PolyamoryPolyamory means “loving many.” At WholeSexLife, we mean by polyamory all forms of relationship with multiple partners with the knowledge and consent of all involved: group relationships, nonmonogamous and open relationships, polyfidelitous relationships (closed groups that maintain sexual fidelity), and all other connections of more than two. Polyamory isn’t so much about recreational sex—for that, see swinging—but about multiple, loving sexual connections.

In the heterosexual world, statistics on polyamory are few. A 1994 study says that in the past 12 months, 6 percent of married men and women surveyed had sex partners other than their spouses. What percentage of these couplings is polyamorous is hard to say.

Among lesbians, polyamory seems relatively rare. A 1989 study of U.S. lesbian partnerships found 7 percent practiced monogamy with agreed exceptions, and only 3 percent practiced nonmonogamy. Among gay male couples, polyamory seems much more the norm. A 2010 study found that about half the gay male couples surveyed had sex outside their relationships with the approval of their partners. Many couples felt they had stronger, longer-lasting, and more honest relationships as a result. Nearly all these open relationships had rules to play by.

That’s a common theme in poly—as its practitioners discuss it, it’s generally not a free-for-all, but rather a set of rule-based commitments with an ideal of honesty and consideration. Poly doesn’t mean never getting jealous, but working through jealousy. Those who do can experience compersion—the joy of seeing a loved one happily love another.