Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

August 29, 2007

The shifting meaning of the word "polyamory"

The word polyamory has entered further into mainstream use in the last year. For one thing, it shows up a lot more now in my Google News alerts.

Part of the reason was the media coverage of its entry into the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary in July 2006 (the dictionary publisher mailed the media a press release). Then a couple months later, the Oxford English Dictionary made the word official also.

This has cut two ways. When a new word becomes known, a new concept becomes thinkable. And researchable. Anyone can type the word into Wikipedia or Google. Both of these are fine starting places for learning about the poly world, its ideals, and its hard-won wisdom about how polyamory is most likely to be done successfully.

On the other hand, when a concept goes mass-market, it often gets cheapened and degraded. Even the most wonderful trend is liable to turn sour on going downmarket, much to its originators' dismay, with ugly unintended consequences.

Think of the psychedelic drug movement. What began with great promise among a few writers and intellectuals in the mid-1960s led to a destructive, downmarket drug culture by the 1970s.

Multipartnering is as old as history. But the words "polyamorous" and "polyamory" were invented in 1990 and 1992 in order to name a very modern, Western, egalitarian, humanistic version of it — one built on love and equal partnership with, at minimum, "the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved."

To its creators, the word denoted something wonderful and precious and (for all practical purposes) truly new under the sun, which lacked a name. The word was the sole property of this small community — because no one else much noticed.

So I worry about straws in the wind such as the recent mainstream usages of "polyamory" collected below. One of them is funny and on-target — but many are ignorant references to plain old two-timers, playboys, and philandering rats. If we don't speak up to contradict this usage when we see it, we may find ourselves losing our very means to have an identity.

A sportswriter for the Dallas Morning News opines thusly about the Texas Rangers' pitching prospects:

When it comes to starting pitching, the Rangers have been regular playboys. Oh, you know the type: Flirt a bunch with the young things, maybe even make a promise or two. And then, just when it comes time to work at the relationship, the Rangers dump 'em and run.

...They offer the starting pitcher for today's home opener against Boston. It is Robinson Tejeda, just two weeks removed from his 25th birthday. He follows Brandon McCarthy, who started at Los Angeles on Wednesday.... Call them polyamorous if you want, but the Rangers swear they are committed to the young duo....

A columnist at a newspaper in Newfoundland:

Then there are words that don't define anything new, but rather hope to define a new attitude, like polyamorous; a state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time. We used to call that 'two-timing' or 'running around'; as in "my dear he's nothing but a two-timer; he's always running around on her."

From the McGill University student newspaper:

In my early twenties I was in a very different place. I could talk the polyamorous talk but couldn’t walk the walk. I was the type of girl who got emotionally involved....

From a Seattle Weekly restaurant review:

Sometimes, Dillon had forced several nice flavors together like a bad (polyamorous) blind date, such as a "Havana-style pad thai" that set rice noodles and mixed shellfish alongside the discordant flavors of five-spice Chinese sausage and coconut curry.

From a music review on PopMatters:

Each song is like a three-minute vignette of romantic angst: she revels in her own infidelity on the sizzling “You Know I’m No Good” and warns a polyamorous lover about his ways on the ska-inflected “Just Friends” ("The guilt will kill you if she don’t first").

A soap-opera reviewer uses it to mean serial monogamy:

If anyone understands polyamory, it's Ridge. No, make that Brooke, who is poised to marry the chiselled one (Ronn Moss) for perhaps the sixth time (even actress Katherine Kelly Lange says she's lost count) and has also hooked up with his brother, his father, his half-brother, her son-in-law and her second son-in-law....

A prominent sports blogger snarks at readers who patronize his rivals:

I know many of you polyamorous philanderers enjoy other blogs on the SB Nation network....

