The Infinite Possibilities of Polyamory

By Chris K.

Growing up in America, we are socialized to believe romantic relationships are shared between two people. However, not everyone follows the typical monogamous path that we are taught to take. Polyamorous relationships are those that consist of multiple partners without sexual exclusion. Those who participate in polyamory “have made a conscious decision to have other partners while maintaining their connection and commitment to their original partner”[1]. The practice of polyamory, or “group love” breaches U.S. social norms and brings a whole new definition to love.

From a feminist perspective, polyamory may be seen in a positive light because it liberates women to express love in various ways. A feminist anthropologist would inquire whether there is female oppression or a gender hierarchy in the structure of a polyamorist relationship. The anthropologist would discover that in opposition to a classic, monogamous relationship with hierarchical gender roles, polyamory resists the notion that a man possesses his wife and that women are constrained to one sexual partner. Similarly, polyamory can be any variation of gender relationships. For example, a polyamorous relationship can be between two women and one man, where all three partners have sexual relations with one another. The non-rigid lines of polyamory “embraces sexual equality”[2] and, furthermore, allows women to express their sexuality in any way they desire while simultaneously keeping strong emotional ties among all partners in the relationship.

An anthropologist that adheres to the theory of culture and personality would examine the patterns in a polyamorous society and draw from those patterns to find out more about the individuals who participate in the alternate love style. A culture and personality anthropologist may examine children in polyamorist families to attempt to extrapolate trait patterns that are reflective of child rearing practices. Polyamory stands on an open minded, free-loving platform, and therefore the culture and personality school would most likely discover that on the individual level in a polyamorist society, people tend to be more liberal and free thinking about issues not only about love, but as well as other social political topics. The polyamorist society believes that “knowing yourself and improving on the knowledge of yourself in such a way that your are in harmony, co-existence and integration with your partners”[3] is crucial to a functional society. These values are the platform of the polyamorist community as a whole but, according to the culture and personality school, also represent characteristics on an individual level. While polyamory may not be the typical relationship structure in modern America, the ideals that coincide with the alternative lifestyle are reflective of gender equality and individual characteristics that are representative of their cultural patterns.

[1] “Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 8, Dec. 12, 2005.” Commitment in Polyamory. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

[2] “Polyamory Society.” Polyamory Society Self-Improvement Program. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

[3] “Polyamory Society.” What is Polyamory?. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

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26 Responses to The Infinite Possibilities of Polyamory

  1. I really appreciate reading this article, and the use of feminist anthropology. I enjoyed that idea that women enjoy more freedom, that they normally have in monogamy. I also think you explained polyamory really well, by diving into the numerous options available. I would also argue though, that a man can have multiple partners, and not have to validate his sexuality by calling it polyamory, because he does not face as much social scrutiny and will ultimately not become pregnant. One thing about polyamory, is that it creates and incentivizes a culture around communication, since that is what truly makes it different than say “sleeping around” because a person strives to maintain transparency with and support to their partners.

    • Angela Gianficaro says:

      You make an excellent point about having multiple partners and not referring to this as “polyamory”. There definitely is a large difference between polyamory and “sleeping around”. For one, polyamory is a relationship where each partner is knowledgeable of what is occurring and gives consent, while many men or women who “sleep around” still refer to themselves as “single” while their partners often are unaware of each other. It is very interesting to think about how common and encouraged a polyamorous type of relationship is in different cultures in comparison to what we learn about relationships in the contemporary U.S.

    • Lexi Eagle says:

      Maddie-
      I think your point that polyamory “incentivizes a culture around communication” is spot on. The distinction between maintaining transparency with multiple partners and having more or less concurrent sexual partners who are not informed regarding other sexual encounters is huge. However, I think the incentive is contained in a particular group, namely people who practice polyamory. In other words, in our heteronormative culture, I think it would be challenging to justify maintaining informed sexual relationships with multiple partners, even under the label of polyamory, without being stigmatized. Yes, polyamory encourages communication between sexual partners and creates space for multiple partners. But, looking at Americans’ practice of sexuality with multiple partners, we see that this open communication isn’t what’s “sexy.” Rather, people are encouraged not to share information about past, or concurrent, partners.

