Resources Regarding Sexual Health In Polyamory

There are the following chapters:

 Poly Resources

 Safer Sex

 General Health






Safer Sex, Contraception, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

For most of us, there is no such thing as totally safe sex. Realistically, what we need to do is assess our own lifestyles for risk factors, and openly discuss with our sexual partners what our options are for risk management. There is no one right answer for everyone – but starting with a good knowledge of the facts will help us make rational decisions we can be personally comfortable with.

General Safer Sex Information Sources

The  Safer Sex Page
The best collection of safer sex information on the Web.
Safer Sex Information from UCSF
Heavy on scientific references.
Coalition for Positive Sexuality’s Sex Ed for Teens (and adults, too!)
Information for teens and others learning about their sexuality, presented in a chatty, friendly manner.
SHAPE, Sexual Health Advocacy and Peer Education home page.
Safer Sex Guide from the folks at SFPSE
Another good general overview of the subject.

General Health Information Sources

Go Ask Alice
A public-health service of Columbia University, with questions and answers about topics such as Sexual Health and Relationships, Drug and Alcohol Concerns, Fitness and Nutrition, Emotional Well-Being, and General Health
Internet Health Guide
A service of the University of Wisconsin
New Life Changes
Menopause – traditional and alternative therapies to help women through this change of life.
Healthy Devil
A service of Duke University – heavily oriented towards the health needs of college students. Has a good section on STDs , but many of the other links are broken.


Condoms and Latex

Condoms are a relatively reliable form of contraception, but also, more importantly, condoms and other latex barriers are the single best way to prevent disease transmission during sexual activity.


HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is spread by genital sexual contact with an infected partner, by breastfeeding from an infected mother, or by contact with infected blood.

There are vast amounts of information about AIDS and HIV available on the Web. Some good places to start looking for information are listed below.

Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Although AIDS may be the scariest sexually transmitted disease out there, there are other diseases which strike many more people. Some, like syphilis, are almost always transmitted sexually. Others, like hepatitis and chlamydia, are transmitted through both sexual and non-sexual routes. All of them can really ruin your day.

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Poly For Dummies: 10 Necessary Things For A Great Polyamorous Life


1. Tell the Truth.

Lasting relationships are built on honesty. Honesty isn’t hard and it gets to be a habit. Bite the bullet, tell the truth. If your relationship can’t weather it, you are in the wrong relationship; but it probably can. Telling the truth is easier than lying, all rumor and myth to the contrary. Lies are a lot of work. They weigh you down and isolate you. Small lies get lonely and seek out bigger lies.

Don’t ask one lover to lie or keep secrets from others. Secrets breed distrust. Secrets build walls and discourage intimacy. Know the difference between privacy and secrecy.


Resist the desire to ‘protect’ someone by telling them what you think they want to hear. “Especially do not feign affection.” If you’re not sure about love, say so. If your relationships are not a high priority in your life, let people know. Encourage honesty in others. Above all, be honest with yourself. Are you looking to build a family or for a little sexual variety?

Fear is usually what prevents honesty. Make it safe for people to tell their truth.

2. Know Yourself.

This is the most important tool and sometimes the hardest to find. Spend quality time with yourself and find out what you’re like. Most people never do. Learn to tell when you are moody or unreasonable or defensive or hyper-sensitive or blinded by New Relationship Energy. Know your limits. If you are not able to be a good friend or lover to someone, tell them. Discover where you could do better. Learn what’s healthy for you and what’s not. Learn when to take a walk and cool off; grown-ups need time-outs too. Figure out what your priorities really are and live by. If your life doesn’t reflect your priorities, change your life, not your priorities and today, not in some better future.

Many people never see the consistent patterns in their own behavior that are obvious to everyone else, like always pursuing the same type of lover or acting just like their father did. They are blind to themselves. What don’t you know about yourself? You can transform your addictions into a preferences and eventually into a choices, but first you have to know about them.

Take time to discover things like: what baggage are you carrying from your childhood or your last relationship, what do you need and what do you only want, what pushes your buttons and why, how are you still growing up, which things are you willing to compromise on, what are your core motivations, what makes you jealous or insecure or competitive, at what point are you over-extending yourself, what are your patterns, strengths and weaknesses, etc. A lot of this goes back to honesty.

3. Take Care of Yourself.

Work on you. “Grow your own garden in your own soul, don’t wait for someone else to bring you flowers.” Instead of looking to other people for validation or satisfaction or happiness, learn to make it yourself. This is a vitally important skill for living, not just relationships. You will always be at someone’s mercy – until you learn to satisfy your own needs. Once you do, you gain a freedom and confidence that can never be taken away. You can meet people as equals and choose to enjoy life together instead of carefully exchanging needs in a scarcity-driven emotional economy. Ironically, a person with this kind of independence is very attractive. (Just when we don’t need it. Thanks.)

