Polyamory is one of the topics that I see and hear a lot of discussion around, but it can often be easily misunderstood. A lot of conversations can start with the assumption that everyone knows what polyamory is, or can be based around things that ‘everyone knows’, but which aren’t actually true.
The basic definition of polyamory is “the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” Wikipedia has a TON of information on specific aspects of polyamory (also called poly), including the differences and distinctions between various types of non-monogamous relationships and practices, like swinging, open relationships, polyfidelity and polygamy.
As for the myths, these are some of the ones I see come up most often:
- It’s all about the sex. Not really. Sex is a part of most poly relationships, but it’s far from the only part. Polyamory is focused on building and maintaining intimate relationships with more than one person at a time, but it’s focused on ongoing relationships, which involve a lot more than just sexual intimacy. Swinging and certain types of open relationships are much more focused on pursuing purely sexual interactions.
- Everyone who’s poly is kinky. Definitely not. There can often be a lot of crossover between people who are into different kinks and the poly community, and since a number of people who are ‘publicly’ kinky are often also poly, it can start to look that way. But there are a lot of poly people who are very happy with ‘vanilla’ sex, they just don’t want to limit that to one monogamous relationship.
- ‘Anything with a pulse.’ Sometimes this gets tied into #1 – there’s an idea that people who are polyamorous are indiscriminate, and will sleep with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Poly people and non-poly people both experience desire for a variety of folks, it’s just that in a polyamorous relationship, there are a number of ways in which it’s possible to act on that desire. However, that doesn’t mean that poly people are dealing with a bottomless pool of need or want.
- It’s just a nicer way for people to be able to cheat on their partner. Polyamory is a situation that allows people to sleep with more than one person at a time without ‘breaking the rules’, but there are still rules. People decide on guidelines, and agreements that work for them; if you have sex or pursue a relationship that goes against those agreements, you’re still cheating. If someone has a problem being honest in communicating with their partner, or has trouble with holding firm boundaries, polyamory would not be a good fit for them.
- Polyamorous relationships are all short-term / they just don’t work. There’s not a lot of research on this, since many poly relationships don’t get counted out separately in broader relationship research, but a study in 1986 compared married couples in polyamorous relationships to those in monogamous relationships, and saw no difference in the stability of the groups’ marriages. (The full study isn’t available online, but more good information and citations are in this article.)
There’s a lot of good information about polyamory out there - the Kinsey Institute has a great bibliography of writings and studies on polyamory, and there are a lot of people writing about what being poly means for them, but if you want a general overview, this article in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality goes into more (but not too much) depth.