exert from The Polyamory Toolkit
Polyamory is a relationship style that includes multiple loving relationships. It can take many forms, but overall, that is polyamory in a nutshell.
Power Exchange is a relationship style that is designed to have a hierarchal leader/follower structure. There is a person who is in charge; anyone else recognizes that the other person is in charge. Like polyamory, there are many styles of power exchange and they go by many different names – Dom/sub*, Master (or Mistress or Ma’am)/slave, Queen/knight, Owner/property, Leader/follower, and others. If you are unfamiliar with power exchange, the first thing to share is these are consensual relationships. You may want to do some exploration before jumping to the conclusion that they are unhealthy or abusive. I can personally introduce you to dozens of long-term (and joyful) PE relationships. For actual reflections of how it is done day to day by real people, we recommend our book Living M/s.
You might be wondering if you can practice both polyamory and power exchange. Well, the answer is yes. As a matter of fact, if you go to a kink-based event, you’ll see many people practicing it.
Here are some specific thoughts, tips, and call outs about this sort of relationship combination.
First off, as you explore the polyamory part, expect some pushback from non-power exchange polyamory followers. Some aspects of power exchange, such as rule-based relationship, one person getting final say (including veto power), and at times, one person can have additional partners but the other can’t, might be part of a negotiated power exchange. And those items are often considered poor relationship ideas by those that practice non-hierarchial polyamory. That viewpoint is what it is. These aspects actually might be fine and functional in Power Exchange + Polyamory relationships. Sometimes it is exactly what all parties want. Power Exchange relationships (when they are done ethically) are done with a lot of negotiations before any power is exchanged.
Next, if you are looking for PE & Poly friendly events, pay attention to the kink & Leather communities. Although you might not be kinky, you’ll find they often include polyamory tracks. There is a lot of crossover.
Finally, I’ll tell you about a huge and painful mistake I hope you can avoid. If you are an existing power exchange couple, you might be tempted to cut back a bit on PE as you explore a new
outside love relationship. Perhaps you’ll treat your submissive as more of a peer because you want to be certain that being poly was truly OK with them and they didn’t just accept it because you are the Top. Don’t. Instead, make it part of the power exchange. Perhaps have them pack a bag when you go off to the home of another significant other so they are direct in service to you as part of your other relationship.
*I’ll note that in the case of this section of the book, we are using the term Dom/sub as a power exchange relationship type. It is also sometimes used to reflect who is in charge in the bedroom.
(continued in The Polyamory Toolkit)