Polyamory and other non-monagamous relationships are popping up more and more in the popular consciousness. Polyamory is when married couples engage in romantic, sexual relationships with multiple people simultaneously. It differs from swinging in that it emphasizes long-term, emotionally intimate relationships, and from adultery with its focus on honesty and (ideally) full disclosure of all sexual relationships.
Most of the research on polyamorous relationships has focused on the “rules” needed to make these types arrangements work, such as maintaining emotional intimacy rather than sexual intimacy, and mutual appreciation, emotional closeness, caring, honesty, good communication, and flexibility.
Multiple organizations exist to support and advocate on behalf of polyamory. However, while polyamorists may be increasingly vocal about their lifestyle, research may not support their claims that polyamory is successful over the long-term. Enduring love is diluted when sexual infidelity is tolerated, according to a 1995 study. A 1980 study of 120 sexually permissive communes found a close relationship between the number of sex partners and an individual’s inability to feel love or sustain a love bond. Other studies have found that symbolic boundaries are vital for the maintenance and enhancement of a long-term intimate relationship, and as such, sex-inclusive communities never last beyond the life span of its founding generation. And then there’s always the hurdle of dealing with the significant stigma is still associated with polyamory.
Despite all this, polyamory and polygamy may become increasingly mainstream as same-sex marriage opens the door to other alternative sexual lifestyles. The road ahead may still be bumpy as society negotiates all the second and third order effects (taxes, health benefits, childcare and custody, etc.) of non-traditional relationships. An article in Huffington Post argued that while same-sex marriage is “neutral for society”, polyamory is the road to social unrest (the main argument seemed to mix up polygamy and polyamory as it argued that with polygamy, there are disenfranchised men who can’t find a wife). Another argument is that homosexuality is innate, like race, and therefore “more worthy” of civil rights while polyamory is a choice. Polyamorists defend their lifestyle and say it’s possible to pursue consensual, loving, respectful relationships, form happy families and participate productively in society. Only time will tell.
For an interesting look into the polyamory lifestyle, check out this story from CNN about a married couple and their live-in partner, Jeremy.