Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

January 31, 2007

"Not Too Emo"

The Stranger (Seattle)

Alternative-newspaper columnist Mistress Matisse serves up another portion of poly wisdom (January 31, 2007).

When people who are considering polyamory talk to me, one thing they say is, "I'd like to open up my relationship but I don't know if I'll be able to handle it." No one can predict with perfect accuracy how he or she will feel about anything, but exactly how you feel isn't as important as how you respond to those feelings.

There is a key trait in people who do polyamory well, and it's this: They are good at regulating their strong emotions. By that I mean, when something emotionally intense is happening to you, either good or bad, you're able to see it as part of a larger whole and keep it in perspective....

Read the whole article.

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January 26, 2007

Swing / poly advocates arouse debate in China

Shanghai Daily

China, amid all its other modernizations and upheavals, is having trouble coming to terms with issues of sex — from the real (as opposed to government-issue) facts about AIDS, to suppression of good sex education even where birth control is mandatory, to the newly freewheeling urban dating scene.

"A young policewoman dismissed for allegedly running a swinging, or spouse-swapping network, has fueled the already heated debate in China about whether sex and marriage can be, or should be, separated," writes a columnist for the Shanghai Daily (January 26, 2007). She continues:

China Business View, a leading newspaper in Shaanxi Province, reported on January 16 that the woman, surnamed Su, had not only engaged in sex with several men with her husband's consent, but also run — together with her husband — a swinging Website....

It might not have been so eye-catching and provocative if Dr Li Yinhe, a controversial sociologist, had not openly voiced her support for the ex-policewoman.

In her well-read personal blog at Sina.com, Li says: "Sexual activity between a married person and a person other than his or her spouse — provided that the spouse has been informed and agreed — is not morally wrong. Examples include swinging and polyamory (love of many)."

The columnist then goes into an idealization of One True Way (and only-legal-way) monogamy:

But actually, true love is the very restraint to free sex. And marriage is considered the consecration of true love.... "This is it, this is the one."...

A theory that aims at justifying extramarital sex is worse than immoral. It's unashamed.

(How Chinese.)

...As to the "mutual consent" theory, it is not worth refutation. It is more like mutual conspiracy than mutual consent....

Then what about polyamory — a lifestyle of having more than one love/sex partner? If it is understood as an alternative to monogamous marriage, it is of the same ilk as swinging....

It's not a question of number, but a question of exclusiveness and totality. I love one person, and marry him or her. It means that I attach myself, as a whole person, in a deep, ontological relationship, and therefore ought to be faithful, exclusively to that person. It's an "all or nothing" thing....

Read the whole article (and get a load of the cartoon). Then use the form at the end to inform the author a little better about us. (Excellent talking points.) The newspaper also has an English blog. Please be courteous, and represent America well.

A more refreshing read is this short Asia Week interview a few years back (July 6, 2001) with the sociologist mentioned above, Li Yinhe.

...Different lifestyles will be accepted. The Chinese will have more choice when it comes to sex and their lives: to marry or not marry, to have or not have a child; to be homosexual. All this is good. China just needs to learn to relax.

And here is a longer, deeper, and more recent article about Li Yinhe, from the blog "The Shanghaiist" (August 24, 2006):

"Respected professor upsetting the sexual apple cart"

With a title like that, who could resist? The Shanghai Daily report in question discusses the recent controversy surrounding noted professor Li Yinhe (李银河) of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS)....

She says that China's problem is that sexual mores are, for the most part, dominated by what she terms a pre-modern sexuality, meaning China's feudal past. What Li advocates is that there be greater sexual diversity in society — meaning that we can choose the ways that we want relate to other human beings, including what kind of sexual relations we want to have with them.

...And is ever going to happen? The Shanghai Daily piece closes with this:

The so-called "sexual pleasure rule" is a physiological terminology, but human sexuality is governed by implied rules of behavior and the status quo — at all times and in all countries — admits of no exception whatsoever.

Without question, the form of marriage and sexual relationships will change with social development.

But one cannot be too careful in dealing with these problems, especially while the entire nation has not reached an advanced level of ideological, ethical, scientific and cultural thinking yet.

There it is, folks — the "our level isn't high enough yet" theory, which explains why China isn't ready for democracy either.

And here is a recent Chinese-language interview with her.