A columnist for The Observer (London) muses on the trend of English girls outdoing each other with slutty T-shirts:

...These T-shirt messages fall into several sub-categories. There are declarations of favoured proclivities such as 'I Love My Hair Pulled', 'Polyamorous 24-7', 'Menage A Moi' and 'Born To Swallow'. There are announcements of supposed neediness, such as 'Suffering From Shag Deprivation' and 'I'm an SL-T: All I Need Is U'. There are warnings to other females such as 'Your Bloke's Had Me' and 'My Boyfriend's Wife Hates Me'....

All of which may be why a poster to the alt.polyamory discussion list asks for a new word:

I sometimes think the word polyamory can be a negative, and wonder if other words would connect better with those who don't understand that poly can be whatever a person wants, as long as its open and honest. That it need not be sleeping around or destructive activities.

But we have no other defining word. We need to fight for the one we've got.

Keep those letters going out.

Update, August 2010: Franklin Veaux has created a detailed, accurate, and funny infographic defining the subsets of nonmonogamy and their many overlaps. Talk about geekdom.

On the subject of evolving poly language: See ‘There Aren’t Words for What We Do or How We Feel So We Have To Make Them Up’: Constructing Polyamorous Languages in a Culture of Compulsory Monogamy, by Ani Ritchie and Meg Barker (2006).

The abstract:

Polyamory is an emerging sexual story that troubles mononormativity: the dominant discourse of monogamy which is reproduced and perpetuated in everyday conversation and saturates mainstream media depictions. Through an analysis of online discussions, websites and self-help books, this article explores the ways in which members of polyamorous communities construct their identities through language. We argue that the potentials of polyamory are, to some extent, constrained by the conventional mononormative language of partnerships, infidelities and jealousy. However, alternative languages are emerging which offer new discursive possibilities
for the development of polyamorous identities, relationships and emotions.


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August 17, 2007

Advice column: poly for swingers

American Chronicle

"Ask Dan and Jennifer," an online newsmagazine's relationship-advice column, takes up the poly-vs-swinging discussion. Before you roll your eyes again, consider that there are (by my best estimate) roughly 50 self-identified swingers in the U.S. for every one self-identified poly, and that many of the people who discover polyamory do so by the swinging route. This is an important audience to reach, so that they understand the options and can weigh them for themselves.

So you’ve been enjoying the swinging lifestyle for a few years, and are having a blast.

But what if it starts growing into more than just sex with friends — or friends with benefits? What if your husband or wife starts developing romantic (a.k.a. love) feelings for your playmates? Dare we call it polyamory?

...The swinging lifestyle is typically about sex! You get together, you play, and then you go home. That's kind of what it's about. But polyamory takes it to a new level and, what I would consider, a much more enlightened level where you are actually in love relationships with multiple partners. It's a true and total sharing of one another and not many couples (or individuals) are able to do that....

Read the whole article.

Incidentally, while we're on the topic, Reid Mihalko posted this a few weeks ago:

Just wanted to alert you all, if you haven't heard already, that CBS has a mid-season [mid- 2007-08 season] replacement called "Swingtown," a show about the Lifestyle (swinging) in 1970's Chicago. The pilot script ain't half bad and I'm very interested in how the show is going to do and its impact on prime-time TV.

I'm the creator of a show on Polyamory called "Polly and Marie" that's being shopped around Hollywood at the moment, so "Swingtown" is of interest to me. You can check out the Polly and Marie trailer by going to tribes.tribe.net/pollyandmarie

Here's the Swingtown official website, and here's a summary and review. Here's our past coverage of Polly & Marie.


August 16, 2007

Katherine Linton on lesbian poly


AfterEllen.com ("news, reviews and commentary on lesbian and bisexual women in entertainment and the media") has an interview with filmmaker Katherine Linton that includes an interesting observation on poly, or the lack of it, in the lesbian community:

AE: ...in the '90s in San Francisco there was this big explosion in terms of being very open and adventurous about lesbian sexuality.... Do you feel like that kind of openness to polyamory, all of the BDSM stuff — do you think that that has expanded to more mainstream lesbian sexuality?

