Evolution of the term Polyamory

The word polyamory has a rich background. People involved in multiple-partner relationships in the 1960s, 70s, and early 80s sought words to express their ideas, found Standard English lacking, and began to create their own words.While the term polyamory was certainly coined by a member of the polyamorous community, exactly which person created the term is a matter of contention. One version claims polyamory as an outgrowth of the term polyfidelity which Judson “Bro” Jud of the Kerista group had coined to mean “faithful to many.” Kerista, a polyamorous commune based in San Francisco that existed with a variety of members from 1971 to 1991, was an important element in founding the polyamorous community in the Bay Area and then nation wide. Jud, co-founder of Kerista with Even Eve, intended the term polyfidelity to mean “closed and committed family units of up to a dozen bonded lovers, sexually faithful (exclusive) with each other” (Nearing personal communication, 1998). Enacting this ideal for Keristans included creating an “equitable” sleeping schedule in which partners rotated nightly. Officially, Keristans were not to engage in same-sex lovemaking, though this rule was not always observed in practice.

Janet, a woman who lived at Kerista for a number of years, credits Geo Barnes of Kerista with coining the term polyfidelity during a group discussion. “They were looking for something positive to say rather than use the frequently used ‘non-monogamous’ term.” Janet remembers that the initial term polyfidelitybranched to the more inclusive polyamorywhenMorning Glory Ravenheart, the “senior wife” of the foundational Ravenheart clan:

…came up with the term in the early nineties…in reaction to the fact that Kerista coined polyfidelity and it included sexual fidelity to your group – many who were interested in being poly did not want fidelity as part of the form, so they used polyfidelity to describe themselves even if they weren’t. This created discord in the community and infighting about what is fidelity, etc. So Morning Glory was part of the group searching for another umbrella term that would include those who wanted to be poly and love their partners, but could include those with or without any agreement to fidelity within a closed circle of lovers.

The Ravenheart website cites the first appearance of the term polyamory in Morning Glory’s foundational “A Bouquet of Lovers” (also referred to as “Rules of the Road”) which appeared in an article in Green Egg, a Ravenheart Church of All Worlds publication. Morning Glory was searching for “a simple term to express the idea of having multiple simultaneous sexual/loving relationships without necessarily marrying everyone” and coined the term polyamory to be both an expression of the lifestyle and a more positive way to express what practitioners had previously labeled responsible non-monogamy, a term that had contentiously evolved into polyfidelity. The Ravenheart clan also contributed the term “monamory” or “love of one” to the polyamorous lexicon to provide an alternative to the cultural conception that monogamy fit all occasions, when in current usage it customarily refers to steady dating rather than simply marriage to one other person.



Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, PhD, CASA, CSE

One of a handful of global experts on polyamory and the foremost international expert on children in polyamorous families, Dr. Elisabeth Sheff has studied gender and
families of sexual minorities for the last 16 years. Sheff’s television appearances include CNN, and the National Geographic, and she has given more than 20 radio, podcast, print, and television interviews with sources from Radio Slovenia to National Public Radio, the Sunday London Times to the Boston Globe and Newsweek. By emphasizing research methodology and findings in her discussions, Dr. Sheff presents the kind of public intellectualism that encourages audience members to think critically regarding gender, sexualities, and families.

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  1. On May 26, 2021 Oberon Zell approved an updated definition of polyamory. The new definition stays true to the original principles of polyamory while representing an evolution of the term within the polyamory community. It replaces the term “consent” with “ethical”, adopts “romantic” instead of “sexual-loving”, and retains the core principle of interrelatedness.

    1. Interesting, thanks for the update!

  2. J Randall Murphy says:

    You’re most certainly welcome. You appear to be one of the real thinkers in the poly community. When I try to get people in the community to think critically, I’m often shut down before I can begin. It’s so nice to run across someone who is not only interested in this subject, but has similar values when it comes to making sense of the issues.

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