Polyamory. A term with which I was completely unfamiliar until moving up to Portland. A term that is still so undefined, even my writing software underlines it as an unknown word.

Polyamory. A term with which I was completely unfamiliar until moving up to Portland. A term that is still so undefined, even my writing software underlines it as an unknown word. For a while I let this mysterious concept sit on the back burner in my mind, until I realized that this polyamory thing is perhaps more common than I thought.

Is it just sleeping with a lot of people? Or labeling multiple individuals as your “significant other” or “significant others,” for that matter? Or do you have just one girlfriend or boyfriend, but multitudes of partners or just tons and tons of girlfriends? Is everyone in the know? Ask around and you’ll most likely find that depending upon whom you talk to (that also identifies as polyamorous), the meaning can differ

quite a bit.

Back in Los Angeles, taking multiple people on out on separate romantic occasions and subsequently sleeping with them was just called “dating.” No philosophy or group mentality attached or required.

Though the concept of polyamory has practically been around forever, there definitely seems to have been a strong resurgence of the concept only recently among college-age folk—at least from my observations. Portland happens to be one of the cities across the U.S. that is embracing it with open arms. As an unofficial capital for alternative lifestyles, it’s no shock that polyamory groups have found a home here.

Before you get too excited, polyamory is not just an idea that means “free sex for everyone” and without obligations. Poly individuals have a similar basis in morals when practicing consensual relationships—they just happen to hold these relationships with more than one person.

Swingers and polys are not the in same category. To swing is to be in one romantic relationship where both partners partake in recreational sexual encounters with others. Through polyamory, the relationships are the real focus, and the sex is a perk. For anyone who wants to believe that poly people are just a group of hipsters who can’t commit, think again. Instead of committing to just one girlfriend/boyfriend, they choose to romantically commit to several. If anything, they are over-committal.

What is curious is that Portland appears to be very open to any form of polyamory, but this can come with some stipulations. For example, many who have an open mind about polyamory still turn their noses up to the polygamous practices of religions such as Mormonism.

Running all over Portland State’s campus, I stopped random individuals and asked their thoughts on the subject. Out of a hundred students, 84 said they didn’t believe in any practices of Mormon polygamy. Which is particularly surprising since 71 of them said that polyamory didn’t bother them. It’s also notable that 25 people couldn’t present an opinion on polyamory because they had absolutely no previous knowledge of the subject, and only four flat out said that they thought every aspect of polyamory wasn’t just wrong for them personally, but that it should not be practiced by anyone.

Perhaps it is the religious connotations that are associated with polygamy that draw such a vast contrast between the two. Or maybe it’s the “fairness” of polygamy that is questioned more harshly. Though both practices are inherently consensual, polygamy is a little more one-sided. “Poly,” meaning multiple, and “gymy” meaning women. Perhaps if there was equal Mormon support for polyandry, having more than one husband, there would be different results.

Defining polyamory in general can be frustrating, as in many cases there is not just one solid definition. Polys may find themselves committed to multiple people, with the options of including even more. Or commit to polyfidelity, where a group of three or four people enter into a highly exclusive relationship, with no question of others joining in. There are any number of classifications. At its core, polyamory isn’t much different from other relationships. It is still a commitment in which those involved practice sexual safety just like monogamous relationships, and it is still completely consensual.

In the end, it is still a somewhat perplexing topic. With how many 20-something friends and acquaintances that I know who identify as polyamorous, it’s easy to question if it’s just a fad. Much like being a little bi-curious in college can be thrown around as a stereotype—having its heyday when Katy Perry’s song “I Kissed a Girl” hit the radio, polyamory may become more well known and talked about as time goes on. Maybe Perry’s next song will be “I Kissed a Girl, and a Boy, and Another Girl, and We All Liked It.” ?