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January 23, 2007

Developments at Loving More (and the Studio 60 mentions)

Loving More magazine, and its precursor newsletters, led the modern polyamory-awareness movement during the crucial formative years in the 1980's and 1990's. It was the movement's central news medium and public face. Today the annual East and West Coast Loving More conferences continue as the leading poly gatherings, and news media and the poly-curious call the Colorado office regularly. But after founder Ryam Nearing retired in 2003, the magazine fell on hard times. Nominally a quarterly, it hasn't appeared in about a year now, and the website has long-unresolved problems.

All that is about to change, says Loving More director Robyn Trask in a recent (January 21, 2007) post to the Loving More Lovelist on Yahoo Groups. Reprinted with her permission:

I see there have been some questions about Loving More and the magazine. I would like to take this opportunity to address a few issues.

• Issue #37 was delayed due to several challenges beginning with the office flooding.

• All subscriptions are filled by issue, not by year. Many small community type publications face similar issues of funding, articles and deadlines which is why while it is our intention to get the magazine out quarterly, it does not always happen that way.

• We, and by this I mean me with support from the board [of directors], are making changes that will make a difference.... I finally have found a graphic designer willing to support Loving More by helping with the layout. Understand that as it is now, I personally lay out every magazine, run the conferences, fill all the orders, do all the promotion, public appearances, and travel to speak and educate at colleges. Having a designer that can take over the magazine layout will help a lot. In addition a few other volunteers have stepped forward to help.

• Issue #37 is 98% complete and will be going to the printer by the end of this week. Issue #38 articles are being selected, and it will be in process by February 1 with an expected finish/print date around the end of March. It is our hope to have us back on a quarterly schedule.

• The website is being re-done and is close to ready. We needed to find someone to set up a platform to support the chats and personals in a way that is user friendly and easy to maintain. We found an awesome company willing to work with us and expect to be switching to the new site in the next couple of weeks....

• Our first Colorado Conference was a big hit. This was a test to see if we could make a one-day, small conference viable and if it was something the community wanted/needed. The feedback has been fabulous and we are so glad we put the effort in to this. 2007 looks to be an awesome year for the Loving More Conferences and retreats.

Please know that I am doing my best to serve this wonderful community well. It means often working 100 plus hours a week. If not for Jimi, Jesus, Elise and several other volunteers, including two who are not even poly, Loving More would not be moving forward. Sometimes the setbacks can be for the best. The flood and other challenges forced me to step back and look at what is best for Loving More and the community. It has been a lot of work but we are now moving forward again and in a direction that will not only support the community better, but will help shift public awareness and acceptance of polyamory. With the re-organization of Loving More to a non-profit, we now have a board and volunteers coming together to help and with their support I feel we can do great things.

Thank you all for your support and understanding.

Hugs, love and light to all.

Robyn Trask
Loving More
robyn AT lovemore DOT com

Robyn has indeed worked tirelessly for big goals with few resources. She did not ask for money here, so I'll do it for her: Loving More needs your donations. You can mail a check to PO Box 4358, Boulder, CO 80303, or e-mail the address above for credit-card or PayPay instructions. If/when Loving More's new tax-exempt status is approved, your donation should become retroactively tax-deductible.

Loving More on "Studio 60." Loving More got mentioned by name as a surprise plot element on the NBC drama "Studio 60" Monday night (Jan. 22, 2007). Adapted from another post, courtesy Anita Wagner:

"Studio 60 (on the Sunset Strip)" is a comedy/drama about the people of a fictional TV show similar to Saturday Night Live. And while they did mention both Loving More and polyamory, it's not exactly right:

Okay here goes.... one of the lead characters (Matt) and one of the comedians (Harriet) have an on/off relationship, and Matt finds out that Harriet is auctioning off a date with her at some special event — so Matt is trying to compete with another bidder, but doesn't like the organization that he's bidding to (it promotes teen abstinence), so Matt has his assistant find some organization that does just the opposite (basically promoting sexual activity). The assistant comes to Matt and says she's found a group: "Loving More, a nonprofit organization to promote the national polyamorous movement."

So yes, while they do mention Loving More and polyamory, it's not a perfect situation, because most people will remember that Matt was trying to find a group that promotes sexual activity to donate money to....

