Updated: 7/27/2023 | Polyamory Glossary
We’ve created a helpful guide on the most commonly used polyamory terms.
Agamy – (a no + gamos marriage) A philosophy or practice of not engaging in marriage. Some polyamorous people take this position for various reasons including the inequality of marriage and the low acceptance of gay and multi-person marriages.
Agency: The feeling of having control over one’s words and actions. Knowing that you can act on your autonomy. Having agency is a right that falls under your domain. It is part of the bedrock of adult relationships.
Ambigusweety – This term was coined by Chris Dunphy, from “ambiguous sweetie”. As the name implies it is generally used to refer to a partner with whom your relationship is unclear. Often a relationship that is somewhere in-between a friend and secondary.
Anchor Partner / Nesting Partner: refers to couples who live together or share other significant resources (like child rearing responsibilities). Anchor partners are not necessarily primaries, but they tend to be the more stable, on-going relationship.
Arrow Polyamory: Arrow Polyamory: A term used to describe a quad polyamory relationship where one person is romantically and/or sexually involved with three separate individuals but none of those three individuals are romantically or sexually involved with one another. Complex quad, double V polyamory, full quad, N polyamory, and plus one polyamory are other different types of quad polyamory relationships.
Asexual: An asexual person (also “ace”) is someone who does not experience sexual attraction. Aces can be any sex or gender or age or ethnic background or body type, can be rich or poor, can wear any clothing style, and can be any religion or political affiliation.
Autophobia: Fear of abandonment; also called monophobia, isolophobia, or eremophobia, is the specific phobia of isolation; a morbid fear of being egotistical, or a dread of being alone or isolated. Sufferers need not be physically alone, but just to believe that they are being ignored or unloved.
BAES: Boundaries, Agreements, Expectations, Support. The framework I use for defining relationships and resolving conflict. You can learn more here.
BDSM – An acronym for Bondage and Discipline; Dominance and Submission; Slave and Master; and Sadism and Masochism. Used generally to refer to a wide range of practices that include some degree of role play, fantasy, fetishism, and sensation play practices in an erotic context between consenting adults. BDSM is generally practiced with a focus on safety and community support.
Bipoly – Someone who identifies as both bisexual and polyamorous.
Boundaries: These are hard limits we have to maintain, to protect our domain, everything that we have a right to, and responsibility for (see – domain).
Having a boundary and defending your boundary are actions that help you meet your own needs and protect your domain. They also create safety for others, when you communicate your boundaries to them and they know they won’t accidentally encroach on them.
As such they can be seen as an invitation to welcome people towards you up to the place where you boundary lies.
A boundary can be physical, social, emotional, sexual, cognitive or material. Everyone needs to uphold personal boundaries, but our upbringing and relationships experience can often warp the way we think about our own boundaries.
There are a few videos on the site that focus on creating healthy boundaries in relationships.
Candaulism: Candaulism has two primary definitions; As a sexual fantasy wherein a male exposes his female spouse or sexual partner (or images of her) to people outside of the relationship. Candaulism can also be defined as the practice of exposing or undressing a female spouse to other people and even forcing the spouse into engaging in sexual activities with a third party. There are numerous sub-definitions from this term and in modern contexts, the term is mainly used to describe someone who enjoys posting pictures of his female partner online or urges his partner to wear revealing, tight clothing in an attempt to show her off. Candaulism is directly associated to exhibitionism and voyeurism.
Cheating: Yes, cheating does occur in non-monogamy. Anytime a partner steps outside of the non-monogamous agreement, hides or withholds information from their pal with the intention of manipulating or deceiving them, or participates in behavior that is unethical behind their back, this is considered cheating. Cheating describes the breach of trust rather than participating in a specific sexual act.
cisgender: Someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Closed Relationship – A monogamous or polyfidelitous relationship that excludes involvement with other partners.
