Free love is fine - but watch out for the wibbles
By Celia Hall
Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 2005.

They believe in free love and multiple relationships, but not casual sex - and enjoy feeling "frubbly".

As a group they practise "polyamory" - the latest social phenomenon to cross the Atlantic to Britain, psychologists heard yesterday.

Polyamorists have relationships that are wide open. Despite having numerous partners at any one time, they are emotionally committed and do not cheat on them.

Ani Ritchie and Dr Meg Barker of the South Bank University, London, told the British Psychological Society annual conference in Manchester yesterday that up to 2,000 British men and women were openly polyamorous.

Dr Barker - who admitted to having four current lovers of both sexes - said 200 people had subscribed to a UK mailing list and that a worldwide internet search would reveal 170,000 links.

"Polyamory is the belief that it's acceptable or even ideal to have more than one loving or sexual partner," she said. "There's an emphasis on the recognition of multiple important relationships - it's not about casual sex.

"Having multiple partners is usually seen in a very negative light, but this is a positive way for people to have more than one relationship."

Dr Barker said she was bisexual and had four sexual partners: two main lovers, a man and a woman with whom she lived alternately, and another man and a woman who were both "regular lovers".

All her lovers - and their lovers - accepted each other, she said, admitting that time management was her biggest problem.

Polys, as practitioners of polyamory term themselves, now need new words to describe their emotions and actions, Dr Barker said.

Some terms have been coined already. "Ethical slut" is used to define a woman in an open multiple relationship and is an attempt to take the stigma out of "slut". Feeling "frubbly" is described as the opposite to feeling jealous and is used to describe feelings of friendship towards a lover and their other partners, who are called "metamours".

A "wibble" is a jealous feeling but "not a massive sexual threat", Dr Barker said. "We are interested in another language," she told the conference. "The question is, when you are not having a standard relationship, what do you do for words? There are no words for what we do."

She admitted that some monogamous friends found the "concept of primary partners and secondary partners" difficult. "It is hard to get support from people in monogamous relationships. I do have monogamous friends and after a while they settle to the idea," she said.

Jealousy appears to be a harder nut to crack. "You do feel jealousy when a partner begins a new relationship. But if I say I need to be reassured, it is all right. It is possible not to be sexually jealous."

She added: "Some people are so unhappily single. Polyamory takes away the pressure of one person having to be all things to the other.

"Certainly there are many people who are closet polys. There are relationships where the husband has a lover and the wife agrees so long as it is not talked about - don't ask, don't tell."