Take time by yourself to think about what you need to work on and give yourself the space to do it. Take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, like yourself, love yourself, accept yourself, forgive yourself, respect yourself, serve yourself, nurture yourself, just be yourself and please, sharpen a knife and cut yourself some slack. Everyone is too hard on themselves. Everyone’s mirrors are warped. Yours are too; learn to compensate. Learn emotional first aid. Get your own shit together. Be number one in your life. Deal with your childhood/parent issues; if you don’t bury your ghosts, they’ll bury you. Your relationship with yourself is the foundation of all others.


4. Take Responsibility.

Own your feelings. No one can make you sad or angry or happy, they are your emotions. They exist in your head and nowhere else. You own them. You. There are always choices. Accept that sometimes you are going to feel good or bad for no reason at all – not because of the people or events in your life. When you make someone else accountable for your feelings, your disempower yourself.

Playing the victim or martyr is just a way to manipulate people. To say, “I hurt you because my parents hurt me”, is to surrender your life to other people and to the past. Be here now. Take charge of your own feelings and actions and life. You are responsible for seeing that your own needs get met. (Yes, even your sexual needs.) Don’t tell other people “do me, make me happy, protect me, save me.” Learn to take care of yourself.

Relationships take work. If there are problems in one of your relationships or if your life is a mess, stand up and carry your share of the responsibility (and no more), even if you don’t think you deserve it. Taking responsibility is not taking blame, it’s taking control. Remember leaving home. As you take more responsibility over your life, you have more freedom, not less.

5. Encourage Growth.

Remember to care about your lovers as human beings. It’s surprisingly easy to forget. Support them in advancing their careers, spiritual pursuits, educations and ambitions. At their own pace and in their own way. Help them to heal and understand themselves better. Encourage them to take time by themselves and give them the space they need. Help them cultivate strength. Ask them to do the same for you but tell them how; they can’t read your mind. One way to encourage growth is to give those you love the freedom to love others.

Some people find neediness and weakness very attractive. Maybe they think they’ll be abandoned if their loved ones become strong. They might try to keep people weak and needy so they’ll stay. They might give generously but with conditions and strings attached. This is not unconditional love – it may not be love at all – it might just be aggressive need.

Growth can be stunted by difficult emotions like insecurity or fear of abandonment. One way to manage a limiting emotion is to meet it head on. “The only way out – is through.” Don’t hide from it; that just gives it power. Dive in and weather it and survive it and examine it. Your fear is far worse than reality. Learn that and the emotion loses its power and you grow stronger. You can even use emotions like jealousy, insecurity, etc. to learn about yourself. Pay attention to them, they are valuable.

6. Respect.

Respect is for equals. Honor people’s limits and boundaries. Listen when someone says ‘no’. Demand the same. Never tolerate abuse of any kind. You deserve better. Be polite to your partners, they deserve it more than anyone in your life.

It’s too easy to take partners for granted. Make commitments for a limited time and not for a lifetime. “Will you marry me for another year?” It helps you stay aware. Try not to save all your best stuff for one partner and exclude other partners, especially when they are together. Treat them evenly or someone will feel slighted. Words like “best”, “most” and “favorite” force comparisons and make people compete and make someone lose. Find a way for everyone to win.

Respect relationships as well as people. Think of each relationship as a separate entity. It could be healthy or sick. It has a natural shape; don’t try to force it to be something else. Find out what is it and let it be just that. Resist the desire to use a relationship to get your head in order; a lover is not a life raft. If you need therapy, see a doctor.

It’s easy to project your expectations onto other people. “Maybe they’ll change.” Don’t try to force a person to be someone they are not. People are package deals; accept them for who they are, good and bad, or don’t accept them at all.

If you want respect, keep your word. Keep to the spirit of your agreements; don’t squabble over semantics looking for loop-holes to exploit. When you make an agreement in the kitchen, keep it in the bedroom.

7. Communicate.

If you want healthy relationships, strong communication skills are a necessity, not a luxury. Trouble usually starts when talking stops. Things come up all the time that have to be worked through patiently and lovingly, even when you’re having a bad day. It gets easier over time, but it takes work and a willingness to break up scar tissue and tear down walls. Communication skills are what make a person a great lover or a dud.

