Polyamory vs Polygamy: Meaning, Key Differences

Polyamory vs polygamy, these two terms are often misunderstood or used interchangeably.

While they both involve having intimate relationships with multiple people, polyamory and polygamy have distinct definitions and cultural implications.

In this post, we will explain the true meanings of polyamory and polygamy, highlight their key differences, and address some frequently asked questions about these relationship structures.

By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of what separates polyamory from polygamy.

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What is Polyamory?

Polyamory vs Polygamy Meaning, Key Differences

Polyamory refers to having multiple romantic relationships simultaneously with the consent of all people involved. The root word “poly” means many, and “amory” means love.

So polyamory essentially means “many loves” or “many intimate relationships.” Someone who practices polyamory engages in multiple relationships with a sense of honesty, ethics, and commitment.

The defining trait of polyamory is that it is always consensual. All partners must agree to their partner(s) having other relationships, and there is transparency about additional partners.

Deception and secrecy are not acceptable within the polyamorous community.

Polyamory is a philosophy and lifestyle more than a relationship structure. It prioritizes transparency, communication, consent, and responsibility.

Polyamorous people believe it’s possible to love more than one person at a time.

What is Polygamy?

Polygamy specifically refers to having multiple spouses or partners simultaneously through marriage or long-term commitment ceremonies.

The word “polygamy” comes from the Greek words “poly” meaning many, and “gamy” meaning marriage. So polygamy means “many marriages” or being married to multiple people at once.

Unlike polyamory, polygamy usually involves a hierarchical structure where one person (usually male) is the primary or top spouse and others have lower status.

Historically, many polygamous cultures only permitted men to have multiple wives but not vice versa.

While polyamory focuses on consent, polygamy does not always ensure spouses truly consented freely to their partner marrying additional people.

In many past and present polygamous societies, women have little choice in their marriage arrangements.

Polyamory vs Polygamy: Differences

The key differences between polyamory and polygamy are:

1. Consent

Polyamory requires ongoing consent from all partners, while polygamy does not always ensure spousal consent is freely given.

2. Gender Dynamics

Polygamy traditionally involves patriarchal systems that give male spouses power over female partners. Polyamory does not prescribe any particular gender roles or dynamics.

3. Relationship Structure

Polyamory embraces diverse relationship structures like networks and webs with no emphasis on marriage.

Polygamy specifically refers to having multiple spouses through marriage or commitment ceremonies.

4. Legal Status

Consensual ethical non-monogamy or polyamory is legal in many countries and US states.

Polygamy involving marriage to multiple spouses simultaneously remains illegal in most Western nations due to historical ties to patriarchal cultures that deny women’s rights.

Read Also: Why Does My Marriage Feel Like a Roommate?

5. Commitment Levels

Polyamory relationships can vary widely in commitment levels from casual dating to life partners.

Polygamy implies a high level of commitment through marriage or ceremonies binding people together.

6. Prioritizing Communication

Open communication is paramount in polyamory to ensure continued consent. Some past polygamous cultures suppressed wives’ ability to communicate freely about domestic issues or additional spouses.

As you can see, while seemingly related due to both allowing multiple partnerships, polyamory and polygamy differ greatly in their underlying philosophies around matters like consent, gender roles, and relationship structures.

Polyamory centers on individual autonomy and the ethical treatment of all partners.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Polygamy a Type of Polyamory?

No, polygamy is not a type of polyamory. While they both involve multiple relationships, polygamy refers specifically to marriage structures.

Whereas polyamory is a philosophy that can include varied relationship configurations beyond marriage like casual dating or long-term partners without legal marriage.

Is Polyamory Legal?

Yes, consensual non-monogamous relationships are legal in most jurisdictions as long as all parties involved are consenting adults.

Polyamory itself simply refers to having open intimate relationships with permission, which is protected as part of constitutional rights to privacy and intimacy in many Western nations.

Is Polygamy Legal?

No, polygamy is currently illegal in most Western countries including Canada and all US states except Utah.

Polygamy was officially banned under anti-bigamy laws due to historical ties between polygamy and patriarchal religious cultures that restricted women’s freedoms.

Polygamous marriages are still illegal but sometimes polyamorous communities exist openly in places where ethical non-monogamy is tolerated.

What Are Some Examples of Poly Relationships?

Some common types are:

  • Triads – A vee-shaped relationship between three partners where two are in a committed relationship and both date the same third partner.
  • Quads – Involving four people who all are romantically involved with each other to some degree and considered a “family unit.”
  • Nested Relationships – When committed partners each date separately with permission, they have parallel outside relationships separate from their primary partnership.
  • Non-Hierarchical Networks – Loose-knit connected groups where not all partners are directly involved but know of one another’s additional relationships. There is no emphasis on one relationship being primary over others.

How Is Jealousy Handled in Polyamory?

Jealousy may still occur occasionally for polyamorous individuals, but it is managed differently compared to normative monogamous relationships.

Most poly people work on developing trust, effective communication, prioritizing each relationship’s unique needs, comparing treatment instead of people, and distinguishing feelings from actions to prevent feelings of scarcity and reduce jealousy between partners.

Compersion or feeling joy from a partner’s other joyful relationships can also help counter jealousy. With time and experience, jealousy often lessens for committed polyamorous folk.

Read Also: Why Does My Boyfriend Want to Sleep With Other Women?

Final Thought

While polyamory and polygamy appear similar due to both allowing intimacy with multiple partners, they differ fundamentally in philosophies around consent, power dynamics, relationship structures recognized, legal status, and prioritizing autonomy.

Polyamory treats all partners with equal status, transparency, and care; it celebrates diverse relationship configurations defined by agreement between individuals.

Polygamy maintains traditional patriarchal roles and hierarchical marriage institutions that historically restricted women’s self-determination.

Understanding the true distinctions between these relationship approaches and how they contrast in values is essential for separating fact from fiction.

With this overview, you now have a clear lens for discussing polyamory versus polygamy going forward and can recognize when terms may be wrongly used interchangeably.

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