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Health & Sex

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The Truth About Open Marriage

Couples who practice ''polyamory'' say it's good for their relationships. Some therapists disagree.

The Back Story

When the O'Neills, trained as anthropologists, wrote their book, Open Marriage: A New Life Style for Couples, they weren't just talking about the freedom to explore sexual relationships outside the marriage, although that idea got the most attention.

They also suggested that marriage partners be free to have their own separate friendships and that they trade domestic chores, for instance -- novel ideas back then, at least to some.

Now, the term polyamory or "poly" is viewed as the hipper term, with numerous web sites offering chat rooms, bulletin boards, and personal ads. One even posts a glossary of poly terms, explaining that relationships can be triads (three people), vees (in which one person has two lovers who aren't involved with each other), quads (four), extended networks, and other arrangements.

What's the Appeal of Open Marriage?

Freedom of choice is a big draw, says Cherie, a 34-year-old technology consultant who is traveling around the country and telecommuting with her partner, Chris, also 34 and in the same business. Chris and Cherie asked that only their first names be used in this article.

Before the road trip, Cherie had three boyfriends at once. Right now, she and Chris are monogamous, she says, but they plan to pursue other relationships again.

"Over the years," she tells WebMD, "I have been involved with a very wide variety of relationships and configurations, from triads, vees, quads, and extended networks. At one time, I even co-purchased a house with three other partners."

Her partner, Chris, says that his heart is "wired" for multiple relationships. Those classic love triangle movies, he tells WebMD, were always frustrating to him. "Why should the hero or heroine have to choose between two partners?" he asks. "Why not have both?"

While variety in sex is a big part of multiple romances, polyamorists say it's not the whole story. And polyamory is definitely different from swinging, says Block. "Swinger lifestyles are very sex oriented," she says. For her, having multiple relationships not only helps her fulfill her sex drive, but other needs as well. Her female partner, she says, is also her best friend and gives her a lot of emotional support.

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