Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

August 31, 2005


In the fall of 2005 I started keeping the blog that would become Polyamory in the News. Of course, there were many earlier instances of poly in the media. Here are some significant ones. They're in reverse chronological order.

Do you know of more that ought to be here? Write me at alan7388 {at} gmail.com. Send the link, a scan, or text.

Last updated November 18, 2022.

New York Times, Sept. 4, 2005: Three Men and a Woman, a writerly vignette in the Times's "Modern Love" column.

The Guardian, progressive British newspaper, April 4, 2005: Free love gets a fit of the wibbles, by Steven Alexander, featuring Meg Barker.

Denver Post, Denver's big daily paper, Jan. 23, 2005: Polyamorists Don't Just Have Sex... (paywalled). A 2,000-word feature article about Robyn Trask and friends in her hometown paper, two months after she bought Loving More magazine and its gatherings in November 2004. This was probably her first big media placement for the concept of polyamory — the first of very, very many — after setting herself a goal for Loving More "to make 'polyamory' a household word."

Boston Magazine, July 2003 issue: ‘Multiply your Love: Local Advocates of “Polyamory” Say You Can Love Two People At Once. Or Three. Or Four’, by M. Blanding.

The Guardian (U.K. newspaper), Nov. 13, 2003: When two just won't do, by Helena Echlin. "Many people find it hard to stick to the confines of a monogamous relationship. Which is why in America more and more are now choosing to live in 'group marriages'."

Elle magazine on Maureen Marovitch and company, October 2002: What It's Like to Have Two Boyfriends.

Detroit Metro Times, alternative weekly newspaper, cover story, Feb. 13, 2002: Lovers Leap: Penetrating the Polyamory Subculture.

● AlterNet, Oct. 25, 2001: Polyamory: Ethical Non-Monogamy, by Paul King; reprinted from CU City View.

Isthmus, alternative (or college) newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin, Feb. 1, 2001: Open Marriage: A glimpse into the world of polyamory. Long article.

Houston Press, Nov. 30, 2000, alternative weekly newspaper, Meet Mr. & Mrs. & Mrs. Jones. Long feature profiling polyfamilies and the movement.

Time magazine, Nov. 15, 1999, reporting on the April Divilbiss case: “Henry & Mary & Janet &...”. This article, and the Tennessee child custody case it was about, was an important early event in the polyamory movement becoming visible to the mainstream world. The original article is behind a subscription paywall, but it's important enough for the historical record that I'll reprint the text:

Henry & Mary & Janet &...

By John Cloud

To get to the home that April Divilbiss has shared with the two men she calls her husbands, you drive south on Interstate 55 from Memphis, Tenn., and cross the border into Mississippi. Then you double back along a little road that winds into a forlorn section of Memphis again. It's not just two states but several states of mind you end up traversing. That's because the family album under the TV in April's apartment contains snapshots not of a happy couple but of a devoted threesome. And baby makes four.

April and Shane Divilbiss, who work as a stay-at-home mom and a computer technician, are legally married, but until recently Chris Littrell, a male nurse, lived with them too. No, the two guys don't go for each other; the triad tried a menage a trois once but stopped because Chris thought it was icky. Instead, they lived as man and wife and man, with April taking turns. Together they were raising April's toddler (from a previous relationship), earning a living and wondering how Shane could learn to manage his jealousy when he heard Chris having sex with their wife. Despite the obvious difficulties, until about a year ago, they had formed an odd but functional family.

But now these three Southerners, all in their 20s, find themselves litigants in a legal mess and, consequently, martyrs of sorts for a fledgling movement. A year ago, a judge removed April's daughter Alana from the Divilbiss-Littrell home. The judge was acting on a petition from Alana's paternal grandmother arguing that the threesome's relationship revealed such "depravity" that it could "endanger the morals or health" of the little girl, a sunshiney four-year-old who prizes her Barbies. The grandmother took action after seeing the three discuss their lifestyle on an MTV program, Sex in the '90s: It's a Group Thing.

More Americans than you might think are practicing what is commonly known as polygamy but what adherents prefer to call "polyamory": loving more than one person simultaneously and--this is crucial--openly. No one has taken a survey on polyamory, but as with many fringe movements, it has grown on the Web. "Ten years ago, there were maybe three support groups for polies," says Brett Hill, who helps run a magazine (circ. 10,000), a website (1,000 hits a month) and two annual conferences for an organization called Loving More. Today there are perhaps 250 polyamory support groups, mostly on the Internet but some that meet for potluck suppers. Sure, most of them are in such expected precincts as Boston and Los Angeles, but there are also outposts like KanPoly, where polyamorous residents of Kansas can meet others like themselves and even download a "poly pride flag."

