There isn’t a universal, standardized dictionary for what common terms and definitions mean to different people when it comes to ethically non-monogamous relationships. That means that any one concept can be interpreted a near infinite number of ways. Frequently, the biggest arguments that take place between couples and (especially) on message boards and social groups are easily resolved when people take the time to review what each term means to them. Oftentimes the conflict is easily resolved when everyone is using the same definitions for the myriad labels we apply to ourselves.
So, I’m going to lay out my definitions for the common terms used in my writings and on my podcast. You don’t have to subscribe to my words in the real world, but it’ll certainly help you as you go through any of my content to know what the heck I’m talking about when I use them
Keep in mind – there are resources already out there in the world of books and websites for polyamorous people, and this list here is by no means going to be exhaustive or necessarily align with those.
So, here we go:
Ethical Non-monogamy/Consensual Non-monogamy: is the broad umbrella term that I use for a situation where there’s someone who has any type of sexual or romantic relationship with more than one person without keeping it a secret from any of them. The degree to which they are forthright about the details with each of their partners (in terms of the identity, gender, sexual activity, or length of relationship) is not of concern – just the general understanding that each partner consents to a relationship with someone who is not being exclusive in every way to them.
Open Relationship: Another umbrella term that can include any type of relationship that does not limit any of its participants from seeking or being open to forming any other relationships (whether they are emotional, sexual, or otherwise). This is different from a “Closed” relationship in that in a closed relationship, all participants (whether there are 2 or more) agree that there won’t be any additional partners added to the mix beyond what’s already there. Closed polyamorous relationships can also be referred to as “Poly-Fidelity”
Polyamory: is when the existence or potential for multiple committed relationships is present. For some that means emotional and sexual, for others it can be emotional OR sexual. While my default tends to be that polyamory is when there are multiple “more than casual” relationships, I acknowledge that there are others who have one “primary” partner and multiple casual “friends with benefits” that consider themselves polyamorous. I’d consider that an open relationship, but be aware the overlap exists.
Monogamy / Monoamory / Monogamish: I do not use these terms interchangeably, so here is what I usually mean by them: Someone who is monogamous is one who only wishes to have a romantic, emotional, and or sexual relationship with one person with the goal of marriage. Monoamory is similar, but without the implication that marriage is a goal. Monogamish is someone who can see a little gray area in there – perhaps they occasionally have another sexual partner or participate in group sex with their partner, or participate in BDSM activities with another partner. There is a lot of room for interpretation in “ish”.
Swingers / Swinging: Swinging also falls under the umbrella of ethical non-monogamy. My definition of swingers are couples who engage in sexual relationships with other people, whether it be other individuals or other couples, purely for the sexual exploration and variety. They can form emotional bonds of friendship, and sometimes even toe the line into polyamory if those bonds start strengthening. Individuals who identify as swingers that are not part of an established couple or group…I would refer to them as “unpartnered.”
Polycule: I also use “poly-family”, “poly group,” “constellation,” or “my people” to describe the group of people involved in a polyamorous relationship. For example, myself, my partner, and his other three regularly scheduled partners are a polycule. The extended polycule includes my two metamours’ other partners, and perhaps even some of their other partners.
Metamour: My partner’s other partner in relation to me.
Paramour: For me, synonymous with partner. (or, My partner’s other partner, in relation to my partner)
Comet: A partner that one has limited communication with on a regular basis (usually due to distance or other priorities) but, when they are in your “orbit” they are a partner you make time to connect with.
Cowgirl/Cowboy: Someone who willingly enters a polyamorous relationship, but behaves in ways that indicate they would prefer to “rope” their partner in to a monogamous situation. Often associated with being manipulative and demanding. I am not familiar with an ungendered term for this yet.
Primary: For me, implies hierarchy and would be indicative of a person who has a higher rank or status, or priority in a relationship than a secondary or tertiary partner. Please note that many people do not agree that “primary” necessarily implies hierarchy – but if I’m using the word, I mean hierarchy.
Nesting or Anchor Partner: My preference for denoting when one partner shares a home or finances with another without implying hierarchy or priority over other relationships.
Solo Poly: An individual who identifies as polyamorous who does not live with or commingle finances with any of their partners. Solo poly people tend to act as their own “primary” partner.
Relationship Anarchy: An individual who defies labels and avoids social constructs around what relationships are “supposed to look like.” Relationship anarchists tend to avoid making or accepting “rules,” “agreements” or “hierarchy” or with any particular partner, nor do they prioritize any relationship, whether romantic or platonic over the other. They may be living with a partner, or not.
Hierarchy: An established ranking of partners where one has priority or primary status over others. Can be descriptive (meaning that the terminology of “primary” and “secondary” is used) or prescriptive (meaning that the ranking is intentional and enforced).
Couple’s Privilege: When an established or nesting couple (often involving hierarchy, but not necessarily) has some assumed privileges over other relationships that either are involved in. Can be intentional, but can also sometimes be subconscious. Example: the assumption that holidays will be spent with the “primary” or nesting partner; assumption that the primary or nesting partner will always be the +1 to family events; or the assumption of others that a primary or nesting relationship is “more important” than other relationships either party might be in.
Triads: A loves B and C. B loves C and A. C loves A and B.
Quads: A and B and C and D all love each other, either independently or as two couples.
Unicorn: Usually a bisexual cis woman who is agreeable to having a relationship with both members of a (usually cis-gendered heterosexual set). Unicorn Hunters are the couple that’s looking for a “third” (usually a biseuxal cis gendered woman) to agree to date both of them simultaneously. There are a lot of inherent problems associated with the concept of unicorn hunting.
Monocorn: A person who is monogamous or monoamorous who is comfortable in a relationship with an ethically non-monogamous person.
OPP (One Penis Policy): Usually found in relationships with a cis gendered heterosexual man and a cis gendered bisexual woman where the man has decreed that either of them can date as many other “women” as they like, but that his is the only penis in the mix. Very frequently viewed by many in the polyamorous community as transphobic, mysoginistic, controlling, selfish, and unfair.
cisgender: Someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth.
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.
Non-binary: An individual who does not identify with either “man” nor “woman”. Also sometimes called NB or “enbie”
Gender Fluid / Gender Nonconforming: Somebody who identifies anywhere along the spectrum of gender from man to non binary to woman or anything in between.
Have you run across at term in my podcast or blog (or anywhere else) that you think belongs on this list? Contact me and I’ll update as we go!