Polyamory – from the Greek poly, meaning “many”, and the Latin amor, meaning “love” is big news right now. Dating app Feeld has reported that, over the past year, polyamory-related searches have increased by 400% among women and 500% among men, while Channel 4’s Open House: The Great Sex Experiment features poly-curious couples invited to a stately home to explore opening up their relationships.
But polyamory takes many forms, and for those of us looking at dipping our toes – or any other part of our bodies – in the water, getting to grips with the definitions and dynamics can be a minefield. This is important: if all parties to a polyamorous relationship are not on the same page from the outset, things can go very wrong very quickly.
The good news is that we’re on hand to untangle this web of sexual complexity and give you eight of the most common terms to describe different polyamorous relationships. LET’S GO!
Sometimes known as a “triangle” or a “triad”, a throuple is perhaps the first sort of poly relationship that springs to mind. Comprising three people who are usually all in a relationship with each other, a throuple can describe three people who live, love and sleep together (just like a conventional couple) but can also be a more casual arrangement, where an established couple and their “unicorn” indulge in regular sex play.
An umbrella term for any sort of poly relationship which is consensual among all parties…unethical non-monogamy is, after all, no more or no less than cheating. So whether you’re part of a multi-person live-in relationship, or just enjoy letting your hair down at a sex club with multiple partners, if everyone involved is cool with it, that’s ethical non-monogamy.
Before we start, we need to emphasise that safe sex, especially with casual partners, is paramount and – fun as it is – we do not recommend splashing your bodily fluids on (or especially inside) each other unless you are 100% sure that everyone involved is fit and healthy. In relationship terms, people at the core of a poly set-up – perhaps a couple or throuple – will be happy not to use protection but will insist on safe sex with their more casual sexual partners.
Many poly relationships involve an established couple plus one (or more) other who may not live under the same roof. Anchor partners may be married, be financially tied to each other or have children…or could just be the person you feel most emotionally involved with.
First coined by the sexpert Dan Savage, “monogamish” describes how many people take their first tentative-but-exciting steps on the road to polyamory or, in some cases, how they live their lives without going any further. A “monogamish” relationship could refer to a couple who are generally sexually exclusive, but might give each other a “free pass” for a holiday romance or who, once in a while, might let their hair down at a swinging club.
Polycules can be quite complicated, so listen up. In its most basic sense, a polycule is simply a way of describing the living arrangements of a throuple when all three parties live together. At the other end of the scale, it might refer to a set-up where multiple people, let’s say six people forming two throuples, all live together. Sometimes each throuple will remain exclusive among their own trio, but they may also swap or have sex together…a six way! Polycules can be exclusive while some people keep a looser arrangement with others invited in from time to time.
Some poly relationships are unequal…and that’s totally okay as long as it’s consensual. So, imagine you are in a relationship with Betty. Betty is also in a relationship with Daphne but you and Daphne are not…in fact, you may never have even met. In this context, Daphne is your metamour.
Think of compersion as the opposite of sexual jealously. While many people in a conventional relationship might find it impossible to contemplate their partner having sex with someone else, compersion describes the emotion of someone who actually takes pleasure in their partner feeling joy and pleasure from being with someone else. This could refer to knowing that your partner and their metamour are likely to be having a good time and feeling happy about it or simply being turned on by watching them having sex with other people. If you can pull it off, the compersion headspace is a cool place to be.
A word of warning
For the uninitiated, thoughts of polyamory often start simply with the desire to have a threesome, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But things don’t always go according to plan: if you’re part of a couple that wants to experiment, remember that your “unicorn” (or “third”) may end up having stronger feelings for your partner than they do for you – or vice versa – or, for that matter, you or your partner could end up falling in love with your unicorn, which could become messy for all three of you.
The key here, as with every aspect of every human relationship that there has ever been or ever will be, is communication. Set boundaries, talk to each other and don’t be afraid to speak up if anything makes you uncomfortable. Remember – as the gambling ads say – when the fun stops…STOP!
Want to know more? Friend of OutNewsGlobal Dr Pam Spurr talks polyamory on the BBC Radio 4’s Positive Thinking: The Case for Polyamory.