Let’s make it clear: what is polyamory and what is not?

what is polyamory

There are three kind of people on the world: one, who hearing the word “polyamory” associates to something this world does not mean. An other, who uses “polyamory” for something they should not. And the third, who is looked at strangely because of the former two. Because polyamory is mentioned more and more in the media – and I can guarantee that this frequency will be just higher as years go by – here is the time to make it clear what it means and what not.

  1. Polyamory does not equal promiscuity, sexual debauchery
  2. Polyamory and polygamy are two very different things
  3. A polyamorous relationship is not more superficial than a monogamous
  4. Cheating is not polyamory
  5. Swinger and hunting for one-night stands is not polyamory
  6. Polyamory is not for those who are unable to commit
  7. Conclusion

1, Polyamory does not equal promiscuity, sexual debauchery

We can even say that many polyamorous person has less sexual connections than their peers identifying as monogamous. How is it possible? Let’s see what the word itself means: the expression was coined by Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart in 1990 by the sticking the words “many” in Greek (poly) and “love” in Latin (amor) together. It shows that

polyamory focuses primarily on the emotion of love than rather the act of making love.

In contrary to many people’s first association polyamory is a philosophy. A way of thinking, a way of living, a lifestyle, a set of principles and its message is not just that humans can love multiple people romantically at the same time, but also that we should end patriarchy and introduce a new, egalitarian paradigm.

If we want to understand the scope of polyamory, how much it is not just about sex, asexual and platonic polyamory gives a remarkable example. In asexual polyamory people who have very little to none sexual desire can build polyamorous relationships with their partners who have much stronger sexual needs. In the traditional setup either one of them should consent to coerced, unwanted sexual acts or the other should retreat into unwanted and unvoluntary sexual ascetism. This is a classic case in which there is no middle ground: sex is something that we should never be forced into even for the sake of someone who we love. If this couple starts to explore ethical non-monogamy, the sexual barrier will disappear, and they can live a much genuine life with the pressure off.

But asexual polyamory is not the only form without sex. There are also platonic polyamorous relationships where two otherwise sexually “active” person who “don’t have the chemistry” can still be together, they still can have the same level of intimacy that one would only dare to experience in a relationship, and they don’t have to feel awkward for it.

You can also often hear poly folks saying that they have even less sexual contacts than their peers. It can happen because they put their cards on the table that not everybody is ready to accept, they may set the bar very high on emotional maturity and thus they may prefer more meaningful relationships than others identifying as monogamous but living a promiscuous lifestyle.

Naturally sex is not less part of a polyamorous relationship as it is of a monogamous lifestyle, but there is much less focus on sex (or there are so many other important things in polyamory) than the stereotype makes you think.

2. Polyamory and polygamy are two very different things

The similarity of the words might be deceptive: the two concepts are worlds away from each other. Polygamy is a certain form of the institution of marriage in which one man can have multiple wives (polygyny) or one woman can have multiple husbands (polyandry). In everyday talk usually we understand the first under polygamy.

The most important difference is that polygamy does not necessarily involve emotions or self-reflective, constructive relationship dynamics. It can be patriarchal, exploitive and oppressive even, and it may not grant the same rights to all the spouses (ex. a man can have multiple wives but a woman can only have one partner) which would be totally unacceptable in a polyamorous relationship. The institution of polygamy often also has a deep cultural and religious aspect, and it is illegal in most of the Western societies.

Meanwhile polyamory is entirely egalitarian meaning that every people involved must have the same power and importance in a relationship regardless of their age, gender or the length of the time they have been connected to it. There certainly are closed polyamorous (so called “polyfidelity”) groups in which three or more people decide not looking for new connections but this decision must be made by everybody’s unequivocally consent. Polyamory is fully independent of any religion, any culture and not illegal anywhere around the world.

We also have to note, that the spread of polyamory should lead to changes in the legislation regarding polygamy, too. If there will be more and more ethical, consensual nonmonogamous relationships, the authorities will have to adjust the laws to avoid exclusion. Acknowledging these tri- (or even more) partisan marriages would be an enormous step towards a fully autonomous, free polyamorous life for many of us and our children.

