, meaning many or several] and Latin amor
[literally “love”]) is the desire, practice, or acceptance of having more than one loving, intimate relationship
at a time with the full knowledge and consent
of everyone involved. The term polyamory is sometimes abbreviated to poly
, and is sometimes described as consensual, ethical,
or responsible non-monogamy
. The word is sometimes used more broadly to refer to relationships that are not sexually exclusive, though there is disagreement on how broadly it applies.
Polyamory can refer to the practice or status of a relationship at a given time, or used as a description of a lifestyle, philosophy or relationship orientation (much like gender orientation), rather than of an individual's actual relationship status at a given moment. It is an umbrella term that covers many orientations and modes of relationship. There is fluidity in its definition to accommodate the different shades of meaning which might be covered. Polyamorous relationships are themselves varied, reflecting the choices and philosophies of the individuals concerned.
Polyamory differs from polygamy, although the two are occasionally still used interchangeable because "polygamy" was the word used for all non-monogamy before "polyamory" was coined in the early 1990s. Polygamy more accurately refers to specific structures of recognized relationships, while polyamory is a personal outlook grounded in such concepts as choice, trust, equality of free will, and the more novel idea of compersion, and newer cultural traditions distinct from the religious & cultural traditions of polygamy.
The defining characteristic of polyamory is belief in the possibility of, and value of, multiple romantic loving relationships carried out "with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned. What distinguishes polyamory from traditional forms of non-monogamy (i.e. "cheating") is an ideology that openness, goodwill, intense communication, and ethical behavior should prevail among all the parties involved. Some consider polyamory to be, at its root, the generalization of romantic couple-love beyond two people into something larger.
People who identify as polyamorous typically reject the view that sexual and relational exclusivity are necessary for long-term loving relationships. Those who are open to, or emotionally suited for, a polyamorous lifestyle may be single or in monogamous relationships, but are more typically are involved in multiple long term relationships.
Polyamorous relationships, in practice, are highly varied and individualized. Ideally they are built upon values of trust, loyalty, negotiation, and compersion, as well as rejection of jealousy, possessiveness, and restrictive cultural standards. Such relationships are often more fluid than the traditional "dating and marriage" model of long-term relationships, and the participants in a polyamorous relationship may not have preconceptions as to duration.
Sex is not necessarily a primary focus in polyamorous relationships. Polyamorous relationships commonly consist of groups of more than two people seeking to build a long-term future together on mutually agreeable grounds, with sex as only one aspect of their relationship.
is a hybrid word
) and amor
. The word has been coined, seemingly independently, by several people, including Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart
, whose article "A Bouquet of Lovers"
) is widely cited as its source (but see below), and Jennifer Wesp who created the Usenet newsgroup
alt.polyamory in 1992
However, the term has been reported in occasional use since the 1960s
, and even outside polygamous
cultures such relationships existed well before the name was coined; for one example dating from the 1920s
, see William Moulton Marston
. There are no verifiable sources showing the word "polyamory" in common use until after alt.polyamory was created. The older term polyfidelity
, a subset of polyamory, was coined decades earlier at Kerista
Most definitions center on the concepts of being open to, or engaging in, a lifestyle that potentially encompasses multiple loving relationships (of whatever form) where all parties are informed and consenting to the arrangement. However, no single definition of "polyamory" has universal acceptance; two common areas of difference arise regarding the degree of commitment (when does swinging become polyamory?) and whether it represents a viewpoint or a relational status quo (is a person open to the idea, but without partners at present, still "polyamorous"?). Similarly, an open relationship in which all participants are long-term friends might be considered "polyamorous" under broader usages of the word, but excluded from some of the tighter usages, since polyamorous relationships may or may not also be polyfidelitous (non-open, or faithful within the relationship).
