When it comes to environment, it can be much more varied but here are some of the more common factors involved.communication

The first decision is whether it shall be a closed or open poly?  Closed means that intimacy is not shared outside the family.  Open poly families share a lot in common with swinging where one or more partners are free to be intimate with people outside the family.  A compromise is an open poly with protection.  Those inside the family are fluid bound with each other.  When they are intimate outside the family, protection is always used.

A family can also agree to ‘screen’ other partners and must approve.  Think of this as a really, weird version of “Meet the Parents”.  If you find someone you would like to add to your intimacy, you introduce them to your family who also happen to be your intimate partners.  Protection is discussed and how the family is respected.  The main reason for this is to prevent a new member from coming in and breaking up the family.  Many successful outside partners can become inside members of the family after they have earned the trust of all family members.

Another environment is the lifestyle choice.  By itself, poly is just what you have been reading, an extended family that in all other respects is very normal.  Everyone pays their taxes or works or takes out the garbage.  At the very basic level, poly is a very ordinary life except for the number of intimate partners.  This is becoming more prevalent as the idea of poly becomes more mainstream.

Before the Internet exploded however, it was more common to find poly shared with other lifestyle choices.  The biggest one becoming what is now known as BDSM.  To explain BDSM would take several volumes of encyclopedias to gain a familiarization with the lifestyle.  I have found very few people outside the lifestyle that truly understand it.  Suffice it to say it is about power exchange.

BDSM families came about through the Master and slave dynamics for the most part.  Here, the same dynamics of trust, communication and commitment still apply as they do to any relationship.  This subject deserves much more explanation but that is for another column.

Another lifestyle that merged with poly was the swinging community.  You will find that self-identified swingers rarely consider themselves a poly person and self-identified polys do not consider themselves swingers.  But, I have found couples who only share each other in the swinging community and are a much better working example of poly than some poly families.  I have seen poly families that run a very open family and work as more of the swinging lifestyle than some swingers.

It is interesting to note that there is a division between the two lifestyles yet there is a definite gray area that mingles both sides.  If you meet someone, it is best to ask them how they identify themselves and respect it.