Arguing skills are not communication skills. Arguing better than someone doesn’t make you right, it just makes you better at arguing. Some people strive to ‘win’ an argument at all cost – even if it costs them their marriage.

Listening is more important than talking. And harder. Listen actively and don’t just hear. Make eye contact. Be here now, don’t wander. Paraphrase their words to see if you heard them right. Notice your own words and feelings as you listen. Listen to unhappy feelings without needing to fix them. Listen to disagreements without taking sides. Listen to non-verbal communication, which usually speaks more clearly than words. Be aware of how the people in your life are loving you.

Some talk is not communication. If you get lost in the woods and pass the same landmark several times, you are making the same mistake over and over. Raising your voice or speaking harshly makes you harder to understand, not easier. Avoid saying “always” and “never” is disagreements; they just dig up the past and revive old mistakes. Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. “I think you’re wrong” is easier to accept than “you are wrong.”

Express yourself clearly; people can’t read your mind. Learn to ask for what you want. Tear down the wall between your feelings and your words. If you set limits and boundaries, communicate them. Make sure everyone knows what they are getting into. Learn how to defuse arguments. If necessary, learn how and when to say goodbye. Actions communicate better than words. Show people that you love them. Share kindness and affection and laughter. And when in doubt, rub their feet.

8. Attitude.

Having tools isn’t enough, you have to really want to use them. Ya gotta wanna. Your disposition will make it work or blow it at any time. Find a way for everyone to win. Make important decisions unanimous. Don’t go to sleep angry; talk it out. Shine a positive light on difficult situations too; many relationships wither from negative energy. Try not to turn little problems into big ones. Look for solutions, not someone to blame. Be direct, not covert. Practice tolerance, patience, flexibility, generosity, understanding, forgiveness. Learn to apologize. Laugh at yourself.

9. Be wrong;

you can’t learn from mistakes if you always gotta be right. Let it go; be happy instead. Listen more than you talk. Give someone else the last word. Take the high road. See things through their eyes; empathy is the cure for anger. Stay calm and remember to breath. Let down your walls, trust, open up, risk and let yourself be vulnerable. Without vulnerability there is no intimacy. Emphasize friendship over romance. Take your time. Savor what you have instead of dwelling on what you don’t have.

10. Practice truly unconditional love. Share. Learn.

The History Of Polyamory: Pandora


Pandora is
The first woman
Giver of ALL
Initiator to new experience
Patron Saint of those
Who explore living fully
And knowing truth


Pandora is a group of healers and teachers
Formed to promote community among
Those who seek to explore
The pathway of erotic spirituality
And spiritual eroticism

Pandora celebrates the notion
That sexuality and laughter
Are powerful spiritual pathways

Pandora is expressed in the creation
Of environments dedicated
To nurturance and pleasure

Pandora is clothing optional
And openly erotic
Where situation permits

Pandora values being in experience
Rather than belief in ideology

Pandora is a community who know how
To play together and who
Help others learn to play too


In June 1993 a group of people came together in response to the following invitation:

“This is an invitation to join a select group of adult women and men in exploring sexuality as a pathway to enlightenment.

We are looking for a few people to join with us in exploring the mysteries of sexually-based ritual experience…*as we encounter ourselves…*as we encounter each other…*as we encounter forces beyond all that…*as we play at the edge of bliss, risking both pleasure and pain, while witnessing life.”

Included in this invitation was a rendering of the ASSUMPTIONS AND EXPECTATIONS you will find if you read on.

To a smaller group a more demanding invitation was directed; the invitation to become leaders in the community.

The response to both was greater than and lesser than we hoped.

More people who wanted to play, but fewer who were strong in their commitment and ability to take leadership. So we have learned to grow slowly. But, when all was said and done, enough real people came on line to launch our exploration and begin to learn from our experiences.

We are now at the next phase of our development. Our community has grown large enough to spawn new communities who also call themselves Pandora. And we know there are others out their who would like to benefit from what we have learned. What we will ask of you in return is to help us learn more.

This web page is the hub of a larger and more diverse experiment in building erotic spiritual community. If you try out our ideas please communicate your results to our e-mail address. If you don’t agree with us please send us respectful criticism and we will review it.

There is more to our history than that, but let’s hold that for another time.


By creating a container in which it is safe to depart from the expectations of the dominant culture.

This “new” culture also has bounderies; they are simply different ones from the dominant culture. This paradigm change allows many people to have a “new” experience.

While some new experiences are pleasureable, others are painful. The task of building authentic relationships is fraught with both. To build erotic spiritual community this level of integrity is required.




