|Trope · Genre|
|Synonyms:||Polyamory, Polyship, Polyfic, Multi, Polycule|
|Related:||Threesome, Teamfic, Sedoretu, Triad Verse|
|See Also:||OT3, OT4, OT5 , GSF|
|Tropes · Slash Tropes · Tropes by Fandom|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
A polyamorous relationship, also called a polyship or simply poly, is a relationship between three or more characters, and polycule describes all the people within the network of a polyamorous relationship.
Most fans would describe it as being deeper and longer-lasting than a one-time threesome/moresome, but how much deeper is down to an individual fic writer. Much like real-life polyamorous people, polyships in fandom are merely multiple simultaneous relationships with the consent of all involved parties, so all characters need not be dating each other for a ship to be considered poly. Often, fans ship a polyship because they multiship a particular character or because they're simplifying a love triangle.
Fanfic of polyships is often called polyfic. Polyfic is often related to teamfic, where all members of a canonical team may be written as romantically/sexually involved. In terms of fandom, its popularity is a relatively new phenomenon that can largely be attributed to the shift of fandom onto the internet. While threesome or poly stories can be found dating back to the 1980s in media fandom, most older stories were conduit fic or treated the idea of a threesome as a sexual kink, probably owing to the fact that pre-internet fanfic was sharply divided into slash, explicit het, and gen zines. Since these zines were the primary way fandom was connected, it left little space for anything outside those bounds and to find their spot early polyfic was often PWP.
For example, Once a Thief aired 10 years before Leverage and while both shows have a similar structure of three young dynamic characters working together in a team setting, Leverage has a noticeable amount of poly-themed stories, vids, art and discussion while Once a Thief was almost exclusively slash. Similarly, White Collar fans started talking about the poly potential of the show after only a few episodes had aired. Modern fandom has also pushed Kirk/Spock/McCoy into being the fourth most popular ship for TOS on AO3 and the seventh most popular ship for AOS although fanworks for the pairing (such as Between Friends) existed in early fandom.
Polyships are often treated as a distinct category from het, femslash, and slash ships, at least for the purposes of categorization among fans.[note 1][note 2] Common poly relationships within a particular canon may be described as "the OT3/OT4/etc." It's generally understood which characters are involved, but in some canons there's ambiguity in the term among the general fandom even if specific fans have a set meaning.
The shift in thinking from treating threesomes as a kink to pairings in their own right has also led to what constitutes a polyfic shifting. Most modern fans would not consider conduit fic, love triangles or cheating to be polyamory, although there is some discussion about the fact that some writers will insert female characters into slash ships as a means of writing a "gay-lite" pairing. Polyships may appeal to these fans in a different way than the typical fan of polyships, and their interpretation of a polyship is likely to be more in line with a conduit fic. The community guidelines of Share and Share Alike, a community dedicated to polyships, say the following when outlining what content is and is not acceptable in their community:
As far as what to post here, anything goes--fic, art, recs, vids, discussion, ship manifestos, you name it. When it comes to the content, we're looking for fanworks portraying consensual non-monogamy. This includes, as previously mentioned, a wide range of types of relationships. A/B/C are a committed triad? Great! A/B are a couple, and have some fun with C one night? Awesome. A\B/C are in a Vee, B falls in love with D too, and A and C have an orgy with E, F, G, H, and I? Uh, wow. I want to see that. Now.
This does not include, however, stories about love triangles that leave one (or more) of the characters out in the cold, or cheating. Your story may contain elements of these, but when posting, consider whether it's really, truly in the spirit of this community and scratching a fandom itch that's...well, not scratched too much.
Stories that start out poly and end in monogamy or stories depicting a couple who occasionally have a casual relationship with a third might be considered polyamory by some fans, but those situations are more personal. A typical polyfic set-up would be either an established relationship or a developing relationship between three characters, such as Harry, Hermione and Ron from Harry Potter. That relationship could be a triad, in which all three characters are dating, or a v (sometimes spelled vee) in which a character is dating two characters but those characters aren't dating each other. In this example, Hermione might be dating both Harry and Ron but Harry and Ron would not be dating each other. In general, fandom seems to prefer triad to v type poly although this varies from pairing to pairing and author to author.
