Below is a list of common questions about polyamory. The names in parentheses after an answer reflect the opinion of that Vanpoly member. Questions may have answers from more than one person, and these answers are not always the same. We encourage you to find your own answers to these questions.
What is polyamory?
Having relationships with multiple people as a way to meet the needs of people who's needs are diverse and changing. (Sean)
Polyamory is the practice of open, loving and honest multi partner relationships. An exact definition is hard because many different types of relationships fit inside the framework of polyamory. Polyamory embraces relationships from singles, but looking :), pairs, triads, dyads, to communal situations. Open and honest relationships are at the core of polyamory, and while how much you communicate to your lovers about your other relationships depends upon the agreements and relationships with those lovers, the fact that you have those other relationships is not hidden. (Jay)
A relationship style that involves more than one committed, loving relationship at the same time. (Orion.)
"Polyamory" is a lifestyle that supports more than one honest, committed, loving, romantic-sexual relationship at a time. (Chloe)
For me, polyamory is simply about having the freedom to love, care for and support more than one person. At least that is the textbook definition in my mind. It seems ridiculous to me that one should be bound to love only one person throughout a life. It isn't always easy, in fact, some times it seems like it is the hardest thing I have ever done, but in the end it is worth it. (Rob C.)
Non monogamy inclusive of all. (a polygamy polyamorous, a swinging polyamorous, a committed relationship polyamorous etc...) (Paul M.)
What isn't? ;) polyamory, to me, means the freedom to explore the potential of all relationships with the understanding that each connection is as valid and unique as the next. It means figuring out, for yourself, what your ideal relationship situation is outside the dictates and pressures of society, family and media. It means being able to explore the limits past the preconceived notions of "family", "friendship", "lover", "spouse", or "life partner". (Tillie)
What about intimacy?
Loving multiple people is no barrier to intimacy. One can still have 'special moments' and connections with people that are unique to that relationship. (Sean)
By being open, honest and up front about yourself and your other loves, how could you be any more intimate? (Jay)
Intimacy is so much more than sex. It involves coming to see myself and each other as we really are. (Orion.)
Sometimes people think a person can only be truly intimate with one other person, as though we had only one true love or "soul-mate" out in the world. Polyamorists think that human beings are capable of love and intimacy with many people throughout our lives. In this view, intimacy develops as a result of open sharing and mutual care, respect and affection. Beyond certain facts of life (e.g. there are only 24 hours in one day, 7 days in one week, etc.), the only limits on intimacy are the ones we put there. Everyone should have the opportunity to find out for him or herself what style of intimacy and what style of relationship works best for her or him. (Chloe)
It depends on the style of polyamory chosen by the individual, from gratuitous sex and/or hand holding to committed "one on one at a time" deep understanding of each others needs, wants and desires. (Paul M.)
I think intimacy is determined by how much (and all) individual are personally willing to "let down their walls" and "open up", just as in any "conventional" relationship. Sure, it can be difficult to establish and maintain a great connection with someone you don't share a lot of time with, but if the motivation is great enough, we can find ways to establish communication and connection, through letters and email and non-face-to-face means. (Tillie)
What about jealousy?
Almost everyone is jealous. Isn't jealousy an issue in monogamous relationships as well? Open relationships are an agreement to communicate about these kinds of feelings. If you can't talk over how you feel about any issues, you don't have a chance of making the relationship work. If you have jealous feelings, you need to discuss them with your partners. In my humble opinion, jealousy is all about "you", what you think you aren't getting... Sometimes there is a reason to be jealous, especially when your love has a new relationship and is full of the energy and emotions that a new relationship brings out, when they are spending more time than is "fair" with the other... So you talk it out, make and keep agreements that are fair. The most important thing you can do to transcend jealousy is to be secure in yourself -- to be confident about yourself, feel strong in your relationship, to understand each other, what you give each other and why you make sense together. This does not mean you have to have exact words or perfect descriptions for all these things -- some will be indescribable feelings. Once you are secure in your relationship, jealousy is less likely to take root. (Jay)
This is a feeling that happens when I am afraid I will be in the pangs of infatuation and my love won't be present because someone else is there as well. (Orion.)
Many people, whether polyamorous, monogamous or however-defined, experience jealousy from time to time. Jealousy is a natural response to the idea that something (or someone) threatens a relationship we value. Jealousy disappears when we no longer perceive a threat. When people feel secure and esteem themselves and their loved ones, they are not plagued by jealousy. Jealousy is more likely to appear when people feel anxious and are worried they don't "measure up". When I feel jealous, I ask myself questions: "What am I afraid of?" "What do I think is going to happen next?" "How do I know that so-and-so thinks that?" and so on. Often a little self-reflection is enough to reassure me. Other times I need reassurance from my partners as well. The important thing to remember is: talk about your jealous feelings. Don't allow them to fester. Open and honest communication can really go a long way to easing feelings of jealousy. (Chloe)
I see jealousy as inevitable. I used to be of the mind that I was invulnerable to jealousy, that I was above it. Some things changed in my life and there it was staring me in the face. But jealousy can be managed by acknowledging that it is happening, by seeing the impact of jealousy on the world around us, and by dealing with it by taking responsibility for it. That may sound like a load of new-age drivel, but so far, it is working for me. :) (Rob C.)
