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April 2024

Featuring Kendra Sunderland
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Polyamory Terms: A Primer
Featured Article

Polyamory Terms: A Primer

Interested in exploring the world of nonmonogamy, but confused by the jargon? Prepare for the sexiest vocabulary lesson you’ve ever taken.

One thing that all subcultures, communities and professions have in common is that the folks involved share a common language—and polyamory is no exception. The origin of the word itself is pretty straightforward: polyamory literally translates to “many loves.” But if you’re new to this relationship style, you are likely to encounter a bunch of terms that make you wonder what in the world people are talking about. Don’t let the jargon of dating sites and meet-ups get you down—I’m here to help. 

Polyamory falls under the umbrella of ethical (aka consensual) nonmonogamy, but it differs from swinging or “monogamish” relationships because it creates space for multiple romantic partners, rather than just sexual openness. Some polyamorous relationships are hierarchical, which means that one relationship takes precedence over any other relationships that the people involved may have. Partners in hierarchical relationships are often referred to as primary partners, with non-primary partners called secondary or satellite partners. Some couples in a primary relationship have veto power over their partners’ other relationships (meaning they can make decisions about relationships they aren’t involved in) and rely heavily on rules that center the main relationship. They might even have a don’t ask, don’t tell (DADT) policy, where outside relationships are allowed, but not discussed or shared in any way. Hierarchy can be preferred for folks who are married, co-parenting or nesting (i.e. living together), but there is room for all of that in non-hierarchy as well.

A configuration where three people are all in a romantic and sexual relationship with each other is a triad (or throuple), and when there are four people, it’s known as a quad.

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