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Polyamory and Polygamy

Just about everyone is familiar with the term “polygamy,” and for many people it brings up images of Muslim men with four wives, or Mormon men with multiples wives (“plural marriage”), as seen on the television shows “Sister Wives” and “Big Love,” and in news reports. It should be noted that the largest Mormon church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, long ago officially renounced plural marriage as something for this life. It is numerous smaller Mormon denominations that still practice plural marriage.

Not as many people are familiar with the term “polyamory,” or if they have heard about it, they might have a misconception about it. The general definition of polyamory is having a romantic, dating, courting, or marital relationship or engaging in sex with more than one person (not necessarily together), under agreement by all (not cheating). Polyamory and monogamy are alternatives to each other.

Polyamory can involve heterosexuals, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or people of any sexual orientation, and any gender. So, it could be a man and two women, two men and one woman, three men, three women, etc.

I consider polygamy to be any form of married polyamory, though some polyamorists bristle at the association with polygamy or don’t want official marriages involved in their relationships, and some polygamists bristle at the association with polyamory. Polygamy doesn’t have to mean one man and multiple women (polygyny.) It could mean polyandry (one woman, multiple men), or three or more men, or three or more women, or multiple men and multiple women.

Some people confuse polyamory with cheating, or think it is synonymous with open relationships/marriages, swinging, or swapping. However, cheating is engaging in sex, dating, or romance with someone in a way that violates a prior, existing commitment to, or condition with, another. Not everyone has the same vows or agreements. For example, it is not cheating for a wife to take on another lover alone if her spouse has agreed to it, even if she doesn’t tell her spouse when it happens, as long as that was the agreement between the spouses. An open relationship or marriage is one that is not closed to new participants, whether they are short term or long term participants. Some polyamorists are in closed relationships, some are in open relationships. Swinging is when an established couple, triad, quad, etc. participates as a couple or group in encounters with other couples or groups. It can be a form of polyamory but not all polyamory involves swinging. Swapping usually means when one couple swaps partners with another couple, whether for one time or on an ongoing basis. There are many forms of nonmonogamy, some ethical, some not. Polyamory is an ethical form of nonmonogamy.


The most simple form of polyamory is a “V” in which the person at the angle of the V has two partners, but the people at the ends of the V don’t interact with each other or spend time at the same time with the person who is seeing both of them. There are triangles (triads) in which all three people see each other, either one-on-one or all at the same time. There are “N” relationships, and many other forms of polyamory.

Polyamory does not necessarily mean having more than one sexual partner. It could mean spending time together in other ways normally associated with dating, or living together. It could mean that someone who is into BDSM but has a sexual partner who isn’t has a BDSM partner with whom they do not have sex. When polyamory does involve sex, different people have different agreements. Here are just a few…

“We can each have (insert number here) other partners under theses conditions…” (condom usage, gender, etc.)
“I don't want to know about it.”
“I want to know about it.”
“I want to know all of the details.”
“I get to watch.”
“I want to be with you at the same time.”
“I want to be with both of you.”
"We will all be spouses."

You get the idea. The possibilities are almost endless.

That someone is a polyamorist in no way means that they will have sex with anyone and everyone.

Some polyamorists see themselves as necessarily part of the LGBT (“LGBTP”) civil rights movement, not because LGBT aren’t monogamous (many are), but because every polyamorous relationship involves at least one same-gender relationship, even if only as a metamour.

Equality in relationship rights and marriage necessitates that consensual polyamory and polygamy not only be legalized, but protected from discrimination and persecution. Current inequality in the law is harmful. For example, in the US, is legal for people to have a different sexual partner (or several) every day, have children with multiple other partners, and (in most places) live with multiple partners, but it isn’t legal to be married to more than one at the same time. A man can have children with five different women, but can’t be legally married to more than one of those women at the same time, even if all are agreeable. What kind of sense is that?

Some people are polyamorous as part of their identity, and can’t be monogamous no matter how much they are punished (loss of marriage, loss of money, loss of employment, bullying, etc.) As long as they are with consenting adults, why should their relationships be denied equal treatment? With full marriage equality, fewer people will enter into what it supposed to be a monogamous relationship under pressure to be in the closet, and then hurt the other person.

