I first ran across the term "polyamory" in Hardy & Easton's classic nonfiction exposé The Ethical Slut. It immediately resonated with me, because in principle, no other type of romantic relationship has the depth of honesty, appreciation, and respect needed to foster the kind of love I was looking for.
Unfortunately, after a few weeks of forum discussions with numerous people from around the world, engaging with local groups, and searching through online dating sites, it became apparent that there are a lot of misconceptions about polyamory as well as disagreement about what exactly polyamory is.
These problems cause misunderstandings and confusion inside and outside the poly community. Even worse, they leave those who are new to polyamory vulnerable to those who use polyamory as a way of masking their relatively shallow sexual exploits.
This site provides a solution to those problems by building an objective definition of polyamory based on independent historical evidence and critical thinking that meets all the essential criteria, and cannot be self-servingly reinterpreted without injecting significant bias, thus exposing any non-poly or anti-poly agenda that might otherwise not be apparent.
The site also dispels some common misconceptions, outlines some of the benefits, and provides some reasons for caution. By taking the time to review this site you will be much better equipped to fair-mindedly discuss polyamory, identify true poly relationships, and engage in a poly lifestyle from a well informed perspective.
Those already familiar with polyamory may find some portions contentious. Whatever the case, you are encouraged to share your experiences, questions, constructive criticism, and concerns. Info that helps improve the site will be added as time permits. For further details see the Contact Page.
The word "Polyamory" is a derivative of the term poly-amorous, coined by Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart who used it in an article that appeared in the May 1990 edition of Green Egg, a periodical of the Church of All Worlds, an American Neopagan religion. She later drafted the following definition:
Polyamory is the practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.TOP
Since 1990, multiple definitions and interpretations have popped-up that have led to various versions of polyamory, each with their own ethical considerations. So which one are we supposed to reference as a baseline? In clarifying the concept of polyamory, the Ravenhearts say the following:
"The two essential ingredients of the concept of polyamory are 'more than one;' and 'loving.' That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other's lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, “cheating,” serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as 'mate-swapping' parties."
Given the clarification above, the focus of polyamory is on establishing loving emotional bonds rather than random sex partners. Therefore some definitions have replaced the phrase "sexual loving" with the word "romantic". This is more in harmony with the original intent because the word "romantic" implies and permits, but neither necessitates nor emphasizes sex.TOP
Another issue with the early definition is that it requires the consent of all partners involved. Before elaborating, it should be emphasized that basic consent, as in the individual right of everyone to refuse the advances of others, is taken for granted.
The kind of consent we're talking about here is where partners in a relationship require consent from each other before they can either be polyamorous, participate in a relationship outside the relationship they are already in, or bring someone new into an existing relationship.
That sort of consent is problematic because as outlined on the Nature Versus Nurture page, humans are non-monogamous by nature. Therefore withholding consent can be seen as a restriction on personal freedom. To quote the Ravenhearts on the freedoms polyamory brought into their lives:INSET 03
"As for 'what kind of freedoms' polyamory has brought into our lives, we would have to say, the freedom to be fully ourselves, according to our own intrinsic nature. And by our giving a name to it, other people who share that nature have also been finding that they are not alone."
Simply put, we love as we feel whether we have permission to do so or not, and therefore placing a requirement like consent on innate feelings and behavior limits our fundamental freedom and sets us up for problems associated with denial, which are in large part the same problems that polyamory aims to resolve.TOP
Removing the condition of consent from the fundamental definition of polyamory doesn't mean that it's not a consideration, only that it can be ethical in one context and not in another, and where the differences in context aren't well understood it can cause misinterpretations that assume ethical rules like consent don't apply, when nothing could be further from the truth.
The differences in context we're talking about here are those between a poly relationship or lifestyle and our poly nature. For example, those in touch with their poly nature realize it's simply the way humans are, and therefore requiring consent to be poly is absurd. However arbitrarily bringing someone new into an existing relationship without the agreement of those already involved, could be seen as unfair. Conversely, denying someone the freedom to engage in a relationship with someone they love can also be seen as unfair.
Therefore, depending on the situation, the requirement of consent may or may not be ethical. But no matter what, the concept of ethics is a key ingredient. So it makes more sense to simply replace specific examples like "full knowledge and consent" with the word "ethical", and in doing so cover all contingencies. The specifics of what constitutes ethical behavior is mostly a matter of discussion for you and your partner(s), but the three essential ingredients are honesty, appreciation, and respect.TOP
The kind of honesty we're talking about here isn't whether or not we're always law abiding citizens. Most of us commit minor indiscretions from time to time while we're out dealing with the world. The kind of honesty we're talking about here is the full disclosure between partners about their lives and inner worlds. This level of honesty can sometimes be uncomfortable, but over time it facilitates a depth of trust and understanding that cannot be attained any other way.
