Non-Monogamous Terms and Concepts

Non-Monogamous Terms and Concepts

Monogamy, Monogamous. The core concept of monogamy as used today is of exactly two people in a sexually and romantically exclusive relationship. This relationship is substantially based on exchanged promises of sexual exclusivity – whether or not these promises are kept. A common form today is Serial Monogamy, wherein there may be multiple monogamous relationships over time, but the participants are supposed to have no more than one partner at a time.


This term describes couples who are perceived to be monogamous, who are “mostly” monogamous, but who are not 100% monogamous. Such couples have an expressed understanding that allows for some amount of sexual contact outside the relationship.

The term was coined in a July 20, 2011 column, by Dan Savage.

Open Marriage, Open Relationship. A form of polyamorous relationship in which there may also be other lovers who are not partners in the given relationship. Most commonly, this refers to a primary couple who may have secondary relationships. The term “Open Marriage” was coined by the O’Neils in their 1972 book by the same name.

Open and Closed. This has expanded to a more general concept which can be applied to couples or multipartner primary relationships. An open relationship may allow partners to have additional lovers who are not part of this relationship; a closed one requires that members not be lovers with anybody not “inside” it. Some closed relationships make provision for others to potentially “join”.

Cheating, adultery, and many other names. The not-uncommon shadow side of monogamy involves making promises of sexual exclusivity but secretly not always keeping them. The dramas involved are part of the monogamous worldviews.

Polyamory, Polyamorous. (Shorthand: Poly) The core concept of polyamory is being involved in or open to multiple loving relationships, in a context of honesty and negotiation.

The term was coined in 1990 by Morning Glory Zell.

Responsible non-monogamy. Typically another term for polyamory, favored by Deborah Anapol.

Polyfidelity. A form of polyamory involving a closed group marriage (or marriage-like relationship), in which all adult members are considered primary to each other.

The term was coined by Kerista community (1971-1991)

Solo Poly: An approach to polyamory that emphasizes agency and does not seek to engage in relationships that are tightly couple-centric. People who identify as solo poly emphasize autonomy, the freedom to choose their own relationships without seeking permission from others, and flexibility in the form their relationships take. Such people generally don’t want or need relationships that look like traditional couples, and may not, for example, seek to live with a partner (or partners) or combine finances with a partner (or partners).

Metamour: (Literally, meta with; about + amor love): The partner of one’s partner, with whom one does not share a direct sexual or loving relationship. See related vee.

Primary and Secondary. These terms are very widespread, very important, and yet also very controversial. Some people try to avoid them entirely, for philosophical reasons. Others use the terms, but not always in quite the same way.

There are two major usages:

The more common usage roughly describes types of relationships. A “primary” relationship is marriage like; see also “nesting” relationships. It typically involves living together, often involves sharing finances or child raising. Life decisions are often made jointly, eg: where to live; jobs or careers to take, build or depart; bearing or adopting children. Any of these may or may not exist in a given relationship considered primary by those involved. A “secondary” relationship is one generally not involving these things.

A somewhat less common usage for primary and secondary is for ranking. The most involved partner is primary by definition, the less involved is secondary, etc. In this usage, one cannot have two primaries, or a secondary with no primary. Some poly folk tend to avoid these terms so as to avoid any implied ranking which they do not want to endorse, or do not identify with.

Nesting or Nesting Partner. A nesting relationship or nesting partner means about the same as “primary”. People living together and building a closely shared life.

Kitchen Table Polyamory: A style of polyamory that emphasizes family-style connections even among people in a network who are not dating each other. So named because the people in a network can gather around the kitchen table for breakfast.

Polycule: A romantic network, or a particular subset of relationships within a romantic network, whose members are closely connected. Also used to describe a sketch or visualization of a romantic network, as these drawings often resemble the depiction of molecules used in organic chemistry.

Triad, Quad. A triad is a three way relationship of some sort, often but not always referring to a primary relationship. Also “triadic”. A quad would be a four person relationship.

Vee, Triangle. Three way relationships may be fairly symmetric with all three pairs being fairly equally involved (a triangle); or two of the pairs may be substantially more bonded than the third pair (a vee or V, think of the letter V).

Hinge. In the case of a Vee relationship, the “person in the middle”, more bonded to each end than they are to each other, is sometimes called the hinge.

New Relationship Energy, NRE. The surge of erotic and emotional energy in a relatively new relationship. Over time, relationships change to a more sustainable set of energies, or dissolve. NRE tends to be more overtly exciting by contrast, a factor poly folks need to take into account and compensate for.

Term coined in mid 80’s by Zhahai Stewart

Compersion. The positive feelings one gets when a lover is enjoying another relationship. Sometimes called the opposite or flip side of jealousy. May coexist with “jealous” feelings.

Term coined by the Kerista Commune (San Francisco, 1971-1991)

Cowboy or Cowgirl: Colloquial A monogamous man or woman who engages in a relationship with a polyamorous person with the intention of separating them from any other partners and bringing her into a monogamous relationship.

Swinging. Another variant or modification to monogamy, involving sexual exploration in an environment structured to contain it without damage to an otherwise monogamous relationship. Like polyamory, it involves honesty and consent. Unlike polyamory it typically tries to stringently avoid love, romance or relationships outside the existing pair (though friendships are OK), and is engaged in mainly by couples (though some groups allow single women as well; rarely are single men allowed). Lifestyles is another term used for this option.

Mormons, Church of Latter Day Saints. The Mormons originally practiced a form of polygamy (specifically polygyny – multiple husbands was not OK, only multiple wives). A few renegades still do. This is culturally not part of the polyamorous movement; it’s yet anther alternative to monogamy.

Most of the definitions in this document were provided by Zhahai Stewart, Franklin Veaux & Wikipedia and have been edited down for your ease of use and sanity.