When people first enter the polyamorous community, the amount of brand new terminology can be intimidating. It’s important, though, because it means learning about concepts that can inform your journey and can help you understand your new polyam friends. Using our terms gives our community the ability to talk about things that are unique to our experiences.
The terms here are defined based on how they’re usually used in POSH, and we think they’re representative of uses in a lot of other spaces, too. Other communities may use different terms or give them slightly different meanings, and some resources, especially books and other static resources, might use older terms and definitions. If you see something you can’t rectify, it’s a great topic to bring up in the Facebook group so we can see what everyone thinks.
Someone who is comfortable in either monogamous or polyamorous relationships. Often, ambiamorous people will adopt the label “polyamorous” when they are in multiple relationships and “monogamous” when they are only in one.
Ambiamory can be its own relationship orientation, and is probably the most common one for people who say they “chose” polyamory.
An important or high-priority partner who provides support and is usually part of an invested relationship. Anchor partners are very similar to primary partners, and some people use the terms interchangeably, but they aren’t automatically the same thing.
Anchor partnerships often have more flexibility and individual autonomy than primary partnerships, and are less likely to be hierarchical. The title is more a description of the level of investment and support in the relationship itself than about overall structure.
The rules by which you live your life and interact with others. This can mean physical boundaries like being hugged or kissed, emotional boundaries like how you handle strong emotions, etc.
Boundaries are learned, and people with childhood trauma may struggle with setting their own. Problems with setting and enforcing boundaries might also mean there’s work to do surrounding issues of codependency.
Success in polyamorous relationships is often determined by both partners having good communication and boundaries.
Falsifying some or all of the information on your dating profile, or information about yourself, during the early stages of getting to know someone, in order to lure someone into a relationship. A catfisher might lie about the job they have, use photos of an entirely different person, or otherwise take on a persona/identity that isn’t their own.
While some people will accuse others of catfishing for having filters on dating profile pictures or for leaving off information, catfishing generally requires a genuine intent to deceive beyond trying to make a good impression. Otherwise, everyone on dating sites would be catfishing in some way.
Unethical behavior that deceives a partner. In monogamous relationships, this generally means sexual or emotional infidelity with a secret lover, but it can also happen in polyamory.
Cheating in polyamory can include things like hiding large financial decisions from a financially-entangled partner, lying about sexual activities, or violating other relationship agreements. Cheating is never ok, even if your partner cheated in the past.
A relationship in which everyone has agreed not to seek further partners for intimate relationships. Monogamous relationships are considered closed. People in fully closed relationships cannot have sex outside of their relationship or engage in external emotional or romantic intimacy. They may also limit their platonic connections.
In ethical nonmonogamy, a relationship with multiple people can still become closed, so that the members are only intimate with eachother. Usually, closed polyamorous relationships are triads or quads, with all members dating all other members.
A partner similar to a satellite partner but whose presence is even less frequent. While a satellite partner maintains a fairly consistent presence, the comet might not communicate at all for long periods between seeing on another.
This is a common term used for long-distance partners who are only in town occasionally.
The feeling of happiness you get when you see your partner happy, especially when they are happy in their other relationship(s). Compersion is (generally) the opposite of jealousy.
You might feel compersion when you see your partner holding hands with their partner or being particularly cute together.
The privileges and special abilities of couples in our monogamy-centric society. In monogamous circles, this includes the assumption that people operate as couples in their day-to-day life, friends and family can’t be closer or more important than one’s partner, a confidence shared with one partner is by default shared with both, etc. In polyamory, this could be an established couple treating another partner as inherently less important, violating their boundaries in the name of the couple, or high levels of influence in your partner’s other relationships (like veto power).
Couples’ privilege and hierarchy are not the same thing, though couples’ privilege often causes hierarchy to be toxic. Hierarchy can operate without couples’ privilege if the hierarchy doesn’t remove agency from external partners, treats them as valuable and worthy of respect, and gives the external partner the right to privacy (their secrets and emotional confidences aren’t shared behind their back). The individual earmarkers of couples’ privilege are not inherently inethical, but every accepted part of it requires extreme levels of communication with a focus on consent and respect, and can’t be assumed to be understood by other partners without explicit communication. It will be significantly harder to find polyamorous partners if you practice this style of relationship.