It seems likely that you have already explored radical views of life/sexuality and that you can extend reciprocal respect to others who have also done so regardless of differences in ideas, personal experience, sexual self-expression and temperament.


You can get beyond victimhood/exploitation and are able to bring your personal safety with you so you are able to experience intimacy, whether pleasurable or painful, without precipitously abandoning your agreements.


You welcome responsibility for yourself and others in order to remain present in current experience.


Your approach to this particular experience will be characterized by openness, honesty, and a willingness to risk in the face of uncertainty.


Welcome the opportunity to participate in ritual play.


These guidelinge were derived after a number of group experiences and dialogue among the leadership group. They continue in place today in all groups that call themselves Pandora.

All cultures function more smoothly when there is consensus concerning socially appropriate behavior. If you choose to participate in a Pandora sponsored activity please assume the following manners will be expected unless otherwise stated.


Ask before going outside the area we are inhabiting, or before picking up anything that is not yours. Stay fully conscious of your own and other’s bounderies and ask clearly before using something. Please accept full responsibility for refusing any request that is not appropriate for you at this time.


Practice safe sex when in our space, with everyone, at all times. Sit on a towel when naked, use latex, soap, and other protections freely. Report to the group if you have any condition that may be contagious.


Do not engage in any practice or consume anything until you understand fully the choice you are making.


If you are open to conversation many difficulties can be resolved.


Help out with donations of money, time, skills, or supplies. Look for ways to be supportive.


How To Come Out As Polyamorous: What You Need To Know

Coming out Poly

Well, OK, you’re polyamorous. It feels right, you’ve accepted it. Maybe you’re even in a polyamorous situation, brave soul. At some point you ask yourself if you should tell the people who are important in your life, and how. Various scenarios come to mind, the worst of which might look something like this: your good friend, Betty, is taking a big, satisfying sip from a glass of ice-cold milk. Right in the middle of it, you say “I woke up in bed this morning with 3 other people!!!”. Picture Betty’s eyes widen, the huge, beautiful, fountaining spit-take, the milk streaming out Betty’s nose. Next time, don’t stand quite so close to Betty.

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where you could just talk to people about these things and not cause a stroke? Imagine what your life would be like in a world where having several lovers was nothing to raise an eyebrow about.

Maybe, just maybe, we do live in such a world. Yes, some people do have a strong aversion to non-monogamy. To them, polyamory has the ring of Sodom and Gomorra and diseased ethics and Hillary Clinton. I believe they are in the minority, especially if you live near an urban area of any size. Their discomfort is usually nowhere as visceral or phobic as is common with, say, homosexuality. Or in my case, country music.

I am not saying that coming out poly is easy. Some people will always disapprove of any type of non-traditional relationship or lifestyle. But, so what? Some people buy paintings of Elvis on black velvet and collect porcelain figurines and tape Geraldo. It’s helped me develop a slightly thicker skin and a lot more self-confidence.

My experience is that the average person is fairly tolerant of polyamory, if it is made clear to them that polyamory is ethical, consensual non-monogamy and not cheating or swinging. Most of our fears about people’s reactions are based on our projections and are much worse than their actual reactions.

Case in point: while my partner and I lived in a rural community on the east coast, we were afraid to tell even our closest friends that we were bisexual and wanted to open up our marriage. Would they be afraid to let us near their kids? That dishonesty and fear really built a wall between us and them. When we moved to Hawaii a few years ago, we made a clean break with our past dishonesty. All our new friends know who and what we are. And it feels great.

On our annual pilgrimage to the mainland this year, we came out to many of our old friends on the east coast. One or two didn’t take it too well initially but came around, several were poly themselves but didn’t have a word for it. Most said something like: “Very interesting. If it works for you, terrific.” Most had questions. Most were much more surprised to hear that we were bisexual that that we were poly. And not one person sneezed any milk.

What I learned from this is: don’t assume the worst. Don’t project.


What is your worst fear about coming out? That the local newspaper would run a picture of you and your lovers on the front-page with the headline “These people are polyamorous”? This very thing happened to me, my partner and the couple we were dating. A member of our local poly discussion group wrote an honest and slightly sympathetic article on polyamory as part of a journalism class. On a whim, she submitted it to a widely-read, local paper which agreed to publish it. They said wanted a few pictures of the group for the article but that these would not be close-ups and would not be used on the cover.

