Ask Dr. Bukky” is ELIXHER’s advice column that offers guidance to queer women of color on relationships and mental health wellness. Got a question you want Dr. Bukky to tackle in the column? Email her at drbukkyk@gmail.com.

Check out this excerpt from ELIXHER Magazine‘s Summer Issue. Purchase the digital magazine here to read the full article.

Dear Dr. Bukky,
Is a poly relationship for me?

Dear Poly-curious,

Your curiosity about polyamorous (poly) relationships is one that many share. Truth be told, you are the best person to decide whether a poly relationship is for you. Given that, I’d rather share some basic gems about polyamory that, at best, may inspire you to find out more information, so you can begin an internal dialogue and assess how fitting it is for you.

There are a variety of ways that people define polyamory; at its essence, polyamory is experiencing the freedom to love more than one person at a time in an ethical context that prioritizes the values of integrity, honesty, freedom to let love (rather than social norms) dictate relationship form, and informed consent by all persons involved. Polyamory is typically misunderstood as focused on the number of sexual partners involved rather than on the values of love, transparency, and integrity, all of which lie at its heart and center. To put it clearly and bluntly, it is not polyamory if it occurs in the context of denial, deception, or coercion.

So, to answer the commonly posed question of whether a person who is having an affair is practicing polyamory:  Definitely not!  Affairs occur in a context of secrecy that suspends ethical values of transparency and honesty. From my perspective, a person who is having an affair may be discovering or recognizing her value for non-monogamy; however, only when she is able to be forthright about that value with her partner(s) can she accurately claim that she is polyamorous or practicing polyamory. Until then, she is simply practicing infidelity. The important distinction here is about the presence of the ethical values of honesty and transparency with self and partners. Being poly does not provide a special license to lie or hide, and doing so in the name of “being poly” is not an accurate interpretation of the term or helpful.

There are misconceptions that polyamory is a way for people who have abandonment or attachment issues to avoid making commitments and to have as many sexual partners as possible. This is not a fair characterization or generalization of individuals within the poly community. Additionally, it is contrary to the findings of research that show that individuals in poly relationships are not significantly different from their monogamous counterparts in their psychological characteristics or the quality of their intimate relationships. Are there people who use polyamory as a way of coping with their fears of abandonment and attachment-related issues?  Sure. However this is not any less true for those who identify as monogamous or practice monogamy. The one generalization that can be made about individuals that identify as poly or practice polyamory is their willingness to challenge social norms of monogamy, whether actively or passively.

Purchase the summer issue of ELIXHER Magazine to continue reading.

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