What Is a Poly Relationship?

A poly relationship takes a variety of forms and is interpreted differently, depending on context, history and cultural considerations. Nonetheless, a poly relationship is contrasted with a monogamous relationship. Rather than an individual maintaining one partner at a time, she has multiple partners, who likewise have some sort of relationship with each other, according to "Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships" by Tristan Taormino.

A happy triad on a sofa. (Image: JackF/iStock/Getty Images)


Some features of a poly relationship are as specific as the participating individuals. A common element of a poly relationship is the existence of intimate relationships between more than two individuals, according to Human Truth. The individuals in such a relationship maintain an emotional attachment to each other in the same manner a monogamous couple is emotionally bonded. A sexual relationship also exists, although not all parties to a poly relationship engage in sexual contact with all of the others.


Some religions historically or currently accept poly relationships as a normal union of believers, according to Islamreligion.com. For example, some segments of Islam permit a male to have multiple wives. Similarly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints historically permitted men to marry multiple women. The Mormons abandoned this practice, but fundamentalist sects that grew out of the Latter-day Saints movement practice polygamy in the 21st century.


Although religious or cultural constraints dictate the combination permitted in a poly relationship, any combination of individuals beyond what constitutes a monogamous relationship is considered poly, according to Human Truth. The most common combination is a triad, in which three individuals form a relationship. The triad can take the form of one man and two women, one woman and two men or a grouping of three individuals of the same sex.


The legality of poly relationships is the subject of controversy. For example, attempts by individuals in a poly relationship to wed in most countries is against the law. Few countries maintain laws prohibiting informal poly relationships when the individuals involved in such relationships refrain from attempting legal recognition of their status.


Some experts maintain that many poly relationships serve a not-so-hidden purpose of allowing men to take unfair or illegal advantage of women, or even minor girls, according to "When Men Become Gods" by Stephen Singular. Singular specifically addresses the fundamentalist sect of Mormons led by Warren Jeffs, the leader who was arrested and prosecuted based on allegations arising out the sexual abuse of minor females.

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