Polyamory Isn’t A Cure For Cheating (And In Some Ways Makes Cheating Easier)

“I can’t stop my men from cheating on me,” types the monogamous woman in her article, “But maybe if I enter polyamorous relationships, all the cheating will stop!”

She pauses at the keyboard, baffled.

Why is the bitter laughter of thousands of actually polyamorous people drifting through her window?

Well, first off: cheating happens all the time in polyamorous relationships. Polyamory doesn’t mean “You get to fuck whoever you want,” but rather “You negotiate a framework with your partners as to who, when, and how it’s acceptable to fuck.”

And it is entirely possible to break those rules. Did you promise to have safe sex and things got so hot you forgot to rock that sock? You done cheated. Did you promise to check in with your partner before things got hot and heavy, just so they’d know who you were entangled with? You done cheated. Did you conceal this hot cybersex you were having on the side? You done cheated.

“Wait,” you say, stunned. “Cybersex isn’t cheating!” Well, I’m afraid poly’s gonna swirl your world here, because sometimes nonsexual things become more important than sexual ones in poly relationships.

Look. When “We only have Teh Sexx0rs with each other” ceases to define who you are, often nonsexual things swell to fill those gaps. I personally met my wife in a Star Wars chat room. My first trip to visit her solo was to see Phantom Menace. We got matching Star Wars tattoos with our two daughters the day before Force Awakens came out.

If I went to go watch a new Star Wars movie with someone else for the first time, that would be a divorce.

And I’m not kidding. Not every polyamorous relationship has these nonsexual touchstones, but you may well find that a certain restaurant or seeing a certain band becomes something that defines who you are as a couple.

And if your partner doesn’t have the capacity to go, “No, I’ll wait a few days for my sweetie to come back from that business trip before I see Star Wars IX,” well, you’re not gonna do well.

And even if you don’t buy into the idea that nonsexual things can be cheating – some polycules don’t – polyamory not only offers more temptations, but more people to make agreements with.

Because polyamory is, theoretically, based in love. Which means you don’t want to hurt your partners – all your partners, not just the one. Which means if one partner wants you to tell them who you’re sexually involved with before anything happens and another partner is okay with oral but not PIV intercourse on a first date, you could potentially cheat on two people simultaneously.

Add to that the surfeit of temptations – in a monogamous relationship, a partner may rein their flirtatious impulses in because they know they’re supposed to be exclusively committed to you, even if they can’t consistently carry through. But in polyamory, where you can date anyone you want in the absence of more customized negotiations, you can smooch so many people that you temporarily forget about your original partner. In fact, there’s a term for this thrumming lovefest – New Relationship Energy, or NRE. And you just get so caught up because everything’s good that all your prior promises fall out your damn head.


If you’re dating men who can’t keep it in their pants when they’re dealing with just one, simple commitment – “Don’t” – do you think they’re gonna be better when you give them finer-grained permissions and a wider range of options to go astray?

No. Polyamory isn’t an answer to cheating, and in some cases it leads to more cheating. It’s not taking the reins off, it’s putting on different reins – because even if you’re into Relationship Anarchy, people have expectations they want met in the course of a relationship (even if those expectations are as slim as “Tell me if you’ve picked up an STI so I can take stronger precautions”), and the health of those bonds is forged by how responsible someone is in respecting those expectations.

Monogamy isn’t easy. But neither is polyamory.

It’s just a different set of choices.

Nonsexual Relationships Have Worth.

“So you’ve liked being friends with her and want to date her,” the comments sections seethe. “Go ahead and ask her out! What’s the worst that could happen?”

The answer to that, unfortunately, tells you a lot about someone’s values.

Because the answer to “What’s the worst that could happen?” is what does happen all too often when you interject “HALLO I WOULD LIKE THE BOINKINGS WITH YOU” into what’s been a pleasant, nonsexual relationship – the person you asked doesn’t find you attractive, and now wonders whether your pleasantries have been nothing but a way to get into their pants, and doesn’t know whether it’ll be okay to answer “no” without losing what they have. Sometimes, based on sad past experiences with people who’ve lied about “No, it’ll be fine if you say no,” they automatically back off even if you tell them you are.)

(Which is why, incidentally, I always suggest being open about your attractions – playing the so-called “Nice Guy” who keeps launching surprise crushes on people is pure toilet water. There’s nothing wrong with only wanting to interact with someone for the potential of sex, but there’s definitely something wrong with someone who pretends they want more when really, that’s all their so-called buddy can expect to get out of this.)


“What’s the worst that can happen?” is that a friendship you had gutters into awkwardness and fails because you wanted Le Hot Smooches and they didn’t.

And it’s the next question that tells you someone’s values:

“Isn’t that worth the risk, though?”

Which is actually another question, rotated slightly to sound more socially acceptable:

“Isn’t losing any non-sexual relationship okay, so long as you might get rewarded with sex?”

And my answer is: No. No, it damn well isn’t.

My nonsexual relationships, even with people who have sexual orientations compatible with mine, are fulfilling on their own merits. Yes, I like makeout sessions and slippery-wet fucking and claws across soft skin…

But I also like late-night conversations about movies, and having someone to talk to when I’m feeling down, and sending jokes to someone who I know will get them in the same way I do.

And this concept that all of these things can be jettisoned trivially so long as I might – might! – get to fuck them is a little shallow as far as I’m concerned. Some of the greatest things in my life have arrived from theoretically-compatible people I have never, would never, and *could* never have sex with. If I lost my relationship with those people, I would lose all these nonsexual happinesses they gift me.

And of course it’s a variable equation. Deciding to risk a close friendship of three years is different than rolling the dice on someone you’ve had three days’ worth of nice chats with. Sometimes, you’ll risk losing a budding friendship because you wanted more – and again, that’s okay.

But the people who ask “Isn’t it worth the risk, though?” generally don’t know about the specific relationship that’s being gambled, though – because it doesn’t matter. Any chance at le smoochins, no matter how faint, is worth any amount of nonsexual interaction. You’ll drop anything, anyone, who needs you if there’s some sex in it.

And I think that’s what you see in those assholes who forever pester women in the coffee shops with “Can I buy you a coffee?” (Which, for the record, is still one of the best essays I’ve ever written.) Yeah, they know these chicks have headphones on, or are doing homework, or are otherwise projecting glacial waves of indifference at them – but what’s important is not respecting someone’s projected social cues, but HEY I HAVE A SHOT HERE I GOTTA TAKE IT.


(Cue the inevitable whines of “But If I Can’t Buy You A Coffee, How Will Our Species Reproduce?” – which, fortunately, I’ve already written an essay about.)

Look. For the third and final time, there’s nothing wrong with wanting sex as your primary goal, whether you’re a man, woman, or nonbinary. And there’s nothing wrong with looking at the relationship you have and deciding that yes, the chance of evolving this into a sexual one is worth the cost of losing them.

But what is a little skewed is when you’ve quietly decided that every nonsexual pleasure you could have is automatically outweighed by the possibility of a sexual dalliance somewhere in your future.

“What’s the worst that could happen if you ask?” Well, I could muddle a nonsexual relationship.

Does that matter to you?

Because, ya know…. it should.