What Is Polyamory?

When More Than One Partner Is Involved

Two men and a woman with their heads close together

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To be polyamorous means to have open intimate or romantic relationships with more than one person at a time. People who are polyamorous can be heterosexual, lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and relationships between polyamorous people can include combinations of people of different sexual orientations. Sometimes polyamorous relationships are hierarchical (one relationship takes priority over others) and sometimes they are equal. Consent and communication are very important.

Unlike many open relationships, there is emotional as well as sexual or romantic intimacy. In contrast to adultery, polyamory is consensual and disclosed to everyone involved.

"Polyamory is the nonpossessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously," according to the Polyamory Society. "Polyamory emphasizes consciously choosing how many partners one wishes to be involved with rather than accepting social norms which dictate loving only one person at a time."

What Is Polyamory and What Is It Not?

People in polyamorous relationships may or may not be married, although people who identify as polyamorous may reject the restrictions of the social convention of marriage, and particularly, the limitation to one partner.

Polyamory should not be confused with bigamy, which is marriage to more than one person, and which is illegal. Nor should it be confused with "swinging," in which couples in established relationships have casual relationships with people in other couples. These arrangements both involve sex outside of a committed, legally recognized relationship, which polyamory may not.

Polyamory is also not the same as an "open" relationship, which involves a committed couple agreeing that one or both partners are permitted to have sex with other people, without necessarily sharing information on the other partners. However, polyamorous couples may also have open relationships.

"Consensual nonmonogamy" is an umbrella term that psychologists use to describe swinging, open relationships, and polyamory. Research suggests that more than 20% of Americans have participated in a consensual nonmonogamous relationship at some point in their lives.

Are Polyamorous People Addicted to Sex?

Sex addiction is not a defining characteristic of polyamory, and polyamorous people may not engage in excessive sexual activity. However, people with sex addictions based on the desire for multiple partners may be particularly drawn to the polyamorous community. Most in the polyamory community reject the idea that polyamory and sex addiction have anything to do with one another.

Most polyamorous people emphasize the need for clear communication and boundaries among all concerned; it is a key feature of the polyamorous philosophy. The complexity of interrelationships between polyamorous partnerships can leave some individuals vulnerable to exploitation. However, research shows that people in consensual nonmonogamous relationships and those in monogamous ones have similar levels of psychological well-being and relationship quality.

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