No one is a pro or immune to it but some claim to be. (Paul M.)
To start with: Jealousy happens. It feels awful. It happens for big and little reasons, some make sense, some don't. Even in monogamous relationships, even in friendships or families we feel jealous, so why not in poly? I find that some of my jealousy is "my problem", meaning that is relates to a long-standing self-esteem issue and has little to do with anyone's actions or intentions. When I call how I feel "a problem" is when I believe someone is intentionally disregarding an agreement made or being deliberately deceitful or harmful. Sometimes, though, the distinction is hard to make when you are feeling bad. ;) (Tillie)
Isn't this "swinging"?
Swinging usually implies a sex-oriented activity that places little, if any, focus on establishing a romantic, intimate long term connection. (Sean)
In my humble opinion, "swinging" is primarily about recreational sex... And while many swingers wind up with polyamorous relationships with other couples, polyamory is going after the relationships first. (Jay)
Or, in gay terms, just like a bath house? No. Trust me. (Orion.)
No. Polyamory, as a practice and philosophy, is focused on committed relationships with more than one person at a time. Swinging, as a practice and philosophy, is focused on sexual pleasure and diverse sexual experiences. Of course, some people who swing are also involved in poly relationships, and some people who are into poly relationships may also swing. My sense of it is that the poly community and the swing community are separate groups, with some overlap. People who cruise the Internet looking for virtual or actual sex are often disappointed with both polyamory and swinging, as polyamorists are interested in relationships more so than casual fucking, and swingers are tend to meet at private clubs or at small, private parties -- rarely do such clubs and parties admit single heterosexual men. (Chloe)
I don't see polyamory as the same thing as swinging because it isn't about sex...or at least, it isn't ALL about sex. Polyamorists are in it for all the other things that they get out of it like personal growth, getting all your needs met, variety and many others. (Rob C.)
If that is all your looking for then you would be a swinging person who is polyamorous... (most poly folks disagree with this statement in order to distance themselves from the swingers but many times swingers do love their partners and even when they don't, the sex positive nature of the relationship creates an underlying love with all who is associated with them) (Paul M.)
I don't really know enough about swinging to say, having never done it. (Tillie)
How do you decide who sleeps where?
Flip a coin, take turns, take a poll and see who enjoys being elbowed from both sides. Mostly you just need a big bed. (Sean)
No experience in these matters, but it sounds like a fun conundrum... (Orion.)
That depends: who snores? Who has the biggest bed? Who is a blanket hog? There are as many solutions to this "problem" as there are people trying to solve it. Whatever system works for you. (Chloe)
With a day timer, Palm Pilot and outlook calendars (Paul M.)
I live on my own, so it's my way or the highway! *laugh* Seriously, though, in my experience it's usually discussed or worked out in advance. (Tillie)
Does polyamory exploit women?
Hopefully no one is being manipulated into doing what they do not want to do. If poly is done openly and honestly then I think it will be free of exploitation. (Sean)
I think that any form of a relationship can exploit another, when one is not being honest with oneself and one's lovers. I think that in any relationship, when one relies upon another for anything, love, food, money, leadership, one opens up oneself to the risk of being exploited. Being emotionally healthy, responsible for oneself and confident in one's life are the best defenses against exploitation. Relationship models don't exploit people, people exploit people. (Jay)
As a philosophy, polyamory respects the right (and obligation!) of ever person to make up his or her own mind about who/what/how/how many she or he wants to love. In practice, polyamory doesn't exploit women any more than monogamy does -- it depends on the people involved and how they treat each other. (Chloe)
A far more appropriate question would be: does polyamory exploit anyone? It's a fallacy that women are the only exploitable or exploited gender. And I don't think it does exploit anyone, if it's done with lots of communication. But it does have the potential to exploit everyone equally without communication and boundaries and respect. (Kenzie)
That would depend on who you associate with. E.G: swinging can often exploit women where as a committed relationship polyamorous can be very matriarchal to a fault as well. (Paul M.)
Depends on the people involved. *insert rant about inherent, subliminal sexism in society* Though, I have noticed that many of the women in Vanpoly appear to be happy, empowered, functional members of society, focused on their own happiness and satisfaction. (Tillie)
What about AIDS and other STDs (sexually transmitted diseases)?
The only completely safe sex is abstinence. Every partner you have carries a small chance that you will contract something from them. The solution is to be as safe as possible. (Sean)
AIDS and other STDs are a real risk in our society. In my humble opinion, there is a focus on risk groups, homosexuals, drug users... When the real focus should be on risk behaviors, unsafe sex, sharing needles, getting "drunk" and not taking responsibility... Everyone has a responsibility to take control and a responsibility for their own safety. "Cheating" is in my mind, an unsafe behaviour... For in hiding the other relationship, you don't give your partner the chance or choice to protect themselves. That said, many couples, when opening up their relationship to another, will develop and abide by a safe sex protocol, condoms, dams, gloves, whatever they feel is needed to protect the primary couple until adequate time and testing has occurred to allow them to remove the use of barriers with their new partner. (Jay)
Always assume your partner has something; this doesn't mean distrust; we just can't read minds, and sometimes, people are afraid to tell, and don't know they have anything, or who knows what other circumstance. Poly people aren't perfect. (Orion.)
