Though chances are, you’ve spent the majority of your life either flying solo, living the bachelor life or being in one monogamous relationship after another. From participating in a swinger’s type of set-up where you and your girlfriend sleep with other couples to being in an open relationship, where sexually, you’re both free to explore, and many other arrangements, polyamory reveals a different perspective about dating, falling in love, making love and getting serious.While marriage, in their most traditional sense include two people exclusively sleeping with and being emotionally and physically committed to one another, there are other options.
“Polyamory, simply put, is the practice of being in multiple loving relationships with multiple people. It is also an umbrella term that encompasses the concepts of open relationships, polygamy and swinging, Paul DePompo, PsyD, ABPP, psychologist and author explains. “There are many ways people can be polyamorous. People involved in these types of relationships define the ways in which they prefer to be polyamorous, such as having multiple sexual partners, same-sex partners or emotional relationships with other people.”
From the historical origins of polyamory and how common it is still is today to how to implement touches of it in your own sex life, here’s everything — and yes, we mean everything — you need to know about polyamory.
Even if you’re not sure if polyamory is for you, understanding this type of relationship might be helpful for you as you look to expand your sexual horizons, shake up your trusted, traditional routine or at the very least, explore fantasies you’ve always harbored about sleeping with multiple women.
1 The History Of Polyamory
2 How Common Is Polyamory Today?
3 What Are Some Misconceptions About Polyamory?
4 What Are The Benefits Of Polyamory?
5 What Should You Consider Before Trying Polyamory In Your Relationship?
6 How Do You Get Started?
1. The History Of Polyamory
Though your history or English teacher in high school probably didn’t go into depth about the sex habits of the ancient Greeks who you studied methodology and that infamous Trojan Horse, but maybe there’s a reason the condom brand choose that specific name for their product. In fact, in both the Greek and Mesopotamian times, having multiples relationship, families and bouncing back between gay and straight was so accepted, it was never questioned.
“Polyamory has been in existence since ancient times, with ancient Mesopotamian men having multiple wives, concubines, and engaging in homosexual activity without stigma, as did the ancient Greeks,” DePompo says.
In more modern times, the United States’ culture had a way to go to make polyamory more accepted, and even today, it’s an uphill battle. The first documentation of accepted and practiced polyamory is in 1848 when John Humphrey Noyes founded the Oneida community. Here, the agreement was this: every male and every female were technically married to one another — thus, giving them free range to sleep with and be in a relationship with everyone — but creepily, they called one another “brother” and “sister.” While not exactly the pet name you would likely choose for your girlfriend or wife these days, the hope for the community was to reject monogamous marriage because it “fostered exclusiveness and selfishness” and this type of we’re-all-together mindset was intended to battle that sense of consumerism.
Ten years later, just as slavery was becoming a hateful trend in the United States, Frances Wright created Nashoba, a free-love community. As a well-off Scottish immigrant, she envisioned Nashoba as a place where people from different backgrounds could work together and make love, with no connection of race or marriage. In words we might all relate to, she thought “sexual passion [to be] the best source of human happiness.”
After this earlier iterations, the next wave of polyamory wasn’t until the ’60s and ’70s during the free love movement, with opposition to the Vietnam War and in response to the government’s choices over women’s and African American’s rights. During this time many communities were born and created, all with varying mindsets — from open relationships and marriages to practicing celibacy and trading partners. The idea was that all in these combines were accepted, tolerated and respected for the choices they made with their bodies, even it didn’t fit into the traditional martial mode they were raised with in the ’40s and ’50s.
2. How Common Is Polyamory Today?
“Polyamory as we know it today, with both men and women having relationships with multiple consenting partners, has been growing in the U.S. over the last few decades,” DePompo explains. However, as many experts note, it’s difficult to pinpoint just how many couples and individuals actually identify as polyamorous because of the negative connotation still attached to the practice.
As DePompo explains, “It has been challenging for researchers to identify how many people are polyamorous, but they appear to number in the millions. The people who have tried sexual non-monogamy in the United States are between 1.2 to 2.4 million people.”
Sex expert and commentator Coleen Singer says, “Even polyamorous communities do not agree on a single definition of polyamory, though they do share a common emphasis on honesty, communication, and allowing women to have multiple partners as well,” she continues. “The other thing that makes it difficult to know how common polyamory is: Many poly folks are very much closeted out of fear of societal/family judgement and stigma.”
A recent study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy in April estimated that 1 in 5 people have at least tried polyamory in some shape, form or fashion and defined as “any relationship in which all partners agree that each may have romantic and/or sexual relationships with other partners.” Interestingly enough, it wasn’t age, race, financial status or political ideologies that made someone more or less likely to give polyamory a chance, but rather, their sexual orientation. Those who were homosexual or bisexual were a little more likely to have tried an open relationship than those who identified as heterosexual.