It turns out they did use a picture for the cover, a nice close up too. The paper has a distribution of 100,000 on an island with 850,000. And it’s free. You can find a copy on every street corner in downtown. 3 of the 4 of us on the cover work downtown and had distribution boxes nearby, even right in front of our work-places. Our faces were very identifiable and co-workers were certain to recognize us. And with gossip being what it is, …

So it turned out that, quite to our surprise, every one of our co-workers found out that we were poly, all at once. We braced for the worst, … and do you know what happened to us? Nothing. No one was fired or harassed or ostracized, nothing. I’m sure there was some gossip, but people didn’t treat us any differently. A few co-workers came up to me and said: “I read the article and it’s very interesting” or “who is in the picture with you” or even “I’d like to ask you a few questions some time”, but that was it. It was almost a let-down. After much anticipation, Pandora’s box opened up and nothing crawled out.


While puzzling about how, you might wonder again about why anyone should come out poly. Try this. You have a right to love who you choose to love. You have a right to build the kind of families you choose. Without shame or guilt. You have a right to tell the people care about who you really are. You have a right to honesty. You have these rights as soon as you choose to take them.

Secrets and lies are a lot of work and could also be bad for your health where STDs are concerned. I’ve learned to tell doctors (with a casual voice and great composure), “Yes. My partner and I are not monogamous. We have other sweeties.” They don’t react, they’ve heard it all before. Certainly no milk out the nose.

Many polys are very much in the closet. They feel that they are minorities living in a monogamous world, (or a world that at least pretends to be monogamous.) Some folks may never be comfortable being out. Very few of us get to choose our conditioning. Some may have a lot to lose by coming out, like their church, their friends or the love of their families. It makes losing a job look pretty small. But. The more people come out, the safer it is for everyone.


I suspect most polys are neither way out nor deep in the closet, but fall somewhere in the middle. We want to tell some people, but not others. Choices, always choices. Tell the folks at work? Which ones? What if they talk? How about family members? What about the kids you know? Probably not your 92 year old granny with the heart condition. Maybe your brother. Probably not your lover’s father with the drinking problem and the gun collection. Friends? Well yes, most friends, but a few you just know will lose their milk. Or at least you think so. Oh, the crying, the explanations, the paper towels. Choices. If you want fewer choices in your life, polyamory may not be for you.

Gays have been facing these decisions for a long time and we are in the same boat with them in that we’re sexual and social deviants. If enough of us come out, we will not be outcasts and we will have communities.

I’ve told many people I’m poly at this point and quite a few were totally blasé including a few that surprised me. Again, it was almost disappointing. Several considered themselves poly but didn’t have a word for it. As we all know, there are more polys out there than is usually acknowledged.


The truth might be a shock to some, especially those who don’t know you as well as they think they do. Put yourself in Betty’s place. How might you feel to discover that your good friend – with whom you have shared trust and personal facts and many intimate moments – is not who you thought they were, maybe never was, and has been keeping secrets from you, big ones and for a long time? Things you might not want to be true? If you can’t trust your friends to be who you think they are, what can you trust? Why, you might feel astonished, angry, hurt and betrayed. And milk might well come out your nose.

How you tell people is more important that what you tell them. So, how do you tell Betty without shocking her? It doesn’t have to be blatant, you could just drop an interesting hint and let her ‘tease’ the truth out of you, if she chooses. Timing, place and mood is important. Mentioning it at the alter is usually considered poor sportsmanship.

The more people I tell, the easier it gets for me and the better I get at telling them with that “it’s no big deal” tone in my voice. Many of the people you tell may be (or once have been) poly themselves and not have had a word for it. You can be the first to welcome them to the club.

Now go back to your worst fears of telling people. Picture this instead: your good friend, Betty, is taking a big, satisfying sip from a glass of ice-cold milk. Right in the middle of it, you say “My love-life have been really interesting lately.” Picture Betty downing the whole glass, heaving a deep sigh, wiping her mouth on her arm and saying: “Yeah, how?”

Models Of Open Relationships: Multiple Non-Primary Relationships


While the first two models stress commitment and primary relationships, some people prefer to remain essentially single but participate in more than one relationship. They are not looking for a committed relationship. For them, non-monogamy offers the intimacy, love, and sexual satisfaction of involvement in relationships without the constraints of a primary relationship.


This model works best for people who have a serious, all-consuming commitment to something other than relationships; people who are very busy with their work, their art, raising children alone, or political involvements. Usually they prefer relationships with people who, like themselves, want less commitment, or people who already have a primary relationship and are looking for a “secondary” relationship. People involved in this model usually don’t make a lot of rules about their relationships, and retain a very high degree of personal freedom and autonomy. They usually live alone and make relationships a relatively low priority in their lives.