Most people are not lifelong monogamists. Why it is better to have causal sex with a different person every few weeks or months, or get married and divorced over and over again, with or without affairs on the side, than to have honest polyamory and polygamy? If someone wants or needs monogamy, they should be free to have it; if someone wants or needs polyamory, they should be free to have it. People should be free to choose the relationships in which they will best function.

There are some common objections to the polygamous freedom to marry, and these common objections don’t stand up to scrutiny. See my Discredited Arguments page and my blog entry Lies and Damned Lies About Polygamy.

You can see all most blog entries on polyamory here, all of my blog entries on polygyny here, and all of my blog entries on polyandry here.

Women should be free to choose to be in a polygynous marriage as long as they are as free as men to not marry and to divorce, as long as women are just as free to marry another woman, multiple women, multiple men, or men and women. An adult, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion, should be free to share love, sex, residence, and marriage with any and all consenting adults.

How Nonmonogamists Can Protect Themselves
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17 comments:

  1. That image is fantastic!

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  2. Great idea, I am legally married to 3 men. It is in 2 different countries and I hope with marriage equality I can finally get my 2 other husbands immigrated to the US.

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    1. How clever.

      Sounds like an insidious way to infiltrate a country with a fundamentalist army, one 'soldier' at a time - hiding behind a woman and a fake banner of relationship status.

      Let's see, 20 -40 women, all claiming to be 'married' to 3 men each - that's what, 60 - 120 foreigners all slipping suddenly into the country under the legal guise of 'relationship'. Then what? Next stop, a gun shop?

      Sorry, but I'm not buying it. Polyamory is an excuse for destroying and manipulating. May they all vanish off the face of the earth for their crimes against humanity.

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  3. Ridiculous how cheating is acceptable but having more than 1 consenting partners by marriage is disgusting

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    1. Yes, in most places there is no legal penalty whatsoever for cheating on your spouse, but it is illegal for your spouse, you, or both of you to get marriage paperwork with the other person. Go figure.

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  4. I am a 40 year old woman from India, in a relationship, with the most loving man i have ever known, who is married. His wife knows about our relationship. I and my partner consider our relationship as equal as any marriage. with the same commitments and the same shared goals. Though his wife still finds it difficult to accept this relationship in all its hues, i and my partner are hopeful that she feels comfortable with this soon enough. Our struggle to get her comfortable with this arrangement is on... we hope that one day we all live happily together under one roof.

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    1. I´m sure she´ll be so happy if you two get to marry. No, really - nobody takes interests in that woman feelings? Tell your man to divorce her, so at least she won´t suffer. Selfish - that´s what you are.

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    2. Hi u r a lucky lady &ablessed one Ipray that u ,ur friend &his wife all sleep not only under one roof but on the same bed all cuddled together &may u both ladies have full orgasm. spread this message of love in humans as humanity needs more of love than anything else .In india it is a new concept .Iwish i too were with u all &we share the one ness of soul through our bodies with the sacred act of sex .wishing u all a blissful sex full of orgasm.

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  5. Very easy to say but very hard to take. Polyamory is modern concept. Your man
    Will get jealous and will be burning with rage when you suggest 'what is good for the goose is good for the Ganda' will he allow his wife to have a male friend as well. If you don't have a husband get her some one she would like.
    I am Indian male living abroad and know female needs companion as well. Your
    Man is selfish. New younger generations of Indians are very advanced and always
    Take care of wives needs as well. If they have got some one's wife they know
    Her husband has got your wife as well. Both are happy families.

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  6. I like the blog but there is one point I would like to call out. I do not agree that, "Polyamory and monogamy are alternatives to each other." Monogamy is being married to one person at a time. -gamy suffix denotes marriage, -amory suffix denotes romantic affection or love. It is entirely possible to be monogamous and polyamorous at the same time. I.E. I am monogamous because I am only married to one person but I am also polyamorous because I am romantically involved with two people at the same time.

