Glossary of poly terms
Learning the lingo
This glossary is intended as a guide to many of the terms you might hear in the polyamorous community. Some of the terms have definitions that are not clearly established or universally accepted, particularly with regards to terms used to describe various relationship styles. Where possible, I have tried to define such terms in ways that reflect all these different usages. Some of the terms in this glossary are used primarily in swinging; it should not be inferred from this that polyamory and swinging are the same thing. Rather, there is enough crossover between the poly and swinging community that knowledge of some swinging terms is often helpful.
The definitions given here, particularly of colloquialisms, reflect the usage I am most familiar with. Some terms contain commentary; anything following the word Commentary indicates my own experiences, interpretations, or views on a particular subject, and should not be assumed to be part of the formal definition of the word.
Links in the definitions will take you to other definitions on this page unless the links are in «angle quotes», in which case they will take you off this page. Some terms on this page are used by both the polyamorous and BDSM communities; these terms will take you to the appropriate entry in the BDSM glossary.
Comments or additions? Hit me!
ABUNDANT LOVE: The belief or philosophy that it is possible to love more than one person at the same time.
ADELPHOGAMY; also, FRATERNAL POLYANDRY, LEVIRATIC POLYANDRY: (Literally, adelphos brother + gamos marriage) A specific form of polyandry, practiced historically and occasionally still practiced in some portions of Tibet and Nepal, in which a set of brothers is married to the same woman.
ADULT BUFFET: Colloquial A specific type of group sex in which a group of consenting adults gets together for the purpose of sex, and each person in the group is free to have sex with any of the other members of the group he or she chooses. Usage: Originated with the swinging community; uncommon outside it.
AGAMY: (Literally, a no + gamos marriage) 1. A state or condition of not engaging in marriage, or more generally not engaging in marriage or reproduction. 2. Sociology Of or relating to a society with no recognized rules or prescriptions on marriage, or which does not recognize marriage at all.
ALT.POLYCON (APC): A long-running annual convention of polyamorous people and people interested in polyamory, organized by the members of the UseNet newsgroup alt.polyamory and featuring a series of workshops, lectures, and so forth.
AMBIGUSWEETIE: Colloquial A partner with whom one’s relationship is ambiguous or not clearly defined, often intentionally; as, We are not primary partners or secondary partners or simply friends, but rather ambigusweeties. Etymology: This term was coined by Chris Dunphy, from “ambiguous sweetie.”
APC (acronym): See alt.polycon.
ASEXUAL: One who has little or no desire for sex or sexuality. Commentary: Asexuality should not be confused with lack of interest in romantic relationships. Asexuals can and do form romantic relationships, though those relationships may include little or no sex.
BDSM: See BDSM: «BDSM».
BIGAMY: (Literally, bi two + gamos marriage) 1. A relationship in which one person is married to two spouses, regardless of the sex of those spouses. 2. Legal In most Western countries, the crime of entering in one marriage while still legally married to another person; marriage fraud. Contrast monogamy; See related polygamy, polygyny, polyandry. See related Enoch Arden Act.
BI POLY SWITCH: Colloquial; sometimes humorous Of or related to a person who is bisexual and polyamorous and who is a BDSM «switch», capable of taking on a«dominant» or «submissive» role in sex. Commentary: A popular T-shirt reads “I’m a bi poly switch and I still won’t sleep with you.”
BISEXUAL: Of or related to sexual attraction to or sexual activity with both men and women, though not necessarily equally; as, a bisexual person: a person who is sexually attracted to or sexually active with partners of both sexes. See related hot bi babe.
BODY FLUID MONOGAMY: The practice of limiting any activity which involves the exchange of bodily fluids, including such activities as unprotected sexual intercourse, to only one partner. See also fluid bonding, condom contract. Usage: Originated in the BDSM community; becoming increasingly uncommon in the BDSM and poly communities.
BOSTON MARRIAGE: Archaic A term used primarily in the 19th century for a household of two unmarried women who were financially and romantically independent. Today, it is generally presumed that many such arrangements were lesbian relationships.
CELLULAR FAMILY: A family of three or more adults (and optionally children) who live together or near one another, share responsibility for joint finances and/or domestic responsibilities, and consider themselves to be part of a single family. See related group marriage. Etymology: The term was coined by Deborah Anapol.
CHEATING: In a relationship, any activity that violates the rules or agreements of that relationship, whether tacit or explicit. Commentary: In traditional monogamous relationships, any sexual activity with anyone outside that relationship is generally viewed as cheating. In a polyamorous or swinging relationship, sexual activity with people outside the relationship may or may not be seen as cheating, depending on the context of that sexual activity and whether or not it violates the agreements of the people in that relationship. Even in such relationships, most commonly sexual activity without the knowledge and explicit consent of the other members of the relationship is likely to be viewed as cheating.
CHOICE FAMILY; also CHOSEN FAMILY: See intentional family.
CLOSED MARRIAGE: Any marriages where there is no emotional intimacy or sexuality outside the marriage; monogamous marriage. Contrast open marriage. Commentary: This is the most common form of marriage in most Western countries.
CLOSED-GROUP SWINGING: A form of swinging in which people will have multiple sexual partners within a specific group (as, for example, two couples who will swap partners), but will not have sex with people outside the group. A closed-group swinging relationship can look very similar to a polyfidelitous relationship from the outside; the primary difference between them often being the focus of the relationship (sexual vs. romantic) rather than the form of the relationship. See also friends-first swinging.
CLOSED RELATIONSHIP: Any romantic relationship, such as a conventional monogamous relationship or a polyfidelitous relationship, that specifically excludes the possibility of sexual or romantic connections outside that relationship.
CLOSED SWINGING: A practice in which a group of swingers will exchange partners and then have sex separately, usually in separate rooms; swinging without group sex. Contrast open swinging. Usage: Common in the swinging community; uncommon outside it.
CROSS-COUPLE: Of or relating to activities between a member of one couple and a member of another couple; as, for example, cross-couple relationship, a relationship between one person who is part a couple and a second person who is part of another couple.
COMPERSION: A feeling of joy when a partner invests in and takes pleasure from another romantic or sexual relationship. Commentary: Compersion can be thought of as the opposite of “jealousy;” it is a positive emotional reaction to a lover’s other relationship. The term was coined by the Kerista Commune.