The poly community is rallying around April, Chris and Shane, whose case may provide the tale of injustice every movement needs. The case could well be the first of its kind; it's surely the first to debate explicitly the worthiness of polies as parents. The roots of the movement, however, reach back to the communes of the mid-1800s and their flower-children descendants a century later. The poly family is usually smaller than a commune and more committed than a swingers' group--though polyamorists insist on the prerogative of each family to set its own rules about fidelity, as long as everyone is honest. Polies tend to be an exceedingly earnest bunch, and many describe what they practice as "responsible nonmonogamy." During a recent Loving More conference, an organizer pointedly noted that "Loving More does not mean 'f______ more.'"

So what is it that polyamorists want? Until the Divilbiss case, they had few political goals, and even now their mission is mostly social. Basically, they want to convince us that the politics of the heart doesn't have to be governed by a one-party system. "If you are married, but you meet someone in the office you fall in love with, what do you do?" asks Hill. Most of us have to give up someone. "But that's so painful. People destroy themselves, destroy their families over that. All I'm saying is, we have choices."

April, Chris and Shane found out the hard way. Chris served as Shane's best man at Shane and April's 1996 wedding. But Chris and April quickly bonded, and by January 1997, April knew she was in love--again. It was tough to keep her feelings bottled up, and she didn't want to cheat, so she told Shane that she and Chris were in love. It was Valentine's Day.

Chris thought Shane would shoot him. Instead, they went to a Waffle House for a long talk. Eventually, they returned to April and announced that they wanted to try a live-in threesome. April says philosophically that she and Shane "just knew that if we didn't try this, we would have lost one of our best friends just because of modern stereotypes and jealousy and social conditioning." The arrangement was difficult but manageable. But the judge handling the grandmother's petition said one of the men had to move out before he would consider returning Alana. The case has dragged on for months. Divilbiss's lawyer Asa Hoke (whose fees are being paid with Loving More's help) hopes to persuade the court to change its mind since Chris has now moved. Hoke has also appealed the decision on constitutional grounds, arguing that parents should be able to raise their kids without undue interference.

Polies see such experiences as painful but transcendental, and not surprisingly, there's a fair amount of New Age flimflam associated with the movement. But many adherents like Loving More leader Ryam Nearing prefer to dwell on science. "People are biologically poly," she asserts, noting that polyamory occurs even in societies that punish it by death. Polyamorists love the work of Helen Fisher, a Rutgers University anthropologist and author of Anatomy of Love. Fisher has written that only 16% of cultures on record actually prescribe monogamy; in most, polygamy is sought after by men as a sign of power. Fisher also completed a study of divorce in 62 societies, which revealed that people have a remarkable tendency to split up after just four years. The implication that polyamorists take from Fisher's work is that we aren't built for monogamy.

Fisher has a more complex view. She says we have conflicting evolutionary impulses: lust (to ensure progeny), attraction (to conserve mating energy for good catches) and attachment (to allow us to stay with someone at least long enough to raise a child through infancy--about four years). "So these polyamory people are fascinating," Fisher says. "They are trying to be realistic." Still, if "polyamory is extremely mature," she adds, "it is also extremely naive." Jealousy will never fade permanently, she says. Indeed, just about every polyamory website, meeting and publication is obsessed with curing jealousy. It is the polyamorists' worst enemy.

None of which means, necessarily, that practicing polyamory should be reason enough to lose custody of your child. In the Divilbiss case, four sets of independent, court-appointed experts concluded that Alana should be returned to her mother. They have also recommended counseling for everyone involved.

A social worker from New York State probably would be willing to provide it. She and her husband have been in another type of polyamorous relationship--what could also be called an "open marriage"--for 28 years. They have never lived with their other lovers, but they each have long-term relationships outside their marriage, which they say has remained healthy. Many friends still don't understand--"to them it's just adultery with chocolate sprinkles," says the 51-year-old husband. "But it's more." The couple have a son Matthew who's 21 and in college. Matthew thinks that what has happened to April, Chris and Shane is awful. "My experience with having 'extra' parents was quite positive," he wrote in a recent e-mail. As a teenager, he had begun to suspect that his mother was having an affair. "To then find out that she was but that it was an approved activity was entirely a relief... It only seemed natural."

Matthew has had some problems because of his upbringing, however. "Having this kind of heritage makes my life a great deal more confusing" with respect to his own relationships, he wrote. "For most people, the relationship options are fairly constrained. For me, there are all these options that seem perfectly valid. Choosing between them is a task and a half!"

Salon, July 19, 1999: Stranger in a Super-Friendly Land, by Lady Chimmerly. Another influential story in the late 1990s, revolving around a Loving More conference.

Esquire magazine, May 1999: Scenes from a (Group) Marriage, by John H. Richardson. (The link is to Esquire's online reprint of the article in September 2022. It's also in Esquire's archive filed with a 2007 date; don't be misled.) This 8,000-word article featured Nan Wise's quad and Loving More conferences, and made poly life seem tumultuous and exhausting.