Compersion: Defined as the feeling of elation or joy that someone in a polyamorous relationship feels when they see one of their lover/partners spending time with another relationship. In the context of polyamory – compersion is often referenced as the opposite of jealousy. Also referred to as Frubble.
Coined by Kerista Commune, the feeling is described as experiencing positive feelings in regards to your partners other relationships.
Comet – Somebody in your life with whom you occasionally cross paths before going off on your separate trajectories once again: when the paths are crossed you have a fierce, passionate relationship, but ultimately you part ways. It’s a common misconception that comets are superficial relationships, but I reject this idea – the people in my life I would call my ‘comets’ hold a very special place in my heart and head (some of whom I’m in more consistent contact with, some of whom nearly disappear between meetings) and I would reject the idea that they are lesser to people who just happen to play a more consistent role in my life.
Compulsory monogamy (compmono): There is absolutely nothing wrong with deciding you want to exclusively be with one person as long as that decision is deliberate and everyone agrees to the boundaries and expectations of the relationship (like any other structure). The problem exists with the word COMPULSORY. Suddenly we are talking about a societal-level ideology that places long-term, romantic, heterosexual, patriarchal, monogamous coupling as the central focus of our relationships. This negates the fact that many people feel more comfortable having “primary” relationships that aren’t romantic, that aren’t long-term, that aren’t exclusive, that don’t have to be domestic, that can’t or won’t be sexual. Realizing that there’s no type of relationship that is more valid than the rest is vital if we want to give everyone the chance to have authentic connections.
Condom Contract – An agreement between members of a non-monogamous relationship who are fluid bonded to use condoms with sexual partners outside of those within the agreement.
Consent: Consent is expressing oneself in favor of an act. It can be withdrawn at any time, without justification, and even if you have already done such an act in the past (we can think of sexual relations in particular). Without consent, an act is abuse.
Couple Privilege: the set of benefits that monogamous couples are awarded from the dominant culture. It also refers to the practice of primaries limiting or restricting secondary relationships in order to preserve the established hierarchy. This is generally considered unethical behavior as it holds power OVER the secondaries.
Cowboy: The colloquial term for a monogamous male who intentionally gets into relationships with females who are in polyamorous relationships. The male gets into these relationships with the goal of removing the female from her other partners and securing her in a monogamous relationship.
A polyamorous male will sometimes become a Cowboy by accident when he falls heavily for a polyamorous female.
The female counterpart for this term is Cowgirl.
Cowgirl: The colloquial term for a monogamous female who intentionally gets into relationships with males who are in polyamorous relationships. The female gets into these relationships with the goal of extracting the male from his other partners and securing him in a monogamous relationship.
A polyamorous female will sometimes become a Cowgirl by accident when she falls for a polyamorous male.
The male counterpart for this term is Cowboy.
DADT: An acronym for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, in the world of ethical non-monogamy it means an arrangement in which we choose not to disclose details of our other relationships to our partner. This is not a very common concept in the community, as it is often seen as unethical due to its contradiction to the principles of honesty and open communication.
Demisexual: Someone who only feels a sexual connection with a person that they have an emotional bond with first.
Disclosure: the practice of talking to your pals about STI status, safer sex practices, and other pals/ sexually relevant information. This practice ensures that everyone is taking appropriate precautions and is fully informed. It is not uncommon (or weird) to ask for actual testing documentation, especially if you’re meeting with new folks. This absolutely does not mean that you can’t or shouldn’t hook up with folks with STIs. On the contrary! Disclosure allows you to play safely with all pals in ways that support everyone’s health.
Egalitarian relationship: Synonymous with non-hierarchical relationship, this is a relationship where no one in the polycule has priority over others. This is the opposite of a hierarchical structure.
Enthusiastic Consent: Merely seeking verbal or non-verbal consent from a partner, does not go into the intention or the desire of that partner to engage. Seeking enthusiastic consent means ensuring that the agreement is congruent with their desire, something that they can show with their body language, face, and words.
