Here’s What Polyamory Is Like From Women Who’ve Tried It

We’ve spoken to sex and relationship psychologist, Dr Limor Gottlieb, to answer your burning questions…


by Georgia Aspinall |
Published on

More and more, we’re seeing celebrities openly engage in polyamorous relationships. Last year, rumours swirled that David Haye, Sian Osborne and Una Healy were in a throuple (they have not commented on this) while Will and Jada Smith have been open about abandoning monogamy for part of their marriage in order to experience new freedoms. Bella Thorne was also openly in a throuple with singer Mod Sun and influencer Tana Mongeau, while singer YungBlud told Attitude magazine in 2020 that he also would describe himself as polyamorous.

But what is polyamory, and what’s it appeals to those who rave about it? We’ve spoken to sex and relationship psychologist, Dr Limor Gottlieb, to answer your burning questions…

What exactly is polyamory?

Polyamory is a distinct type of consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationship where partners typically engage in multiple loving sexual relationships with the consent of all involved. Polyamorous relationships typically encourage the exploration of romantic love and sexual connections with multiple concurrent partners. In polyamory, romantic love and emotional intimacy are often perceived as boundless rather than restricted to a single individual.

There seem to be many different polyamorous relationship types, how do you define them?

Indeed, polyamorous relationships manifest in various structures, including those with one or two primary partners (often the central or longest-standing relationship) and additional ‘secondary’ partners (known as hierarchical polyamory).

There are triads (relationships involving three people), quads (involving four individuals), or "V" formations are also prevalent configurations within polyamory. Additionally, some polyamorous arrangements adhere to ‘polyfidelity’, where exclusivity - both sexually and romantically - is maintained within a specific multi-person relationship. Furthermore, there are ‘mono poly’ relationships in which one partner identifies as monogamous while the other engages in romantic and sexual relationships with multiple individuals.

The ethics of polyamory are debated a lot - is it ethical?

When considering the ethics of polyamory, it's essential to recognise that the desire for sexual diversity and exploration is innate in us humans, especially in men. Therefore, sexual diversity is a significant factor driving some people towards infidelity. Polyamory instead, values honesty, self-knowledge, integrity, and prioritises love and sex over jealousy. These values underpin the framework of many polyamorous relationships and contribute to a culture of open communication, mutual respect, and consent.

According to research, gaining new sexual experiences, either together with a partner or separately with full transparency and support, can lead to feelings of excitement, fun, and increased well-being. Additionally, infusing a long-term partnership with new sexual energy from outside relationships can reignite passion and intimacy.

Therefore, the ethics of polyamory involve respecting individual autonomy and the consensual agreements made within relationships. So as long as all parties involved are transparent, respectful, and committed to ethical conduct, polyamory can be a valid and fulfilling relationship model for those who choose it.

How can some tell if they’re polyamorous?

There are some indicators based on research, here’s some of them:

  • Feeling unfulfilled in a monogamous relationship could be a sign that polyamory may better suit one's desires. This might include a desire for sexual variety or the feeling of suffocation within the constraints of a monogamous partnership.

  • Seeking personal growth and autonomy may drive people towards polyamory, as it offers opportunities for exploration and self-discovery outside traditional relationship norms.

  • Exploring minority identities, such as sexual fluidity or bisexuality, can be a motivation for embracing polyamory as a means of expressing one's authentic self.

  • Seeking new sexual experiences and diversity may also drive people to engage in polyamory, where they can explore their sexuality openly and ethically.

  • Polyamory can also allow people to postpone major life decisions about commitment and intimacy while they explore their options.

  • Valuing autonomy and freedom within relationships could further lead people to opt for polyamory, where they can engage in relational structures that align with their authentic selves.

  • Recognising that one partner cannot fulfil all their needs within a monogamous relationship may prompt people to seek fulfilment through multiple relationships.

  • Engaging in polyamory can also provide opportunities for comparative partner exploration, allowing individuals to evaluate different relationships without the pressure of immediate commitment.

I want to try polyamory – how can I talk to my partner about it?

Preferences for relationship styles, whether monogamous or non-monogamous, vary among individuals. It's essential to recognise and respect diverse relationship preferences without attaching judgments or stereotypes.

In situations where one partner desires consensual non-monogamy such as polyamory, and the other does not, open communication, empathy, and understanding are crucial. Couples should explore compromises, seek professional support if need, and prioritise each other's feelings and boundaries. Ultimately, the decision rests on mutual respect for individual needs and the health of the relationship.

How do you start a polyamorous relationship if you were previously monogamous?

My key advice includes creating a safe space for honest dialogue, understanding each other's motivations, seeking compromises, educating ourselves about non-monogamy, and considering professional support. Taking time for thoughtful consideration, regular check-ins, and emphasising emotional connection are essential. Couples should be prepared for potential changes, recognising that each relationship is unique. It's important to respect each other's boundaries and be willing to find compromises that make both partners comfortable. This may involve exploring new activities that are mutually satisfying or finding alternative ways to connect sexually.

Relationship preferences are subjective, and what works for one person may not work for another. Labelling someone as ‘toxic’, for example, solely based on not wanting polyamory can be unfair, as it doesn't consider the diversity of perspectives and values. Moreover, this can be counterproductive and unhelpful in fostering healthy communication. Instead of fostering understanding, it may create defensiveness and hinder the possibility of finding common ground or compromise. It's important to approach differences in preferences or values in a more constructive way that involves respect and an open mind.

