Friday, August 11, 2017

Ménage versus Polyamory: What’s the Difference? By Lisabet Sarai #RomanceNovels #MFM #FFM

You want to know
How it will be,
Me and him,
Or you and me.
You both stand there, your long hair flowin'
Eyes alive, your mind still growin'
Sayin' to me, "What can we do now that we both love you?"
I love you too.
I don't really see why can't we go on as three.

~ From “Triad” by David Cosby


In both romance and erotica, multiple-partner sexual encounters tend to be popular. It’s easy to see the appeal. One devoted, attentive lover is arousing enough—but two? Talk about blowing all your fuses!

It’s not just the added sensual pleasure that makes a threesome (or more-some!) exciting. Psychological and emotional factors ramp up the intensity: the intoxicating sense of being universally desired; the kick that comes from breaking societal rules, engaging in something more or less forbidden; the satisfaction derived from pleasing your lovers, and being pleased in return. Depending on the genders and orientations of the individuals involved, the experience may provide voyeuristic thrills as well directly experienced pleasure. For instance, a woman may enjoy watching two males coupling—or vice versa.

These days, tales of threesomes are usually labeled “ménage”, from the French, ménage a trois. In French, the term is often used for any situation where one person has two lovers during the same time period. It doesn’t necessarily imply that all three protagonists end up in bed together.  In romance and erotica, though, readers would be disappointed if a ménage story didn’t include at least one group sex scene!

Many romance books go beyond ménage, however, to portray polyamory. This is a far less familiar term, rarely encountered in keyword lists or book subcategories. What’s the difference? Polyamory (from “poly”, multiple and “amor”, love) implies a committed, loving, erotic relationship among more than two people. Usually, the participants in a polyamorous relationship live together, or at least see each other regularly. They care for and take responsibility for one another. Furthermore, they explicitly acknowledge that each member of the triad (or larger group) has the right to love and be loved by the others. Theoretically, participants in polyamory are not jealous of one another. They see themselves as a stable unit, or at least they aspire to be.

Polyamory puts more extreme demands on the partners’ adaptability, patience and self-confidence than a transient ménage. We all know a two-person marriage takes a lot of work to nurture and sustain. Adding a third individual into the relationship just makes things more complicated and more difficult.

From an author’s perspective, that’s all good, of course. Lots of conflict—lots of angst—lots of opportunity for catharsis! A one-time threesome can be light-hearted, even superficial, focusing on present pleasure, but polyamorous relationships are almost always emotionally complex.

I’ve published both simple ménage and polyamory in my two decades of writing erotica and erotic romance. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from a FFM ménage that occurs early in Incognito. Miranda, my heroine, feels compelled to explore the Fantasy Factory, a no-holds-barred sex club where the masked attendees are anonymous.

~ ~ ~

The trio rearranged itself. The slender man lay atop the woman, his penis firmly planted in her cleft. The heavier man positioned himself behind his slighter companion. Miranda flushed hot with guilt and desire as she watched his thick rod of flesh disappear ever so slowly into the darkness between those smooth cheeks. Despite his mask, she could read ecstasy on the younger man’s face, his mouth slack, his eyes screwed shut, his hands gripping the shoulders of the woman beneath him, ploughing her as he was ploughed.

“Lovely,” sighed a cultured feminine voice, close to her ear. “Don’t you agree?”

Miranda whirled round, startled and embarrassed. She hadn’t realized that she had companions in her blatant voyeurism.

They were young, close to her own age, and enough alike in stature and demeanor that they could have been siblings. Both had thick brunette hair. His was brushed back from his brow, while she wore hers in a bob with blunt bangs. They were clad in black jumpsuits that highlighted every curve and swelling of their athletic bodies. Prominent nipples capped her small breasts, clearly visible through the clinging fabric. His half-engorged organ was equally obvious.

They were masked, of course. Brown eyes gleamed behind their dominoes. It was their mouths, though, that captured Miranda’s attention, their ripe perfect lips inviting, sensuous, bowed in the perpetual promise of a smile.

