FAQ: Is Polyamory A Choice Or An Identity?

I believe that for some people, polyamory can be a choice: that through self-work, introspection, and education, they can become someone who is happy and fulfilled in a polyamorous relationship. But this is not who they are, it is something they do. I believe that for other people, polyamory is an identity: an innate part of who they are and how they experience themselves. 

How you experience your polyamory has a lot to do with who you are, how you were introduced to polyamory, how much self-work it took you to be okay with polyamory, your experiences with polyamory and monogamy, and how your polyamorous relationships (or lack thereof) impacts your life. 

Even though polyamory can be an identity, it is not a sexual orientation, because it is not about who you are sexually attracted to. Many people refer to it as a relationship orientation. Or just an orientation.

The main Poly Advice post about this is here: Is polyamory an orientation?

And I have been asked about & discussed this issue in other posts:

I think the important part here is to not let this become an issue that divides our community. Some people experience polyamory as a deeply felt part of who they are. These people identify as polyamorous even when they’re single, and their polyamory may influence their spirituality, their non-romantic relationships, etc. And it’s important to respect those people, to honor their identities and not attack them.

Some people experience polyamory as a choice, a behavior they engage in sometimes but isn’t a core part of what makes them them. That’s okay too, and it’s important to respect those people, to honor their choices and not attack them. If the community can’t make room for both types of experience, if we can’t co-exist with people whose conception of what it means to them to be poly, then everyone will lose out.

Other posts out there on this topic:
By linking these, I am not claiming that everything in these posts is accurate, or that I agree with them. This is just more reading on the topic from other writers and thinkers!

I’m currently having a huge argument with the few people im out to. Is polyamory a choice or sexuality? They all say its a choice as you can choose to be mono (?), however for me I couldn’t happy long term with one person, so its a sexuality?

Are you born poly? Or is it a relationship choice?

I get this question often, and it sort of breaks my heart that this is a point of contention in the community. We have to have each other’s backs, friends. Is this the hill any of us want to die on?

Anyway, my answer to this question is here, and you can find more of my thoughts on this under the orientation tag.

I’m a pansexual woman and I’ve recently been questioning if I’m poly. My big problem is that I can also see myself being comfortably monogamous. I often hear of poly being an all-or-nothing sort of thing where if you’re poly you know because you can’t be happy in a monogamous relationship, but I don’t feel like that applies to me. I know I’d be uncomfortable being in a open relationship (where we have other partners separately) but a triad is something I can see being extremely fulfilling for me.

Poly is not “all or nothing” - nothing about human identity is all-or-nothing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! I get a lot of questions on this blog about people who saw something written online in very concrete terms and are nervous because it doesn’t apply to them. But no one on the internet or anywhere else is the True Arbiter Of Human Identity.

Someone else out there might believe that if you’re poly, you can only picture yourself being happy in a poly arrangement and monogamy will make you miserable. You don’t have to agree with them. (I don’t.) It’s okay if your experiences don’t match someone else’s descriptions or claims, no matter how strongly they’re worded. Just like everything else, poly identity and experiences exist along a spectrum.

I loved being an English major but think I could also have been happy and fulfilled studying theology. Many people who are sexually attracted to one gender could also enjoy being with another. And - just like all other identities - the way you know you’re poly is complex and nuanced and involves a lot more than a simple inability to be happy otherwise.

It’s up to you to find the identity that works for you, and you don’t need anyone else’s permission. You may choose to identify as polyflexible, bipoly, mono/poly, polyfidelitous - or you may not like any of these words at all. It’s up to you! And to all my followers - if you ever come across something that denies or delegitimizes your own experiences, you’re allowed to disagree with it, no matter how sure the person is of their opinion.

I thought poly was just a relationship style/ behavior. But a lot of poly people seem to refer to it like an orientation? So does *ability* to love multiple people = poly, even if you’re not in a relationship?

For some people, it’s a relationship style/behavior, a choice to be made. Others experience it as an orientation, something they are rather than something they do.

Sometimes, people who experience one or the other generalize and insist that polyamory is absolutely only a behavior or absolutely only an orientation. This can cause disagreements and frustration, because this is both a very personal and very political issue.

I experience polyamory as an orientation, a way of being. So if I was not in a relationship, or only dating one person because I hadn’t found other partners, I’d still consider myself poly. But what’s true for me doesn’t need to be true for you - as long as we make space for each other, there are lots of ways to “be” or “do” poly. 