In 1999, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart was asked by the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary to provide a definition of the term (which the dictionary had not previously recognized). The words "polyamory -ous -ist" were formally added to the OED in 2006. The Ravenhearts defined and expanded the term as follows:
The terms primary (or primary relationship(s)) and secondary (or secondary relationship(s)) are often used to indicate a hierarchy of different relationships or the place of each relationship in the speaker's life. Thus, a woman with a husband and another partner might refer to the husband as her "primary". (Of course, this is in addition to any other term of endearment). Some polyamorous people use this as an explicit hierarchy of relationships, while others consider it insulting to the people involved, believing that a person's partners should be considered equally important. Another model, sometimes referred to as intimate network, includes relationships that are of varying significance to the people involved, but are not explicitly labeled as "primary" or "secondary." Within this model, any hierarchy may be fluid and vague, or nonexistent.
Symbols of polyamory
Although people who are polyamorous have adopted a number of symbols, none has universal recognition. The most common symbol is the red and white heart (♥) combined with the blue infinity sign (∞).
The poly pride flag consists of three equal horizontal colored stripes with a symbol in the center of the flag. The colors of the stripes, from top to bottom, are as follows:
- Blue - The openness and honesty among all partners.
- Red - Love and passion.
- Black - Solidarity with those who must hide their relationships due to social pressures.
The symbol in the center of the flag is a gold Greek lowercase letter “pi” (π), as the first letter of "polyamory" . The letter's gold color represents the value that people who are polyamorous place on the emotional attachment to others, be the relationship friendly or romantic in nature, as opposed to merely primarily physical relationships.
The symbol of ILIC (Infinite Love in Infinite Combinations) is a reference to the Star Trek kol-ut-shan or symbol of philosophy of Vulcan IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations).
Another is the image of a parrot, since "Polly" is a common name for these birds. Author Mystic Life describes this symbol an ironic reference to Parrot monogamy.
Forms of polyamory
Forms of polyamory include:
- Polyfidelity, which involves multiple romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted to specific partners in a group (which may include all members of that group) (e.g. group marriage).
- Sub-relationships, which distinguish between "primary" and "secondary" relationships (e.g. most open marriages).
- Relationships between a couple and a third person (Triad).
- Relationships between a couple and another couple (Quad).
- Polygamy (polygyny and polyandry), in which one person marries several spouses (who may or may not be married to, or have romantic relationships with, one another).
- Group relationships and group marriage, in which all consider themselves associated to one another, popularized to some extent by Robert A. Heinlein (in novels such as Stranger in a Strange Land, Time Enough For Love, Friday, and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress). Also works by Robert Rimmer, and Starhawk in her books The Fifth Sacred Thing (1993) and Walking to Mercury (1997).
- Networks of interconnecting relationships, where a particular person may have relationships of varying degrees of importance with various people.
- Mono/poly relationships, where one partner is monogamous but agrees to the other having outside relationships.
- So-called "geometric" arrangements, which are described by the number of people involved and their relationship connections. Examples include "triads" and "quads", along with "V" and "N" geometries. A triad could be either a V or a triangle. (See: Terminology within polyamory.)
The fringes and outliers of polyamory
The expression open relationship
denotes a relationship in which participants may have sexual connections with others. When a married couple makes such an agreement, it may be termed an open marriage
. Some forms of polyamorous relationship are not "open" (e.g. polyfidelity). And some open relationships may be open only sexually, while exclusive emotionally. However, there is broad overlap between open relationships and polyamory.
It is possible for a person with polyamorous relationships to also engage in casual sex, traditional swinging, and other open relationships. Sometimes polyamorous people have been known to engage in infidelities or secret affairs, although this is no better accepted in polyamorous communities than in monogamous ones.
Cultural diversity within polyamory
"Polygamy" is more often used to refer to codified forms of multiple marriage (especially those with a traditional/religious basis), while "modern polyamory" or "egalitarian polyamory" implies a relationship defined by negotiation between its members, rather than by cultural norms. Egalitarian polyamory is culturally rooted in such concepts as choice and individuality, rather than in religious traditions.
