Polyamory (from Greek πολύ [poly], meaning "many" or "several", and Latin amor, "love") is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It is distinct from both swinging (which emphasizes sex with others as merely recreational) and may or may not include polysexuality (attraction towards multiple genders and/or sexes).
Polyamory, often abbreviated as poly, is often described as "consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy." The word is sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to sexual or romantic relationships that are not sexually exclusive, though there is disagreement on how broadly it applies; an emphasis on ethics, honesty, and transparency all around is widely regarded as the crucial defining characteristic.
The term "polyamorous" can refer to the nature of a relationship at some point in time or to a philosophy or relationship orientation (much like gender or sexual orientation). It is sometimes used as an umbrella term that covers various forms of multiple relationships; polyamorous arrangements are varied, reflecting the choices and philosophies of the individuals involved. Polyamory is a less specific term than polygamy, the practice or condition of having more than one spouse. The majority of polygamous cultures are traditionally polygynous, where one husband has multiple wives. Polyandrous societies, in which one wife has multiple husbands, are less common but do exist. Marriage is not a requirement in polyamorous relationships. The "knowledge and consent of all partners concerned" is a defining characteristic of polyamorous relationships. Distinguishing polyamory from traditional forms of non-monogamy (e.g., "cheating") is an ideology that openness, goodwill, truthful communication, and ethical behavior should prevail among all the parties involved. As of July 2009, it was estimated that more than 500,000 polyamorous relationships existed in the United States.
People who identify as polyamorous typically reject the view that sexual and relational exclusivity are necessary for deep, committed, long-term loving relationships. Those who are open to, or emotionally suited for, polyamory may embark on a polyamorous relationship when single or already in a monogamous or open relationship. Sex is not necessarily a primary focus in polyamorous relationships, which commonly consist of people seeking to build long-term relationships with more than one person on mutually agreeable grounds, with sex as only one aspect of their relationships. In practice, polyamorous relationships are highly varied and individualized according to those participating. For many, such relationships are ideally built upon values of trust, loyalty, the negotiation of boundaries, and compersion, as well as overcoming jealousy, possessiveness, and the rejection of restrictive cultural standards. Powerful intimate bonding among three or more persons may occur. The skills and attitudes needed to manage polyamorous relationships add challenges that are not often found in the traditional "dating-and-marriage" model of long-term relationships. Polyamory may require a more fluid and flexible approach to love relationship, and yet operate on a complex system of boundaries or rules. Additionally, participants in a polyamorous relationship may not have, nor expect their partners to have, preconceptions as to the duration of the relationship, in contrast to monogamous marriages where a lifelong union is generally the goal. However, polyamorous relationships can and do last many years.
Polyamory is a hybrid word: poly is Greek for many (or multiple) and amor is Latin for love. The article entitled "A Bouquet of Lovers," written by Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart and first published in Green Egg Magazine (Spring 1990), a publication founded by her husband Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, is widely cited as the original source of the word, although "polyamory" does not appear in the article.Jennifer L. Wesp created the Usenet newsgroup alt.polyamory in May 1992, and the Oxford English Dictionary cites the proposal to create that group as the first verified appearance of the word. The term polyfidelity, now considered a subset of polyamory, was coined in the 1970s by members of the Kerista commune. Naturally, such relationships existed long before the words for them came into use.
Most definitions center on the concepts of being open to, or engaging in, multiple loving relationships (of whatever form or configuration) wherein all parties are informed and consenting to the arrangement. However, no single definition of "polyamory" has universal acceptance; two areas of difference arise regarding the degree of commitment (such as in the practice of more casual sexual activities rather than long-term, loving partnerships) and whether it represents a viewpoint or a relational status quo (is a person who is open to the idea, but without partners at present, still "polyamorous?"). Similarly, an open relationship in which the committed partners agree to permit romantic or sexual relationships with other people, might be considered "polyamorous" under broader usages of the word, but excluded from some of the narrower usages, since polyamorous relationships can also be conducted as poly-fidelitous ("closed," or faithful to the participants involved).
Members of the newsgroup alt.polyamory collaborated on a FAQ (frequently asked questions) post that was updated periodically, and included the group's definition of "polyamory". The 1997 version, which has been archived online, contains this definition:
Polyamory means "loving more than one". This love may be sexual, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof, according to the desires and agreements of the individuals involved, but you needn't wear yourself out trying to figure out ways to fit fondness for apple pie, or filial piety, or a passion for the Saint Paul Saints baseball club into it. "Polyamorous" is also used as a descriptive term by people who are open to more than one relationship even if they are not currently involved in more than one. (Heck, some are involved in less than one.) Some people think the definition is a bit loose, but it's got to be fairly roomy to fit the wide range of poly arrangements out there.