Protection Contract/Fluid Bonding: This is an agreement to reduce the exchange of bodily fluids and unprotected sexual contact.
Freemate: The term is used to define a non-married partner within a group relationship. It is standard practice for the freemate to have less responsibility and involvement in the day to day activities of the group relationship. This is largely attributed to the fact that the freemate is likely to have joined an existing relationship. Although, some partners do default into the role of freemate as a result of the two other partners getting married or establishing a deeper romantic connection.
Friends With Benefits (FWB): This dynamic occurs when you establish a friendship that includes sexual activity without necessarily having romantic expectations. Also referred to as a “fuck buddy.”
Garden Party Polyamory: Describes a dynamic where people who are connected through shared partners, are aware of each other, and may meet at major life events like birthday parties. They may not be friends, but treat each other with respect as you would a distant family relative.
Gender Fluid / Gender Nonconforming: Somebody who identifies anywhere along the spectrum of gender from man to non binary to woman or anything in between.
Handfasting:a rural folkloric and neopagan ceremony that unites two people in a common bond; dissimilar marriage as it does not enlist sexual exclusivity or permanence; also is not recognized as a “legal” marriage and thus is not “illegal” or considered bigamy
Hinge – Also see Vee.
Hot Bi Babe (HBB) – A popular term referring to an attractive bisexual woman, often sought after by couples in order to form a triad.
Kitchen table: This is a form of polyamory where the partners and their respective metamours establish a network with the important value of meeting to talk about the challenges facing the polycule or to do activities together. This is the opposite of parallel polyamory.
Describes a dynamic where multiple people connected through mutual partners feel comfortable spending time in activity together. This may include having dinners with your partners and metamours, playing board games or going out together as a group.
KTP is not more evolved or enlightened than other ways of practicing non-monogamy. It requires a lot of emotional openness and energy, invested in the wider network of lovers and metamours.
For some, this dynamic provides a ‘chosen family’ setting that gives safety and security.
For others, it can be added pressure to engage in performative sociability for the sake of maintaining peace in the polycule.
If your partner insists on KTP as a condition of dating them, this is a red flag. Until you meet their other partners and decide if you enjoy spending time with them, there is no need to agree to this. You may not have the time or energy, or you may carry some insecurities that makes such a dynamic too emotionally demanding.
LGBTQ – An acronym for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (Queer is not always included)
Limerence (noun) A type of romantic attraction characterized by obsessive thoughts, fantasies, a desire for, but uncertainty about reciprocation. Limerence has been called the darker side of new relationship energy.
Long Distance Relationship (LDR): An abbreviation for long distance relationship.
Love Languages: – (Physical touch, Words of affirmation, Acts of service, Gift giving, Quality time) our preferred way(s) of receiving love from our pals. This is important to understand when providing support to pals!
MÈNAGE Á TROIS: (Literally, French, house of three) 1. Sexual activity involving three people. 2. See triad. Commentary: In the sense of Def. 2, usually applied to a relationship in which all three are romantically involved.
Metamour/Metamor: Your partner’s partner. A metamour means the relationship between two people who are dating the same individual. For example, if person B is dating person A and person C (imagine A-B-C), person A and C are metamours to each other. Also referred to as a Lover in Law or Other Significant Other (OSO).
Monocorn: A person who is monogamous or monoamorous who is comfortable in a relationship with an ethically non-monogamous person.
Mixed poly relationship: When a polyamorous person has a relationship with a monogamous person.
Molecule: An umbrella term that is used to describe a type or subset of a polyamorous relationship. Triads, quads, and vees are all different types of molecules. The term earned its place in the polyamorous dictionary because polyamorous relationships look like molecular structures when they are presented as a graphic or drawing.
N relationship: Usually involving two couples, where one of the members of the first couple is seeing someone from the second couple.