COMPLEX MARRIAGE: A doctrine which holds that all the male members of a particular group or community are, upon joining the group, married to all the female members, and all the female members are, upon joining the group, married to all the male members. This doctrine was established as part of the Oneida Community.
CONDOM CONTRACT; also CONDOM COMPACT, CONDOM COMMITMENT: A formal agreement within a relationship to confine exchange of bodily fluids and barrier-free sexual contact to the people in that relationship, each of whom has previously been screened for sexually transmitted diseases. Condom contracts may specify under what conditions a member of that group may exchange body fluids or have sexual contact without barriers with a new partner, or may specify that such contact is not permissible with any new partner.
CO-HABITATE; also, COHABITATE: To live together. Cohabitating: the state or practice of living together.
CORPORATE MARRIAGE: A group marriage whose members register the union as a legal corporation, the terms of which spell out the financial entanglements and obligations of all the members.
COVENANT MARRIAGE: Legal A marriage which includes a legally-binding clause in the marriage contract specifying that the couple cannot divorce, or cannot divorce easily. Commentary: Only a handful of states in the United States recognize covenant marriage provisions.
COWBOY: Colloquial A monogamous man who engages in a relationship with a polyamorous woman with the intention of separating her from any other partners and bringing her into a monogamous relationship.
CUDDLE PARTY: Trademark A social gathering of adults which encourages consensual physical affection, such as cuddling, massage, and other forms of physical expression, but which forbids overt sexual activity or sexual stimulation. Commentary: The term “Cuddle Party” has been trademarked by Reid Mihalko, who owns a business organizing such parties in many cities, which are pay-for-attendance events.
CUPCAKE PARTY: Colloquial A gathering, usually involving only women and most often in a private residence, in which a group of people gather to explore their sexuality, discuss sex, experiment with sex toys, and so on. Etymology: The hostess of a cupcake party often provides refreshments, hence the name.
CYCLIC MONOGAMY: 1. Colloquial A relationship in which a person has several partners, and spends a set period of time with each partner, during which time he is sexually involved only with that partner. 2. Sociology Serial monogamy. Commentary: In the case of Def. 1, there have been several recorded cases in which a person, usually a man, has a job or life which requires regular travel, and maintains romantic partners in separate cities. Generally speaking, these partners do not know about one another, and each believes that the relationship is monogamous, though this is not always so; in some cases, some or all of the partners know of the existence of the other partners.
DADT (acronym): See don’t ask, don’t tell.
DELTA: A triad, relationship, specifically a triad in which each person is sexually and/or emotionally involved with all the other people. Etymology: So named because the Greek letter Delta looks like a triangle. Usage: Seems to be primarily a regional expression in parts of the United States.
DEMOCRATIC FAMILY: Colloquial A family, typically a family practicing group marriage, in which all the adult partners are considered equal.
DOMINANT: See BDSM: «dominant».
DOMESTIC GROUP: Sociology A group of people, often but not always related by birth or marriage, who live together and practice joint control over the household and group property.
DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL (DADT): A relationship structure in which a person who is partnered is permitted to have additional sexual or romantic relationships on the condition that his or her partner does not know anything about those additional relationships and does not meet any of those other people. Commentary: Many people in the polyamorous community frown on don’t ask, don’t tell relationships, and choose not to become involved in such relationships. There are many dangers in such relationships, including the idea that a person who claims to be involved in such a relationship may simply be cheating (as the relationship often provides no mechanism by which that person’s partner may be contacted to confirm that the relationship permits other relationships); the fact that many people choose DADT relationships as a way of avoiding and not dealing with emotional issues such as jealousy; and the fact that DADT relationships are built on a foundation of lack of communication within the existing relationship.
EMOTIONAL FIDELITY: A belief or practice that emotional intimacy or love must be kept exclusive to a particular relationship, though sexual activity or other forms of physical intimacy may occur outside that relationship. Commentary: Some swingers practice emotional fidelity.
EMOTIONAL LIBERTARIANISM: A belief that every individual is entirely responsible for his or her own emotional responses, and that one person’s behavior is never the “cause” of another person’s emotion.
ENDOGAMY: A state or practice whereby individuals are permitted to marry only within a specific group, such as a religious or social group.
ENOCH ARDEN ACT; also, ENOCH ARDEN LAW: Legal Any law or statute permitting remarriage in a case where a person’s spouse is missing and presumed dead, and exempting such a person from charges of bigamy should it later turn out that the missing spouse is still alive. Etymology: Enoch Arden was a character in a poem by Alfred Tennyson.
ETHICAL SLUT: Colloquial A person who openly chooses to have multiple simultaneous sexual relationships in an ethical and responsible way, and who openly revels in that decision. See related responsible non-monogamy. Commentary: The term comes from the book The Ethical Slut, which advocates reclaiming the word “slut” from its derogatory meaning of a promiscuous woman.
ETHICAL SLUT, THE: A book (Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt, Greenery Press, 1998, ISBN 1890159018) which outlines a framework for responsible non-monogamy and champions taking joy in ethical, safe promiscuity. Commentary: The Ethical Slut is not a book about polyamory per se; the primary focus is on creating relationships which are not sexually monogamous and are positive and healthy, but it does not focus exclusively on loving or emotional intimate relationships, and does not create frameworks for managing the emotional or romantic component of such relationships. Nevertheless, it is very popular in the polyamory community, and is very useful to many polyamorous people. The ideas described in The Ethical Slut are pertinent to and valuable in swinging relationships as well.
EXCLUSION JEALOUSY: Psychology A fear, which may be irrational, of being neglected or abandoned by a lover, particularly if that lover takes another partner or expresses sexual or romantic interest in another. Commentary: The term exclusion jealousy was coined by Ronald Mazer in the book The New Intimacy: Open-Ended Marriage and Alternative Lifestyles (Beacon Press, 1973, ISBN 0595001025).
EXCLUSIVE RELATIONSHIP: 1. A monogamous relationship. 2. Any relationship which does not permit its partners to seek other romantic or sexual partners at will; as, for example, a polyfidelitous relationship.
EXOGAMY: Marriage to a partner outside of one’s particular group, such as a religious or social group.
EXPANDED FAMILY: See intentional family.