  2. This article brought up a couple things that I had not thought about. As a male, sometimes it is hard to imagine things from a feminist perspective. So one of the things that had totally skipped my mind, that you forced me to think about was freedom in a monogamous relationship. It had not occurred to me that even in this day in age, where we are constantly reaching for equality, that men had more freedom then women in monogamous relationships. After thinking about it I realized you are right. In a way men do sort of OWN their wives. Although it isn’t to the same level as some muslim cultures, there is still some inequality in relationships. And to me, it is very interesting to think that one of the ways we could solve this inequality is polyamory. This leads me to a cultural conflict. Our society values monogamous relationships and sharing your life and your body with one person. At the same time, our culture also values equality of men and women. In order to have one or the other, you would have to break the other cultural rule.

    • I’d like to respectfully disagree here.
      I do agree in part — I think that many monogamous heterosexual relationships do have to fight against a certain inequality due to the gender hierarchy in our culture (and other cultures), and that marriage especially has a long history of inequality.
      However, I don’t think that monogamy and equality are mutually exclusive. I think it takes some effort not to give into the gender roles prescribed by society, which are especially powerful in relationships (ie, the wife stays at home, raises the kids, the husband goes to work, brings home the bacon, etc). But I think that if you respect the other person in the relationship, it is important to try not to force them into a particular role based on their gender. This argument is also based on heterosexual relationships. A lot of people try to assign gender roles to homosexual relationships too (butch and femme) but it’s harder to fit homosexual couples into this idea of the unequal monogamous relationship. And what about non-heterosexual polyamorous relationships? I just don’t think it’s as simple as “monogamy or equality — you can only have one.”
      Thanks for posting — you made some interesting points and I just wanted to put my two cents in on the topic!

  3. Kelly Curtis says:

    While browsing the internet I have often come across articles stating that Homo sapiens is not a monogamous species, but we should exhibit relationships closer to our ancestors near the divergence of apes and humans. Bonobos are one of the most promiscuous animals in the world, where sexual acts are used to calm disputes and maintain social bonds. Interestingly enough, a bonobo society is matrilineal–female-led bands. But through our evolution of culture and adaptations to environments, western society has been monogamous for centuries. It would be interesting to see when many cultures instigated a desire for monogamy. I don’t know much, if anything at all, but ancient rulers often had harems of women and generally the lower classes would only have one or two wives. Perhaps the difference in class and wealth aided the divide, but at this point I am really just guessing.

    • Chelsea McGuire says:

      Kelly, I really like your response to this post and love all things bio anthro. In another class I’m taking we’re studying the evolution of certain behaviors in humans and one article I read suggested that monogamy developed in agricultural societies so that all men would stand a better chance of having reproductive access to someone. Another idea was that because we have such dependent infants human women need a more invested partner than other closely related primates to help raise young. These are very brief descriptions of super interesting theories but capture the essence pretty well. It seems that infidelity would be less prevalent if it were really in our nature to be monogamous, but thanks to culture, we adhere to other pressures than just our nature.

  4. I think this article is very interesting, especially when viewing it from a place like Boulder where polyamory is more widely accepted. I have friends that are involved in polyamory relationships, and I think it is important to realize that these relationships do not have to be based in physical intimacy. Many people engage in polyamory because they have found multiple individuals that satisfy their needs for love in other ways that through the physical act of sex. In a culture that is evolving towards the acceptance of self expression in any form that might take it will be interesting to see if polyamory will be something that takes hold and becomes an aspect of mainstream society.

