definitions and connotations that build over time heavily influenced by the culture around them. Polyamory was only recently added to the dictionary; first Webster’s and then the Oxford English Dictionary. Webster’s is “the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time” and Oxford English Dictionary states “the practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the consent of all the people involved.” These definitions are different and hold different meaning. Who is right?
These authoritative sources are at odds with one another and somewhere together they are both right. Polyamory is a modern word created by people who were involved in non-monogamous romantic relationships where all the people involved knew and consented to the interlaced partnerships. Polyamory literally means many loves. Preceding polyamory some people came up with the terms polyfidelity and loving more from which Loving More derived its name in the early nineties. Loving more and non-monogamy are a bit of a mouthful and polyfidelity excluded people in more open forms of multi-partnered relationships.
Polyamory was a simple term and as easily said as monogamy. For this reason the term took off among the community of people practicing open honest non-monogamous relationships. The term specifically was designed to explain emotionally connected sexual relationships beyond simple coupling. It was not originally intended to be a term for people engaged with multiple people strictly for recreational sex. Swinging, in its strictest sense, is people swapping partners for sexual gratification; it is not polyamory. Both fall under the broader term open relationships and both share a belief in honesty, integrity and consent of the adults involved as a basis for conducting their relationships. Both swinging and polyamory can be wonderful and loving ways to experience love, connection and relationships.
Polyamory is emotionally connected relationships openly involving three or more people. It is about honesty, integrity and respect. Some examples of polyamorous relationships; a couple who live together or are married and have other emotionally connected sexual relationships, three, four or more people can all live together as a family, raise children and have emotional and sexual connections between all or different combinations within the group. If it sounds complex that’s because it can be as complicated as the emotions and connections involved. This is one reason it can be so confusing. In her book What Does Polyamory Look Like? Mim Chapman goes a long way in explaining the different and complex ways people live polyamory. This book is highly recommended to anyone looking to understand the complexity of polyamory.
Polyamory is becoming a way for people to explore relationships on many levels; to openly love more than one romantic partner and to form extended families or networks of lovers. It can provide a place to be open to romantic and platonic love in its many forms and even to the grey areas of love, sex and relationship. Love is fluid and changing and so is sexuality for most people. Polyamory allows space for growth, change and exploration. It is for this reason so many people are curious and considering polyamory in their romantic life. Many people find that they are truly oriented polyamorous while for others it is a choice that makes sense. Some may explore polyamory and find it is not for them but are often glad for the experience and what they learned.
The next time you are confused about what polyamory means then just remember what it stands for, many loves. Beyond that is a world of differences and ways of living and loving as unique as the individuals involved.
If you are new to the concept of polyamory the best thing you can do is explore and learn. Read books, read articles and talk to people. Loving More staff is available by phone Monday through Friday, 9am to 6pm and even some Saturdays to answer questions and listen to concerns. Polyamory is challenging and wonderful all at the same time and like many things in life it is the ride that counts, not the destination and not even the definition.