FISHING FLEET: Colloquial Originally, the wives of sailors at sea, who would socialize together and look for prospective lovers together. More generally, a group of women who will get together and seek out new sexual partners, typically without their partners’ knowledge, while their partners are unavailable or away.
FOUR-CORNERED MARRIAGE: A group marriage with exactly four adult members; usually but not always a group marriage with two men and two women. See related quad. Etymology: The term “four-cornered marriage” is often attributed to Robert Heinlein.
FRATERNAL POLYANDRY: See adelphogamy.
FREE AGENT: Colloquial A person who practices polyamory in a way that tends to separate or isolate all of his or her romantic relationships from one another, treating each as a separate entity. A free agent often presents himself or herself as “single” or behaves in ways that are typically associated with the behavior of a single person even when he or she has romantic partners, and often does not consider the potential impact of new relationships upon existing relationships when deciding whether or not to pursue those new relationships.
FREE LOVE: The belief that sexual relationships should be unrestricted and disassociated from ideas of love, commitment, marriage, or obligation. Commentary: Many advocates of free love object to the concept of marriage altogether, as they see it as a way to impose constraints and obligation on sexuality. Etymology: The term free love is generally attributed to John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Community, who later abandoned it in favor of complex marriage.
FRICTION PARTY: Colloquial; see cuddle party. Commentary: The term “friction party” is not trademarked; the term cuddle party is. Friction parties, unlike cuddle parties, are informal social gatherings that aren’t typically run as a business, may not be open to general admission (that is, they may be private), and may or may not charge for access.
FRIENDS-FIRST SWINGING: A form of swinging in which the people involved do not engage in sexual activities with anonymous or random partners, but instead have sex outside an existing relationship only with other people who are already close friends. In this form of swinging, emotionally intimate bonds can and often do form among all the people involved; this kind of swinging can often look very similar to polyamory, the primary difference between them often being the focus of the relationship (sexual vs. romantic) rather than the form of the relationship. See also closed-group swinging. Commentary: Hollywood images of swing clubs and anonymous sex aside, friends-first swinging is arguably one of the most common forms of swinging.
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS (FWB): A relationship in which two (or more) people establish a friendship that includes sex or sexual activity, but without romantic love and typically without the same type or degree of expectations or other practical or emotional entanglements that typically accompany romantic relationships.
FRUBBLE: A pleasant emotion of happiness arising from seeing one’s partner with another partner. Contrast wibble; See also compersion. Usage: Primarily British; less common outside the United Kingdom.
FUCKBUDDY: Colloquial; vulgar See friends with benefits.
FWB (ACRONYM): See friends with benefits.
GEOGRAPHICAL NON-MONOGAMY: Any relationship or arrangement whose partners permit one another to have other sexual partners while they are physically apart, as for example a relationship in which one person takes a temporary position in another town or is assigned overseas for a time. Usually carries an implicit understanding that when the couple is physically together again, the relationship will become monogamous. See related hundred-mile rule.
GROUP MARRIAGE: A relationship in which three or more people consider themselves married to one another; in the polyamory community, most often a relationship involving more than one man and more than one woman, who may live together, share finances, raise children together, and otherwise share those responsibilities normally associated with marriage. A group marriage is not recognized by and has no legal standing within most Western countries, but may have symbolic or emotional value to the people involved. Many people who believe in group marriage may create civil contracts and other legally binding business arrangements that specify the type and extent of financial commitments within the marriage, or even form a legal corporation that defines the marriage. See related corporate marriage, cluster marriage, polygamy, polyandry, polygyny, troika.
HANDFASTING: A Pagan or Wiccan ceremony similar to marriage in the sense that it unites two people in a common bond, but dissimilar to a traditional Western marriage in that it does not necessarily convey sexual exclusivity and may not be intended to be permanent (some handfasting ceremonies last “for a year and a day,” others for “as long as the love shall last”). A handfasting is not legally recognized as a marriage unless the person performing the handfasting is authorized to perform marriages in a particular jurisdiction (requirements for such authorization vary from place to place) and the other legal requirements of marriage are met. Commentary: Handfasting ceremonies are not directly related to polyamory; however, some people, particularly those involved with Wiccan or neo-Pagan spirituality or beliefs, may combine the two. While not all Pagans are polyamorous and not all polyamorous people are Pagan, there is enough overlap between the communities that some polyamorous people practice handfasting as an emotional or spiritual symbol of their relationships and commitment.
HARD SWINGER: A swinger who has sexual intercourse or engages in other sexual activity with other swingers outside of his or her existing relationship. Usage: Common in the swinging community, but uncommon in the polyamorous community. Contrast soft swinger.
HBB (Acronym): Colloquial; see hot bi babe.
HEINLEIN, ROBERT A. (1907-1988): An American science fiction author well-known in the polyamory community as an early advocate and outspoken champion of polyamory. Many of his novels, most notably the Hugo-award-winning Stranger in a Strange Land (Ace, 1961, ISBN 0441790348), feature polyamorous characters and relationships.
HINGE: Colloquial; see pivot.
HOT BI BABE (HBB): Colloquial; often derogatory, condescending, or ironic A bisexual person, usually though not always female, who is willing to join an existing couple, often with the presumption that this person will date and become sexually involved with both members of that couple, and not demand anything or do anything which might cause problems or inconvenience to that couple. The term is often used to be dismissive of a couple seen to be only superficially polyamorous, as They’re just looking for a hot bi babe. Such a person may be referred to as a “mythical hot bi babe.” Some members of the polyamory community self-identify as hot bi babes as a form of tongue-in-cheek intentional irony.
HUNDRED-MILE RULE: Colloquial An arrangement within a nominally monogamous marriage or relationship, particularly a marriage in which one of the partners travels a great deal or is often away from home for extended periods of time, which says that sexual dalliances that occur during the course of these travels or over a certain distance from the home don’t “really” count and hence aren’t cheating. See related don’t ask, don’t tell.
INTENTIONAL COMMUNITY: A residential community made up of people who share a common set of ideas, principles, or goals, and deliberately set out to create a planned community that reflects those ideas and goals. Intentional communities need not be polyamorous; there are intentional communities built around common religious, philosophical, or economic ideas, for example. Some polyamorous families create intentional communities with the idea of deliberately constructing a community built around non-monogamous relationship structures.
