One of the most important things I’ve learnt while exploring ethical non-monogamy is that support is out there. Weirdly, when I began this journey I thought there wouldn’t be much in the way of resources, advice or even positive representation. Turns out, I was very wrong. So, whether you’re beginning your adventure or looking for more recommendations, here’s everything I wish I’d known about when I was new to polyamory.
It’s important to note that everything below (and in my linked posts) is my current understanding and interpretation of polyamory and non-monogamy. Not only is my knowledge of and language about such concepts constantly evolving, but everyone’s is. There are no experts when it comes to polyamory and be wary of anyone who claims that they are. It’s really wonderful to receive advice and support from other people but it’s important that you define what your relationships look like.
Types of polyamory
Anything that isn’t strictly monogamy fits somewhere under the ethical non-monogamy umbrella. (To be clear: cheating on a monogamous relationship isn’t consensual, so we aren’t talking about that). Ethical non-monogamy covers a wide range of relationship structures, approaches and practices, some of which are aligned with polyamory and others that aren’t.
So, exactly what is polyamory then? In my Polyamory Vs Open Relationships post, I compare romantically exclusive but sexually open relationships (such as monogamish or swinger arrangements) with the different types of polyamory, which are romantically and sexually open. This is the essential element to a polyamory definition: recognising that love is abundant and we can choose to have multiple loving, supportive relationships at the same time.
The different types of polyamory are defined by their structure. There is hierarchical polyamory, which usually places a dyad (a couple) at the top or heart of this structure. These two people will see each other as their primary partner and therefore place more importance on their relationship with them in comparison to their secondary or ‘satellite’ partners.
Alternatively, egalitarian or non-hierarchical polyamory is ‘flatter’ structure where no partners are considered more or less important than the others. Partners who live together will often see each other as their ‘nesting’ partner and not a primary, to signify the equality in their relationship style.
Some people, like me, choose solo polyamory as their identity. For me, this means that I am open to having multiple committed romantic relationships while not engaging with cohabitation, marriage, babies, etc. I don’t need these social signifiers to show that my relationships have ‘value’. Instead, I’m holding space for myself as my primary partnership while appreciating the love and support that surrounds me.
There are also people who have multiple romantic partners that don’t identify as polyamorous, but rather as generally non-monogamous or, for example, specifically as a relationship anarchist. Lola Phoenix, who hosts the Non-Monogamy Help podcast, discusses on their blog the reasons why they take issue with polyamory and no longer identify as such.
My most valued resource for understanding what I want my relationships to look and function like have been these polyamory podcasts. I honestly don’t know where I would be without this incredible array of insight and advice. It seems like every time I hit a bump in the road with non-monogamy, there is a wonderful podcast episode to help me get some perspective on how to approach the situation.
While I find books are good for providing introductory guides or digging in deep on specific topics, to me podcasts feel more comprehensive, up to date and interesting. I really enjoy hearing the conversations that happen with the amazing range of guests and have learnt so much from listening to a variety of experiences and opinions.
There are so many episodes to explore on the podcasts I have mentioned above – some have a couple of hundred, which can seem pretty overwhelming when you first start out. I recommend looking for the episodes on topics that feel relevant to you and work your way from there. If you’re new to polyamory, I recommend trying Multiamory’s episodes for beginners. They have a wealth of insight on topics such as rules, jealousy and communication.
Like a lot of people, The Ethical Slut was the first book I ever read about non-monogamy. First published in 1997 (with revised editions released in 2009 and 2017), it has become a bible of sorts for people looking to open up their relationships. I recall some parts of this book really resonating with me, while a few parts made me aware of what my boundaries are. Five years on, I’m looking forward to re-reading it soon.
Another popular title is More Than Two, which was first published in 2014. I’ve never read this book but it always receives very positive reviews, so I’m looking forward to finally giving it a try sometime soon. However, it’s important that anyone reading this book be aware of the accusations of harm and trauma that one of the book’s co-authors, Franklin Veaux, has received from multiple former partners (including its other author, Eve Rickert).
Also on my reading list are the following titles, which come highly recommended from friends and podcasts:
- Love’s Not Color Blind (2018): looks at how the polyamorous community is not immune to everyday racism, including fetishizing people of colour, and how we should all be actively inclusive.
- Sex At Dawn (2012): explores the prehistoric origins of modern sexuality, using data from social science, animal behaviour, and neuroscience to argue that monogamy isn’t that natural.
- Stepping Off The Relationship Escalator (2017): an essential book for anyone who wants to go it solo, avoiding cohabitation and hierarchical structures, plus valuing all the relationships in their life, not just the romantic and/or sexual ones.
- Opening Up (2008): a practical guide for having open relationships, no matter what structure you choose. Contains strategies for approaching jealousy, boundaries, parenting and more.
- The Smart Girl’s Guide to Polyamory (2017): written by one of the hosts of the Multiamory podcast, this book covers everything from navigating group sex to coming out as polyamorous.
Polyamory social and support groups
Often when we think about meeting other polyamorous people, we think about dating. However, one of the biggest advantages of meeting other non-monogamous people has been the support network I’ve found. If you are new to polyamory, I can’t stress how helpful this is – both for now and in the future.
Finding both personal friends and a wider community has helped me enormously. In our mononormative world, being polyamorous can sometimes feel quite isolating. But you are not alone. Most major cities will have some form of social or support group and there are plenty online. Have a Google, search Facebook or ask around for recommendations.
If you’re a Londoner (like me) then I’ve already done all the research for you. Check out my detailed guide to polyamorous London, with all the information about IRL and online social group at the start and details about all the fun parties and events at the end.
Movies and TV shows about polyamory
While there aren’t any TV shows or movies that I think you should look to for polyamory guidance, it can feel good to see your life represented onscreen. So it’s completely natural to want to watch something that reaffirms your relationships and lifestyle.
That said, most films and TV shows that explore non-monogamous storylines are great examples of what not to do. Often, they’re written by people with little to no experience of open relationships, so they don’t really know what they’re portraying on-screen. So, don’t despair if all you can find are stories about MFF triads (or ‘throuples’ as mainstream media – and no one else – loves to call them) who constantly talk about raising babies.
One of my first tastes of non-monogamy on film was the 1999 Gregg Araki film Splendor, which is quite difficult to find these days (but thankfully, someone added it on YouTube). Trust this iconic queer filmmaker to blaze the trail with such a sweetly screwball comedy version of non-monogamy. It is blissfully celebrates everything I miss about the 90s, from the colour-grading to the fashion to the soundtrack.
Professor Marston & The Wonder Women (2017) tells the true story of the married psychologists, William and Elizabeth – who created the lie-detector test – and their life partner, Olive. William later rose to fame in the 1940s after he created the comic book, Wonder Woman, but always had to keep the triad’s relationship a secret. It’s quite a fascinating story, even if the film is quite dull in parts.
If you’re looking for a series with non-monogamous characters to binge-watch, check out my guide to TV shows about polyamory. From the little known BBC gem, Trigonometry, and the Netflix standard, You Me Her, you can find a bunch of shows with polyamorous relationship storylines.
Polyamorous dating apps
If you feel ready to dip your toe in the dating pool, then knowing where to look will help. After all, you could spend your time swiping through all the wrong people, not knowing that the right ones are elsewhere. Take a look at my guide to polyamorous dating sites and apps for my take on which ones are worth your time (and which ones you shouldn’t bother with).
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