Egalitarian polyamory is more closely associated with values, subcultures and ideologies that favor individual freedoms and equality in sexual matters — most notably, those reflected by sexual freedom advocacy groups such as Woodhull Freedom Foundation & Federation , NCSF and ACLU However, polygamy advocacy groups and activists and egalitarian polyamory advocacy groups and activists can and do work together cooperatively (see LovingMorePolyactive and PolyLegal and Principle Voices ). In addition, the two subcommunities have many common issues (poly parenting, dealing with jealousy, legal and social discrimination, etc.), the discussion and resolution of which are of equal interest to both subcommunities regardless of any cultural differences that may exist. Moreover, there is considerable cultural diversity within both subcommunities. Religiously motivated polygamy has its Islamic, Mormon fundamentalist, Christian Plural Marriage, Jewish and other varieties; similarly, many egalitarian polyamorists have cultural ties to Naturism , Neo-Pagans, BDSM, Modern Tantra, and other special interest groups. For example, egalitarian polyamory and BDSM often face similar challenges (e.g. negotiating the ground rules for unconventional relationships, or the question of coming out to family and friends), and cross-pollination of ideas takes place between the two.
In most countries, it is legal for three or more people to form and share a sexual relationship (subject sometimes to laws against homosexuality
). However, most Western countries do not permit marriage among more than two people. Nor do they give strong and equal legal protection (e.g. of rights relating to children) to non-married partners — the legal regime is not comparable to that applying to married couples. Individuals involved in polyamorous relationships are considered by the law to be no different from people who live together, or "date", under other circumstances. Usually one couple, at most, can be "married" under civil and/or religious law.
Bigamy is the act of marrying one person while already being married to another, and is legally prohibited in most countries where monogamy is the cultural norm. Some bigamy statutes are broad enough to potentially encompass polyamorous relationships involving cohabitation, even if none of the participants claim marriage to more than one partner. For instance, under Utah Code 76-7-101, "A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person."
Having multiple non-marital partners, even if married to one, is legal in most U.S. jurisdictions; at most it constitutes grounds for divorce if the spouse is non-consenting (or claims to be), or feels that the interest in a further partner has destabilized the marriage. There are exceptions to this: in North Carolina, a spouse can sue a third party for causing "loss of affection" in or "criminal conversation" (adultery) with their spouse, and more than twenty states in the US have laws against adultery although they are infrequently enforced. Some states were prompted to review their laws criminalizing consensual sexual activity in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. One reading of Justice Kennedy's opinion in Lawrence is that states may not constitutionally burden any private, consensual sexual activity between adults. Such a reading would throw laws against fornication, adultery, and even adult incest into question.
New Jersey's 2004 Domestic Partnership Act could in theory be used to legally connect more than two persons (albeit imperfectly), perhaps using a combination of marriage and domestic partnership. However, no case law in support of this theory as yet exists.
The late Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty Counsel organization filed the following California Supreme Court arguments on May 29, 2008:
At present, the extension to multiple-partner relationships of laws that use a criterion similar to that adopted in the UK, i.e. "married or living together as married" remains largely untested. That is, it is not known whether these laws could treat some trios or larger groups as common-law marriages.
If marriage is intended, most countries provide for both a religious marriage, and a civil ceremony (sometimes combined). These recognize and formalize the relationship. Few Western countries give either religious or legal recognition — or permission — to marriages with three or more partners. While a recent case in the Netherlands was commonly read as demonstrating that the Netherlands permitted multiple-partner civil unions, this belief is mistaken. The relationship in question was a samenlevingscontract, or "cohabitation contract," and not a registered partnership or marriage (Dutch-language source, English-language source). The Netherlands' law concerning registered partnerships provides that:
- A person may be involved in one only registered partnership with one other person whether of the same or of opposite sex at any one time.
- Persons who enter into a registered partnership may not at the same time be married.