3. What Are Some Misconceptions About Polyamory?
Because the majority of relationships around the world do tend to be monogamous, accepting polyamory across the board is often a difficult mindset to master for some people. For those who were raised with very traditional, and often times, religious households, the idea of having multiples partners doesn’t only feel wrong and strange, but for some, sinful. That’s why so many laws continue to be outdated, not allowing for men or women to marry more than one person at a time, and talking openly about your open relationship preference and practice might feel as scary or uncomfortable as revealing any other private, misjudged secret.
However, experts say cleaning up the conversation around polyamory and breaking down some of the inaccurate stereotypes can liberate those who are afraid to be who they are and also educate those around them who might not understand the true meaning of their choice. Here are some common misconceptions about polyamory:
Polyamory Is Just An Excuse To Be Promiscuous
There’s a big difference between an individual who truly identifies themselves as polyamorous and one who wants to use the ‘open’ relationship mask to allow them to sleep with whoever the want. While DePompo says it can happen, a key to look out for is the word ‘consent’ (yep, sexual consent is the most important sex tip of them all). Both partners in a polyamorous relationship are able to have sex with other people, not just one partner. That’s because true polyamory is both a sexual preference and an emotional need. “Many would define it as having various needs met by a few different people, instead of expecting just one person to fulfill all their needs,” DePompo explains.
Polyamory Is The Same As Bigamy
While bigamy, again, is a form of polyamory, since it’s the giant umbrella that encompasses so many multiple-partner plays, bigamy is where one man (or in rare cases, one woman) has multiple wives (or husbands). In this type of arrangement, the man can choose who he wants to sleep with or spend his time with and rotate throughout the week, depending on what strikes his fancy or mood. In the original Mormon Church, this was accepted and preached at their sermons, but was later technically outlawed. However, many families still participate in bigamy in many states, especially Utah.
Polyamory Is The Same As Swinging
While swinging is a form of polyamory, it’s not quite the same things. Singer explains that there are many more layers — both emotional and physical — to polyamory that aren’t present in the standard definition of swinging. Swingers swap partners but ultimately, it’s more recreational, she explains, and they always go back to their own partner, per the deal. But with polyamory, falling in love with multiple people and being committed to each of them is common, and encouraged practiced.
It’s Only Men Who Suggest Open Relationships
It’s no surprise that so much porn, comedy shows and off-the-cuff movies depict men as the sex-hungry animals who want to sleep with whoever, whenever they want to. In fact, girl-on-girl action is often among the top searches for pornographic sites and having a threesome for a 30th (or 40th or 50th) birthday present isn’t unheard of. But DePompo notes that while it’s often perceived as the man’s wish to participate in multiple-partner fun, women suggest this arrangement almost as much as men. Just like you have wild, erotic ideas you’d like to try out, your girlfriend might have ones too, if you’re brave enough to open the conversation (more on that later).
RELATED: The Threesome Rules You Need To Know Before Attempting One
4. What Are The Benefits Of Polyamory?
While it might feel a bit terrifying to consider opening up your loving, committed relationship with your girlfriend, having an open union does offer some quite unexpected benefits, if both parties agree and are happy with the arrangement. Having a sincere, candid and very honest conversation with your partner is essential to making it work, but you should come prepared with answers to her questions, like why it could be a good idea. Here, experts explain the benefits of this practice.
Polyamory Decreases Cheating
Or as DePompo explains, it actually nearly removes the idea or the option of cheating completely. “If both partners are aware that they are going to be polyamorous, and they are both open about it to one another, there is hardly any ‘sneaking around’ and betrayal that occurs,” he explains. So if you have a crush on the new female executive in your office or you’ve been flirting with an attractive woman at the gym, talking about those feelings in the context of a polyamorous relationship would be accepted. Though some couples might make some ground rules (like, say, “no oral sex” or “no staying overnight”), as long as you follow them, you’re not being unfaithful.
More Needs Are Met
One of the biggest complaints from most every monogamous couples is that their partner simply can’t be their everything. It is highly unlikely that a single person is able to turn you on wildly in bed, challenge you intellectually, be there for you at your lowest with the right things to say and do and also like all of the same sports, foods, movies and music genres that you do. That’s why having the option of many relationships is often appealing — the pressure is off to be perfect. “Many polyamorous couples and individuals are able to get various needs met by various partners. If they feel that their relationship is lacking in one particular area, they can freely seek that out in another relationship, whether it is shared hobbies, or an emotional or physical connection,” DePompo says.
More Love Has Psychological Benefits
Singer explains that polyamory often has a community around it (remember those communities in the 60s and 70s?). Most couples or individuals who identify this way tend to find likeminded people online or in meet-up groups that allow them to express who they are, without feeling unaccepted or uncomfortable. As Singer explains, “People need to feel loved and like they belong somewhere. We have a need for friendship, family and sexual intimacy. Since polyamory is about loving more than one personal intimately, it’s being a part of something bigger and belonging to a larger family.”