In 1999, Zell-Ravenheart was asked by the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary to provide a definition of the term (which the dictionary had not yet recognized; the words "polyamory, -ous, and -ist" were added to the OED in 2006). On their website, the Ravenhearts shared their submission to the OED, which follows:
The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.
The Ravenhearts then further explained their views on the above definition:
This term was meant to be inclusive, and in that context, we have never intended to particularly exclude “swinging” per se, if practitioners thereof wished to adopt the term and include themselves. As far as we have understood, swinging specifically does not involve “cheating,” and it certainly does involve having “multiple lovers”! Moreover, we understand from speaking with a few swinging activists that many swingers are closely bonded with their various lovers, as best friends and regular partners.
The two essential ingredients of the concept of “polyamory” are “more than one;” and “loving.” That is, it is expected that the people in such relationships have a loving emotional bond, are involved in each other's lives multi-dimensionally, and care for each other. This term is not intended to apply to merely casual recreational sex, anonymous orgies, one-night stands, pick-ups, prostitution, “cheating,” serial monogamy, or the popular definition of swinging as “mate-swapping” parties.
Polyamory is about truthful communication with all concerned parties, loving intent, erotic meeting, and inclusivity (as opposed to the exclusivity of monogamy and monamory). On the basis of our own personal friendships with a few participants in the very large, diverse groundswell of human energy sometimes called the “Swinger’s Movement,” many—perhaps most—self-identified “swingers” do seem to fulfill our criteria of being polyamorous.However, Ryam Nearing of Loving More says: “In all my talks with swingers it seems that the traditional (and most widespread) way of swinging is not polyamory as it is primarily sexual and specifically not relationship oriented. Some swingers and some locals allow for/choose more emotional connection, but they are the exception rather than the rule.”—Ravenhearts FAQ on Polyamory
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 a person's life. Thus, a woman with a husband and an additional partner might refer to her husband as her "primary," and a lover whom she only sees once a week as her "secondary," in order to differentiate to the listener who is who. Some polyamorous people use such labels as a tool to manage multiple relationships, while others believe that all partners deserve equal standing and consideration and that a hierarchy is insulting to the people involved. Another model, sometimes referred to as an 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, a 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 symbol (∞). The colors often vary.
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). It is a variation on Pi-and-the-three-colors from the Polyamory Pride Flag by Jim Evans. Like the flag, the colors are: blue, representing the openness and honesty among all partners with which people who are polyamorous conduct their multiple relationships; red, representing love and passion; and black, representing solidarity with those who, though they are open and honest with all participants of their relationships, must hide those relationships from the outside world due to societal pressures. A gold Greek lowercase letter "pi" (π), as the first letter of "polyamory", 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 most common symbol that people who are polyamorous have adopted is the heart symbol combined with the infinity sign (∞) that the ILIC symbol also uses.
Another is the image of a parrot, since "Polly" is a common name for these birds. PolyOz states in its polyamory glossary that "The parrot is a common poly "mascot" or symbol. Punning on 'poly wanna X'". A 2003 article in The Guardian states "Today America has more than 100 poly email lists and support groups. Their emblem, which marks the table when they meet in restaurants, is the parrot (because of their nickname Polly)." Author Mystic Life describes this symbol an ironic reference to parrots' monogamy.
The Purple Mobius symbol was created to provide an abstract symbol for the poly community, which had some disagreements over the use of the heart/infinity, the parrot, and the pi-flag. It was intended to be a neutral symbol that referenced all the civil and social rights groups that came before, by alluding to the color and shape of related movements, such as the Gay Rights movement, the lesbian/feminist movement, the bisexual community, and the BDSM community, as well as making a nodding reference to the heart/infinity symbol (the infinity symbol being another example of a Mobius Strip).
Forms of polyamory
Forms of polyamory include:
- Polyfidelity, which involves multiple romantic relationships with sexual contact restricted to only specific partners in the 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). In 1906 H.G. Wells presented a defense of this sort of polyamory in a utopian novel entitled In the Days of the Comet.