When a relationship ends, non-consensual non-fidelity ("cheating") is often grounds for an unfavorable divorce settlement, and non-fidelity generally could easily be seized upon as a prejudicial issue by an antagonistic partner. Married people with partners external to their marriage need to consider carefully the laws in their jurisdiction, to ensure that they are complied with, and consider how to ensure that the mutuality of their decision within their marriage is clear.
Polyamory as a lifestyle
Separate from polyamory as a philosophical basis for relationship, are the practical ways in which people who live a polyamorous lifestyle arrange their lives, the issues they face, and how these compare to those living a monogamous lifestyle.
Values within polyamory
Relationships classed as polyamorous involve an emotional bond and often a longer term intent, though these distinctions are a topic open to debate and interpretation. Many people in the swinging and polyamory communities see both practices as part of a broader spectrum of open intimacy and sexuality
Also note that the values discussed here are ideals. As with any ideals, their adherents sometimes fall short of the mark — but major breaches of a polyamorous relationship's ideals are taken as seriously as such breaches would be in any other relationship. Common values cited within such relationships include:
- Fidelity and loyalty: Many polyamorists define fidelity as being faithful to the promises and agreements they have made, rather than in terms of per se sexual exclusivity. Having a secret sexual relationship which violated one's negotiated agreements would be seen as lacking fidelity. Polyamorists generally base definitions of commitment on considerations other than sexual exclusivity, e.g. "trust and honesty" or "growing old together".
- Trust, honesty, dignity and respect: Most polyamorists emphasize respect, trust and honesty for all partners. A partner's partners should be accepted as part of that person's life rather than merely tolerated, and a relationship that requires deception, or where partners are not allowed to express their individual lives, is often seen as a poor model.
- Mutual support: This requires that each partner will support, and not undermine, the other, and will not deliberately use a secondary relationship to harm another party or relationship.
- Communication and negotiation: Because there is no "standard model" for polyamorous relationships, and reliance upon common expectations may not be realistic, polyamorists often advocate explicitly deciding the ground rules of their relationships with all concerned, and often emphasize that this should be an ongoing process of communication and respect. Polyamorists usually take a pragmatic approach to their relationships; they accept that sometimes they and their partners will make mistakes and fail to live up to these ideals, and that communication is important for repairing any breaches.
- Non-possessiveness: Polyamorists believe that restrictions on other deep relationships are not for the best, as they tend to replace trust with a framework of ownership and control. They tend to see their partner's partners in terms of the gain to their partner's life rather than the threat to their own (see compersion). Poly relationships do vary and some can be possessive or provide for the primary partner's veto or approval, whilst others are asymmetrical—possessive one way, but not the other.
Sharing of domestic burden
Claimed benefits of a polyamorous lifestyle include the following:
- The ability for parties to discuss issues with a (separate) partner within the relationship itself, tending to add mediation and stabilization to a relationship, and reduce polarization of viewpoints.
- Emotional and similar support structure provided by other committed adults within the family unit.
- A wider range of experience, skills, resources, and perspectives that multiple adults bring to a relationship.
- The ability to share chores and child supervision, reducing domestic and child rearing pressure upon adults' time without needing to pay for outside child carers.
- Greatly reduced per capita cost of living.
- Increased financial stability—the loss of one income is not the entirety of the family income (if only one parent works), or half the family income (if both parents work), but may be far less.
Specific issues affecting polyamorous relationships
Polyamorists cite the human tendency towards jealousy and possessiveness as major hurdles in polyamory, and also as personal limitations to overcome:
- "Possessiveness can be a major stumbling block, and often it prevents what could be a successful polyamourous relationship from forming. When people are viewed, even inadvertently, as possessions, they become a commodity, a valuable one at that. Just as most people are reluctant to let go of what little money that they have, people are also reluctant to "share" their beloved. After all, what if [their beloved] finds someone else who is more attractive/intelligent/well-liked/successful/etc.. than [themselves], and decides to abandon the relationship in favor of the new lover? These sorts of inferiority complexes must be resolved, completely, before a polyamorous relationship can be truly successful
An editorial article on the polyamory website Polyamoryonline.org as at 2006 proposes the following issues as being worthy of specific coverage and attention:
- * Helping children cope with "being different."