  5. Cody Patten says:

    This article really opened my eyes to this idea that i was so unfamiliar about. Just like Carley Boulder is a place where things can be more accepted. I found this to be very true with people that d live in boulder with finding love through multiple people. This was a very well written paper and opened my eyes to something new

  6. Julia Marino says:

    When thinking about a topic to write about for this assignment for class this idea honestly really never even crossed my mind. I am impressed that you were able to think of such a unique topic and apply two of the theories we have learned in class to this topic. I think you did a great job providing more information about a topic that I really did not know too much about. I think in our society we do have a stereotypical view about polyamory and this essay allowed for me to think about this topic in a different sense. After reading this essay I do believe that any individual in society should have the opportunity and not be discriminated against if they choose to engage in polyamory. I think if this essay was allowed to be longer, it would be beneficial to provide statistics in how popular polyamory is currently. I think you could also look at where we are most seeing this kind of romantic relationship take place. I would be interested in learning more about whether females or males are participating more and I think interviewing willing people who practice polyamory would be particularly interesting to hear first their experiences.

  7. Taylor Thostenson says:

    I thought your essay was unique and liked how you tied both of the theories into it. It is ironic that we have discussed this issue in class but i find it even more interesting hearing of it from a student or individual of mutual age. I enjoyed how you related that a feminist finds a sort of strength and power in having mutual love connections and realized that is most likely true for women that chose to not have a monogamous relationship. I also thought it was good how you tied in culture and personality because like you stated, it it very much a cultural and social difference to have more than one partner (openly).

  8. Maddi Kraft says:

    Polyamory is a very taboo topic and I applaud your unique and brave take on it. I really liked your seemingly unbiased approach to the idea of “group love” and the way you used the theories you chose to define both the negatives, positives and everything in-between when it comes to this topic. Something you could add however is a mention of the laws against it in this nation and how in a lot of ways the United States is making love and culture illegal. Overall super compelling essay!

    • Larkin says:

      I agree with Maddi, I think you do a good job of covering the topic in a short paper like this, but I think adding some talk about the laws against it could make for an interesting take on why our culture bans something like this. On paper (I don’t know how it goes in practice) polyamory seems to be a very beneficial practice, so I wonder why the hesitation to make it legal.

    • Kaleigh C says:

      I agree with Maddi in that you really took an unbiased and professional approach to discussing a rather taboo topic. I feel like the stories that you hear about polyamory in the United States are usually cruel headliners or from a TLC show about sister wives. I also agree with some background information concerning the law could make this paper more interesting and give some depth to what is happening right now in America concerning the topic.

  9. Annie Birkeland says:

    I enjoyed your article and I think you did a good job of using he culture and personality theory. I think you had great inferences on what kinds of personality traits a polyamorous person would be likely to possess based on the open and free loving nature of polyamory itself. Since this lifestyle can be representative of cultural patterns, I wonder if there are societies around the world where this practice is more common. It would be interesting to look not only at the personality traits of the people who participate in polyamory, but also the traits of cultures that foster polyamory.

  10. Chris Manning says:

    Though i feel that a little too much is just theorized about what society could be like, i still find it a very interesting essay. it brings to light many ideas that are not presented in our society due to social norms. I think our social norms are too engrained in our society to change anything, but it is still an intriguing thought.

  11. Jacqueline Joyal says:

    Polyamory is more broad a term than many people know. There are many ways to define a polyamorous relationship, not just “two original partners who choose to have other partners as well.” Neil Gaiman, a popular writer, calls his relationship with his wife an open one. They are free to many more partners than just each other but are still committed to each other as well. I know of a group who never had an original partner but decided to enter into a relationship all at the same time. In another example, I’ve heard people joke about being polyamorous by saying they love more than one person, but these people do not know about each other. In america polyamory is seen as a joke. From the Mormons’ early tendencies to multiples wives (which is actually a form of polygamy, but who really cares about the difference, right?), to our built-in norm of monogamy, polyamory is a strange concept that seems to go against everything “we” stand for as a nation.