INTENTIONAL FAMILY: A family made up of people who have consciously and deliberately chosen to consider one another as a single family, as opposed to family that is the result of birth or marriage (i.e., family in law). See related cluster marriage, polyamory, group marriage. Usage: Most often used to describe a family of three or more adults.
INTIMATE NETWORK: Colloquial The sum total of a person’s partners, those partners’ partners, and so on. Usage: The term “intimate network” is most often used to describe the set of romantic and sexual relationships and friendships involved in a polyamorous relationship structure that is not closed; that is, the term intimate network is not often used to describe a polyfidelitous relationship or a closed group marriage, though it can be. The term is also sometimes used in a way that includes people who are close friends, but are not necessarily romantically or sexually involved, with a person or that person’s partners.
KERISTA COMMUNE: An experiment in polyamorous living in San Francisco, which was founded in 1971 and broke up in 1991. The Kerista Commune was founded on the ideas of group marriage, shared economic resources, and intentional community. The commune was organized into “clusters,” each of which was typically made up of between four and fifteen people and each of which functioned as a single polyfidelitous group. The Kerista Commune championed group control of individual responsibility, even going so far in some cases as to make group decisions about individual members’ vocations, and assigning members to sleeping partners on a rotating schedule. The commune disbanded following very serious internal rifts in the early 1990s. Commentary: The Kerista Commune was an early advocate of polyamory, coining terms now common in the polyamorous community such as compersion and polyfidelity. The group eventually failed for a number of reasons, among them personality conflicts within the group, problems with financial management, an emphasis on fixed and inflexible sleeping schedules, and hostile attitudes toward bisexuality and homosexuality on the part of some members.
KEY CLUB: Colloquial; see swing club (Def. 2).
KEY PARTY: A specific type of play party (Def. 1), usually attended by couples, in which each male deposits his keys into a container as he arrives. As the guests leave, each female draws a set of keys at random from the container, then goes home with the male to which they belong that night. Usage: A key party is typically a swinger event.
LANGDON CHART: A chart that indicates a person’s current and past sexual partners, and all their current and past sexual partners, and so on. Etymology: Coined by Kevin Langdon in the mid-1960s.
LDR (acronym): See long-distance relationship.
LESBIAN SHEEPITUDE: Colloquial A term used to describe a situation where one person has a romantic or sexual interest in another person, which may be reciprocated, but neither of them indicates this interest or makes the first move. Etymology: The colloquialism comes from the behavior of sheep; a female ewe indicates sexual interest and receptiveness by standing still, so two hypothetical lesbian sheep would indicate their sexual receptivity by each standing still, and no mating would take place. Commentary: This expression is often heard on the UseNet newsgroup alt.polyamory.
LEVIRATIC MARRIAGE: Sociology A system by which when a man dies, his brother marries his widow.
LEVIRATIC POLYANDRY: Sociology Adelphogamy.
LIFE PARTNER: A partner, usually a romantic and sexual partner, with whom one has the intent of a long-lasted and intertwined committed relationship. Commentary: A life partner need not necessarily be a spouse, though most often a spouse is a life partner. In some cases, someone may consider a partner’s partner to be a life partner even though there is no direct sexual or romantic relationship with that person.
LIMERENCE: A strong desire for, longing for, or preoccupation with another person, accompanied by a sometimes overwhelming desire for reciprocation. Limerence may be accompanied by idealization of the person so desired. Etymology: The term limerence was coined by Dr. Dorothy Tennov, who described it in her book Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love (Scarborough House, 1979, ISBN 0812862864). Commentary: Limerence is distinct from new relationship energy in that it is more akin to what people commonly call a “crush,” and may not be associated with a relationship at all. Some researchers have linked limerence to quantifiable physiological processes in the brain, particularly to depressed levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Some people in the polyamory community use the word limerence as a synonym for new relationship energy, though this usage is not technically correct.
LINE MARRIAGE; also, LINE FAMILY: A specific form of group marriage in which younger partners are added to the relationship as older partners age; in theory, such a relationship would eventually reach equilibrium, adding new partners as existing partners die. Etymology: The term (and the idea behind it) was coined by science fiction writer Robert Heinlein.
LONG-DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP (LDR): A relationship in which the people involved do not live together, and are separated by great distances; as, for example, partners who live in different cities, in different states, or even in different countries.
LOVER-IN-LAW: Colloquial 1. A partner of one’s partner; metamour. 2. The biological family of one’s partner. Commentary: In the sense of Def. 1, most often applied to a metamour with whom one has a close relationship.
LOVE TRIANGLE: 1. See triad. 2. In contemporary American vernacular outside of the poly community, a relationship in which two people both love a third; in this usage, the assumption is that each of the two is competing for the undivided affections of the third, and that the third is being placed in a position where he or she is expected to choose one of the two competing partners.
LOVE QUADRANGLE: See quad.
LOVING MORE: A magazine (PEP Publishing; ISSN 1523-5858) and organization dedicated to polyamory. The organization that publishes Loving More also sponsors a series of annual conventions by the same name.
MARIAGE Á TROIS: (Literally, French, marriage of three) A marriage involving exactly three people, in which one person is married to two partners. See related triad, vee. Usage: Most commonly used in situations in which one man is married to two women.
MARRIAGE: A relationship, most commonly between one man and one woman in Western countries, which is sanctioned by the State and/or by a religious institution and which confers upon its members certain social and economic conditions, typically including rights of joint property ownership, rights of inheritance and of decision-making in legal and medical matters, and certain legal rights and responsibilities concerning mutual child rearing. These rights and responsibilities have varied over time and today vary from place to place, but common to all of them is the expectation that people who are married are in a legally recognized, financially entwined, committed relationship that is not trivial to separate. Traditionally, marriages in most Western countries carry with them expectations of sexual and emotional monogamy. See related closed marriage, open marriage, group marriage, polygamy, polygyny, polyandry. Commentary: Increasingly, Western countries are being forced to grapple with the issue of same-sex partnerships being officially recognized as marriages, both because gays and lesbians want the social status conferred by marriage and because gays and lesbians want the legal rights so conferred, particularly with regard to economic matters such as inheritance and joint property ownership, practical matters such as insurance and the right to make medical decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner, and so on. Many people also feel that these legal rights and responsibilities do not have to be limited to exactly two people, and that partnerships involving more than two people are entitled to equal treatment under the law as well.
