Human Sexuality
Polyamory: Multiple Loving, Caring Relationships

By Vexen Crabtree 2000 Mar 01

The sexuality referred to as poly, polyamory, or "being poly", is the acceptance of the potential for multiple loving partners within relationships. This may include sexual partners. Polyamorous relationships are not "cheating", but mutual love and honesty in relations that are not monogamous. The bases of such relationships are love, stability, compatibility, peace and personal and relationship honesty. Polyamory does not accept secret lovers: this is cheating by poly as well as monogamous standards. Excepting youthful "experiments", which are often just short-term promiscuity and unstable, gender-equal poly relationships are rare for Human Beings. Most Western cultures and religions are strictly (or at least legally) monogamous. This page is about relationships, not legalities.

Polygamy, n. Too much of a good thing.

"The Devil's Dictionary"
Ambrose Bierce (1967)


1. Introduction

People never fit well into systems of classification. Exceptions always abound. People have a habit of not being easily describable, and human relationships doubly so! The point of calling yourself Poly is that the terminology is useful to describe your feelings. Words on this page or any other shouldn't be used as a framework to fit into or restrict yourself to.

Poly :- what is commonly referred to as 'poly' is a blanket term to cover one or more of 'pansexuality', 'polygamy' or 'polyamory'.
Polygamy :- is the state of being married to more than one person.
Polyamory :- is to have multiple loving, caring (possibly sexual) relationships.
Consensual Sex :- is sex where both parties are mature enough to understand the nature & potential complexity of sexual interaction; and all involved parties have consented.

It is hard to explain poly to someone briefly without them thinking you're just interesting in sleeping around, because they most likely are approaching it from a monogamous point of view. So a brief page on poly like this one is an invaluable guide to the concepts behind poly.

Poly, where every relationship is potentially an open one, is a very different style of social security and togetherness than monogamy. Relationships have a much more childlike quality to them ... where love is accepted, given and open without society's laws imposing guilt complexes that would otherwise impress on monogamous people. Polygamy is based heavily on human honesty and mature communication. A poly couple not only allow, but encourage further relationships to be developed. There is no hiding who you are attracted to, you won't hear the typical "you were looking at her!" condemnations as you do in mundane society.

Poly is about having honest, open relationships, and these are not necessary all sexual, and this is the way in which it is childish. Poly relationships can be very close, without the pressure to sleep with people, as would be present in close monogamous relationships. The author is a poly who places more meaning on hugging, sleeping and behaviour of a relationship than on sex.

Accept that people are not attracted to you only, accept that you are not perfect in the eyes of your partner and that you must be honest: Then you can be poly.

2. The Biology of Polyamory

There have been various evolutionary factors coming into play in the development of monogamy. These issues are worked out best in "The Selfish Gene" by Prof. Richard Dawkins (1976), who devotes at least one chapter to the political social realities of animals (such as birds) that try or pretend to be monogamous. There is grounds to say that the default human sexuality is polyamory due to practices common in most animals. Male sperms (Spermatozoa) are programmed (in terms of behaviour) to attack sperms that they do not recognize. This is a simple procedure to make sure that any sperms from a different male are attacked - this is a form of selection. It is part of the evidence that the Human Species is designed for a compromise between polyamory and monogamy. As nothing in nature is clear-cut, both principles are social constructs rather than a purely natural state. There are also arguments that two-parent families have evolved to be the dominant norm. It is true that most human adults remain in monogamous relationships even in countries that permit polygamy, according to "Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality" by Jared Diamond (1998)1.

We have instincts towards both polyamory and two-parent family units. Some individuals suit polyamory, but most suit monogamy. Some would argue that some suit pretend monogamy, but this is where lines need to be drawn on the map between being natural and being honest. The latter should trump the former: As an advanced moral species, we can no longer trust all our instincts to take us down the right paths.

3. Polyamory in Practice

3.1. Trying to be Poly

Most poly people did not decide to be poly, and I don't believe it's a function of one's beliefs or philosophy (because I have behaved in a poly manner with my friends all my life), it's just emotionally the way I feel and act, with no reason, par se, involved.

Not everyone can be poly. This page is not an attempt to 'convince' people to be poly. Being poly is a natural thing, and people who are not naturally a poly will not be able to 'convert' to poly. They may be able to try, but it would be unnatural for them. Poly folk should always realise this. Poly is about doing what is natural for yourself, poly people do not therefore, think that other people can be 'converted' or 'recruited' in to a poly lifestyle.

