Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

December 28, 2006

German Green Endorses Poly; Brouhaha Ensues

"There's an interesting development in German politics," Johannes N. writes to us from that country. "Non-monogamous and alternative families are getting into the light of public debate, much more rapidly than we did anticipate."

The reason: a brash new member of the German Green Party's governing council has called for laws and a culture "that gives equality to other forms of relationship and community," including non-monogamy.

Johannes writes: "While still very few people here know the word "Polyamory" (or "Polyamorie", the adapted German spelling), we have a young, free-spirited, and courageous woman who has entered the second-most important committee of the German Green Party, the Parteirat, by a quite unexpected election result. Her name is Julia Seeliger [photo].

"She became famous quite rapidly because of the sentence: 'Monogamy isn't the solution,' [in] a press release from February by the influential Green Party's youth organization, Gruene Jugend. Basically, the declaration suggests to abolish all positive discrimination favoring heterosexual marriage, and to treat it equal to all other forms of living together, because social realities have changed."

Here is a Times of London article about Seeliger (Dec 17, 2006). Excerpt:

‘Longstocking’ seduces Germany

By Nicola Smith

A fiesty 27-year-old student, whose youthful energy and fondness for miniskirts and knee-high boots have led her to be nicknamed “Pippi Longstocking”, is poised to shake up the dowdy world of German politics.

Julia Seeliger, a journalism student and film-maker from Berlin, has shot from oblivion to national fame in a matter of weeks after her surprise election to the governing council of the Green party earlier this month.

She was dubbed Longstocking after the fictional nine-year-old children’s heroine, who lives without any sign of adult supervision, is unconventional, assertive, rich and extraordinarily strong.

In her first few weeks in the job, Seeliger has already raised hackles and made headlines with her views on legalising drugs and turning the country’s traditional marriage laws on their head.

“This Green wants to abolish marriage,” screamed the headline of the country’s biggest-selling tabloid newspaper, Bild, which claimed she wanted to put an end to monogamy and then decriminalise magic mushrooms.

The former charge has been denied by Seeliger, although she admits she would like radically to change attitudes towards relationships and marriage.

“I would like to abolish tax incentives that favour marriage and discriminate against having children out of wedlock. These laws are made by conservatives,” she said in an interview.

“In Germany, there is still the traditional view that women stay at home and do the housework while men go out and make money. We need to break these stereotypes and create a culture that gives equality to other forms of relationship and community.”

Seeliger has barely been out of the German press since her election and has sharply divided the columnists.

She has been described by some as a “small sensation” and “young, cheeky, funny and pretty”, while others have depicted her as naive and a sign that the Green party, which won 51 seats in the Bundestag in last year’s election, is dumbing down.

Her appointment came after a fiery and provocative speech in which she promised to shake-up the party and “argue with the politicians”.

To many, even those who disagree with her views, she seems a breath of fresh air who could challenge the plodding, middle-aged, dull world of the German political elite....

Here is the German text of the declaration on marriage.

Johannes continues: "The German yellow press is reacting, uhm, a bit hysterically. To cite Bild writer F. J. Wagner: 'To have multiple men, multiple women, for me is the end of love, and the end of the world.' (article, in German. And here's another Bild article.)

More about the press coverage, and Seeliger's positions, is in her own blog. And here's an article by her that appeared in Welt am Sonntag.

Continues Johannes: "In the next months, we (that is, the German-speaking European polyfolks) may have good use of some advice on how to deal with press and political campaign. If you know somebody in Europe who would like to meet one or two dozen poly activists in January in Switzerland, please drop a note to me. We try to coordinate beginning European poly-activities at http://tribes.tribe.net/polyeurope ."

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December 26, 2006

"Make love; end monogamy war"

The Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)

A columnist for a major Australian paper muses about polyamory on the occasion of Global Orgasm Day.

By Judith Ireland

December 22, 2006

"Polyamory" sounds like a term for parrots in the mood, but has been coined to describe people who are involved with multiple, simultaneous partners — with the consent of their significant other/s....

