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Open relationships and polyamory: are they for everybody?

Updated: 3 days ago

Let’s play a word 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. Most importantly, if someone offers you one of these types of relationships, you should get to know them well before agreeing to something you don't understand.

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 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 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 intimate 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 moment the following scenario: you meet someone and after some time you find out that during this time that person had close relationships with other people, and when you confront this situation, 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 have given their consent in advance. 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.

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. Is it possible at all to be in a healthy and sucessfull non-monogamous relationship, then?

1. Communication

This is quite straight forward, but so often missed. It is important that you sit down and clearly discuss what is “ok”, what is unacceptable and what will have consequences that you also have to agree to, such as terminating the relationship. Communication and emotional intelligence are very 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 are avoiding attachment, you should know this and consider whether perhaps this is not a good time for a therapeutic consultation to understand the source of these and not other choices.

3. Monitoring

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. When you think you'll be able to handle some of your insecurities and you're overly controlling, or your night is completely ruined when your partner doesn't share their life openly, then this is not a healthy arrangement for you.

Your intimate needs are yours to explore

Let’s start by saying that your intimate needs might change throughout your life as you discover new things about ourselves or have new experiences. This is particularly true for female-presenting people, specially during adolescence, probably because they experience less social pressure to explore close relationships or friendships than men. 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 attracted to, while the latter is what gender you identify with, which can be the same or not, or just move across a spectrum.

Regardless of how you identify or what is your type of attraction to certain genders, you should remember that exploring and changing your mind is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, trying to force a fit is counterproductive. Suppressed needs can bring more negative physical and mental health experiences.

The procreative aspect is one part of sexuality, while other aspects such as intimacy as a social bond are much more complex components. Human sexuality is a social concept, because the cultural context will affect how integrated one person can be into their community depending on it.

As stated in article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”.

One of the key steps is to counter generalizations and common assumptions, with due regard for the well-being and rights of others, without fear of persecution and imprisonment.


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


1. Conley TD, Ziegler A, Moors AC, Matsick JL, Valentine B. A Critical Examination of Popular Assumptions About the Benefits and Outcomes of Monogamous Relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Review. 2013;17(2):124-141. doi: 10.1177/1088868312467087

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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