People often become confused about the language used around non-monogamy and polyamorous networks of relationships. I will start with a disclaimer: Language changes quickly. New terms are added faster as the internet expands. These terms and polyamorous definitions are up to date at the time of writing. However, your mileage may vary.
With that said, here is my list of non-monogamy terms that are essential.
A relationship or relationship style that does not conform to monogamy. In monogamy, a person has a sexual relationship with only one person at a time. In non-monogamy, a person can have multiple partners at the same time.
This is an updated term for having an affair or cheating. Unethical non-monogamy is when one partner makes a unilateral decision to have a relationship with another person without gaining the agreement or consent of their current partner. Any time an agreement between two (or more) people is violated (instead of negotiated and changed), it is considered unethical.
Any relationship in which the parties make agreements about having multiple sexual and/or relationship partners.
People who engage in polyamory have more than one romantic and sexual relationship at a time. Polyamory is usually assumed to include love rather than simply having multiple sexual relationships at a time.
A relationship where there is one woman and multiple men.
A relationship where there is one many and multiple women.
A single person (often a woman) who is sought by a couple to join them for short term sexual relationship or a long-term relationship.
This is when a couple or a group of people choose to dispense with barrier protection and have sex where fluids are exchanged. If a couple is fluid bonded, they have usually had multiple clean STI tests and use condoms and other barriers (dental dams) when they have sexual contact with people outside the fluid bond.
Feeling fantastic because of the joy your partner is experiencing with someone else. It is the opposite of jealousy. It is when someone else’s excitement and joy brings you excitement and joy. This is one of the most wonderful parts of being non-monogamous if you are able to experience compersion. Some people find it hard to experience compersion but it is a skill that can be learned.
This is when relationships are prioritised. Sometimes people talk about their primary or secondary partner and this suggests they are in a hierarchical relationship. If you are raising children with someone, you may prioritise that relationship. However, prioritising the relationship does not necessarily mean that you consider someone more important than other partners. It often refers to how you divide and prioritise your time. Many people in the poly community now prefer to aim for non-hierarchical relationships – noting that no relationship holds more sway inherently than any other.
When I first entered the world of polyamory, it was common to use the terms primary and secondary relationships. Now hierarchical language is frowned upon so people often refer to nesting partners to describe the person they live with rather than a primary partner as that is seen as too hierarchical.
Some relationships are by their nature hierarchical. Relationships in which there is an authority transfer are always hierarchical as the person who holds the authority is at the top of the hierarchy. This doesn’t always mean that when someone is polyamorous and in a relationship which involves authority transfer that the authority transfer relationship is always given priority and seen as primary in the hierarchical sense. People can have a number of different types of relationships and keep them all equal. However, it is common for authority transfer relationships to be seen as primary. I have also noticed that in real life, equality is rare but striving for equality is common. This is the subject of an upcoming blog.
This is when someone chooses to focus on the individual rather than becoming couple focused. Many of the people I have met who identify in this way are clear that they prefer their own space and do not want to live with or marry anyone. They talk about being their own partner first. They enjoy the flexibility and autonomy.
Traditionally this terms refers to couples enjoying sexual encounters with other individuals or couples. It is usually specific to sexual bonds rather than creating emotional bonds. Lots of swinging takes place in clubs or at private parties. Traditionally, swinging is an activity that favours heterosexual couples and bisexual women. In more modern clubs, bisexual men also engage and in some clubs same sex couples engage as well. However, same sex couples, queer and non-binary people tend to create their own events and don’t usually call this ‘swinging’. Some people go to swing clubs to watch rather than to have sex with others. The couple has sex with each other while watching the activity of the other people at the party or club. This allows them to engage in voyeurism and exhibitionism. There are closed swinging groups where people have regular STI tests and agree to only swing with each other.
A polyamorous relationship in which all of the partners agree to remain faithful to the group. Some relationships have a process that allows new members to be added and others don’t. Some of these are relationships in which everyone lives together and others are not. Polyfidelity.
A relationship involving three people.
A triad where the person at the apex of the V is involved with the other two people but they are not sexually involved with each other. The person at the apex is also known as the pivot.
A relationship involving four people.
A relationship where one person is polyamorous and the other is monogamous.
Don’t ask, Don’t Tell:
A relationship in which partners are allowed to have sex with others outside the relationship as long as it is not talked about.
Friends with benefits:
When a person decides to have a sexual relationship (sometimes just once, other times regularly) with a friend and there is no expectation of a romantic relationship developing. Also known as a fuck buddy.
This is the network of a person’s romantic and sexual partners and their romantic and sexual partners.
From the 1970’s – Originally a wife swapping/swinging event where each couple places their car keys in a bowl when they arrive and then at the end of the night, each woman picks a set of keys from the bowl and then goes home with the man whose keys they are for the night. There are still key parties held.
The partner of your partner. Sometimes known as lover-in-law.
Ménage a Trois or Threesome:
French for a triad – though usually this term is used for experiences rather than to describe relationships that last longer involving three people.
A romantic network or a subset of a romantic network.
A romantic network or subset of a romantic network
Monogamish: (term coined by Dan Savage)
A couple in a committed relationship who are monogamous with some agreed exceptions. For example, kissing a friend may be acceptable. Some people who are monogamish allow sexual relationships outside the couple but not romantic relationships.
New relationship energy (NRE):
The excitement and quasi obsessiveness that happens when you begin a new relationship. It includes infatuation and also that ‘in love’ feeling and can last a few years.
One Penis Policy (OPP) :
A relationship where the man is allowed sex with multiple female partners and the female partners can have sex with other women but no one is allowed to have sex with another man.
Any relationship that is not monogamous. For some this term is only used to describe relationships in which other sexual relationships are allowed but there are no other romantic relationships. In this way it excludes polyamory.
This is when people are free to engage in any type of relationships that they choose. People who practice relationship anarchy see any relationship that restricts a person’s ability to express themselves as negative. Freedom and spontaneity are seen as highly desirable traits. For many people who practice relationship anarchy, there is not always a clear distinction between partner ad non-partner.
A group of people in a polyamorous network.
There are also a lot of very colloquial terms so as with all relationships, it is important to communicate fully and clearly in order to make sure you and the person or people you are speaking with are understanding each other.
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