Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

March 23, 2007

"In Secret, Polygamy Follows Africans to N.Y."

New York Times

Often abusive and always hidden, a very different form of multipartnering than ours is apparently common in African immigrant communities. In New York City, traditional polygamists may well outnumber polyamorists, judging by a long story in today's New York Times:

She worked at the Red Lobster in Times Square and lived with her husband near Yankee Stadium. Yet one night, returning home from her job, Odine D. discovered that African custom, not American law, held sway over her marriage. A strange woman was sitting in the living room, and Ms. D.’s husband, a security guard born in Ghana, introduced her as his other wife.

Devastated, Ms. D., a Guinean immigrant... protested: “I can’t live with the woman in my house — we have only two bedrooms.” Her husband cited Islamic precepts allowing a man to have up to four wives, and told her to get used to it. And she tried to obey.

...Immigration to New York and other American cities has soared from places where polygamy is lawful and widespread, especially from West African countries like Mali, where demographic surveys show that 43 percent of women are in polygamous marriages.

And the picture that emerges from dozens of interviews with African immigrants, officials and scholars of polygamy is of a clandestine practice that probably involves thousands of New Yorkers.

...[Many immigrant women interviewed] spoke bitterly of polygamy. They said their participation was dictated by an African culture of female subjugation and linked polygamy to female genital cutting and domestic violence. That view is echoed by most research on plural marriages, including studies of West African immigrants in France, where the government estimates that 120,000 people live in 20,000 polygamous families.

“The woman is in effect the slave of the man,” said a stylish Guinean businesswoman in her 40s who, like many women interviewed in Harlem and the Bronx, spoke on the condition of anonymity. “If you protest, your husband will hit you, and if you call the police, he’s going to divorce you, and the whole community will scorn you.”

Islam is often cited as the authority that allows polygamy. But in Africa, the practice is a cultural tradition that crosses religious lines, while some Muslim lands elsewhere sharply restrict it. The Koran says a man should not take more than one wife if he cannot treat them all equally — a very high bar, many Muslims say.

...More typical, many immigrants said, are cramped apartments in the Bronx with many children underfoot, clashes between jealous co-wives and domestic violence.... Men, too, can end up in polygamous marriages reluctantly, driven by the dictates of clan and culture.

...With no legal immigration status and no right to asylum from polygamy, many are afraid to expose their husbands to arrest or deportation, which could dishonor and impoverish their families here and in Africa....

Read the whole article. More about the unexpected growth of polygamy in many parts of the world, and the possible consequences, can be found in the links at the bottom of the article and also here.


March 17, 2007

"The Loves That Dare Not Speak Their Names: The World of Polyamorous Jews"

Heeb magazine

The irreverent Jewish life-and-culture magazine Heeb presents a serious article on poly in its Winter 2007 issue. An excerpt is on its website:

By Sarah Goldstein

Polyamory, while hardly a sweeping mainstream trend, is a lifestyle that an increasing number of Jews are embracing. But in light of the ongoing — and often vicious — debate both in religion and politics about same-sex marriage, polyamorous Jews are choosing to love their partners quietly and discreetly, wrestling with what it means to be both Jewish and polyamorous out of the public eye.

Rabbi Jacob Levin, 62, is an exception. When he came out to his synagogue’s board seven years ago, his disclosure was met with a mix of confusion and dismay. Homosexuality they understood... but polyamory? This was different, this was weird.... In the four-hour conversation that followed Levin’s announcement, the board drilled him on everything from Jewish law to whether their daughters would be safe from sexual advances. Would he advocate that husbands leave wives?

Levin’s synagogue, located some 300 miles north of San Francisco, ultimately decided to let him stay, though there remain a number of congregants displeased with the outcome. A few left, refusing to worship with him. Levin, who is straight, describes the decision to tell his synagogue as the most difficult of his life, not unlike, he imagines, a gay man coming out in the ’50s.... As far as he knows, Levin is the only polyamorous rabbi who is out to his congregation.

...Were it not for the anonymity afforded by the internet, there’s a good chance poly Jews would remain largely invisible to those outside the community. Group websites like KinkyJews, which welcomes “all sexual orientations and all streams of Judaism” (and boasts more than 1,000 members), and the listserv AhavaRaba (“big love”), an online forum for poly Jews, offer the opportunity for people to share their experiences living as poly within the constraints of Judaism and the larger, monogamous-centered culture.

Read the full item.

