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Polyamory: what is it and what types of polyamorous relationships are there?

Polyamory: what is it and what types of polyamorous relationships are there?

May 9, 2021

Until a few years ago, relationships have been dominated by a very specific conception of what love is: romantic love.

This idea of ​​affect transforms love into something that is shared exclusively by two people , which have an intimate relationship with each other that they do not use with others, and is also related to the modern conception of platonic love in which the couple is idealized. However, in Western countries another way of understanding love relationships is taking root: polyamory.

What is polyamory?

The term polyamory was coined by Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart in 1990 and since then it has become popular, as an idea and as a philosophy of life, in many Western countries.


In general terms, polyamory is the tendency, preference or habit to interact lovingly with more than one person at a time and in a context in which all the people involved are aware of this situation . Polyamory, therefore, does not have the couple as the fundamental unit in which people exchange affective and intimate behavior, and that does not mean that infidelities are being committed.

On the other hand, there are many ways to experience polyamory, and the fact that more than two people can participate in a polyamorous relationship only increases the number of possibilities. In fact, as polyamory is a way of managing affectivity and not necessarily sex, it can happen that all people who participate in a polyamory group have different sexual orientations or simply do not have sex; and it can also happen that some do have intimate relationships of this type and others do not.


In addition, polyamory is a way of relationship that is maintained over time and that is not limited to a short period of minutes or hours, as could happen in sporadic exchanges or swinging. Polyamorous relationships are so because, in themselves, they tell us about the nature of the affective relationship that several people have with each other.

Related article: "Types of love: what kinds of love are there?"

Polyamory is not polygamy

At the same time, polyamory does not have to be based on formalized relationships, as happens in marriages. It differs from polygamy in that the latter, in addition to sticking only to cases where marriage has taken place, consists of the union between a man and many women or a woman and many men.

The types of polyamory

The existence of diffuse limits in the limits of what can be done and what can not be done in a polyamorous relationship has meant that, on occasion, this type of affectivity is simply known as non-monogamy. This allows covering a wide range of types of relationships, which does not restrict the different ways of living polyamory.


Although the way to classify these types of polyamory can vary depending on what type of criteria are used to distinguish between categories, yes you can highlight the main forms of polyamorous relationships . They are the following.

1. Hierarchical polyamory

In this type of polyamory there is a nuclear group in which the relationship is more intense and a perfferia in which the established relationships are secondary . Normally each person has a primary relationship and others of minor importance, which means that the people involved in a primary relationship can impose vetoes on each other, preventing them from getting romantically involved with certain people.

Among the different types of polyamory, this is the one that most resembles traditional couple relationships in Western countries.

2. Polifidelity

In the polifidelity intimate relationships are restricted to a certain group of people and with very limited limits. Outside of this circle of members, sexual contact is not allowed.

3. Relational anarchy, or free love

Relational anarchy is the kind of polyamory less like monogamous marital relationships. In it, las people involved in relationships do not have any kind of restriction a priori , and have total freedom to choose how to relate to each person in particular. Therefore, in relational anarchy there is no pressure to make the relationships established with others fit into a series of stereotypical norms nor is there a need to place labels that define them.

In short, relational anarchy is distinguished from other forms of polyamory by being much more destructured. Although it is always based on consensus and requires a degree of commitment, it is built from scratch at the moment of initiating the relationship and is not based on expectations based on gender roles or traditions.

What kind of people practice polyamory?

Identifying the number of people who practice polyamory is tremendously complicated, firstly because in many countries their presence is so low that it costs to study them, and secondly because being so difficult to define what is and what is not a relationship polyamorous is difficult not to fall into biases when quantifying them. But nevertheless, It is estimated that the number of Americans who practice some form of polyamory is around 4 or 5% of the population , while in Spain the percentage would be between 5 and 8%.

Regarding the profile of people who prefer more polyamorous relationships, a study conducted by Loving More (an organization supporting free love) in which more than 4,000 polyamory practitioners participated showed that 49.5% of the participants were female, 35.4% were male, and 15.1% corresponded to people identified as non-binary gender or genderqueer.

Further, almost half of women and around 18% of men reported having sex with people of the same sex during the past 12 months , thus showing a significantly greater tendency towards active bisexuality than the general population. These results fit well with other studies in which it has been proven that in homosexuals and bisexuals the number of polyamorous people is very large.

On the other hand, the level of studies of polyamorous persons was significantly higher than the average of the general population, and showed a tendency to live with fewer children and adolescents in their homes.

Problems associated with this type of love

If it is difficult to quantify the number of polyamory practitioners, knowing how most of these people feel is no less important. For this, it is necessary to carry out very expensive qualitative studies based on interviews, and the data in this regard are very scarce.

However, by the available data There is no reason to think that the problems experienced by couples and traditional conditions disappear in the polyamorous relationships . Although the different types of polyamory are very well defined on paper, it is often difficult to see reflected in reality the nature of the relationships that supposedly should be maintained.

For example, in spite of showing a preference for polyamory, jealousy or fear of being isolated from the relationship may appear, and the fact of sharing a network of affective relationships with more than one person makes it very necessary to manage time especially well. and the activities that are shared. Many common problems in the day to day of traditional couples are also present in people who practice polyamory.

On the other hand, there is no evidence that families formed around polyamorous relationships have greater difficulties in raising and educating children well. Elisabeth Sheff, in particular, conducted a longitudinal study for 15 years that served to conclude that the upbringing within polyamorous families proceeds normally, which is not surprising if we take into account the typical profile and educational level of the people involved in polyamory.

Much remains to be discussed

Polyamory can be many things, from a series of superficial changes applied in the relationships of a couple to a deep questioning of social conventions, marriage and the way in which the states of the world relate to it.

From gender studies related to the concept of patriarchy, for example, the existence of polyamory is very relevant, because considering it as an alternative to traditional romantic love makes it easier to argue that marriage and relationships are "kept afloat" socially for political reasons, instead of being a reflection of the way in which human biology predisposes us to relate.

The controversy is served

This generates a lot of discussions in sociology, anthropology and, of course, psychology, and as we go deeper into the study of this phenomenon there will be patent opposing positions, and different theories about what polyamory is.

Researchers and academics who emphasize the role of genes, such as many neuroscientists and evolutionary psychologists, will tend to underline the difficulties of free love and point out that the polyamorous types most lacking in standards are relatively little extended.

On the contrary, supporters of the role of environment and learning will continue to defend the idea that polyamory is one more evidence of our almost infinite capacity to invent new ways of relating and reinventing affectivity without being limited by our evolutionary past. Which of these two stories will be more capable of explaining what polyamory is is something that, for the moment and in the absence of more data, we can not consider.

Bibliographic references:

  • Barker, M., and Langdridge, D. (2010). What ever happened to non-monogamies? Critical reflections on recent research and theory. Sexualities, 13, pp. 748-772.
  • Díaz Morfa, J. cited in Barbancho, J. Polyamory leaves the closet, consulted on 07/25/2016 at 4:45 p.m.
  • Graham, N. (2014).Polyamory: A Call for Increased Mental Health Professional Awareness. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 43 (6), pp. 1031-1034.
  • Sheff, E. (2013). The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • What Do Polys Want ?: An Overview of the 2012 Loving More Survey, accessed on 07/25/2016 at 5:15 p.m.
  • Williams, D. J. and Prior, E. E. (2015). Contemporary Polyamory: A Call for Awareness and Sensitivity in Social Work. Social Work, 60 (3), pp. 268-270.

Types of Polyamory (May 2021).


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