Thursday, July 30, 2009

A new look at free love: polyamory

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

Terisa is sleeping with Matt, but he's married. That might be a problem, except Matt's wife, Vera, is also sleeping with Larry. But then again, Larry is sleeping with Terisa - who is also dating Scott. We're left to wonder how much of this Matt and Vera's 6-year-old son knows about this - or how he addresses Terisa. If your head is spinning, don't worry - mine is too. The situation is confusing, but only if you're accustomed to our cultural monogamous paradigm, which would completely shatter if confronted with even half of the complex sexual pairings among these five people. Forget ugly divorces or child custody battles or jealous brawls on daytime TV talk shows - in a "traditional" American family, this would result in complete fucking chaos (pun - I swear! - unintended).

But for them, it doesn't. In fact, it's their chosen lifestyle, one that makes them happy. Newsweek has a fascinating story, published yesterday, about this "polyamorous" group, and about polyamory as it exists in modern American society. "Polyamory" refers to relationships with multiple mutually consenting couples, and no, this is not a synonym for "swinger" - these people are not pursuing casual sex. Rather, the confines of monogamy do not, for whatever reason, work for them, and they have created their relationships with the knowledge and consent of all parties. The article is fascinating, focusing on ncluding its rather tormented relationship with the gay rights movement, who are clear in their stance that while homosexuality is not a choice, polyamory is.

You should read the article for yourself to hear the whole story. But the most interesting part for me was the ability of people within polyamorous relationships to thwart jealousy by being entirely clear about what's going on emotionally and sexually. In many ways, they sound more sensitive to their partners' needs than most monogamous couples, simply because part of the appeal is making sure that your partner is physically and emotionally satisfied, even if you're not the one who's satisfying them. There's a specific jargon with words like "polygeometry" and "polyfidelitous", a rather tormented relationship with the gay rights movement, who see polyamory as a life choice and thus not part of their agenda, and an ongoing debate about the impact on children within polyamorous families (to the point where the Polyamory Society warns parents against "putting their family at risk" by coming out to the public or allowing their children to be interviewed by the press), but at the center of the article is a compelling thought - that happy nonmonogamous relationships can be achieved. This is an idea that's been tossed around quite a bit recently (notably by Tristan Taormino, who's mentioned in the article, and who will be speaking at Princeton in November about creating healthy nonmonogamous relationships in a college setting), and I'm glad to hear it articulated again, because even if polyamory isn't for you, the ideals of honesty and openness that it requires are crucial for monogamous relationships too, and they're in shockingly short supply.

Thanks to Aku for the tip!


At July 31, 2009 at 5:36 PM , Anonymous Eileen said...

Polygamy has always been used by Patriarchal Societies to keep Women in line. Despite the obvious identicalness of Male and Female sexual criteria, you never hear of a case of one Woman marrying several Men.

Some stooges of the Patriarchy have tried to make Polygamy legal, using the argument that "love is love" and if Gay Marriage is allowable then so should Polygamy. This is nonsense; they are nothing the same. One celebrates free sexuality and the other is a tool for the oppression of Women. We need to hold the line against Polygamy and those Women who participate in these soft-Polygamy schemes are traitors to their gender.

At August 1, 2009 at 9:12 AM , Blogger John said...

Your comment addresses polygamy, and while not innacurate in its description thereof, misses the point of the article which is concerned with the distinctly different polyamory--which is not a tool of the patriarchy (the group studied in the article includes multiple women who are involved with multiple men) and is predicated on the equality of the partners involved. Furthermore, there are cases of females marrying several men--the wikipedia article on polygamy ( has a section on Polyandry which gives examples.


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