New Relationship Energy: Commonly referred to as NRE is the term which describes the excitement and emotion associated with starting a new romantic or sexual relationship. NRE occurs during the initial stages of courtship and involves increased emotional connectivity, sexual receptivity and a higher level of excitement. NRE will change as the relationship grows and reaches maturity, often a relationship will dissolve once it NRE fades completely. NRE is particularly relevant to the Poly community because a polyamorous person will often experience NRE while they’re still involved in long-term, committed relationships with one of their other partners. NRE is colloquially known as “puppy love” or the “honeymoon phase.”
Non-binary: An individual who does not identify with either “man” nor “woman”. Also sometimes called NB or “enbie”
Non-Monogamy: Types of relationships involving more than two people, not having sexual exclusivity and/or love. Everyone involved is fully aware of the terms of the relationship, having an explicit agreement, honesty, and communication. It is thus not synonymous with infidelity because everyone is aware of and consents to the activities. We can also find agreements established regarding the level of protection used during physical contact.
Old Relationship Energy (ORE):the feeling of comfort, security, and stability associated with a long-standing romantic relationship
One Penis Policy (OPP): A concept usually frowned upon in the polyamorous community, where one person (usually a cisgender, heterosexual man) demands that their partners not have sex with other people who have penises.
Open Relationship – A relationship, normally a dyad, which permits multiple sexual partners, but usually without the emotional commitment found in polyamorous relationships. Relationship that is exclusive at the romantic level but not at the sexual level. Some people use the term as a synonym for polyamory (it is often the case in swinger communities) but it is not always the case. For others, this term is only used to describe non-monogamous sex.
Outercourse: a safer sex practice that do not involve genital contact, penetration, or fluid sharing. This can be a good option for folks with multiple casual partners. It includes mutual masturbation, skin touching, toys (that you don’t share!!), sexting or phone sex, role play and other non-sexual BDSM.
Pansexual: Sexual attraction to individuals regardless of sex or gender.
Parallel Polyamory (Corridor Poly): A structure of polyamory where a person’s relationships are independent of each other, having little or no contact between metamours. It is the opposite of the kitchen table style.
Petamours: Like a metamour, a petamour is your pal’s pets that aren’t also yours
Platonic Life Partner (PLP): A term used to refer to a person one may have lifelong commitments and responsibilities with (i.e., cohabiting, commingling finances, coparenting, etc), but the relationship is not romantic or sexual.
Polyamory: Maintaining multiple relationships at the same time. Unlike monogamous people who only have one person with whom they share a romantic and sexual relationship, polyamorous people have multiple relationships at the same time. These relationships can be romantic and/or sexual in nature. There are also those who consider themselves ambamorous, which means that they can be as comfortable in a monogamous relationship than in a polyamourous one.
Polyamory Under Duress: A term coined by Dan Savage to describe the situation where someone reluctantly accepts to practice Polyamory as a result of their partner wanting this dynamic and this becoming an ultimatum for maintaining the relationship.
Partner: A person with whom someone has a relationship
Play Partner: a sexual partner with no emotional or romantic connection
Polybombing: This is a term often used by monogamous people to describe the shock they feel when their partner brings up the topic of wanting to explore Polyamory. In some cases, this happens after a very long monogamous relationship and may be presented by the partner as a huge realisation that this is who they now are. Their partner must either accept the new reality, or separate.
Dan Savage coined the term ‘PUD’ (Polyamorous under duress) to describe monogamous people who reluctantly agree to practice Polyamory for fear of losing their partner.
It is difficult, but certainly possible to bring up the subject compassionately, and design a relationship dynamic that will work for both partners.
Polycule: Having the word molecule at its origins, it is about the group including oneself, our partners and our metamours.
Polyfidelity/closed relationship: A type of polyamory involving more than two people, but where each partner is not looking for other additional people outside of the relationship. If we decide to seek additional partners, we do so with the approval and consent of everyone involved.
