Glossary

This glossary isn’t a comprehensive, inviolable catch-all for every single word and term used within polyamory communities! In our increasingly inter-connected, globalised world, language is constantly changing and evolving, and it’s not possible for a term to be described in a way that resonates with each person’s experience—particularly in an area as deeply personal as sexuality.

Polyamory — like monogamy! — is diverse, and encompasses people and practices from diverse communities with their own substantial glossaries, such as the LGBTQ, swingers and BDSM communities (for which you can find excellent comprehensive glossaries on-line) and we simply couldn’t put every term in.

We’ve stayed away from terms that are too academic, too boring, too judgmental, too wild, or that relate mainly to religion. Let us know if there’s an important word you think we’ve missed and we’ll add it!

ANCHOR PARTNER:

A partner with whom a person shares a close, long-term, committed connection. Also known as PRIMARY with other poly partners referred to as SECONDARY.

ASEXUAL:

A person who is not interested in or does not desire sexual activity. (Not to be confused with CELIBATE)

AFTERCARE:

The period of gentle, caring time after a BDSM scene where both partners, but primarily the SUBMISSIVE, recover and return to a regular state of physical, emotional and mental equilibrium.

BDSM:

Abbreviation for bondage and discipline (BD), dominance and submission (DS), sadism and masochism (SM). Typically, a form of consensual sexual activity that involves power-play.

BIPOLY:

Of or about a person who is both bisexual and polyamorous.

BISEXUAL:

Of or about a person who is sexually attracted to both men and women.

BODY FLUID MONOGAMY:

The practice of limiting any sexual activity which involves the exchange of bodily fluid to one partner only.

BONDAGE:

A practice in which physical restraint is used consensually for sexual purposes.

BOTTOM:

The sexually submissive role within a BDSM relationship. Also known as the SUBMISSIVE.

BOUNDARIES:

The practice of identifying then openly communicating and asserting personal values as way to preserve and protect against having them compromised or violated. Typically agreed to be a vital part of polyamory, people in poly relationships typically collaboratively define the boundaries of each poly relationship which can include what emotional and sexual activity is permitted, when and with whom.

CANDAULISM:

Sexual arousal from watching one’s partner engage in sexual activity with another person. 

CELIBATE:

Of or about a person who chooses for various reasons to abstain from sexual activity, although may still possess sexual desire.

CHEATING:

In a relationship, any activity that violates the mutually agreed rules or agreements of that relationship.

CISGENDER:

Of or relating to a person who identifies with the gender assigned to them at birth.

CLOSED MARRIAGE:

A traditional marriage where there is no emotional intimacy or sexual contact outside the marriage.

CLOSED GROUP MARRIAGE:

A polyfidelitous relationship in which all the members consider themselves to be married.

CLOSED RELATIONSHIP:

Any romantic relationship where there is no emotional intimacy or sexual contact outside of the relationship.

COMPERSION:

A feeling of joy experienced when a partner takes pleasure from another romantic or sexual relationship.

CONDOM COMPACT:

An agreement within a group to use barriers for sex with people outside the group, but not with others in the group.

CONSENT:

An affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement between people to engage in sexual activity every step of the way. Always needed between the people engaging in sexual contact but, in POLYAMORY, may also involve the consent of other partners not engaging in the act of sexual activity also.

COUPLE PRIVILEGE:

The presumption that relationships involving only two people are more valid than other types of intimate, romantic or sexual relationships, typically with more recognition and support given to than other types of intimate relationships.

COWBOY, COWGIRL:

A monogamous person who engages in a relationship with a polyamorous partner with the hope or intention of bringing him or her into a monogamous relationship.

DEMISEXUAL:

A person who feels sexual attraction only to people with whom they have an emotional bond.

DOMINANT:

The dominant role in a BDSM relationship. Also known as the TOP, can be abbreviated to DOM (male) or DOMME (female).

DON’T ASK DON’T TELL:

A relationship structure in which a person who is partnered or permitted to have additional sexual or romantic relationships on the condition that his or her partner does not know anything about those additional relationships and does not meet any of those other people.

DYAD:

The relationship between any two people, distinct from the connections either person has with anyone else.

EMOTIONAL FIDELITY:

A belief or practice in which emotional intimacy must be kept exclusive to a particular relationship, though other forms of physical intimacy may occur outside that relationship.

ETHICAL SLUT:

A person who openly chooses to have multiple simultaneous sexual relationships in an ethical and responsible way.

EXCLUSIVE RELATIONSHIP:

A monogamous relationship which does not permit its partners to seek other romantic or sexual partners.

FETISH:

A need or desire for an object, activity or body part for sexual excitement.

FLUID BONDING:

Practices that involve the exchange of bodily fluids from the genitals, such as barrier-free sex. A set of boundaries, agreements or rules between two or more people who are engaging in unbarriered sex designed to protect the fluid-bonded status.

