Being Poly (But Not Really)

What’s your label?


My take is that labels don’t really matter, aside from helping explain the pigeonhole you most closely identify with to those around you, which may then affect conversations about aspects of life such as sex and relationships. So, in a self-contradictory move which may set the tone for this whole piece, I guess they do matter at least a little bit. Rather, they’re useful. Labels aren’t ever going to be the perfect way to categorise a world full of completely unique people*. Despite the issues, an ever expanding list of labels is what we have. In my opinion, identifying with a label – even if it doesn’t perfectly describe your every individual nuance – is much more useful when attempting to explain the you that you are than simply saying “I’m a me.”

Details can be thrashed out, gaps filled in (as it were). That’s why the title of this piece may at first glance seem confusing and contradictory, but when you get to know me, makes perfect sense. Hopefully.

I am not monogamous. I have other lovers than the main person I am in a relationship with. Having sex with multiple people while in a relationship, or multiple relationships where sex and/or intimacy is present, with everyone’s consent and knowledge, is what I’d describe as poly. Polyamorous, that is – not polygamous. I am not in the habit of marrying even one person, never mind several – or being one of several wives either. Without passing judgement, it’s just not my scene.


The other people I have sexual intimacy with are women. That is, they identify as female, whether cis** or simply through self-identification. I haven’t had sex with a transperson or non-cis female yet but I’m certainly not ruling it out. I do not want to have sex with another man (other than my partner) or someone who identifies as male. I feel, despite identifying most closely with the polyamorous label rather than monogamous (or mono-amorous, I guess), that I am mono with the male gender. I want only one male sexual and/or life partner.

I’m too long in the tooth to say that this is fixed and could never possibly change in the future, although it’s difficult to imagine being any different to how I identify right now. Having moved through my past relationships finding out more about myself every step of the way, through realising I am bisexual not straight, that this cultivated a desire for lesbian sex as well as sex or a relationship with a man (which is of course not required but simply the way it turned out), to having a relationship with a man and a woman at the same time, to where I am now. Being content with my male partner (cis male, but it wouldn’t have mattered if he wasn’t, it would have made conceiving our son more difficult and a lengthier process perhaps) I no longer desire a female relationship to strive for some ‘balance’ I thought I needed in the past. People aren’t static creatures, in my opinion, and my sexuality is fluid and adaptive. Depending on circumstances, experiences, emotional excitement or trauma we can realise previously uncovered aspects of ourselves which affect our sex and relationship choices. It took leaving a strict, fundamentalist Christian religion for me to ‘permit’ myself to discover that I was bisexual, not straight, for example. In a past hetero relationship I was desperate for a female partner – not just for the different flavour of sexual release that girl sex brings but also, I now realise, as an escape from the hardships of that particular hetero coupling. A consequential relationship with a woman has put me off the idea of being intricately emotionally involved with a woman again for the time being. Maybe this will change in time but like I say, I can only identify how I feel at this time.

Is this poly? Being with a man and having sex with women – consensually and with everyone’s permission and knowledge of course – on the side? Women I get involved with sexually are fully aware of the situation and I am careful to communicate that I am not looking for an emotional relationship. If my feelings change, this gets communicated openly and honestly and, with their desires a priority, things progress from there. Likewise I encourage women to communicate openly and honestly with me if they’re unhappy with anything or if their feelings or needs change at any time. One thing that my previous several years’ stint in a poly relationship taught me is that open and honest communication is always necessary. It is necessary in mono relationships too, but with the addition of more sex, relationship or life partners, situations can so easily get muddled if someone holds back about their true feelings or actions.

not-easy-just-generousI don’t believe that how I identify or choose to live is ‘swinging’. Although my male partner is bisexual, also with ‘permission’ to acquire male sex partners if he chooses (with the full knowledge of all of us involved and with safe sex – as I have with my female partners), we don’t engage in couples’ sex with other couples. We don’t partner swap with other people or couples. We don’t believe it’s wrong; it’s just not our desire. The sex that does happen is very much an individual need thing, and each situation or potential sex partner is discussed and agreed upon before anything actually happens. I don’t take female lovers in order to fulfil any desire of his, and he is not present when I have sex with them. Any cuckoldry of submissives is an almost accidental factor, where they are not present but at least in another room while the sex is taking place – again, with the full knowledge of all involved.

Some may say that I am in fact mono, because I only want one partner, my male partner, and simply have sex with women to fulfil my bisexual side and that this isn’t poly at all. Am I a slut? Am I greedy? Oh, probably. Who isn’t, though.

The label I most closely identify with is poly, which is a shorthand way of describing myself when it comes to relationships, sex and intimacy whenever anyone asks. Depending on how much time we have, and how many follow-up questions there are, I go into the more in-depth explanation above.  No matter how you feel about labels, and the fact that not one of them exactly fits the you that you are, there’s no doubt in my mind that they can be useful.

– Cara



*Just imagine how Jaffa Cakes feel in the middle of the biscuits aisle.

** A ‘cis’ person is someone who identifies as the same gender as their genitals and other physical attributes denote.


  1. Nice article – thanks for sharing (god that sounds so American and awful, sorry). I am encouraged by your openness, let’s say!

    Maybe one day I’ll write my own poly article 😉

    • Hehe. Thanks Janine! And thanks for taking the time to comment. I will look forward to your article in the future, hopefully. 🙂
      Cara xx

  2. I loved this. I have a similar sort of feeling about labels – they’re really useful, but they aren’t the final word. I’m in a primary relationship with a man, but I enjoy sex with women, so I call myself bi, even though I don’t particularly “feel” bi, I just feel like I’m attracted to whoever I’m attracted to. Similarly, I’m in an open / non-monogamous marriage, but outside of using the words “poly” or “non-monogamous” to help explain my relationship status, I don’t tend to identify one way or the other. For me, labels and identity are different. This is just how life and relationships are happiest for me. Wonderful post and really well put all around. 🙂

    • Thank you Malin, really appreciate you reading the post and taking the time to comment.
      Yes, it’s so easy to dismiss labels as we all *are* unique, but of course trying to quickly communicate what is closest to the way we are requires labelling of some kind, at some point. In my opinion they are tags to enable others to best understand where we’re coming from – or where we’re really *not*.
      Unlike yourself I definitely feel bi, not pansexual, but I understand how you identify and how it differs. I am totally addicted to boobs. (strikes up music)
      Thanks again!
      – Cara xx

  3. I use the label “open relationship” because in my community, people use “poly” to denote loving multiple people romantically. But I’m hearing it used more as you describe.

    I am not looking for another primary relationship, but I’m not much into NSA sex, either. I want to be friends with my sex partners. For some, I guess that would put me somewhere in-between “open relationship” and poly.

  4. I love this post. I think labels are definitely useful, and the only time problems arise from them is when people forget that a label is just a general categorization of an aspect of a person, and doesn’t fully define any one person.

    In my view, your relationship/sex life fits into the poly category. I think it would be very heteronormative and dismissive to call your relationship monogamous simply because you have sex with other women but not other men. Some people also use the term “non-monogamous” to encompass everything that isn’t just two people who only have sex and romantic involvement with each other.

    Anyway, rock on with your fabulous, honest, poly open relationship! 😉

  5. Just found this article – I can identify with a lot of this! It’s great to know there are other people who have a similar situation. I don’t tend to use labels and I change my mind like the wind changes, but I guess I fall into the poly category most of the time.

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