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What Is Polyamory?

Polyamory is the practice of having multiple intimate relationships, whether sexual or just romantic, with the full knowledge and consent of all parties involved. Polyamory is not gender-specific and rejects the idea of exclusivity; anyone can have multiple partners of any gender.

Also known as consensual nonmonogamy, polyamory is distinct from other forms of open relationships, such as swinging—which involves couples having casual sex outside of the relationship, specifically without any emotional attachment.

Polyamory is also often confused with polygamy, the almost exclusively religious practice of being married to more than one person at the same time. The two are distinctly different. For instance, polygamy specifically involves marriage to multiple people of the opposite gender (most frequently manifesting as a man having multiple wives).

While some people romanticize the idea of a soulmate, others believe that no one individual can fulfill all of a person’s relationship needs, and therefore they prefer having many loves, or polyamory. According to several 2016 studies published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, approximately one in five Americans has had a consensual open relationship in their lifetime.

Having strong communication skills helps people to maintain polyamorous relationships, as they need to manage feelings of jealousy as they arise, as well as clearly define their boundaries.

How Does Polyamory Work?


Due to the stigma surrounding it, polyamory or consensual nonmonogamy is often practiced privately and kept secret even from close friends and family. Approximately 25.8 percent of polyamorous individuals have experienced discrimination, according to a 2012 study by the non-profit organization Loving More.

Some people who are polyamorous have a primary relationship and engage in casual hookups, but most polyamorous people begin secondary relationships with the consent of their primary partner, to whom they are generally married or committed.

Having a secondary partner requires the primary couple to agree on a set of stipulations, such as date times and the type of intimacy allowed. Research has found that polyamory can offer some surprising benefits, ranging from greater satisfaction and extra help with child care to increased relationship commitment.

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