It's supposedly the way of the future. And why not, in an age when you can have it all? There's lots not to like about monogamy thanks to its associations with other unfortunate M words such as "marriage", "mortgage" and "misspent youth".

Humans have been questioning the whole one-mate-only thing since we split with the monkeys. In an attempt to find freedom from the shackles of staying together for the sake of the lease on the Land Rover, we've also tried polygamy, polyandry, free love, swinging and no-fault divorce.

Yet while many of these practices have found niche markets in communes, Utah and Aaron Spelling programs, none — besides the divorce option — has caught on in the mainstream. Anticlimactic as it is to admit, monogamy is the capitalism of the social world. It isn't perfect and it's mighty expensive, but no one's actually come up with a viable alternative for the masses.

Read the whole article.


December 20, 2006

"All Mine"

Herald Sun (Australia)

Are polys becoming the go-to experts on managing jealousy? Australia's largest daily newspaper printed an article on the anatomy of jealousy (Dec. 10, 2006), adapted from London's Sunday Telegraph. The article describes, approvingly, insights and methods from the poly community, as relayed by Chris Ford, coordinator of the Sydney Polyamory Social Group. I was surprised to find such a good article in a Rupert Murdoch product.

Can jealousy be eliminated altogether? One section of society in which we might expect it to be an endangered species is the polyamorous community (which is based on the principle that, when it comes to long-lasting, loving relationships, monogamy doesn't necessarily have the monopoly).

However, as Chris Ford, coordinator of Sydney's Polyamory Social Group, explains: "It's not that polyamorous people are jealousy free. Rather, they don't relate to jealousy as something to be avoided. When it's experienced in a relationship, it needs to be dealt with, just like anger, fear or any other emotion.

"Many people abstain from close emotional ties with anyone except their lover, primarily to avoid jealousy.

"This deprives them of the rich tapestry of intimacy and social support that would otherwise be available, and leaves them with the pressure of trying to satisfy 100 per cent of their partner's emotional needs, a pressure that can itself destroy relationships.

"Dealing with jealousy requires the sort of communication which leads to deep, trusting relationships. Avoiding these emotional issues creates barriers and undermines intimacy."

...Dragging it into the sunlight and examining its underlying causes — the doubts to be allayed and the injuries to be healed — is the first step in overcoming it. The beastie's power is broken once our trust in our partner exceeds our mistrust of ourselves.

Read the whole article. It also quotes praises of Berkeley poly counselor Kathy Labriola's paper "Unmasking the Green-Eyed Monster: Managing Jealousy in Open Relationships" and provides a link.

By the way, another good, often-referenced paper is Franklin Veaux's "Practical Jealousy Management".

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December 15, 2006

"Monogamy, Polyamory, and Beyond"


In the January/February 2007 issue of Tikkun, now on newsstands, Prof. Jorge N. Ferrer expands on his previous article describing the possibilities of compersion — "sympathetic joy" in multipartnering — for spiritual practice.

Tikkun is a Jewish/interfaith magazine of progressive politics and spirituality ("Tikkun: to heal, repair, and transform the world"). The article is long (9 pages); we have Ferrer's permission to quote from it extensively:

According to Buddhist teachings, the cultivation of sympathetic joy can break through the ultimately false duality between self and others, being therefore a potent aid on the path toward overcoming self-centeredness and achieving liberation.... The awakening of sympathetic joy in observing the happiness of one’s mate in relationship with perceived “rivals” is an extremely rare pearl to find.

