Love, Sex

8 Things People Keep Getting Wrong About Polyamory, According To Couples In Polyamorous Relationships

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What Is Polyamory And How Do Polyamorous Relationships Work? 8 Myths About 'Poly' People Explained

If asked to explain what polyamory means and how being in polyamorous relationships works, most people would describe their perception of poly couples as bisexual men and women who spend most of their time focusing on their wild sex life and otherwise reaping the perceived selfish benefits of open marriages at the cost of our society's morality and their own children's well-being.

I know this because I typically encounter one of the following three reactions when I first tell someone I'm "poly":

  • Concern about the state of my soul, as they believe God didn't intend for us to have more than one sexual partner at a time (and certainly not outside of marriage).
  • Insistence that monogamy is the only relationship model that can possibly work.
  • Extreme interest in my sex life, complete with a barrage of highly specific and inappropriate personal questions about my sexuality.

To those who are concerned about the state of my soul, I say, "My gods are happy with my relationship choices."

This usually confuses them, which I don't mind at all, as I have no interest in trying to convince someone who believes in a God that condemns all "adulterers" — people who have sexual relationships outside of marriage — that my personal choices are with good for me or my own to make. It is a good bet that at any given time, I will be involved in at least one of romantic relationship outside of my marriage.

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To those who believe monogamy is the only workable relationship model, I say, "If you'd like, I'm happy to provide you with detailed information explaining why consensual non-monogamy is not only a valid relationship choice, but a healthy one."

Some decide to engage in further discussion on the matter, while others have no interest and we call it a day.

The third group is actually the most difficult to deal with, as these people are quite intrusive and can't seem to understand why I might not want to give them detailed answers about my private life.

What the people who offer all three types of responses have in common is that they hold beliefs about polyamory and polyamorous relationships which are patently untrue.

Some of these myths are amusing, some lead to intrusive behavior on the part of the people who believe them, and still others lead to serious problems within the justice, family law, and social services systems.

In an effort to create greater clarity and understanding about the spectrum of monogamy, it's important to start by dispelling the mistaken beliefs people cling to out of fear, ignorance, or a simple lack of education and exposure.

Here are 8 common myths about what polyamory is and how polyamorous relationships work, and the truth of what it's really like to be poly.

1. All women in polyamorous relationships are bisexual.

Sometimes, yes, women in non-monogamous couples are bisexual, but no, NOT all women in poly couples are bisexual, just as not all women in monogamous couples are either heterosexual or homosexual.

According to a survey of 4,062 poly-identified individuals between the ages of 16 to 92 conducted by polyamory support and advocacy organization Loving More, approximately "half of the female respondents and about a fifth of the male respondents were actively bisexual, having had sex with both men and women within the preceding 12 months."

While there is currently no reliable scientific data on the percentage of people who fall into any given category of sexual orientation, this study clearly shows that many men and women in polyamorous relationships do not identify themselves as bisexual.

2. Poly couples have sex all the time.

Many people still believe that polyamorous couples’ lives revolve around sex, but, as is the case for monogamous couples, the frequency with which people in poly relationships have sex varies greatly.

In the simplest of terms, polyamory is "the ability or capacity to love more than one person at a time."

Being polyamorous has far more to do with romantic relationships on the whole than it does with sex in particular.

3. People who identify as polyamorous have high sex drives.

Again, being poly isn't all about the sex. Some people in polyamorous relationships have high sex drives, and others don’t.

Under circumstances in which two people are mismatched in terms of sex drive, relationships can benefit from polyamory, as it relieves the pressure to perform off the partner with the lower sex drive, while allowing the partner with the higher libido to get that particular need met elsewhere.

4. There is no jealousy between polyamorous partners.

Everyone experiences jealousy in relationships at some point or another, even people in polyamorous relationships. In such situations, partners have to work at managing their jealous feelings, just as partners in monogamous couples do.

People in polyamorous relationships may strive for compersion, which is the experience of feeling joy and excitement simply because your partner is feeling joy and excitement. However, if Sally spends all evening talking with Jane while she is supposed to be on a date with Marge, it is likely that Marge will feel, at the very least, a bit miffed, if not full-blown jealous, and understandably so.

That's why communication is critical in maintaining a polyamorous lifestyle, just as it is a monogamous one. Putting relationship issues to the side and expecting to deal with them later only leads to far bigger blow ups, especially when there are multiple people involved.

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5. Polyamorous couples are exactly like monogamous couples, but with additional partners.

Polyamorous relationships are more complex than that. Because there are more people involved, there is more variety between the various shapes any given poly relationship may take.

For example:

  • Relationship groups, where everyone involved is faithful to the others.
  • Polyandry, where one wife has many husbands.
  • Polygamy, where one husband has many wives.
  • Monogam-ish poly relationships, where specific activities are limited to involve only specific partners.

Some of these structures look a lot like monogamous relationships, while others are far more complex.

6. It is all fun and excitement.

This is simply false.

Sometimes, it is really difficult to manage the time, emotions, and energy involved in balancing multiple relationships in ways that work for everyone. Other times, there are negative emotions to be dealt with. For example, it can be really hard to manage one partner who is going through depression, while another is dealing with the effects of menopause.

Life impacts polyamorous people just as much as it does monogamous people and, sometimes, more so, as there are many relationships with people involved.

7. Polyamory has a negative impact on children.

Actually, polyamorous relationships often have a positive impact on children, as long as short-term partners are not introduced, since doing so can cause confuse and lead to multiple losses for a child.

In fact, existing research currently shows that "children raised in healthy polyamorous families are just as healthy, confident and well-adjusted as children raised in monogamous families [and children] who have been raised in polyamorous families report that they having additional adults in their lives to spend time with, support their interests, etc."

These children have a variety of real-life role models, as well as a number of trusted people they feel supported in turning to when things are rough with the adults they live with.

8. Polyamorous people have trouble making long-term commitments.

Again, this is simply rubbish. People in both monogamous and polyamorous relationships vary in their ability to keep the long-term commitments they make to their partners in romantic relationships.

I personally know people who have are still happy with one partner after 20-plus years, and who also have additional partners they've been with for nearly as long.

And on the flip side, plenty of people in monogamous relationships having trouble managing remain committed for more than a brief period of time.

Quite simply, and much like anything else, polyamorous relationships suit some people and not others.

And if the fantasy version of polyamory is all you know, you'll be in for quite a shock if you decide to give a truly polyamorous relationship a try.

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Dr. Lori Beth Bisbey is a sex and intimacy coach, psychologist, public speaker and author who works with individuals, couples and polyamorous groups to help them create and sustain healthy exciting relationships. As the host of weekly podcasts "The A to Z of Sex" and "Sex Spoken Here", her mission is to take conversations about sex from the shadows to the light. Book a discovery session to see how she can help you.