Some examples are:

Juan is an artist who needs lots of time alone to paint. He has three lovers–Maria, Janice and Keiko. He sees each of them regularly, usually making a date with each one every one to two weeks. Keiko and Janice are both married and see Juan when their husbands are at work. Maria is working on her Ph.D. dissertation. All three are too busy to seek a primary relationship with Juan.Jessica is a single mother with three kids and a full time job. She doesn’t have time for a primary relationship, and has two long-term but casual sexual relationships with Jacob and Anthony. Jacob is a business executive who travels a lot for his job, so he is only free to see Jessica about once a week. Anthony is married to a nurse, but sees Jessica one evening a week when his wife works till 11:00 PM at the hospital.

Pros and Cons on Non-Primary Model

For this model to be successful, it is crucial to carefully choose partners who will be satisfied with a less committed relationship, and to communicate that clearly to potential partners. This model often works great as long as all parties are too busy or too committed elsewhere to want a primary relationship. However, conflict can arise when circumstances change and one person has more time or develop a desire for a primary relationship. For instance, when Maria finishes her Ph.D., or when Jacob gets a promotion and no longer has to travel for his job, or a married lover gets divorced–they may suddenly demand more time and commitment or even demand a monogamous relationship. Such a change often proves fatal to the existing relationship. However, sometimes people see such a challenge as an opportunity for growth and are able to change their relationship to accommodate everyone’s needs.


There are many different types of open relationships. Some models will fit your needs much better than others. To identify your preferred model, ask yourself some tough questions: How much security do you need to feel safe in a relationship? Do you need to feel that you’re “Number One”, or can you share that priority with other lovers? How much privacy and personal freedom do you need to feel comfortable? Have you been happiest living alone, living with one person, or with a group? What pushes your buttons? How much time and energy do you have to devote to relationships? What are your expectations of love relationships?

For you to be happy in open relationships of any kind, you must first know what you want and which model will be most likely to work for you. Secondly, you must be able to articulately communicate what you want to potential partners in an honest and clear way. And last, but certainly not least, it is crucial to pick partners who want the same type of relationship and are comfortable with your chosen model. Excellent interpersonal and communications skills go a long way towards achieving these goals, along with a willingness to negotiate to satisfy everyone’s needs. Following these steps will maximize your chances of developing satisfying and successful open relationships.

Models Of Open Relationships: The Multiple Primary Partners model


While there are many variations on this theme, the key factor is that all primary partner models include three or more people in a primary relationship in which all members are equal partners. Instead of a couple having priority and control in the relationship, all relationships are considered primary, or have the potential of becoming primary. Each partner has equal power to negotiate for what they want in the relationship, in terms of time, commitment, living situation, financial arrangements, sex, and other issues.


Some examples of variations on this model:

a) Polyfidelity Model–closed multi-adult families

This is a “group marriage” model, essentially the same as being married–except you’re married to more than one person. Usually consisting of three to six adults, all partners live together, share finances, children, and household responsibilities. Depending on the sexual orientation of the members, all adults in the family are sexual partners. For instance, if all members are heterosexual, all the women have sexual relationships with all the men. If the women are bisexual, they may have sexual relationships with the women as well as the men. And so on. However, this is a closed system, and sex is only allowed between family members–no outside sexual relationships are allowed. Some families are open to taking on new partners, but only if all members of the family agree to accept the new person as a partner. The new person then moves into the household and becomes an equal member of the family. The polyfidelity model was made famous during the 1970’s and 80’s by the Kerista commune in San Francisco, which had several households living this model for many years. Currently, the most common form of this model is a triad of two women and one man, or two men and one woman. However, recently there have been a number of polyfidelitous families formed by two heterosexual couples who become a four-some and live together as a family.

For example,
Jane and Tom and Mary and Bill all live together as a polyfidelitous family, and they have three children. They pool their incomes and make house payments, buy food, and provide for the children collectively, sharing child rearing and household responsibilities. They are heterosexual, so each of the women has sexual relations with both men; Jane falls in love with Joaquin, an outside friend. After much consideration, all partners agree that Joaquin can move into the household and join the family. He becomes an equal partner in the household and has sexual relations with Jane and Mary.Andre, Rachel and Nathan live together as a family; all three are bisexual. Rachel has sexual relationships with both Andre and Nathan. Andre and Nathan also have a sexual relationship. They have a “sleeping schedule” so that each relationship receives equal time, each spending two nights each week with each partner. They are seeking another bisexual woman to join their family.