MÈNAGE Á TROIS: (Literally, French, house of three) 1. Sexual activity involving three people. 2. See triad. Commentary: In the sense of Def. 2, usually applied to a triad in which all three people involved live together.
METAMOUR: (Literally, meta with; about + amor love): The partner of one’s partner, with whom one does not share a direct sexual or loving relationship. See related vee.
MONOAMORY; also MONAMORY: (Literally, mono one + amor love): The state or practice of loving only one person at a time. Contrast polyamory; See also monogamy. Commentary: The word monoamory was coined as a response to the fact that the word monogamy literally means “one marriage;” technically speaking, a monogamous person, according to the word’s roots, should be a person with only one spouse, regardless of the number of other romantic or sexual partners that person has. In practice, it means essentially the same thing as monogamy, though it is sometimes applied to a person who self-identifies as monogamous but is involved in a romantic relationship with a person who self-defines as polyamorous.
MONOGAMISH: Colloquial A relationship that is not necessarily sexually fidelitous, but that differs from polyamory in that the outside sexual relationships are seen as primarily sexual rather than romantic, without necessarily having any expectation of continuity, and are viewed as enhancing the primary couple. See related open marriage. Etymology: The term was coined by columnist Dan Savage to describe committed relationships that still allow some “outside” sexual dalliances.
MONOGAMY: (Literally, mono one + gamos marriage) Formally, the state or practice of having only one wedded spouse. Informally, the state or practice of having only one wedded spouse at a time, or more generally, having only one sexual partner or only one romantic relationship at a time. Monogamous: of or related to the practice of monogamy, as in monogamous relationship: a relationship permitting one and only one romantic or sexual partner. Contrast polyamory, polygamy, polygyny, polyandry; See related closed marriage, serial monogamy.
MONO/POLY: Colloquial; see poly/mono.
MULTILATERAL MARRIAGE: See group marriage.
MSO (acronym): See most significant other.
N: Colloquial A polyamorous relationship involving four people, generally two couples where one member of one couple is also involved sexually and/or romantically with one member of the other couple. See also quad; See related triad, vee.
NEW RELATIONSHIP ENERGY (NRE): A strong, almost giddy feeling of excitement and infatuation common in the beginning of any new romantic relationship. While similar in some ways to limerence, new relationship energy is distinct in that it often follows the beginning of a relationship (as opposed to desire for a relationship), and can last as long as several years. Contrast old relationship energy. Commentary: Some researchers believe that new relationship energy is the result of the hormones oxytocin and vasopressin, which are released by the brain during the start of a new relationship and after a mother gives birth and are believed to have a role in emotional bonding and in the feelings of happiness and well-being that often accompany the start of a new relationship.
NONEXCLUSIVE MONOGAMY: Of or related to any marriage involving exactly two people, whereby each of the two is permitted to have sex with others outside the relationship but may not marry (or in some cases conduct emotionally intimate relationships) outside the relationship. Contrast group marriage. Commentary: the word monogamy in nonexclusive monogamy is used in the formal sense of “one marriage,” rather than in the general sense of “one sexual partner.”
NRE (acronym): See new relationship energy.
NRE JUNKIE: Colloquial; usually derogatory A term sometimes applied, often dismissively, to a person who starts many new relationships in rapid succession but does not seem to maintain relationships for very long. Such a person may appear to seek out the euphoria and intense emotion associated with new relationship energy over the maintenance of a long-term relationship. Commentary: Some psychologists and psychiatrists believe that the intensity and euphoria associated with new relationship energy can be psychologically addictive; in the psychiatric community, the term “love addiction” is sometimes used to describe this behavior.
NUCLEAR FAMILY: A family consisting of one man and one woman, married to one another, and their children. In some religious and social groups, this structure is idealized as the only “right” form of family, though historically it has never been the dominant family structure in Western history.
OLD RELATIONSHIP ENERGY (ORE): The feeling of comfort, security, and stability often associated with a long-standing romantic relationship. Contrast new relationship energy.
OMNISEXUAL: (literally, all sexes) bisexual. Usage: In some communities, particularly some parts of the lesbian and gay community, antipathy toward or hostility to people who self-identify as bisexual has become common. The term omnisexual has started to become popular as a synonym for bisexual but without the negative connotations of the word.
ONEIDA COMMUNITY: A religious intentional community founded in New York in 1848 by John Humphrey Noyes. Noyes founded a branch of Christianity called “Christian Perfectionism,” a doctrine which holds that it is possible for a Christian to reach a state of sinlessness and moral perfection before God. The Oneida Community was created as a deliberately and intentionally Christian group, led by Noyes and championing this doctrine of Christian Perfectionism. One of the more notable features of the Oneida Community was the idea that all male members of the community were married to all female members of the community, and vice versa, an arrangement Noyes termed complex marriage. Another interesting feature of the Oneida Community was its belief that men should learn to control the process of ejaculation during sexual intercourse; this practice was used as a method of birth control within the community. The Oneida Community disbanded in 1881, by which time it had grown to 306 members.
ONE PENIS POLICY: An arrangement within a polyamorous relationship in which a man is allowed to have multiple female partners, each of whom is allowed to have sex with other women but forbidden to have any other male partners. Commentary: Its hypothetical opposite, a “one vagina policy” in which a woman has a group of male partners who are each forbidden to have other female lovers, seems so rare as to be theoretical; I’ve never seen or heard of a real-life example of such a relationship.
OPEN MARRIAGE: Any marriage whose structures or arrangements permit one or both of the members involved to have outside sexual relationships, outside romantic relationships, or both. The term open marriage is a catchall for marriages that are not emotionally or sexually monogamous, and may include such activities as polyamory or swinging. Contrast closed marriage; See related group marriage. Commentary: The term “open marriage” is sometimes used as a synonym for polyamory, though this is not necessarily the case; some relationships may be open but not polyamorous (as in some swinging relationships that explicitly ban emotional entanglement with anyone outside the relationship), and some relationships may be polyamorous but not open (as in polyfidelitious relationships).
OPEN NETWORK: A relationship structure in which the people involved are free to add new partners as they choose. Contrast polyfidelity. Commentary: This is a very common form for polyamorous relationships.
