Terminology within polyamory

Terminology within polyamory looks at the evolution and meaning of the word "polyamory" itself, as well as alternate definitions and concepts which closely relate to it.


The word polyamory has been applied to the practice or lifestyle of being open to the possibility of people having more than one loving, intimate relationship at a time, with full knowledge and consent by all partners involved. The term is sometimes socially abbreviated to poly, especially as a form of self-description, and also at times described as consensual non-monogamy.

Polyamory is a hybrid word: poly is Greek for many and amor is Latin for love. It has been independently coined by several people, including Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart whose article "A Bouquet of Lovers" (1990) is widely cited as the source of the word (but see below), and Jennifer Wesp who created the Usenet newsgroup alt.polyamory in 1992 . However, the term has been reported in occasional use since the 1960s, and even outside polygamous cultures such relationships existed well before the name was coined; for one example dating from the 1920s, see William Moulton Marston.


History of the term

The word polyamory does not actually appear in "A Bouquet of Lovers", referenced above. The article uses "polyamorous", but its original version introduced the term in hyphenated form, "poly-amorous". The article consistently uses "polygamy" as the counterpart to "monogamy". There are no verifiable sources showing the word polyamory in common use until after alt.polyamory was created. The older term polyfidelity, a subset of polyamory, was coined decades earlier at Kerista.

alt.polyamory participants collaborated on a FAQ (frequently asked questions) post that was updated periodically, and included the group's definition of "polyamory". The latest version of the FAQ on polyamory.org, dated 1997, has this definition:

In 1999, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart was asked by the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary to provide a definition of the term (which the dictionary had not previously recognised). Her definition was:

''Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English'' defines polyamory as:

"Participation in multiple and simultaneous loving or sexual relationships."
''Merriam Webster's Dictionary'' gives the definition as:
"The state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time."

Scope of the term

No single written definition of "polyamory" has universal acceptance. It is generally agreed that polyamory involves multiple consensual, loving relationships (or openness to such), but beyond that the term is as ambiguous as the word love itself. Some object to the idea that one must currently be participating in multiple relationships to be considered polyamorous. Others would consider their relational outlook polyamorous, regardless of whether they happen to be single or in an exclusive relationship at the time.

A relationship is more likely to be called "polyamorous" if at least one relationship is long-term, involves some sort of commitment (e.g. a formal ceremony), and involves shared living arrangements and/or finances, but none of these criteria are necessary or definitive.

For instance, somebody who has multiple sexual partners might form strong loving friendships with them, without feeling romantic love for them. Whether such a person identifies as "polyamorous", or as a swinger, or uses some other term, often depends more on their attitude towards other "polyamorists", "swingers", etc., than on the exact nature of their relationships. Different terms emphasise different aspects of the interaction, but "swinging" and "polyamory" are both broad in what they can refer to. This allows for a certain degree of overlap.

Similarly, an open relationship in which all participants are long-term friends might be considered "polyamorous" under broader usages of the word but excluded from some of the tighter usages (see further discussion below). There is enough overlap between these concepts that the expression "open relationship" is also sometimes used as a catch-all substitute when speaking to people who may not be familiar with the term "polyamory". However, some have objected to this shorthand, on the basis that multiple partners does not necessarily imply that they also have open relationships.

Other terms within polyamory

Terminology describing relational structures and connections

The terms primary (or primary relationship(s)) and secondary (or secondary relationship(s)) are often used as a means to indicate a hierarchy of different relationships in a person's life. Thus a woman with a husband and another partner might refer to the husband as her "primary". (Of course, this is in addition to any other terms a person might use, such as "lover", "casual date", "friend", "other half", and so on.) The term tertiary can refer to ongoing casual relationships, though it is much less commonly used. Some polyamorous people refer to "primary/secondary" as a style of polyamory that involves an explicit hierarchy of relationships. Another model, sometimes referred to as intimate network, may include relationships of varying significance to the people involved, but people who practice it do not explicitly label relationships primary or secondary, and hierarchies may be fluid and vague or nonexistent. The terms primary & secondary usually refer to the relationship, not the partner, but the common shorthand of referring to someone you have a secondary relationship with as "my secondary", etc., sometimes causes confusion on that point when communicating with people not familiar with polyamory. Some polyamorous individuals regard the "primary/secondary" model as insulting to the people involved, believing that instead, all partners should be considered equally important.

Common so-called "geometric" arrangements of relationships have been given names which are commonly recognized. These are usually described by the number of people involved and their relationship connections. Examples include "triads" and "quads", along with "V" and "N" or "Z" geometries. The connecting member of a V relationship is sometimes referred to as a "hinge" or "pivot", and the partners thereby indirectly connected are referred to as the "arms". The arm partners are not as closely bonded to each other as each arm partner is to the pivot. This can be contrasted with a "triangle", in which all partners are directly connected and all are bonded to each other with comparable strength. A triad could be either a V or a triangle.

Terminology related to polyamorous v. open relationships

An open relationship generally denotes a relationship (usually between two people) in which participants are free to take other partners; where the couple making this agreement are married, it is an open marriage. "Open relationship" and "polyamorous" are not identical terms. Broadly, "open" usually refers to the sexual aspect of a non-closed relationship, whereas polyamory involves the extension of a relationship by allowing bonds to form (which may be sexual or otherwise) as additional long term relationships:

See also forms of nonmonogamy for other types of nonmonogamous relationship (not all of them polyamorous).

See also

External links

Polyamory glassaries:

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This article is based on "Terminology within polyamory" from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org). It is licensed under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation Licencse. In the Wikipedia you can find a list of the authors by visiting the following address: http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Terminology+within+polyamory&action=history