It was in the mid 16th century that the Anglican Church redefined marriage for the majority Christian populace. The words “forsaking all others” was written into the tombs and added to the marriage teachings and vows. In 2012 while many, especially in Western Society, still adhere to the concept that a relationship is valid only with marriage, and that a marriage equals monogamy, there was once a time in humanity that this thought process was simply not the case.
The “sexual revolution” of the 1960’s, plus the widespread distribution of “the pill” (also in this time period), introduced to the masses the concept of swinging. As women and couples gained the ability to control reproduction, the idea of monogamy only was allowed to sit parallel with the idea that more than one sexual partner could also be a life choice. It was the arrival of HIV to the heterosexual population that invented a new and popular lifestyle for those in that alternative world of non-monogamy. Some call it polyfidelity; couples may add one or more intimate partners to their relationship with the tacit understanding that no matter how big the agreed on circle became, none of the parties would step outside of the circle. All of these different types of alternatives to monogamy are not necessarily polyamory, so the question must then become: What is Polyamory? Is it different than non-monogamy?
Poly wanna Cracker?
And by cracker I mean a relationship. It would seem to me that most people do want a relationship. It ties into the strong desire the species has to reproduce. A relationship is what we are taught we are supposed to have, that we are not meant to live this life on this planet alone. I can agree with that, to a point. What I find fault with is how modern Western society has defined what that relationship should be for me.
Merriam-Webster defines a relationship as: “The way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected (2012). If that is a relationship, then why do so many of us get up in arms about how people make their relationships work? People can choose to marry or not marry, engage in heterosexual or homosexual sex, practice BDSM or some other alternative lifestyle. It doesn’t make them any less connected; it simply makes them not the Cleavers. More often than not though, when the topic of poly or non-monogamy comes up, especially in front of those with a strong religious affiliation, the alternatives are told, well that is not a relationship and that is not marriage. Even the United States government has weighed in to define what a marriage is or is not. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the anti-bigamy laws of the mid-18th century have explained to today’s American citizen that any form of non-monogamous relationship that is not a marriage is not valid. Some might argue that the government should have a standard for the purposes of protecting children and assigning property rights, but the truth of the matter is, no matter what standards any government entity attempts to enforce, humans will still do what humans do. There will be some that refuse to conform to what the standard set is, there will be others who would like to conform, were that standard closer to what is authentic for them.
For hundreds of years now, the definition of what is a legitimate relationship has been one man, one woman, period. Millions of people worldwide choose to ignore that standard and live a different life, a life that allows them to love and in some cases have sex with more than one person. This practice is commonly called polyamory. Merriam-Webster defines polyamory as: the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time (2012). There are two other specific terms used to describe women with more than one husband: Polyandry and men with more than one wife: Polygyny. In the United States the terms bigamy, or polygamy, are familiar to the populace because they are both terms used to describe the illegal practice of having more than one spouse. It is important for the reader to understand that for the purposes of this writing polyamory will be used as the blanket term for this alternative lifestyle, without consideration to if the participants are married or not.
In my interviews, and through research, one idea that leapt from the pages begging to be understood was that polyamory is not swinging, it is not cheating, and it is not greed. Those statements appeared over and over, leading me to the conclusion that their constant presence in discussion was because, we the people, are not educated about the polyamorous lifestyle. That is in part connected to the re-definition of marriage as defined by the Anglican Church, but it is also the huge presence of Christianity in the United States that blocks knowledge of this lifestyle. Although throughout the King James Version of The Bible there are multiple examples of polygyny, for the purposes of this discussion religious objections are not considered. I do not want to give the impression that I feel a religious objection to polyamory is irrelevant, I am simply choosing to opt out of the debate since other religions do not prevent this practice. By removing the religious objection that exists in some versions of Christianity, we can hopefully discuss the issue without excess emotions.
If polyamory is not cheating, then what it is it? The simplest answer is that it is consenting adults making the deliberate choice to love more than one person at a time. This simple answer is often corrupted by examples of polyamory that are unethical (if I am being generous). I think it is important to explain here, that polyamory does not automatically include sexual relations with those in the relationships. Hunh Nicole? Yes I will repeat that, consenting adults that choose polyamory do not always have group sex or sex with each other.
Polyamory goes beyond the physical sexual connection of adults and exists in the mind and heart, both organs which are capable of investing in more than one person at a time. A parent who has multiple children can relate the most, but those of us with siblings, or just family in general should be able to understand this idea. If you have brothers and sisters, and you love them, you don’t run out of love if one more comes along. If you were raised by two parents, or a parent and a grandparent, you don’t run out of love for just one of them, your heart and mind accept your feelings of love and commitment and devotion to both parents, or to both authority figures, or to all of your brothers and sisters. If love is limitless, and we all should understand that it is, the idea that love for more than one “partner” does not seem like such a stretch any longer.
In all of the examples shared above, in a perfect world, sexual intercourse is not a part of those relationships. But Nicole!, I want to have sex with the person that I choose as my adult “partner”. That is understood, and I am not advocating a sex-less existence, Mandisa knows I am not! I am simply stating that in polyamorous relationships, at times, it is not all one big fuckfest. The show Sister Wives which airs on the TLC network shows that not all who choose polyamory as their lifestyle are heathens who engage in homosexual sex. (writer’s note: I am a self-identified queer woman who is equally attracted to both men and women. I find no fault in homosexual sex with consenting adults) The sister wives as they call themselves, are all straight women and do not have sex with the other wives.