The evolutionary origins and function of jealousy have been clearly mapped by contemporary evolutionary psychologists, anthropologists, and zoologists. Despite its tragic impact in the modern world — the overwhelming majority of mate battering and spousal murders worldwide is caused by jealous violence — jealousy very likely emerged around 3.5 million years ago in our hominid ancestors as an adaptive response of vital evolutionary value for both genders. Whereas the reproductive payoff of jealousy for males was to secure certainty of paternity and to avoid spending resources in support of another male’s genetic offspring, for females it evolved as a mechanism for guaranteeing protection and resources for biological children by having a steady partner. In short, jealousy emerged in our ancestral past to protect males from being cuckolded and to protect women from being abandoned. This is why even today men tend to experience more intense feelings of jealousy than women do when they suspect sexual infidelity, while women are more likely than men to feel threatened when their mates become emotionally attached to another female and spend time and money with her. Modern research shows that this “evolutionary logic” in relation to gender-specific jealousy patterns operates widely across disparate cultures and countries, from Sweden to China and from North America and the Netherlands to Japan and Korea.

The problem, of course, is that many instinctive reactions that had evolutionary significance in ancestral times do not make much sense in our modern world....

The discussion of the twin evolutionary origins of jealousy and monogamy raises further questions: Can jealousy be truly transformed? What emotional response can take the place of jealousy in human experience? And how can the transformation of jealousy affect our relationship choices?

To my knowledge, in contrast to most other emotional states, jealousy has no antonym in any human language. This is probably why the Kerista community — a polygamous group located in San Francisco that was disbanded in the early 1990s — coined the term “compersion” to refer to the emotional response opposite to jealousy. The Keristans defined compersion as “the feeling of taking joy in the joy that others you love share among themselves.”

...Experientially, compersion can be felt as a tangible presence in the heart whose awakening may be accompanied by waves of warmth, pleasure, and appreciation at the idea of our partner loving others and being loved by them in nonharmful and mutually beneficial ways. In this light, I suggest that compersion can be seen as a novel extension of Buddhist sympathetic joy to the realm of intimate relationships and, in particular, to interpersonal situations that conventionally evoke feelings of jealousy.

...I suggest that the transformation of jealousy through the cultivation of sympathetic joy bolsters the awakening of the enlightened heart. As jealousy dissolves, universal compassion and unconditional love become more easily available to the individual. Human compassion is universal in its embrace of all sentient beings without qualifications. Human love is also all-inclusive and unconditional — a love that is both free from the tendency to possess and that does not expect anything in return. Although to love without conditions is generally easier in the case of brotherly and spiritual love, I suggest that as we heal the historical split between spiritual love [of all] (agape) and sensuous love [of the particular] (eros), the extension of sympathetic joy to more embodied forms of love becomes a natural development. And when embodied love is emancipated from possessiveness, a richer range of spiritually legitimate relationship options organically emerges.

As people become more whole and are freed from certain basic fears (e.g., of abandonment, of unworthiness, of engulfment), new possibilities for the expression of embodied love open up which may feel natural, safe, and wholesome rather than undesirable, threatening, or even morally questionable. For example, once jealousy turns into sympathetic joy and sensuous and spiritual love are integrated, a couple may feel drawn to extend their love to other individuals beyond the structure of the pair bond. In short, once jealousy loosens its grip on the contemporary self, human love can attain a wider dimension of embodiment in our lives that may naturally lead to the mindful cultivation of more inclusive intimate connections.

...Serial monogamy plus clandestine adultery is in many respects not too different from polyamory, except perhaps in that the latter is more honest, ethical, and arguably less harmful. In this context, the mindful exploration of polyamory may help alleviating the suffering caused by the staggering number of clandestine affairs in our modern culture.

...To disregard a potentially emancipatory cultural development because its early manifestations did not succeed may be unwise. Looking back at the history of emancipatory movements in the West — from feminism to the abolition of slavery to the gaining of civil rights by African-Americans — we can see that the first waves of the Promethean impulse were frequently burdened with problems and distortions which only later could be recognized and resolved. This is not the place to review this historical evidence, but to dismiss polyamory because of its previous failures may be equivalent to having written off feminism on the grounds that its first waves failed to reclaim genuine feminine values or free women from patriarchy.