There are also trope-specific variations on polyamory. Group marriage is common in Alpha/Beta/Omega fic featuring poly, often with one character of each dynamic for "balance," as well as more harem-style relationships where one alpha may have multiple omegas. Fic featuring BDSM themes, also frequently features poly. As in real life, one Dom can have multiple subs who may or may not know each other and fic may involve these subs meeting each other for scenes or entirely new relationships being formed. A sort of hierarchy can also be established between a dom, a switch, and a sub like in Never Never Never Stop for Anyone by aimmyarrowshigh. Some fic also borrow the concept of sedoretu from Ursula K. Le Guin's "A Fisherman of the Inland Sea," which is an involved sort of group marriage between four people, and troll romance from Homestuck is a popular trope even outside the Homestuck fandom.
"Poly" versus "Polyamory"
Much like the very concept of "polyamory" has shifted from being a kink to a valid form of expression, there has been a discussion around the language used to discuss polyamory.
This began in 2015, when Tumblr users politely asked if polyamorous people could stop using the tag #poly so it would be easier to find the Pasifika community. The post that was frequently passed around as the "starting point" for this discussion, however, was the following post:
Hey, can any polyamory blogs with a follower count please inform the palagi portion of the community that “poly” is a Polynesian community identifier, and is important to our safe spaces. Using “polyamory” is cool just like using “polygender” and “Polyromantic” and or Polysexual” is cool. But the abbreviation “poly” is already in use.
There was a significant amount of discussion on actuallypoly's post about the history and usage of the term "poly" within the polyamorous community, with resistance to the change from those who are polyamorous. Similarly to the shift from "NB" to "enby" by the nonbinary community at the request of black activisits who use the term as shorthand for NBPOC (non-black people of color), many people have begun to prioritize the term "polyamory" over the abbreviation "poly" at the request of Pasifika people, especially in cases where the shortened form can cause confusion. This has led to both "polyam" and "polya" emerging as alternative shortened forms of polyamory, with polyam seeming to be the preferred term among the wider polyamory community. Within fandom, however, there has not been a similar adoption of "polyamships" over "polyships" although polyamships is in use as a term, but there has been a shift from "poly" to "polyamory."
The discussion continues to evolve, however, as while some Pasifika people have expressed that the word poly should only be used for Polynesian people the majority of people pushing or reminding people to use polyam over poly now are doing so because it has been weaponized by white people in a similar fashion to the way queer has been reposited as a slur by TERFs. This is not to say that not using "poly" in cases where the meaning is confusing is a bad thing, more that saying "reminder to use "polyam" because "poly" is for Polynesians" in unrelated discussion has become performative wokeness and, occasionally, a method to shut down conversations.
honestly the reason I usually dislike soulmate!AUs is because they’re mostly quite clearly tailored for monogamous relationships and frankly it’s irritating because it does such a huge disservice to ot3 and polyships,,,also the enforced idea that all soulmates have to be romantic
but like I’m really glad a lot of people are trying to rectify the latter part,,,I love platonic soulmates they’re so validit’s tricky to work out the poly point though and imo it only fuels the idea that poly relationships are unnatural and everyone must have only ONE soulmate
theres certain het ships that i want to like because i want to like the female character so bad but ive had so many people treat my sexuality like its regressive and shove polyships with the girl included in my face because i ship something gay that i just cant
and then people get offended by this and i dont know how to be like. look i dont care if you ship that? but im gay. and im just tired and sad about girls being shoved into ships im shipping specifically as gay. it feels pretty fucked up to have this keep happening.
like i just want a gay ship? i just want a ship to reflect me and my sexuality? can you understand and respect this? being forced into situations that accuse me of hating women just because i prefer not to view them in romantic situations with men most of the time is soi literally have certain ships muted so i dont have to look at them to cultivate My space so why are you trying to shove them at me? like how am i the bad guy for being gay and wanting to consume gay content. why does everything have to be poly to prove u care about women???
