In this article, we will try to demystify what polyamory is in all its variations.

Alex Simon

Special collaboration: Alex Simon is an American-born and Montreal-based student interested in LGBTQ+ and trans realities. They themselves being non-binary, they proposed the idea to GrS Montreal of writing articles on their blog TransAvenue.

Often when we refer to the types of relationships that exist, we usually think of the sexual orientation of the people involved, such as heterosexual or LGBTQ+ people. On the other hand, there is also what is called “relational orientation“. This is the structure that a relationship can take, including the number of partners in a given relationship, the feelings one may have towards the partner(s), etc. This article will therefore approach some basic terms in the diverse world of polyamory.

Polyamory means maintaining multiple relationships at the same time. Unlike monogamous people who only have one person with whom they share a romantic and sexual relationship, polyamorous people have multiple relationships at the same time. These relationships can be romantic and/or sexual in nature. There are also those who consider themselves ambamorous, which means that they can be as comfortable in a monogamous relationship than in a polyamourous one.

The types of relationships involving more than two people, not having sexual exclusivity and/or love, is called ethical non-monogamy. This includes polyamory and swinging (discussed later). Everyone involved is fully aware of the terms of the relationships, having explicit agreement, honesty, and communication. It is thus not synonymous to infidelity because everyone is aware and consents to the activities. We can also find agreements established regarding the level of protection used during physical contact.

A big thank you to the Polyamour Montreal group for creating a glossary from which I drew inspiration to create this list.

General terms

Relationship escalator: In our society, a relationship typically has a normalized path. You can expect to meet a partner, date for a while, have sex or not, get married, have children, etc. This is called a relational staircase. Many decide to structure their relationships differently, such as not getting married, not having children, having only sex and not romantic relationships (and vice versa).

Compersion: Compersion is an emotion that can be said to be the opposite of jealousy. It is a feeling of joy that we get when our partner experiences happiness. This is especially the case with polyamorous people when a person is happy to see their partner experience happiness with one of their other partners. It is far from being an innate or easily understood emotion, but it is over time that we can learn to recognize and live it with our loved one(s).

Consent: Consent is expressing oneself in favor of an act. It can be withdrawn at any time, without justification, and even if you have already done such an act in the past (we can think of sexual relations in particular). Without consent, an act is abuse.

ORE/NRE: Old Relationship Energy and New Relationship Energy are emotions we feel about a relationship. In a long-standing relationship, this ORE may be distinguished by a sense of comfort, security, and stability. In a recent relationship, this NRE may be distinguished by a feeling of adrenaline and excitement.

Unicorn: A so-called unicorn is someone who joins an existing couple (polyamorous couple or not) to engage in a romantic and/or sexual relationship with both members of the couple. This term is sometimes used in a derogatory way, because it often refers to a monogamous heterosexual couple (called unicorn hunters) who seek a bisexual woman for sex in an objectifying way.

Metamour: A metamour means the relationship between two people who are dating the same individual. For example, if person B is dating person A and person C (imagine A-B-C), person A and C are metamours to each other.

One Penis Policy (OPP): A concept usually frowned upon in the polyamorous community, where one person (usually a cisgender, heterosexual man) demands that their partners not have sex with other people who have penises.

Polycule: Having the word molecule at its origins, it is about the group including oneself, our partners and our metamours.

Poly(in)saturated: When in a polyamorous dynamic, being polysaturated means that we have reached our maximum number of partners that we can manage simultaneously. On the contrary, being polyunsaturated means that you have not yet reached that limit.

Veto: A veto is an agreement that allows a person to be able to terminate an additional relationship of their partner or for certain activities to take place. It is more often used by those new to polyamory and is less well regarded by more experienced people.

Types of relationships

Relational Anarchy: This is a structure where principles related to anarchy are applied to relationships. Some values include autonomy, non-hierarchical practices (where there are no relationships that are more important than another) and anti-normativity.

DADT: An acronym for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, in the world of ethical non-monogamy it means an arrangement in which we choose not to disclose details of our other relationships to our partner. This is not a very common concept in the community, as it is often seen as unethical due to its contradiction to the principles of honesty and open communication.

Protection Contract/Fluid Bonding: This is an agreement to reduce the exchange of bodily fluids and unprotected sexual contact.

Friends With Benefits (FWB): This dynamic occurs when you establish a friendship that includes sexual activity without necessarily having romantic expectations.

Kitchen table: This is a form of polyamory where the partners and their respective metamours establish a network with the important value of meeting to talk about the challenges facing the polycule or to do activities together. This is the opposite of parallel polyamory.

Mixed poly relationship: When a polyamorous person has a relationship with a monogamous person.

Parallel Polyamory (Corridor Poly): A structure of polyamory where a person’s relationships are independent of each other, having little or no contact between metamours. It is the opposite of the kitchen table style.

Polyfidelity/closed relationship: A type of polyamory involving more than two people, but where each partner is not looking for other additional people outside of the relationship. If we decide to seek additional partners, we do so with the approval and consent of everyone involved.

Egalitarian relationship: Synonymous with non-hierarchical relationship, this is a relationship where no one in the polycule has priority over others. This is the opposite of a hierarchical structure.

Triad: Relationship made up of three people, all three of which are involved in sexual and emotional relationships with each other.

N relationship: Usually involving two couples, where one of the members of the first couple is seeing someone from the second couple.

V relationship: A relationship involving three people, where one person has romantic and/or sexual relations with the other two people, but the latter do not have a relationship between them.

Open relationship: Relationship that is exclusive at the romantic level but not at the sexual level. Some people use the term as a synonym for polyamory (it is often the case in swinger communities) but it is not always the case. For others, this term is only used to describe non-monogamous sex.

Solo poly: This is an approach to polyamory where a person emphasizes autonomy, not needing the permission of others to choose their own relationships and flexibility to form relationships how they so choose.

  1. Very informative!

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