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Polyamory is a general term to denote relationships involving more than two individuals. There are a wide variety of gender combinations that make up different relationships with no one particular set-up being the most common.

Some people hold promiscuity and a lack of commitment to be the real reason behind most polyamorous relationships and in some cases that is true. It is by no means universal and there are a greater number of polyfidelitous relationships than any other relationship type within the community. To focus exclusively on the sex is to miss the fact that a polyamorous relationship includes everything a monogamous relationship does, simply with more participants.

Philosophy of Polyamory

One of the cornerstone ideas in a polyamorous relationship is that someone cannot reasonably expect one other person to satisfy all of their emotional, personal, sexual, or spiritual needs as a human being. Many polyamorous people feel that this expectation is a contributing factor to the spike in divorce and general dissatisfaction with marriage that is seen in modern society.

Those critical of polyamory often bring up the concern that if there are three people in a relationship, the love and affection will be spread too thin and someone will go without. The polyamorous community sees love as a boundless resource, not confined by numerical limits and as such there should never be a lack of it in any relationship, regardless of the number of participants.

Trust is also an extremely important facet of polyamory because a person has to trust their partners (and often themselves) to be willing to enter into a relationship where they may be sharing their partner with someone else.

Another core idea is the concept of taking joy from the happiness of the person you love. If they are happy when they are with you and with another person, you should be happy that they are finding fulfillment and not engage in what is called "loving selfishly"; considering your partner's love to be yours and yours alone, not to be shared with other people.

Forms of Polyamory

Polyamory can take one of several distinct forms.

  • Polyfidelity, which is a relationship involving multiple partners which is closed off to new members and the people within the relationship are faithful to each other.
  • Primary and Secondary relationships are most often found in polyamorous relationships involving three people where one person is the Primary participant and another is the Secondary. The different individuals usually fulfill different needs for each other and for the third person involved
  • Various relationships between multiple people or sets of people, named by their configurations (A relationship of three people would be called a triad, a relationship between two different sets of couples a quad, and so on.)
  • Polygamy (polygyny and polyandry), in which one person marries several spouses
  • Group relationships and group marriage, in which all consider themselves associated to one another, popularized by Robert Heinlein in many of his works
  • Networks of interconnecting relationships, where a particular person may have relationships of varying degrees of importance with various people.
  • Mono/poly relationships, where one partner is monogamous but agrees to the other having outside relationships.
  • Singular relationships are sometimes defined by the letter shape they form; one person romantically involved with two individuals who are not involved with each other would be a "V" relationship and so on.
  • Open relationships are termed when one or more participants in any relationship are free to seek other partners outside the relationship while staying attached to their primary partner, long-term relationships of this type are often referred to as Primary and Secondary relationships.

Legal Status

Being polyamorous is not technically illegal anywhere in the US, however public knowledge about a person's polyamorous leanings can cause complications at work or in legal dealings such as custody disputes. Many states have fornication or cohabitation clauses in bigamy statues that do cover polyamorous behavior that can range anywhere from a misdemeanor and negligible fine to a felony and a year or more in prison as well as a substantial fine. Polyamorous relationships can be considered "cohabitation" and thus are prohibited by the bigamy statues of many states. They can also be considered as "presenting a marriage as having more than two participants" which also trips the bigamy laws.

In most states, these laws are rarely (if ever) enforced but the concern for polyamorous individuals and families is still present. Further complicating the idea is that many laws that may affect such relationships are convoluted and unclear so someone is never quite sure if they're violating a statue or not until they find themselves in court.

See also