While couples’ privilege is most often seen in couples who “pass” as monogamous, it can happen in any relationship and, because of how our culture reinforces the ideas, you probably will not be fully aware you’re doing it at first. Over time, many polyamorists are able to slowly eliminate symptoms of couples’ privilege from their relationships.
Couples’ privilege is the root of many of the toxic behaviors of unicorn hunters.
Only maintaining a single emotionally-intimate relationship. Monogamy almost always requires emotional fidelity. Many types of ethical nonmonogamy, like swinging, also require emotional fidelity, even though they allow sexual nonmonogamy.
In polyamory, almost all agreements include the freedom to explore multiple emotionally-intimate relationships. After formation, closed relationships might still require emotional fidelity.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)
A relationship agreement in which other sexual or romantic relationships are allowed but never spoken of. For example, someone may have a second partner, but doesn’t say when they see them for a date or even reveal the second person’s name or identity.
In practice, these are extremely hierarchal relationships. Sometimes, cheaters pretend to be in DADT relationships to cover for their existing partner’s ignorance of the situation.
Related to or in accordance with moral principles about peoples’ behavior or activities.
In polyamory, ethical generally refers to the fact that everyone is aware of, communicating about, and consenting to their relationships and the details of how they’re conducted. It is inethical to hide or lie about relationships, knowingly violate your partner’s consent, or violate agreements, also known as “cheating.”
Ethical relationships require full communication.
Ethical Nonmonogamy (ENM)
Relationship styles in which one person can have multiple intimate relationships and in which all parties are aware and in agreement.
For example, swinging allows for multiple sexual – but not emotional – relationships, while polyamory allows for multiple emotional relationships that may or may not also be sexual.
ENM is the umbrella term for a large group of relationship styles that are each types of ENM. This includes, but isn’t limited to, polyamory, swinging, casual dating, casual sex, stag-and-vixen, and many other types.
Existing Relationship Energy (ERE)
A resurgence of strong excitement about your relationship, similar to the heightened feelings at the beginning of a new relationship, but experienced in a relationship you’ve already been in for a while.
An agreement between partners not to use barriers in their sexual activities. This can be risky in nonmonogamy, since barriers are the most common method to prevent STI transmission and pregnancy. Regardless of whether you fluid bond, you should always perform regular STI testing and ask your partners to show you their results as well, but this is even more vital in fluid bonded relationships.
Fluid bonding is often reserved for long-term relationships, and some poly people limit themselves to one fluid-bonded partner.
Friends With Benefits (FWB)
People who share no other relationship beyond friendship but enjoy sexual encounters together, which might be frequent or infrequent. Romance is usually not involved and is not the main focus of the relationship.
FWB relationships are a type of ethical nonmonogamy. Some FWB relationships could be considered polyamorous partnerships, depending on the level of attention paid to the arrangement, the level of emotional intimacy, and whether the participants want to identify it that way, while othes more closely resemble casual dating or other forms of ENM.
A style of polyamory that puts some relationships above others in priority, often divided into “primary”, “secondary”, and even “tertiary” partners. Hierarchy can be descriptive or prescriptive:
- In descriptive hierarchy, the relationship is placed as primary in a hierarchy due to the functional requirements of the couple’s life for things like sharing a home, raising children, or just spending an already agreed upon amount of time/energy/closeness that doesn’t realistically allow for other relationships on that level of investment.
- In prescriptive hierarchy, the primary partner is put first in all things, even if time and other factors would allow otherwise, and a hierarchist might tailor their other relationships to their primary partners’ preferences and requests. Some couples take this further than others, so it can range anywhere from periodic influence by the primary partner on specific issues to needing to ask your primary partner’s permission to see your secondary partner.
Hierarchy sometimes comes alongside high levels of couples’ privilege and can include veto power and other behaviors that put the primary partner in a position of power over other partners. It is a common style among new polyamorists, casual polyamorists, swingers who are transitioning to polyamory, and people who only date together, but long-term polyamorists who date alone often move away from the style as they gain experience and their needs and wants evolve.
The shared partner between two or more people who are dating that partner but not each other.
If just two people are dating a shared partner but not each other, the configuration is called a V (“vee”).