You can watch back episodes on the show's website; choose "Episode 11: Monday". It's posted in five parts; the Loving More reference is in Part 4, at the 3:00-to-go mark.

Update: As the story continues in "Episode 12: The Harriet Dinner" (January 29), poly gets mentioned a few more times and accurately defined, and Loving More gets another mention too: as an organization for the "polyamorous movement supporting the choice to engage in responsible multi-partnered relationships." Who could ask for a more accurate plug?

(The story line was not continued in the following week's episode.)

P.S.: Robyn Trask says that Loving More got no discernable bump in web hits as a result of the mentions on the show. Interesting. On the other hand, at a Boston-area poly discussion group I heard a guy say he'd heard the word "polyamory" on Studio 60, googled it, and that's how he ended up there.

Update April 2007: The next issue of Loving More indeed came out, and the website has been fixed up.

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January 21, 2007

The Ethical Slut: the movie!

The Ethical Slut, often called the how-to bible of polyamory, is going to be made into a movie. Here is the press release from Greenery Press, the book's publisher:

For immediate release – January 15


San Francisco, CA — The best selling manual for open relationships, The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities, has been licensed to Little Taoist Films, to be made into an independent feature film, with principal photography slated to begin in summer 2007.

Authored by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt [real name Janey Hardy], the book is a groundbreaking explication of the hows and whys of responsible non-monogamy and open sexuality. Published by Greenery Press in 1997, the book has become a blockbuster by small-publishing standards, with more than 75,000 copies in print. The phrase "ethical slut" was coined in the book as a term for an individual open to the possibility of sustainable polyamory. It has become part of common parlance, with more than 60,000 Google hits, its own Wikipedia entry, and its own OKCupid "ethical slut" test.

Moses Ma, writer/director of the forthcoming film, explains, “I’ve been excited about the ideas in the book ever since I first picked it up. The book offers a simple yet truly liberating lesson, that honesty is the best policy when it comes to the foibles of sexuality and modern relationships. Little Taoist Films is dedicated to making the kind of movies that change people’s thinking, and this film is a great place for such a transformative process to begin.”

The film, also titled "The Ethical Slut" will be a romantic comedy that follows the adventures of a conventionally reared Midwesterner as he moves to San Francisco and encounters unconventional sexuality. It will be filmed as a visual homage to the beauty of San Francisco, and will take advantage of new technologies for digital imaging and post production. Craig Pruess, the noted film composer for “Bend it Like Beckham” and “Bride and Prejudice,” who is attached to participate, adds, “It is through spirited projects like these that the promise of independent film can be fulfilled. When movies and music come from the heart, magic can happen.”

For more information about the film or Little Taoist Films, check out www.littletaoist.com. For background information on the book, contact Janet Hardy at Greenery Press, 510/530-1281, jhardy (AT) greenerypress (DOT) com.

Little Taoist Films describes itself as

...an indie film production and entertainment company founded in 2004 by Moses Ma. We’re a privately held company based in San Francisco, California. Our vision is to create Taoist films. By Taoist, we mean simple and beautiful works of art that are spare yet rich and sensual, undogmatic yet devout and spiritual, hopeful but perhaps a bit weary of the common world.

And here's a blurb on Moses Ma:

Moses Ma is driven by vision. He started out as a computer games designer, and ended up designing two of the world's best selling computer games, including Spectre VR, the world's first commercially successful Internet game. Later, when he foresaw the enormous potential of the Internet, he became a developer of Internet standards proposals (Universal Avatars with IBM and Open Community VRML with Mitsubishi). Then, as a Fellow at CommerceNet, he predicted the B2B explosion, coined the term eMarkets, co-produced the B2B Big Bang! conference, and started up Bizbots, an Internet dotcom that built next generation electronic marketplaces. After a fun and action-packed recession, he is now at Next Generation Ventures, a San Francisco-based venture accelerator, where he tells people he is a reformed technologist and seeks new opportunities based on venture ethnographics, customer-centric thinking and radical simplicity in design. Moses got his BS from Caltech, where he studied theoretical physics.

Update: A revised and expanded second edition of the book is in the works, says author Dossie Easton.

Update December 29, 2008: Moses Ma says that the current economic downturn has put the movie project on hold. He is still eager to do it and is looking for investors.