In addition to honesty, there are the concepts of appreciation and respect. Appreciation lets us know we're valued and respect moderates relationships so they run smoothly. For example although honesty is essential, it wouldn't be respectful to embarrass a partner in front of friends when whatever it is could be better discussed with each other in private. It can take time and patience to get used to exactly what works best for each other.
Last but not least, the assumption is that partners are in a loving relationship, if not in-love with each other. There's a whole range of feelings and behaviors associated with the concept of romantic love, and not all partners are going to feel the exact same way about each other. To keep everything in harmony the importance of communication cannot be overestimated.TOP
For the same reasons as given in Inset 02 above, polyamory isn't simply ethical non-monogamy because hypothetically, sex with multiple partners outside the context of a meaningful relationship can still be entirely ethical.
Where then do we draw the line between polyamory and other types of ethical non-monogamy? As covered in greater detail on the Interrelationships page, the thing that consistently stands out is the interrelatedness of those involved.
For example the spectrum of swinging varies from superficial involvement to complex emotional involvement with multiple partners, but the degree of interrelatedness between those on the list may be negligible. However as soon as simultaneous romantic relationships attain a level of appreciable interrelatedness, there's no question that there's a shift from swinging into polyamory.TOP
Because romance and ethics appear to be largely cultural constructs, can polyamory really be considered natural? This sometimes hotly debated question is explored in further detail on the Nature Versus Nurture page. In the meantime, there are a couple of good reasons for accepting that polyamory is every bit as natural for humans as simple non-monogamy.
The first reason is that from a neuroscientific perspective, our capacity to experience romance evolved before the neocortex, making it a trait we've had for at least 3 million years. Therefore, regardless of cultural influences, romantic relationships between humans have been taking place as far back as recorded history, and even in cultures where romance between multiple partners has been repressed, humans have continued to do it anyway.
The second reason is that it seems self-evident that a fundamental component of ethics is our perception of fairness, and that once again, from a neuroscientific perspective, our perception of fairness is linked directly with our emotions. From a psychological perspective studies also show that unfairness is experienced well before we learn about ethics on an intellectual level.
Given the two reasons above, there's no reason to assume that in the absence of socialization, humans wouldn't naturally experience romance and want to treat those they love fairly. This doesn't mean that humans have always been successful in that regard, but success isn't necessary for the traits to be part of our nature.
For example, reproduction is perfectly natural, but humans aren't always successful at having children. The important thing is that the necessary ingredients are part of our intrinsic makeup rather than something that requires schooling. In that regard, the objective evidence indicates humans are naturally polyamorous, but that poly behavior has been repressed through socialization.TOP
Logically, whatever is in a particular state must have the ability to be in such a state, and therefore in the original definition, the word "state" is redundant and can be dropped. There is also redundancy in the word "practice" because we practice things we learn, not what we are. In other words we don't practice being human. We simply are human. Likewise, because humans are naturally non-monogamous, it's something we are, not something we practice. In this regard, many people seem to have the reality of the situation completely backwards.
In other words people tend to assume that monogamy is the natural state and that non-monogamy is a cultural invention, when in fact, it`s the other way around. Monogamy in Western culture can be traced back to ancient Roman decrees. On the other hand, overwhelming evidence from evolutionary anthropology, psychology, neuroscience, and simple observation of human behavior clearly show that humans are naturally non-monogamous.TOP
Given all the factors above, we can now formulate a contemporary definition for polyamory based on objective historical references and relatively objective reasoning:
This definition is in harmony with the core of all versions of polyamory I've run across, including the original, and therefore it forms the baseline on this site for the development of ethical views on a variety of interpretations and situations that people who are interested in polyamory may encounter.
💡 This definition and the entire explanation may be freely reproduced provided a backlink or source credit is included.TOP
For convenience we'll be using the terms "poly" and "mono" as references to polyamorous and monogamous subject matter or people. Poly people are those who recognize and embrace their poly nature. They are also typically aware of the differences between polyamory and other kinds of relationships, and have put a substantial amount of thought into why they self-identify as polyamorous.
Mono people are those who practice a mono lifestyle. Some mono people might recognize that they are poly by nature, but choose not to embrace it out of cultural convenience. Most however, seem to be unaware of their poly nature or the term polyamory, which means they haven't given much thought to it. Only when faced with the problems associated with a mono lifestyle do they begin to ask whether monogamy is really the best type of relationship for them.