Polyamory (Part I): “When Loving One Isn’t Enough”

In my ongoing writing and research for my next book, I have talked to couples who are finding new and unique ways of dealing with long term commitment and sexuality. In this month’s news, we have a guest writer – Dr Liz Currin writes about a form of relationship called Polyamory. To some, the following type of relationship may sound challenging, and to others it may be the answer to their questions about long term monogamy. Please note I do not recommend or disagree with anyone’s relationship lifestyle. The information below is for your information only. Feel free to write me with questions or comments at tammy@tammynelson.org



 by guest writer:

Liz Currin, Ph.D. © 2009

Atlanta Area Psychological Associates, P.C.



Just what is polyamory? The word comes from the Latin “poly” (meaning “many”) and “amor” (meaning “love”). So, polyamory literally means “loving many”. But what does this translate into on a practical level? Polyamory is also sometimes referred to as “consensual non-monogamy”, which gets us to its essence. It is non-monogamy in the sense that practitioners of polyamory are emotionally (and generally sexually) involved with more than one partner at a time. It is consensual in that the individuals involved are aware of this arrangement and agree to it.


Polyamory is based on the idea that the legal, emotional, and sexual limits which Western society places on our intimate relationships are artificial and unnecessarily restrictive. Polyamorists believe that there is room in the human heart for deeply loving as many individuals as one desires, so that it’s possible to be involved in any one of a number of types of relationships. For example, a poly triad would consist of three individuals, a poly quad would encompass four committed individuals, and so on. Polyamorous relationships can take on many different forms, sometimes beginning with a married or committed couple who decide to bring in one or more additional partners in order to enhance and deepen their emotional experience and to contribute to their personal development. There may be entire poly households consisting of several adults and children, with all the adults participating in childrearing and household tasks. In such cases, there is often a pooling of economic resources, as well. Other arrangements include more diffuse networks in which individuals may have a primary commitment to one other individual, with secondary levels of commitment, involving less time spent together and generally less emotional energy invested in the relationship with another person. Such a network might also include tertiary relationships which would involve sporadic sexual or social activity, and even less emotional involvement.


One other way to think about polyamorous relationships is in terms of how open or closed they are to new members and to involvement with those outside the group. “Open” groups will invite new members who are acceptable to all group members, while members of “closed” groups agree not to become emotionally or sexually involved with others outside the existing group. Yet another way to compare poly arrangements is in terms of what sort of experiences are acceptable to group members. For example, some groups have a “fluid bond”, that is, members exchange body fluids with each other and practice barrier-free intercourse. If these groups have agreed that it’s acceptable for members to engage in physical intimacy outside the group, they may practice “condom commitment”, that is, they agree to exchange bodily fluids only with members of the group, who have all been screened for sexually transmitted diseases. Another term for this type of group is “safe sex circle”.


Other forms of polyamory include polygamy, or having multiple husbands or wives at a time. Polygyny refers to having multiple wives, while polyandry refers to having multiple husbands. A more obscure form of polyamory is known as “line marriage”, which involves adding younger members to a group marriage as existing spouses die off. The goal here is to maintain equilibrium within the group and to confer a sort of immortality on the existing family.


As you can see, the possibilities for polyamorous relationships are as varied as the individuals who practice it, just as with those who practice traditional monogamy and serial monogamy (being intimately involved with or married to different individuals sequentially). Again, the essence of polyamorous relating is that it is non-monogamous and consensual. Individuals may be drawn to polyamory for a variety of reasons. They may have found in their intimate relationships that they continue to be attracted to other people and that those others fulfill something in them that a primary partner does not. And yet they do not want to engage in infidelity. They prefer to be open and honest about this personal inclination. Some polyamorists reject the Western ideal of monogamy and the sociopolitical and religious restrictions that are placed on sexual and emotional relationships. They may see polyamory as a desirable political goal and a more highly evolved lifestyle and may become activists on its behalf. A number of poly communes have been founded over the years with this goal in mind. Perhaps the best known of these is Kerista, which was founded in San Francisco in the 1960’s and, after struggling for many years, finally disbanded in the early 1990’s.


Stay tuned for part 2 of Polyamory coming soon.

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