Monday, March 14, 2011

Another Basic Explanation of Polyamory

From Smith College comes this installment of "The Sex and the Smithie" column, in which someone gives a good basic introduction to polyamory.

Have you ever fallen in love with more than one person at once? Has the thought ever crossed your mind that jealousy might be kind of dumb? Have you ever been sexually attracted to another person while already in a relationship? Congratulations! You're not automatically a bad person … you might just be polyamorous.

If someone is polyamorous, trying to force himself or herself into lifelong monogamy isn’t fair to one’s self, nor is it fair to the other person. It is often unfair to many other people, too. Laws that discourage polyamory, criminalize polygamy, and encourage at least a presentation of monogamy are harmful in this way. People who are monogamous should be supported in who they are, as should people who are polyamorous. Trying to pressure someone into being what they are not is harmful.

The basic idea of polyamory is that it is acceptable to have more than one romantic or sexual partner at once, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.


There are various configurations of polyamory. You can have an open relationship or marriage in which the two main partners are each others' "primaries" and other partners are "secondaries." You can have a partnership in which all members are equal. You can participate in "social polyamory," or "swinging." It can involve romance, sex or both. You can have all men. You can have all women. You can have a mix of genders and sexes. Partners can interact with each other or not, but all must be aware of each other. For example, you can have a boyfriend and a girlfriend, but your girlfriend doesn't have to date or sleep with your boyfriend. Straight, gay, bi and otherwise oriented people can be polyamorous, which brings me to another important aspect of the polyamorous world.

In addition to describing a relationship status, "polyamorous" can also describe an orientation. I, for example, currently only date one person, but consider myself poly by orientation and would like to have another partner or two. And my partner is aware of this.

Clearly, polyamory is not an orientation in the same way as hetero, gay or bi, because someone can be hetero, gay, or bi and be either monogamous or polyamorous by nature. But it is an orientation of sorts. In the same what that a hetero person is still hetero and a gay person is still gay whether or not they are in a relationship or having sex during any given time frame, a person with a polyamorous orientation is poly even if they aren’t with anyone, or if they are with just one person.
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