This non-monogamous relationship style is in the headlines, and people are curious.

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Willow Smith has revealed that she's polyamorous during the latest episode of mom Jada Pinkett's Red Table Talk podcast. While in conversation with her mom and grandmother Adrienne Banfield-Norris, Smith, 20, explained the appeal of polyamory—a non-monogamous type of relationship that involves more than one partner.

"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 said. "So I was like, 'How can I structure the way that I approach relationships with that in mind? Also, doing research into polyamory, the main reasons why monogamous relationships, or why marriage, why divorces happen is infidelity."

When Smith told her family she was polyamorous, it was no big deal. "When you were like, 'Hey, this is my get down,' I was like, 'I totally get it,'" Jada Pinkett Smith recalls. "Wanting to set up your life in a way that you can have what it is that you want, I think anything goes as long as the intentions are clear." Banfield-Norris then shared that she and her husband, Rodney, considered polyamory before they got married.

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Credit: Getty Images

In 2019, CBS News reported that about 5% of US residents were in consensual or ethical non-monogamy relationships, a catch-all term that includes polyamory. Here' what polyamory is all about, and why people are identifying as polyamorous.

What does it mean to be polyamorous?

Polyamory means loving more than one person and having multiple partners within a relationship—and this can look different for different people, Gigi Engle, SKYN sex and intimacy expert, sexologist, and author, tells Health. Some people have an open marriage, where they are both free to have relationships with other people, while a throuple or triad is a three-way relationship and a quad consists of four people in the relationship.

"There's no rule book, so you basically get to choose your own adventure," Engle says. These can be with someone or multiple people of the same or different gender identity. Ultimately, a person who is polyamorous doesn't feel that one partner can fulfill all their needs, whether physically or emotionally, and their partner has given consent to have another (or many) partners (and may have another or many partners as well).

One of the biggest misconceptions about polyamory is that it's purely about sex—something Smith was quick to set straight on the show.

"Let's say you haven't always been the kind of person that wanted to have sex all the time, but your partner is," she said. "Are you gonna be the person to say, you know, 'Just because I don't have these needs, you can't have them either?' And so that's kind of one of the reasons why I actually was interested in poly, because I was introduced to it through kind of a nonsexual lens. In my friend group, I'm the only polyamorous person, and I have the least sex out of all of my friends."

Engle says another big misconception about polyamory is that it isn't as legitimate as monogamy. "This is simply untrue; it is just another form of relationship style," she says.

The realities of polyamory

It's certainly possible for polyamorous people to have exciting sex lives. But Engle says "99% of being poly is talking—it's communication, checking in, managing emotions of multiple people, and making sure everyone is always on the same page. It's not some hedonistic free for all."

And because polyamory involves multiple committed relationships and not simply casual sexual encounters with lots of people, it's not always easy to pull off. "But monogamous relationships aren't exactly a cake walk either," Engle points out. "Relationships take work, and no matter how you choose to love, as long as you put in the time and commitment, it can work."

Is polyamory for me?

As Engle says, it takes commitment to be polyamorous. "It's also, more often than not, the way a person is built," she says. "Some people are suited to monogamy and others, not so much."

If you're thinking about polyamory purely to spice up your sex life, you might want to think again—unless you're a single poly person, who chooses to date many partners at once without a specific commitment to any specific number of people.

"There are no wrong ways to do polyamory as long as everyone is communicating and consenting to everything going on," Engle says. With that in mind, she recommends establishing clear rules from the outset—such as having regular check ins with all parties and agreeing on boundaries and limits within each relationship. For polyamory to work, it requires all parties to be realistic and empathetic. "Jealousy and conflict will arise," Engle says. "That's just life. Be willing to talk about it, fix it, and figure out what makes sense as the next step."

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