Poly(in)saturated: When in a polyamorous dynamic, being polysaturated means that we have reached our maximum number of partners that we can manage simultaneously. On the contrary, being polyunsaturated means that you have not yet reached that limit.
Polymax – Is an informal term for being at the limit of the relationships you feel you can be involved in. For example you might say “I’ve reached my polymax, I can’t become involved with any new partners right now”.
Polywog – A child in a polyamorous household.
Primary/Secondary/Tertiary: These terms can be used to describe the amount of commitment one has to a certain relationship. For example, newer relationships may be more secondary in the beginning when pals are still getting to know each other and the relationship is more casual with less responsibility and expectations. Primary relationships usually refer to relationships with more serious and long-term commitments like sharing children, housing, financial or domestic responsibilities, etc. This doesn’t necessarily mean primaries are more important, but they are usually allocated more resources.
Quad: A four-partner polyamorous relationship.
Relational Anarchy: This is a structure where principles related to anarchy are applied to relationships. Some values include autonomy, non-hierarchical practices (where there are no relationships that are more important than another) and anti-normativity.
Relationship Escalator: the compulsory monogamy model of escalation. Basically you start dating, then spend more and more time together, move in, get married, have kids, get a dog, and live happily ever after. This model may work for certain folks but it certainly isn’t the only way to create security or importance in a relationship. Many ENM folks feel alienated by this model since they cannot replicate it with all of their pals at once and often wouldn’t want to regardless.
Rules: Rules are about taking something that you want in order to feel safe, and imposing it on someone else, to control their behavior, autonomy, or agency. Wanting to have a rule essentially outsources your feeling of safety and security to the other person. To understand why rules can be harmful and not conducive to growth, it is worth learning more about boundaries and agreements.
Relationship Orientation: A preference for sexual or loving relationships of a particular form; as, for example, a preference for relationships which are monogamous, for relationships which are polyfidelitous, for relationships which are polyamorous, and so forth. See related switch (Def. 1). Commentary: Just as some people feel that their sexual orientation is fluid and a matter of choice where other people feel that their sexual orientation is fixed and not subject to choice, so do some people feel that their relationship orientation is subject to choice whereas others feel their relationship orientation is not a matter of choice. It has been my observation that some people seem to be inherently monogamous, and can’t be happy any other way; some people seem to be inherently polyamorous, and can’t be happy any other way; and some people seem to be able, under the right circumstances and with the right partners, to be happy in a monogamous or a polyamorous relationship. (From the More Than Two glossary.)
Safe Words: Words typically used during sexual encounters which denote discontinuation or modification of consent.
Sapiosexual: The adjective (of a person) finding intelligence sexually attractive or arousing.
Social Monogamy: Appearing to be monogamous in social situations/in certain social circles. Usually presenting your primary partner as your only partner.
Solo poly: This is an approach to polyamory where a person emphasizes autonomy, not needing the permission of others to choose their own relationships and flexibility to form relationships how they so choose.
Sugar Relationship – a relationship in which one partner provides significant financial contributions to the other throughout the course of the relationship; can be strictly sexual or include a romantic relationship as well
Swing Club n 1 : a meeting place where recreational sexual activity take place 2 : an organization that support, encourage and promotes recreational sexual activities
Swinging: Couples who play together with others. This can involve arrangements like swapping partners with another couple, participating in group sex, or having threesomes. The focus is on sexual experiences rather than maintaining multiple relationships.
Telemour: While a Metamor is defined as the partner of my partner, a Telemour is the partner of my Metamour.
Tertiary: A person (or persons) in a relationship which is generally quite casual, expects little in the way of emotional or practical support, or is very limited with respect to time, energy, or priority in the lives of the people involved. Contrast primary; See related primary/secondary, secondary. Commentary: A tertiary relationship may be very limited in scope or priority for many reasons, one of the most common of which is often distance.