- Three people romantically involved, often called a "triad relationship." (Commonly initiated by an established couple jointly dating a third person; however, there are many possible configurations.)
- 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, sometimes referred to as tribes, 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). A domestic partnership consisting of four people who are all married to each other features in Vonda N. McIntyre's Starfarers series.
- 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" (or "Vee") and "N" geometries. (See: Terminology within polyamory.)
- Open relationships/open marriages, where participants may have sexual liaisons with others not within their core group of partners. Some open relationships may be open only sexually, while exclusive emotionally.
- Swinging: Traditionally there has been a cultural divide between the polyamorous and swinger communities, the former emphasizing the emotional aspects of plural relationships and the latter emphasizing the sexual activities of non-monogamy. It is possible for a person with polyamorous relationships to also engage in traditional swinging and other open relationships. Those in polyamorous relationships who take part in casual sex often see it as separate from the emotional bonds they share with their polyamorous partners. However it is also possible for swingers to develop deep emotional attachments with those they have sex with, and thereby find themselves in polyamory. Such swingers in their new polyamorous relationships may or may not choose to continue swinging with others. Finally, both swingers and polyamorous people can engage in secret infidelities, but this is no better accepted by either communities than in monogamy.
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, National Coalition for Sexual Freedom and American Civil Liberties Union. However, polygamy advocacy groups and activists and egalitarian polyamory advocacy groups and activists can and do work together cooperatively. In addition, the two sub-communities 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 sub-communities, regardless of any cultural differences that may exist. Moreover, there is considerable cultural diversity within both sub-communities. Religiously motivated polygamy has its Islamic, Mormon fundamentalist, Christian Plural Marriage, Jewish and other varieties; similarly, some 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 the 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). About 25% of nation states recognize marriages between a man and more than one woman, however, no Western countries 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 applied 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.
In many jurisdictions where lesbian and gay couples can access civil unions or registered partnerships, these are often intended as parallel institutions to that of heterosexual monogamous marriage. Accordingly, they include parallel entitlements, obligations, and limitations. Amongst the latter, as in the case of the New Zealand Civil Union Act 2005, there are parallel prohibitions on civil unions with more than one partner, which is considered bigamy, or dual marriage/civil union hybrids with more than one person. Both are banned under Sections 205-206 of the Crimes Act 1961. In jurisdictions where same-sex marriage proper exists, bigamous same-sex marriages fall under the same set of legal prohibitions as bigamous heterosexual marriages. As yet, there is no case law applicable to these issues.
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 feels that the interest in a further partner has destabilized the marriage. In jurisdictions where civil unions or registered partnerships are recognized, the same principle applies to divorce in those contexts. 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. Some social conservatives hold that the 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.
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 Dutch law 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. 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 infidelity ("cheating") is often grounds for an unfavorable divorce settlement, and infidelity generally could easily be seized upon as a prejudicial issue by an antagonistic partner.
A detailed legal theory of polyamorous marriage is being developed. The "dyadic networks" model calls for the revision of existing laws against bigamy to permit married persons to enter into additional marriages, provided that they have first given legal notice to their existing marital partner(s).
Polyamory as a practice
Separate from polyamory as a philosophical basis for relationship, are the practical ways in which people who live polyamorously arrange their lives and handle certain issues, as compared to those of a generally more socially acceptable monogamous arrangement.
Values within polyamory
- Fidelity and loyalty: Many polyamorists define fidelity not as sexual exclusivity, but as faithfulness to the promises and agreements made about a relationship. A secret sexual relationship that violates those accords would be seen as a breach of fidelity. Polyamorists generally base definitions of commitment on considerations other than sexual exclusivity, e.g. "trust and honesty" or "growing old together".
- 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 negotiating with all involved to establish the terms of their relationships, and often emphasize that this should be an ongoing process of honest communication and respect. Polyamorists will usually take a pragmatic approach to their relationships; many 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.
- Trust, honesty, dignity, and respect: Most polyamorists emphasize respect, trust, and honesty for all partners. Ideally, a partner's partners are accepted as part of that person's life rather than merely tolerated, and usually a relationship that requires deception or a "don't ask don't tell" policy is seen as a less than ideal model.
- Boundaries and agreements: Poly relationships often involve negotiating agreements, and establishing specific boundaries, or "ground rules"; such agreements vary widely and may change over time, but could include, for example: consultation about new relationships; devising schedules that work for everyone; limits on physical displays of affection in public or among mixed company; and budgeting the amount of money a partner can spend on additional partners.
