What is Polyamory?
According to Urban Dictionary, Polyamory is the practice or state of being in a relationship with multiple partners at the same time – which are either sexual, romantic and/committed, with the full consent of all parties involved. The word’s etymology is based on Greek and Latin words. Poly- or polus means “many” in Greek, and amor means “love” in Latin.
A derivative of the term polyamory was first used by Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, whom first coined its precursor in her 1990 article A Bouquet of Flowers. Morning Glory discussed in the article the rules governing Open Relationships and Open Marriage, calling it a poly-amorous lifestyle. She delved into the reason why monogamy has been widely accepted by society as the norm. She likewise hinted breakdown of traditional families as we know it, which is founded on the monogamous set-up of a two-individual relationship of a man and woman, a.k.a. Monogamy, and the rise of the Open Relationships and Polyamory.
The term was first used in this form when the Usenet newsgroup alt.polyamory was created by Jennifer L. Wesp in 1992. By 1999 the word has reached a level of prominence, that it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary upon consulting Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart to provide the definition of the word.
There are misconceptions about polyamory, in which some people assume that the structure of polyamory is a couple with side-projects, as Angi Becker Stevens discussed in the Huffington Post. Polyamory can take diverse forms of structures, and it can get pretty complicated for someone conditioned in the hetero-monogamous relationship ideals. It can be one guy with two girls, one girl with three guys, two couples exchanging partners, one guy in a relationship with a boyfriend and a girlfriend. The probability of combinations are endless, it can get so intertwined that one may think it’s just an orgy.
History of Polyamory
Forms of polyamory have existed in human civilization in one form or another, as reported in It’s A Woman’s Choice, Alternet, Psychology Today. Polygyny – where one man is married to more than one wife, is the most common type of polyamory/polygamy – being practiced in Islamic countries and African cultures. Polyandry – where one woman is married to more than one husband, on the other hand, though less common also transpire in certain areas of Asia, and other locations where the traditions are more matriarchal (i.e., women tend to hold important positions in the society than men).
Ancient Mesopotamia is an example of a matriarchal society, where women celebrate war victories in the temple through sex. When it transitioned into a more patriarchal setup, the temples became a brothel of sorts where p’s are deemed sacred. Public orgies and even bestiality were also reported in Mesopotamia, as well as the earliest references to STDs.
Chinese history is filled with stories of affluent and high-ranking men, as well as the emperor having various concubines with the knowledge of his wife. P’s were also quite accepted culturally – until the time that Chinese healers and doctors discovered STDs.
The Old Testament is likewise filled with guidelines on polygamy, and characters who practice polygamy or polyamory such as Jacob, Abraham, and kings David, Solomon, and Rehoboam.
Polygamy was also observed in ancient Greece, Roman Empire, and Italy. India and Native North American tribal marriages also embrace polygamy.
In the relatively civilized France and England of 12th century onwards, affairs are espoused, with Queen Marguerite of France having been involved with 12 men, as well as stories of orgies and incest, among others. In the period following the Thirty Years War, men were allowed to marry up to ten women because of the number of male casualties and the gender quantity imbalance created. The Victorian Era, extra-marital affairs were quite common, with both men and women engaging in homosexual affairs apart from their respective wives and husbands.
Such practice and attitude towards sexuality and romance persisted in different parts of the world, with some still present in our modern world. In countries where Sharia or Islamic laws are implemented fully or partially, polygamy may be deemed legal wherein one man can have multiple wives.
The Rise of Monogamy
Modern society does not whole-heartedly approve of polygamy but modern values make us tolerate such setting (usually with reservations) in respect of religion, culture, and diversity. While most of us living in this modern society grew up with monogamy imprinted on or minds as the norm.
Our species’ survival played a role in our preference for monogamy, as sexually transmitted illnesses became widespread in larger populations as per CNN. The bigger the population, the more people are likely to go around having sexual relations with more and more people, and before you know it, someone contacted an STI, sick and could be dying. Self-preservation is a major factor in the shift towards a monogamous setting during the time when modern medicine and technology are not yet present.
Another angle being studied is the paternal instinct, as discussed in TIME by Belinda Luscombe. Fathers in their quest to protect their offspring, in the belief that other males might see the infant as a deterrent to mating with the mother. Thus, other males might kill the infant in order to mate with the mother.
According to Michael E. Price, Ph.D. of Psychology Today, ethnographic proof raises that we are all polyamorous by nature. However, as with any developments in the modern world, socio-economic and political climate created the environment where the population will benefit most from monogamy. In a military standpoint, a polygamous society tends to be nomadic, with people searching far and wide for a possible mate. This is not seen to be beneficial in the soldier loyalty and quantity aspect needed in warfare.
Whichever of these factors that might have led to modern society preferring a somewhat limiting monogamous is not quite clear, but what is clear though, is the resurgence of polyamory.
Why Go Polyamorous?
As the number of divorce cases as results of cheating go up, and websites condoning cheating like Ashley Madison propel itself to fame, sexual curiosity and gender fluidity become more known… one wonders, is there a problem with monogamy? In times of equality, empowerment, and abolition of gender roles, of embracing who we naturally are – why are we being held by society on the relationship front? Is Polyamory the way to go?
