The Polyamorists Next Door

Exploring the world of consensual non-monogamy

How Many Polyamorists Are There in the U.S.?

This post provides an estimate of the number of non-monogamists in the US, explores the reasons why it is so difficult to accurately count polyamorists, and details recent attempts to get a question about non-monogamies on the 2016 General Social Survey in order to answer the question about the number of polys. Read More

Differentiating sex from affection and thought from deed

I disagree with the presumptive definition used for polyamorism/polyamorist in this article. I think it is time that we recognize the difference between sexual orientation and affectional orientation, and to recognize that they don't always work in perfect synchronization in the same individual. You can be sexually drawn to a very different kind of person, or for that matter a different number of people, than you are emotionally drawn to. If we are going to use the term "polyamorism", let's use it accurately for what it is saying, namely, someone who loves multiple people at the same time. That is a different thing than someone who has multiple sex partners. Just because a man cheats does not mean he loves the woman with whom he cheated or does not love his wife. In fact, generally speaking, men don't tend to associate sexual monogamy with emotional monogamy as strongly as women do. Does that make a majority of men polyamorists? Let's stop matter-of-factly conflating non-manogamy with polyamory. A person may be capable of having multiple sex partners, or even tolerating multiple sex partners on the part of their life partner, but never holding romantic affection for the extraneous partners or becoming upset at their partner's other partners until it appears to become romantically affectionate.

Next we need to draw a distinction between thought and deed. Is polyamorism as the polyamorist does or how he or she thinks? Is it a sociological concept or a psychological one? Are you a polyamorist because you are in relationships of some kind with multiple people over the same time period, or are you polyamorist because you feel attraction to, or have romantic fasciations with multiple people without regard to your ever acting on those feelings or attractions? I find it odd to try to count polyamorists by counting open relationships. Those relationships may be very emotionally monogamous, but one or both partners in the relationships have sexual appetites that cannot be satisfied through sexual monogamy. That to me is not polyamorism. That's polysexualism. An example of a functional polyamorist might be the business-traveling man who keeps families in different cities. He may hold genuine romantic affection for each of these wives and may not have sex partners outside of them, but it is the affection that he feels that makes him a polyamorist, not the sex that he has. Meanwhile the man who frequents bars, hits on women, and sleeps around is not polyamorist.

I think we need to better clarify our terms based on sex/affection and thought/deed scales. Allow me to propose these terms:

Thought-based definitions:
Polyamorist - someone capable of holding romantic affections for multiple people simultaneously
Polysexual - someone capable of feeling sexual attraction for multiple people (or multiple kinds of people)
Monoamorist - someone who only romantically loves one person at a time
Monosexual - someone who only feels sexual interest in one person at a time

Act-based definitions:
Plural relationship (or polygamy) - greater than two people sharing in a presumptively committed romantic relationship
Monogamy - two people in an intimate relationship who remain sexually and affectionally exclusive to one another
Open relationship - romantic relationship with an understanding of tolerating other extraneous sexual relationships
Cheating - engaging in sexual relationships outside the primary relationship without consent of the committed partner

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Elisabeth Sheff, Ph.D., is an expert on polyamory and sexual-minority families with children.


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