Pros and Cons of Polyfidelity

Polyfidelity can be a richly rewarding experience, creating an extended family and intentional community. Pooling resources is economical and ecological, and can reduce the stress of child rearing by spreading the work and the responsibility among several adults rather than just one or two parents. However, polyfidelity requires a very high level of compatibility and affinity between all partners. Everyone must agree on where to live, what to cook for dinner, how clean the house should be, how much money to spend and on what, whether to have children and how to raise them. Most people find it difficult enough to locate one partner they can successfully live with for the “long haul”, much less two, three, four or more. And living together as a group decreases privacy and autonomy, often leading to interpersonal conflicts and stress. Living in a group requires excellent interpersonal skills, clear communication, assertiveness, co-operation, and flexibility in order to accommodate everyone’s needs. Picking compatible partners and being accommodating are both key to successful polyfidelity.

b) Multiple Primary Partners–Open Model

This model is very different from polyfidelity in that all partners are given much more autonomy and flexibility in developing any relationships they choose and defining those relationships on their own terms. In the Primary/Secondary model the couple is the center of power, and in the polyfidelity model the entire family group is makes decisions together and all must agree. In the Multiple Primary Partners Open Model, the individual is the basic unit of the family and is empowered to make his or her own rules and decisions. Partners may choose to live together , or they may choose to live with one or more partners, or live alone if that better suits their needs. This model is open, in that each partner has the right to choose other lovers at any time without the approval of any other partner. Each relationship evolves independently of partners’ other relationships, with rules and level of commitment to be negotiated by each individual. No one can veto a potential partner or “pull rank” and insist on being the number one priority.

Some examples of this model are:

Jennifer and Andrea are a Lesbian couple who live together. Andrea also has another primary partner, Julia, who does not live with them, but receives equal time and priority. Andrea spends one-half of the week with each woman.Ricardo and Maria are a bisexual married couple; they spend Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights together. Tom also live with them, and has his own bedroom. Ricardo spends a few nights each week with Tom. Maria has two lovers, Erica and Jessica, who she sees frequently.

Rita lives alone and she prefers having her own apartment. She has two committed, long-term relationships, with Bob and Jason, who also live alone. Bob and Jason each come to visit her at her apartment a few nights a week.

Linda has two male spouses, Cliff and Bruce. She co-owns a house with each spouse, and she lives half-time with each one, changing houses each night. Cliff and Bruce are free to pursue relationships with other women if they choose to do so.

Pros and Cons of the Open Model

There is much more fluidity in this approach as relationships are allowed to evolve over time with very few rules to direct or restrict their direction or level of commitment. However, it is also much less predictable and may cause anxiety for people who like more structure and prefer a clear hierarchy.

Because all partners are considered equal, each partner can negotiate for what they want. However, all this “processing” requires time, effort, and excellent communication skills. And some people find the potential for conflicting loyalties to be too threatening. For instance, which partner will spend holidays or vacations with you? Will they both go, will they alternate each year, will you spend part of each holiday or vacation with each one? If one partner is going through a crisis, can they demand more of your time and commitment? If you are experiencing problems in one relationship or feel more drawn toward another partner, what behavior is appropriate? Weighing your own needs and the desires of each partner can be very stressful and confusing. Some people find this model requires too much thinking, problem-solving and “going with the flow”, and prefer a more rigid structure such as the primary-secondary model or the polyfidelity model.

Models of Open Relationships: The Primary/Secondary Model

The model of heterosexual, monogamous marriage is sanctioned by society, religion, and the law as the only acceptable type of sexual relationship. As a result, most people have not been exposed to other ways of life. In fact, we are so heavily socialized to believe in the ideals of monogamy and marriage, that many people cannot even imagine any other option. Frequent responses to the idea of open relationships are: “But I’ve never seen one”; “No one I know has ever tried that”; and “There’s no way it could possibly work out”. People always ask, “But how does it work? What’s it like?”


In fact, many successful models do exist. This pamphlet will give you an overview of the three main types of non-monogamous relationships which currently exist and the numerous variations on those models. To begin thinking about new ways of living, it can help to see some examples and to understand the advantages and drawbacks of each model. By examining each model, you may be able to discern whether an open relationship is right for you and, if so, which model may best fit your individual lifestyle. The possibilities are limitless and you can “customize” any of these models to accommodate your needs.


This is by far the most commonly practiced form of open relationship and it is the most similar to monogamous marriage. In this model, the” couple relationship” is considered primary, and any other relationships revolve around the couple. It is most frequently practiced by married people or other couples in long-term relationships. The couple decides that their relationship will have precedence over any outside relationships. The couple lives together and forms the primary family unit, while other relationships receive less time and priority. No outside relationship is allowed to become equal in importance to the primary relationship. The couple makes the rules; secondary lovers have little power over decisions and are not allowed to negotiate for what they want.