● HBO, "Real Sex" series, sometime in the 1990s: The HBO cable-TV channel aired a 4-minute segment about a workshop with poly pioneer Deborah Anapol at Harbin Hot Springs. Deborah writes (May 2, 2014): "More archival footage... this is an excerpt from HBO's Real Sex series shot at one of my workshops in the 90's. One of their most popular shows ever – they are still showing re-runs! – with Elizabeth Fuller, Conrad Bishop, Roy Turpin, Arlene Q. Allen, Joseph Tavormina and Victor Gold."

The Boston Phoenix, Oct. 16, 1998: Free Love Grows Up. "Free Love Might Sound Like a Euphemism for Group Sex, but to Boston’s Polyamory Community, It’s Just Like Marriage – Only Bigger.’ By Alicia Potter.

New York Times Magazine, Feb. 16, 1997: They Call it Polyluv.

Newsweek, July 17, 1995, cover story: The Bisexuals: Not gay. Not straight. A new sexual identity emerges. This mentions "polyamory" by name, just a few years after the word was first coined by Morning Glory Zell and shared over Deborah Anapol's kitchen table in Mill Valley, California. Excerpt:

...[Steven and Lori's] marriage now is a home invention that they describe as "body-fluid monogamous." In conversation, they discuss condoms as matter-of-factly as the weather. Lori has an ongoing sexual relationship with another man and is looking for another woman; Steven has a friendship with a man that is sometimes sexual. ...

...In a culture organized, however precariously, around monogamy, bisexuality lurks as a rupture in the social structure, conjuring fears of promiscuity, secret lives and instability. It can make the knotty issues of human relationships -- jealousy, fidelity, finances, parental roles, custody -- even more complex. And with these uncertainties comes an increased threat of AIDS. Failed monogamy is already a principal source of pain in this country; bisexuality suggests that nonmonogamy, or "polyamory," is an accepted part of life.

Bisexuality is the hidden wild card of our erotic culture. ... Bisexual characters have popped up in TV series like "Roseanne" and "Melrose Place" and in films like "Three of Hearts" and "Threesome." ... Many college students, particularly women, talk about a new sexual "fluidity" on campus. ...

...In practice, bisexuality has come to describe an incredibly broad range of erotic patterns: some monogamous, some polyamorous, some fleeting and some wholly fantastic. Indigo Som, 28, a paper artist currently in a monogamous relationship with another woman, considers the word bisexual far too vague to describe her life. "My sexual orientation," she says, "is toward creative people of color who can cook."

KCAL-9 TV, Los Angeles, Dec. 21, 1993: Shirley -- Open Relationships on the "Shirley" talk show. This is an important one for poly-movement historians.

The show devoted its full 43 minutes to interviewing a long-term open MFM triad about their life together. A fourth partner of theirs, a woman who has a husband and other partners of her own, comes on partway through the show. The whole extended network is on great terms with one another.

The married couple met their other main partner at a "workshop in California," which they've gone to for years to learn about depths of communication, sexuality, and human relationships. The husband mentions Stan Dale, and that confirms it: those were Human Awareness Institute events, probably at Harbin Hot Springs, California. Stan Dale (1929-2007) founded and ran HAI with his wife Helen Dale. It became a crucial early seedbed for the modern polyamory movement, roots often forgotten today (2022).

The people on the show may have 1970s-ish hairstyles, but they are remarkably representative of high-quality, best-practices, successful polyamory as we recognize it nearly 30 years later. That is because they came out of HAI -- as did much of the movement's communicate-communicate-communicate ideology, its viewpoints on jealousy and insecurity and how to understand them, and even some of today's poly jargon, as you will recognize here.

They do not yet, however, use the word "polyamory," nor does the host or anyone else on the show. The word was still too new and unknown; it had originated elsewhere just three years earlier. (Even Loving More magazine didn't settle on "polyamory" as the word for what it was doing until 1995, two years after this show aired.)

Thanks to Randy Ralston for discovering this archival show and alerting us to it.

● In the May 1980 issue of Psychology Today there appeared a lead article on jealousy. Featured in the article was a two-page spread entitled "Polyfidelity: The Keristan Village Ideal."

● If you're reading this page, you'll be interested in the book Fifty Years of Polyamory in America: A Guided Tour of a Growing Movementby Glen W. Olson and Terry Lee Brussel-Rogers (Rowman & Littlefield, 2022). The bulk of it is about the period from 1968 through 1994. 

MANY ADDITIONAL EARLY ARTICLES and papers are held in the Kenneth R. Haslam Collection on Polyamory in the Kinsey Institute Library at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. The articles are listed in the Finding Aid to the collection; search the pdf document for "Series IV) Media Coverage".


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