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January 20, 2007

Polyamory cited in The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins, world-renowned evolutionary biologist and popular science writer, has created the biggest stir of his life with his book The God Delusion, a no-holds-barred polemic against religion. It has set even some of his partners in atheism on edge. The book has been on bestseller lists ever since it came out last October.

Did you know that in it Dawkins gives a mini-introduction to polyamory, and at least a theoretical endorsement of it? Starting on page 184:

...Other by-product explanations of religion have been proposed by Hinde, Shermer, Boyer, Atran, Bloom, Dennett, Keleman and others. One especially intriguing possibility mentioned by Dennett is that the irrationality of religion is a by-product of a particular built-in irrationality mechanism in the brain: our tendency, which presumably has genetic advantages, to fall in love.

The anthropologist Helen Fisher, in Why We Love, has beautifully expressed the insanity of romantic love, and how over-the-top it is compared with what might seem strictly necessary. Look at it this way. From the point of view of a man, say, it is unlikely that any one woman of his acquaintance is a hundred times more lovable than her nearest competitor, yet that is how he is likely to describe her when 'in love'. Rather than the fanatically monogamous devotion to which we are susceptible, some sort of 'polyamory' is on the face of it more rational. (Polyamory is the belief that one can simultaneously love several members of the opposite sex, just as one can love more than one wine, composer, book or sport.) We happily accept that we can love more than one child, parent, sibling, teacher, friend or pet. When you think of it like that, isn't the total exclusiveness that we expect of spousal love positively weird?

Even a brief mention in such a major book will send readers who are struck by the concept to Google or Wikipedia — and off they'll go from there in ways that, for some, may change their lives.

Incidentally, here's where Dawkins is going with this. To continue where we left off:

Yet [monogamy] is what we expect, and it is what we set out to achieve. There must be a reason.

Helen Fisher and others have shown that being in love is accompanied by unique brain states, including the presence of neurally active chemicals (in effect, natural drugs) that are highly specific and characteristic of the state. Evolutionary psychologists agree with her that the irrational coup de foudre could be a mechanism to ensure loyalty to one co-parent, lasting for long enough to rear a child together. From a Darwinian point of view it is, no doubt, important to choose a good partner, for all sorts of reasons. But, once having made a choice — even a poor one — and conceived a child, it is more important to stick with that one choice through thick and thin, at least until the child is weaned. Could irrational religion be a by-product of the irrationality mechanisms that were originally built into the brain by selection for falling in love?

Certainly, religious faith has something of the same character as falling in love (and both have many of the attributes of being high on an addictive drug). The neuropsychiatrist John Smythies cautions that there are significant differences between the brain areas activated by the two kinds of mania. Nevertheless, he notes some similarities too....

Of course, polys may object to at least two implied assumptions here: that two parents provided better survival value in the wild than a bonded group of three or more (in fact for most of human history, children were raised in extended families and tribes), and second, that there is anything inherently monogamous about loopy, romantic love. Counterexamples are reading these words. But these assumptions don't negate his point, which is that two parents were better than one.

In any case, we got a good mention.

P.S. My ever-amazing wife Sparkler knew Dawkins when they were in the same research group at Oxford. She describes him as brilliant, witty, engaging, and a rousing scientific debater who, however, was known to "win" a debate as much on style and dazzlement as on science.

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January 18, 2007

"What is commitment? Polyamorous perspectives on love, sex and relationships"

American Sexuality

Cascade Spring (Elaine) Cook, longtime poly activist, writer, and counselor, has a wonderful new article in American Sexuality, an online magazine published by the National Sexuality Resource Center ("advancing sexual literacy through new dialogues"). Bookmark this one as a handout for people who need help grasping the concept — especially the "family formation" model of polyamory.

Lou’s high school class is discussing the continuum of relationships — from uncommitted to committed bonds — and where certain behaviors fall along that line. Everything goes smoothly until the teacher puts monogamy at the extreme commitment end.

“No,” says Lou, “that’s not right. You don’t have to be monogamous in order to be committed.”

The teacher is surprised. “Of course you do.”

“No you don’t,” replies Lou, whose parents are in a committed relationship with another couple....

What does commitment in a polyamorous relationship look like? ...People who are polyamorous give a different perspective about commitment, a commitment that does not require being sexually and emotionally exclusive with each other.