It is wrong to "try" and be poly... relationships should be allowed to take their natural course. Also, you shouldn't resist being poly... if you feel you should be close to two people at the same time, then you need to discuss this with your current partner and let them know what you are feeling. Honest discourse is an unmissable feature of good relationships.

3.2. Imperfect People

No two people are perfect for one another. People are very complicated, and it is always true that you cannot satisfy any person completely, emotionally, sexually or socially.

It is selfishness to try and force your other half to perform to your full expectations or to devote themselves to you. One of two things always happens: A) They need more than you can give or B) You need more than they can give. The standard monogamous answer is to pretend, lie, and stress their ways through the relationship, until both sides are in harmony not due to compatibility, but habitually.

What am I saying? Polygamy is good, cool, socially stronger and better for all Polys involved than monogamy would be, which is a lie and a source of stress for naturally Poly people. Monogamy is really a different kettle of fish to monogamy.

A lot of people treat each other like objects that have to behave by certain rules, not like humans. Human beings need love, and they need constantly to be in relationships that develop and support each other - not to have it wither away in the confines of a relationship with defined parameters. Human beings are at their most beautiful when allowed creative and emotional freedom.

3.3. Adultery: Is poly cheating?

Cheating v. - 1. act dishonestly to gain profit or advantage. 2. deprive (someone) unfairly -n. 3. person who cheats. 4. fraud or deception.

Collins Pocket English Dictionary (1992)

Poly folk are not being dishonest, as open communication and honesty are part of the defining feature of polyamory. All relationships are entered into with the full consent and knowledge of every involved... there is no hiding or covert behaviour. The entire group of friends benefits from the mature and sensible openness of communication.

Polygamy is not (contrary to conservative's beliefs) about lying or dishonesty, in fact, quite the opposite. The basis of polygamy is that we feel people are not supposed to restrict themselves into a single, oppressive relationship. For a polyist a stated monogamous relationship is oppressive, unnatural and unstable.

Adultery and polyamory are very different. Polyamory involves no lies, no hidden relationships. I actively encourage relationships that are beneficial for the people I care for - to do otherwise is to block the person from that benefit which would be inconsiderate.

Polyamory is not immoral. Forcing a person of one sexuality to adopt a different one is immoral and unnatural. Sexual oppression of this kind can be the source of some of the most serious and damaging psychological disorders.

In short, you can't force a person to be something, sexually, that they are not. As such, poly people get on with their own lives, according to their own philosophy and upholding honest, open and caring relationships.

Polyamory is not more moral, or less moral, than monogamy, it is simply a different way of behaving. You cannot force a polyamorous person to sit in a monogamous relationship (which would be unnatural and immoral), and you cannot make a monogamous couple open their relationship (this would be equally unnatural for them, and immoral to do).

3.4. Jealousy

"Some people seem to have no jealousy; it's as if they didn't get that piece installed at the factory. Others, including some long-term polyamorists, feel jealousy, which they regard as a signal that something needs investigation and care, much as they would regard depression or pain. Jealousy is neither a proof of love (and this is where polyamory differs from possessive or insecure monogamy) nor a moral failing (and this is where polyamory differs from emotionally manipulating one's partner(s) into relationships for which they are not ready)."
[From the alt.polyamory faq]

For example take a long term couple. One of them notices a friend has a crush on one of them, and brings the subject up.
"I don't mind if you kiss your admirer or give them some attention... as long as you're sensible"

Polyamory is of course a term that means multiple _loving relationships_, so a one off occasion like this doesn't count as a poly relationship. However, if the admirer became a long term friend, affectionate and loved, then a poly relationship has formed.

As long as the lucky partner is honest, and no jealousy is felt, there is nothing wrong with building up a close circle of friends in this way, as long as things are done slowly and naturally.

It shows that the primary partner trusts their loved one a great deal, and feels secure in their relationship. That he doesn't get overly defensive, jealous or apprehensive shows that there is genuine love in the relationship, he does not feel that his partner is about to leave him or love him any less as a result of this newfound attention and care.

As a poly I feel that the more insecure a person is in a relationship, the more they will try to control their partner. Relationships like this are unnatural and cause tension for me; it's not natural or right for poly people (once realized) to try and choke their partners, any issues can be worked out before problems arise.

3.5. Happiness By Proxy

This is perhaps the opposite to jealousy. I will speak from personal experience. When my primary partner is forming a relationship with someone, it makes me happy. Especially if I like the other person. The main reason is, because I love my primary partner, the thought of him being happy makes me happy. This feels like a very natural and good thing. With this in mind I cannot accept a person who would prevent from forming close relationships (even sexual ones) with others, unless the reason is for my own well being, of course.

