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Open relationships and polyamory: are they for everybody?

Updated: Mar 5

Let’s play a game together. I will give you a few words: polyamorous, omnisexual, promiscuous, polysexual, polygamous, open relationship. Can you define them individually? Do they all refer to the same or similar concepts? Can they be grouped together? Is there any word you hadn’t heard before?

If you answered “yes” to the last question, you are definitely not alone. These words are all quite popular searches on Google but they are very often (mis)used interchangeably as if they all meant the same. When considering any of these options for your own personal romantic or sexual life, you should be well informed in order to make the right decision. Most importantly, if someone proposed you to have any of these relationship types with them, you should know them well so that you are not missing any of the “terms and conditions”.

So let’s get it out of the way and provide a simple and quick definition for each:

  • Open relationship = practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships while having a main romantic partner, with all people involved being aware of it

  • Polyamory = practice of engaging in multiple romantic relationships, with all people involved being aware of it

  • Polygamy = practice of having more than one spouse at the same time, with all people involved usually being unaware of it

  • Promiscuity = practice of having multiple transient sexual relationships, with all people involved usually being unaware of it

  • Omnisexuality = romantic, sexual, or emotional attraction towards people of all sexes and genders, often with gender playing a role in that attraction. Also called pansexuality.

  • Polysexuality = romantic, sexual, or emotional attraction towards people of more than one (but not all) sex and gender, often with gender playing a role in that attraction.

As you can see, there are subtle but important nuances to these concepts, however all of them refer to alternative ways of understanding and experiencing one’s romantic and sexual life. Some people purposefuly shuffle them in their discourse with the intention of propagating discrimination and marginalization of those who do not adscribe to the heteronormative monogamous relationship type, especially during #pridemonth. Because knowledge is power, and here we are #ready to fight ignorance, keep reading if you are interested in knowing a bit more about these and other relationship practices.

Terms and conditions of non-monogamous consensual relations

So let’s start with the first group, the non-monogamous relationships (NMRs): open relationships, polyamory and polygamy. Let’s imagine for a second the following scenario: you are dating someone and, after a while, you find out he has been sleeping with other poeple, and when you confront him or her about it, they say you were the whole time in an “open relatioship”. Well, if we look back at our glossary, you will conclude that they are either 1) deliberately lying or 2) missing a dictionary. Because an open relationship requires that everybody involved is fully aware of the situation and has agreed to the same terms beforehand. By “everybody” we are referring to you, your partner, and all the people they have been cheating on you with. And what just happened was them being polygamous without your consent or knowledge.

The most important thing about this awareness is that it has been agreed to without coertion, abandonment issues or insecurities playing any role in it. So you should not accept this or any other NMR only because you are afraid of losing the other person. This approach will, most likely, result in a break up and quite a lot of emotional pain for you. What are key rules for a sucessfull non-monogamous relationship, then?

1. Communication

This is quite straight forward, but so often missed. It is important that you sit down with whoever you want to engage in NMRs and clearly discuss what is “ok” and what is “a red line”. Crossing a red line will have consequences that you also have to agree to, such as terminating the NMR or sitting down again to readjust the terms and conditions. In the case of having one or more romantic partners, communication and emotional intelligence will be even more important for the success of the relationship, because it requires providing reassurance and safety to your partner(s)’ emotions.

2. Self-reflection

Like for many other things in life, we will make the best decisions for ourselves when we have a deep knowledge and awareness of our preferences, personality, attachment style, and triggers. If you come from a long list of relationships in which the other person was cheating on you or doing anything else for you not to trust them, it is very likely that you are not ready to engage in a NMR and you will suffer if you do. Likewise, if you are very possesive, get jealous easily, or struggle with insecurities, putting yourself in this situation will trigger those traits and reactions in you on a regular basis. If you are choosing a NMR just because you have an avoidant attachment style, you should know it and consider whether to tell to the other people involved.

