Found this on Reddit; what is poly?


New member
"I see there being two tribes of polyfolk. There are the polyfolk for whom poly means "everyone should be free to arrange their relationships however they see fit"--which means that boundaries are A-OK as long as they are mutually negotiated. I think this is probably the more common. These are the folks who have "primaries" and "secondaries." These are the polyfidelitous triads and quads. These folks probably read and liked Opening Up.
Then there are the polyfolk for whom poly means "everyone is responsible for their own happiness, and it's unethical to expect another person to permanently restrict themselves for the sake of your insecurities"--among this group any boundary is a smell, and even if they might be necessary for some relationships, they're like training wheels. The ultimate goal should be to eliminate it, not to accept or perpetuate it. These are the people who have self-defined, independent relationships with some number of friends and lovers. These folks probably read and liked The Ethical Slut."

How do people feel about these camps? I feel like I agree with pieces of both, and disagree with both (such as I don't like either of the books). I've recently begun defining myself as polyfi, but I think I'll stop if it means association with everything the poster put in the first camp?


Active member
I started both books, I finished neither. I might do better with the audiobooks on my commute, but when I actually sit down to read, I like a story with characters and action.

It sounds like the article uses the word "boundaries" to describe what I think of as "rules" or "agreements." I think of boundaries as being things I set for myself and hold myself accountable for. Such as, "I won't date people who lie to me; I won't date people who disrespect my other partners; I won't wash my husband's laundry when he leaves in the washing machine" (because I only notice this when I bring a full load of my own and there isn't enough room for all of it). "Rules" or "agreements" would be like, "Promise you'll always tell me the truth; you have to respect my other partners; don't leave your clothes in the washing machine."

As far as there being exactly two tribes of polyfolk, I think that's a limited viewpoint. It's a multi-dimensional spectrum.

I do understand the human desire to classify and box everything up. We like labels, they tell us where we stand in relation to others. Problem is, most labels are loose fits at best, and horribly restricting shackles at worst. Unlike "bird" and "coffee mug," human labels are squishy. Everyone understands and applies them differently. And that's the way I like it. Society would be tremendously boring if everyone could be neatly packaged in single word descriptions.

If the polyfi label feels right for you and you believe it fits, for whatever reasons seem reasonable to you, then by all means use it. Some random dude on the internet doesn't have the power to associate "other things" with your label unless you say so.

Also, from what I remember of what I did read of Opening Up, doesn't that book explore a whole spectrum of non-monogamous relationships? She covers all kinds of independent "to each their own" type relationships. I also seem to remember a fair amount of so-called boundaries in Ethical Slut, but it's been years since I looked at it so I could be making that up.


Active member
I actually kind of agree, it DOES sometimes seem like there are two "camps," two basic philosophical approaches, though of course they often intermingle. Currently, I gravitate toward the first camp. I think I liked Sex at Dawn best as far as non-monogamy books go.


Official Greeter
Staff member
It sounds like the two camps can be summarized as:

  • Camp 1 = more structure,
  • Camp 2 = less structure.
I'd have to assume that Relationship Anarchists fall under Camp 2 (the extreme end of it). In any case, I see no reason to object to the categorizations per se. We could certainly argue that less boundaries = more freedom, but we could also argue that more freedom = more chaos. Some people are more comfortable with more structure in their lives and I don't see a problem with that.

PolyinPractice, my suggestion to you would be to define yourself with whatever words you feel do you the most justice. If poly-fi describes what you want and/or are, then use it.

Camp 1 represents a very wide range of relationship models. Camp 1 people are by no means all hierarchical (primary/secondary). It's too vast of a category to be interpreted so narrowly. It'd be like saying, "Earth life can be divided into two Kingdoms: Plant and Animal. A spider is a type of animal and spiders creep me out. I wouldn't want to be associated with them. Therefore, I'd rather think of myself as a plant."

If on the other hand you'd rather not be labeled as any particular thing, then eschew lables and just describe what you want and/or are without using any special terms. You don't even have to "identify as poly" if you don't want. Poly is just a label. Its use is optional, and only worth as much as its accuracy and consitency.


Active member
I don't think that the writings you quoted are particularly accurate (nor helpful) in describing different kinds of poly approaches. There are people who use the terms primary and secondary yet still have very little rules, and others who practice non-hierarchical poly and have many established boundaries and rules. Likewise, there are polyfolk who are in polyfidelitous arrangements and are very easygoing without many rules or a strict structure other than remaining faithful to their core group, while others who have lots of casual sex and FWBs who have a ton of rules and permissions to seek out from various partners. It's just too cut-and-dried, and makes it seem like there really is one or the other, when there are many different flavors of poly.

In addition, one would need to have read both books and feel strongly that each book is advocating one particular viewpoint, and I doubt that is necessarily going to be agreed upon by everyone.


Active member
I think that is FAR TO VAGUE to be descriptive.
I also think that being detailed enough to be exhaustive-would be impractical.

I liked a couple of chapters of one book for a specific purpose (to generate ideas for topics that may need to be discussed in ANY relationship of any type). Otherwise, I disliked them both.

I tend to believe that boundaries are necessary for people to function in groups AND that no one has a right to press their own expectations and boundaries upon someone else.

I don't think those concepts are "opposite". I think they are both correct, true and that putting both into practice allows for a more mature and healthy outlook on the world.