Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Polyamory Works

Examples of Polyamorous Relationships
Is two men twice as nice?
Is two men twice as nice?

It's impossible to know how many people practice polyamory, as most forms ask for things like a spouse's name, leaving no space for people to write in an additional boyfriend or girlfriend's name. However, awareness of polyamory has grown tremendously because of the Internet, and according to current estimates, based on Web usage and online polls, as much as 10 percent of the U.S. population self-identifies as polyamorous [sources: Doheny, Gerard]. According to a 2002 survey conducted by polyamory awareness site Loving More, 40 percent of polyamorous people had a graduate degree (compared to 8 percent of the general population) and 30 percent identified as pagan [source: Langley]. Other anecdotal data suggests that most polyamorous people are white and in their 30s, 40s and 50s; many people who practice polyamory also identify as bisexual [sources: Gerard, Miller].

There is no one way to practice polyamory, but let's consider a few hypothetical set-ups. Let's say Ann and Bob are a married couple who practice polyamory. While Ann and Bob live together with their one child, Ann has a boyfriend who lives 15 minutes away that she stays with two nights a week; that boyfriend, in turn, has another girlfriend who is friends with Ann. Bob has a girlfriend that he stays with one night a week as well as a boyfriend who lives out of town that he sees occasionally. Ann and Bob have met each other's partners and frequently host dinners where all of the significant others come over to socialize. Ann and Bob's child is on good terms with all of the partners, but doesn't realize that they are his mom and dad's boyfriends and girlfriends.

Here's another example: Ann and Bob are a married couple, and they form a quad with another couple named Cathy and Dave. Ann frequently goes out on dates with Dave, and they spend a night together in a hotel once a week; Bob and Cathy do the same. The four of them are considering buying a home together, and none of them want children. They consider themselves polyfidelitous, meaning they're not open to other partners outside of their group right now.

One last example: Ann and Bob are married, but they're both in love with a woman named Cathy, who just moved in with them. Each person has his or her own bedroom, but depending on how they're feeling, two of them may spend the night together -- or all three may spend the night in a king bed. Both Ann and Cathy would eventually like to carry a baby fathered by Bob, though they plan to raise the children all together. Though they have no other partners at this time, it would be acceptable if any of the three found someone outside the group to date.

Again, these are just examples of how some polyamorous situations might go. Sometimes, keeping up with all of the partners involved can take a massive organizational chart, but sometimes, it may be as simple as a triangle (three people in love with each other equally). But how do people make this work? On the next page, we'll consider some logistics of these types of relationships.

More to Explore