...Mindful polyamory may also offer an alternative to the usually unfulfilling nature of currently prevalent serial monogamy in which people change partners every few years, never benefiting from the emotional and spiritual depth that only an enduring connection with another human being provides. In a context of psychospiritual growth, such exploration can create unique opportunities for the development of emotional maturity, the transmutation of jealousy into sympathetic joy, the emancipation of embodied love from exclusivity and possessiveness, and the integration of sensuous and spiritual love. As Christian mystic Richard of St. Victor maintained, mature love between lover and beloved naturally reaches beyond itself toward a third reality, and this opening, I suggest, might in some cases be crucial both to overcome codependent tendencies and to foster the health, creative vitality, and perhaps even longevity of intimate relationships.

...Ultimately, I believe that the greatest expression of spiritual freedom in intimate relationships does not lie in strictly sticking to any particular relationship style — whether monogamous or polyamorous — but rather in a radical openness to the dynamic unfolding of life that eludes any fixed or predetermined structure of relationships. It should be obvious, for example, that one can follow a specific relationship style for the “right” (e.g., life-enhancing) or “wrong” (e.g., fear-based) reasons; that all relationship styles can become equally limiting spiritual ideologies; and that different internal and external conditions may rightfully call us to engage in different relationship styles at various junctures of our lives. It is in this open space catalyzed by the movement beyond monogamy and polyamory, I believe, that an existential stance deeply attuned to the standpoint of Spirit can truly emerge. Nevertheless, gaining awareness about the ancestral — and mostly obsolete — nature of the evolutionary impulses that direct our sexual/emotional responses and relationship choices may empower us to consciously co-create a future in which expanded forms of spiritual freedom may have a greater chance to bloom. Who knows, perhaps as we extend spiritual practice to intimate relationships, new petals of liberation will blossom that may not only emancipate our minds, hearts, and consciousness, but also our bodies and instinctive world.

The whole article is available online only by paid subscription.

Incidentally, Tikkun's editor, the leading progressive Rabbi Michael Lerner, is at pains to say, "We don't pick our articles on the basis of our agreement with their content.... For example, I don't agree with Jorge Ferrer's article about polyamory in this issue...."


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December 9, 2006

"Unfaithful? No, I just have too much love for one man"

Daily Mail (London)

My wife, who lived in England for eight years, calls the Daily Mail "a newspaper for small-c conservative poor-me housewives." Two days ago (December 7, 2006), it served them up a depressing poly-mono tale. The lady in the story, after much misery, and marriage and kids, realized that she was hardwired poly and always had been. Her thunderstruck husband is mono. He gave her freedom — and though it worked for a while, he ended up moving out. The picture is blurred by buckets of the reporter's editorializing to cover spots where her facts are thin or contradictory.

By Alison Smith-Squire

Sarah Wheeler's three-year-old son turned to his parents at the breakfast table and flashed them a smile of sweet innocence. 'I love you Mummy, and I love you Daddy.' As his parents smiled fondly back, Oscar turned to the second man sitting at the table and said: 'And I love you too, Jeff.'

His mother Sarah is quick to recount this tender little scene. 'I felt so proud of my son,' she enthuses. 'It was a wonderful moment, because I realised that, like me, Oscar could feel deep emotions for someone other than his immediate family.'

Little Oscar is, of course, far too young to understand that the smiling man sitting between his parents is his mother's lover. Or that her belief in free love and multiple relationships has come at a very high price indeed.

Since this touching little breakfast scene six months ago, Sarah's husband Ben has moved out of the family home. Jeff — a legal secretary, her current 'love' and her junior by more than ten years — remains. But he, too, believes in free love and regularly has sex with other women.

It's hardly the sort of stable or moral environment one might wish for Oscar and his younger brother Archie. But even more shocking is that this whole sordid arrangement is being dressed-up as an 'acceptable' middle-class practice, known as polyamory.

...'One night, I told Ben how trapped I was feeling and how I had fallen for someone else. I remember saying: "I love you but I have feelings of love for this man as well."

'Ben was totally shocked and very upset. He was devastated at the thought that I no longer loved him, and as we both cried I reassured him over and over again that I still loved him as much as ever.

