The term ‘polyamory’ is credited to Morning Glory Zell in the late eighties, and comes from the roots poly = many, and amor = love, loves, or loving.
This page provides a brief introduction to some concepts and terms commonly used by polyamorous people. It is important to note that many of these terms are used differently by different individuals and it is always advisable to check each individual’s personal understanding of any term.
It is worth noting that while there is a significant overlap between the polyamorous, bisexual and BDSM communities (not to mention the IT and geek communities), practice of one should not automatically imply practice of the others.
Common types of multiple relationships
Polyamory: The philosophy and practice of loving more than one person at a time with honesty and integrity. The emphasis is on intimacy and can include both emotional and sexual relationships.
Cheating / Affair: A situation in which not all parties are willing or informed participants in multiple relationships.
Swinging: Most frequently involves clubs and parties where the emphasis is on recreational sex. Often couples in an emotional relationship will engage in swinging together.
Casual or recreational sex: Sex which does not occur within the bounds of an ongoing intimate relationship.
V: Involves a person in a relationship with two others who are themselves not in a relationship with each other. The central person in a V is usually referred to as the ‘hinge’ of the V.
Triad: Three people in equal relationship with each other.
Quad: Four people in equal relationship with each other.
Polyfidelity: Sometimes called ‘group marriage’, where three or more people will enter into an agreement to be sexually and/or emotionally faithful to the people within the group. New lovers must get the approval of and commit themselves to the entire group before being admitted.
Open relationship: Usually refers to a central pair with a deep or primary emotional commitment to each other, who openly engage in other relationships outside the central one. It is the most positive term available in common parlance and is often used by people who haven’t heard the term ‘polyamory’.
Partner: This term can mean many different things and it is worth getting clarification from the individual for their personal meaning.
Life partner: Usually refers to someone with whom one has a deep emotional commitment and anticipates sharing one’s entire life with; someone one will consult about day-to-day and significant decisions.
Primary partner: The most significant relationship(s). Primary partners may live together, share day-to-day tasks, make most major decisions together, and will usually be deeply sexually and emotionally intimate. There is often an understanding (not always verbalised) that other relationships are not allowed to threaten a primary. In some poly communities there is a strong tradition of one primary partner and multiple secondary partners; in other communities there is an acceptance of more than one primary.
Sexual friend/friend-with-benefits: A person with whom one has an ongoing friendship and with whom one will occasionally have sex, but whom one has no intention of developing a more serious relationship.
Fuck buddy: A person with whom one primarily has a sexual relationship. Relationship agreement: An understanding, reached through discussion and negotiation, about what behaviours are / aren’t acceptable for partners to engage in within and without the relationship.
Note: this is a brief explanation of a few of the most common terms; a full explanation of BDSM requires a separate document.
BDSM: Bondage, Discipline, Domination-Submission, and Sado-Masochism. Role-playing activity, often but not exclusively sexual in nature.
Top/Dom(me): The person who adopts the dominant role in BDSM play.
Bottom/Sub: The person who adopts the passive role in BDSM play.
Play, playing: This term can mean a variety of things. It can refer to BDSM or role-playing, to casual sex, and to sexual play which does not lead to intercourse.