- Gender equality: Many polyamorists do not believe in different relationship "rules" based on gender, a point of contrast with some forms of religious non-monogamy which are often patriarchically based. Commonly, however, couples first expanding an existing monogamous relationship into a polyamorous one, may adhere to gender-specific boundaries until all parties are comfortable with the new dynamic, such as when a wife agrees not to engage sexually with another male at her husband's request, but may be allowed to have romantic and sexual relationships with women. Such terms and boundaries are negotiable, and such asymmetric degrees of freedom among the partners (who need not be of different genders) are more often due to individual differences and needs, and are usually understood to be temporary and within a negotiated time frame until further opening up of the relationship becomes practicable or easier for the parties to handle emotionally.
- Non-possessiveness: Many polyamorists view excessive restrictions on other deep relationships as less than desirable, as such restrictions can be used to replace trust with a framework of ownership and control. It is usually preferred or encouraged that a polyamorist strive to view their partners' other significant others (often referred to as OSOs) in terms of the gain to their partners' lives rather than a threat to their own (see compersion). Therefore, jealousy and possessiveness are generally viewed not so much as something to avoid or structure the relationships around, but as responses that should be explored, understood, and resolved within each individual, with compersion as a goal.
Sharing of domestic burden
Claimed benefits of a polyamorous relationship include the following:
- The ability of parties to discuss issues with multiple partners has the potential to add mediation and stabilization to a relationship, and to reduce polarization of viewpoints.
- Emotional support and 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 family dynamic.
- The ability to share chores and child supervision, reducing domestic and child rearing pressure upon adults' time without needing to pay for outside child caregivers.
- 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
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 feelings act as inferiority complexes inside of polyamorous relationships and must be resolved, completely, before a polyamorous relationship can be truly successful.
An editorial article on the polyamory website Polyamoryonline.org proposed in 2006 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 part of a polyamorous relationship with two other 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
Gay psychotherapist Michael Shernoff wrote that non-monogamy is "a well-accepted part of gay subculture," although "often viewed by some therapists as problematic," and that somewhere between 30% and 67% of men in male couples reported being in a sexually non-monogamous relationship. According to Eli Coleman & B. R. Simon 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.
In practice, most discussion of lesbian and gay polyamory occurs primarily within the context of relationship ethics. It should be noted that there is a broad spectrum of partner numerical and frequency profiles amongst lesbians and gay men, so that polyamorous ethical debates may be undertaken, but most legislative effort is expended on legal recognition of same-sex couples, whether through civil unions, registered partnerships or same-sex marriage proper. As yet, there is no movement for lesbian/gay 'polyamorists rights' akin to that for same-sex marriage or alternative forms of legal relationship recognition.
Polyamory and parenting
Many polyamorists have children, either within the relationship(s) or from previous relationships. 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 stepparent or are told to think of them as aunts and uncles.
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. 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 non-traditional life choices, there is considerable active discussion about philosophical approaches to polyamory.
In 1929, Marriage and Morals, written by the philosopher, mathematician, and Nobel Prize winner Bertrand Russell, offered a strong precedent to the philosophy of polyamory. At the time of publication, Russell's questioning of the Victorian notions of morality regarding sex and marriage prompted vigorous protests and denunciations, but several intellectuals, led by John Dewey, spoke out against this treatment.
In Echlin's article in The Guardian, six 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 ... 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."
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".
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 relationship type "that best suits" at the present stage of life would involve multiple partners. 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).  (PDF)
British artist Connie Rose was the first to create a film about polyamory consisting of interviews around the world including polamory's leading academics, authors and sex experts, including Dossie Easton (coauthor of The Ethical Slut) and Christopher Ryan (coauthor of Sex at Dawn). Rose's film Questioning Monogamy was exhibited in London 2011 as an eight foot installation for 12 people to lay in with ten screens.
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:
While openly polyamorous relationships are relatively rare (Rubin, 1982), there are indications that private polyamorous arrangements within relationships are actually quite common. Blumstein and Schwartz (1983, cited in Rubin & Adams, 1986) noted that of 3,574 married couples in their sample, 15-28% had an understanding that allows nonmonogamy under some circumstances. The percentages are higher among cohabitating couples (28%), lesbian couples (29%) and gay male couples (65%) (p. 312).
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 our 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."
