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    14 Questions About Polyamory, Answered

    Curious about polyamory? Check out these frequently asked questions before bugging a stranger about their sex life.

    If you've been anywhere near the Internet for the past few years, you've probably noticed the term "polyamory" (or just "poly") being thrown around.

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    Though the word encompasses a great variety of relationships and preferences, the basic definition of polyamory is the practice of carrying on multiple sexual and/or romantic relationships simultaneously with the consent of all those involved. This can mean having a primary partner and then secondary lovers, or being part of a triad in which all parties are equally invested in one another, or many, many other arrangements.

    While open relationships and polyamorous lifestyles have existed just about forever, they've often been treated as something sleazy or shameful to be kept out of the mainstream. Fortunately, society is starting to realise that alternative sexual tastes and lifestyles are just that: alternatives that many people enjoy alongside more traditional values and structures.

    It's OK if you still don't quite get it.

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    Not understanding a type of relationship you've never experienced or come into contact with is perfectly understandable. And asking polite, thoughtful questions to any polyamorous person who you know well is totally acceptable.

    However, it's likely that, if someone is openly poly, they'll have answered the same questions over and over and over and, frankly, it's a little boring (and kind of intrusive). So for your quick reference, I, along with three other polyamorous people (Lisa-Skye, Ryan and Melody*) brainstormed up the answers to the following FAQs that we'd rather not have to answer again and again.

    1. Isn't it just cheating by another name?

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    No, nope, not at all. Cheating is about deception and betrayal. If you are in a monogamous relationship and your partner has sex with someone else, that fundamentally violates the rules of your relationship.

    In poly arrangements, there are still rules (for example, you may only sleep with a person your partner is aware of in advance) and if you break them, you're cheating. But sleeping with multiple people when everyone is aware it's happening and everyone consents to it is nothing like cheating.

    2. Do you have sex, like, all the time?

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    Who has the energy? Also, people have jobs to get to. In short, the amount of sex a polyamorous person has varies just as it does for people who engage in monogamous relationships, or for people who are single.

    Some poly people are happy to have sex on a first date and some aren't. Some poly people are even asexual but believe in engaging in multiple romantic relationships. Just because there are more sexual options available to you doesn't mean you're necessarily having more sex.

    3. Is this, like, a Mormon thing?

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    It's unfortunate that a lot of representations of non-traditional relationships in pop culture are patriarchal (Big Love anyone?) or focused entirely on sex (like Louis Theroux's documentary on swinger culture). Melody says she often has conversations that begin with "I get that your fella has sex with other people but I bet he doesn't let you, does he?".

    The reality is that, though polyamorous communities can fall prey to the same sexist structures as the rest of the world, traditional polygamous arrangements (which serve men) are pretty rare. Also, polyamory exists in LGBT communities too where the old one man, three women stereotype often couldn't apply! And though sex is a factor, it's not the whole story.

    4. Aren’t you scared of STIs?

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    Sure, as much as anyone else is. Generally, polyamorous people are actually more inclined to use protection and be honest about their sexual health, because non-traditional relationships tend to lead to extremely open discussions.

    Consider this: a person cheating on their monogamous partner would be less inclined to tell them if they contracted an STI than a person whose partner already knows they're seeing other people.

    5. What if your partner falls in love with someone else?

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    In some poly relationships, this is totally OK! Again, it entirely depends on your personal rules. The "amory" half of the word is important here: polyamory isn't just about having sex with multiple partners. It is also, often, about forming deep attachments to them and, yes, often loving more than one person at a time.

    This is the difference between a sexually open relationship and a polyamorous relationship: if you are sexually but not emotionally available to other people, then you'll likely have stricter rules about what sort of attachments you can form outside of your primary partnership. And let's remember that history suggests monogamy is no protection against one's partner falling in love with a third party.

    6. Don't you get jealous?

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    This is probably the most common question, and Ryan answered it best: "I don't think jealousy should be just something we assume we are stuck with like herpes or that weird hair that grows back all the time".

    In other words, sure, sometimes jealousy arises as it does in single partner relationships. But the best way to counter it is by making sure everyone involved feels valued, and also by examining and talking about what's causing the jealousy.

    7. What happens if two partners need you at the same time?

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    If you're in a polyamorous relationship that acknowledges the elevated position of your primary partner, then anyone else who you date will be aware that they take priority. If not, well, you deal with it the same way you deal with the needs of the other important people in your life.

    If your best friend is having a work crisis the same day your mother is going into surgery, the bestie will probably understand you choosing to spend time with your mother. Hopefully you've chosen similarly reasonable people as your partners.

    8. Don't you get confused about who likes what?

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    This is one of the most baffling questions, as it implies that you view your partners as just generic blobs of flesh who are hard to tell apart. These are people you are intimate with, emotionally and physically.

    They're unlikely to blur together for you, just as you can probably remember which of your mates is gluten free and which one is in AA before mixing up their orders of a cupcake and a vodka cranberry.

    9. Have you ever called your partners the wrong name?

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    See above. (Though you can't rule out a scenario not dissimilar to calling your teacher "Mum" in primary school. Briefly embarrassing, but ultimately harmless and understandable).

    10. Isn't it a hassle remembering birthdays and anniversaries?

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    Well, sure, but only insofar as remembering dates is always a hassle. Lisa-Skye jokes about the benefits of being Type-A and hyper-organised if you want to date multiple people, but there's definitely truth to it.

    Chances are, if you're an adult with a job and people you love in your life you already have a system for remembering engagements, so this isn't too much of a concern.

    11. Who's better in bed?

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    Honestly this one is none of your business, oh anonymous question asker! Also, some poly people are bisexual (including all of the people involved in this piece), so you're asking them to compare different genders' sexual performances.

    And even for heterosexual polyamorous people, well, everyone is different, so your sexual experience with everyone will be different. Sitting down to assess better or worse is pretty dehumanising.

    12. Who will you have kids with?

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    First of all, not everyone wants to have kids so stop asking this question to poly and non-poly people alike. Secondly, there are a lot of happily blended families out there in which multiple partners raise children together.

    You can have kids with one person or more than one person, or you can adopt as a triad, or you can have a lover who is or isn't involved in the life of the child you have with your primary partner, or... any number of arrangements really.

    13. You'll stop when you settle down, right?

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    Why? "Settling down" looks different for different people, even in the poly community. Maybe it looks like raising a child with one person or maybe it looks like raising a child with three people. Maybe it looks like getting a steady job and moving in with your primary partner while still having lovers.

    Maybe it looks like coming out to your family as poly so they can get to know your significant others. Settling down doesn't have to mean changing who you are or who you love.

    14. I don't think I could do that?

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    As Ryan says "It's not a question... but it feels like one the way most people say it".

    If you don't think a polyamorous lifestyle is for you, cool, don't have one. Some people seem more predisposed to monogamy and some people are more inclined towards open relationships. The most important thing is to live a life that is true to your own desires while also respecting the desires of the people with whom you're involved.

    The only lesson here is that love is a wonderful thing, wherever and however you find it, so respect it and respect each other's experiences.

    *Name has been changed.

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