What is Polyamory?
word means "many loves" - having more than one loving
person in your life at the same time. It has also been called
responsible non-monogamy. It is not about having affairs or
cheating on the people you love; everything is in the open and
mutually agreed on, there are no secrets or lies. Polyamory is
about loving people in a committed, ethical and consensual way.
Why did you create the World
I created, with hubby Sasha here on Maui and
our partner David Doleshal in Berkeley, the World Polyamory
Association, a non-profit. World Polyamory Association, WPA,
wants you to encourage, support, embrace, or at least tolerate
relationship choice. We welcome you, whether you actively
practice polyamory, are poly-curious or are a poly-supporter. We
welcome you at our events and on our sites if you're dedicated
to freedom of choice, especially freedom in interpersonal
If you love more than one, and your lovers all know of one
another, you're polyamorous, or poly. WPA especially supports
you. WPA encourages your relationship choice. Live the way
that's right for you now. We want to share with you how
polyamory––ethically relating to multiple contemporaneous
lovers––can enhance you as an individual, better your
relationships and give you direct spiritual experiences. WPA's
conferences, seminars, events, chat list, support groups and web
site exist to support individuality and diversity. We support
you as you discover who you are.
WPA recognizes your free will to decide what's best for you as
you choose relationship styles and structures that serve you,
your friends, families, communities, nation and the world. We
respect your intelligence and ability to decide for yourself;
honor your natural facilities as co-creator with Universal
Intelligence. Maximize creativity and diversity for yourself and
you simultaneously create a richer and more fulfilling existence
Polyamory is a high spiritual path, designed to propel you to
peaks of awareness and consciousness. Part of the poly path
involves exploring your interpersonal dynamics and your struggle
to define yourself in opposition to others. WPA encourages you
to use feedback from your lovers to recognize, accept, heal,
harmonize, and celebrate how you're each unique, similar, and
the same. The depth of love and intimacy you feel in poly
relationships feeds your soul.
Multiple lovers can help you feel happy, whole and complete. You
grow spiritually as they know, accept and love you for more than
just your social facades. And your poly partners grow too as you
know, accept and love them. You and they know who's there to
love. You listen to their feedback on how your authenticity
affects them. And from their feedback you and they grow and have
more to offer the world.
Isn't polyamory the same as swinging?
Swinging is another legitimate
form of responsible non-monogamy based on openness and honesty.
It differs from polyamory in fairly significant ways.
Swinging is largely M/F couple oriented, and most couples who
swing choose to limit levels of emotional involvement with
sexual partners to friendship. Most of the time couples
who swing do so for fun, pleasure, and to spice up their sex
Some polyamorists also swing, but a great many do not.
Some swingers develop long-term family-like intimate networks
with their regular swing partners where they support each other
through life's ups and downs, though these still tend to remain
couple-centric in nature.
In contrast, polyamorists remain consciously open to and prefer
deeper levels of romantic emotional connection on an ongoing
basis with more than one romantic sexual partner. Some are
married or coupled, some are not. All remain open to
simultaneously conducting more than one committed, long-term
sexually and emotionally intimate relationship that includes
much involvement in each others' day-to-day lives.
Polyamorists, too, often enjoy the availability of more sex and
are very positive about their sexuality, but they tend to value
relationships they establish as highly, and often moreso.
What kinds of relationships do polys have?
common pattern is the open marriage where both partners date
other people, sometimes the same people. Another common theme is
the group marriage - like a typical monogamous marriage, but
with more than two people. Triads (three people) are also fairly
widespread. Many of these relationships become true families
with long-term commitments, children, etc.
What do polys do about Jealousy?
polys experience some jealousy now and then, but they don't let
it control their lives. Jealousy is like fear or any other
unwanted emotion: something to be dealt with and put behind you.
When dealt with honestly and unflinchingly, jealousy loses much
of its power. Many see jealousy as a signal that something needs
investigation and care, much as they would regard depression or
Are there disadvantages to being poly?
are a few:
may have to unlearn a lot of conditioning
may have to learn how to deal with jealousy
have to be very honest with yourself and other people
may have to work on your communication skills
become a social and sexual deviant in many people's eyes
lovers mean longer good-byes (it can take you 15 minutes to
get out the door)
of these disadvantages are also advantages.
