This is based on a master's thesis written for Regis University. The complete thesis may be read at www.aphroweb.net.
Monogamy is the assumed standard for relationships in our culture. A married person who has sex outside the marriage is assumed to be cheating, to be unfaithful. The same standard is applied to anyone in a committed relationship. Yet there are people who have agreed that they will not be sexually exclusive, and who have sex with others with the full consent of their partner. One way of doing this has been called "polyamory" (often shortened within the polyamorous community to "poly").
Polyamory has been defined by White (2004, p. 17) as "Living by the principle that it is possible to love more than one person at a time without deception or betrayal". Furthermore, she pointed out that most of the definitions of polyamory found on the Internet "utilize words like ethical, responsible, honorable, open, honest, intentional, and principled" (p 20). This is in contrast to the concept generally held in our culture that having a sexual partner in addition to your spouse is a betrayal. Couples who are polyamorous have made a conscious decision to have other partners while maintaining their connection and commitment to their original partner. This is a mutual agreement, not a betrayal.
Note that definitions for various words and phrases related to polyamory can be found at www.polyamorysociety.org/language.html.
Lack of Research on Polyamory
There has been very little academic research on polyamory. Why is this so? Rubin (2001) hypothesized that "Swinging, group marriages, and communes [and polyamory] may remain on the periphery of study and tolerance because they threaten the cultural image of what marriage is supposed to be" (p. 724). Elisabeth Sheff, who started research for her Ph.D. in sociology in the late 1990s, received some encouragement "because it was an area that had not been developed yet and it is good to be a groundbreaker," but also discouragement, because it is a "freaky" topic and she could be marginalized because of the topic (personal communication, January 19, 2005).
Many social scientists support the "questioning mindset," the idea that "there is nothing that should not be doubted. Everything must be unceasingly examined" (Lofland and Lofland, 1995, p. 154). In spite of this, even an eminent psychologist like Albert Ellis (2003), who was writing about sex even...