KL: ...Polyamory, I think, is much bigger in the straight community. It was actually a very small portion that I could find that was lesbian. Like there's no lesbian-only polyamory conferences, I don't think. That would be a really dramatic conference, could you imagine?

AE: Yeah, I would stay away from it!

KL: Yeah — talk about dyke drama. Whoa. The thing with polyamory is [that] I have to go into it saying, "This works for them" and "I take you at your word," because of course, it's your life. But Meredith and I watched it, and she goes, "Hell no! If my girlfriend comes home and she wants this, hell no!" And was like, "I'm with you, sister." It's bad enough with one woman.

Read the whole interview.

For different opinions, of course, see the books Lesbian Polyfidelity by Celeste West (Booklegger Press, 1995) and The Lesbian Polyamory Reader by Marcia Munson (Haworth Press, 1999).

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August 10, 2007

"Are Open Marriages More Successful Than Traditional Couplings?"

ABC News.com

A surprisingly good piece came out of nowhere this morning on ABC News.com. You can't get more mainstream than that.

By Russell Goldman

Aug. 10, 2007

...Do marriages — fragile institutions traditionally built on the fidelity and sexual intimacy of two people — work when the doors of the bedroom are thrown wide open?

"That's like asking if monogamy works," Deborah Anapol, a psychologist and author of "Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits" told ABC NEWS.com. "Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't. It depends almost entirely on the people involved and their willingness to tell the truth and do the work."

"Polyamory," which literally means "many loves" is a new name for an old practice.

"There were a few studies on open marriage in the early '60s and '70s, but the phenomenon seemed to die out and it was just called cheating after that," said William Doherty, a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota.

"It resurfaced as polyamory, and some groups have imbued it with a spiritual side. They see it as a pathway to personal development. They see it as a high road; it's not cheating, it's growing their relationship," he said.

...It is difficult to determine just how many married people are involved in open marriages. A study from the 1980s suggested it could be as many as 6 percent of all couples, but most experts believe that number is excessively high.

"At least 95 percent of married and cohabitating Americans expect sexual exclusivity," said Judy Treas, a sociology professor at the University of California at Irvine.

As for the success of open marriages, "there have been no scientific evaluations of how well open marriages work," Treas said. "The jury is still out."

Despite the small niche, there is a thriving industry built around the polyamorous. Self-help books, specialized marriage counselors, and retreats, which include everything from courses in Eastern philosophy to the chance to hook up with strangers, are targeted at people in open marriages....

In the open marriages of the 1970s, couples would often set rigid rules about whom they would allow to engage in sex with their partners.... Contemporary practitioners of polyamory have changed the rules, and in many cases thrown them out all together, said Dossie Easton....

Read the whole article. And leave a comment — the comments are piling in by the minute. Or get the print-friendly version with all the text on one page.

There is no video to go with the story; it didn't appear on TV.

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August 8, 2007

A call for unity against TV sensationalism

Robyn Trask, director of Loving More, has done yeoman's work getting us decent coverage in the news media despite all obstacles. Last spring she and family members were treated poorly by the Montel Williams daytime-TV talk show — but, applying hard-won experience in how to handle TV producers, she recently got vastly better treatment as a guest on the Michael Baisden show (scheduled to air October 7th).

There are known ways to do it right and wrong, such as the agreements to get in writing beforehand. TV shows treat "pros" who know how to negotiate and what to ask for a lot better than they treat clueless rubes.

Robyn is offering negotiation and paperwork help, as well as TV coaching, to those considering going on the air. In other words she'll be your agent, for free. And she is making the following appeal to the community:

A call for unity against TV sensationalism

Loving More® is currently talking with Pilgrim Films about a polyamory reality show. Personally, I am not fond of reality shows, but they are big right now, and like it or not, there will be reality shows on the subject. As a community we have the ability to influence how we are represented. By working together we can have an effect. Loving More is currently working with a few people within the poly community willing to do media appearances, but we need more diversity.

