A Polyamory Primer

Dear Cat,

You describe your family as ‘polyamorous’, but what is polyamory anyway? There’s lots of information on the internet, but it would be nice to hear how you define it.

Thanks for sharing,

John

what is polyamory

Hey John, so glad you asked!

Polyamory is defined as the practice of having many, or several loves. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? More details can be found on the Wiki for those of you with a thirst for knowledge. Here’s my favorite quote from the Wiki page:

“In practice, polyamorous relationships are highly varied and individualized according to those participating. For many, such relationships are ideally built upon values of trust, loyalty, the negotiation of boundaries, as well as overcoming jealousy, possessiveness, and the rejection of restrictive cultural standards.”

Polyamory is the umbrella under which anyone who extends their loving relationships beyond one partner falls. The various ways in which polyamory manifests are as differing and multi-layered as the unique individuals governing these hearts and bodies.

Sometimes poly people have multiple casual partners. Sometimes they have one relationship that they identify as their ‘primary’ relationship and one or more additional lovers who they keep company with. Sometimes polyamory applies to more than two people living in equitable conjugal partnership.

Poly people are everywhere, working beside you, living in your neighborhood, and raising families. You probably don’t know about them, because until very recently, on our strange and wonderful North American continent, Polyamory was technically illegal.

Both Canadian and US laws stated that it is unlawful for more than two people to live together in a conjugal relationship. This archaic law is rarely enforced, except in the odd case of religious communities where underage marriage in polygamous communities becomes an issue. I personally find it stunning that the law can still dictate who you can sleep with and when among consenting adults. I also find it infuriating that our culture is wildly accepting of the lies, deceit, and family-crushing betrayals that many of the monogamists practice in trying to love one person “till death do they part”.

Polygamy laws were challenged in Canadian courts in 2011, and the Canadian polyamory community believed this case had real implications for poly people. The judge ruled that Polygamy law had no bearing on poly units, and that it was no longer unlawful to co-habitate with more than one conjugal partner. As I understand it, nobody is challenging the right to marital status yet – allowing more than two people to marry would really shake up marital and property law as it exists – but many polyamorists believe that the law should not govern how they conduct their conjugal affairs.

Polyamory requires a serious commitment to the exploration of self, to total transparent honesty, to striving to communicate expertly with your partners, to really understanding and articulating what your boundaries are, and to respecting and understanding the boundaries of the people you are loving. Trust is absolutely the cornerstone of any polyamorous relationship – trust in yourself to be honest and open, trust in your partners to be the same. Challenging convention also takes strength, courage, and a real belief in the love that you share.

Some Great Books About Polyamory

The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt continues to be the foremost guide to understanding polyamory. I would highly recommend it to anyone new to or considering the poly way. It’s light-hearted and straight-shooting and I’ve read my copy dozens of times over the years. There’s a link to the Amazon page for this book below, and I think it’s interesting to note that the latest edition is number two-thousand and something in sales!

Sex At Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha is a fascinating examination of the failings of monogamy that challenges conventional wisdom about sex.

Famous sex educator Tristan Taromino has also written an excellent guide to multiple-partner relationships, Opening Up.

I’ve also found some great Poly resources on the web:

Polyamory in the News is a great blog dedicated to media coverage of Polyamory.

The Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association is an online resource for understanding current law surrounding polyamory in Canada, and how Canadians are challenging those laws.

Polyamory – Married and Dating is the compelling reality series from Showtime, with two seasons available. Visit the site to watch episodes online.

As our world continues to change, as our homelands begin to really awaken to the idea of equality transcending sexual orientation I believe more and more people will come forward to share their stories and really help to shape the face of polyamory. The images of hedonistic key parties will hopefully be replaced with images of vibrant, well-rounded families that are an extension of bygone days where we lived in large, loving, supportive communities raising children and taking on life’s journey.

Meanwhile, I invite you to share your thoughts, ideas, and stories. I’d love to hear from you!

Kisses on your nose,

cat skinner

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