FREE LOVE:

The idea that it is possible to love and have sex with more than one person, and which typically rails against monogamous commitment. The movement was big in the 60’s not just as an interpersonal relationship choice but as a socio-political movement.

FRIEND WITH BENEFITS (FWB):

Someone with whom you have a mutually agreed upon relationship which involves sexual activity without emotional ties or commitment. Also known as a FUCKBUDDY.

FUCKBUDDY:

See FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS.

GEOGRAPHICAL NON-MONOGAMY:

A relationship whose partners permit one another to have other sexual partners while they are physically and geographically apart.

HETERONORMATIVE:

Assumptions and presumed social roles that promote the idea of heterosexual relationships as the norm and that equate biological sex, gender identity and gender roles.

HIERARCHY, HIERARCHICAL RELATIONSHIP:

An arrangement in which one relationship is subject to control or rule-making by participants in another relationship. Usually involves veto; may also involve restrictions on activities, commitment, entanglement, time or emotions.

HOT BI BABE:

Also known as a UNICORN (because they’re so rare!): A BISEXUAL person, usually female, who is willing to join an existing couple, often with the presumption that this person will only date and become sexually involved with both members of that couple, and not demand anything or do anything which might cause problems or inconvenience to that couple. The term is often used to be dismissive of a couple seen to be only superficially POLYAMOROUS.

INTIMATE NETWORK:

A person’s partners, those partners’ partners, and so on.

KINK:

Any form of sex outside the mainstream. Often used specifically for BDSM, leather, and/or fetish play.

LIFE PARTER:

A partner, usually a romantic and/or sexual partner, with whom one has the intent of a long-lasting and intertwined committed relationship.

MASOCHISM:

A state or practice typical in BDSM in which a person (a MASOCHIST) derives sexual desire or gratification from the idea or practice of receiving pain or humiliation from sexual partner within mutually agreed upon boundaries.

METAMOUR:

A partner's other partner.

MOLECULE:

Used to describe a set or subset of polyamorous relationships, such as a TRIAD, VEE or QUAD, or a complete romantic network.

MONO/POLY:

A relationship between someone who self-identifies as polyamorous and someone who self-identifies as monogamous.

MONOAMORY/MONAMORY:

The practice or state of only loving one person at a time.

MONOGAMY:

The practice or state of having a sexual relationship with only one partner at a time.

MUNCH:

A social get-together of polyamorous people in a bar or similar location.

OMNISEXUAL:

The state or practice of being sexually attracted to all genders. Also used as a synonym for BISEXUAL.

NEW RELATIONSHIP ENERGY (NRE):

A strong, almost giddy feeling of excitement and infatuation common in the beginning of any new romantic relationship, which usually lasts for a few months but can last as long as several years.

ONE-PENIS POLICY:

An arrangement in which a man is allowed to have multiple female partners, each of whom is allowed to have sex with other women but may not have any other male partners.

OPEN MARRIAGE:

A marriage in which one or both of the members involved have other sexual relationships, romantic relationships, or both with the open agreement of all parties.

OPEN RELATIONSHIP:

A romantic relationship that is not sexually or emotionally monogamous.

ORIENTATION:

Sexual orientation. (I.e. hetero, bisexual etc.)

OTHER SIGNIFICANT OTHER (OSO):

A partner's other partner. A person's partner when that person has more than one partner.

PANAMORY:

A state or practice in which a person is able to love, in a sexual or romantic way, partners regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, or relationship orientation.

PANSEXUAL:

A state or practice in which a person is sexually attracted to partners regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, or relationship orientation. Sometimes used a synonym for panamory.

PIVOT:

The person "in the middle," with two or more partners.

PLATONIC RELATIONSHIP:

A close, emotionally intimate relationship in which there is no sex or physical intimacy.

PLAY:

A consensual BDSM encounter between one or more people, typically sexual in nature, also known as a SCENE.

PLAY PARTY (also known as a POLY PARTY):

A party with emphasis on shared sexual activity or experience.

POLYAMORY:

The non-possessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving more than one person in a romantic and/or sexual way simultaneously.

POLYAMOROUS:

Of or about a person who practices POLYAMORY.

POLY PARTY:

See PLAY PARTY.

POLY FAMILY:

A group of polyamorous people who live together, or not, and identify as part of the same family.

POLY:

Something that is POLYAMOROUS or about POLYAMORY (i.e. a poly relationship, a poly party, a poly discussion group).

POLYANDRY:

The state or practice of having more than one husband at a time.

POLY/MONO (MONO/POLY):

Of or relating to a relationship between a person who self-identifies as POLYAMOROUS and a person who self-identifies as MONOGAMOUS.

POLYCULE:

A romantic network, or a particular subset of relationships these drawings often resemble the depiction of molecules used in organic chemistry.