Miranda ached to kiss those mouths, to trace their luscious curves with the tip of her tongue. She felt the ache in her throat, in her chest, in her painfully taut nipples, in the damp, hungry recesses of her womb. Her palms yearned to glide over those smooth thighs, those flat bellies. She wanted them, both of them, craved them in a visceral way that was totally new to her.

She stifled a moan, and took the hand the woman extended.

“I’m Marla,” the other woman said, her voice melodious and a bit husky. “And this is Marcus.” The young man smiled mysteriously but said nothing. “We were admiring your costume.”

It took Miranda a moment to recall the red velvet jumpsuit that she had chosen from Lucy’s wardrobe. It was defiantly flamboyant, clinging to her body like a sensuous second skin. A gold-colored zipper ran from the scoop neck down to her navel. Matching zippers adorned her wrists and ankles. She knew that the color suited her, contrasted with the hair spilling over her shoulders like a river of jet. She also knew how obvious it was that she was naked underneath the velvet. Not a shy garment, thought Miranda, but perhaps just right for tonight.

Choked with desire, she found it difficult to speak. “Thank you,” she managed, finally. “I like your outfits also.” What an understatement. “Are you twins?”

They gave identical, musical laughs. “Not exactly,” said the one called Marcus. “But we enjoy pretending.”

His voice was vaguely familiar. However, Miranda was too occupied with other concerns to wonder at this.

“Don’t you?” asked Marla, searching Miranda’s face.

The question was serious, and stopped her short. She did not know how to answer. Was she pretending, now? Was she playing at being someone else? Or was this her true self?

Marla still grasped her hand. “Come play with us,” she said sweetly, pulling Miranda toward one of the walls lined with couches.


In this scene, the operative word is “play”. This is not just about sensual pleasure for Miranda; she’s in the process of trying to understand her rather conflicted sexuality. However, the three-way encounter than ensues is specifically designed, by the rules of the club, to be present tense only.

In contrast, consider the following excerpt from Truce of Trust, an erotic romance that is an MFM confronts the difficulties of polyamory head on.


Greg stirred in his chair. “It’s late, and I’ve got to work tomorrow. Finish your wine, Leah, and come to bed.”

Daniel looked up abruptly. “Wait a minute. Tonight’s my night.”

“No, it’s not. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays she’s with me. In case you’ve forgotten, this is Friday.”

“That’s not fair. She was away last night at her seminar. So she and I should be together tonight as compensation.”

“Sorry, old man.” Daniel was three years older than Greg, who liked to rub that in. “You know that’s not how the system works.”

“Well, perhaps we need to consider changing the system. Somehow it always seems to work out that Leah is away from the house on my nights.”

“Please...” Leah rose from her chair, trying to intervene, but it was as though she wasn’t there.

“I’m sorry, but that’s not my problem. Anyway, you shouldn’t be such a bad sport. After all, you had her to yourself for years.”

Daniel snorted in exaggerated disgust. “To myself? Hardly! I couldn’t make love to her without wondering if she was fantasizing about you. I couldn’t look at her without seeing the marks that you had left.”

“Marks she asked for, don’t forget.”

“That’s what you claim, at least.” Daniel was sexually adventurous, but he had no interest in BDSM. Leah knew that he was truly perplexed by the power dynamics between her and Greg.

“Believe me, I can make her beg to be beaten,” Greg said smugly. “Isn’t that true, little one?”

Leah blushed fiercely, as embarrassed as she was angry. Of course, Daniel knew this about her, but still she didn’t want to admit it out loud.

Both of them stared at her in mute accusation.

“Answer me, Leah.” Greg put a hint of steel in his voice. Shivers of anticipation raced through her in response. Her deepest instinct was to obey him, but she resisted, silent and rebellious.

“Why do you put up with him?” Daniel donned his wounded boy expression, pouting under his moustache. “All he does is hurt you. He has no respect for you. I can give you all the love and tenderness that you need.”

“You have no idea what she really needs,” said Greg softly. His aim was true, as always. Daniel slumped in momentary defeat, then roused himself.

“If that’s so, then why did she marry me?” he asked, playing his own trump card.

Leah had heard it all before, and suddenly, she couldn’t take anymore. She turned her back on them and headed for her room, ignoring their voices calling after her.