Coincidentally, the magazine's cover illustration for that issue (#12) is by legendary underground comic artist R. Crumb, who is now living in the south of France. His wife Aline Kominsky, an artist in her own right who is interviewed in the issue, has another "husband" in a happy relationship all around — as described in a New York Times profile of the couple titled "Mr. and Mrs. Natural" (Jan. 21, 2007):

The Crumbs have long had an open marriage, that brave (and largely discarded) institution of the 1960s. Mr. Crumb travels to Oregon once a year to rekindle a relationship with an old girlfriend.

Speaking of [his wife's other husband Christian] Coudurès, Mr. Crumb said, “Between the two of us, we kind of make an ideal husband, because he can do all the masculine things I can’t do.” He cited Mr. Coudurès’s talents for wiring, plumbing, engaging in shouting matches with the highly energetic Ms. Crumb and driving a car.

“If she ever started making comparisons about our lovemaking technique, I might get jealous,” Mr. Crumb added.

Their daughter, Sophie, is not so sure about the arrangement. She called the idea of her mother’s having a second husband “gross.”

Nonetheless, the strong-jawed Mr. Coudurès, 61, has become a part of the support system that frees Mr. Crumb to focus on work. The Frenchman, who has a thick mane of black hair, does handyman chores. His daughter Agathe McCamy, 35, helps Ms. Crumb color her comics.

“I am a Situationist,” Mr. Coudurès explained in French after sharing a dinner with the Crumbs next to a gently crackling fireplace in his kitchen. He was referring to a European avant-garde philosophy born in 1957 and championed by Guy Debord. “I am an adventurer of the present.”

Read the whole article.


March 15, 2007

"Shocking Sex Poll Results"

American Chronicle

The online news magazine American Chronicle ran a column by the sex-and-relationships advisors "Ask Dan and Jennifer" titled, "Shocking Sex Poll Results — The Surprising Verdict on Swinging and Polyamory!" (March 4, 2007). It was a followup to an earlier article they posted, "My Best Friend’s a Swinger — Will She Burn in Hell?", where they invited readers to take a poll: "Would You Consider Swinging or Polyamory?"

The conversation was heated and downright amazing. More than 3000 of our readers spoke out and the answers will surprise you....

51% of the people [responding] were either active in the swinging lifestyle or willing to try it, while only 36% were strongly against it or said that monogamy is the only way to go. The other 13% of our readers said that it's not for them, but they don't have a problem if someone else does it.... It looks like Swinging and Polyamory are in!

Self-selected internet polls are ridiculously unscientific, but they say something about the people who came to a particular site and felt motivated to respond. Read the whole article.


March 7, 2007

"Polyamory: A build-your-own-love kit"

The Student Printz

A columnist for the University of Southern Mississippi student newspaper dives into controversial waters (March 8, 2007):

More couples than ever are concluding that monogamy doesn't work for them, and they are doing something about it. No, they aren't getting divorced. In fact, mom and dad are getting a new girlfriend or boyfriend. Now, mom, dad and girlfriend/boyfriend are called polyamorous.

...Any mother with several children will tell you she didn't have to divide her love between her children, but rather as her family grew so did her supply of love she had to give. Polyamory contends romantic love is similar and the heart, mind and soul can adequately love more than one person at a time.

"Let's say all your life, for breakfast, you're eating from a Kellogg's variety pack. And then you don't get the variety pack. You pick one. Your favorite one. And you just get that one from then on. Every day, for the rest of your life, the same cereal. And then you wake up one morning, and you're just not hungry anymore," said the character Ed in the movie "City Slickers".

Well Ed, polyamory says you don't have to buy just one cereal for the rest of your life.... Now, Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks can live in harmony in the same kitchen secure in the knowledge of your love....

Read the whole article.

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March 5, 2007

"I got you, you, you, you and you, babe"

The Sunday Times (London)

The Times of London today (March 4, 2007) has a great big feature article in its Sunday magazine on the rise of polyamory in the U.K. Excerpts:

...Over nine months, I talked to more than 50 polyamorists — also known as ethical non-monogamists — who have become part of a burgeoning global phenomenon. “As a new relationship style, there’s that fantastic freedom of making your own map,” says Elizabeth Barner, 34, an academic researcher at De Montfort University in Leicester. “By the age of eight, I knew I was never going to grow up and get married. I also thought two people weren’t enough to raise a child. I had this very set idea that I would live in a family of five adults.” Similarly, her boyfriend Grant Denkinson, 35, has never considered monogamy. “Aside from the simplicity, I hadn’t really seen the advantage.”...

When Grant isn’t working as a systems analyst, he is Britain’s foremost polyactivist. Last October he staged “Polyday”, attracting about 200 non-monogamists to a series of support groups, discussions and seminars, culminating in a party in London.