More than forty years after they got together, Trish and Abe still have a vibrant and vital relationship. Their commitment to each other has been unwavering.... Within two months of that first date they were committed to each other. They became involved with an intensity that most people have a hard time imagining. They are with each other all day, and have spent their time like that for almost all their relationship.... Trish says being polyamorous is fun. It is a way of having “a wider community of people with whom you can rejoice and on whom you can count if you need help.” Abe has learned a lot from the freedom to explore where a relationship may go and feels that being with other women has helped him become a better lover. He makes sure he stays connected to Trish by spending time every day focusing on her....

For some people in polyamorous relationships, [a] commitment to be together for the rest of their lives extends to more than one person. For example, Peter and Lucy are legally married and so are Frank and Tina. However, they all consider themselves to be married to the whole group.... All four of them speak of growing old together or of being committed to their relationship for life. Their living wills and living trusts bind them together financially.... Financially, everything goes in the same pot. “We are a committed family and we’re there for each other with all the bumps and bruises and ugly spots as well as the fun stuff.”

...Some people feel they are committed, even though they don’t promise to be together forever. For them, spiritual and emotional growth is more important in a relationship than how long it lasts....

...One of the benefits that Rogelio finds in polyamory is that with several people who know every wart and every freckle, it’s hard to hide out. When you have just one partner you can avoid showing yourself fully, but when more than one person tells you that you’re not being authentic, you have to pay attention.

Authenticity is very important to Rogelio. He believes that commitment involves “being willing to show up and confront other people on the parts of them that aren’t real; and saying, I think you’re fucking up here; and welcoming that from another person as a spiritual exercise. That to me is the ultimate commitment. Commitment to one’s spiritual growth.”

...Some people draw up relationship agreements as a way of focusing their intentions. Ann, Kay, and Marie, who are all in their forties, have had a very intense two years coming together as a triad and also adopting a baby. The three women... have created a document they call the “Triad Intentions.” Ann explains that it’s “about how we wanted to communicate and how we wanted to fight, and how we wanted to deal with conflict and deal with issues of equity and those sorts of things.”...

...Steve’s commitment is to honesty. He says that if Jane left him, he’d feel upset, but not at her because she never promised anything different. He doesn’t want to give or receive that type of promise....

Read the whole article. Actually, not quite the whole article. Cascade posts that the magazine left off the concluding paragraph, so here it is:

These are just a few of the relationship configurations created in the polyamorous world. These are some of the people who have created long term, satisfying, committed relationships that don´t look like conventional marriages. These people and many others have shown that a deep and meaningful commitment is possible without sexual exclusivity, and can take many different forms.

The author bio at the end of the article says, "[Cook] is currently working on a book on the many paths of polyamory, and provides coaching and guidance for people involved in alternative relationships."

Cook and her husband Zhahai Spring Stewart (inventor of the term "NRE") run a website, AphroWeb.Net, with much interesting material — including Cascade's master's thesis, "Commitment in Polyamorous Relationships," which we featured here last year.


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January 6, 2007

"Polyamory" enters the Oxford English Dictionary, and tracking the word's origins

On September 14, 2006, after at least seven years of consideration, the Oxford English Dictionary finally added the word polyamory (and -ous and -ist) to its canon of the English language. It did so via its ongoing revision and supplement series.

This makes the word as officially a part of the English language as a word can be. By coincidence, this entry followed just two months after the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary adopted the word with some public fanfare.

Here is the OED entry:

polyamory, n.

orig. U.S.

Forms: 19- polyamory, 19- polyamoury. [< POLY- comb. form + classical Latin amor (see AMOUR n.1) + -Y suffix3, after POLYAMOROUS adj.
In form polyamoury prob. after French amour AMOUR n.1]

The fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals, viewed as an alternative to monogamy, esp. in regard to matters of sexual fidelity; the custom or practice of engaging in multiple sexual relationships with the knowledge and consent of all partners concerned.