What sort of people are polys?
of different ages, backgrounds and from all walks of life are
polyamorous. In general, there seems to be a higher than average
representation of people with advanced degrees, science fiction
fans, computer and health care professionals, pagans and
bisexuals. Some people fall into none of these groups. Polys are
a pretty diverse bunch, but there are a few common traits and
Common Traits of Poly People:
terribly insecure, needy or possessive
love of honesty
uncommon degree of self-knowledge
high priority for personal growth
take responsibility for their own happiness
Common Beliefs of Poly Folks:
lifetime monogamy as the only viable relationship option is a myth
- Though thinking of oneself as
belonging to another and vice versa is often romantic and
pleasurable, polyamorists generally choose not to think of
people as property that can be owned
- People are entitled to choose
the form of relationship and family that best meets their
fear of condemnation
one single person is likely to meet all your needs for an entire
How do polys feel about monogamy?
polys have a "live and let live" attitude. They are
happy for those people who have found happiness in monogamous
relationships. However, the fact that half of all married people
cheat and half of all marriages end in divorce gives many polys
pause and causes concern about what these statistics say about
their chances for long-term happiness in a monogamous
relationship and look for other options.
of men and 40% of women have extra-marital affairs.
More than 50% of marriages now end in divorce.
Polys tend to see the modern American nuclear family as an
recent aberration in the course of human history and believe
that larger, more complex extended families (or tribes), have been
the natural human family structure. Poly parents observe that
their children are even happier when they have more than two
trusted parental figure role models with whom to relate. Polys
tend to resist our culture's idealization of monogamy and its
tendency to oppress sexual minority groups.
The Alt.polyamory Faq Table of
1). What's alt.polyamory?
2). What's polyamory?
3). But isn't that "cheating"?
4). Primaries, secondaries, vees and triads: polyjargon and
5). What about jealousy?
6). Are there rules for being polyamorous?
7). How do you decide who sleeps where when?
8). Why do some posts talk about Hot Bi Babes? (and where can I
9). Are all polyfolk bisexual?
10). Do polyamorous relationships last?
11). How can I tell if I am polyamorous?
12). What about living together and commitment and marriage and
13). What will the children think?
14). How does a person start (or continue) a poly
15). How do I explain this to people?
16). Is there a secret alt.poly handshake?
What's alt.polyamory? Alt.polyamory is a USENET newsgroup more or less full of people
interested in talking about polyamory and related topics.
Alt.polyamory was founded by Jennifer Wesp on May 29, 1992.
What's polyamory? (Glad you asked that. ;-) ) Polyamory means "loving more
than one". This love may be sexual, emotional, spiritual,
or any combination thereof, according to the desires and
agreements of the individuals involved, but you needn't wear
yourself out trying to figure out ways to fit fondness for apple
pie, or filial piety, or a passion for the Saint Paul Saints
baseball club into it. "Polyamorous" is also used as a
descriptive term by people who are open to more than one
relationship even if they are not currently involved in more
than one. (Heck, some are involved in less than one.) Some
people think the definition is a bit loose, but it's got to be
fairly roomy to fit the wide range of poly arrangements out
But isn't that "cheating"? Nope. Oh, you wanted a longer answer.
Okay. According to the OED, cheating means "fraud, deceit,
swindling." There's a nice quote from 1532: "The
first...ground of Chetinge is...a studdy to seme to be, and not
to be in deede." In other words, cheating is to convey
through deliberate action the impression that one is of a
particular nature while one is, in fact, something quite
different. What this boils down to with polyamory is that
polyamorous people do not tell partners, lovers, or prospective
members of those groups that they are monogamous when in fact
they are not -- nor do they allow these people to assume they
are monogamous, regardless of how convenient or personally
advantageous such assumptions might be. The words
"communication" and "being out" occur
frequently in discussions of how polyamory usually works. As
Stef puts it: "I think the key in defining polyamory is
*openness*, that is, having multiple relationships with the
knowledge and consent of your partner(s) rather than by deceit.