- * "Coming out" as polyamorous (and explaining polyamory) to children.
- * Polyamorous parental interactions.
- * Polyamory social settings (involving children).
- * Legal (parenting) issues.
The author, herself in a polyamorous relationship of three adults, comments that:
- "The kids started realizing that there were three adults in the house that they had to answer to. **Big Shock** Then came the onslaught of trying to 'befriend' a particular adult and get what they wanted from that one adult. Another big shock when they found that it didn’t work and that we all communicated about wants or needs of any given child. After this was established, we sort of fell into our patterns of school, practices, just normal life in general. The kids all started realizing that there were three of us to care for them when they were sick, three of us to get scolded from, hugs from, tickles from; three of us to feed the small army of mouths and three of us to trust completely in. After trust was established, they asked more questions. Why do we have to live together? Why can’t I have my own room? ... Why do you guys love each other? Why do I have to listen to them (non-biological parent)? We answered them as truthfully as we could and as much as was appropriate for their age. I found that it was more unnerving for me to think about how to approach a new kid and their parents than it ever was for the kids."
Polyamory in a same-sex setting
Polyamory is "a well-accepted part of gay subculture
", although "often viewed by some therapists as problematic"; somewhere between 30% and 67% of men in male couples report being in a sexually non-monogamous relationship. According to Coleman & Rosser (1996), "although a majority of male couples are not sexually exclusive, they are in fact emotionally monogamous. Shernoff states that:
- "One of the biggest differences between male couples and mixed sex couples is that many, but by no means all within the gay community have an easier acceptance of sexual nonexclusivity than does heterosexual society in general [....] Research confirms that nonmonogamy in and of itself does not create a problem for male couples when it has been openly negotiated.
Polyamory and parenting
Many polyamorists have children, either within the relationship(s) or from a previous relationship. Like other elements of polyamory, the way in which children are integrated into the family structure varies widely. Some possibilities are:
- Parents are primarily responsible for their own children (biological, adoptive, or step-), but other members of the relationship act as an extended family, providing assistance in child-rearing.
- Adults raise children collectively, all taking equal responsibility for each child regardless of consanguinity.
- Parents are wholly responsible for their own children, with other members of the relationship relating to the children as friends of the parents.
- Children treat parents' partners as a form of step-parent.
The choice of structures is affected by timing: an adult who has been present throughout a child's life is likely to have a more parental relationship with that child than one who enters a relationship with people who already have a teenage child. (The issues involved often parallel those of step-parenting.) The degree of logistical and emotional involvement between the members of the relationship is also important: a close-knit triad already living under one roof with shared finances is far more likely to take a collective approach to parenting than would a larger, loose-knit group with separate living arrangements:
- "Some poly families are structured so that one parent can be home to care for the children while two or more other adults work outside the home and earn an income, thus providing a better standard of living for all concerned. More adult caretakers means more people available for child care, help with homework, and daily issues such as transportation to extracurricular activities. Children thrive on love. The more adults they have to love them who are part of the family, the happier and more well-adjusted they are. There is no evidence that growing up in a poly family is detrimental to the physical, psychological or moral well being of children. If parents are happy in their intimate relationships, it helps the family. Happy families are good for children."
Whether children are fully informed of the nature of their parents' relationship varies, according to the above considerations and also to whether the parents are "out" to other adults.
In one possible case indicative of the law related to parenting and polyamory in the United States, the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court in 2006 voted 5-1 that a father in a custody case had the right to teach his child (age 13) about polygamy (and hence possibly by implication about other multiple partner relationships), and that this right "trumped" the anti-bigamy and other laws which might apply and was not deemed inherently harmful to the child. (Note: this decision was made in the context of religious freedom, but religious freedom would not apply if there was harm to the child.)
