Polyamory is complex. Yet the practice of consensual non-monogamy—in which participants have multiple romantic and sexual partners, who are all consenting and aware of each other's existence—is often stereotyped very simplistically. Polyamorous people are often dismissed by the monogamous mainstream as sexual deviants, commitment-phobes, or bohemian outliers. In fact, polyamory comes in many different forms, and appeals to many different people.
For Alyssa Henley, these stereotypes are frustrating. The Berkshire-based technical architect (and part-time CEO for charity Support U LGBT+) has been polyamorous for five years. “My chosen polyamory style is ‘relationship anarchy’, which means I don’t really put a label on anything,” she explains. “But there is still commitment required—and communication!”
Henley talks through some of the most common myths she regularly encounters.
IT’S ALL ABOUT SEX: POLYAMORY IS FOR PEOPLE WITH HIGH SEX DRIVES, WHO CAN'T BE CONTENT WITH JUST ONE SEXUAL PARTNER
Polyamory can be an option for couples who have mismatched sex drives, but it would be a mistake to think that polyamory is all about sex. Polyamory is about understanding that there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ individual partner for you. Different partners can provide different things you want or need, and vice versa.
PEOPLE IN POLYAMOROUS RELATIONSHIPS DON'T GET JEALOUS
Not entirely true, we just tend to be better at dealing with it! The three principles of polyamory are communication, communication, and communication. Talking about jealousy and tackling it head-on means that when the green-eyed monster does rear its ugly head, you are better prepared to deal with it and talk about it with your partners. Polyamorous people also refer to a concept known as compersion, which is basically the opposite of jealousy, and refers to the warm, happy feeling you get when you see your partner with someone else.
MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, THERE'S ALWAYS ONE PARTNER WHO SECRETLY WISHES THINGS WERE MORE EXCLUSIVE
Clear communication clears up a lot of that. It could happen, but the same issue can also occur in monogamous couples, where one (or even both!) halves could want to open up the relationship. Once you’ve started exploring the world of polyamory you find yourself being introduced to loads of different things—each partner can bring creativity, different life experiences, and outlooks.
POLYAMORY IS JUST A FAD MOVEMENT, DOMINATED BY WHITE, MIDDLE-CLASS PEOPLE
Polyamory does get talked about a lot in white middle-class literature, but it extends way beyond that. I know and interact with plenty of people who are outside this bubble. It crosses over into so many other areas. For example, it’s always been big in kink, and queer communities—and none of these are exclusively white or middle class in any way.
IT'S NOT POSSIBLE TO HAVE A HAPPY, HEALTHY FAMILY, WITH CHILDREN, IN A POLYAMOROUS HOUSEHOLD. IT'S TOO CONFUSING
Kids are incredible and adaptable. It can be exhausting raising a child, but having a larger family with more parents means that kids can have more people to spend time with. Not only do they get more role models, but they also get exposed to a wider variety of hobbies, interests, and life experiences.
Cultural messaging from Hollywood movies reinforces the idea of finding a “soulmate” that completes you. But expecting one person to be everything to you is unrealistic, and creates unnecessary pressures. Hopefully, when society becomes more accepting of alternative sexualities, polyamory won’t be seen as something exotic and strange, but as a normal and valid way to live—and raise children. But we’re not there yet.