Polyamory Can Help You Both To Become Emotionally Stronger
To be able to pull off a happy, healthy and supporter multiple-partner relationship there are a few key components that must be at play at all times: an open, trusted dialogue, constant contact and kind understanding. You already know how difficult it might be to keep up with one relationship, so when you throw in several others, you must learn to be stronger. “Because multiple-partner relationships are inherently more complex and demanding than monogamous ones and because they challenge the norms of our culture, they offer other valuable learning opportunities,” Singer explains.
5. What Should You Consider Before Trying Polyamory In Your Relationship?
“Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? This idea that more and more people are looking outside of just one relationship to get different emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual and financial needs met,” DePompo says. “However, before you explore this concept either with or without your partner, think about a few things first.”
From how you address it to what it might mean for the future of your relationship, or your sex life moving forward, here’s what to consider.
What Would The Ramifications Be?
“People who define themselves as polyamorous usually engage in relationships with all parties being aware of the arrangement,” DePompo says. This means that right off the bat, you will likely be put into situations and meet other people who are keen for an open relationship and expect the same out of you. Before you make that decision, you should think about how you will feel, what would change in your overall life (and possibly career) and how you will handle the transitions.
“Poly is not a DIY project and there is no reason to try to re-invent the wheel as there are many resources out there to draw upon. It is very likely that there are polyamory groups in your area that have workshops you both can attend. Another resource is your local Neo-Pagan community. Neo-Paganism has a very strong tradition of poly within it, and of course you don’t need to become a Wiccan and wear a pointy hat to participate in these group’s ongoing festivals and social functions,” Singer says. “Hint — these are the groups where you most likely will find your first poly partner!”
Is Your Relationship Ready For This?
If your intent is to introduce this type of set-up into your current relationship, Singer provides a big warning and suggestion: it takes a lot of work and trust to make a monogamous relationship go to an open one, and you should consider if your current union is strong enough to make it. “Exploring poly requires a tremendous amount of love, respect and communication between the primary partners. If you or your partner are prone to jealousy, suspicion or a need to be emotionally controlling or needy, poly may not be for you,” she explains.
6. How Do You Get Started?
If you’re ready to take the plunge and give it a chance, the experts provide their best beginner tips for those who are polyamory-inclined and curious:
Deal With Your Past Ghosts First
We all have baggage, from our families, past love affairs, moments that hurt us during adolescence or growing pains you’re still working through. DePompo says the first step to exploring polyamory is to get yourself in the best emotional shape you can, so you are prepared for whatever unexpected feelings come up as you explore. “Being prepared means reflecting on your past relationships and asking yourself: ‘What have been some of my issues in the past?’ ‘Do I tend to crave a lot of time and attention from my partners, or do I prefer to keep things cool?’ ‘How emotionally invested do I tend to get?’ ‘How can I learn from my past relationships to prepare myself for a polyamorous one?’”
“Communication is the most important part of polyamory. People who engage in polyamory say that it works for them because they are honest with their partners and they receive that honesty in return. Do not lie to your partner about seeing someone if you have both agreed that this is okay. Check in with each other to make sure it continues to be okay. Communicate what you are looking for when you start engaging in polyamory. What sorts of boundaries do you want to set? Are there sexual fantasies that you are hoping polyamory will fulfill?,” DePompo says. “Also remember to communicate when you want to end a particular relationship; out of respect and caring for the other partner, let them know if you no longer want to engage in a particular relationship with them.”
Take It Slow
While it can be a very positive experience if you both enjoy the new type of relationship and are enjoying the found freedom, Singer cautions to not just head first into it and start wildly sleeping around, but to take it slow and figure it out before making huge choices or possibly, mistakes you’ll regret. “Polyamory can be a wonderful spiritual, social and sexual journey for your partner and you to explore, but be aware that is is very much outside the realm of what you may have experienced in the past and has quite a few pitfalls to avoid. Take it slow. Communicate. Seek counsel. Be a part of a support system,” she says.
Agree On Boundaries
“Set up boundaries and agree when to consider pulling the poly plug. The majority of poly relationships start out with the ‘secondary’ partner living in their own home, but often evolve into you all living together. Before agreeing to have your ‘third’ move in with you and your primary partner, make sure that everyone knows that this will make things more complex as you will then be at very close quarters 24×7,” Singer says. “If your secondary does move in with you, make sure she/he has their own living quarters to keep a bit of personal space. And, most importantly, if either you or your principal partner sense that your secondary is trying to manipulate into a primary position, realize that this is the number one reason that poly relationships fail, usually in a tragic, painful and sometimes financially disastrous way.”
Enlist Help, When Needed
“Beyond having some community resources for learning and support, consider going as a couple to a relationship counselor to help you both explore how to communicate through this, set boundaries, set up some exit strategies, and other mechanisms to do this in an emotionally safe and sane manner,” Singer says. “One hidden gem in this area is going to “pastoral counseling” with a Unitarian clergy member. Most of them are very open-minded, and can bring both psychological and spiritual elements into the discussion.Strange, but true!”