Etymology: [1992 J[ennifer] L. WESP Proposal for alt.poly-amory in alt.config (Usenet newsgroup) 21 May, I propose to form the group alt.poly-amory. It would be a place for people who have multiple lovers to talk about the various problems unique to us.] 1992 Re: Reasons not to be Monogamous in soc.singles (Usenet newsgroup) 28 May, Serial monogamy is often more risky than long term polyamory. 1998 Guardian 21 July II. 2/3 The burgeoning polyamoury community in the US — with its offshoot organisation in Britain — is supporting and promoting all kinds of polygamous relationships. 2005 Seattle Weekly (Nexis) 2 Mar. 75 [He] began preaching meditation, polyamory, and disco dancing as ways of unmooring oneself from earthly ties.

There is no reference in the etymology to Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart (born Diane Moore), whose seminal essay "A Bouquet of Lovers" two years earlier (in the Beltane [May] 1990 issue of the Neo-Pagan magazine Green Egg) is often credited with launching the word. The OED in fact wrote to Morning Glory in 1999 asking for her definition of the word, and, by her account, she replied:

The practice, state or ability of having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.

Notice that the OED indeed adopted the key parts of Morning Glory's phrasing in its definition. However, the word polyamory never actually appears in "A Bouquet of Lovers", only the adjective 
poly-amorous (which appears seven times. The hyphen was in its original 1990 publication.) The compilers of the OED are nothing if not literalists (literally!), which I guess is why they left her out.

The Wikipedia entry for polyamory does, however, claim, "There are no verifiable sources showing the word polyamory in common use until after alt.polyamory was created" (by Wesp in 1992).

The words polyamory, -ous, or -ist do not seem to have had any significant use in the world before 1990[1], despite a very small scattering of offhand wordplays; see the December 2010 update below. I suspect that people who say otherwise are misremembering uses of "polyfidelity," which was coined by "Even Eve" Furchgott in the Kerista commune in the 1970s.

See also Joshua Bardwell's interesting history and analysis of "A Bouquet of Lovers".

Update January 19, 2007: Jennifer Wesp herself is thrilled to discover that she has just been immortalized in the OED. I asked her to describe how she came up with the word, and she writes:

Alan, you asked how I came into the word polyamory. The answer is that I invented it from the blue. I was having a flame war on alt.sex with Mikhail Zelany about the morality of having non-monogamous relationships, and (a) got tired of typing non-monogamy and (b) it wasn't a good piece of rhetoric to use a negative, hyphenated word to make a positive point.

So one night either in the Biophysics lab I worked in or the Astronomy computer lab where my lover Greg Lindahl worked, in the middle of composing a flame, I decided to make a new word.

After a couple months I got tired of the flame war and sort of liked the community that was developing around it, so I started the news group. Greg and I politicked a bit to get it widely picked up by sites we thought would find a following. I guess it worked. :-)

Although it's been decidedly inconvenient to be "That Jennifer" at parties, and I've changed my name in part to keep my coworkers and my sons' friends from googling me, as 15 minutes of fame goes, I'm pretty pleased with mine!

Added later: Here is one account of the gestation of the word and its predecessors, by Morning Glory's husband Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (dated 2009). And here is an audio interview of Oberon describing how he and Morning Glory came up with the word, and some of their other involvements in early poly history (this is the Polyamory Weekly podcast, Episode #168).

Added May 25, 2008: Longtime poly activist Cos has this to say:

The OED aren't just being "literalists". Note two other things about "A Bouquet of Lovers", the Green Egg article that has a reputation as being the source of the word polyamory:

1. "polyamorous", which does appear in the article, was introduced with a hyphen ("poly-amorous") in the original article. Later, online versions have mostly had the hyphen removed, but it shows that when they wrote it, they weren't yet comfortable with it as a "word".

2. Everywhere that the "polyamory" form could have appeared in that article, it instead says "polygamy". Clearly, if they'd had the word "polyamory" they'd have used it instead, so this is pretty clear evidence that they didn't have the word at the time.

Cos also comments,

...I remember being excited when I first saw [the word polyamory] appear in a mainstream newspaper in 1995, and for a few years I'd carefully watch for any new occurrences, but sometime around... 1999? I think, it became so common that I stopped.