Parents involved in polyamorous relationships often keep it a secret because of the risk that it will be used by an ex-spouse, or other family member, as grounds to deprive them of custody of and/or access to their children. The fear is that it will be used in family disputes much as homosexuality
has been used in the past.
In 1998, a Tennessee court granted guardianship of a child to her grandmother and step-grandfather after the child's mother April Divilbiss and partners outed themselves as polyamorous on MTV. After contesting the decision for two years, Divilbiss eventually agreed to relinquish her daughter, acknowledging that she was unable to adequately care for her child and that this, rather than her polyamory, had been the grandparents' real motivation in seeking custody. The Tennessee case is not necessarily normative for the entirety of the United States, since family law varies significantly from state to state, and sometimes even within a state. US state law is, of course, not normative for laws of other countries.
Geographical and cultural differences
Social views on polyamory vary by country and culture. For example, a 2003 article in The Guardian
by Helena Echlin argues that "British people are if anything more tolerant than in America which is perhaps why British polys are less in need of support groups", and quotes a UK source as stating: "We have a tradition of people minding their own business here. People might disapprove, but they won't try to mess up your life. In America, they might call social services."
As with many lifestyles, there is considerable active discussion about philosophical approaches to polyamory.
In Echlin's article in The Guardian, five reasons for choosing polyamory are identified: a drive towards female independence and equality driven by feminism; disillusionment with monogamy; a yearning for community; honesty and realism in respect of relational nature of human beings; human nature; and individual non-matching of the traditional monogamous stereotype. Jim Fleckenstein, director of the Institute for 21st-Century Relationships, is quoted as stating that the polyamory movement has been driven not only by science fiction, but also by feminism: "Increased financial independence means that women can build relationships the way they want to." The disillusionment with monogamy is said to be "because of widespread cheating and divorce". The longing for community is associated with a felt need for the richness of "complex and deep relationships through extended networks" in response to the replacement and fragmentation of the extended family by nuclear families. "For many," Echlin writes, "it is a hankering for community ...we have become increasingly alienated, partly because of the 20th century's replacement of the extended family with the nuclear family. As a result, many of us are striving to create complex and deep relationships through extended networks of multiple lovers and extended families". Others speak of creating an "honest responsible and socially acceptable" version of non-monogamy — "since so many people are already non-monogamous, why not develop a non-monogamy that is honest, responsible and socially acceptable? ...It seems weird that having affairs is OK but being upfront about it is rocking the boat." "Polys agree that some people are monogamous by nature. But some of us are not, and more and more are refusing to be shoehorned into monogamy."
A sixth reason, a couple's response to a failure of monogamy, by reaching a consensus to accept the additional relationship, is identified by other authors.
Research into polyamory has been limited. A comprehensive government study of sexual attitudes, behaviors and relationships in Finland
in 1992 (age 18-75, around 50% both genders) found that around 200 out of 2250 (8.9%) respondents "agreed or strongly agreed" with the statement "I could maintain several sexual relationships at the same time"
and 8.2% indicated a "lifestyle that best suits" at the present stage of life would involve more than one steady partner. By contrast, when asked about other relationships at the same time as a steady relationship, around 17% stated they had had other partners whilst in a steady relationship (50% no, 17% yes, 33% refused to answer).
The article, What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory, based on a paper presented at the 8th Annual Diversity Conference in March 1999 in Albany, New York states the following:
Polyamory in a clinical setting
There is little research at present into the specific needs and requirements for handling polyamory in a clinical context. A notable paper in this regard is Working with polyamorous clients in the clinical setting
(Davidson, 2002), which addresses the following areas of inquiry:
- Why is it important that we talk about alternatives to monogamy now?
- How can therapists prepare to work with people who are exploring polyamory?
- What basic understandings about polyamory are needed?
- What key issues do therapists need to watch for in the course of working with polyamorous clients?