(How much openness, how many details are shared, of course
varies widely.) A great many people have secret affairs while
they're in a supposedly monogamous relationship. I think those
people might have the potential to be polyamorous, but I do not
think they are practicing polyamory. Another key in defining
polyamory, IMO, is that it need not involve sex (although it
often does)." Generally speaking, if someone openly
practices "more than one love" and calls themself
polyamorous, they probably are; if they practice "more than
one love" and call themself monogamous, do not adjust your
television: the problem is *not* in your receiver.
vees and triads: polyjargon and polygeometry Since there are
lots of different ways to organize (or not organize, if one is
blessed by the Goddess of Chaos, or has a taste for happy
anarchy, or is a principled egalitarian) relationships, it
follows that there are ways of describing these various
arrangements. This polyjargon has evolved in the newsgroup over
time, and the words are merely descriptives. No approval or
disapproval of any particular arrangement is to be expressed or
implied. Primary - word often used in a hierarchal multi-person
relationship to denote the person with whom one is most strongly
bonded. In some cases this bond or commitment takes the form of
legal marriage. As bigamy is not legal, the option of having two
(or more) legally wedded primaries simultaneously is not
currently practicable, though non-legal ceremonies may certainly
be performed. In some cases "primary" refers to the
lover with the most seniority. Secondary - follows from primary,
in a hierarchal relationship, denotes a person with whom one is
involved without the emotional, legal, or economic complexities
and commitments of primary bonding. Yes, some people talk about
tertiaries and so on. Some people also don't like the terms
primaries and secondaries or the concepts behind the terms,
preferring to have "a circle of equals" as one poly
person called it. Stef contributed the term
"Non-hierarchical Polyamory" for this kind of
arrangement. Triads - three people involved in some way. Often
used in a fairly committed sense, in some cases involving
ceremonies of commitment, but also used simply to mean
"three people who are connected". Example: "Jodine,
Mischa and Mickey are a FMM triad living in Excelsior." Vee
- Three people, where the structure puts one person at the
bottom, or "hinge" of the vee, also called the pivot
point. In a vee, the arm partners are not as commonly close to
each other as each is to the pivot. Triangle (or equilateral
triangle) - relationship where three people are each involved
with both of the others. Sometimes also called a triad. Line
Marriage - term from the works of Robert A. Heinlein, science
fiction writer, meaning a marriage that from time to time adds
younger members, eventually establishing an equilibrium
population (spouses dying off at the same rate as new ones are
added). This is a different form of familial immortality than
the traditional one of successive generations of children.
(Definition courtesy of M. Schafer, and yes, there are people
who are in situations like this who use the term to describe
their family.) Polyfidelity: Relationship involving more than
two people who have made a commitment to keep the sexual
activity within the group and not have outside partners. (Rumor
has it that this term was coined by the group Kerista.) Quads,
pentacles, sextets and more: There are polyfolk who exist in
multiple arrangements with more than three members. Geometry can
get complicated, and creative nomenclature abounds. As in every
other aspect of polyamory, the precise bonds of intimacy vary
from group to group and from member to member within groups.
What about jealousy? Some people seem to have no jealousy; it's as if they didn't get
that piece installed at the factory. Others, including some
long-term polyamorists, feel jealousy, which they regard as a
signal that something needs investigation and care, much as they
would regard depression or pain. Jealousy is neither a proof of
love (and this is where polyamory differs from possessive or
insecure monogamy) nor a moral failing (and this is where
polyamory differs from emotionally manipulating one's partner(s)
into relationships for which they are not ready).
Are there rules for
being polyamorous? Nobody has a trademark on How It's Done, if
that's what you mean. The best anyone can do is tell how it
works for them, and as with most other things, YMMV. (That means
"Your Mileage May Vary.") Some people have "rules
of thumb". Joe and Kat: "Your needs come first. We'll
talk about everything. What they said." Elise: "Since
a certain 'learning experience' I have felt strongly that I
should never allow my relationship with a new person to be a
tool used to avoid dealing with a 'broken' other relationship.
In fact, one of the things I am most careful about is 'emotional
spillover'; I have a policy of not spending intense time with
otherloves when there is something out of balance with one love.
Naturally this tends to speed up the opening of negotiations
about the difficulty. ;-) I think it's unfair to my loves to use
the time I spend with them as a palliative when there's trouble
elsewhere; it keeps me from doing the work I need to do, the
work I agreed to do when I took on the reality of the
relationship." If you want rules of thumb, you get to make
them up yourself. No warranty expressed or implied, and keep
checking the instrument panel throughout your flight.
