Polyamory (from Greek πολύ poly, “many, several”, and Latin amor, “love”) is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It is distinct from Swinging (which emphasizes sex with others as merely recreational) and may or may not include polysexuality (attraction towards multiple genders and/or sexes).
Polyamory, often abbreviated as poly, is often described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy.” The word is sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to sexual or romantic relationships that are not sexually exclusive, though there is disagreement on how broadly it applies; an emphasis on ethics, honesty, and transparency all around is widely regarded as the crucial defining characteristic.
The term “polyamorous” can refer to the nature of a relationship at some point in time or to a philosophy or relationship orientation (much like gender or sexual orientation). It is sometimes used as an umbrella term that covers various forms of multiple relationships; polyamorous arrangements are varied, reflecting the choices and philosophies of the individuals involved. Polyamory is a less specific term than polygamy, the practice or condition of having more than one spouse. (The majority of polygamous cultures are traditionally polygynous, where one husband has multiple wives. Polyandrous societies, in which one wife has multiple husbands, are less common but do exist.) Marriage is not a requirement in polyamorous relationships. The “knowledge and consent of all partners concerned” is a defining characteristic of polyamorous relationships. Distinguishing polyamory from other forms of non-monogamy (e.g., “cheating”) is an ideology that openness, goodwill, truthful communication, and ethical behavior should prevail among all the parties involved. As of July 2009, it was estimated that more than 500,000 polyamorous relationships existed in the United States.
People who identify as polyamorous typically reject the view that sexual and relational exclusivity are necessary for deep, committed, long-term loving relationships. Those who are open to, or emotionally suited for, polyamory may embark on a polyamorous relationship when single or already in a monogamous or open relationship. Sex is not necessarily a primary focus in polyamorous relationships, which commonly consist of people seeking to build long-term relationships with more than one person on mutually agreeable grounds, with sex as only one aspect of their relationships. In practice, polyamorous relationships are highly varied and individualized according to those participating. For many, such relationships are ideally built upon values of trust, loyalty, the negotiation of boundaries, and compersion, as well as overcoming jealousy, possessiveness, and the rejection of restrictive cultural standards. Powerful intimate bonding among three or more persons may occur. The skills and attitudes needed to manage polyamorous relationships add challenges that are not often found in the traditional “dating-and-marriage” model of long-term relationships. Polyamory may require a more fluid and flexible approach to love relationship, and yet operate on a complex system of boundaries or rules. Additionally, participants in a polyamorous relationship may not have, nor expect their partners to have, preconceptions as to the duration of the relationship, in contrast to monogamous marriages where a lifelong union is generally the goal. However, polyamorous relationships can and do last many years.