People in poly relationships have to make the same decisions about risk as any other sexually active people. Hopefully everyone who is sexually active can educate themselves with accurate, up-to-date information about HIV and other STDs, and establish honest dialogue with their sexual partner(s) about safer sex practices. (Chloe)
If we talk about it more than 60 seconds, we should probably wrap it in latex... I find using safer-sex procedures (please look this up somewhere else on the 'net!), frequent STD testing and communication to be the most reassuring way I know to ensuring my own, and my lovers' safety against STDs. Nothing is perfect, however, but we try and keep each other informed and safe. (Tillie)
What do you tell children/families?
Whatever they want to hear. :) (Sean)
In my humble opinion, (families) whatever you are willing to tell them. If you feel that going public will cost you custody of the children, then you protect the family. It is in many ways, easier to live life in an open manner... But it is also harder in many ways. I think that everyone has to make their own choices in this manner. As I don't have children, at this time... I won't make any comment. (Jay)
What do you tell your children when they see a man and a woman walking down the street holding hands? (Orion.)
That depends on you, your children and other relatives, how old your children are, whether you are (still or ever) married to your children's other biological parent, how much or how little support you have within your extended family, where you live, the nature of the relevant legislation in your jurisdiction, and a host of other factors. "Coming out" as someone with more than one partner (or who wants more than one) can be tricky for any of those reasons. If there are children involved and there is any chance your relationship with them could be jeopardized in custody or other family law matters, I'd proceed very cautiously. If there are no children involved, you may still want to proceed carefully -- it's hard to generalize from one family situation to another -- but ultimately, family members will either be supportive and caring, or they won't. You know yourself and your family best; make your decisions accordingly. (Chloe)
I am out to my family as being polyamorous. It was an important thing for me to do, because I didn't want to run around lying and I wanted my family to know why I was so happy. All my partners bring different varieties of joy to my life and I felt it was important for them to be acknowledged. I wanted to be free to bring one two or X partners to family gatherings. I wanted my partners to be acknowledged as part of my family.
It was a tough job to get around to telling my dad, so I warmed up by telling my sister who I knew would be more accepting. That was liberating. I set my dad up by first telling him that I was worried about being judged a bad person or crazy or something. Then I told him of my lifestyle. He accepted it and while it was clear that he didn't agree with it or approve of it, he didn't respond in a negative way. (Rob C.)
Honestly, I can't recall telling my family...I just started talking about more significant others at once. They're accepting of it, having more than one SO for family BBQ's at once, etc. I think my SO's are sometimes more scared of my family than my family is of poly! (Tillie)
How do you introduce the idea of poly to a partner?
I introduce poly in the first discussions I have with someone about dating/relationships. I am lucky because I am not in a situation of being married and having to introduce poly, or being in a relationship where my partner is unaware of my poly nature. I point them to websites and books on the subject, and discuss my take on the philosophy openly and honestly. I welcome them to come to the local meetings, to meet other polyfolk. Now the big question for me is how do I implement poly? (Jay)
Do the scary, sometimes painful thing of honesty. Though you can't count on a positive response, ask for time for them to come to see that this isn't just an excuse to make them unimportant, or to treat them with disrespect. And, as with a gay man coming out to a wife, depending on your partner's reaction which you cannot control, you may not always be together... (Orion.)
I let people know right from the start that I choose to have more than one partner. This means that I let them know by the second or third date, and definitely before anything steamy has happened; I usually make a discussion of poly part of a general discussion about relationship styles, sexuality and so on. Frankly, it's been years since I've dated outside the poly or "friendly-to-poly" community, so I'm a bit fuzzy on how I used to bring it up with monogamous people. I'm in a place where I can't imagine dating someone who wasn't poly or friendly to it. (Chloe)
I think it depends on the partner, and how you think they'd be most receptive...As a way of viewing relationships, as a way of opening up and developing your relationship, as an access to more sex partners, as the two of you "dating as a couple"...there are many ways to broach the topic. (Tillie)
Do you have to be in a multi-party sexual relationship to be Poly?
Polyamory doesn't necessarily mean having multiple bedmates. Loving many people, whatever the form it takes, is at the core of polyamory. (Jim C. )
No, I wouldn't say so. I see polyamorousness as one axis of sexual/romantic orientation, where some version of poly lies at one end, and stringent monogamy lies at the other end, with all permutations in between. In other words, I imagine a poly/mono "Kinsey Scale". I guess what I'm getting at is the polyamorousness is an aspect of identity, and as such needn't be acted upon to be "real". For example, it's coherent to say that someone is both a virgin as well as being lesbian, heterosexual, pansexual etc. Having no experience in enacting an identity, either by choice or by circumstance, does not mean the person 'doesn't count as' poly, it simply means s/he doesn't have any experience right now. (Chloe)