Polyamory: Why having multiple lovers is on the rise

Monogamy might be the traditional approach to love, but it doesn’t suit everyone. Here’s why polyamory is on the rise.

When the television series Neighbours features a polyamorous storyline, you know the topic is no longer hush-hush.

But in real life, what does polyamory involve, and why does it make some people happier than having one partner?

What is polyamory?

Polyamory is when people have multiple romantic, usually intimate, relationships at one time, with the consent of everyone involved.

It’s sometimes also referred to as having an open relationship, or as being “ethically non-monogamous”.

Melbourne University evolutionary psychologist Dr Khandis Blake says polyamory is a system of relationships that are consensually non-monogamous.

“The idea is that you can have a relationship that is loving and committed and serious, but is not sexually exclusive,” Dr Blake says.

Harley Okami is an events manager at PolyFinda, an app and community for people interested in the poly lifestyle.

“Ethical non-monogamy may mean anything from open relationships through to polyamory,” Harley says.

“Some people in the community would probably argue that there is a distinction, because polyamorous technically means many loves, so they’re talking about a more invested relationship.”

How love can take different forms

Harley says she always dated lots of people, but really found her groove when she discovered the fetish community – and polyamory – in her early 20s.

“I just thought this is wonderful, I am allowed to love multiple people,” Harley says.

These days, she lives with her male primary partner of four years.

“We both have a girlfriend as well (the same woman) who we see more as individuals rather than a ‘throuple’.”

Why polyamory is on the rise

Dr Blake predicts the interest in polyamory and alternate lifestyles is only going to increase, particularly in the younger generation.

“It’s definitely more acceptable these days,” Dr Blake says

“The prevalence right now of young people is somewhere around 4-5 per cent of people might be involved in a polyamorous relationship, and about 20 per cent have probably tried one.”

Anne Miles, a polyamorist for 19 years, says there’s still a fair bit of prejudice around.

But Anne also believes the popularity of polyamory is on the rise, pointing to a large study of digital chatter that shows the use of the word ‘poly’ is climbing.

Setting relationship boundaries

Experimentation may be required to discover the boundaries that work for you, Anne says.

Anne’s adventures have allowed her to set her own rules and get her needs met, while also focusing on her career.

She says first-timers need to be very clear where their boundaries lie on issues such as intimacy, jealousy and time together.

Anne’s experience doesn’t refer to her lovers as relationships, even one that lasted six years, and she doesn’t allow men to stay overnight.

Keeping an open heart and mind

Harley says polyamory can take many different forms, and recommends talking to poly people about their experiences, including their highs and lows.

She also suggests listening to the podcast, or reading the book, More Than Two.

“A lot of people in the polyamorous community have read it, so at least it’s something where you can have common ground on discussing how to move forward in your personal journey,” Harley says.

How to manage jealousy

Harley admits that even after a decade-and-a-half of polyamory, she still gets jealous sometimes.

“But jealousy is I think a bit like happiness, in that the goal isn’t the absence of jealousy,” Harley says.

“The goal is being able to deal with it when it comes up in a healthy and appropriate manner because jealousy, and rejection as well, are not inherently bad things – they’re just feelings.”

Freedom to love love

As for the future, Harley adores her primary partner, and says if they wanted to, they could be quite happy being monogamous.

However they’d much rather continue as polyamorous.

“We’re really curious creatures, and we love love,” Harley says.

“We love discovering people and having the freedom to do that in whatever way is right for everyone involved.”

Written by Larissa Ham and Bianca Carmona.