OPEN RELATIONSHIP: 1. Any relationship that is not sexually monogamous. 2. Any relationship that permits “outside” sexual entanglements, but not loving or romantic relationships. Commentary: Some folks use the term open relationship as a synonym for polyamory. To other people, the term excludes polyamory, and is used specifically to describe relationships that are sexually non-monogamous but that still expect that the people involved will not fall in love or engage in romantic relationships outside the couple, as for example with many swinging relationships. It’s important to be careful when using this term, as it may carry very different connotations for different people.
OPEN SWINGING: A practice in which a group of swingers will exchange partners and then have sex together in the same room; sometimes but not always assumes group sex. Contrast closed swinging. Usage: Common in the swinging community; uncommon outside it.
ORE (acronym): See old relationship energy.
OTHER SIGNIFICANT OTHER (OSO): 1. A partner’s other partner; metamour. 2. A person’s partner, sometimes but not always a non-primary or non-spouse partner; as, Bob is my husband, and Joe is my other significant other.
OSO (acronym): See other significant other.
OPP (acronym): See one penis policy.
OXYTOCIN: A naturally occuring hormone produced in the hypothalamus and secreted from the pituitary gland. Oxytocin is produced both by men and women, and in women is known to play a role in uterine contraction during childbirth and in milk production. Production of this hormone increases during the early stages of a new relationship and during sex, and it is believed to be partly responsible for mediating the processes involved in emotional intimacy. New relationship energy is thought to be a result in part of oxytocin production. See related vasopressin.
PANAMORY: Of or relating to romantic or sexual love with partners of many sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities, and/or relationship orientations. Panamorous, of or relating to one who identifies as a person capable of romantic or sexual love with many kinds of partners regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
PANSEXUAL: See BDSM: «PANSEXUAL».
PARALLEL PLAY: Colloquial Of or related to two (or more) couples or groups having sex in the same room, without members from one couple or group having sexual contact with members of another couple or group. Usage: Most commonly used in the swinging community.
PARAMOUR: (literally, par way + amor love; by way of love) 1. A married person’s outside lover. 2. A mistress—the unmarried female lover of a married man. 3. A nonmarried member of a polyamorous relationship. See related other significant other.
PIVOT: Colloquial In a vee relationship, the person who has two partners.
PLATONIC RELATIONSHIP: A close, emotionally intimate relationship in which there is no sex or physical intimacy.
PLAY PARTY: 1. In the swinger community, a party, often hosted at a swing club but sometimes hosted at a private residence, at which swingers get together for the purpose of recreational sex. 2. A party with emphasis on shared sexual activity or experience. 3. See BDSM: «play party». See related key party.
PLURAL MARRIAGE: See polygamy.
POLY: Colloquial Of or related to polyamory; as, a poly relationship, a poly person.
POLYAMORY: (Literally, poly many + amor love) The state or practice of maintaining multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships simultaneously, with the full knowledge and consent of all the people involved. Polyamorous: of or related to the practice of polyamory, as in polyamorous relationship: a relationship involving more than two people, or open to involvement by more than two people; polyamorous person: a person who prefers or is open to romantic relationships with more than one partner simultaneously. Contrast monogamy; See related polyfidelity, triad, quad, vee, N, polygamy, polygyny, polyandry, swinging, responsible non-monogamy. Commentary: There is some debate over the origin of the word. The Oxford English Dictionary attributes the word to Jennifer Wesp, who founded the newsgroup alt.polyamory in 1992. The term polyamorous is often attributed to Morning Glory Zell, who used it to describe situations in which a person engages in multiple loving, committed relationships simultaneously in the essay “A Boquet of Lovers.” It appears that both people coined the term independently and simultaneously. Polyamory is not necessarily related directly to marriage or to polygamy; a person may have no spouse or only one spouse and still be polyamorous. Many people use the term “polyamory” to describe only those relationships in which a person has multiple loving partners; some people have extended the term to include relationships in which a person has multiple sexual partners regardless of the emotional component or degree of commitment between them, though this meaning was not a part of Morning Glory Zell’s original intent for the word. In 1992, when the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary contacted Morning Glory Zell to ask for a formal definition and background of the word; part of her response was “The two essential ingredients of the concept of ‘polyamory’ are ‘more than one’ and ‘loving.’ That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other’s lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, ‘cheating,’ serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as ‘mate-swapping- parties.”
POLYFAMILY: Colloquial 1. A set of polyamorous people who live together and identify as part of the same family. 2. A polyamorous group whose members consider one another to be family, regardless of whether or not they share a home.
POLYFI: Colloquial; see polyfidelity.
POLYFIDELITY: (Literally, poly many + fidelitas faithfulness) A romantic or sexual relationship which involves more than two people, but which does not permit the members of that relationship to seek additional partners outside the relationship, at least without the approval and consent of all the existing members. Some polyfidelitous relationships may have a mechanism which permits adding new members to the relationship with mutual agreement and consent of the existing members; others may not permit any new members under any circumstances. Etymology: The term polyfidelity was coined by the Kerista Commune.
POLYFUCKERY: Colloquial; vulgar; often derogatory A coarse term sometimes used to describe people who call themselves “polyamorous” while engaging in a large number of sexual relationships which are short-lived or not emotionally intimate; as Bob practices polyfuckery. Almost always indicates derision of the activity or person so named. Usage: Almost always used only of people who self-describe as “polyamorous;” not used to describe, for example, people who identify as swingers. See related polysexual.
POLYGAMY: (Literally, poly many + gamos marriage) The state or practice of having multiple wedded spouses at the same time, regardless of the sex of those spouses. Contrast monogamy; See related polyandry, polygyny, bigamy. Commentary: Polygyny is the most common form of polygamy in most societies that permit multiple spouses. For that reason, many people confuse the two. Some objections to the practice of polyamory—for example, objections based on the perception that polyamorous relationships are inherently disempowering to women—arise from the misperception that polyamory or polygamy are the same thing as polygyny.
POLYGYNY: (Literally, poly many + gynos woman) The state or practice of having multiple wedded wives at the same time. Contrast monogamy; See related polygamy, polyandry, bigamy. Commentary: According to some sociologists, polygynous societies represent the most common form of society, with 850 of the 1170 societies recorded in Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas being polygynous. Modern Muslim societies are polygynous, and certain religious traditions, including Fundamentalist Mormonism (FLDS) in the United States, advocate polygyny.