3. A polyamorous relationship is not more superficial than a monogamous

Isn’t it bizarre that our society insists to the myth of the indivisibility of love while it is totally acceptable to love more than one children, more than one friend or more than one pet equally?

Aren’t these examples evidence that we don’t have a finite amount of love in our hearts but we are able and ready to love many at a time from our birth? Why wouldn’t it be true only for our romantic relationships? When someone reasons against this idea with jealousy: why should we support so much to a feeling that we hate, we fear, and that creates so much strife in our lives?

Yes, there are many different forms of love (no wonder that the ancient Greek language had nine different words to describe them), but we can also feel many different forms of love towards the same person. My father told me: “marry the woman who is not just your romantic love but your best friend, too”. Wasn’t he right?


In the first three points we discussed the “first type of person” referring to polyamory: the stereotypes that are although wide-spread not true. In the next paragraphs let’s talk about the “second type”, the cases when people use the word polyamory to refer to something they shouldn’t.

4. Cheating is not polyamory

Polyamory is under the umbrella term of ethical or consensual non-monogamy. It must be evident from the expression itself that cheating can not be a valid polyamorous behaviour as it is not ethical nor consensual. (But it also means that proper polyamory is anything but cheating because every person involved have had to give their permission and consent preliminary.)

Cheating is unethical, immoral, and against everything that polyamory is advocating for.

Therefore it is extremely disturbing when someone calls themselves polyamorous, but ignores the ethical and moral aspects and thus discredits a philosophy that they may not even understand.

5. Swinger and hunting for one-night stands is not polyamory

Naturally a polyamorous person or couple (or triad, or quad, or… ) can seek one-night stands or participate in swinger – as anybody can call themselves monogamous if they just occasionally experiment with these, too. But when somebody is only interested in the other person’s body and restricts their connection to a carnal nature they shouldn’t call themselves – or their actual activity – polyamorous.

It can be very annoying when on a dating site someone identifies polyamorous who has registered solely to find casual sex. There is nothing wrong with any sexual behaviour until it happens between (or among) consenting adults, but as a polyamorous person I find it not just misleading but also damaging when someone uses this “label” inappropriately.

6. Polyamory is not for those who are unable to commit

I hear a lot that polyamory is just an excuse for those who are unable to anchor down with someone. In reality the opposite is true: in a polyamorous relationship we must take responsibility for every single person involved.

There is no love without commitment: an expectation from both inside and outside of excellent communication, trustworthiness, thoughtfulness and outmost respect. Polyamory is not a wild card to escape commitment and those who use the word in this context are not just mistaken, but also cause devastating damage on our community’s reputation.


If you read through the former points you may understand why it is so annoying when someone misuses (or even abuses) our identity to hunt for purely sexual connections “no strings attached”. Even more if someone calls the polyamorous lecherous, licentious, lascivious, lubricious, libidinous, libertine and lewd (I love these seven L-words…) not understanding the true nature of this philosophy.

Polyamory is a way of living – and not just because we maintain multiple relationships in parallel. Also because in order to be able to maintain them we need to constantly improve ourselves, develop new skills, go to therapy, and work on ourselves without pause. While one doesn’t need to learn to be able to love multiple people at the same time – as it is a gift we all receive at our birth except for aromantic people – everybody has to learn how to manage it, how not to fall prey of the many dangers and challenges that ambush us on our way.

“Is the world ready for polyamory?”, I receive the question from time to time, and even more if we understand how much work and self-development it requires. But I believe the question is wrong: the “world” doesn’t have to be prepared. Polyamory is not for everyone – but for those who have never really fit into the monogamous belief-system this is good news, an evangelium. It not just means that they are not “bad”, “wrong” or inherently “sinful” because of their genuine doubts about monogamy but it is a philosophy that helps them live a much fuller and satisfying life – and more ethical, too.

Polyamory is not superior to monogamy – but not inferior either. It’s an alternative that’s sheer existence can be liberating for many people waiting to know about it.

Let’s make it clear: what is polyamory and what is not?

by Laszlo Agoston time to read: 7 min
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