Polyamory has as many different variations as there are poly people. My partner of almost 14 years and I are both polyamorous, but we poly very differently. He tends to be more of a Swolly person, whereas I am more of a Polyfidelitous person. There are so many different types of polyamorous relationships that I can’t even try to list them all, but the image below shows 16 types of polyamorous relationships to consider.
As you can see, polyamory is an umbrella term for relationships that can look very different. This is one reason why I advocate that people who are poly and starting to date have a good discussion about what poly means to them. Labels really only go so far. I’ve known people who thought that they weren’t "really poly" or that they were "doing poly wrong" because they didn’t fit the forms poly that were most visible in their communities. If you fit the definition as provided by Morning Glory Zell (credited with coining the term), you, my friend, are poly! No matter which label fits you best, you’ll probably find that it doesn’t describe all of your relationships with 100% accuracy.
Here is a quick definition of each of the above forms of polyamory.
- Polyfidelity: All members of the relationship are considered equal partners and mutually consent to be sexually active only with other members of the relationship.
- Sexually Monogamous Poly: Having multiple loving and intimate relationships while having sexual contact with only one partner.
- Relationship Anarchy: The forming of relationships which are not bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree on. RA believes that there is no need for a formal distinction between sexual, romantic, or platonic relationships.
- Hierarchical Poly: The delineation of primary, secondary, tertiary, etc. relationships based on level of involvement.
- Free Agent Poly: A person who makes their own choices, for better or worse, even when involved in committed, intimate, loving relationships and who tends to keep partners/relationships separate.
- Group Marriage: A marriage-like relationship between three or more people who share responsibilities typically associated with marriage. Types of group marriage include: corporate marriage, cluster marriage, line marriage, and chosen families.
- Open Network Poly: People within the polyamorous relationship can add new partners as they see fit. (Perhaps the most visible form of polyamory, based on my observation.)
- Long Distance Poly: At least one person in the poly relationship lives far away. For example, John is dating Penny, who lives nearby, and is in a long-term relationship with Dave, who moved to another state for work.
- One Penis Policy Poly: A consensual agreement within a polyamorous relationship that there is only one male sexual partner; all other partners must be female-bodied. (Don’t be too quick to judge on this one, I have a long-standing OPP due to my own history of sexual assault.)
- Platonic Poly: Intimate, loving relationships without a sexual nature.
- Poly/Chosen Family: Any group of poly people who identify themselves as "family"; they may or may not all share a common household.
- Democratic Poly/Polythrothism: Poly relationship in which each participant is considered equal in terms of decision-making, as opposed to hierarchical poly.
- Solo Poly: Poly people who emphasize freedom, autonomy, personal agency, and individuality. Often, those who identify as solo poly prefer not to engage in relationships with the hallmarks of "coupledom" such as shared household, finances, etc.
- Swolly: Someone who identifies as both as a swinger and polyamorous and engages in multiple loving, intimate relationships while also enjoying casual, recreational sex.
- TOCOTOX: An abbreviation for "To Complicated to Explain." This is used when the poly relationship just doesn’t fit into any of the broader categories and can’t be described easily.
- Poly + BDSM: I still haven’t found a term for this, but as someone who is highly involved in both the poly and BDSM communities, there are certainly people who have poly relationships with foundations in BDSM play, whether the focus in on dominance and submission, sadomasochism, bondage and discipline, a particular fetish, or some combination thereof. The relationships between "play partners" (people who engage in BDSM together) can become incredibly intimate and loving.