Although it is possible to have a healthy relationship even if partners have different sexual preferences or desires, successful navigation of such differences requires open communication, understanding, and a willingness to find common ground. Open and honest communication about sexual desires, boundaries, and expectations is crucial. Discussing your needs and listening to your partner's concerns can create a foundation for understanding.

After getting the basics from Dr Limor, we spoke to Catrine Håland, a photographer, who has two long-term partners and has been polyamorous since 2020, about her experience…

Tell me why you decided to try polyamory?

CH: I didn't decide, it just happened naturally. It went from dating multiple people while being open about it, to an open relationship and eventually polyamorous over a few years. When I started dating again after a breakup in the beginning of 2020, I wanted to explore and have fun, but I didn't want to be shady about it. Some dating apps had options whether I was looking for non-mono or monogamous connections, and I put both as I was curious and intrigued.

I had my first open relationship later that year in 2020, and it was both our first. It didn't last, but it was a great relationship, and I was certain this is the relationship style for me. The combination of having space to have freedom, commitment and honesty.

What are the benefits of being polyamorous?

I find it incredibly liberating on the level of honesty that needs to be present in poly relationships. Perhaps more than monogamous ones. I am autistic, so relationships and social codes can be very hard for me, but being this level of honest makes me feel very secure in relationships, and I don't have to guess what people I am dating are thinking or doing. My experience is that most people who are genuinely non-monogamous are a lot more responsible and open, both sexually (getting tested openly and regularly) and making efforts to be a considerate and supporting partner. There is a lot of self-reflection that is needed. I find myself feeling less jealous and insecure, because I know where I stand in relationships whether its new dates or people long term. It has also made me think and feel about love in friendships differently. I love my friends in a different way and I show it differently. I don't feel stressed about dating anymore, because one person doesn’t have to be everything.

Are there any downsides to polyamory?

The downside is the judgement from society and sometimes even friends. I'm not secretly poly, but I usually don't mention it. Particularly in a work environment and with new people that aren't in my community, even when the conversation is about relationships, or I get asked if I have a partner. I don't want to hide it at all, but often I find it's better to just lie, and I wish it wasn't. It often makes people uncomfortable and that’s down to not knowing what it means, and often the judgement comes from a promiscuous place, for lack of a better word.

How have your polyamorous relationships compared to monogamous ones?

I've had some good monogamous relationships when I was young, but throughout my 20s, they have been across the board quite bad, both dating and relationships. Lack of communication, accountability, emotional maturity, honesty. I have often felt not desired or prioritised by partners in monogamous relationships, and it is the loneliest feeling and has made me feel very insecure and envious at times.

How do you navigate feelings of jealousy or insecurity when you are in love/like someone a lot?

I talk to my partners a lot and other polyamorous friends. My partners are my go-to when struggling with jealousy, because it affects them, and they are very good to talk to. I have two long-term partners, one who I live with and another I started seeing after I moved in with my partner. I used to struggle with feeling bad for dating or sleeping with someone else in my first relationship, even when he was comforting me to say he really was excited for me. We did some jealousy exercises to help it we found an open relationship workbook that really helped. Now, I don't really struggle with it. I can sometimes feel insecure or inadequate when my nesting (line-in) partner is dating, but it never has to do with them, it's always a result of how I feel in my own life, whether it's work or relationship struggles. Other than that, I love hearing all the details from their relationships and I get excited for them. We as a group hang out occasionally and my partners are friends separate from me and I am friends with my metamours (your lover’s lover) too. It feels incredibly good and drama free.

I am now in love with both my boyfriends, which I have never been before, and it took me a long time to realise. Because while I love them both, the love is also different because the relationship is different.

Do you have any practical tips for women who want to try it but worry they’ll be too jealous?

If you're a woman in a relationship with a man, you'll more likely experience that you are the one getting dates and meeting others way easier than the man. You might feel bad at first so talk to your partner, let them talk. If you're jealous over your partner dating, try to identify why you're feeling jealous. If you're scared, they might leave you for someone else, remind yourself that you're open, we can have both and it's also not a competition. Always use protection and get tested regularly. Be open that you're new and want to explore and learn. That way you can meet other people open to and wanting to date newly poly. And be aware of the polyamory fuckboy as a way of doing what they want without considering other people or those who are poly until they meet the one!

Polyamory FAQ: a quick-fire guide to polyamory

Is polyamory a sexuality?

No, polyamory is not considered a sexual orientation but rather a preference for a certain type of relationship. Sexual orientations are to do with who you are attracted to, and want to have relationships with, as opposed to the type of relationship you are having.

What is the difference between polyamory and polygamy?

While polyamory is defined as a style of relationship for people who have multiple partners or lovers, polygamy is defined as a person who has multiple spouses.

How common is polyamory?

The most recent statistics available state that polyamory is practiced by 7 percent of UK adults.

Do polyamorous relationships fail?

Historically, they are not the most successful long-term, according to relationship expert Neil Wilkie. He told Red Magazine in 2023 that while 20% of couples have experimented with polyamory, open marriage has a 92% failure rate. Open marriage doesn’t necessarily mean having multiple spouses, like polygamy, but rather that you can date or have sex with people outside of your marriage.

Polyamory social media accounts to follow:

Cat advises following social media accounts on non-monogamy if you’re looking for support, she recommends @polyphiliablog, @polyamfam and @polyampoppy as well as the @comecurious podcast which she says has some great episodes on navigation open relationships.

Georgia Aspinall is senior editor at Grazia UK and writes regularly about sex and relationships. She has investigated all of the best sex positions, sex toys and speaks to women regularly about the realities of their sex lives now.

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