A manual for psychotherapists who deal with polyamorous clients was published in September, 2009 by the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom titled What Psychotherapists Should Know About Polyamory.
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 a minimum of 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 and equality versus coercion and inequality
- Clarity and specificity of agreements versus confusion/vagueness
- Honoring keeping agreements versus violating them
- How each partner views nonmonogamy.
According to 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.
Division of love
In The Ethical Slut, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy (writing as 'Catherine Liszt') described an argument against polyamory which posits 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 "The more you love, the more you can love -- and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just."
Perceived failure rates
Polyamorous relationships are often criticised as "not lasting", for example, Stanley Kurtz takes this as axiomatic when he says "... legally recognized polyamory [would] 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.
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.
- West, Alex (2001-02-06). "A List of Poly Symbols". Retrieved 2002-05-11. "variations on Pi-and-the-three-colors the ILIC symbol ... The symbol that started this category, Jim Evans' Poly Pride Flag. He has put this image in the public domain ... "ILIC" stands for Infinite Love in Infinite Combinations (a reference to Star Trek's IDIC credo --- the D in the Star Trek version stands for "Diversity")."
- Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart. A Bouquet of Lovers (1990)
- "swinger." Definitions.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013. <http://www.definitions.net/definition/swinger>.
- "polysexuality." Definitions.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013. <http://www.definitions.net/definition/polysexuality>.
- Whittington, Dee (December 12, 1976). "Polyandry Practice Fascinates Prince". The Palm Beach Post. Retrieved October 14, 2010.
- "New edition: pleb to Pomak". Quarterly updates to OED Online. 2006-09-14. Retrieved 2007-02-16.
- Alan M. "Five Speeches from Poly Pride Weekend", Polyamory in the News, Oct. 20, 2008 (retrieved Feb. 21, 2011)
- "Welcome to the Polyamory Leadership Network", Oct. 2010 (retrieved Feb. 21, 2011)
- Bennett, Jessica (June 29, 2009). "Polyamory—relationships with multiple, mutually consenting partners—has a coming-out party.". Newsweek Magazine Online. Retrieved 2009-09-15. "Editor's note in TOC: "Polyamory is a thriving phenomenon in the United States, with over half a million families openly living in relationships that are between multiple consenting partners.""
- In When two just won't do, The Guardian, November 14, 2003, Helen Echlin states: "For most people, the biggest stumbling block to polyamory is jealousy. But polys try to see jealousy less as a green-eyed monster than as an opportunity for character-building." Retrieved March 27, 2007.
- CAWeb. "Church of All Worlds Clergy". Retrieved 2006-10-14.
- "A Bouquet of Lovers" does use "polyamorous," but "the original version introduced the term "poly-amorous" in hyphenated form, which suggests that the author may not have viewed it as a word at the time. Later copies on the Internet were edited to remove the hyphen, after the word had become more well-known and established. The word "polyamory" does not appear in the article, and the predecessor word "polygamy" is used several times.
- "Polyamory" enters the Oxford English Dictionary, and tracking the word's origins
- The Ravenhearts. "Frequently Asked Questions re: Polyamory". Retrieved 2011-07-06.
- Evans, Jim (1999-07-06). "Jim Evans' Polyamory Pride Flag". ISOMEDIA - Business Solutions from Internet to eMedia. ISOMEDIA, INC. p. 1. Retrieved 2006-02-08. "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, representing the openness and honesty among all partners with which we conduct our multiple relationships; red, representing love and passion; and black, representing solidarity with those who, though they are open and honest with all participants of their relationships, must hide those relationships from the outside world due to societal pressures. The symbol in the center of the flag is a gold Greek lowercase letter 'pi', as the first letter of 'polyamory'. The letter's gold color represents the value that we place on the emotional attachment to others, be the relationship friendly or romantic in nature, as opposed to merely primarily physical relationships. This design is in the public domain. If you decide to use it, credit to Jim Evans would be nice, but is not required."
- Dillinger, Ray (1997-06-08). "alt.polyamory home page". Retrieved 2007-10-09. "Parrot graphic by Ray Dillinger, placed in the public domain for use as a poly mascot."
- PolyOz states in its polyamory glossary that "The parrot is a common poly "mascot" or symbol. Punning on 'poly wanna X'".
- A 2003 article in The Guardian states "Today America has more than 100 poly email lists and support groups. Their emblem, which marks the table when they meet in restaurants, is the parrot (because of their nickname Polly)."