Her overnight bag was still packed from her business trip. She pulled out the dirty things and threw in some clean underwear, jeans and jerseys. She was debating whether to bring a dress when her door opened. Stubbornly, she continued her packing.

Greg towered behind her. He put his hands on her shoulders and turned her around to face him. “Where are you going, little one?”

“Away. Away from the two of you and your constant bickering.”

“He started it, after all, with his claims about things being unfair.” He bent to kiss her. She turned her head away, unwilling to be mastered, but he grasped her chin and pulled her mouth to his.

Leah didn’t want to surrender, but she couldn’t help it. She was dizzy with instantly kindled lust. He nipped at her lips, probed her with his tongue. He drank her in, consumed her. Between her thighs everything melted. The room began to smell funky, as though he already had her naked and open before him.

Without taking his mouth from her, he grabbed her nipple and twisted it, hard. Her body arched against his, the familiar pain quickly transformed to shimmering pleasure. He broke the kiss and looked down at her, shaking and helpless with desire.

“You’re mine,” he whispered. “You’ll always be mine. You just keep him around because you’re afraid to give yourself completely to me. Afraid of going too far. You don’t trust your own desires.”

Leah had a vision of Daniel, his wine glass filled to the brim with vodka, filling page after page with angry, aching prose. There was a wrenching pain in her chest. They’ve grabbed my heart and they are rending it into bloody pieces.

This pain had no sweet after-echoes. She tore herself from Greg’s grasp.

“You’re wrong.” Her throat tightened into a sob. “I love him. It’s different from the way we are, but it’s just as real.”

“If we were together, by ourselves, you’d forget him.”

“No!” His arrogance, sometimes so exciting, was nothing but frustrating to her now. “You don’t understand. He’s a part of me, just as you are.”

He reached for her again. “I’d make you forget him, Leah. I’d beat him out of you.” His voice was gentle, contrasting with the violence of his words. Underneath his bravado, she could feel his need.

Leah hardened herself, knowing she had to escape.

“Let me go, Greg.”

He stepped back and brushed his shaggy hair out of his eyes. They were brighter than normal, probably with tears. Guilt settled like a stone in her gut, but she ignored it. There’s nothing I can do, she finally realized.

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know. To find some peace.”

“When will you be back?”

She didn’t answer. She had no idea, in fact. All she knew was that right now, despite her resolutions, she couldn’t cope with their conflicts and animosity. Let them work it out between the two of them. Let them see how they liked it when neither one of them could claim her.


Obviously, a polyamorous relationship is no picnic! In this book, Leah, Greg and Daniel all have to change in order to make their three-way connection work.

In the early days of our marriage, my husband and I tried to find another couple with whom we could try polyamory. We never succeeded in finding people where the balance of attraction was more or less equal. It takes trust to allow your lover to make love to another person. No one wants to feel left out, or cheated out of his or her fair share of attention. When all the members of the group care for, or at least are strongly attracted, to each other, these issues become less difficult. But that’s hard to manage.

In any case, I’ve been able to apply my experiences in this realm to my writing. I hope my readers like the results—both ménage and polyamory!

Contest! Leave me a comment with your email address, telling me your thoughts on this topic. I’ll randomly draw one winner who’ll get a choice of an ebook version of either Incognito or Truce of Trust!

About Lisabet 

Lisabet Sarai became addicted to words at an early age. She began reading when she was four. She wrote her first story at five years old and her first poem at seven. Since then, she has written plays, tutorials, scholarly articles, marketing brochures, software specifications, self-help books, press releases, a five-hundred page dissertation, and lots of erotica and erotic romance – nearly one hundred titles, and counting, in nearly every sub-genre—paranormal, scifi, ménage, BDSM, GLBT, and more.

Regardless of the genre, every one of her stories illustrates her motto: Imagination is the ultimate aphrodisiac.


  1. Thanks for hosting me, Clare! And for suggesting the topic!

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. It clarifies better the difference between menage and polyamory. Definitely more work in polyamory to keep the relationship from breaking the people involved.

  3. Since Sheila was my only commenter, she gets her choice of book!

    Thanks again for having me as your guest, Clare.


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