I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I’ve got plenty of opinions when it comes to talking about and thinking about polyamory. In this post, I want to help you get more precise and thoughtful in the way you communicate with others and think about your relationships. Let’s uncover some myths about how people use the word ‘polyamory’ and their relationships! Here are some of the most common things I see where people misunderstand what ‘polyamory’ really means.
Clearing Away the Myths With Clear Communication
Humans gotta human, and one of the things that humans often do is get a little loose with our use of language. This may cause more than a few problems. For example, when we say we want “polyamory”, but then we make rules like “no falling in love”. Or when we say “we’re not hierarchical”, but then you use your partner’s discomfort as an excuse to not go to a particular restaurant. See what I’m getting at?
I focus specifically on the word polyamory in this blog post, as opposed to the more blanket term of nonmonogamy, precisely because people tend to use the two interchangeably. But they aren’t that interchangeable. Polyamory is a subset of nonmonogamy, and if you aren’t interested in falling in love and maintaining long-term relationships with multiple people, it’s okay to pick a different label that more accurately describes what it is that you want out of nonmonogamy.
Now that that’s cleared up…let’s dispose of some common myths about polyamory.
Myth #1 – Polyamory is all about Sex.
Surprising as it may sound, polyamory isn’t all about sex. Yes, sex can happen in polyamorous relationships, but it’s often not the center of attention. Some poly relationships don’t involve sex at all! What polyamory is really about is exploring different types of emotional connections with multiple partners, and discovering a lifestyle that feels right for you on an individual level. It’s basically finding the relationship configuration that makes your heart sing.
Polyamory is also about choice and freedom! Instead of being confined to just one romantic partner, poly people get to try out and co-create different relationships that fit their wants and needs. While physical intimacy is an option for most people, some folks opt for going deeper emotionally with their partners. There are many ace people in happy poly relationships! Polyamory can be a great way to explore your options and find whatever type of relationship works for you.
Myth #2 – Polyamorous people are afraid to commit or make a romantic connection.
That is a completely untrue assumption. In fact, polyamorous people who are really serious about it often face the opposite problem. They may find themselves forming deep connections to a lot of people, then might struggle to curate them properly. They may also have ambitious visions for the future of the commitments they make – like establishing an eco-friendly commune with 40 self-sustaining individuals who don’t rely on money or the powers that be!
I’m exaggerating a tad, but I often come across the idea of an ideal queer poly collective. It’s a powerful aspiration, and it’s something I’ve even thought about, but when more people are added to any group, complications tend to arise. Think about corporations, religions, political movements, and even big groups on Facebook — all of them inevitably have their fair share of internal conflict, divisions, and drama.
More people = More emotions + more opinions… which is why quads (or other complex relationship structures) can be so difficult to maintain. But if we all upped our communication game and ability to hold space for others, would we see more of them? Heck yeah! We’re TOTALLY capable, it just takes a bit of personal therapy and learning a conflict resolution style like Nonviolent Communication. (Nonviolent communication has it’s own problems, but that’s for a later blog post)
Myth #3 – Polyamorous people are disease-riddled sluts.
This myth also goes back to assuming that just because you are polyamorous, you are having sex with multiple people, or having sex at all. Plenty of people are polyamorous and happily not having sex.
It’s totally okay to be a “slut” – in fact, many people take the term back and wear it proudly! STIs sometimes get a bad rap, but that’s because of outdated fear mongering. In reality, most STIs can be easily cured or managed these days. Even HIV/AIDs no longer has a death sentence attached to it. There are preventative medications (PReP) and very good management medications that have significantly reduced the lethality of this STI if you do a good job of being intentional about your safety and management of your risk.
