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having more than one serious, sexual-emotional relationship at the same time


noun [countable]


noun [uncountable]

'Almost any combination of partner number and sexual orientation is possible in a polyamorous sexual grouping …'

The Australian 21st January 2006

'Polyamorists do not limit themselves to one relationship but maintain numerous relationships, straight or gay. A key element is that they are all serious emotional commitments, not just casual sex …'

The Observer 13th November 2005

'Monogamy, or the lack thereof – otherwise known as polyamory, non-monogamy, and my personal favorite, the "open relationship" – is the hot issue of the day.'

Columbia Spectator 23rd January 2006

If you're having trouble choosing the right Valentine's gift for your loved one, imagine how doubly difficult the situation would be if you were polyamorous – not just one, but two (or more) Valentine's cards to buy for those special people in your life!

some polyamorous relationships have a hierarchical perspective … some form a 'triangle'

In 21st century society, the boundaries of emotional and physical relationships are radically different to those a generation ago. One of the biggest changes is increased acceptance of homosexual relationships and their formal recognition through the concept of civil union. But attitudes and conventions in relation to heterosexual relationships continue to change too, and it is in this context that the word polyamorous has recently gained currency. Being polyamorous is the quality of having more than one serious heterosexual (or in fact homosexual, or bisexual) relationship. The practice is known as polyamory, and those who participate are called polyamorists.

Polyamory is not just tantamount to casual sex with a range of partners (which is sometimes called swinging or being in an open relationship) but represents a serious, intimate, emotional bond between one person and two or more others, sometimes referred to as polyfidelity. The bonds are not necessarily equal, however. Some polyamorous relationships have a hierarchical perspective, consisting of a central relationship with a husband or wife, known as a primary, whilst maintaining other, intimate relationships, described as secondaries. Polyamory can result in complicated sexual and emotional patterns. For instance, some polyamorous relationships form a 'triangle', where each person in a threesome has a relationship with the other two. Others form what is referred to as a V (or Vee) relationship, where one person, known as the hinge or pivot, has a close relationship with two others, but these two others have no particular emotional bond.

Polyamorists, or simply polys, as they are often called, have recently come out of the closet, claiming that they today face the same prejudices as those encountered by the gay/lesbian community in the 1960s. On 23rd September 2005, the first polyamorous civil union was performed in the Netherlands, when 41-year-old Victor de Bruijn and his wife Bianca , who had been married for eight years, 'tied the knot' with 35-year-old divorcee Mirjam Geven, a woman they'd met several years previously through an Internet chatroom.

Background – polyamorous

The word polyamorous is based on a blend of the prefix poly- (from the Greek, meaning 'more than one') and amor, the Latin word for 'love'. Though there is evidence of usage as far back as the 1960s, the word was popularised in the early 1990s by US poet Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, who used it in a 1990 article entitled A Bouquet of Lovers. In 1999, Zell-Ravenheart was allegedly asked by the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary to provide a definition of polyamory, which she defined as:

"The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved."

However, unlike the related term polygamy, the word polyamory and its derivatives are yet to be formally recorded in a dictionary.

If you're interested in more words and expressions that reflect the changing attitudes and conventions of 21st century relationships, then check out the February 2006 issue of MED Magazine.

For more new words with a Valentine theme, take a look at these MED Magazine articles from 2004 and 2005.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 6th February 2006.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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