There is no way of knowing how many people are practising polyamorists in the UK, but 1,000 Britons are registered among the online polyamorous communities that Grant moderates. Many of those involved work in the computing field or have what could be viewed as tribal affiliations — they might be goths or neo-pagans, or come from strict religious backgrounds. My own research indicates that there are upwards of 5,000 people practising polyamory in the UK.

“It’s threatening, it’s exciting, it’s complicated, and it always is,” says Andrew Smith, 39. He met 36-year-old Anna Sharman — an unpretentious woman with a wry northern wit — at a house party in 1995.... At the time, neither had heard of the word polyamory, but both were aware from the beginning of their nine-year relationship that they did not want monogamy.

That said, at first she found it difficult to cope with the thought of him seeing other women. “The first couple of times when we were out and he was flirting with other people, I felt quite iffy; jealous isn’t the right word?”

...The seeds of Anna’s new book, Open Fidelity — an A-Z Guide, were sown as a teenager. “I saw several family friends in very unhappy marriages blossom when they left their partners. Often, when I spoke to people who had affairs, I found myself sympathising — not just with those discovering passion after years of boredom, but with their partners who’d been lied to.”

...The concept of sharing lovers is not without precedent. In George P Murdock’s seminal Ethnographic Atlas, a database of research on world cultures between 1962 and ’80, the marital composition of 1,167 global societies was charted. One-sixth were monogamous, close to one-third had occasional polygyny (one husband sharing multiple wives), and half had frequent polygyny, while four had polyandry (one woman enjoying multiple husbands).

...“This movement amounts to an increasing recognition of the fact that humans aren’t cut out for monogamy,” says Dr Glenn Wilson of King’s College London....

The phenomenon of polyamory is gaining increasing attention in the academic field, and Dr [Christian] Klesse [of Manchester Metropolitan University]. Klesse, who is polyamorous himself, has just co-edited the first academic journal on polyamory....

...Today, open communication, rules and honesty are seen as fundamental to polyamory’s success. “It fits the man’s lifestyle but with women’s rules,” says Elizabeth, Grant’s girlfriend. They negotiate rules as their relationship progresses, though have a couple of unchanging safe-sex arrangements.

“You have agreements that everyone sticks to, and one of those might be a veto if you really think that someone might be destructive,” says Anna’s current boyfriend, 33-year-old Vince Scott, an IT consultant. He, Anna and [Joe; pseudonym] stipulate the importance of meeting their metamours — people they share a lover in common with — during the initial stages of a relationship, while Grant, Elizabeth and Andrew don’t. “I had established that [Joe] was essentially a decent bloke; I didn’t have an emotional need to meet him,” Andrew says.

Dr Lyndsey Moon, a chartered counselling psychologist and research fellow in sexuality and emotion at Warwick University, says: “People are no longer feeling so restricted in what they can do sexually, and this enables the language we use during sex to be talked about more beyond the bedroom. As a species, we need to generate new ideas on gender and sexuality in order to survive.

“In the aftermath of marriage, sexual and gender reappraisal, we are experiencing a crisis. Everything is in place for a relationship revolution of some kind.” Moon is ambivalent about polyamory, however: “In theory, I think the concept is great, but I’m not sure whether, as humans, we’ve evolved enough to deal with it.”

...“It’s a learning experience for a lot of men to conduct this level of communication,” says Grant. “If Elizabeth asks what I’m feeling or how I am, I can’t start negotiating with her until I know what I want myself.” His influence is having a positive effect on his monogamous friends. “It’s opening up the communication channels. They’re starting to say things like, ‘Is it okay if I have a massage from a friend? Is it okay if we sleep in the same bed but don’t do anything? Is a hug okay?’ They’re starting to talk about what’s comfortable and what’s not, and what that means.”

...One of the most resounding similarities between the 40 polyamorists Anna has interviewed is their ability to maintain friendships after separation. Oh yes, and that the sex never seems to tail off.

Read the whole article. If it disappears from the newspaper's site, you can read it here.

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March 4, 2007

Polys have highest testosterone, monos lowest

Discovery Channel News

It's easy to make junk science out of real science, so I hesitated to post this yesterday, but it's all over the poly lists anyway. Keep in mind that the hormone (endocrine) system is very complex, not always what it appears, and is only a small part of what we are and do. But. . . .

Study: Sex Makes People Feel Sexier

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

March 1, 2007 — Sexual activity for men and women, straight or gay, raises testosterone levels, which, at least in women, fuels the desire for intercourse, increases the likelihood of experiencing an orgasm and heightens the individual’s belief in her own sexiness, recent studies have found.