POLYKOITY: (Literally, poly many + koitus, coitus sex) Anthropology The state or practice of having more than one sexual partner, either at the same time or over the course of one’s lifetime, without regard to the relationship with those partners or their relationships with each other.
POLY MIXED RELATIONSHIP: Colloquial A poly/mono relationship.
POLYSATURATED: Colloquial Polyamorous, but not currently open to new relationships or new partners because of the number of existing partners, or because of time constraints that might make new relationships difficult. Contrast polyunsaturated. Usage: Often considered humorous or slightly silly. Seems to be most common primarily in the western United States.
POLYSEXUAL: Colloquial Of or related to relationships which are sexually non-monogamous but which are not emotionally intimate. Usage: Sometimes condescending or derogatory; as Bill is not really polyamorous, but only polysexual. May indicate dismissal or derision of the relationship so named. See related swinging.
POLYTROTHISM: The state or practice of maintaining multiple egalitarian relationships, each of which is equal with respect to decision-making and other practical matters. Contrast primary/secondary; See related democratic family.
POLYUNSATURATED: Colloquial Polyamorous, and currently seeking or open to new partners. Contrast polysaturated. Usage: Often considered humorous or slightly silly. Seems to be most common primarily in the western United States.
POLYWOG: Colloquial, often humorous A child in a polyamororous household.
PRIMARY/SECONDARY: A polyamorous relationship structure in which a person has multiple partners who are not equal to one another in terms of interconnection, emotional intensity, intertwinement in practical or financial matters, or power within the relationship. A person in a primary/secondary relationship may have one (or occasionally, more than one) primary partner and one or more additional secondary or tertiary partners. A primary/secondary relationship may be “prescriptive” (that is, a primary couple consciously and deliberately creates a set of rules whereby any additional partners are secondary, often because this is seen as a mechanism which will protect the existing relationship from harm caused by additional relationships) or it may be “descriptive,” and emerge from the nature and the situation of the relationship.See related tertiary, veto. Commentary: In practice, prescriptive primary/secondary relationships may create an environment where the people in those additional relationships feel unappreciated or insignificant, which is why some experienced polyamorous people do not construct their relationships along enforced primary/secondary lines.
PRIMARY: In a primary/secondary relationship, the person (or persons) in the relationship with the highest degree of involvement or entanglement, or sometimes the person accorded the most importance. A person may be primary either as a natural consequence of the circumstance and nature of the relationship (because that person has the greatest degree of financial entanglement, for example), or as a deliberate consequence of the relationship structure and agreements (as in the case of an existing couple who set out to add additional partners only on the condition that those existing partners are seen as “less important” than the couple). See also co-primary; Contrast secondary, tertiary. Commentary: People who deliberately seek to construct a relationship along prescriptive primary/secondary lines typically designate one and only one relationship as the primary relationship. People who do not seek to construct a relationship along prescriptive primary/secondary lines may have more than one primary relationship; a relationship becomes primary when it reaches a certain point of emotional commitment, practical entanglement, or both.
PUPPY-PILE POLY: Colloquial Polyamorous relationships in which all the people involved are to some degree physically and/or romantically involved with one another, with the implication that the people involved may share sex and/or sleeping space (hence, “all in one puppy pile”).
QUAD: A polyamorous relationship involving four people, each of whom may or may not be sexually and emotionally involved with all the other members. See related N. Commentary: One of the most common ways for a quad to form is when two polyamorous couples begin romantic relationships cross-couple.
QUADOSHKA: See tantra.
RELATIONSHIP ANARCHY: A philosophy or practice in which people are seen as free to engage in any relationships they choose, spontaneity and freedom are desirable and necessary traits in healthy relationships, no relationship should be entered into or restricted from a sense of duty or obligation, any relationship choice is (or should be) allowable, and in which there is not necessarily a clear distinction between “partner” and “non-partner.”
RELATIONSHIP ORIENTATION: A preference for sexual or loving relationships of a particular form; as, for example, a preference for relationships that are monogamous, for relationships that are polyfidelitous, for relationships that are polyamorous, and so forth. See related switch (Def. 1). Commentary: Just as some people feel that their sexual orientation is fluid and a matter of choice where other people feel that their sexual orientation is fixed and not subject to choice, so do some people feel that their relationship orientation is subject to choice whereas others feel their relationship orientation is not a matter of choice. It has been my observation that some people seem to be inherently monogamous, and can’t be happy any other way; some people seem to be inherently polyamorous, and can’t be happy any other way; and some people seem to be able, under the right circumstances and with the right partners, to be happy in a monogamous or a polyamorous relationship.
RESPONSIBLE NON-MONOGAMY: Any relationship that is not sexually and/or emotionally exclusive by the explicit agreement and with the full knowledge of all the parties involved. Responsible non-monogamy can take several forms, the two most common of which are polyamory and swinging, and is distinct from cheating in that everyone involved knows about and agrees to the activity. Responsible non-monogamy often explicitly spells out the conditions under which it is permissible for one person to take on additional partners, and often includes some form of safer-sex agreement such as a condom contract as well. Contrast monogamy, closed marriage.
SACRED SEXUALITY: See tantra.
SAFE-SEX CIRCLE: See condom contract.
SCHRÖDINGER PARTNER; also, SCHRÖDINGER SWEETIE: see ambigusweetie. Etymology: From the Schrödinger’s Cat thought experiment in quantum physics, where a cat in a box with a quantum detector may be both alive and dead simultaneously. Usage: Often considered silly.
SECONDARY: In a primary/secondary relationship, the person (or persons) in the relationship who, either by intent or by circumstance, have a relationship that is given less in terms of time, energy, and priority in a person’s life than a primary relationship, and usually involves fewer ongoing commitments such as plans or financial/legal involvements. A secondary relationship may be secondary as a result of a conscious decision on the part of the primary partners, or simply as a result of circumstance or the natural development of the relationship. See related tertiary.
SAPIOSEXUAL: Colloquial Of or related to sexual attraction to people based on their intelligence.
