MSP Sex Q&A: What are polyamorous relationships like? Can they work?

Question: What are polyamorous relationships like? Can they work?

Answer: Strictly speaking, polyamory refers to the practice of having “several lovers”. In practice, people use this term to describe a variety of different sexual and romantic relationship structures including open relationships between two people (in which it is understood that one or both partners may sometimes be sexual with others), swinging, tribes or circles (two terms sometimes used to refer to groups of people who may be sexual with each other, either at the same time or in coupled situations) and other types of structures. Human beings are creative and, as such, there are numerous ways that they may experience openness in their sexual and romantic relationships.

Polyamorous relationships, like monogamous relationships, can indeed ”work” in the sense that some people do find that they can be happy in such relationships. Other people find that polyamory (or monogamy) does not work for them.

Some people believe that polyamorous relationships would more often be successful if there were more social support for them. For example, as it stands now (with polyamory not being widely accepted in US society), when open relationships run into troubles, friends/family may suggest that the reason they fell into trouble was because of the “open” aspect of it. Whereas people rarely ever suggest that about monogamous relationships (e.g., that when they fail, it’s because a couple tried to be monogamous).

If you are considering being in some sort of polyamoruous or non-monogamous relationship, you might spend time learning about characteristics that can help these relationships to feel more satisfying and successful. Perhaps more so than traiditional relationships, these relationships often require intentional communication and some education/time spent thinking about issues particular to these relationships so that you can decide what does or doesn’t work for you about them and communicate with partner(s) about relevant topics

To learn more, you might read The Ethical Slut: A Roadmap for Relationship Pioneers and/or Opening Up: Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships, both of which provide information about different types of relationships, how couples/groups make it work for them, how to handle jealousy and commnication issues that are specific to polyamory.

If you have a question about sex or relationships, send it to me! Your confidentiality will be respected.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at