3.6. Self Control and Maturity

It has to be said that as many poly relationships are sexual, an amount of maturity is required. A couple should not really expand to include someone who is immature, dishonest or otherwise unprepared to commit to a serious caring relationship. Heartache and regret are the result of entering into poly relationships with anything but the most honest and mature states of mind.

I use self control with regards to "getting off with people", casual sex and the like. Casual sex (although acceptable in some open relationships) is not an attribute of a loving relationship, and is therefore does not automatically make one polyamorous. Self control means that when you in the process of forming a new relationship, you do not get carried away with excitement and leave behind your other commitments and lovers. It means as a relationship develops, you must inform others who care for you that you are becoming close to a new person.

This self control, not to accept any advance that any stranger makes, is important. Without this, you are unstable and untrustworthy. Developing this self control will endow you with a new maturity, increased respect and a healthy ego... knowing that you are behaving in a mature fashion will give you more self confidence too.

4. Relationships

4.1. Time Spent With Partners

Timetabling lovers
It definitely goes against Human nature to be able to "timetable" a loving relationship. When I refer to timetabling, I mean in a purely coincidental way.

Coincidental timetabling
If a person spent every weekend at their home town, say at their parents house, they could develop a caring relationship with a friend in that town, whom they see every weekend. In true poly fashion they'd not hide this from any of their other friends, and would be visibly excited about seeing this person at the weekend.

Sometimes meetings and attention may be given to wide range of people over longer periods... monthly visits. Whatever works and becomes natural for each relationship should be allowed to go ahead, within the normal constraints of honesty and common sense.

Proximity
As you may have guessed from the timetabling text, a poly relationship sometimes is long distance. In fact, some relationships work even better over a distance, where the meetings are more special and anticipated.

Some relationships will come under stress if the distance increases or time spent together decreases, and at the end of the day these issues should be openly discussed in a caring and compassionate manner.

Occasional/distant & caring partners
Frequently long distance relationships can occur when meetings are infrequent. It is possible to maintain a caring and emotional relationship over a long distance, and polys it would seem are particularly good at this. Because of the level of honesty and open discussion, there is none of the stress that will break up a monogamous couple who are separated by a long distance.

One could meet someone twice a year, with the build up to seeing them and the happiness of returning home to share your happiness with your home friends.

Sometimes you find someone that is so special that you are compelled to maintain a relationship via mail and the Internet in-between meetings. Distant lovers can be of varying types, they can be attached to just one person in a poly circle, or they can be attached to many, returning from time to time to stay for a while with a distant group of lovers.

4.2. Degrees of Poly Relationship

A person may be very attached to their primary partner, but have an open relationship. This means that relationships are tolerated outside of the original one, and this can take effect to differing degrees.

Platonic partners
Affection does not equal sex. Relationships can be open to different extents. A person may just have a series of close, affectionate and caring friends. These friends may be very close but still remain platonic. In this case the main couple may not even call themselves poly. Sometimes you will find that a couple permits very close and loving relationships outside of the primary partners, but set a limit on sex.

Occasional strangers
A lot of monogamous couples will permit an occasional extra relationship as long as it is a one off. This is not polyamory. Polyamory means multiple loving relationships.

To qualify as polyamory, partners need to be in proper relationships, openly. Part of polyamory is that it is Human affection and comfort that is sought, not just sexual contact or excitement.

Sexual partners
Most poly circles will involve people who have loving relationships that, from time to time, are sexual in nature. Perhaps a person in an open relationship also has a very close relationship with a friend, and sometimes that friendship becomes more than platonic. As long as they are honest and open with their partners, this is polyamory, as there are proper caring relationships involved.

One to many
There are cases of polygamy where there is a single individual, the primary, who has multiple relationships with people separated by distance or timetabling. Sometimes a primary can appear to have multiple monogamous partners, none of which wish to have sexual relations with anyone else but the primary, but do not wish to "keep" the person to themselves. This is a one to many relationship.

Many to many
It is more likely that some of a poly's friends will also have affectionate relationships between themselves.

Sometimes monogamy is right even for poly folk Some relationships between two people work best when monogamous.

4.3. Change

Relationships nearly always change over time. Within poly the best way to develop a circle of friends is not to set out with that task in mind, but to let existing relationships develop as is natural. If change occurs too quickly, people's emotions can sometimes be left behind, or a situation can develop and after a while it begins to feel wrong. The best solution is to always try to take things slowly, to discuss things and pay attention to your feelings about people. You can't rush the formation of a poly circle. When things progress slowly a much more natural balance can be reached with less potential for disaster.

