This is how to support a loved one who says they’re polyamorous like Willow Smith

Couples holding hands. Summer in love. Close up of loving couple holding hands on a beach near the sea
Couples holding hands. Summer in love. Close up of loving couple holding hands on a beach near the sea
12:38pm, Thu 29 Apr 2021
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Willow Smith has come out as polyamorous. The 20-year-old singer, who is the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, shared the news on a recent episode of Red Table Talk.

The Facebook Watch show, which she co-hosts with her mum and maternal grandmother Adrienne Banfield-Norris, saw Willow discuss her choice to ethically date multiple people at the same time.

“With polyamory, I feel like the main foundation is the freedom to be able to create a relationship style that works for you and not just stepping into monogamy because that’s what everyone around you says is the right thing to do,” she told viewers.

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Willow makes a strong point but you may have some questions…

What is polyamory?

Polyamory is the practice or desire to have relationships with more than one partner – but it isn’t cheating, as there is consent from everyone involved.

The word polyamory comes from the Greek ‘poly’, which means many, and the Latin ‘amor’, meaning love.

People who believe in polyamory generally reject the view that sexual and relational exclusivity are necessary for deep, committed, long-term loving relationships.

Every polyamorous relationship is different though. Some might keep their activities strictly to one group of people, which is known as ‘polyfidelity’, while others will allow each other to date or sleep with whoever they like.

How can I support a loved one who comes out as polyamorous?

The worst thing you can do is treat someone differently because of their sexual identity. As a friend or family member of someone who identifies as polyamorous, the main thing you need to do is educate yourself about the term and what it actually means.

For instance, a major myth about polyamory is that it’s all about sex. In the Red Table Talk episode where Willow talked about her sexuality, her grandmother said, “For somebody like me, it feels like it’s really all just centred around sex.”

While it’s easy to assume that dating multiple partners boils down to the desire for lots of sexual relationships, people in polyamorous networks actually build loving and intimate romantic relationships that extend way beyond casual hook-ups.

Polyamory is about having loving and respectful relationships with more than one person, where everyone’s needs and desires are met. It’s different from swinging, which is focused on casual, non-emotional sex with your partner and with other couples.

Although poly couples might not be monogamous in a traditional sense, people can still commit to each other and relationships can be just as long-term as any other kind. Some people are also in polyamorous setups that don’t even involve sex either – instead believing their emotional needs are better met by more than one partner.

“If someone says they’re polyamorous, thank them for sharing their sexual identity with you and let them know you fully support them,” says Relate counsellor and sex therapist Gail Thorne  – after all, it’s not easy talking openly about our intimate relationships.

“Of course you should do your own research about what polyamory means, but if a loved one catches you unaware, just let them know that you don’t know much about it,” says Thorne.

“You could ask them to tell you more about their thoughts on polyamory if they feel comfortable doing so – but you should avoid making judgemental comments. After all, healthy relationships come in all shapes and sizes.”

You may wrongly assume that polyamory is about group sex or avoiding commitment. “Be wary of presenting myths about polyamory as facts – like the idea that you can’t be in love with more than one person,” says Thorne.

It’s also easy to think it’s unusual, but nearly a third (32%) of 1,300 US adults surveyed in a 2020 YouGov poll said that their ideal relationship was non-monogamous to some degree. Among the millennials surveyed, it was 43%.

We’re taught from an early age that monogamy is the norm, so it can be difficult to put that idea aside and accept that a friend or family member sees their relationships playing out a little differently.

Those who practise polyamory may find it difficult to discuss their sexuality though, as there are lots of incorrect assumptions about what it means to be ‘poly’ in the modern dating world – so the best thing you can do is listen and learn from them with a non-judgemental ear.

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