- Mystic Life (December 2003) in "Spiritual Polyamory" ISBN 978-0-595-30541-4
- Rowley I(1997) "Family Cacatuidae (Cockatoos)" in Handbook of the Birds of the World Volume 4; Sandgrouse to Cuckoos (eds del Hoyo J, Elliott A, Sargatal J) Lynx Edicions:Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-22-9
- "OrlandoPoly What Is That Weird Purple Thing?". "Purple Mobius symbol placed in the public domain for an abstract symbol for polyamory"
- Broward County Jewish Journal, Thursday, May 29, 2008, p. 16, Polygamy and the Right of Privacy, Rabbi Bruce S. Warshal, Publisher Emeritus: "polygamy [...] happens to be legal under halachic rabbinic Judaism and appears throughout the bible"
- From PolyOz glossary on the book Stranger in a Strange Land which "served as an inspiration to many poly folks before the term "polyamory" was even invented ... also inspired the Neopagan Church of All Worlds, which has been a long-term poly hotbed" Scm-rpg.com
- For instance, Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy, co-authors of The Ethical Slut, are equally well-known as authors on BDSM; in the introduction to The New Bottoming Book, Hardy describes herself as "a standard-issue Northern California bisexual polyamorous switch"
- Andrew Webb et al. (eds) Butterworths Guide to Family Law in New Zealand: (13th Edition): Wellington: Lexis/Nexis: 2007
- RUBY DEATON PHARR, Plaintiff, v. JOYCE W. BECK, Defendant
- Punishing Adultery in Virginia by Joanna Grossman
- First Trio "Married" in The Netherlands by Paul Belien, Brussels Journal Online
- Dutch-language source
- English-language source
- Polyamory in the twenty-first century: love and intimacy with multiple partners (Google eBook) by Deborah Anapol, pp. 181-182 http://books.google.com/books?id=BkhLnjvweL8C&pg=PA181&lpg=PA181&dq=%22dyadic+networks
- Cook, Elaine (2005). "Commitment in Polyamorous Relationships". Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- From PolyOz glossary: "Not in the [linguistic roots of the term] but very important is the commitment to honesty with all partners, and openly negotiated ground rules." Scm-rpg.com
- From sexuality.org: "Two of the cultural cornerstones of the polyamory community are honesty and communication: it's expected that you and your existing long-term partner(s) will have talked over what you're comfortable with and what you aren't comfortable with, and that nobody is going around behind anyone else's back."
- PolyamoryOnline Polyamory 101: Consensual Non-Monogamy for the 21st Century "In a polyamourous relationship, this ['A burden shared is a burden lessened'] is doubly true. If you are having problems with one of the people in the relationship, often you can talk to another participant about it, with the added advantage of having a confidant with a good perspective on the relationship. When one person has problems, everyone else is there to help them through it. Child rearing benefits greatly in a polyamourous setting as well. Children are exposed to a wide range of viewpoints and experiences. To use a personal example, children raised in my Family ... are exposed to my experiences growing up in rural Illinois, two of our Family's childhoods in the city of Chicago, and my fiancee's childhood in South Carolina. Perhaps one day we will have a Family member from outside the United States, offering an entirely different perspective. This also makes it easier to supervise a child. When many people live in the same household, they can take turns supervising the children, offering the rest of the members of the household a chance to catch up on chores, do homework, or simply go out for a while. Try doing that in a two-parent household without paying for a babysitter. On a purely practical note, having ten incomes in a household is much more flexible than just two. If one of the family suffers a loss of income, the others can help to make up for it. It is much easier to get by after losing one tenth of household income than it is after losing one half. Expenses are also significantly reduced in a polyamourous household, as they are in any situation when multiple adults occupy the same house."
- Poly 101
- A few insights (FAQ)
- Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006 Familyprocess.org)
- "70% of men in male couples reported being in a monogamous relationship" - Campbell, 2000 (cited by Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006 Familyprocess.org)
- and that "approximately one third of male couples are sexually exclusive" - Bryant & Demian, 1994; Wagner et al., 2000; Advocate Sex Poll, 2002; LaSala, 2004 (cited by Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006 Familyprocess.com)
- Cited by Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006 Familyprocess.org)
- Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006 Familyprocess.org)
- See, for example Marcia Munson and Judith Kiernan (eds) A Lesbian Polyamory Reader: New York: Haworth Press: 1999: ISBN 1-56023-120-3
- Polyamory Online.