4.4. NRE: New Relationship Energy

New Relationship Energy (NRE) is "that lovely euphoria you experience when you become involved with a new love; the world seems brighter, people seem more beautiful and chocolate tastes even better" [Poly and Internet Acronyms] (also 'New Toy Syndrome').

Seeing the bright shining face and distant expressions of a close friend going through NRE is simply wonderful. People all around can see the pure oxytocin saturation glowing all around them :-). Assuming that someone you care for and love is happy makes you happy, then you fill never forgot those periods of NRE.

The first time that a potentially poly couple are faced with this it's truly amazing... but there are some pitfalls to watch out for. As mentioned elsewhere, you must always remember that your trusted lover is not going to run off with this new lover, that they are enjoying the motion and attention, but that they're not immature or insecure enough to disappear forever. So keep things in the open and ask reassurance... they will understand and oblige you. You must always voice your fears; just talking about them makes everything more sensible. So be warned.

4.5. Openness to New Relationships

Poly people do not automatically accept new relationships, and certainly shouldn't simply sleep with whoever wants to sleep with them. Poly is about having multiple loving and caring relationships: casual sex is not that. The same with new relationships... friendship is the most important cornerstone. To build up a good simple friendship, naturally, where you come to trust each other, is hugely important if you are to talk honestly and openly with your lovers.

Poly people won't just "go out" with anyone, won't just pick anyone up, for there is no trust or emotion, no true love or caring in the friendship. Start at the basics! Sometimes you will find a person simply has no will or instinct to start a new relationship, and there is no inherent pressure to do so. You can't assume that a person, if they appear to be poly, is automatically going to be interested in forming a relationship.

5. Intermission - Dreaming About Clinton!

On January 26, 1998, then-President Clinton told the nation, "I did not have sex with that woman," a reference to Monica Lewinsky that fuelled a scandal that would soon engulf his presidency. But what if, instead, Bill and Hillary Clinton had held a different press conference?

The President explains, with grace and dignity, that he and Monica are in love and that the first lady has been aware of their relationship since it began. Hillary tells the press she approves of the relationship based on her own friendship with and affection for Monica. Monica joins them on camera, and they go on to explain that their relationship is a "polyamorous triad," one in which all three are equal partners and which is open to including future partners.

When a shocked press corps demands to know how this has affected their daughter, Chelsea herself happily answers that she now has three parents, all of whom she loves, and that its taught her a lot about the benefits of being completely honest in all of her relationships.

"Will polyamory ever be fully accepted?" by Tish Haymer
Printed in The Tucson Weekly

6. Sex, Sexuality & Family Issues

6.1. Marriage

Sometimes members of a poly community will marry, this does not exclude the rest of the group. Some people have a "primary" partner, with whom they may live. Some people do not, and prefer simply to go out with all their friends at once, all knowing each other. The Poly Faq text file covers this area in more detail.

In the West polygamy, the marriage to more than one person, is often illegal. The crime is called bigamy. This illegality is morally wrong [...] and is merely a case of proponents of one type of marriage stamping out other forms that they do not understand. This is likely to be due to the good old predictable reasons of ignorance, bias, bigotry and an unenlightened intelligence in matter of human compassion, imagination and tolerance. There is no fundamental problem with legalizing the practice; it is legal in other countries.

It is nearly always the case the when one form of marriage is institutionalized, other forms are oppressed. In the modern democratic world, it is not right to centrally enforce such odd restrictions on love & relationships as long as the practices are consensual.

Many religious groups and cultures have practices polygamy, from major religions such as Islam and some Arab countries, to communistic communes in the USA such as the Oneida Community [Kephart 1982], the Mormons (historically, they do so no longer), and many others. Unfortunately in some of its incarnation it has also been misogynistic and oppressive, but modern-day polyamory in Western countries is not so.

"Marriage: Its Diversity and Character" by Vexen Crabtree (2004)

6.2. Relaxed Sexuality

One of the things that causes children to swear is that it gets a reaction. If something is readily available with no shock factor or pressure, then the reasons for doing it become very simple and honest. In a poly community, because friendships are never strictly platonic (in theory if not in practice on an ad hoc basis), there is less taboo about sex, and less to gain from 'showing off' how many people you can have sex with.