Triad (Thrupple)– A three person relationship in which all three people are intimately involved. A triad differs from a Vee, in which there are also three people, but they are not all involved. A triad is one of the most common forms of polyamorous relationships.
A relationship dynamic with 3 people – a form of Multigamy that involves 3 people who are connected romantically and/or sexually with each other in a committed relationship.
The Triad dynamic is one of the most complex and challenging forms of Multigamy. When couples decide to open up a previously monogamous relationship, they often do it by considering adding a ‘third’ to their dynamic as the most obvious and ‘safe’ option. They assume that bringing in a new person into their existing relationship will preserve what they have already created between them while adding a layer of sexual exploration and emotional expansion.
The reality is far from this ideal, however. There is a significant amount of couples’ privilege inherent in this mindset. The person who joins this couple is not a prop and will have their own wants and needs. They may not be attracted to both people in the same way or to the same extent. Any tension and cracks that may have existed in their relationship will become apparent.
It, therefore, becomes crucial to examine the couples’ privilege and recognize that each person in the couple needs to develop their own 1:1 relationship with the new person. Agreements must be made between all 3 people and not be rules that are handed down to the person joining.
When a triad develops organically between 3 independent, autonomous individuals who take care to discuss their boundaries and make mutual agreements, there is a better chance of a stable dynamic.
Transactional Relationship: Where one approaches relationships using a cost/benefit analysis.
Transgender: Someone who identifies as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. Based on my definition, this also includes non-binary and/or gender fluid people; however, I will ALWAYS defer to however someone chooses to identify themselves.
Tribe – A larger polyamorous grouping. The term is popular within the pagan and intentional communities.
Trisexual – A sexual preference for three way relationships.
Unicorn: A so-called unicorn is someone who joins an existing couple (polyamorous couple or not) to engage in a romantic and/or sexual relationship with both members of the couple. This term is sometimes used in a derogatory way, because it often refers to a monogamous heterosexual couple (called unicorn hunters) who seek a bisexual woman for sex in an objectifying way.
Unicorn Hunter: The practice of straight-passing couples (one cishet man and a bisexual woman) looking for another bisexual woman to have a threesome to fulfill their established fantasy. This practice is often unethical because many couples do not take into consideration the needs and desires of the other person. They simply use the “unicorn” as a prop in their sexual relationship. It’s important for couples interested in engaging in threesomes or group sex to learn skills to navigate without objectifying or fetishizing the other person.
V relationship: A relationship involving three people, where one person has romantic and/or sexual relations with the other two people, but the latter do not have a relationship between them. Can be referred to as as hinge or pivot.
Veto: A relationship agreement that is common in polyamorous relationships, mainly in primary/secondary relationships. A veto agreement gives a member of the relationship the power and authority to stop the other member from enjoying additional relationships or a particular activity or (sometimes sexual) act. The power of veto is almost always assigned to the primary member of the relationship.
Wheel of Connection: The virtuous cycle of relationship communication and conscious connection. The building blocks of an autonomous, conscious and connected relationship contribute to creating a healthy connection. This is important for any romantic relationship, and especially critical in multi-partnered (non-monogamous) relationships. Establishing trust is important but this is impacted by what the people involved have experienced in the past. We cannot take things for granted, we need to be precise and comprehensive in how we communicate, to avoid future misunderstandings. This is done by 1) Checking in, 2) Honest relating, 3) Arguing compassionately, 4) Communicating Needs and wants, and 5) Trust building
Wibble – A temporary feeling of insecurity or jealousy when seeing your partner with another of their partners.
Words of Affirmation: One of the 5 Love Languages. Likes: Being complimented verbally, Receiving notes of affection, Being encouraged in my work, Dislikes: Not being recognized for my efforts, Hearing harsh words, When people assume things about me rather than confirming with words
Zie: Colloquial A proposed gender-neutral pronoun meaning “he” or “she.”
Zir: Colloquial A proposed gender-neutral pronoun meaning “him” or “her.”
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