I love ot3s but sometimes with m/m/f ones it seems like… certain people actually just want two het relationships without having to think about the gay shit?
When really it’s like dude… If it’s a full triad, where everyone is dating everyone else, that shit is inherently queer, right?
Like instead of actually celebrating polyamory sometimes it feels like there are people trying to just “play it safe” by not having an outright gay ship because ~ew haha~
(Or, they’re fine with including the gay shit, but it gets super fetishized, because that’s the only way they’re ok with seeing an outright gay relationship.)
And obviously this is probably only a minority of fans! And I don’t think your shipping preferences for an ot3 automatically mean there’s something foul afoot, lmao. Sometimes ships are just ships.But it’s just especially when a m/m/f ot3 is a lot more popular than whatever singular gay ship it contains I start to feel like I have to be on guard ‘cause… Just In Case
It really bugs me when people say that it's out-of-character for a particular character to be poly, unless they've explicitly declared themselves to be monogamous in canon. Like, in "White Collar," my main fandom, the character Neal has a little monologue about how he's proud of being strong enough to be loyal to one person. So you could say that that's canon evidence that he's monogamous (at that point in time -- as I said, people change their minds). But absent something like that, chances are you mean that they're not stereotypically non-monogamous. It's like the anti-slash folks who complain about "writing straight characters as gay," when there's no canon evidence that the characters aren't "at least" bisexual, except that he likes cars and football and doesn't know what mauve is, so he must be straight. Not all polyamorous people are free-love hippies or sex-obsessed perverts or weirdos. Okay, most poly people I've met are on the geeky side in one way or another, but a lot of us aren't even obvious nerds (okay, I am, but not all of us are)! Poly people can be liberal or conservative, professionals or slackers, old or young, and as mentioned above, most of us don't go around shouting it from the rooftops. So you can write pretty much anyone as poly, and nobody can say with any certainty that it's "out of character" for them.
There are numerous fandoms where certain poly ships are either canonical, or popular with fans:
- Ace Attorney - Phoenix/Maya/Edgeworth. Apollo/Juniper/Athena isn't as widely popular, but is well-liked among some fans.
- The Avengers (Comics) - Several configurations of poly ships are common.
- Bandits - a 2001 movie featuring a canonical poly relationship 
- Bandom - GSF was incredibly common in bandom's heyday, as was shipping a band as a unit. Modern bandom, thanks to some radical shifting of the core bands (namely Panic! at the Disco), leans more towards monogamy but is still poly friendly.
- BTS - OT7 is relatively common, although harder to track on sites such as AO3 because fans often tag it as "[character]/Everyone." Other threesomes and moresomes are also common.
- DC Comics - Bart/Kon/Tim, or Impulse/Superboy/Robin, is a common trio in Batverse fanfic. Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman is known as "Trinity." Superhero teams are often the subject of poly fic.
- DBSK - The members of this boyband are sometimes written as an OT5.
- Fire Emblem - Geoffrey/Elincia/Lucia and a number of threesomes involving twins Ephraim and Eirika.
- Hinata/Oboro/Takumi in Fates fandom is being embraced lately, and Niles/Leo/Odin is already quite popular.
- Echoes fandom embraced the trio of Lukas/Python/Forsyth. Clair/Gray/Tobin and Fernand/Clive/Mathilda are also common.
- Three Houses has Felix/Ingrid/Sylvain, a trio of childhood friends. Edelgard/Byleth fans also tend to add Hubert to the mix due to his devotion to Edelgard and growing trust in Byleth. Ferdinand/Edelgard/Hubert is popular due to the two men butting heads over how to best advise and serve her, as well as developing a friendship of their own.