There are several distinct variations of this mode, including:

a) Heterosexual couples who are “swingers.” They attend sex parties or meet sexual partners through personals ads or through various activities and networks. Some couples only have sex with other couples, others engage in three-way sex by locating another man for the woman or another woman for the man, and only have sexual adventures with their spouse present. Other straight couples allow either spouse to have recreational sex with other partners without the spouse present, but this is strictly sex and no emotional involvement or commitment is allowed.

For example,
Jane and Jim are a straight, married couple. They answer personals ads and have sex only with other couples, together as a foursome.Rose and Bill live together. Rose goes to sex parties and has anonymous sex with other men. Bill likes to pick up women in bars.

b) Gay male couples who go to the baths, the bars, sex clubs, or adult bookstores for recreational and/or anonymous sex. Many gay couples engage in this activity together, or have only “three-ways”, but many couples have an agreement that either partner can go out alone and have sex with other men, but the goal is sex rather than relationships.

For example,
Joe and Jim are a Gay male couple who enjoy going to the baths together and meeting younger guys for three-way sex. Joe also likes to go to the park and have anonymous sex with other men, and occasionally answers personals ads to meet casual sex partners.

c) Couples of any and all sexual orientations who allow each spouse to have outside sexual relationships, either casual or long-term. These outside relationships are still considered secondary , and if any conflict develops, the primary couple relationship will take precedence. Usually the couple lives together, shares finances, spends weekends, holidays, and vacations together. The outside lovers usually do not live with them, spend much less time together, have very little voice in decisions and rule-making, and must arrange scheduling around the demands of the primary relationship. Some couples have rules that each spouse has veto power over any new lovers that his or her spouse may choose. In other words, if a woman is interested in a relationship with a new man, her husband has the power to veto that relationship before it starts, for any reason. Other couples allow each person to sleep with whomever they choose, but make rules about how much time they can spend with their other lovers, whether they can spend the night away from home, whether they can spend any weekend time with them, and other restrictions on these relationships.

For example,

Clare and Tom live together. Clare has a long-term sexual relationship with her neighbor, Melissa, who spends afternoons with Clare while Tom is at work. Tom has a series of short-term relationships with women he meets “on line” through polyamorous chat rooms. However, Tom falls in love with one of his outside lovers, so Clare insists that he break off the relationship because it threatens the primary couple relationship.Alan and Damon are a Gay couple who live together. Alan has two “fuck-buddies”, friends he regularly has sex with. Damon has a long-term boyfriend in L.A. whom he sees for a few days each month when he is there on business.

David and Lucy are a bisexual couple who are married and have two children. David has a long-term male lover whom he sees frequently, but he considers his marriage and children his first priority and devotes more time and commitment to them. Lucy has had several female lovers but each one has left her because she insists that her husband comes first. So currently she has no outside relationship.

Maria and Jorge are both nurses who work opposite shifts in a hospital. They are a married couple, and both are bisexual. Maria has a long-term sexual relationship with Rosa, a doctor on her shift, who comes home with Maria after work for sex and companionship while Jorge is working his shift at the hospital. Jorge has numerous affairs with other male nurses at night, while Maria and Rosa are at work.

Pros and Cons of the Primary/Secondary Model

This model is popular because it is the model most similar to traditional marriage and does not threaten the primacy of the couple. For most married or co-habiting couples, it is not such a stretch to have a few outside relationships as long as they know that the primary commitment is to the marriage. They can still be married, have children, live together, be socially acceptable, and “live a normal life”, keeping their outside relationships secret from friends and family. It doesn’t require making any radical changes in your lifestyle or your world view. One major benefit for many couples is that they feel secure that they won’t be abandoned, because their spouse has agreed that outside relationships will be secondary. This is simpler and easier to organize logistically than other forms of open relationships. If there is any conflict over time, loyalty or commitment, the spouse always gets priority.

However, a major drawback of this model is that outside relationships are not so simple or easy to predict or control. Having a sexual relationship with someone else often leads to becoming emotionally involved and even falling in love, frequently causing a crisis in the primary relationship and even divorce. Initiating a sexual relationship is opening a door to many possibilities, and often secondary relationships grow into something else which does not fit neatly into the confines of this model. Many people who become “secondary” lovers become angry at being subjugated to the couple, and demand equality or end the relationship. For this model to be successful, couples must be very convinced that their relationship is strong enough to weather these ups and downs. Conversely, some couples who start with this model decide eventually to shift to some form of the Multiple Primary Partners model to allow secondary relationships to become equal to the primary couple relationship.<