The findings are among the first to suggest that men and women can alter their own hormone levels based on how often they cuddle or copulate, both of which can lead to testosterone rises. . . .

"Our [first] paper does suggest that there might be sexual benefits to higher levels of testosterone," lead author Sari van Anders told Discovery News.

Van Anders, a researcher in the Department of Psychology at Canada’s Simon Fraser University, and her team conducted two separate studies. Both have been accepted for publication in the journal Hormones and Behavior. . . .

"We don’t know how testosterone increases after sex and close physical intimacy might benefit women, but some possibilities to examine in future studies include increased sexual desire, more positive moods, or more energy," said van Anders.

The second study also looked at testosterone increases related to sexual activity, but this time the test subjects were single, monogamous or polyamorous. A person is said to have a polyamorous lifestyle when he or she is involved in multiple, committed relationships.

The researchers determined partnered men and women had the lowest overall testosterone levels, while polyamorous men and women both had higher amounts of testosterone than single or monogamously partnered individuals.

Read the whole news article.

If this holds up, and if there is a cause-and-effect relationship here, one has to wonder which way it goes? Does polyamory increase testosterone? Or do people who have high testosterone to begin with find their way into poly? Or is there back-and-forth reinforcement between the two?

The two papers in question are:

Associations between testosterone secretion and sexual activity in women. van Anders, Sari M.; Hamilton, Lisa Dawn; Schmidt, Nicole; & Watson, Neil V.; in press. Hormones and Behavior. Abstract:

Some studies show an increase in testosterone (T) after sexual activity; this literature has inconsistent findings, focuses mostly on men, and does not employ control activities. The present study examined within-subject effects of intercourse versus control activities (cuddling; exercise) on salivary T. The initial sample included 49 women (mostly heterosexual), though not all participants returned all samples or engaged in all activities, leaving a smaller sample for endocrine analyses (n = 16). Participants attended an initial session in the laboratory where they completed questionnaires, and then engaged in the activities on their own. On three separate nights, they provided pre-activity, post-activity, and next-morning saliva samples and completed brief questionnaires at the last two timepoints. Women's T was higher pre-intercourse than pre-control activity. Women's T was also higher post-intercourse than post-control activity, though the percent change in T from pre- to post-activity was highest for cuddling, then intercourse, then exercise. Next-morning T did not differ by activity. Data pointed to an association between T and orgasming, sexual desire, and relationship commitment. Analyses on post-activity appraisals suggest that the close intimate physicality of a sexual and non-sexual nature can affect T and be beneficial in short-term and perhaps longer-lasting ways for women's sexuality and relationships.

Preprint of whole paper (uncorrected proof).

Multiple partners are associated with higher testosterone in North American men and women. van Anders, Sari M.; Hamilton, Lisa Dawn; & Watson, Neil V.; in press. Hormones and Behavior. Abstract:

Previous research has shown that being partnered is associated with lower testosterone (T) in men and women. To address how multiple partners may be associated with T, we examined 47 men and 48 women who were single, monoamorously partnered (partnered), polyamorous (having multiple committed relationships), or in a polyamorous lifestyle but not currently multipartnered. Men who were partnered had lower T than all other men, and polyamorous men had higher T than single men. Polyamorous women had higher T than all other women. Measures of sociosexual orientation (SOI) and sexual desire differed in women by relationship type, but not in men. Findings are interpreted in light of ‘competitive’ and ‘bond–maintenance’ relationship orientations and statuses.

Preprint of whole paper (uncorrected proof).

I asked van Anders about the statistical significance of these studies in light of the small numbers of subjects. She replied:

"There is a general misconception about sample size. Finding statistically significant differences with smaller samples sizes means that the relationship between the two variables of interest is actually quite strong, i.e. that you only need a small sample to see evidence of the association. A small sample size can, however, be problematic in terms of generalizability, i.e. does the finding apply to all the different people outside the sample? Statistical analyses take sample size into account, so findings of statistical significance cannot be undermined by sample size. But, as I note, generalizability can be limited with smaller sample sizes.

"People are also generally used to hearing about large public health studies in the media. Studies, for example, of cancer will routinely use thousands of participants because the effect size (roughly meaning the incidence of cancer and how it is related to variables of interest) is so small. So, the more participants you need to see a relationship between two variables (e.g. cancer-happiness, or partnering-hormones), the weaker the relationship is. I hope this clears up a very common misunderstanding."

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