A Tad Bit Deeper
Okay, so polyamory is not always just one big Plato’s Retreat…..but if it is not about sex then what is it about?!? Polyamory is non-monogamy (for at least one of the participants), and it is more than non-monogamy. It’s been estimated by those with much more educational experience than myself that 3-5% of mammals are monogamous. In the animal kingdom, monogamy is a little different than our current impression of it. A monogamous animal, that is not human, will mate with only one partner at a time. There are animals such as the swan that researchers believe mate for life, but for this discussion monogamy is one mate at a time.
Is this a natural state for any animal? The numbers say it best – no. If it were natural for an animal to be monogamous, then more than 3-5% could be identified as monogamous. We can even look at this a little deeper, and attach our sexual needs and desires to our need to continue the species. All animals, including the human animal, have in general a desire to procreate. In the animal kingdom, in most instances it is the female of the species that carries the fetus. In the case of say a lion pride, you have the male lion in a polygyny scenario, with the lionesses living a socially monogamous life.
Social monogamy is described as two living together, mating together, and cooperating for the betterment of the whole, in this case the pride. Doesn’t sound all that different from the sister wives I spoke about earlier does it? That is not the life that we are taught to dream of and desire though. Apparently because man allegedly has the ability to think critically, we are supposed to be better than the animals. If we are more intellectually evolved, then let us look at how monogamy might be applied to the sexes.
Typically the females of a species carry the fetus. Usually a pregnant female cannot get more pregnant or pregnant again, so it is logical to think that females are much more likely to practice a form of serial monogamy. Males on the other hand….not as much. The human male produces millions of sperm a day. The male lion is known to have intercourse with the lioness in heat 50 or more times per day. If the female of the species is designed to mate once, carry to birth, and then mate again by her biology, then looking only at biology the male should have multiple partners. The production of that much sperm cannot possibly be meant for one female who can only get pregnant once. In 2012 though, we are asked to ignore the natural statistics and the simplicity of biology and be with only one person. That’s not very logical now is it?
Modern Day Polyamory – Even Educated Fleas Do It
This piece began explaining that polyamory was about more than sex, and 1700 words in, it is still about more than sex. I can’t say though that sex is not important. If the male of our species is not biologically designed for monogamy, and he is not, he must be designed for something else. With seven billion people on the planet, ensuring that the human species continues is not an immediate worry; our chemical desire to have sex still remains despite our planet’s population. So, let’s talk about sex. I’ve touched briefly on poly families where there is no homosexual sex. In these families, one man (or one woman) has sex hetero-normal sex while the others in the family all play a supportive role. There are other variations of poly families though. This is where things can get a little more complicated.
Many of those I interviewed came into the poly lifestyle without the benefit of knowing it as a child. These men and women grew up in a hetero-normal household where the practice was monogamy (or something resembling it). My interview subjects had to learn to ignore conditioning and embrace this life that felt authentic to them.
The men especially spoke about monogamy just “feeling” wrong. One woman did share her view: “I am not naturally monogamous. I’ve always had the desire for more than one sexual and intimate partner, since grade school. I explored this part of myself while in college, and I found that having a poly family was a wonderful fit for me. I had a boyfriend and a girlfriend. They both knew of one another and they both cared for and about me. We never had a threesome, but what we did have was commitment and investment in one another. The three of us together did better financially than our peers. The three of us together were able to pool our collective brain power for better grades. There was never a need for jealously, because I loved them both, and they knew that each fit separate roles in my life. I’ve attempted to re-create that magic over the years without the same level of success that I had in college. I suppose social conditioning means more than we are willing to admit.”
Her point of view was important for me to share because a common misconception of the poly lifestyle is that it is something that men want so they can have all of the sex they can manage. That happens, except that is not poly, that is something else altogether. There is a term that is sometimes used, Polyfidelity. Polyfidelity exists when the consenting adults in the relationship come to the mutual decision to include others in their relationship. It can be in a sexual manner or not, but the point of fidelity is that they all agree that sexual intercourse and sexual activity will only happen within that poly circle. Instead of one man one woman, you will have a sexually exclusive circle that the participants agree to respect and honor the boundaries set.
So all men and women are not monogamous, and it is likely that the person you are attempting to build a relationship with is non-monogamous. Now what? It might be time to do a little soul searching and figure out if your desire for monogamy is something that is natural for you, or is it something that you’ve been conditioned to accept is the only way a person can show love and commitment.
It is fantastic to think that one person will fill all of your needs forever and ever amen. By fantastic I mean more like fantasy than wonderful and lovely. As humans our needs are extensive and varied and we rely on others to meet them that are not our spouse or partner. We rely on others to educate us, we rely on others to pay our salaries, we rely on others to groom us, but when it comes to our sexuality we expect that we will not need anyone else. Is that really and truly logical?
If you think that it is, then all that I’ve written so far likely annoys you. If you are still here and have not tossed your laptop out of the window, or created a voodoo doll to cause me pain….I have one additional question for you, well theory for you:
What is the most important part of your relationship with your partner? Is it communication? Is it trust? Is it sex?
If the answer is anything other than sex, why are you making sex the deal breaker of your relationship? When you determine that a monogamous relationship is what you require as proof of your partner’s commitment, you’ve made sex the most important part of your relationship. You’ve determined that sex is what holds that relationship together. If that is the case, then nothing that I write here will alter that. If there are things more important than sex, then perhaps reexamining the monogamy hard line is in order.
Neither source will give you all that you need to know, they will simply help you form the questions that you need to determine if non monogamy or polyamory is for you.