Update, August 2010: Oberon Zell has sent me the following:

Regarding the first use of the term "polyamory," while it's true that Morning Glory's original "Bouquet of Lovers" article only coined the term "polyamorous," we followed that article immediately with a full Glossary of Relationship Terminology for a "Polycon" that summer at UC-Berkeley, where she and I (and the Church of All Worlds) were guests of honor and major presenters. In that Glossary we included not only "polyamory," but also "polyamorist":

POLYAMORY: (Greek poly = many; Latin amor = love) The practice, state or ability
of having multiple lovers at the same time. (Morning Glory Zell)

POLYAMOROUS: Inclined, capable and desiring of having multiple lovers at the
same time. (Morning Glory Zell)

POLYAMORIST: A person who is polyamorous, or who practices polyamory.

POLY: Short for polyamorous, usually used as an adjective.

Oberon dates this to August 1990; elsewhere he has said 1991. The undated (secondary?) versions of this document that I find online include "polyamory" and "polyamorous" but not the rest.

So yes, it looks like the OED did mis-attribute the first use of the word.

UPDATE July 16, 2015: Deborah Anapol just confirmed to me (we're at Network for a New Culture's Summer Camp East) a report that she, Oberon, Morning Glory, and her (now former) husband Paul Glassco talked about what they ought to call the practice and came up with the term "polyamory." This happened in a discussion around Paul and Deborah's kitchen table in Mill Valley, California. She estimates that it was somewhere between 1986 and 1988 based on where it took place. Thanks to Barry and Cathy Smiler, who run BmorePoly, for piecing this history together and bringing it to my attention.

UPDATE August 10, 2015: I located Paul Glassco and he writes (quoted with permission): "Yes, it was in Deborah and my kitchen in Mill Valley sometime after [their daughter] Alana was born [in September 1988], so 1990 sounds right. Otter (as he was then known) and Morning Glory were dissatisfied with the term "responsible non-monogamy" which Deborah had coined. MG tossed out "poly-amory" as a positive (as the "non" in "non-monogamy is negative) alternative. Then of course she went off to write the article — I believe it was called 'A Bouquet of Lovers.' "


ADDENDUM,  December 18, 2010: Earlier uses of some forms found.

Google Books is an amazing thing. You can now search for occurrences of words in some 15 million scanned books (out of the estimated 130 million unique books in the world), plus lots of periodicals, published since ever.

I searched today from Jan. 1, 1400, to Dec. 31, 1991, and found:

polyamory, polyamoury, poly amory, or poly amoury: Zero occurrences.

polyamorist, polyamourist, poly amorist, or poly amourist: One, from 1958. Here it is, in the massive book English Literature: Chaucer to Bernard Shaw by Alfred Charles Ward (aka A. C. Ward). Excerpt:

...If Henry VIII had not been a determined polyamorist to whom divorce or some more drastic means to annulment of marriage was a recurrent necessity, the break with Rome would probably not have come in his reign, [Thomas] More and others would have died naturally....

(Ward published similar histories of English literature earlier, and these may be different editions of the same material for all I know, particularly one from 1953, but my Google Books search did not hit these.)

polyamorous, polyamourous, poly amorous, or poly amourous: Seven, from 1969 to 1989. Here they are. The earliest of these is in the 1969 novel Hind's Kidnap: a pastoral on familiar airs by Joseph McElroy (who is still writing as of 2010). Excerpt:

...Maddy disqualifying John Plante, "You have to conclude the Family quote unquote is finished as a viable socio-entity because you're committed to your polyamorous roller tribe, so you can't even so to speak let me into court." Occupying, taking over, stealing me and my flat while I shook too much chervil into the eggs, pretty too....

That's all of it that's online, per Google's copyright arrangements.

Update May 4, 2011: An instance of "polyamorous" in Italian has been found in a book from 1921; see comment #15 (from Julio) here.

However, all of these appearances before 1990 are basically cute, one-off wordplays by a few scattered writers, rather than references to any distinct philosophy or movement.


1 Before the early 1990s people in the modern multi-love movement, including me, floundered with such awkward mouthfuls as "synergamy" and "trinogamy" (per Robert H. Rimmer, also "quadrigamy)"; "utopian swinging" (now there's a contradiction in terms), "modern polygamy", "multiplexity", "waterbrotherhood" (per Stranger in a Strange Land), "polymorphous perversity" (per Sigmund Freud), and "the Harrad Experiment lifestyle" (referring to Robert Rimmer's most famous book).

And of course there was "polyfidelity" from the Kerista commune, which went on to be popularized by Ryam Nearing, founder of Polyfidelitous Educational Publications, later Loving More.

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