Exploring Monogamy, Polygamy and Polyamory
While enjoying the decadent pleasures of Sziget Festival in Budapest I received a call from Lovehoney‘s PR requesting some press quotes on the subject of polygamy. Unfortunately the context wasn’t explained fully and from a transcribed explanation of the differences between polygamy and polyamory, a relatively confusing series of quotations were published in relation to an article on Female First.
My quotes were not given in context of the piece about fundamentalist Mormon Joe Darger’s thoughts on his son joining a Mormon church that does not practice polygamist marriage. In context of this article, I’d like to say that Joe’s son will discover in his own time if he has the capacity to be polyamorous. If he decides that is the life choice for him, I have no doubt that he will seek to join a church that shares his view on love and life.
As a result of the confused quotes, I spent much of Friday talking to various people about poly relationships and modern society, and also providing my actual thoughts on the article discussed in Female First. I therefore decided to put together this blog as a reference point for poly relationships and also take the time to talk to some of my poly friends about their life experiences.
I’ll start off by saying that polygamy does not infer that the partners involved in the union are married. This is a concept that some folk have found confusing and/or ill advised, so I’d like to take the time to convey this in a lengthier manner in order to avoid any further misunderstanding, starting with definitions.
Monogamy refers to a relationship or sexual union in which two people or creatures are sexually exclusive, to say that they are sexually involved with only one another. Monogamy also refers to Christian marriage, or any other religious union of a similar nature, that binds two people together in a common-law agreement containing a clause that binds the parties to exclusive sexual relations with one another and no one else. Mono means one, gamy refers to a sexual or religious union.
Polygamy refers to a relationship in which two people or creatures are not exclusive, to say that they are sexually involved with one or another but one or both partners also have sexual involvement with others. Polygamy also refers to Mormon, Islamic, Buddhist, or other religious unions of a similar nature, that binds more than two people together in a common-law agreement pertaining to exclusive sexual relations within their union in any combination (and may extend to those outside of the union depending on the religious laws or guidelines set). Poly means many, gamy refers to a sexual or religious union.
The Evolution of Language and Interpretation is a Consequence of Social Factors
Polygamy in humans has historically referred to a marital relationship involving more than two people. Marital polyamy is not possible in the UK under anti-bigamy laws but poylgamous marriages contracted in countries where the practice is legal are often recognised by the UK government. For many the idea of a polygamous relationship requiring a religious and legal contract is as outdated as the idea that a monogamous relationship requires the same.
In the past 100 years there have been significant changes in the way society recognises romantic and sexual relationships. Religion is no longer the defining factor for many of us in making our life partner or partner choices, and the way we conduct our relationships no longer needs to sanctioned under a religious rite in order to satisfy the high moral demands made by those governing in our ancestors’ lifetimes. We can consent to shag whomever we like without trapping ourselves into a lifelong relationship, it’s a civil liberty we’re still adjusting to as a society. As part and parcel of that, the term monogamy became something more than a descriptive word for sexual practice within marriage, it became a descriptive word for any sexual relationship involving only two people. It’s also now applied to both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, something society would have found hard to swallow even fifty years ago. It stands to reason that the evolution of the word polygamy would also follow suit.
The scientific viewpoint on polygamy and monogamy is best described in sociobiology, the science of studying the social behaviour of animals and explaining how and why it evolves in the way it does. Nearly every male animal on the planet is described in sociobiology as being polygamous. Almost all of them. Many females tend to follow this rule too but to a lesser extent than the males, mating with fewer partners than their male counterparts. It’s the best way for male animals to secure maximum distribution of their genetics and for female animals it’s the best way to acquire the best genes – ditch the dud and mate with the stud, as it were.
No, I’m not saying that we are as simplistic in nature as animals but whether you like it or not, polygamous is a label slapped on birds, bees, husbands, wives and everyday folk in relationships and I don’t believe that any of these relationship types has any less relevance than the other. Gay, straight, 20 people, 3 people, Islamic, Agnostic, an animal free of religious ideals… whatever you identify with. If you’re in a relationship and you regularly have sex with multiple partners, if you’re NOT in a relationship and you have multiple partners. you currently identify with being polygamous. You have sexual unions with many.
