Myths you should stop believing about polyamorous relationships

When we think of polyamorous relationships, what comes to mind? Crazy partner-swapping? Or perhaps some kind of religious thing, such as the radical renegade Mormons whose alleged lifestyles are portrayed in reality shows like Sister Wives and Seeking Sister Wife? Actually, polyamory — the practice of engaging in consensual, informed romantic and/or sexual relationships with more than one person at a time — is a lot less wild and a lot more common than you might think. More than one out of five adults reveal that they've been involved in some type of open relationship over the course of their lives — and that's obviously not counting those who won't confess. Even celebrities spanning multiple generations — from Shirley MacLaine to Willow Smith – have admitted an affinity for polyamory.

So, okay, polyamorous relationships are a lot more widespread than we're often led to believe. After all, when was the last time a TV commercial or non-reality show depicted a relationship consisting of more than two people? (Aftershave commercials showing a nerdy guy swarmed by hot models after dousing himself in the advertised product do not count.) Since four out of five of us don't really know what's going on behind closed doors with poly couples, we may have a few misconceptions.

Polyamorous relationships are all about the sex

Get your minds out of the gutter. Polyamory doesn't mean nonstop, ahem, time in the bedroom. Speaking to Glamour, writer Charyn Pfeuffer said that for her "it's about cultivating meaningful, ongoing relationships with the potential for falling in love." Even the host of Sex Ed A Go-Go, sex educator DirtyLola, has admitted that, while she may have begun her poly journey with "so much sex," she found that "many of the relationships I formed didn't have a sexual element at all, but what they did have was a deep love and respect for one another."

In fact, there are even a number of asexual polyamorous people. The appeal of the poly lifestyle, if you're not into sex at all, is that you can still have a committed, loving relationship (or relationships) without feeling as if you're holding your partner(s) back from exploring the physical side of things with a more willing partner.

Polyamorous relationships are for commitmentphobes

Polyamory — as opposed to just random hooking up — doesn't involve a lack of commitment at all. Balancing two or more partners' needs, making the time and putting in the effort to make sure no one feels slighted or neglected, and even remembering and celebrating multiple birthdays and anniversaries... all this takes dedication. Psychology Today characterizes polyamory as requiring a great deal of commitment in all areas except that of sexual fidelity. Perhaps chief among the responsibilities of those in successful polyamorous relationships is the commitment to communicating openly and honestly and to treating everyone fairly, even when conflicts inevitably arise.

While poly couples aren't necessarily staying together for life, neither are couples in monogamous relationships. The actual divorce rate is hard to nail down, but Fatherly projects that about 45 percent of all marriages will fail, and this, of course, isn't even counting those couples who do not marry at all. Statistics on poly couplings are even harder to calculate since there is no official recognition of a partnership involving more than two people, but Elisabeth Sheff, Ph.D., author of The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, has said that many of those she's surveyed report being in decades-long committed relationships.

Kids shouldn't be around polyamorous relationships

When people want to criticize others' relationships, one last line of defense they often fall back on is "think of the children!" This was a criticism many used in an attempt to push back against the legalization of gay marriage and yet, as The Conversation affirms, a comprehensive analysis of over ten years' worth of research on the subject found that kids raised by same-sex couples were overall just as well off socially, emotionally, physically, and academically as kids raised in more traditional households.

Again, solid data on children raised in polyamorous households is lacking, but Sheff studied poly families for over 20 years and found many of those families to be healthy, stable, and loving, with children she described as "confident, independent, and secure." LiveScience, in discussing her research, reported that parents found it advantageous to have multiple partners able to pitch in with child-rearing, while kids enjoyed having access to more than two trusted adults — at least, until it came to trying to get away with anything. More parents equals more eyeballs, after all. One more way that growing up in a polyamorous household can be good for kids is that it shows them that they, too, can have the freedom to build their own families any way they see fit once they grow up.