POLYFIDELITY:

A group of people who are romantically or sexually involved with one another, but who mutually agree to not engage sexually or romantically with additional partners.

POLYFUCKERY:

A practice where people self-identify as polyamorous but typically engage in a large number of sexual relationships which are short-lived or not emotionally intimate.

POLYGAMY:

The practice or state of having more than one spouse at a time.

POLYGYNY:

The state or practice of having more than one wife at the same time.

POLYSATURATED:

Describes someone who is polyamorous, but not currently open to new relationships or new partners because of the number of existing partners, or because of time constraints that might make new relationships difficult.

POLYSEXUAL:

Of or about relationships which are sexually non-monogamous but which are not emotionally intimate.

PRIMARY:

A relationship that is given more time, energy, and priority in a person’s life than SECONDARY partners. See also ANCHOR PARTNER.

QUAD:

A polyamorous arrangement involving four people, each of whom may or may not be sexually or emotionally involved with all the other members.

RELATIONSHIP ORIENTATION:

A preference for sexual or romantic relationships of a particular form. I.e., MONOGAMOUS, or POLYAMOROUS.

RESPONSIBLE NON-MONOGAMY:

Any relationship that is not sexually and/or emotionally exclusive by the explicit agreement and with the full knowledge of all the parties involved.

ROPE PLAY:

A form of BONDAGE using rope. See also SHIBARI.

RELATIONSHIP ANARCHY (RA):

A philosophy or practice in which people are seen as free to engage in any relationships they choose, spontaneity and freedom are valued, no relationship is entered into or restricted from a sense of duty or obligation, and any relationship choice is considered allowable. Relationship anarchists often do not make a clear distinction between "partner" and "non-partner."

SADISM:

A state or practice typical in BDSM in which a person (a SADIST) derives sexual desire or gratification from the idea or practice of inflicting pain or humiliation upon a sexual partner within mutually agreed upon boundaries.

SAFE WORD:

A word mutually agreed upon before sexual activity that any party can use to immediately end the sexual activity.

SAPIOSEXUAL:

Sexual attraction to people based on their intelligence.

SECONDARY:

The person (or persons) in a POLY relationship who, either by intent or by circumstance, are given less time, energy, and priority in a person’s life than a PRIMARY relationship.

SCENE:

See PLAY.

SERIAL MONOGAMY:

A relationship pattern in which a person has only one sexual or romantic partner at a time, but has multiple sexual or romantic partners in a lifetime, often one after the other.

SEX ADDICTION:

A progressive intimacy disorder characterised by intensifying compulsive sexual thoughts and acts despite negative consequences.

SEX-POSITIVE:

The belief that consensual and healthy engagement in sexual activity is positive.

SHIBARI:

A Japanese form of sexual ROPE PLAY or BONDAGE with an emphasis on aesthetic and sensuality.

SLUT:

A person who celebrates sexuality with an open mind and an open heart.

SOLO POLY:

Of or about an approach to POLYAMORY that emphasizes agency. People who identify as SOLO POLY prefer to not engage in relationships that are couple-centric and instead prioritise autonomy and the ability to choose their own relationships without seeking permission from others.

SPOUSE:

A person’s husband or wife.

SUBMISSIVE:

See BOTTOM.

SWINGERS PARTY:

A party where SWINGERS meet to socialise or engage in recreational sex. Also PLAY PARTY.

SWINGER:

A person who engages in SWINGING.

SWINGERS CLUB:

A place where SWINGERS meet to socialise or engage in recreational sex.

SWINGING:

The practice of having multiple sexual partners outside of an existing romantic relationship. Typically engaged in by couples as an organised activity, with a primarily sexual focus, rather than romantic or emotionally intimate.

SWITCH:

A person who is able to enjoy both MONOGAMOUS relationships or POLYAMOROUS relationships. Also used in BDSM to describe a person who can be both SUBMISSIVE and DOMINANT.

TANTRA:

A Sanskrit word that means ‘woven together’ and is aimed at harnessing the divine. The Western form of this sacred sexuality teaches slow, non-orgasmic sexual intercourse that can cultivate great sensual pleasure and is profound and loving.

TERTIARY:

A person (or persons) in a relationship that 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. 

TOP:

See DOMINANT.

TRANS:

See TRANSGENDER.

TRANSGENDER:

Of or relating to a person who does not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth.

TRIAD:

A polyamorous arrangement in which three people are involved with one another.

UNICORN:

See HOT BI BABE.

VANILLA:

Used to describe behaviour, a person or sex that that conforms to the basic expectation of society.

VEE:

A polyamorous arrangement involving three people, in which one person is romantically or sexually involved with two partners who are not romantically or sexually involved with each other.

VETO:

A consensual relationship agreement which gives one person the power to end another person's additional relationships, or specific activity.
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