...One morning, as her baby played at her feet, Sarah was surfing the net when she 'accidentally' clicked onto a website which explained the 'principles' behind polyamory.

'I didn't even know the right way to pronounce the word, let alone what it meant, but I read that the polyamorist movement, which originates from America, believes that love is unlimited. Just like a mother can love several children equally, they believe women and men can love several partners at the same time.

...Without a hint of irony, she recalls: 'Ben looked absolutely horrified. He didn't like the idea at all. He wanted us to work through our problems together. He wanted me to be happy — but he also wanted me all to himself.

...Incredibly, both Sarah and Ben agree that their marriage briefly became stronger as she enjoyed an open sexual relationship with Jeff.

Ben, 31, says: 'I was jealous when Sarah began seeing other men, but, strangely enough, because she was honest and we discussed my feelings, it was easier to cope with.

'For a while, I even think that polyamory made our relationship stronger. Sarah was so much happier and there was far less stress between us.

'Also, I felt confident that no matter what happened she did keep coming back to me. It made me feel more loved, if anything.'

Sarah now had the casual sex — or rather the 'shared love' — that she craved. But the price was high. Within months her sex life with her husband had ceased, and in May this year Ben moved out of the marital home.

Sarah insists: 'Our marriage had just reached a natural end. It had nothing to do with the polyamory or the fact that my lover was staying with us. It would have ended anyway.

'Ben still comes around for dinner and at present we have no plans for a divorce. Meanwhile, both Jeff and I have had brief relationships with other people. I cannot ever imagine having a monogamous relationship again.

...But what of Oscar and Archie, the two innocent victims of this extraordinary arrangement? Sarah insists: 'My sons are growing up confident and happy little boys. They still see Ben and they enjoy Jeff's company, too.'...

...Only time will tell what effect this whole unhappy saga will have on Sarah's young sons....

Read the whole article. You can also leave a comment on the newspaper's site at the end of the article. If the article disappears, you can read the text here.

Skip over the reporter's editorializing; here's some of my own. The lady did her husband dirt. In her reading about polyamory, she apparently never read the common guideline, "Move at the pace of the slowest person." Or about how to recognize the effects of NRE on yourself and to treat your old partner extra well accordingly. My wife says the lady's attitude reminds her of the big-C Conservatives: "I'm alright, Jack; I got what I want. You've got a problem, it's your job to deal with it."

Not a good advertisement for poly. Doesn't it seem to go better when it's embedded in alternative culture, rather than in such normalcy? Opinions?

Update December 13: The husband in the story has written in to post a whole new viewpoint; see "comments" below. Summary: he's actually oriented poly, the Daily Mail failed to report this fact despite being told, and our opinions about him and his wife have been badly misled by "that dreadful rag."


December 8, 2006

"Three on a match can be dangerous"

Chicago Sun-Times

Couples therapist and newspaper columnist Laura Berman goes on a tear against more-than-twoness, and members of the poly community rally with letters in response. From the Chicago Sun-Times for Dec. 4, 2006:

The most common male fantasy is (drum roll)... a menage a trois. Though I was all for acting out the submission fantasy in women, I'm not on board with this one.

Threesomes, as they are less charmingly called, can be STD-riddled, jealousy-filled excursions that I don't recommend most couples take....

A 2004 Primetime Live survey found threesomes are the most popular fantasy among men, at 33 percent, but not so much among women, at 9 percent....

I think we can all see why the threesome fantasy would rarely work in reality.

First, there are the logistics. How are you going to find a cache of willing participants to keep the fantasy fires burning? It would be like a casting call for a Hollywood B-movie, or a full-time job.

In all seriousness, though, threesomes take a psychological toll.

What sounds like good fun sexually can be very different in the real world of relationships. Bringing a third person into your sex life is never simple. There is the risk of jealousy, feelings of inferiority by virtue of comparison, and losing the intimacy that, up to that point, only you and your partner have shared.

In my clinical practice, I've found that when people swing there is usually a problem. Sharing sex with multiple partners is seldom an offshoot of a healthy relationship.