Kitchen Table Polyamory (KTP)
A style of polyamory in which the polycule acts like a big family, gathering socially and otherwise being involved in one another’s lives beyond simply sharing partners. This includes group relationships or polyamorous households, but that level of investment isn’t required and it can exist in any polycule if some or all members want it.
Some people list KTP as a requirement for their relationships, while others are open to it if it occurs organically but don’t expect it with every partner. It’s common to have a mix of relationships in your polycule, with some polycule members participating in KTP and others not.
The term “polycule” is not specific to KTP and does not have to do with the level of interaction between members.
This can mean a partner with whom you share a lifetime commitment or a partner who is simply a big part of your life.
Life partnership can, but doesn’t have to, include marriage, nesting, handfasting, etc. It is also possible to have a platonic life partner.
The Lifestyle (LS)
A term for swinging, often used as code to avoid stigma and be discreet. Swingers often describe themselves as “in the lifestyle.” Many polyamorists, especially ones who view polyamory as their relationship orientation, object strongly to the term being misapplied to polyamory.
If you want to learn more, we have an article on the term “lifestyle” as it applies to swinging and to polyamory at It’s Not a Lifestyle.
Long-Distance Relationship (LDR)
A relationship between two people who live a long distance from each other (generally, more than a few hours’ drive).
LDRs are common in polyamory since it’s often hard to find large groups of polyamorists in your local area and because scenarios that could cause a monogamous breakup, like one partner moving, don’t include the same problems for polyamorists, allowing the relationship to continue after the move.
Long-Term Relationship (LTR)
A relationship that has lasted a long time. How much time is required for the term varies, but one year or more is a common measure.
Some polyamorous people prefer long-term relationships, while others prefer the flexibility of shorter or fluid relationships.
Your partner’s other partner. Some polyamorists, especially those who practice Kitchen Table Polyamory, know their metas and may even be close friends. Others might never meet them, or might only occasionally run into each other. The term “metamour”, though, doesn’t indicate any particular connection other than that you share a partner.
You, your partners, and your metas are generally considered to be your polycule.
Regardless of the style of polyamory, it’s important to think about your metamour relationships. Even if everyone wants to try KTP, meta relationships can’t be forced. Many problems, especially for new polyamorists, stem from issues between metas.
Someone who is open to or potentially willing to be in a monogamous relationship, but who, usually, doesn’t practice monogamy as their main relationship style. Sometimes, the polyamorous people in poly-mono relationships are considered monofexible.
This is a complement to the term “poly-flexible,” in which the person is more likely to be in monogamous relationships with a willingness to be polyamorous.
A relationship style in which two partners agree to only be in a relationship with each other. Monogamy itself doesn’t require a certain level of “seriousness” for the relationship, but societal expectations generally say this should be a lifelong committed relationship aiming towards a goal of permanent nesting, marriage, kids, etc.
Monogamy itself is just as valid as polyamory. Often, though, the assumption that it’s the default state for everyone lends it toxicity.
Anything that promotes or furthers the idea that monogamy is the right, “normal,” or default way of doing things.
This can mean things like only showing images of traditional couples or marriage in advertising or media, expecting someone to always bring the same date to social or professional functions, or just assuming that someone only has a single partner.
Since monogamy is still seen as the default, modern Western society usually makes anything related to relationships or families mononormative.
A group of three or more people, in a sexual configuration, a relationship, or both.
This can be a generic term for more specific terms like “triad,” “quad,” “threesome,” “foursome,” etc.
Nesting Partner (NP)
The partner that you share a home with. Some polyamorous people have multiple nesting relationships. A nesting relationship is different from a roommate scenario in that the partners may make joint purchases, make decisions regarding major purchases together, and often have an expectation of permanency.
Some polyamorous people choose not to have a nesting partner or to have a roommate-like arrangement with a partner.
New Relationship Energy
The extremely strong feelings at the beginning of a relationship, sometimes called the honeymoon period.
Scientifically, this is caused by chemicals being released in the brain at the beginning of a new relationship. This is a time to be very aware of your actions and to pay extra attention to other partners, since it’s easy to make mistakes during this phase because you’re distracted.
