Are lifestyle power dynamics compatible with polyamory?

What do you think of combining lifestyle power dynamics like dom/sub or master/slave with polyamory? I feel like they are mutually exclusive, almost polar opposites, but can't quite explain why.

They are not mutually exclusive or polar opposites. In fact, there is a huge overlap between people who practice both. This is partly philosophical: both involve a rejection of arbitrary social norms around sex and relationships, and the communities have such a large overlap that you are exposed to, and educated about, one wherever the other is. And it’s partly practical: kink encompasses lots of different things, and polyamory allows kinksters to explore more niche or specific kinks without putting pressure on a single partner’s boundaries. Plus belonging to a community that’s so open about sex makes it easier to make sexual or romantic connections within your social group.

It can be confusing, because I often talk about polyamory as a radical rejection of capitalistic norms whereby relationships are seen in terms of property ownership. Therefore, a relationship founded on terms like “slave ownership” would be mutually exclusive, right?

The thing about “lifestyle” power dynamics is that even for the most hardcore kinksters who “live the lifestyle 24/7,” it is, ultimately, a fantasy - the people involved remain people with whole, complex lives. So while literally owning another person as your chattel would be incompatible with polyamory, people who live a BDSM lifestyle are not literal, actual slaves and slaveowners. Those are convenient terms and symbols to reflect what they really want out of their relationship, but the actual reality of a “master/slave” relationship is not “slavery” in the economic, exploitative way that word is typically used.

For some people, polyamory is incompatible with their BDSM relationship - monogamy is a core aspect of the “ownership” dynamic. That’s a perfectly reasonable way to practice lifestyle BDSM! But for other people, polyamory is part of their BDSM practice. For some submissives, being “shared” (or lent, rented, etc.) at the whims of their partner is part of the thrill and contributes to the fantasy of being owned. For some Dominants, having multiple submissives is part of the fun, and those submissives often enjoy each other’s company as part of the fantasy, with elaborate sub-hierarchies, rivalries, and solidarities.

So it might seem incompatible to you because of a misunderstanding of how the power exchange really works within these types of relationships - there are tons of blogs out there where people document their lifestyle relationships and fantasies, so check those out if you want a more comprehensive look. Or, it just might feel incompatible to you because of how you experience your desires for ownership, in which case, it’s totally fine to be a monogamous kinkster!