Polyamory is a loaded word – to some people it means
freedom, and to others it means taboo.
In most countries around the world today,
we live in societies dominated by the ideal of monogamy and the institution of
marriage. This is particularly true in countries which have had a heavily
Christian, Jewish or Islamic influence over many years. Over time, monogamy has
developed into the norm – to the point where most people don't even question it
as a way of life anymore.
But times are changing. Alternatives to
monogamy are becoming more widely practiced and accepted by the day, as more and
more people shake off the limitations of outdated ways of living to express
their true selves more freely.
What is Polyamory?
many, '-amory' means love. So, quite simply, polyamory means loving multiple
people at the same time.
This is not the same as 'cheating' or 'sleeping
around' – far from it. Poly is all about openness and honesty. It's about
maintaining multiple loving relationships at the same time while everyone
involved knows about and is fine with the whole situation. It's not about 'sneaking
around' or having a secret lover or mistress.
The Stigma Around Polyamory
As you've probably figured out by now if you've tried to talk to friends
about polyamory, most people don't find the idea very acceptable. In fact, it's
something of a taboo in most places. Not that people don't like the idea – many
people would like to have multiple partners without feeling as if they're doing
something wrong. But there's a kind of 'social guilt' surrounding the whole
thing – people have it drummed into them all their lives that they should 'grow
up, get married and have kids' – and anything else is a 'sin.' Whether that word
gets used or not, that's what gets implied.
Again, this comes back to
religious ideals that are still lingering, even after churches have lost much of
their power and control. Even atheists don't realize that many of their beliefs
about relationships are actually dictated from the outside – by movies and the
media on one hand, and by the religious ideals that live on in our laws on the
other. The laws surrounding marriage may have changed somewhat over the years,
but the fact that we still arrange our relationships around marriage is rarely
ever questioned. Few people stop to say, 'Hey, is this marriage stuff really
such a good idea?'
Why not? Because it's 'just one of those things people
do.' Most people don't like to be trailblazers – they don't want to go against
the norm. So they do what they believe they're supposed to do, whether it feels
right for them or not.
Is It Natural?
object to poly living on the grounds that is 'unnatural.' Nothing could be
further from the truth. In fact, if anything, the notion that humans ought to
have a single pair-bond for life is quite unnatural. It's only cultural pressure
to conform that makes the majority of people view monogamy as being the 'natural'
form of relationship.
Why do we say poly is really quite natural? Well,
consider our closest genetic relatives: the apes. Monogamy is actually very rare
in nature, and there are no apes that mate for life with a single partner.
Mating for life is actually a trait which is typically seen in various species
of birds, hence the term 'lovebirds.' But more recent research indicates many
birds may not be as faithful as once thought, either, taking random
opportunities throughout their lifetimes to mate with strangers, even while part
of a monogamous pair bond.
Unfortunately, the idea of a lifetime marriage
appears to run contrary to human genetics – and the behavior of most mammals,
for that matter. Chimpanzees are very polygamous (they mate with multiple
partners without forming strong pair bonds). Gorillas are polyamorous (they tend
to form pair bonds with more than one other gorilla – usually one gorilla, the
alpha, will mate with multiple females).
Now why would be assume humans
are any different? Although it might be hard for some people to accept, having
multiple partners is actually quite natural for humans when you look at the
context of biology and evolution. So if you've always tended to feel there was
something wrong with the idea of marriage and monogamy, don't feel strange –
it's simply your biology sending you signals.
Polyfidelity is a term you'll often hear used in place of polyamory, but
they don't mean exactly the same thing. Polyfidelity is simply a way of
structuring poly relationships. Polyfidelity is where all the partners in a
relationship are involved with each other in an equal way – this is sometimes
referred to as a 'circle.'
The other important part of polyfidelity is
that members of the circle don't have sexual contact with people outside the
circle. This is where the 'fidelity' comes in – there is a level of commitment,
but rather than being to one person, it's a commitment to everyone else in the
group. Another word for polyfidelity is polyexclusivity, because even though it
contains more than two people it's an exclusive relationship.
While polyamorous relationships can allow you to achieve a
much higher level of happiness and emotional and sexual satisfaction, they do
come with problems. Even with monogamous relationships, most people still
struggle on a daily basis – there's no rulebook for how to deal with
relationship problems. Many of those problems simply become more magnified when
you have more than two people in the equation. The notion that poly
relationships are for people who 'can't handle commitment' is simply wrong – it
actually requires a lot of strength of character and trust in your own sense of
values in order to make polyamorous relationships work.
For example, the
issue of jealousy still often pops up in polyamorous relationships. Even when
people have made a mental commitment to the principle of openly loving multiple
people, there are often still underlying emotional scars that affect how people
feel and behave.
Pros and Cons of Poly Relationships
polyamory is not exactly something you decide to do after a 'cost-benefit
analysis,' it is worth thinking about the implications before you decide to give
it a go.
There are some big drawbacks. For example, social exclusion and
the judgment of others. People who you once considered friends may start to see
you differently. If you're concerned about your social status and how others
view you, or you need to maintain a 'wholesome' public or professional image
because of your career, you need to consider this in advance. If you're
comfortable in your own skin and you couldn't care less what people think of you,
this won't be an issue.
Indeed, polyamorous relationships can take a lot
of effort to maintain. This is not simply a 'casual sex' arrangement with
multiple people. You're actually engaging in a fully developed, loving
relationship with more than one person at the same time – that can be very
rewarding, but also requires a significant input of time and effort.
course, the upsides of a successful poly relationship are also massive. For one
thing, it helps eliminate the 'grass is always greener' problem that occurs in
many monogamous relationships, where one or both partners ultimately resents the
other because they feel like their ability to love and experience other people
is limited by the confines of the monogamous relationship. In that sense,
polyamorous relationships relieve a lot of the guilt and frustration that often
builds up in a marriage or other monogamous relationship. You aren't forced to
feel guilty for having entirely natural desires – in fact, you can act on those
desires without feeling guilty.
has been practiced in many societies throughout history and is still practiced
in some countries around the world. Often it takes the form of one man having
multiple wives, although this is not always the case – sometimes a woman has
multiple husbands. One notable example of polyamory in society is in Utah, where
Mormon men take multiple wives. Polyamorous societies are also found throughout
Africa – polyamory is normal in many parts of countries like Kenya and Sudan. In
most cases, these polyamorous relationships revolve around a single man with
multiple wives. Often there are practical reasons for these relationships, such
as a lack of men in the population resulting from war, but in many cases it's
also a practice which in ingrained in the local culture and has been for many
Of course, poly doesn't have to be tied to the legal institution
of marriage – in fact, many people who practice poly lifestyles reject the idea
of marriage altogether, seeing it as outdated, unnecessary and unhealthy for
humans, who naturally tend to love more than one person at a time.
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