SERIAL MONOGAMY: A relationship pattern in which a person has only one sexual or romantic partner at a time, but has multiple sexual or romantic partners in a lifetime, and may change partners frequently. Arguably the most common form of relationship in the United States, serial monogamy is predicated on the idea that a person can love more than one other person romantically in a lifetime, but not at the same time. Contrast polyamory, polygamy, swinging; See related monogamy.
SIGNIFICANT OTHER: Colloquial A romantic partner. Usage: The term significant other is intended to be free of assumptions about the gender of that partner. See related other significant other.
SOFT SWINGER: A swinger who has sexual intercourse or engages in other sexual activity only with his or her partner, but may do so at a swing club, or in the presence of other swingers. Occasionally, soft swingers may engage in some limited form of sexual activities, often stopping short of sexual intercourse, with partners outside the existing relationship. Usage: Common in the swinging community, but uncommon in the polyamorous community. Contrast hard swinger.
SOLO POLY: An approach to polyamory that emphasizes agency and does not seek to engage in relationships that are tightly couple-centric. People who identify as solo poly emphasize autonomy, the freedom to choose their own relationships without seeking permission from others, and flexibility in the form their relationships take. Such people generally don’t want or need relationships that look like traditional couples, and may not, for example, seek to live with a partner (or partners) or combine finances with a partner (or partners).
SPICE: Colloquial The plural of spouse. Usage: often considered humorous.
SORORAL POLYGYNY: A form of polygyny where a man marries two or more women who are sisters.
SSO (acronym): See secondary significant other.
SUBMISSIVE: See BDSM: «submissive».
SWING PARTY: See play party (Def. 1).
SWINGER: A person who engages in swinging.
SWINGING: The practice of having multiple sexual partners outside of an existing romantic relationship, most often with the understanding that the focus of those relationships is primarily sexual rather than romantic or emotionally intimate. See also friends-first swinging, closed swinging, closed-group swinging, swing club. Commentary: The common perception of swinging is that those who engage in this behavior have sex outside of their existing relationship purely for recreation, and that emotional bonds or emotional intimacy are specifically excluded. This is true in some cases, and in fact some swing clubs specifically prohibit people from carrying on friendships or relationships outside the club. However, in practice swinging is much more nuanced, and people who self-identify as swingers can and sometimes do form close emotional relationships with their partners. Many people in both the swinging and polyamorous communities, though not all, see swinging and polyamory as two ends of a continuum, different in degree of intent, focus, and emphasis on romantic and emotional relationships rather than different in kind.
SWOLLY: Colloquial A person who identifies as both polyamorous and also as a swinger; that is, a person who has multiple simultaneous relationships and also enjoys recreational sex in a swinging context. Etymology: The term was coined by Ken Haslam of the Kinsey Institute.
TANTRA: (Literally, Sanskrit thread; loom; to weave) A form of sexual expression or activity that emphasizes spiritual connection, and holds that sex is a sacred act that can bring those who engage in it to a higher spiritual plane. Commentary: Tantra is not directly related to polyamory; however, some people, particularly those involved with New Age spirituality, often combine the two. The original practice of tantra stems from several Hindu and Buddhist religious traditions that emphasize rituals (including ritualized meditation and mantra) and mysticism, but do not necessarily teach or require sexual ritual. The New Age practice has discarded much of the original teaching, choosing instead to emphasize sexual ritual as a spiritual act.
TERTIARY: A person (or persons) in a relationship that is generally quite casual, expects little in the way of emotional or practical support, or is very limited with respect to time, energy, or priority in the lives of the people involved. Contrast primary; See related primary/secondary, secondary. Commentary: A tertiary relationship may be very limited in scope or priority for many reasons, one of the most common of which is often distance.
TOCOTOX (acronym): Colloquial Too Complicated To Explain. Often used as a form of shorthand, particularly in online conversations, when the various interrelationships between the people in a polyamorous relationship can’t be described easily.
TRIAD: 1. A polyamorous relationship composed of three people. 2. A union or group of three. Usage: In the sense of Def. 1, generally, the word triad is most often applied to a relationship in which each of the three people is sexually and emotionally involved with all the other members of the triad, as may be the case in a triad consisting of one man and two bisexual women or one woman and two bisexual men; however, it is sometimes also applied to vee relationships.
TROILISM: Sexual activity involving exactly three people; either in the form of three people simultaneously engaging in sexual activity, or in the form of one person watching while two others have sex. See related ménage à trois (Def. 1).
TROUPLE: see triad. Etymology: A neologism coined by combining “couple” and “triple.”
UNICORN: Colloquial; see hot bi babe. Usage: Almost always used of a hypothetical woman who is willing to date both members of an existing couple, agree not to have any relationships other than the ones with the couple, agree not to be sexually involved with one member of the couple unless the other member of the couple is also there, and/or agree to move in with the couple. So named because people willing to agree to such arrangements are vanishingly rare, whereas couples looking for a woman who will agree to these terms are incredibly common.
VASOPRESSIN: A hormone produced by the hypothalamus and released by the pituitary gland. Vasopressin is known to be involved in the regulation of blood pressure and the uptake of water by the kidneys, and is also believed to be involved in mediating such responses as aggression and mating. Levels of vasopressin in the body rise sharply immediately after sex; it is believed that this may play a role in new relationship energy. See related oxytocin.
VEE: Colloquial A polyamorous relationship involving three people, in which one person is romantically or sexually involved with two partners who are not romantically or sexually involved with each other. See also triad, pivot; See related quad, N.
VETO: A relationship agreement, most common in prescriptive primary/secondaryrelationships, which gives one person the power to end another person’s additional relationships, or in some cases to disallow some specific activity, such as some specific sexual or «BDSM»-related activity. A veto may be absolute, in which one partner may reject another partner’s additional relationships unconditionally, or may be conditional and used more as a way to indicate a serious problem in a relationship.Commentary: Not all polyamorous recognize or permit veto power. Veto is most common in primary/secondary relationship configurations, particularly in relationship configurations where an established couple is seeking additional partners. Veto is typically limited only to the primary partners, and a relationship which grants a vetopower to a secondary partner is rare in the extreme.
WIBBLE: A feeling of insecurity, typically temporary or fleeting, when seeing a partner being affectionate with someone else. Wibbley: of or related to wibble, as Seeing those two together makes me feel wibbley. Contrast compersion, frubble. Usage:Primarily British; less common outside the United Kingdom.