Polyists have a much more boring attitude towards sex than the mundanes... it is a special part of some relationships but it isn't the point of a relationship, nor should it be. A poly society is a little childish in that relationships can continue to be very close and remain platonic because of the reduced pressure from peers to have sex with a partner.

In mundane society when a couple are seen to be going out, there is pressure from friends that they should have sex, and assumptions that they will. In a poly community this is much less important, sex is not 'cool', but a caring and special event - not something to be gloated over or fought for. You will attain a bad reputation if you continually boast about who you have had sex with. The author is biased, by the way, as I am less attracted to sex than most.

Polyamory is not based on sex, but on relationships and honesty, hence the inclusion of "pansexual" in its description. Bisexuality is not a default of polyamory. Some people are attracted to the physical qualities of males, most to that of females. Polyamory is about accepting attractions, not about defining who you are attracted to.

6.3. Orgies

Poly is based on security and love-circles where jealousy and such are dealt with honestly and in the open. There is a belief that being "poly" implies immoral and unethical adulterous sex groups but this is of course not true. Just because certain religions would love to see us riddles with guilt for being human, doesn't mean that we should listen to those who confuse "adultery" with polygamy.

Threesomes and other mass orgies, let us not forgot, are a (male) heterosexual fantasy! Orgies and such are not a normal part of poly life, they remain in hetero males dreams. It does happen from time to time, but probably at the same rate in non-poly groups as it does in poly ones.

6.4. Pregnancy and STDs

A person is not accepted into a poly group if they do not take issues like pregnancy and protection seriously. There is a very high awareness of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases within poly groups, so I would hazard a guess and say that polyamorous folk practice safer and less impulsive sex than average. The lack of secrecy (illicit partners, etc) means that things like STDs can be dealt with in a more organised, rapid manner.

Being poly allows more time to oneself, more freedom, more acceptance and a wider support mechanism for families. There have been poly communities in existence for as long as any one can remember, but the advent of the internet has allowed polygamous folk to reach new levels of understanding and knowledge of each other.

6.5. Pansexuality

Pansexuality is a state of not having one's sexuality limited or defined by the culture in which you live. Social customs and tradition are not taken into account. Instead, limits come from more natural, maturely instinctive, philosophical and moral trains of thought.

The most important moral constraint is that of consent, in that the sexual partner must be willing and also must understand the nature of sexual interactions.

Pansexuality could be used to include every kind of sexual act... but as all acts are potentially sexual to some people I don't find this useful. I have not done enough study of fetishism or extreme sexualities to be able to extend my description of pansexuality to be relevant to these areas.

A pansexual community (such as gothic, furry or glam subcultures) is one that enthusiastically encompasses any sexuality. Sometimes it can appear as if the entire community is bisexual, but this is normally an incorrect assumption. Communities can be affectionate and close without there being sexual relations.

7. Long Term Relationships

In an open relationship, am I not concerned that my lover will leave me for someone else who is better?


You may want to reference the heading above called Happiness By Proxy. Polyists do not form relationships quickly; on a whim. Time and maturity are of the essence; it could be easy to compare someone you've known for a few years to someone you've known for only a few months. The longer you know someone, the more you see their flaws. Someone you've only known for a short while would look much "better" because you simply haven't been exposed to all their flaws and weaknesses yet.

Won't a poly grow old alone, having no singular commitment?
A poly community grows old together ... there is less chance of a group of close knit friends all dying than there is of a single husband or wife. Poly communities by their nature have a wider and more stable support mechanism - even into old age.

Read / Write Comments

By Vexen Crabtree 2000 Mar 01
Last Updated: 2010 Apr 11
http://www.humantruth.info/poly.html

Links:

References: (What's this?)

Book Cover

Book Cover

Bierce, Ambrose. (1842-1914?)
The Devil's Dictionary (1967). Published in Great Britain by Victor Gollancz. Published by Penguin Books in 1971, and quotes taken from a 2001 Penguin Classics reprint. Penguin Group, London, UK.

Dawkins, Prof. Richard
The Selfish Gene (1976). 30th Anniversary 2006 edition, published by the Oxford University Press, UK.

Diamond, Jared
Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality (1998). 2001 reissue. Published by Phoenix, Orion Books Ltd, London, UK. J. Diamond is Professor of Physiology at the Medical School of the University of California, USA.

Kephart, William M
Extraordinary Groups, The Sociology of Unconventional Life-Styles (1982). St. Martin's Press Inc.

Footnotes

  1. Diamond (1998) p9.^
  2. 2004 Dec: Added quote from "Marriage" page on polygamy.

© 2013 Vexen Crabtree. All rights reserved.

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