One Penis Policy (OPP)
An agreement to only share other partners who do not have penises and, usually, to only date together.
This relationship style is strongly associated with unicorn hunters. A penis-having partner (usually, a cis man) wants their partner to find another partner-without-penis (usually, a cis woman) for them to “share.” Nobody is “allowed” to have other penis-having partners and often can only have sex with everyone present.
If you have this relationship agreement when you enter the polyamorous community, you’re likely to get pushback, since this is rarely actually an ethical arrangement and usually points to other problems in the relationship or the participants.
A relationship in which all participants are free to seek more partners. Many, but not all, polyamorous relationships are open.
In ethical nonmonogamy, the exact details of what an open relationship means depend on the style of nonmonogamy and the needs and wants of the relationship itself. Some polyamorists, while fine with the concept, object to this term, which may be seen as hierarchal because it centers the experience on a “main” relationship.
A style of polyamory in which each relationship happens separately, without input or influence from the other(s). For example, your two partners would know about one another but might never even meet, and you probably wouldn’t talk much about one relationship to another partner.
This is somewhat opposite to Kitchen Table poly, but isn’t as strictly separated as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell relationships.
Your romantic partner. Sometimes, this can also refer to a recurring sexual partner.
This is the basis for the term “metamour” in polyamory, meaning a partner’s partner. This term seems to be more common in books and seminars than in the actual polyamorous community.
In ethical nonmonogamy, anyone who you are in an intentional relationship with. This could be any combination of sexual, platonic, or romantic, with the relationship being sustained over a period of time.
Good litmus tests for whether the relationship is intentional and this is a partner are whether you discuss your relationship at all, whether you have agreements about it, whether communication is ongoing, and whether you would have to “break up” with them to end the current level of intimacy.
Before you declare someone a partner, talk to them to make sure the term is ok with them too.
Generally, this term indicates you, your partners, and their partners (your metamours). Some polyamorists, especially people practicing Kitchen Table Polyamory, extend this to also include metamours’ partners or even to include their entire families. However, your polycule will probably look different from your partners’ unless you’re in a closed group relationship, since your partners’ metamours are part of their polycule but might not be part of yours, depending on the way you define it.
Though it’s a common misconception for people who are new to poly terms, members of a polycule are not all dating each other.
It’s most often seen in KTP, but the term “polycule” doesn’t indicate any connection beyond that network of who has which partners.
A style of non-monogamy that focuses on loving, intimate relationships with multiple partners, and may or may not also include a sexual relationship.
Some polyamorists also that polyamorous relationships don’t always require a romantic component and can be platonic, as long as there’s still a focus on emotional intimacy. This is particularly important for individuals on the aromantic spectrum.
Someone who is open to or potentially willing to be in a polyamorous relationship, but who, usually, doesn’t practice polyamory as their main relationship style. Often, the monogamous people in poly-mono relationships are considered polyflexible.
This is a complement to the term “mono-flexible,” in which the person is more likely to be in polyamorous relationships with a willingness to be monogamous.
People who understand and accept polyamory without necessarily practicing polyamory themselves.
This can include friends of poly people who also attend poly events, people who have practices polyamory in the past, or just others who support polyamorous peoples’ polyamorousness.
This is sometimes used synonymously with “polyflexible,” to denote someone who’s open to polyamorous relationships.
A relationship between someone polyamorous and someone monogamous. This is a common configuration in nesting relationships that were originally monogamous.
Generally, the poly partner wants to date others, and the monogamous partner doesn’t, but is ok with their partner doing so. The monogamous partner is often considered “polyfriendly” or sometimes “polyflexible.”
When an experienced polyamorous person dates someone who is very new to polyamory. Usually, this comes along with doing a lot of education for the new person or at least sharing a lot of experiences.
Some people won’t polynate because of the problems that can come with dating inexperienced people who might not know what they really want yet. Many people who are new to polyamory don’t stick around for long.
In polyamorous relationships that practice hierarchy, the primary partner is the top-tier partner out of all of someone’s relationships.
For most hierarchal relationships, this is a spouse or nesting partner. However, nesting is not required and some primary couples are only dating.
A relationship that consists of four people. Often, this means that all four members of the relationship are in a relationship with all of the other members. Quads can be any configuration in which four people are directly connected with one another in an acknowledged intentional relationship.