How do you decide who
sleeps where when? This is the most often asked question in
panel discussions of polyamory, making some polyfolk wonder why
sex is more interesting than the emotional and other intimacies
of polyamorous life. The answer is that the people involved
decide, and they decide *how* they decide, too. Some people have
conferences and divide up the week, some people all pile happily
into one big bed, and for all I know some people spin a big
wheel with blinking lights on it each evening....and some people
can love one another, have no sex, and choose to live in
separate homes if that is most comfortable for them. The answer
usually evolves out of discussion, empathy and practice, which
makes it a lot like good lovemaking. As jack says: "The
thing to remember is that the sexuality of a relationship is not
the most important aspect of it. The best thing I can do for
either of my partners is meet them at the door with a buttered
biscuit and a smile."
Why do some posts talk
about Hot Bi Babes? It's a newsgroup joke referring to the
occasional post from someone, almost always identifying himself
as a straight male, who is seeking "hot" (i.e.
sexually arousing) bisexual female partners to save him from the
monotonies of the back rack at his local video rental shop. The
term Hot Bi Babe is almost always used sarcastically,
occasionally by those of us who really are hot bi babes, to
lampoon those who regard our sexual preferences as a spectator
sport. (Our crankiness has more to do with the frequency and
ineptitude of clueless approaches than it does with the
acceptability of fantasies or anything like that.) (and where
can I get some?) Posting personal ads to alt.flame
is usually a good strategy; alt.dev.null
is another good bet. Best of luck, and keep those cards and
Are all polyfolk
bisexual? No. There are many polyamorous people who are also
bisexual, and many who are monosexual (i.e. relating only to one
gender as potential or actual sexual/romantic partners; straight
or gay/lesbian). There are also lots of folks who don't do
sexual preference/orientation labels at all. One doesn't always
know until one asks, as with so many other things. Avoiding
assumptions is usually worth the exercise.
relationships last? Some do, some don't, just like any other
kind of relationships. Some folks on the newsgroup have been
together for many decades; some own houses and have children
together. Being polyamorous is no guarantee that relationships
will be easier, though there can be advantages to shared joys
and shared sorrows, as the old saying goes.
How can I tell if I am
polyamorous? I'm not sure; only you will know, and according to
the philosophy of some folks, people aren't polyamorous,
although behavior can be. Some people find that approach useful,
and others prefer to think of "polyamorous people".
Some polyfolk tend to recognize themselves in the descriptions,
and can only be restrained with difficulty from jumping up and
down and screeching, "See! See! I *knew* it wasn't just me!
Hooray!" If you aren't sure you're poly, the best practice
is probably to act kindly and responsibly, and to communicate
clearly to the best of your ability as you learn; come to think
of it, that's the best practice for polyfolk, too, so you'll be
one of the crowd anyhow. Besides, being polyamorous is not
inherently "better" than being monogamous, so there's
no need to feel like you have to pledge allegiance or anything
like that just to hang out and look at the questions. Another
thing to consider is that the word "polyamorous" is,
like all labels, just a tool. What you do and how you treat the
people you love is probably more important to them, in the long
run, than whether you fit a particular descriptive term, so
don't sweat it, okay? And take good care of each other.
alternate point of view: "There aren't polyamorous and
monogamous people; there are polyamorous and monogamous
relationships." The same person may at various times be happy in
both monogamous and polyamorous relationships at various times
in his/her life. What is right depends on you and your feelings,
and the feelings of those you are involved in relationships
with. You may at some times be involved in a relationship that
is monogamous, and that may be the right thing for the people in
that relationship; at other times, you may be in a relationship
which works better as part of a polyamorous network of
relationships. In any case, the important thing is probably to
act kindly and responsibly, and to communicate clearly with
intimate partners and potential partners about these issues.