Re: Is it an orientation or a preference: It matters because of rights. ie; if Polyamory is an orientation it could legally be required to allow poly marriages. If it’s a preference there’s no such protection.

From my original post:

We’ve spent so much time digging our heels into the idea that an “identity” is more valid if it’s not a “choice” - that if something is genetic, or chemical, or whatever, it’s somehow more real or less subject to judgment.

People often insist that discrimination against a certain identity is not okay because it’s not a choice, or is okay because it is a choice. Our pride anthems sing “born this way.” But where does all that come from? I think it’s worth investigating this strange value system we’ve set up.

So I already addressed that idea, for one. It’s true that we have this value system in America that something should be legally protected if it’s a “born this way” orientation, but we don’t think “preferences” qualify for certain rights. My question is: why?

Maybe if we spent some of the energy that’s currently going to bickering about whether polyamory is a way of being vs way of doing, and instead questioned the value system that has us convinced that this is a super important issue, we could change the discourse around how the government polices relationships and how we understand a diversity of identities, rather than fracturing an already small and misunderstood community. 

Also, it’s not exactly true, in America at least, that “preferences” aren’t legally protected. American voters and politicians, especially those on the right wing who argue the loudest that being gay is a “choice” and shouldn’t be legally protected, are pretty quick to defend their right to buy the size of soda they prefer, educate their kids in the way they prefer, own the weapons they prefer, have the doctor (or lack thereof) that they prefer. Owning guns, homeschooling your kids, buying big sodas, and wanting to not have Obamacare are not orientations - they’re preferences - and yet plenty of Americans want to classify them as “rights.”

So while you’re not exactly wrong, you’re not exactly right, either. The point I’m making is that yes, we live in a world that says we have to claim an “orientation” in order to argue that we should be able to visit our loved ones in the hospital, share child custody rights, etc. - and I think that’s kind of screwed up. And I’m more interested in looking at how this weird value system tricks us into turning on people who could be our allies than arguing about whether my experience of polyamory as an orientation is more valid than someone else’s experience of polyamory as a preference.

This might be a question you get often but is polyamory an orientation?

I do get this question often, and I have to wonder why. Why does it matter so much to people? We’ve spent so much time digging our heels into the idea that an “identity” is more valid if it’s not a “choice” - that if something is genetic, or chemical, or whatever, it’s somehow more real or less subject to judgment. 

People often insist that discrimination against a certain identity is not okay because it’s not a choice, or is okay because it is a choice. Our pride anthems sing “born this way.” But where does all that come from? I think it’s worth investigating this strange value system we’ve set up. If being in the world and doing things a certain way is the healthiest, happiest, most fulfilling choice for another person, and they aren’t hurting anyone else, why does it matter how we define it?

Is polyamory an orientation? Why do we care? Why are we so caught up in whether the way we love other people is a way of being or a way of doing? Why do I get this question so often, and why are we all so invested in the answer?

If you experience your polyamory as an innate part of your self, as something you are rather than something you do, great. It’s part of your orientation. We can split semantic hairs and say it’s a “relationship orientation” as opposed to a “sexual orientation.” Some people don’t experience it that way, and that’s fine too.

What’s not fine is if we start fighting about it and make it some big political or identity-political issue within the poly community. Because you know what? The rest of the world doesn’t care nearly as much about the nuances of our definitions. They’re prepared to deny us health insurance, child custody, media representation, hospital visitation, and plenty else regardless of whether we sort this out amongst ourselves. If we start turning on each other, there’s no one to have our backs. 

Please help me. Is polyamory similar to an orientation? what is it exactly? is wanting to be in a polyamorous relationship something you choose or just happens. I’m sorry if this doesn’t make sense. I’m just really confused about myself right now.

This is actually a very controversial topic within the polyamorous community! I fall pretty firmly on the side of thinking that it’s an orientation - that some people are just happier, healthier, and better fulfilled in monogamous relationships, and some in polyamorous relationships, and some can go either way. I do think that for many people, any innate polyamorous-ness goes unrecognized and unfulfilled by social messages.

But many people disagree with me, some vehemently (Dan Savage is a notable voice in this regard). Many believe that it’s a choice or a behavior, a way of doing things rather than a way of being. And people on both sides feel very strongly about this and associate their position on it with serious political and identity issues. So it’s okay to feel confused, and it’s okay to read dissenting voices and figure out which interpretation best fits your experiences.