- Haikyuu - Akaashi Keiji/Bokuto Koutarou/Kuroo Tetsurou/Tsukishima Kei is a popular polyship in the Haikyuu fandom. Since the fandom is very open towards multiple ships, polyships are easily formed out of already popular pairings.
- Harry Potter - Harry/Ron/Hermione is a very popular ship. Other fairly common poly arrangements include Snape/Harry/Draco, Harry/Ginny/Draco, and Neville/Luna/Ginny.
- House, M.D. - Lisa Cuddy/Gregory House/James Wilson is the most popular grouping but others, both slash and mixed are often written.
- KPop - such as SHINee, EXO, and BTS where all 5 members are shipped as OT5
- Leverage - The ship Alec Hardison/Parker/Eliot Spencer, also known as the "Leverage OT3", is the most popular ship in the fandom.
- MCU - A variety of polyamorous ships are popular due to the multitude of shippable characters. This has been true since the early days of Avengers fandom, giving rise to the fandom saying, "Everyone's poly because Avengers."
- Merlin - the OT4/5 relationship that included Arthur/Gwen/Merlin/Morgana and sometimes Lancelot
- Noumena (book series) - Noumena contains canon human/alien polycules, which are mixed and matched by fandom, such as Cora/Ampersand/Kaveh and Cora/Ampersand/Kaveh/Nikola.
- One Direction - One Direction has contains a multitude of OT3+ combinations, including Zarriall, Zaniam, Stylinshaw, Lilourry, and Zianourry. See List of One Direction Ship Names for more.
- One Piece - "Merryshipping" involves shipping the entire crew, sometimes sexually, sometimes not.
- Ouran High School Host Club - The members of the Host Club are paired in any and every combination from OT3 to OT7.
- Pirates of the Caribbean - Jack/Elizabeth/Will may be the most common, but there are other combinations.
- Pundit RPF - Stephen Colbert/Anderson Cooper/Keith Olbermann/Jon Stewart and sometimes Rachel Maddow
- Rooster Teeth - AHOT6, or the entire Achievement Hunter team, is the fourth most popular ship in the fandom. Numerous other polyships, including FHOT7 are also popular.
- Sense8 - Capheus/Kala/Lito/Nomi/Riley/Sun/Will/Wolfgang aka cluster ship is seen in some fanworks. Additionally, two triad relationships were made canon in the series finale: Kala/Wolfgang/Rajan and Lito/Hernando/Daniela.
- Sherlock - Sherlock/John/Mary arose as a popular "everybody wins" OT3 when the character of Mary Morstan was introduced as John's love interest
- Siren (TV series) - Ryn/Ben/Maddie is both a popular and canonical OT3 polyship.
- Stargate: Atlantis - OT4 in SGA fandom usually refers to Ronon Dex/Teyla Emmagan/Rodney McKay/John Sheppard, but is sometimes used for groupings with Aiden Ford instead of Ronon Dex. There are also a few works focusing on Jennifer Keller/Rodney McKay/John Sheppard, building on the canon ship of Jennifer/Rodney. John Sheppard/Rodney McKay/Carson Beckett was popular for a time for a time amongst slashers.
- Star Trek: Alternate Original Series - James Kirk/Spock/Nyota Uhura is the main poly grouping in the fandom building on the canon ship Spock/Uhura
- Star Trek: The Original Series - Kirk/Spock/McCoy
- Supernatural - Sam/Dean/Castiel and sometimes Sam/Dean/Castiel/Gabriel
- S.W.A.T. (2017) - Chris/Kira/Ty was a canonical OT3 polyship from season 2 to season 3.
- Top Gear - James May/Jeremy Clarkson/Richard Hammond
- Venom - Eddie Brock/Venom/Dan Lewis/Anne Weying is moderately common in fanworks.