...Polyamory, that pie-in-the-sky idea that you can love and bed more than one person at a time, ultimately doesn't work. Rather, it's a much better idea to find ways to spice up your sex life a deux....

(Laura Berman, Ph.D., is a couples therapist and director of Chicago's Berman Center. E-mail her at drberman@suntimes.com .)

Read the whole article. Letters to the editor are welcome; go to http://www.suntimes.com/aboutus/feedback/index.html and select "Letters to the Editor" from the dropdown box.

Polyamory Weekly podcast host cunning minx, who is also from Chicago, quickly replied thusly (reprinted with permission):

Dr Berman:

I believe that the beliefs that you present in your recent article, "Three on a Match Can Be Dangerous," are a bit biased and show a lack of full research that does your readers a disservice.

First, in answer to your question, "How are you going to find a cache of willing participants to keep the fantasy fires burning?", there are a variety of resources available for the non-monogamous among us, including www.polymatchmaker.com, www.okcupid.com, and a plethora of swinger and polyamorous sites, clubs, educational groups and more. A quick Google search would have revealed that -- did you do one before you came to this conclusion?

And while I agree that finding an emotionally and sexually compatible partner does take effort (as it does when one is monogamous), it is not "like a casting call for a Hollywood B-movie, or a full-time job."

I also agree that bringing a third, fourth or fifth person into your relationship isn't by any means simple, but most relationships aren't simple to begin with; even a monogamous relationship takes a great deal of work long-term to keep its participants connected, happy and fulfilled. And you're also correct in stating that jealousy and insecurity are issues to be dealt with. But aren't those issues in many monogamous relationships as well? I wonder if you advise all your monogamous readers to do away with their relationships because they are sometimes jealous or insecure. To me, your advice sounds akin to "Well, when you work downtown, you sometimes have to deal with traffic, so you should quit and be unemployed." Every relationship suffers from its participants' insecurities and jealousies at some point, but I doubt you advise that monogamy "doesn't work" because its practitioners sometimes get jealous.

And as for your statement that "Polyamory, that pie-in-the-sky idea that you can love and bed more than one person at a time, ultimately doesn't work. Rather, it's a much better idea to find ways to spice up your sex life a deux," I would also suggest that this characterization of polyamory does your readers a disservice. If you would like, I'd be happy to connect you with thousands of people for who polyamory is not "pie in the sky" but a satisfying relationship lifestyle of five, ten or even thirty years. And you didn't give any basis for your belief that polyamory "doesn't work" -- how exactly did you, as a doctor and journalist, come to this conclusion? While polyamory isn't for everyone and certainly shouldn't be used as a band-aid for an ailing monogamous relationship, for many of us, it is indeed a much more satisfying lifestyle than monogamy.

Dr. Berman, I applaud for bringing polyamory to the mainstream and undoubtedly sending people rushing to Wikipedia to look up the term, but I am disppointed that your research seems one-sided and incomplete.


She writes as well as she talks, say I. And this was sent off by Anita Wagner:

Dear Dr. Berman:

I am a polyamory activist and spokesperson who is writing to object to your recent statement about polyamory in your column in which you refer to it as a pie-in-the-sky idea that doesn't work. I recognize that you draw some of your opinions and points of view from your own experience, but I believe it does you no credit to speak solely from that point of view. The polyamory movement is growing fast, and it does so because for many couples monogamy just doesn't work over the long-term. Many people find that no amount of sexing it up a deux enhances monogamy enough to provide what is missing.

It is true that not everyone succeeds at polyamory, and that it requires significant levels of self-awareness and a willingness to grow. Polyamorous couples in steadily increasing numbers know how to manage jealousy, remain committed to all their relationships, and in so doing change their lives mutually for the better. This is already being demonstrated as more and more marriage and family therapists take the time to learn the truth about this life- and love-affirming relationship paradigm. There are also increasing numbers of researchers studying polyamory and writing about what they learn, whose work will ultimately verify what I am saying here. I imagine it will be in your professional best interest to recognize at minimum that the jury is still out on this one and withhold negative, publicly influential opinion until the truth is learned scientifically.