Its conclusions, summarized, were that "Sweeping changes are occurring in the sexual and relational landscape" (including 'dissatisfaction with limitations of serial monogamy, i.e. exchanging one partner for another in the hope of a better outcome') ... that clinicians need to start by "recognizing the array of possibilities that polyamory encompasses" and "examine the culturally based assumption that only monogamy is acceptable" and how this bias impacts on the practice of therapy ... the need for self-education about polyamory" ... basic understandings about the "rewards of the poly lifestyle" and the common social and relationship challenges faced by those involved ... and the "shadow side" of polyamory the potential existing for coercion, strong emotions in opposition, and/or jealousy.
The paper also states that the configurations a therapist would be "most likely to see in practice" are individuals involved in primary-plus arrangements, monogamous couples wishing to explore non-monogamy for the first time, and poly singles.
The decision to explore polyamory
Morin (1999) states that a couple has a very good chance of adjusting to nonexclusivity if at least some of the following conditions exist:
- * Both partners want their relationship to remain primary.
- * The couple has an established reservoir of good will.
- * There is minimal lingering resentments from past hurts and betrayals.
- * The partners are not polarized over monogamy/nonmonogamy.
- * The partners are feeling similarly powerful and autonomous.
Green & Mitchell (2002) state that direct discussion of the following issues can provide the basis for honest and important conversations:
- * Openness versus secrecy
- * Volition/equality versus coercion/inequality
- * Clarity/specificity of agreements versus confusion/vagueness
- * Honoring keeping agreements versus violating them
- * How each partner views nonmonogamy.
According to Michael Shernoff if the matter is discussed with a third party, such as a therapist, the task of the therapist is to "engage couples in conversations that let them decide for themselves whether sexual exclusivity or nonexclusivity is functional or dysfunctional for the relationship."
Many religions discourage sex outside marriage (or, in some cases, a committed relationship closely resembling marriage). As a consequence, those religions effectively prohibit or permit polyamory to the same degree that they prohibit or permit polygamy. Even where polygamy is permitted, it is often limited to a rigidly-defined form of plural marriage — most commonly polygyny
At the beginning of the 21st century, polygyny remained common in some parts of the Islamic world but was not recognized by most branches of Christianity and Judaism. There are many scriptural references in the Old Testament to polygyny, such as the story of King Solomon, an important figure to all three major Abrahamic religions. Buddhism and Hinduism do not take a stance for or against, but are filled with many people who participate in it. For further discussion and some exceptions see Polygamy and religion.
While most religions offer guidance about sex and family, religious leaders have said relatively little about polyamory, possibly due to its low public profile compared to other relational/ethical issues such as homosexuality.
In a 2007 editorial by the Chinese
newspaper the Shanghai Daily
, the moralistic argument was advanced that marriage, a vehicle for true love
, should engender the "obligation to give themselves totally and exclusively, to this one person" in order to have meaning, and in consequence of this, all extramarital activity was "worse than immoral. It's unashamed... Mutual conspiracy", and that the concept of mutual consent was "not worth refutation". Even if the partners were honest and supportive of each other, the writer stated that "marriage is considered the consecration of true love", and there was a spirit of marriage which had been betrayed.
The editorial was in response to the case of a Chinese female ex-police officer who ran a swingers website, and discussed various forms of open marriage:
"Then what about polyamory—a lifestyle of having more than one love/sex partner? If it is understood as an alternative to monogamous marriage, it is of the same ilk as swinging. It could be the case that sexual fun and passion are shared by more than two people. But true love and marriage require exclusive mutual fidelity in one couple.
Division of love
In The Ethical Slut
, Dossie Easton
and Janet Hardy
(writing as 'Catherine Liszt') described an argument against polyamory to the effect that, when one's love is divided among multiple partners, the love is lessened. They referred to this as a "starvation economy" argument, because it treats love as a scarce commodity (like food or other resources) that can be given to one person only by taking it away from another. This is sometimes called a "Malthusian
argument", after Malthus' writings on finite resources.