3. Monitoring

Having an agreement is not the end of the process. When we implement any new system in our lives, we must regularly check in with ourselves and the other parties to make sure everything is going as planned. If the NMR starts making any person involved uncomfortable, overly concerned, or their behaviour changes, it’s time to sit down to talk again. For example, you may accept to a polyamorous relationship, in which you have preferential treatment from your partner, but they are also engaging in romantic activities with others. Because your agreement implies that you are at the top of the hierarchy in your partner’s relations, you think you will be able to deal with some insecurities of yours when the time comes. Then, when your partner takes another person for a date, you get overcontrolling or your night is completely ruined when they come back happy. This means you were not ready for this NMR and you must talk to your partner about it.

Your sexual identity is yours to explore

Let’s start by saying that your sexual identity might change throughout your life as you discover new things about yourself or you learn about other forms of sexuality you didn’t know they existed. This is particularly true for female-presenting people, specially during adolescence, probably because they experience less push back from society for exploring non-normative forms of sexuality than male-presenting people. Also, it is important to separate one’s sexual orientation or identity with one’s gender identity. The first refers to the type of people you are romantically/sexually attracted to, while the latter is what gender you identify with, which can be the same as the sex you were born with, or not, or just move across a spectrum.

Whether you identify as omnisexual/polysexual or to a more exclusive type of attraction to certain genders, you should remember that exploring and changing your mind is nothing to be ashamed of. Actually, trying to fit in only one label tends to be counterproductive for those with fluid sexuality. For example, young people that identify as heterosexuals “most of the time” (which means they are not exclusively heterosexual but they might be trying to fit into that label), have more negative physical, mental, and sexual health experiences.

The procreation aspect is a very small part of sexuality, while recreational aspects, intimacy, and sexual activity as social connection are much more complex components of sexuality. Nevertheless, human sexuality is a social concept, because the cultural context will affect how integrated one person can be into their community depending on their sexuality. For example, religion is one of the biggest cultural factors that has acted historically by “controlling” sexuality. However, as stated in article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

This statement should include sexual rights, understood as “right of all persons to express their sexual orientation, with due regard for the well-being and rights of others, without fear of persecution, denial of liberty, or social interference”.

Sadly, few international legal authorities approve sexual rights as a category of rights, which means that we must keep advocating for the freedom of all individuals to explore and express their sexuality and gender identity as they please!!

One crucial step in this fight is to counteract generalizations and common assumptions. For example, to make very clear that being attracted to more than one gender or experiencing fluidity in your sexuality DOES NOT mean you are promiscuous nor polygamous - your choices in romantic/sexual practices are absolutely separate from your sexual identity and you should not allow anybody to assume the opposite!


We hope you enjoyed this article, feel free to engage in our safe community by downloading our #ReadyApp and getting into the Gossip section!


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2. Balzarini, Rhonda N.; Dharma, Christoffer; Kohut, Taylor; Campbell, Lorne; Lehmiller, Justin J.; Harman, Jennifer J.; Holmes, Bjarne M. (2019). Comparing Relationship Quality Across Different Types of Romantic Partners in Polyamorous and Monogamous Relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, (), –. doi:10.1007/s10508-019-1416-7

3. Mitchell ME, Bartholomew K, Cobb RJ. Need fulfillment in polyamorous relationships. J Sex Res. 2014;51(3):329-39. doi: 10.1080/00224499.2012.742998. Epub 2013 Mar 29. PMID: 23541166.

4. Stewart, J. L., Spivey, L. A., Widman, L., Choukas-Bradley, S., & Prinstein, M. J. (2019). Developmental patterns of sexual identity, romantic attraction, and sexual behavior among adolescents over three years. Journal of adolescence, 77, 90–97. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2019.10.006

5. Ventriglio A, Bhugra D. Sexuality in the 21st Century: Sexual Fluidity. East Asian Arch Psychiatry. 2019 Mar;29(1):30-34. doi: 10.12809/eaap1736

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