- Voltron: Legendary Defender - "Polydins" refers to shipping the paladins (main characters) in poly relationships. Curtis/Shiro/Keith has also become somewhat common among Sheith fans who also came away appreciating Curtis and Curtis/Shiro.
- White Collar - Peter/Elizabeth/Neal is almost as popular as the predominant slash ship Peter/Neal
Fanworks With Poly Themes
- For a full list of poly and moresome fanfiction on Fanlore, see Category:Poly Fanfiction
- Between Friends, believed to be the first published Kirk/Spock/McCoy story, and therefore, probably the first threesome story, was printed in Obsc'zine 4 in 1980.
- Convergence-verse, dombillijah (Dominic Monaghan/Billy Boyd/Elijah Wood) threesome in Lord of the Rings RPF. Very explicit BDSM.
- Pretty Good Year by Mary Borsellino, a long and popular series of Frodo/Sam/Rosie stories in The Lord of the Rings fandom that inspired shared universe fanworks by other authors and artists.
- In the Wrong Story and sequels by Katie have been cited  as some of the earliest examples of Jack/Sam/Daniel in Stargate SG-1 fandom written as a functional long-term relationship.
- Veritaserum by Calliope is one of the earliest Harry/Ron/Hermione stories written in Harry Potter fandom.
- A Pirate's Life by Elspethdixon - early and influential fic in Pirates of the Caribbean fandom that helped establish many tropes in fiction about the Jack/Elizabeth/Will triad.
- Deep Freeze by Kadorienne (Bucky Barnes/Loki/Steve Rogers, MCU, 2016-2018)
- Apple Candy and Imma Be - two vids made by the same vidder, talitha78, explore poly themes in two very different ways. One is a plot focused piece that uses the song and the canon, and adds to it, to create a plausible poly story. The second is a character study, at once a celebration of the characters' individuality, and also an examination of their team dynamic as revealed by the canon and flavoured by the song.
Example Fanart Gallery
- Polyfic - for fanfiction (Livejournal)
- Polyship - for all sorts of fanworks (LJ)(defunct; archive link)
- Polyamory Big Bang - a poly-themed big bang
- OT3_100 - an OT3 drabble community on Livejournal
- Polyshipping - Pillowfort community
- Triad Verse - Pillowfort community
- Polyshipping Day - Pillowfort community
- Pan-Fandom Polyamory Appreciation Polyshipping Day Tumblr acount (last updated March 31, 2019)
- Share and Share Alike Dreamwidth community for polyamorous ships.
- Polyfandom a multifandom polyshipping community on Dreamwidth
- OT3 Solutions Dreamwidth community, last updated 2015
- 50 sentence challenge Dreamwidth community simmiliar to 3sentences or 1sentence , last updated 2011
- OT3 Prompt Fest Dreamwidth community with monthly prompts by members, last updated 2012
- Holly Poly Holiday polyship exchange (DW).
- I Saw Three Ships on DW Gift exchange for threesomes (DW).
- DCX3 - DC Comics Threesomes
- Naruto_OT3 - Naruto
- merlin_ot4 - Merlin (Gwen/Merlin/Morgana/Arthur, though other foursomes and fivesomes are allowed)
- team_sga - Stargate Atlantis (both gen and poly Teyla/Ronon/Rodney/John, with optional Aidan)
- Trois Bang (lj community) - a KPop OT3 big bang, with rounds in 2010 and 2012
- Some Thoughts on Polyfic, Archived version by Melusina (2004)
- OT3s = 3 but also full of <3, Archived version by petra (2010)
- Love & Marriage, Archived version by melannen (2011)
- Polyship Prompts
Notes & References
I should probably give the remark some context: my fanfic output is overwhelmingly het. By which I mean 100+ stories compared to 16 m/m, 8 f/f and 3 poly. So it wasn't so much "OMG I've written too much m/m, I must do f/f next!" as it was "Well, I've given my m/m count a boost, now let's see what I can do for f/f." ;-)
- "Polyamory - Wikipedia". 2020-01-07. Archived from the original on 2022-04-07.