Different resources have discussed polyamory and the reasons why people are starting to choose this set-up. In an article written by Deborah Anapol Ph.D. for Psychology Today, she raised that there are different motivations as to why a person would prefer polyamory over the traditional 2-people relationship. According to the article, people often cannot quite articulate the reasons but by observing their behaviors, the underlying motives and reasons for their choices will be more apparent – as the article puts it, some people did not consciously choose polyamory, instead, polyamory chose them. BBC likewise echoed the sentiment, stating that polyamory could be the future of love.
Humans being rational are problem solvers by nature – they will do whatever it takes to solve issues, or avoid them before it even starts. In this sense, they see polyamory as a set up that solves the existing problems in their relationships.
For those who enjoy the freedom and the variety that comes with singlehood, the thought of living your entire life with one person may seem like a life sentence. With polyamory, the dread of living your life chained to one partner is removed, as you have the variety supplied by multiple partners. This also resolves the dilemma for those who can’t quite keep a commitment for a long time, which is one of the likely reasons for divorce where people become serial monogamists just because polyamory is a concept that they cannot quite fathom.
Choosing one person to love forever may come easily for some. However for some, with the billion people in the world, may find it difficult and recognize a dilemma when they are attracted to 2 or more individuals. Think of it as shopping, sometimes you are faced with the decision of choosing between two items, but you ended up buying both.
It is possible that two individuals who are by society’s default, bound into a monogamous relationship already. But at the back of their minds would want to be with other people too and would rather have the freedom of non-exclusivity, as in open relationships. They may be more open-minded than what society prescribes as the norm of having two individuals, a man, and a woman, to have the relationship, moreso, a marriage. This resolves people’s feelings of regret, contempt or just plain old curiosity because they decided to conform with what society dictates as normal.
Problems may also arise if the idea of monogamy or being bound and committed to one person is causing problems to either of the involved parties, maybe one is committing sexual infidelity and in turn, creates jealousy or mistrust for the other party in the relationship. Society’s expectations out of relationships have conditioned that having more than one partner is infidelity. According to Melissa Hogenboom, people practice faithfulness and honesty better if they can genuinely express to the people they are in a relationship with if they are interested in other people too. Jealousy is lower, communication is better and relationship satisfaction is also improved.
Another relationship issue that polyamory can seemingly resolve is sex addiction, as with polyamory, the person suffering from sex addiction need not be a nuisance to their partner when they can tap multiple partners to experience sex with. In such instances, the perils of STDs which may be acquired from different partners may seem like a deterrent. However, as the BBC reported, a polyamorous relationship makes the participant more aware and more likely to practice safe sex. This is buttressed by the idea that they truly love and respect all the individuals in the relationship and will not do anything that will cause harm, as in illnesses, to any of them.
As the world develops, more and more limitations are being enforced, labels are created based on race, gender, body size and so much more. Humanity decided that being constrained by such divides are very limiting given our level of civilization. Yet another limitation based on how we decide to conduct our relationships is hindering our sense of humanity. The LGBTQ community specifically sees polyamory as the perfect solution and workaround for their sexual preferences. Bisexuals, pansexuals and those who identify as gender fluid can have multiple partners of different gender and sexual preference.
Having polyamorous relationship also create a sense of community which is often absent in today’s fast-paced world. Those in a polyamorous relationship may live with their multiple partners in one home like a family and create a community for themselves and their children too. Hogenboom stated that research support that children grow up better, more tolerant, insightful, and understand when surrounded by more people/adults.
Brittany Wong of Huffington Post provided the different reasons and scenarios as real people share their stories as to why they adopted polyamory and why they’ve embraced it.
Is Polyamory for Me?
While polyamory might seem like a great idea for some, there are also those folks who are not quite made to be polyamorous, and so YourTango came up with a checklist of sorts to serve as a guide should one decide on going all-out poly.
Why Do You Wanna Go Poly?
The answer must not be because it seems like what my friends/the cool kids are doing. It must be aligned with your lifestyle, principles, and values. Peer pressure is not valid. Rebound is not valid, and also not a good idea in general.
Envision the Poly Relationship You Want To Have
With the number of permutations of poly relationships, some forms might downright scare the faint of heart. Set your expectations straight but be fluid and accepting too. When you’re polyamorous, the last thing you want to be is rigid.
Can You Share?
Think it through, you’ll not only be sharing food, beds, and blankets. You’ll be sharing partners. If jealousy has been an issue with your past relationships, then maybe you shouldn’t sign up for this.
Check Your Levels of Honesty and Maturity
A poly relationship needs honesty. If the mind games worked with your past relationship (or not because why would you be considering poly if it did), it won’t here. There are more than 2 people and being dishonest and immature can really cause trouble and shake things up. Maturity and honesty in communication are highly revered in such setting.
Immerse in the Lifestyle
You might also want to catch up on terminologies used, intricacies and technicalities involved in polyamory so you understand it better and be well-equipped when you’re already traversing such a relationship. Good thing because More Than Two has provided a glossary and one-stop resource to speed up your poly learning curve.
Meeting Other Polyamorous People
If after knowing everything worth knowing and reflecting if the polyamorous life is for you, and you’ve decided that you’d want to
try it live it, then here are some resources to meet singles couples people who are into the same thing.
- Feeld |Dating for Couples and Singles
- Beyond Two | Polyamory Dating
- The Poly Life
- Poly Matchmaker
- Loving More
- Open Minded | For Open Relationships
- My Polyamory | Open Relationships
- No Strings Attached