The other reality is that people in nonmonogamous relationships are actually much more ethical and thoughtful in the ways that they discuss sex and get tested for STIs than most monogamous people. Think about it. Monogamous people who are dating often cheat (up to 50% of monogamous people cheat) and they are exceptionally bad at having safer sex conversations with their sexual partners before they cheat. People who are dating around on the monogamy scene and having sex with others often don’t have the testing schedules and communication norms that are expected in nonmonogamy communities. Considering that some STIs can sit dormant for years before becoming active, being monogamous doesn’t protect you from them.
Myth #4 – Poly relationships are bad for a family with children.
Elizabeth Sheff and others have done a lot of research on this topic. It turns out that children actually do really well in nonmonogamous families. Having more adults around can only be a good thing. Instead of relying on one or two overworked parents, you’ve got an entire team ready to lend a hand with childcare needs and household maintenance. Not only that – think of the convenience when it comes to splitting expenses between so many people! nonmonogamous families are practically the dream team – less stress, and everyone gets along great; what could be better?
It’s not like it’s unusual for children to have multiple caregivers. In the monogamous world we call them step-parents, and they can be an amazing resource and source of care. We don’t frown on aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends helping out either. More caring adults in a child’s life is always better – no matter the relationship!
Myth #5 – Polyamory is only for sexually liberated or promiscuous people.
I have numerous couples that choose to open up their relationships because one of them wants a lot more sex than the other. If the couple otherwise has a very secure and caring relationship, opening up can be a great way to take the pressure off a partner who has a very low libido and allow the higher partner to find other outlets. In the process, BOTH partners might find other loving relationships that have their own dynamics.
It’s a common stereotype that polyamorous people are sexually promiscuous, but in actuality, polyamory is an equally valid way to have relationships. There’s no universal ‘polyamory personality’: all kinds of people can give it a go – whether they’re into emotional connections or physical ones (or both!), asexual, and so on! So if you’re interested in developing multiple intimate relationships, why not explore polyamory? Go forth, my friends!
Myth #6 – Polyamorous relationships are always fraught with jealousy, drama, and conflict.
Sure, polyamorous relationships come with their own set of challenges. But, the idea that they’re always filled with jealousy and drama? That’s just a harmful stereotype. In fact, many polyamorous individuals and couples report actually feeling more compersion (aka happiness at seeing partners experience joy or pleasure with other people) than jealousy! Compersion is not a requirement for being polyamorous. You can still be happily and securely poly without experiencing compersion.
Communication and boundaries are key components of polyamorous relationships, creating a stable foundation of trust and respect. Plus, they encourage meaningful friendships between partners’ other partners – no hostility necessary! With so much bonding going on, it’s no wonder these kinds of partnerships can be really fulfilling.
Sure, polyamorous relationships may have moments of high conflict or jealousy, just like any other kind. However, these don’t need to be a large part of your poly life! Mutual understanding and open communication are key to working through these issues. And let’s not forget the benefits – navigating multiple intimate relationships can offer a unique way of connecting that you don’t get with monogamy. If you build the insight and skills, practice them regularly, and communicate clearly, you can avoid a lot of the tripping hazards that can accompany any relationship style.
Myth #7 – Polyamory is a form of cheating and is unethical.
If I had a dime for everytime I heard “You just want to get permission to cheat”, I’d probably have enough for a cheeseburger AND fries. Look, it’s not that people don’t magically stop cheating just because they’ve decided to be polyamorous in their relationship. Cheating isn’t even always about sex. Sometimes it’s about having an emotional affair with a friend or someone at work. Cheating is about going behind your partner’s back and doing something you know they will be very unhappy about. It’s still possible to cheat if you aren’t communicating or being honest about who you are sleeping with. At its core, cheating is intentionally violating well established and understood agreements.
It is important to remember that polyamory is not a one-size-fits-all lifestyle. There is no “right” way to do polyamory, and individuals should be free to explore different types of relationship styles without fear of judgment or stigma. By understanding and dispelling the common myths surrounding polyamory, we can create a more inclusive and accepting environment for those who choose to explore this relationship style.