- "Anyone else end up shipping poly when there are love triangles? (And then get inevitably disapointed when the author breaks the 3rds heart)". 2019-08-21. Archived from the original on 2022-04-07.
- "𝑒𝓁 semi-hiatus on Twitter: "a polyfic where joon owns this shirt". 2019-08-02. Archived from the original on 2022-04-07.
- "Cake on Twitter: "Listen, I can't always be feeding myself. And I've already read most polyfic in fandom for ships that i'm into >o<". 2019-11-04. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
- Star Trek: The Original Series tag on AO3. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
- Star Trek: Alternate Original Series (Movies) tag on AO3. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
- "Pinboard: tag bundle /Poly for kinkme_merlin". 2013-09-03. Archived from the original on 2013-09-03.
- "Femslash Exchange - Femslash Exchange 2013: FAQ, Rules and Dates". 2013-09-02. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
- "Poly « TwiFanfictionRecs". 2013-09-03. Archived from the original on 2013-09-03.
- "The Ramblings of a Serial Multi-shipper - Poly-Fic Rec List". 2011-04-01. Archived from the original on 2013-09-03.
- "Polyamorous Avengers: All Sleeping Together". 2013-09-03. Archived from the original on 2013-09-03.
- "Share and Share Alike - What To Post...and What Not To Post". 2010-03-10. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
- "Polyamory Terms and Concepts". 2013-01-08. Archived from the original on 2013-01-08.
- "Some Notes on Poly Terms and Concepts". 2000-06-20. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
- "actually poly Hey, can any polyamory blogs with a follower count..." 2015-05-23. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
- "actually poly the abbreviation "poly" is already in use". 2015-05-27. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
- "Ana Mardoll's Ramblings: Storify: Why I use Enby and not NB". 2018-02-28. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
- "3 or More: Polyam Ships of the Day". 2022-04-08. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
- "Poly Means Polynesian, Not Polyamorous — Lily Stone". 2016-12-31. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
- "Ursula Rising, BLM on Twitter: "I have never heard a single Polynesian person say anything about use of the term "poly" by the polyamorous community". 2020-02-03. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08.
- Ask from asynca. Posted 21 Aug 2017. Accessed 4 Feb 2020.
- Thread from @nolongerfloofy. Posted 25 Dec 2019. Archived 29 Dec 2019.
- Thread from @axroarts. Posted 8 Dec 2019. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
- Tumblr Post. Posted 6 Jan 2020. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
- Writing about polyamory in fandom -- a meta post that I am super nervous about posting. Posted 20 May 2010. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
- See: Wikipedia:Bandits (2001 film)
- As of January 4, 2020, 1376 of the 6606 works in Leverage are Hardison/Parker/Eliot. Snapshot: Leverage works, January 4 2020; Hardison/Parker/Eliot works, January 4 2020.
- Everyone Is Poly Because Avengers tag on AO3. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
- "everyone is poly because avengers" tag on Tumblr. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
- Teeth*s*Achievement Hunter RPF/works Rooster Teeth/Achievement Hunter RPF tag on AO3. Accessed 7 Jan 2020.
- The Tags Page on whitecollarfic on February 9, 2020 shows 776 stories tagged Peter/Neal and 592 tagged Elizabeth/Peter/Neal
- White Collar tag on AO3. Accessed 7 Jan 2020. Peter Burke/Neal Caffrey has 1497 works and Elizabeth Burke/Peter Burke/Neal Caffrey has 1096.
- You down with OT3? (Yeah, you know me!) by Tafkarfanfic, in the ship manifesto community on LiveJournal, accessed April 2, 2010
- Denimcatfish 🏳️🌈 on Twitter: "Not really, people can feel free to think of them as Steve and whoever if they want to. I just wanted to draw her and 2 other people happily cuddling xD"