Many polyamorists, including Easton and Hardy, reject the idea that dividing love among multiple partners automatically lessens it. A commonly-invoked argument uses an analogy with a parent who has two children—the parent does not love either of them any less because of the existence of the other. Robert Heinlein expressed this in saying "Love does not divide, it multiplies."
Critics counter that even if love is not a finite resource, time and energy still are. Because of this, it is considered responsible for polyamorists to not simply acquire relationships arbitrarily.
Another viewpoint is that the love from the third is just added to the total amount of the couple, and therefore, the amount of love is increased because all parties are providing it to all other parties.
Perceived failure rates
Polyamorous relationships are often criticised as "not lasting", for example, Stanley Kurtz takes this as axiomatic when he says "Not only would legally recognized polyamory be unstable...
The problem of confirmation bias makes it impossible to accurately gauge the stability of polyamorous relationships without carefully-conducted scientific investigation. The complex nature of polyamory presents difficulties in structuring such research. For instance, polyamorists may be reluctant to disclose their relationship status due to potential negative consequences, and researchers may be unfamiliar with the full range of polyamorous behaviours, leading to poorly-framed questions that give misleading results.
In general terms, nonexclusivity lowers the cost of entering into, and exiting, romantic relationships. More sexual relationships creates more competition for longer-term relationships. While some researchers may assume this would cause higher failure rates, the additional outlets and support may offset this to some degree. Researchers may also assume an inherently more complex structure is more prone to failure.
While predating the term polyamory, some research has been done on the stability of some forms of what might be considered polyamorous relationships in the Netherlands. Weitzman lists a study by Rubin and Adams in 1986 which found no differences in marital stability based on sexual exclusivity in married relationships.
Notes and references
- Polyamory in the News website (a part of the Polyamory Online website).
- Loving More, a polyamory magazine and nonprofit organization that runs national poly conferences (USA), one-day seminars, and other educational and support activities.
- Polyamory Weekly, a weekly podcast hosted by Cunning Minx, featuring Poly in the News and frank discussion of the joys and pains of the poly lifestyle in all of its flavors.
Research and articles
- Polyamory—What it is and what it isn't, Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 6, February 27, 2003, reviews some of the core beliefs, perspectives, practicalities and references in polyamory
- Monogamy's Law: Compulsory Monogamy and Polyamorous Existence, by Elizabeth F. Emens, analyzes social and legal perspectives on polyamory.
- Therapy with Clients Who Are Bisexual and Polyamorous, a paper by Geri Weitzman, PhD
- The Challenge Of Post-Modern Polygamy: Considering Polyamory Research analyzing monogamy, polygamy, polyfidelity and polyparenting and considers how polyfidelitous marriage might fit into Western culture within a Hegelian framework.
- newgroup control message creating alt.polyamory, May 29, 1992, as archived at ftp.uu.net (primary source for the Usenet control message archive)
- A love triangle? Try a hexagon - St. Petersburg Times news article (February 18, 2007) by Leonora LaPeter.
- Love Me Two (Or More) Times - Orlando Weekly article by Deanna Sheffield
- National Coalition for Sexual Freedom Polyamory Sound Bites Includes some data on frequency of nonmonogamy and psychiatric health of the polyamorous.
- Love Unlimited: The Polyamorists Annalee Newitz, New Scientist magazine, 7 July 2006.
- The Washington Post covers the 2008 Poly Living Conference Monica Hesse, Washington Post, 13 Feb. 2008.
- The Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, published by the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, San Francisco, California, has produced several articles examining aspects of polyamory. To date these include:
- # Working with polyamorous clients in the clinical setting - Davidson (Volume 5, April 16, 2002, also delivered to the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Regional Conference, April 2002)
- # Polyamory - What it is and what it isn't - McCullough and Hall (Volume 6, February 27, 2003)
- # Commitment in polyamory - Cook (Volume 8, December 12, 2005)
Advocacy and awareness