Best regards,
Anita Wagner
The Institute for 21st Century Relationships
Herndon, Virginia

Others have been writing too. There's also a discussion underway at the LiveJournal Polyamory Community. Good to see that we respond quickly and intelligently.

December 7, 2006

Rebroadcast of "I Love You. And You. And You" (and, at last, where to see it)

Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Last night (Dec. 6, 2006), Canada's nationwide CBC Newsworld show broadcast the controversial poly documentary that first aired in Great Britain in July. Here's the CBC promo with a couple of pictures. See our original coverage of the show, and the fallout it left behind, here and here.

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December 2, 2006

How Prevalent Is Polyamory?

So, how many of us are there?

Depends on what you mean.

Psychologist Geri D. Weitzman has a new paper out, "Therapy with Clients Who Are Bisexual and Polyamorous" (Journal of Bisexuality, Vol. 6, Issue 1-2), where she summarizes some of the little that's known:

Page (2004) found that 33% of her bisexual sample of 217 participants were involved in a polyamorous relationship, and 54% considered this type of relationship ideal. West (1996) reported that 20% of her lesbian respondents were polyamorous, while Blumstein and Schwartz (1983) found that 28% of the lesbian couples in their sample were. Blumstein and Schwartz found that 65% of the gay male couples in their study were polyamorous, and that 15-28% of their heterosexual couples had "an understanding that allows nonmonogamy under some circumstances" (p.312).

The references, if you want to look them up, are in the paper's bibliography. The bibliography and appendix, by the way, have links that offer a good start into the research literature on polyamory — which is very interesting but still thin on the ground.

The last item cited above — that 15% to 28% of American couples had an "understanding" to allow some nonmonogamy — implies that 18 to 35 million Americans live in such marriages or partnerships, based on U.S. Census data. But my guess is that many of those understandings are just some form of a DADT (Don't Ask Don't Tell), a sickly and pathetic thing in my opinion. Polyamory is about sharing the magic — not sweeping it under the rug and pretending it's not there (say I).

So: how many conscious, self-identified polys are there?

Robyn Trask, editor/director of Loving More magazine, recently said on the Steve Douglas radio show, "In our national database that we have here at the magazine, we have 13,000 people, and that probably only represents a very small portion of the polyamorous community." She explains that that figure "is the number of people who have ordered, subscribed or requested information. It is the largest 'poly' database but it does not really give us any idea of the real numbers. Another thing to keep in mind is that many people are in couples, triads or quads but are listed as one customer."

Last year Trask estimated that there are 2,000 polys in the San Francisco Bay area.

The largest poly gathering that I know about, Polycamp Northwest in 2005, drew 250 people. More-structured conferences struggle to hit the 100 mark.

PolyMatchMaker.com, the leading poly personals site, currently has 6,717 members. The largest online poly communities on LiveJournal, Yahoo Groups, MySpace, and tribe.net have about 4,500, 1,300, 1,350, and 2,600 members, respectively. There are hundreds of smaller and independent online communities. Most poly people probably belong to none of the above. (Editorial comment: But they should; there's so much knowledge to share....)

The publisher of The Ethical Slut, the most popular how-to guide for multipartnering, says in a January 2007 press release that "more than 75,000 copies [are] in print."

In Loving More issue #30 (Summer 2002), Adam Weber summarized a survey of poly people carried out via the magazine. "Over 1,000 people responded directly to the survey, and they talked about another 4,000," for a total sample of 5,000. From the fact that roughly one in 10 polys he knew or encountered at conferences were in the survey, he estimated that "the number of poly-identified people [is] around 50,000 in the U.S. I would estimate that only about 1 in 10 people who are actually poly have even heard the word 'poly,' bringing the estimate up to about a half million."

So when asked, I say that my own best guess is that "some tens of thousands" of people consciously identify as polyamorous. So far.

