20 Polyamory Terms & Definitions Everyone Should Know

Is monogamy dead? Not quite. But ethical non-monogamy has grown in recent years as stigma fades and we learn more about polyamory terms, practices, and unconventional ways of loving and living.

The term polyamory comes from the Greek poly, meaning many, and amor, Latin for love.

As the name suggests, polyamory is a relationship style that involves having multiple romantic or sexual relationships with various partners at one time, with the full consent and knowledge of everyone involved.

Queer couple with rainbow light across faces

Monogamy is not the only way to have a healthy, happy, and long-lasting relationship. Although polyamory is more popular than ever, many people are unaware of the principles and reality of alternative relationship styles.

Learning the different poly terms and definitions is a great place to start deepening your understanding of how ethical non-monogamy works, whether it’s for you, and, if it is, how to start speaking the lingo.

This is not a final or universal dictionary of polyamory terms and definitions, rather, an introduction to useful-to-know vocabulary.

Many of these poly terms are open to interpretation and allow individuals to decide what concepts mean to them. ENM and polyamory are about people figuring out ways to live and love openly and authentically.

Ready to learn? Here is a comprehensive introduction to polyamory terms and definitions.

Polyamorous group spending time in bed together

ENM Dictionary: Polyamory Terms Every Beginner Should Know

ENM (Ethical Non-Monogamy)

Also known as consensual non-monogamy, ENM is a broad umbrella term used to describe the practice of having multiple romantic, sexual, and/or intimate partners at once, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.

Polyamory is a specific kind of ENM that generally refers to romantic/loving as opposed to purely sexual relationships.


Monogamy is an exclusive intimate relationship between two individual partners.

Having one partner at a time is the traditionally accepted relationship style in our culture.

Open Relationship

Open relationships are another umbrella term for any kind of relationship that allows its participants to seek and engage in other relationships simultaneously, whether romantic, sexual, or other.

Close up four friends embracing

The opposite of an open relationship is a closed relationship, in which the members agree to only have sexual/romantic relations with each other.


Swinging, sometimes referred to as The Lifestyle, is a practice that falls under the ethical nonmonogamy umbrella and is a form of open relationship.

The general definition of swingers refers to couples, or sometimes singles, who engage in occasional and recreational consensual sex with other couples.


Hierarchy in polyamory refers to an agreed-upon system of ranked partners in which one partner takes priority over another or multiple others.

This can be understood as having casual flings vs serious or long-term partners.

Primary partner/relationship

Poly people may refer to the relationship or partner that is prioritized in a hierarchical poly relationship dynamics as their primary.

Queer couple kissing and waving LGBTQ flag

Some people have multiple primary partners, while others have one primary partner they consider more important than their other sexual and/or romantic relationships.

If these dynamics work for you and everyone involved, having a secondary relationship/partner is possible.

Nesting or anchor partner

For a poly person, a nesting or anchor partner is the one they share a home and the corresponding responsibilities, like finances and domestic chores with.


A triad is a polyamorous relationship involving three people who are all romantically involved with each other.

You can picture it like this: a triad contains three dyads (a relationship between two people) - A and B; A and C; and B and C.


A quad is like a triad relationship but involves four consenting partners, each romantically with each other separately and together, instead of three.

Solo polyamory

This is a form of polyamory in which an individual priorities themselves over their relationships.

Woman posing in lingerie from behind

They might date or engage in multiple meaningful or casual relationships, but they typically won’t live with partners and maintain a generally single lifestyle.

Relationship anarchy

Relationship anarchy is a lesser-known and radical style of polyamory that is deliberately without fixed rules, hierarchies, or labels.

For relationship anarchists, there is no differentiation between romantic, sexual, and platonic relationships, which goes against the traditional way our society values romantic relationships above all others.


Polycule is an umbrella polyamory term for a network of interconnected polyamorous partners. Imagine a clique or web of people who are all sexually or romantically involved to various extents.


If you were polyamorous and your partner had another partner, this person is your metamour, and you’re theirs.

There is not generally a romantic relationship between metamours, but they share a paramour (partner).

Polyamorous group watching laptop in bed

Comet polyamory

Comet polyamory refers to a long-distance, open relationship between partners who occasionally meet in person when they can to continue their connection but feel no pressure to be constantly in touch or committed in between those times.


In a dictionary of different poly terms and definitions, a unicorn is typically a bi or pansexual woman who consents to have an intimate or sexual relationship with both members of a (usually cis-gendered heterosexual) couple.

Unicorn hunters is the label given to a couple looking for a ‘third.’ There are problematic elements of this term and its general usage.

NRE (New Relationship Energy)

New relationship energy is the thrilling, exciting, almost giddy energy between couples in a brand-new or early-stage relationship.

Everything is new. You’re blind to negative traits, lovey-dovey hormones are being released, and, if you’re polyamorous, this relationship might accidentally temporarily take priority.


Sometimes referred to as the opposite of jealousy, compersion means experiencing happiness at the joy your partner feels from another romantic or sexual relationship.

Portrait of couple kissing in blue light

(KTP) Kitchen table polyamory

Kitchen table polyamory is a style of polyamorous relationship in which all partners/lovers are on such good terms they could, in theory, sit down at a kitchen table and share a meal together.

In other words, KTP is a poly relationship style that prioritizes interconnections between the various members. Close and open relations between metamours are encouraged.

Don’t ask, Don’t tell

Don’t ask, Don’t tell is a form of open relationship in which partners are allowed to have other sexual/romantic relationships but agree not to disclose (AKA, neither ask nor tell) details of these to each other.

There is skepticism about the attainability and health of this dynamic.

Veto power

In a poly relationship, veto power is a right that can be given to an existing partner to ‘call off’ an additional relationship their partner is in.

This is generally agreed upon between primary partners who don’t want to jeopardize their relationship for the sake of other, newer ones.

Woman embracing man from behind making heart hands

Why Are Polyamory Terms and Definitions Important to Learn? Communication and Consent

Language is crucial in intimate relationships. Everyone involved should know exactly what they’re consenting to and be able to communicate desires and boundaries in a vocabulary shared by everyone.

While polyamory terms and definitions are beneficial to learn, don’t get bogged down about memorizing each one.

Even if you decide polyamory is for you, no one expects you to know everything. Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand something; see this as a learning journey just starting.