  12. Alex S. says:

    Your points on polyamory are insightful, and I think this specific topic could also be looked at from a functionalist perspective in a sense. Allowing for relationships like this in a society could allow for the improvement of communication between families and a less individualistic behavior, working together to maintain the functionality.

  13. Josie Anderson says:

    Polyamory is an interesting topic I never gave much thought. It shows the contrast in peoples’ beliefs and cultures well. For some, having multiple partners is a negative thing. It is seen as immoral or “slutty”. I don’t know much about polyamory and am curious. Are the relationships purely sexual? Are they purely romantic? Or both? I feel as if our culture would see purely romantic polyamory as more moral than purely sexual polyamory.

  14. Sydney Britsch says:

    I know polyamory is not America’s social norm, but I wonder if there are societies where this a normal practice. It would be interesting to compare other aspects of their society, like political structure, to our own. I really enjoyed both perspectives that you have discussed. I find it very interesting that polyamory can embrace gender equality and promote the improvement in knowledge of one’s self. These are two things that I think are very important. I honestly can’t imagine being in a polyamorous relationship, probably because of the beliefs that have been instilled in me since a child, but the ideas and values around polyamory are very intriguing.

  15. Kayla McClelland says:

    I thought this essay was well written and insightful, I had never thought to look at Polyamory from a culture and personality perspective, I thought that was an original analysis. In understanding our culture’s evaluation of polyamory and its marginalization I couldn’t help but think of our economy and the power of consumer consumption and our culture’s capitalist pride. It seems like so much of what evolves in American culture is somehow an effect or affected by our economy. Love and relationships is not exempt from this pattern – romance and relationships have been capitalized on and become a large source of marketed consumer products. What would a political economy anthropologist have to say about polyamory?

  16. AYURU KONDO says:

    It is really interesting theme. I think, it is kind of American culture. American people love freedom. I think it is not common Polyamorous relationships in America now, but I feel it could be accepted from society. In Japan, it wouldn’t . Because JapaneAse people appearances. People really care about what other people evaluation. I’m not sure is this a good idea or not, but interesting.

  17. Maddie Ohaus says:

    I thought this essay was very-well written and an unique subject. You did a really good job at explaining what polyamory is and what it means for humans. I like that you were not bias and gave both sides of idea. I personally think polyamory seems like a more natural state for humans to be in based on how high the divorce rate is and how no one seems to stay together any more, polyamory really seems like the logical and reasonable choice. I think it would be interesting to see if as a country we shift to a more polyamory idea of love than a monogomous one in the next couple of generations

  18. Stephanie Scattergood says:

    I really liked your description of polyamory in regard to feminist anthropology. It may have been beneficial to mention differences in polyamory and polygamy in the culture and personality paragraph, but overall I really enjoyed this essay! Polyamory has been a subject of discussion for year with groups that are in the western US, and it was interesting for this essay to discuss women having multiple partners rather than men having multiple partners.

  19. Christian Rencken says:

    Interesting topic to touch on with polyamory in the contemporary United States. With our country being almost 70% Christian, we do not see much of anything else besides monogamy, and that clearly has to do with the dominant religion of our nation. Polyamory is such a foreign concept to so many of us including myself, but when you take a step back to study it and put it into perspective, we see that it might actually be more innate than we think.
    In terms of feminist anthropology, there is no doubt that the hegemony of this type of relationship would be the focal point of the study. Conventional thinking would point to the male as being the top of the hegemonic pyramid, and finding a society where that isn’t the case would be fascinating.

  20. Alexis Johnson says:

    Polyamory is beyond interesting and I feel is hidden deep within society, it’s not something you see everyday. I like that you chose feminist and cultural & personality theories. Really explaining the act and idea of polyamory. I also would have chosen practice theory and looked at what people say happens in a polyamorist relationship and what they actually do, is what is known about that kind of relationship all true?

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