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No single definition of polyamory can entirely satisfy every person who thinks of themselves as polyamorous. The poly community tends to be very diverse, and the amount of variation in the term reflects this diversity.
The Great Polyamory Definition Debate Edit
There are two primary camps in the Great Polyamory Definition Debate:
- Those who interpret polyamory literally: "loving many".
- Those who want to add a crucial component: "loving many ethically".
The former camp would argue that cheating and infidelity are kinds of polyamory, while the latter camp would argue they are not.
Some "Official" Definitions Edit
Morning Glory Zell-RavenheartEdit
(Taken from Wikipedia) In 1999, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart was asked by the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary to provide a definition of the term. (The term has not been recognized by the Dictionary.) Her definition was:
The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.
This term was meant to be inclusive, and in that context, we have never intended to particularly exclude "swinging" per se, if practitioners thereof wished to adopt the term and include themselves. As far as we have understood, swinging specifically does not involve "cheating," and it certainly does involve having "multiple lovers"! Moreover, we understand from speaking with a few swinging activists that many swingers are closely bonded with their various lovers, as best friends and regular partners.
The two essential ingredients of the concept of "polyamory" are "more than one" and "loving." That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other's lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, "cheating," serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as "mate-swapping" parties.
The entry for Polyamory in Wikipedia starts with:
Polyamory is the practice of having more than one loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved. The relationships are long-term, intimate, and usually (but not necessarily) sexual. Persons who consider themselves emotionally suited to such relationships may define themselves as polyamorous, often abbreviated to poly.
The wikipedia entry continues with an excellent, detailed discussion of polyamory, and is well worth reading.
Polymatchmaker is a free online personals website for polyamorous individuals, and has a variety of external links and a glossary of polyamorous terms. The definition of polyamory provided by the glossary is:
The non-possessive, honest, responsible ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously. Based on the conscious choice of how many partners one wishes to be involved with, rather than accepting social norms that dictate monogamy as the only acceptable form of love.
alt.polyamory is a USENET newsgroup dedicated to polyamory. The related website  provides access to the newsgroup as well as various other poly resources, including a FAQ. The definition of polyamory provided by the FAQ is:
Polyamory means "loving more than one". This love may be sexual, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof, according to the desires and agreements of the individuals involved, but you needn't wear yourself out trying to figure out ways to fit fondness for apple pie, or filial piety, or a passion for the Saint Paul Saints baseball club into it. "Polyamorous" is also used as a descriptive term by people who are open to more than one relationship even if they are not currently involved in more than one. (Heck, some are involved in less than one.) Some people think the definition is a bit loose, but it's got to be fairly roomy to fit the wide range of poly arrangements out there.
This site provides "Resources for Poly's & those who love them", and its definition of polyamory is:
Polyamory is a relationship style that involves an openness to be being involved with more than one person at the same time. Polyamory is about responsible non-monogamy. Polyamory is not about cheating, or dishonesty. Polyamory pre-supposes that all people involved consent to this arrangement, and are honest about what is going on.
Polyamory is NOT swinging
There is a major distinction to be made between what is called "Swinging" and Polyamory. In swinging, the intent is to engage in non-monogamous sexual behavior without the development of love, affection or personal intimacy between oneself and the secondary partners. Swingers generally seek to engage in recreational sex without emotional intimacy. With polyamory, there is no such restriction, and the intent IS to allow such emotional intimacy to exist, develop, and grow between the people involved.
Personal Definitions Edit
One way to capture the variation in semantics associated with a term is to enumerate as many different definitions as possible, in the hopes that an overall semantics can be extracted from the individual definitions. To this end, interested individuals can provide their own personal working definition (it is recommended that this definition be placed in the PolyDefn subpage of their personal User Page so that people can find personal definitions without needing a link). You can add a link to your personal definition here as well.