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What is the Difference Between a Polygamous and a Polyamorous Relationship?

Robyn Exton

Jan 12, 2022

What is the Difference Between a Polygamous and a Polyamorous Relationship?

You may have heard the terms Polygamy or Polyamory used fairly frequently in modern culture. Popularized by shows like Sister Wives plural relationships have been brought into the spotlight as something new, unique and for some people strange. There’s lots of debate on these relationships and a wide range of opinions. It’s important to understand these opinions to have a better understanding of others and have higher acceptance for consensual plural relationships.

To start on the journey of understanding these relationships, it’s important to know that although Polygamy and Polyamory sound similar, there are some key differences. Polyamory is technically defined as having ‘multiple loves’, while Polygamy is defined as having ‘multiple spouses’. The relationships share similarities but they have different backgrounds.

So, what do these types of relationships entail?

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The Quick Answer

Polygamy is defined as having a form of consensual non-monogamy with emotionally intimate relationships among other people that can also be sexual or romantic partners. The most common form of Polygamy is Polygyny which is when one man marries multiple women. This type of relationship is commonly seen on television shows such as Sister Wives and Seeking Sister Wife.

Polyamory is similar in that it’s also describing a partnership between multiple people, however, it’s not necessarily defined by religion, marriage, or the gender of each partner.

A Brief History

Polygamy has been around since the early days of marriage. Many religions including Christianity and Judaism discuss religious figures such as Abraham, Solomon, and David having a multitude of wives. Historically, men who were well off would have relations with women who lived in many different parts of the world. They would have money to visit different places, thus giving them access to many different women. This relationship style was thought to be the norm until about 10,000 years ago, with many men having children with different wives.

Polyamory was coined in 1990 by Morning Glory Ravenheart. There have been many waves of popularity for the relationship preference, with some saying it’s in its third wave right now. In the first wave, activist groups such as feminists, utopians, and anarchists advocated for consensual non-monogamy as a challenge for social issues. Some of the social issues they wanted to challenge were men’s ownership of women, capitalism, and oppression. 

The second wave was during the “free love” era of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. They were going alongside other free groups such as swingers, hippies, and disco dancers. The third wave is the current wave, which has been defined by openness on social media and the internet. More people in Polyamorous relationships can use their platform to show their experiences and educate others about different types of relationships. 

Both of these relationship types stem from different places and tend to encompass different groups, so it’s important to be able to identify some of the differences.

Source: Global News

What Are The Major Differences?


The two types of relationships may still sound relatively similar, but they couldn’t be more different. For starters, there are major gender differences in the composition of these relationships. Polygamous relationships tend to be exclusively heterosexual relationships, usually with one person who has multiple spouses of another gender. It typically tends to be Polygyny, which is a man marrying multiple women. Historically, it would be very rich men marrying multiple partners. Rarely it may be Polyandry, where a woman may marry multiple men.

In Polyamorous relationships, a person of any gender can have multiple partners of any gender. These relationships may not have as much emphasis on marriage and are not always heteronormative.


Polyamory tends to only be loosely associated with religion, if at all. Most people in Polyamorous identify with having no religious affiliations. Of those who have a religious affiliation, the most common groups are Pagans, Universalists, Buddist, Jewish, and Bahai.

Polygamous relationships, particularly Polygyny, tend to be part of religious structures that emphasizes an “elite” man’s access to multiple wives. In the United States, this type of religious pairing is common amongst Muslims, particularly African Americans, immigrants from Muslim cultures, and few white converts. It’s also common among Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints or Mormons, which are almost exclusively white. Some branches of Christianity also allow men to take on multiple wives.

Source: Adweek

Is it Legal?

All fifty states and territories currently have laws against legally marrying multiple people. While it’s not prosecuted at the federal level, it’s considered “against public policy” to obtain more than one marriage license. In some jurisdictions, a person can be convicted of a felony for this offense.

In many Polygamous relationships, couples will aim to circumvent the laws by having one “primary” partner that they will legally marry and having “spiritual” partnerships with the other partners.

In the case of Polyamory, it is technically legal to have multiple partners as long as you don’t intend to marry more than one legally.

Am I Polygamous or Polyamorous?

Trying to identify whether you are Polygamous or Polyamorous can be a bit confusing, but there are some major signs you can use. Like many things concerning relationships and sexuality, the answer may not be black and white, or you may even have traits of both. Ultimately how you identify is up to you.

However, if you find that your relationship is with multiple different-sex partners, for a religious purpose, you may be in a Polygamous relationship. Also if you find that you are a heterosexual male in these situations, your situation may point to Polyamory.

If you find that you want multiple partners of any gender and don’t have many religious reasons for this type of relationship, you may be in a polyamorous relationship. Many queer people may find themselves identifying with this label.

Looking for a Polyamorous Relationship? Find Love with HER

HER provides a very diverse community of people who may be interested in a Polyamorous relationship. Meet an open-minded community of amazing individuals through events, communities, and more!

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Robyn Exton

Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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