This is different from a polycule, in that polycule members share a common partner but are not in a group relationship directly with each polycule member.
A detail, trait, belief, or other factor that you learn about a partner or potential partner that indicates possible deception or identifies a potential problem.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should stop seeing them immediately, but that you should be aware and keep your eyes open. For example, someone saying they aren’t hierarchal but then asking their spouse for permission to see you would be a red flag because they may be lying about hierarchy.
Learning about red flags to look for in poly partners is one of the biggest benefits of learning from long-term members in a polyamorous community.
Relationship Anarchy (RA)
A style of polyamory in which someone has sole control over how they conduct their relationships, with no partner(s) automatically taking preference over any others. In this, no relationship would include a sense of obligation and all relationships could reach whatever level the person chooses.
Relationship anarchists can still engage in deep levels of commitment with partners. They just do so with the understanding that their relationships are still for them to determine, and that their choice to commit to a partner is their choice only.
Relationship anarchists can be kitchen table, parallel, solo poly, etc. and may or may not marry or live with partner(s) if they wish.
The style of relationship that one is inherently compelled toward. Many polyamorous consider polyamory to be their relationship orientation in a similar way to considering being straight, queer, etc. as their sexual orientation.
“Orientation” polyamorists do not view it as a choice, and sometimes object to the term “lifestyle” because it implies that polyamory is a choice rather than a vital part of who they are.
A partner with whom you have a low investment relationship or who you see less often. Generally, this means that you don’t see each other often or talk every day, but occasionally get together for a date.
For people who practice hierarchal relationships, secondary partners are partners who come after the primary partner in order of importance or priority.
It is extremely rare for a spouse or nesting partner to be a secondary partner.
When a monogamous person, instead of long-term monogamous relationships, has a series of shorter-term monogamous relationships.
Your friend who has had 5 monogamous partners in the last 5 years is probably practicing serial monogamy. Someone who has been divorced 4-5 times could also be a serial monogamist, even though the relationships may have lasted for a few years each.
Most serial monogamists haven’t explicitly chosen this style, but instead experience it while trying to find the mythical “one.”
Anything that uses the monogamous relationship structure to perpetuate harmful behaviors or ideas, such as the ideas that jealousy is a positive indicator of love, that one person can meet all of another person’s needs, or that exclusivity and commitment are synonymous.
Many in the polyamorous community have to do years of work to get out of these toxic, socially-engrained thought patterns. Some never do.
The third partner in a relationship with both members of an established couple. Couples who look for this kind of partner in an unethical or disrespectful manner are called “unicorn hunters,” and are usually a heterosexual couple looking for a bisexual woman who will only date them and no other partners.
Anyone can be a unicorn regardless of sexual preference or gender, and many people wear the label proudly. Unicorn hunting, however, is always inethical by definition, and you may want to avoid anyone who self-identifies as that.
For more on why unicorn hunting is a problem, read “We’re looking for our third”.
A relationship structure involving four people, all of whom are in relationships with one another. If they experience sexual and/or romantic attraction, all of them are attracted to one another. It’s called a “unicorn” quad because it’s sought after but rarely achieved for any length of time.
Depictions are often of two masc-presenting and two femme-presenting partners, all of whom are bisexual or pansexual. Of course, this isn’t representative of many real unicorn quads.
A V (vee) is a relationship structure in which one person has two partners, and those two partners do not share a relationship with each other.
People who use this term generally mean a scenario in which everyone interacts often, but that’s not required for the definition of a V.
In polyamory, the power to say no to any aspect of or activity in your partner’s other relationships. This can be anything from telling the partner to cancel a date to telling them to break up with someone. Usually, the partner’s word is law no matter what.
This is commonly in extremely hierarchial relationships and/or new couples “trying” polyamory. For many polyamorists it’s a huge red flag
A healthy way to replace veto power is by making it about one’s own personal boundaries, instead of requiring control over the other person’s actions. For example, you might have a boundary of “I don’t have unprotected sex with my partners unless they use barriers with everyone else.” instead of “you aren’t allowed to have unprotected sex with anyone but me.” It lets your partner choose what they want to do, and you just enact your expressed boundaries accordingly.