Don't deny your feelings or the feelings of those that you care
about. Get in touch with how you and those you care about really
feel, rather than how society wants you to feel, or how you
think it would be logical to feel, or how you've been told
polyamorous people (or monogamous people) should feel. Then
behave in ways which are honest, and which make you, and the
people you care about, and the people they care about, happy and
fulfilled. If this results in you having more than one intimate
relationship at the same time, or being involved in a
relationship with more than two people, those who are big on
categorizing and labeling people will label you a 'poly
What about living
together and commitment and marriage and all that? Good
question. Ask it; there are many many approaches among the
people on the newsgroup. From cohousing to communal living to
group marriage to things-undreamed, there are a multitude of
ways. Design a new one and see how it works. Unlearn assumptions
about an old arrangement. Ask questions, and practice empathy.
Most of all, polyamory seems to be about building new
configurations of relationships rather than trading people in
and out like baseball cards. As amanda r. clark says: "Poly
is being open to the opportunity if it comes along, not refusing
commitments because something better might come loping down the
What will the children
think? As Martin Schafer says: "If you don't think you are
doing anything wrong, and can honestly explain that, they'll
probably think it's pretty neat. For some of us having more
people involved in child rearing is a big practical benefit of
our lifestyle. The details of how this works is a fertile topic
for discussion, both here and among the individuals
How does a person
start (or continue) a poly relationship? First, there are no
rules. Nobody owns the copyright on polyamory. You get to build
your own to fit you and your dearloves. One thing that comes up
in every conversation about polyamory is communication. If there
is any basic building block, this is probably it. If you can
talk about your hopes, you're on the way to realizing them.
you're in a relationship already, and have not talked about how
you feel and what you want, and you're asking the question "How do I start doing this poly stuff?", you may have
some qualms about talking to your partner. What you do will have
to be determined by your own ethics and your own situation;
chances are that if you ask on the newsgroup, many polyfolk will
suggest you talk it over with your partner, and they may point
out that even if you two do not decide to live polyamorously,
you may very well increase the intimacy level in your monogamous
dyad by having the discussion. On the other hand, it may all go
blooey, and this is why people hesitate. On the third hand,
nothing ventured, nothing gained. On the fourth hand, it might
be useful to increase the intimacy level in the existing
relationship and address any outstanding difficult issues there
*before* having this particular discussion. Four more hands and
you've got a nice statue of Kwan Yin there, and seeing as how
she's the Goddess of Mercy, she might come in handy at a time
like this. Joe Avins feels that it's not a good idea to try to
force a relationship into an attractive model; he favors the
"relax, be open, and see what happens" approach, and
quotes Pete Seeger: "Take it easy, but take it." If
you're already in more than one relationship and haven't
disclosed this yet, you will find people on the newsgroup who
have experienced similar things - from all three sides - and are
willing to discuss their perceptions and the actions they took.
How do I explain this
to people? David Rostcheck says: "You don't have to explain
yourself at all, or answer to anyone. You're happy. Your
feelings require no justification. It's a mistake to try to
reconcile what you feel with a social classification, because
the classification may not really suit you. You start with your
feelings, understand them and be comfortable with them. You,
your feeling, and the people you care about are the important
things. You're getting in this unnatural, inverted position of
trying to explain yourself. You don't have to explain yourself
to the world. You just are, and your relationship just is. If
other people want to understand it, then you try to explain to
them in basic terms what you feel, and that you're happy.
"Here's how I'd deal with some specific questions:
":Are you seeing my daughter or this other girl? I'm seeing
them both. ":So you're cheating on her? No. They both know;
we're all friends and we're happy that way. ":Well, which
do you love? I love them both. ":Which do you love more? I
don't understand the question. They're different people. How do
you measure? ":Why don't you commit to one of them? Why
can't I commit to both of them? "See? You don't have to
bend over backwards to express yourself in their terms. They may
have to learn your terms to understand you. You're not the one
who doesn't understand; they have to put in the work to
comprehend you. Remember, the bunch of you have something that
comes naturally and feels right for you; whether or not other
people get it is a secondary issue. As long as you do what you
want you'll be happy. "Does that help any?"
Is there a secret
alt.poly handshake? Not that I know of. ;-) There are several
proposed symbols, of which the most common seems to be the
parrot. As parrot pins and other ornaments are relatively easy
to find, this symbol seems likely to catch on over the others.
It also has the advantage of being humorous, which is a needed
quality in such a staid, conservative group as alt.poly. (Joke,
folks! Set irony filters on stun.)
End of alt.polyamory FAQ
For more information on
polyamory, check out ADVICE and ARTICLES.