What is Polyamory
Okay, let’s dive into polyamorous couples. Polyamory is actually the latest buzzword, the catchall term used to describe a wide variety of ways of having consenting intimate relationships with more than one partner at a time. Polyamorous relationships can be purely emotional and not physical at all, or vice versa. There’s a lot to say about this polyamory business, but the first things first let’s define our terms. You’ve probably heard of the many different types of polyamory, and the sheer variety of polyamory terms may feel overwhelming to you. So let me give you some basic definitions, so you know what we’re even talking about. Before we get into defining our terms, I want to make one thing clear, and this is something that everyone, whether they be pro, anti or neutral about polyamory, would agree with. Polyamory is a form of consensual non monogamy, and as such, it is not cheating. It is, by definition, involvement with more than one partner that is consented to by all parties. The critical word here is consent. Polyamory does not involve having emotional or sexual relationships with others without all parties being in agreement. When there’s no explicit agreement and there’s secrecy, that’s called an affair. Polyamory does not involve lying to your partner, nor can one partner unfairly demand that the other partner only be sexually and emotionally involved with them while they get to be involved with other people. Okay, now that we’ve got that straight, let’s get into the lexicon of polyamory terms.
The first term is polygamy, which is the act of having multiple spouses. Polygamy can involve one male with more than one female, which is called Polygeny, or one female with more than one male, which is called polyandry. Solo polyamory is a form of polyamory where one person has multiple romantic and or sexual partners without progressing through the conventional sequence of dating, commitment, getting married, and having children. Solo polyamorists are not committed to the people they have romantic or sexual encounters with. Beyond those encounters, another term you might hear used is metamor. A metamor is one partner’s other significant other in a polyamorous relationship. A polycule is a web of people that are interconnected through various liaisons sexual, romantic, emotional, or otherwise with one another. So, for instance, a couple who each have a metamor or other partner would collectively be referred to as a polycule. Another term is kitchen table polyamory. This is used to describe multiple people who view themselves as a kind of family who will often live together and gather together socially. Not all members of this group are necessarily sexually or romantically involved with each other. And finally, non-hierarchical polyamory is a term used to describe polyamorous relationships in which no one relationship is considered more important than any other relationship. By contrast, hierarchical polyamory describes a polyamorous relationship in which the bond between two of the partners takes priority over any of the other relationships.
Everyone has strong feelings about polyamory one way or another. It’s often met with a lot of opposition. So let’s look at what that’s about. It’s common to attribute the stigma surrounding polyamory to the fact that our society is rooted in Judeo-Christian values, at the heart of which is marriage between one man and one woman. Polyamory, the way it’s often thought of today as an ethical practice where all parties consent to ongoing relationships that involve mutual care and that may or may not be sexual, is a very recent invention, having only arisen as late as the 1970s. To be sure, with very few exceptions, this explicit form of polyamory has not been accepted in Western cultures. But it hasn’t been condoned in Eastern cultures either. The most common form of socially accepted multiple partner arrangement is polygony, which, you recall, is one man with multiple wives. This has been practiced in non Western cultures such as parts of the Middle East, Africa and Asia for centuries, as well as in certain religious cults in the United States. In modern history, people have strong reactions to the idea of polyamory and there’s a lot of controversy about it.
Let’s try to understand the stigma here. Stigmas in general are often best understood through the lens of evolutionary biology. Our moral notions and the attitudes toward human behaviors they produce are not, as the postmodernists would insist, mere social constructs. Many stigmas exist because they trigger these very instinctual responses. In humans, we’re wired for physical survival. It’s not just a trivial matter of taste or preferences. It’s not like sometimes I like to mix red and white wine at the same meal. Sexual exclusivity is a big deal from the perspective of evolutionary biology. Polyamory, which can also involve women having sexual relationships with more than one partner, makes it difficult for anyone to determine the father of the woman’s child. This makes it less likely that any one of the potential fathers will invest in the raising of that child if he’s uncertain that he actually even is the father. This, in turn, makes it less likely that the child will survive.
While polygony of one man with more than one wife has been quite common in times when there was sufficient food to feed more than one wife, polyandry was exceedingly rare. Without definitive paternal identification, it’s unlikely a male will step up to support and raise a child. This brings us to the issue of pear bonding. Pair bonding is the act of a man and woman pairing up to increase their chances of survival and the likelihood that they’ll be able to successfully raise a child to maturity. The evolutionary success of pair bonding is why monogamy has been a favorite arrangement through the course of human evolution. Many polyamory advocates propagate the myth that monogamy is a mere blip on the screen of human history which arose as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the isolation of suburban living.
But the truth is that humans have been pair bonding for hundreds of thousands of years in order to ensure survival. Even then, pair bonds in prehistory generally only lasted about four years, long enough to ensure that a child was up and walking on their own. So you could say that humans aren’t really wired for long term, committed, intimate relationships that lasted longer than four years. People today are trying to find ways to stay in long term, committed relationships. And for many couples, polyamory is one of the ways of trying to do so. Many couples want to open up their relationships because they see this as a way of reinvigorating a sex life that’s no longer exciting to them, but they still view themselves as emotionally primary to each other. Nonetheless, I have an important message for you.
When you’re in a committed, intimate relationship, polyamory is playing with fire. Here is one of the central myths you should be aware of if you’re interested in trying polyamory with your partner. I’m going to debunk this myth about polyamory right now. The myth is most people are well suited to polyamory. That’s just flat out wrong. In a research study of people who had tried to open up their relationships, only four to 5% reported that they had had success. Four to 5%? That’s one in 20 people, folks. There’s a good reason for the low success rate with polyamory. Most people would feel threatened if they’re in a long term, committed, intimate relationship and their partner were to be emotionally or sexually involved with another person. There’s a good reason for this. There’s a science to how humans bond or attach to one another.
It’s called attachment theory. Science has proven that adult intimate relationships replicate our early relationships with our parents or primary caregivers when we’re little. Just like those early childhood relationships, our adult intimate relationships need to be based on a felt sense of emotional safety and security with our partner. The human brain is exquisitely sensitive to anything that it finds threatening and this includes threats to our intimate relationship. And this means that anything that either partner finds threatening to the relationship has to stop if the relationship going to survive. So no wonder polyamory has such a low success rate. You see your partner walking off with somebody else, and it just triggers this whole set of feelings that are just completely devastating, overwhelming, traumatic, and untenable. In fact, there are so many myths about polyamory, and I’m going to devote a whole separate video on my channel to debunking these myths. So stay tuned.