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  7. I like the blog but I disagree with your statement that, "Polyamory and monogamy are alternatives to each other." Sorry for the grammar lesson but -gamy suffix signifies marriage, -amory suffix signifies romantic feelings or love. It is entirely possible to be both monogamous and polyamorous, Case in point, I am monogamous because I am only married to one person but I am also polyamorous because I have a romantic relationship with more than one person.

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    1. Thanks, Nicereb. Most people use the term "monogamy" today regardless of marriage, that is why I explain it the way I do. I do not disagree with your statement about yourself, but for most people, these things will take explanation. I have been trying to reclaim "polygamy" as "married form of polyamory" in the face of so many people who use it to mean "religion-based polygyny" so I appreciate you bringing up the precise denotation of monogamy.

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  8. Thank you so much for the insight! My wife and I are new to the Poly community and appreciate the work put into your article :)

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  9. I feel like the terms use can be defined in this manner because they are relationship statuses, not person states of being. Its what kind of relationship you have not who you are attracted to. No one is truly monoamorous, but if you are monogamous you are only in the one on one romantic relationship. Otherwise you are some form of poly.

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  10. I am a 60 year old woman, married 30 years. From the time I was 15 I have tended to have multiple relationships. They did not always manifest as relationships involving The Sex Act but they were in a flurry of quasi romantic and sexual vibes. At various times throughout the 40 years to come, I would attempt to divulge my capacity to be "in love" with more than one man at a time. These loves were often long--several lasting 20+ years, and for the most part were not what you would call "flings," not by any stretch. I found that if I "told" men my capacity, they would almost invariably struggle with jealousy. After zillions of hours contemplating various aspects of this conundrum I decided to keep mum and not ruin everything by blabbing about it. I never enjoyed lying but I did and do love love, and found that this jealousy issue troubled men so much that it really wasn't "worth it." I compartmentalized relationships (and still do, though must say, my libido is almost nil at this point.) I have had 15 what-you-could-call "soul marriages"--in which the deepest intimacy characterized the relationships. Usually I have had three important love relationships simultaneously. Anyone would consider me a terrible "cheater." I have no idea today whether this is or was a compulsive yearning or a "healthy" romantic proclivity. What I do know is that during the past 25 years, after having stopped talking about it to almost anyone, I have managed to keep my marriage a happy one; I have discovered many qualities in the men I have loved which I know would not have been possible were it not for at least some sexual activity; I have had really beautiful and profound--poetical, in fact--emotionally intimate relationships. I am telling this because the rule of thumb which most everyone seems to want to live by is disclosure. I do not believe in unequivocal disclosure. Rather, I believe in being discreet. I know the people in this forum will want to "stone me" for this, but I think non-disclosure and discretion deserve to be a part of this conversation. Are we not also entitled (with all this effort at laying claim to our entitlements to marriage and equality in relationships) are we not also deserving of privacy? Whenever I have tried to tell anyone about this position, I have felt I politicized something which would melt in the sun of publicity. I don't want these relationships made public to a public who would rather burn a woman like me at the stake than to understand. I don't stop loving a man because he is too possessive to handle my multiple relationships. I understand it. Maybe I would feel possessive too, if a man I loved had multiple relationships (they rarely do. It's usually "just" moi.)

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    1. Anonymous, thanks for sharing that. It would probably be easier today to find men who'd agree to "don't ask, don't tell" as the policy.

      While I won't endorse cheating per se (and I personally don't want to be in a long term relationship unless I've met the metamour(s) and know that everything is cool), I do note a couple of things:

      1) If someone never explicitly asks for a pledge of monogamy, then I don't see nondisclosure of nonmonogamy to be the same thing as lying & cheating. Communication is not just telling. It is asking, too, and for people to assume monogamy is a mistake and while I do volunteer that I am polyamorous, I don't think we're obligated to cater to the assumption of monogamy.

      2) Your lovers (sexual or not) have received what they were looking for, correct? I would ask them, what is more important - that you loved her as she was, or that you knew all of the details as to why she was the way she was? In other words, if you weren't "shortchanging" or neglecting any of them, or trying to pull one over on them ("I'm pregnant, and it is yours") and they were happy, then I would ask them, if they would be upset to know there were other men, how exactly they felt their relationship with you suffered because of your other relationships.

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