Polyamory is a more commonly used term for a polygamous relationship that involves feelings of love toward more than one individual. I personally see polyamory and polygamy as different things, the prior inferring a deeper connection than mere swinging or a religious/sociological option, something that can’t be confused with a sociobiological term. One can be polyamorous and monogamous by feeling true, full-on romantic love for more than one individual without sex ever being a factor. A polygamous relationship or marriage can be devoid of any feelings of real love between any of the partners, although this is uncommon outside of arranged and forced marriage scenarios.
I’ve personally never identified with being polyamorous. I’ve engaged in polygamous relationships before but I’ve never found myself in the situation where I loved two people at once. By nature I appear to be monoamorous with the capability to be polygamous if appropriate. This is not true of all people, most monoamorous individuals will also be monogamous, the reasons for which are numerous but sociobiologically speaking it’s down to how much energy, care, attention and time is required to raise human offspring…with added religion-shaped sprinkles.
A fine example of polygamy in modern sociological terms would be an affair. A man and a woman are married, but the woman begins having a sexual relationship at the same times as continuing a sexual relationship with her husband. She is polygamous but because she only loves her husband she is monoamorous. If she develops deeper feelings for her lover while maintaining deeper feelings with her husband, she has become polyamorous. She loves many, she does not love just one.
To better explain the role of non-marital poly relationships in the modern age, I asked two friends in poly relationships to provide some insight into their lifestyle choices and what makes poly the right choice for them and others.
Aaron Jacob Jones is in a long-term relationship with his boyfriend of 12 years but they also welcome other partners into their relationship. They both identify as being polyamorous.
“My boyfriend and I are as committed and in love with one another as any couple could be. But both of us have found that it’s perfectly possible to be romantically in love with more than one person. I’d never attempt to find everything I ever wanted in just one person, when opening up my heart has brought so much joy through loving multiple people in an open, consensual way. Once you clear your head of all parental and societal expectation for your life roadmap, and begin to draw your own, you might just find it makes you happier than you ever thought possible.With my boyfriend and my different lifestyles and goals, not to mention our bisexuality, our relationships with girls brought new dimensions, and a deeper level of communication and trust, to our bond. Most people think having multiple relationships would lead to jealousy, but although we’ve had some angst here and there, it’s never been caused by that. All couples have problems sometimes, but the nature of polyamorous relationships encourages participants to be open and honest with their feelings, and to resolve any issues with everyone’s needs taken into account. Our current setup, with me enjoying some space and freedom to date around and focus on my work, and him in a secure and loving long term relationship with one girl, with whom he has plans for the future, is working beautifully, making us all very happy. We have outings as a three together almost every weekend, with one of my dates or a friend joining me if I fancy the company.I love them both, and seeing how much she fulfils and cares for him, and how deeply in love they are, delights me in a way I truly treasure. When you love your partner and trust that they love you too, and someone else makes them romantically happy, it’s possible to feel what we call compersion – some say it’s ‘the opposite of jealousy’. The Polyamory society defines compersion to be “the feeling of taking joy in the joy that others you love share among themselves, especially taking joy in the knowledge that your beloveds are expressing their love for one another.”
It’s certainly a beautiful feeling, this capacity for boundless love and affection for the people who enrich my life so much. Poly isn’t for everyone, sure, but don’t write it off unless you’ve tried walking the walk or at least talking to those who live it. It can be incredible.”
“Polygamy is not a word I have ever used to describe myself or those I am close to. I find the word confusing and outdated. Instead, I view relationships as being either monogamous or non-monogamous. Monogamy is a reasonably straightforward concept that most people seem to understand, even if some have trouble sticking to it, but forms of non-monogamy are less well understood. Polyamory is just one of these types and it is how I choose to define my current relationship style.
This means that: I believe it is possible to love more than one person at the same time; I am open to having multiple romantic and/or sexual relationships; and I am committed to being completely honest with my partner(s) about all aspects of this.
Polyamory does not come with rules on how you should form your relationships, who they should be with, and whether or not they should be recognised by the state. Get married, or don’t. Have one partner for a bit, and then four for a while. Have one wife, two girlfriends and a boyfriend. Live alone, or live as a poly family. As long as it’s ethical non-monogamy, practiced with the express knowledge and consent of all involved, it doesn’t really matter how you label it. It’s simply about being open and honest with your nearest and dearest. Thing is though, that’s really what being monogamous should be about too, isn’t it?”
– Hella Rude
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