What Is Unicorn Polyamory?

unicorn polyamory

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Unicorn polyamory (aka unicorn poly) is the term for when two people who are in a relationship add a third party to their dynamic. Unicorn polyamory commonly refers to an arrangement between a heterosexual couple (of one man and one woman) and a bisexual woman—though they could also be a bisexual man or a nonbinary person.

The "unicorn," or third party, can be a person of any gender or sexual orientation who joins a couple regardless of the people's genders and sexual orientations. The unicorn is a third partner for anything from casual sex to long-term commitment and all possibilities in between.

The unicorn is most commonly invited into the partnership for sex with one or both members of the couple. In this case, unlike in some other poly relationship models, the unicorn is typically not an equal party. They may be beholden to the couple and their rules, and may not have equal footing.

The History of the Term "Unicorn Polyamory"

While recent times have led to much documentation around different relationship styles and models, with numerous books available on the subject, this hasn't always been the case. Because of a lack of documentation about counterculture and subcultural relationship styles, isn't possible to know who invented the term unicorn polyamory.

One blogger speculates that the term has been in use since the 1970s, saying that in the swinger communities of that time, the word unicorn was used to describe a bisexual woman who was available to have a threesome with a heterosexual couple.

The term also meant that the woman would not try to infringe upon the couple's relationship or seek to become close with only one member of it.

The word unicorn is commonly used to describe a bisexual woman willing to have sex with a couple, and the people in the couple seeking a woman to sleep with them are sometimes referred to as "unicorn hunters."

What Is Polyamory?

The basic idea of polyamory is that one or both parties in a couple are also involved with people outside of that couple. There are many different types of polyamory, such as:

  • Ethical non-monogamy
  • Hierarchical/non-hierarchical polyamory
  • Kitchen table polyamory
  • Mono-poly relationships
  • Open relationships
  • Parallel polyamory
  • Polyfidelity
  • Quad
  • Solo polyamory
  • Triads/Throuples
  • Vee

Polyamory implies an openness to outside relationships, not just sex, but it is also an umbrella term under which any relationship models that are not monogamous fall, no matter what the relationship setup looks like. Data estimates that at least 21% of single people have been involved in some type of sexual non-monogamous relationship.

It's worth noting that some couples who have or seek a unicorn don't necessarily identify as polyamorous.

What Is A Unicorn?

A unicorn is a person who is willing to join an existing couple. They may join the couple only for sex, or they may become a more involved part of the relationship and spend nonsexual, companionship time together too.

The word is used for this description because unicorns are rare, mythical, and hard-to-find creatures. It may be difficult for a heterosexual couple to find a bisexual woman who wants to be involved with them but is willing to play a lesser role, following along with whatever boundaries and rules the couple has established.

While the word unicorn can technically be for a person of any gender, they are usually a woman, or occasionally a nonbinary person. When a man wants to join an existing couple, they may refer to themself as a "dragon" rather than a unicorn.

What Does the Term "Unicorn Hunting" Mean?

"Unicorn hunting" describes the act of a couple looking for a woman to add to their relationship in some way. The couple is generally a straight one, and they are usually seeking a bisexual woman.

The act of seeking is called "hunting" because the couple is seeking someone exceptionally rare. However, it is a term that frequently causes discomfort and unease, as the act of unicorn hunting often involves a lack of transparency, harmful stereotypes, and the couple possessing greater power in the dynamic (also known as couple privilege).

A couple may have a dating app profile in which they declare they are "looking for their unicorn," or "couple looking for a third." They may attend LGBTQIA+ events, or go to clubs with a queer clientele. If a straight person is seen in an LGBTQIA+ space, the most common assumption made about why they are there is that they are seeking a unicorn.

What Unicorn Polyamory Looks Like in a Relationship

Outside of the personal or cultural knowledge someone might have, information about unicorn polyamory and what it entails can be found in places like blogs. Examples of these include Unicorn Yard and Unicorns Rule.

There are no hard and fast rules about unicorn polyamory, as it is a cultural term, not a technical one.

Unicorn polyamory generally regards the couple as primary partners and the unicorn as the secondary partner.

In entering the couple's relationship, the unicorn consents to be a part of their existing structure. This means that if the couple has established rules, the unicorn must follow them. These rules might seem unfair, such as that the unicorn isn't allowed to be intimate with only half the couple while the couple has permission to have sex without the unicorn.

Additionally, the unicorn is usually under the presumption that if the relationship between the couple were to fail, the unicorn would not continue to see either of its parties. The unicorn is specifically sleeping with or dating the couple, not a member of it.

The Difference Between Unicorn Polyamory and Triad/Throuple Relationships

Some elements of unicorn polyamory might sound similar to a triad or throuple relationship, but there are key differences. Primarily, a throuple or triad relationship is about three people who are all primary partners.

There is no hierarchy present in throuples generally, and it isn't assumed that any of the parties in it were a couple first. Conversely, the term unicorn specifically implies that a single person is joining a couple.

Another major difference between unicorn poly and triads/throuples is how the group relationship moves forward once established. In a triad, it can be assumed that all rules made will be agreed upon by all three parties. However, in unicorn poly, the assumption is that the couple will always make the rules, and the unicorn must follow them.

Some People Believe That Unicorn Polyamory Is Unfair to the Unicorn

Because of these differences, unicorn poly isn't viewed as positively within polyamorous and LGBTQIA+ communities as triads are.

The unicorn position is often seen as unfair because of the imbalance of power in the relationship. Queer people often dislike "unicorn hunters" taking up space in queer places, and may not treat them as members of their community.

If a unicorn and a couple decide that they do want to embark upon a triad relationship, they'll usually change the terminology they use. Rather than continuing to call themselves a "unicorn" situation, they'll likely refer to just being in a relationship together instead, and throw the unicorn word aside.

The Emotional Impact of Unicorn Polyamory

Someone who chooses to be a unicorn might have a wonderful time and experience with every couple they join. They might find it completely fulfilling. However, because the situation is unbalanced, this might not be the case.

A unicorn may be pressured or expected to defer to the rules and preferences of the couple. Unaddressed couple privilege can be problematic if it is not acknowledged and navigated by all parties involved.

While a person might decide that they want to try being a unicorn, that doesn't mean they have to stick with it if it doesn't feel right for them. Just because a couple thinks that they have the right to set all of the rules about how a situation goes, doesn't mean the potential unicorn has to consent to them.

A unicorn is as important a person in the world as a member of a couple is, and this is important for them to remember.

A Word From Verywell

Unicorn polyamory can be a great experience for an individual, but due to the power imbalance inherently involved in it, it could have some major pitfalls. These pitfalls could potentially lead to emotional distress. Remember that you are your own person with full autonomy, and you never have to consent or take part in anything that doesn't feel good or true, or anything that doesn't honor you.

1 Source
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  1. Balzarini RN, Dharma C, Kohut T, et al. Comparing Relationship Quality Across Different Types of Romantic Partners in Polyamorous and Monogamous RelationshipsArch Sex Behav. 2019;48(6):1749-1767. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-1416-7

By Ariane Resnick, CNC
Ariane Resnick, CNC is a mental health writer, certified nutritionist, and wellness author who advocates for accessibility and inclusivity.