Are Polycules Safe?

By: Louis Catania, Patient Navigator, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Did you know one in nine Americans has been in a polyamorous relationship? 😲

Having more than one lover might sound like it’s still pretty rare, but it’s actually way more common than you might think.

And that’s super important to keep in mind! Sometimes, it seems like society says that monogamy is the only option, or, at least, the only “normal” option. However, for many, being in polycules-- a connected network of non-monogamous relationships-- is an authentic and affirming way of life.

For so many people around the world, having multiple, fulfilling relationships works better than a single relationship. So, the big question is: If you’re in a polycule, are you being safe? And what does a polycule even look like, in real life?!

Let’s start with what sets a polycule apart

The difference between polyamory (poly = multiple) and monogamy (mono = one) is how many romantic and/or sexual partners you have. Polycules, on the other hand, describe the ways in which different relationships connect and merge.

A polycule might consist of a few people who have consensual sex with each other. This can look like a whole lot of things! Sometimes, this might be two partners that decide to add a third to their relationship. Then, maybe that third person brings along someone else, or another couple. Maybe, some of those partners with a degree or two of separation decide to have sex, or maybe some of the group ends up living together!

What we’re saying is that there are lots of ways a polycule can exist. The common theme? Their relationships—sexual and romantic-- connect them. 🧑‍🤝‍🧑🧑‍🤝‍🧑🧑‍🤝‍🧑🧑‍🤝‍🧑🧑‍🤝‍🧑

Ultimately, it’s about what you truly want:

  • If you’ve committed to only having one partner, but you’re always going to bed wondering if the grass is greener with other people, then maybe monogamy isn't fulfilling you.
  • The same is true for people in a polyamorous relationship — if jealousy is a big struggle for you, or you want the steadiness of a single partner, then it might be time to leave polyamory behind.

The biggest thing is that whatever you choose, if everyone consents, then it’s totally, completely, and 100% normal. 💗

But is it safe?

What we must talk about is whether it’s safe to have multiple sexual partners at once, and that’s where honesty and clear communication come in. ◀️

If you’re in a monogamous relationship and your partner cheats, then that’s a breach of trust. Rules were set: No cheating. 🛑 Those rules were broken, and now it’s up to both people in the relationship to figure out what’s next.

Different rules might apply to polycules, but they are no less important. That’s because safety is the most important thing when having multiple lovers. 🦺 Breaking these rules results in the same kind of discussions and consequences and could lead to polycules breaking up.

Some common guidelines for polycules are:

  • Think about you in the whole 💏: Polycules are made up of multiple people, but you are responsible for your own sexual health. Getting tested regularly is super important, but also informing your pod if you’ve come into contact with an STI is crucial. The last thing anyone wants is an STI to spread through the pod, and it can take several months to a year for a whole pod to clear a sexual infection.
  • Over communicate 🗣️: The reality is that people in polycules have multiple partners, so everyone needs to be on the same page. Before having sex, make sure you’ve talked about sexual histories. How active are they? When was the last time they were tested? It all starts with communicating.
  • Trust comes first 💯: Having sexual partners that you trust, and that trust you back, is huge. You want to be with someone who understands why a visual check is important, who understands how to differentiate between infected hair follicles and genital warts, and who respects boundaries set by the entire polycule. If you don’t trust your partners, then your polycule might not be the right fit for you.

Is there more to it?

Sure, there are many more aspects to polycules! How to handle birth control, staying educated on recent developments in sexual health, the list goes on and on.

But don’t stress! Each polycule is different, just like each monogamous relationship is different. You can decide for yourself what you feel safe in and set your own rules. Remember, everything works if there is room to be honest with your partners. Without honesty, the whole game can fall apart. Honesty prevents resentment from building, keeps things safe and fun, and means sex won’t be ruined by secrets. Basically, just speak your truth!

Will I face judgment for being in a polycule?

Monogamy may be the standard right now, but polycules are filled with people that have found their group and are happy being their true selves. 🫂 It comes down to your interests. Your friends might be into video games, cosplay, karaoke, or karate, and they aren’t judged for it. If no one is getting hurt, then judgment has no place in the equation. 🤷

Yes, there will likely be challenges to overcome for those in a polyamorous relationship. Because it isn’t as common, there might be judgment from people who don’t understand the basics. Still, try to be confident and proud, because, in all honesty, you deserve to be happy 🥹. Overcoming these challenges can be hard, but it is also a way for you to stand up for yourself, find out who you are, and achieve peace of your own. Everyone deserves that.

If you want to read more blogs like this, or for help on how to stay on top of your sexual health, why not download the Positive Peers app? It’s completely anonymous and a great way to stay up to date with any developments around sexual health.

Now go out there and be your true self! 😍