Lovin’ More than One: Polyamory

I’m sure most of us at one point or another in our lives have wondered if it was possible to love more than more person romantically at a time. We’ve had some examples in the media via Sister Wives and Big Love but lo and behold that is just one brand of polyamory. There are actually many more.


This idea of more than one relationship at a time can take virtually any form. The definition of polyamory is left loose for the purpose of being as inclusive as possible. It also allows for all orientations to be represented gay, straight, bi, or undefined. Here are a few relationship structures poly people partake in (say that ten times fast):

*Primaries — These are the partners that you may be building a household with. It may look like a typical marriage or partnership in all other ways, except for the fact that one or both partners also engages in secondary sexual relationships.

*Secondaries — How serious are secondary relationships? Well, it varies from person to person. It may be more of a sexual exchange or it may a full romantic relationship that may blossom into a more full partnership.

*Tertiaries — Yes, some people actually use this terminology but it seems to be falling out of favor.  Often preferring a “circle of equals” or a non-hierarchal arrangement. Tertiary can describe any other relationship beyond the primary and secondary.

*Vees — This refers to relationships where one person serves as the pivot point at the bottom of the “V” while the two arms representing two other partners are not as closely involved.

*Triads — This can be three people involved in almost any way with different levels of commitment. An equilateral triangle signifies all three people being equally involved with one another.

*Quads, sextets, pentacles — There are some communities that engage in more complex forms of polyamory. The “geometry” as it is referred to can vary widely.

A common theme in most of these relationships is polyfidelity, where all sexual activity is kept between the committed partners. Various relationship dynamics abound obviously, especially if there is the context of a family at play. Each partner is expected to communicate needs and desires. Some refer to setting up standard “rules” for the group while others prefer the term “boundaries”. These boundaries simply outline what is OK and what isn’t. For instance, it is not OK for you to sleep over night at your secondary partner’s house but they may sleep at the primary’s home. Or it may be behavior driven, such as anal sex is not allowed between non-committed partners. Very often if you are in a more traditional primary relationship, that person will have “veto power” over certain behaviors or other partners.

Talking to people engaged in poly relationships, I truly get the sense that when set up well with good communication and clear boundaries, many of these relationships can be highly successful. You do have the dominant culture of society that doesn’t quite get the whole thing, so I believe that adds some pressure but many believe that engaging in a poly lifestyle is more evolved, as it is more complex requires so much communication and negotiation. I just know I have my hands full with my one relationship.

 is the resident sexologist at Adam & Eve and also runs a private practice and media consulting business. She has a Doctorate from the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. Her professional affiliations include AASECT, SSSS, and the American Board of Sexologists. She also has a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and completed a postgraduate degree in Marriage, Family and Addictions Recovery Therapy.

© Copyright Dr. Kathleen Van Kirk

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