- Shepp v. Shepp, J-97-2004, 2006, PA supreme court. The opinion stated that: the state's interest in enforcing the anti-bigamy law "is not an interest of the 'highest order"' that would trump a parent's right to tell a child about deeply held religious beliefs, and that a court may prohibit a parent from advocating religious beliefs that amount to a crime if doing so jeopardizes the child's physical or mental health or safety, or potentially creates significant social burdens, but that in this case it was not felt that discussing multiple partner relationships as a parents' preference or presenting or advocating them as desirable to the parent, was harmful.
- Divilbiss Families Case Ends, Polyamory Society].
- ECHLIN, Helena. Women, The Guardian, 2003.
- Haeberle, Erwin J. (1983). "Pioneers of Sex Education". The Continuum Publishing Company. Retrieved 2008-02-17.
- Leberstein, Stephen (November/December 2001). "Appointment Denied: The Inquisition of Bertrand Russell". Academe. Retrieved 2008-02-17.
- Women's Infidelity by Michelle Langley (ISBN 0-9767726-0-4) Straight talk about why women choose non-monogamy, 2005 Womensinfidelity.com
- Polyamory The New Love without Limits by Dr Deborah Anapol (ISBN 1-880789-08-6) has a chapter called "Making the transition to polyamorous relating", which deals with broken monogamous commitments from both perspectives.
- What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory
- Paper delivered to the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Regional Conference, April 2002, and available online: Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 5, April 16, 2002 Ejhs.org
- 2010_poly_web.pdf What Psychotherapists Should Know About Polyamory
- Cited by Michael Shernoff, Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006, in the context of same-sex relationships Familyprocess.org
- Family Process, Vol.45 No.4, 2006, in the context of same-sex relationships Familyprocess.org
- McCullough, Derek; Hall, David S. (February 27, 2003). "Polyamory: What it is and what it isn't". Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality (Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality) 6. Retrieved 2006-07-10.
- Heinlein, Robert. "Intermission: Excerpts from the notebooks of Lazarus Long." in Time Enough For Love. New York: Penguin, 1987.
- Kurtz, Stanley (June 5, 2006). "Polygamy Versus Democracy: You can't have both". Weekly Standard. Retrieved 006-07-10.
- Herek, Gregory M.; Douglas C. Kimmel, Hortensia Amaro, Gary B. Melton (September 1991). "Avoiding Heterosexual Bias in Psychological Research". American Psychological Association. Archived from the original on 20 August 2006. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
- Weitzman, Geri D. (March 12, 1999). "What is known about the psychological and social functioning of polyamorous individuals?". What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory. Retrieved 2010-03-05.
- Bennett, Jessica. "Only You. And You. And You", Newsweek, July 29, 2009.
- Cook, Elaine. "Commitment in Polyamory", Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 8, December 12, 2005.
- Davidson, Joy. "Working with Polyamorous Clients in the Clinical Setting", Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 5, April 16, 2002. Also delivered to the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Western Regional Conference, April 2002.
- Emens, Elizabeth F. "Monogamy's Law: Compulsory Monogamy and Polyamorous Existence", New York University Review of Law & Social Change, Vol. 29, p. 277, 2004. Analyzes social and legal perspectives on polyamory.
- McCullough, Derek; Hall, David S. "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.
- Newitz, Annalee. "Love Unlimited: The Polyamorists", New Scientist, 7 July 2006.
- Strassberg, Maura I. PDF (541 KB). Research analyzing monogamy, polygamy, polyfidelity and polyparenting and considers how polyfidelitous marriage might fit into Western culture within a Hegelian framework.
- Weitzman, Geri. "Therapy with Clients Who Are Bisexual and Polyamorous", Journal of Bisexuality, Volume 6, Issue 1/2, pp. 137–64.
- Hirako, Elise. "Historietas de Alice" (http://www.ashistorietasdealice.wordpress.com) A booklet with illustrations and stories which are themed in Alice and Anita being forms of love. July 2012
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- Polyamory-related media
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- Polyamory in the News (2005–present)
- Research and articles
- National Coalition for Sexual Freedom Polyamory Sound Bites Includes some data on frequency of nonmonogamy and psychiatric health of the polyamorous.
- The Kenneth R. Haslam Collection on Polyamory hosted at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction includes a wide variety of materials related to polyamory, along with research data.
- Polyamory Bibliography from the Kinsey Institute.