Compare this to the more than 4 million swingers in America, according to estimates by the Kinsey Institute and others. Are there really 50 or 100 swingers for every one of us? That can't be right... can it?

But hey, as Paul Tillich said, "There were only a few thousand people in all Europe who brought about the Renaissance."

Update May 25, 2007: There's been renewed discussion of this on the Loving More Polyactive list. Longtime queer activist Pepper Mint responds to the above (copied with permission):

I think that Alan is in the right ballpark with his estimate of poly-identified people. However, the good news is that the numbers might be slightly higher.

This is because, actually, there are probably polyamory scenes out there that we have very little contact with. I keep discovering these in San Francisco. Recently I stumbled across a younger new-age poly cohort that seems to have no communication with the greater poly community. These people are new age, in their 20's or 30's, feel little need to go to poly events, tend to work in life coaching, massage, or the like, and a significant percentage of them are poly.

Did you know that polyamory is (or at least, used to be) really popular among ravers? Going to rave parties was the first time I had the experience of being able to assume that everyone around me knew what polyamory was.

So I think there are large chunks of the community that are really not in the community, as it were.

We can see this with some of the people who are creating poly resources and media. Remember the Polly and Marie pilot episode? [link]. That came entirely out of left field, as far as I could tell. It was a very serious (and expensive) effort, created by the people who started Cuddle Parties, another venue for poly recruitment. They are in the younger new age crowd I describe, and I do not see them on the national lists.

Also, Tristan Taormino is about to put out a book on polyamorous relationships. Her background is queer, sex radical, and porn. Has anyone here ever actually talked to her? Did we see this coming?

I think the community we see is a subset, and not the whole picture by a long shot. So there may well be more than 100,000 self-identified poly people out there, though I think we are not anywhere near anything like 5% of the population.

However, consider these numbers. Kassia Wosick-Correa from UC Irvine has unpublished numbers that peg self-identified polyamorous bisexuals as 44% of all bisexuals. This confirms the numbers someone quoted earlier.

The CDC 2002 family growth survey had self-identified bisexuals clocking in at 2.8% of women and 1.8% of men, in the 18-44 age range.

If we assume Kassia's numbers are right, and we combine these statistics, we get that about 1% of the 18-44 age range is polyamorous bisexuals. If we assume zero polyamorous bisexuals above 44 or below 18, that gives us around 1.35 million polyamorous bisexuals.

The high-end percentage of bisexuals within polyamory seems to run at around 60%, from informal polls, which would give us an overall count of 2.25 million polyamorous people.

Now, I think that's too high. Perhaps Kassia's numbers are off, perhaps because she had limited options in her surveys? If we assume that she's off by a factor of 4 (giving 11% of bisexual identifying as polyamorous, which definitely seems like an undercount), then we have around 500,000 poly people.

This gives us a decent range, I think. We're probably not as low as 100,000, but I doubt we've made it past a million or so. Estimates of the BDSM and swing communities come in at 2-4 million, and I don't think we're as big as either of those. Unfortunately comparing with swing events is not a good measure, since swinging is more event-oriented than polyamory. We can however compare with BDSM since it is typically practiced outside of events, and there are a lot more (and a lot bigger) kink events. In any case, I am quite certain that we do not have nearly the numbers that kinksters have, despite there being a solid overlap.

Okay, I'm a numbers geek.


To which Anita Wagner adds,

> I think the community we see is a subset, and not
> the whole picture by a long shot. So there may
> well be more than 100,000 self-identified poly
> people out there, though I think we are not
> anywhere near anything like 5% of the population.

Since I've been doing poly programs at BDSM events for a couple of years in addition to poly events, since there appears to be a big need there for something beyond poly 101 classes, it has become very clear to me that the number of poly BDSMers is very large, possibly as large or larger than the visible vanilla poly community. I don't know how we'd extrapolate numbers from that community, but it's too large to leave out, at least without mention.

UPDATES, 2009 – 2011: See this post.


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