What are different "models" of living a poly(amorous) life?
Think of non-monogamy as an umbrella, and underneath the umbrella are the many “genres” of non-monogamy. These genres encompass both non-monogamous identities and non-monogamous lifestyles.
For the purpose of this column, an example of a non-monogamous identity might be “polyamorous”, with the person in question having reached an absolute certainty that they are not capable of monogamy - that they are “wired” this way. In this case, the politics of non-monogamy may permeate multiple areas of their life, and the same as when they self-identify as “transgender” or “heterosexual” when introducing themselves, they may very well include the identifier “polyamorous” on the same level as gender identity and sexual orientation. Polyamorous people tend to develop committed, multifaceted, long term relationships with multiple partners concurrently.
An example of a non-monogamous lifestyle might be “swinging”, which I also refer to as “situational” or “destination” non-monogamy. Here, the couple in question lives a mostly monogamous existence only to explore non-monogamy on rare occasions - and typically with the other partner present - at special events. These events can range from swingers’ themed play parties in dungeons, clubs, or private residences, to swingers’ conventions, to mass swinger “sex vacations” in tropical islands. Additionally, there’s a thriving social element to swinging that isn’t necessary present in other forms of non-monogamy - more of a party atmosphere - and swingers aren’t prone to developing the same kind of consistent, connective romantic bonds with their play partners as folks do in other non-monogamy styles.
New alternative relationship structures - as well as new language used to describe them - are popping up left and right, so please don’t take my personal umbrella as the permanent end-all-be-all of categorical libraries! That being said, here’s a list of popular models originally compiled by the lovely organizers of Polyamory Toronto (and slightly edited by yours’ truly!):
Monogamish: Coined by advice columnist Dan Savage. Mostly monogamous with some wiggle room when it comes to the terms of their fidelity. Different from swinging. I.e. Couples may agree to inviting a mutually agreed upon third into their bedroom on occasion, or make negotiations allowing for individual play partners - but only while one partner is away on business (aka the “100 mile rule”), etc.
Open Relationships: “Open” can be described in 3 ways.
1) open versus closed poly - where people are or aren’t able to date others
2) open versus closed relationships - the difference between monogamous and non-monogamous
3) open sexually and/or emotionally - encapsulates a wide variety of non-monogamous structures
Polyamory: More than one committed relationship
Egalitarian Polyamory: Lack of hierarchy, upholds autonomy of all participants. Egalitarian polyamory is more closely associated with values, subcultures and ideologies that favor individual freedoms and equality in sexual matters
Hierarchical Polyamory: The recognition of a primary relationship which receives conscious privilege over other relationships, where hard decisions may defer to the needs of the primary relationship (i.e. who gets brought home to meet the family, who is listed as emergency contact, who shares living space with the person in question, etc). Folks in this style typically describe having “secondary” and/or “tertiary” partnerships in addition.
Solo-Poly: More than one committed relationship with no hierarchy or primaries assigned
Relationship Anarchy: Coined by Andie Nordgren. The practice of forming relationships of all types (sexual, romantic, platonic, familial) which are not bound by societal norms or rules but rather focus on what the people involved mutually agree on. There need not be a formal distinction or importance between sexual, romantic or platonic relationships.
Sensual Friendship/Passionate Friendship: A nonsexual relationship that does include intense emotional attraction based on love
Poly Affectionate: The desire for affection with more than one partner without sexual involvement. Also includes “cuddle sluts”.
Mono-Poly Relationships - where one partner is monogamous and one partner is polyamorous. Works particularly well for partners with vastly differing libidos, for partners where one individual may have one or multiple disabilities, for kinky partners in a cuckolding arrangement, etc.
Polygamy: The practice of taking more than one spouse
Polygyny: The specific practice of one man taking more than one wife
Polyandry: The specific practice of one woman taking more than husband
Kinky Play Parties: Parties organized for BDSM play, not necessarily sexual. Partner pairing is usually based on matching skill sets of interest. I.e. person looking to be spanked paired with person willing to spank. Could also involve/include being part of a rope family.
Sexual Play Parties: Having sex in a private or public party with someone who may not be your committed partner. Could also include attending and/or participating in activity in sex clubs/bathhouses.
Commerce: Paying for emotional or sexual services, i.e. Purchasing the time of an adult-aged, consenting sexual surrogate or sex worker.
Closed Group Swinging: A group of people who swing together but not with others outside of the group. Friendships are valued
Hard Swap Swinging: Having sex with someone other than one’s partner
Soft Swap Swinging: Having sex with one’s partner in the same room as others
Poly Fidelity: A closed relationship between three or more people where no dating outside of the group occurs
Triad: A relationship between three people
Quad: A relationship between four people
Pack/Poly Network/Poly Tribe/Polycule: All ways to describe a close network of people connected in one form or another i.e. romantic relationships, friendships, metamours or all of the above
Unicorns: A single queer or bisexual person (usually a cisgender female) who interacts with an established (usually cisgender male/female) couple
Friends With Benefits/Erotic Friendships: Friends who introduce sex into their friendship but do not wish to escalate the relationship
No Strings Attached: Sex without ongoing commitment to continue the arrangement or escalate the relationship
Casual Sex: Sex sometimes with an ongoing commitment to continue the arrangement with an agreement not to escalate the relationship
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell - An agreement to have a non-monogamous relationship without discussing the particulars. Difficult to ensure consent is involved. For this reason - among numerous others - I highly advise against such arrangements.