This show is important. As of now they are looking for people who represent the majority of society: a family raising kids in suburbia or some type of middle class poly folk. I know that many of us do not exactly fall in this category and some even resent that they are looking for that, but I am asking all of us to look at this as an opportunity to educate people in a real way. Poly people come in all shapes, orientations and classes of weirdness, but if we want the public to take this movement seriously and make progress toward changing attitudes, then we need to help the average person open their mind. This is important for all of us who may have jobs, kids, family or other matters that can be affected by our choice of polyamory as a lifestyle. There are many poly people out there living in suburbia raising kids, but few who feel safe to be out. Those who are willing to come out and talk to media are often not representative of the community as a whole but one small segment that many people can not relate to.

I get asked many repeated questions by the media that imply certain assumptions. One of the most common is the perception that poly people are long haired, granola eating hippies still living out their experience of the 60's, or that we are sex-addicted deviants. Is this the perception of polyamory you want portrayed? Does it really matter? Only when we show people another version will we change these preconceived ideas.

All of you can help in several ways:

1. By coming to Loving More when you are asked for or are considering a media appearance. Let us help you by negotiating on your behalf. We are getting good at working with the media so that you are treated well, compensated for your time, and not ambushed. We can help you prepare for interviews or TV appearances.

2. By letting us know that you are willing to speak to the media and what kinds of media you are willing to do. For this we need pictures and bios.

3. Let us know when you hear of a documentary, talk show, or other media looking for poly people. Chances are we have already heard from and talked to them, but let us know anyway so we can help.

We are not here to tell you how you should do an interview or TV appearance but to simply help put your best foot forward. Talk shows, reality TV, and similar shows are entertainment media out there to make money. They are not journalists, and I feel sometimes it is easy to confuse the two. We also work with the journalistic media, but this is a different media and in my experience they have been fair and easy to work with. TV entertainment shows thrive on sensationalism and have their own agenda. What we want is to take advantage of the opportunity, influence the content, and minimize the exploitation.

We are a diverse community looking to change the possibilities in personal relationships, from our granola eating vegetarians to our sex crazed Republicans. Working as a community we can have a real impact. If we are united they will have to at least meet us partway to get people for their needs. Change can happen, and my wish is that polyamory becomes just another option in personal loving relationships.

Let us know if you or someone you know would be a good fit for this show and willing to do it. Also, if you are not up for this show but would be interested in something else, then share that with us. Email us, with "media" in the subject line, at lovingmore(at)lovemore(dot)com. or call 303-543-7540.

Thanks for all your support and help.

Robyn Trask
Loving More

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August 3, 2007

Poly Pride in Sweden

DM (Swedish TV)

It's Pride Week in Sweden, Thursday (August 2, 2007) was Poly Day, 45 people showed up for a conference in Stockholm, and Swedish TV ended up doing a report on polyamory and its advocates. Here's the TV site (may require Internet Explorer, and you may have to click through a popup-blocker notice). Search for the item named Älska mera, which means "love more". It's dated 2 augusti 2007.

Can't understand a word of it, but it sure looks nice.

Thanks to Jenny on the Polyfamilies list for the tip. She writes: "The first scene is my boyfriend's girlfriend kissing her girlfriend and then my boyfriend, and it goes on to cover the talk she gave, including a nice bit where she's drawing the triad of me, hubby and our gf, then our gf's other bf and his other gf. (It sounds more complicated than it looks — watch the video!) Dancing on the ceiling....

"We (me, my boyfriend, and his other girlfriend) like to refer to ourselves as a 'poly postcard'. I (and the other two in my triad) are as active in the Australian poly community as my bf and his gf are in the Swedish one. The diagram Charlie was drawing, in full, looks like this : Å-C-K-J-C-A (JCA drawn as a triad)-P-M. Eight connected adults, two are bio parents to three kids who consider four of the adults to be parents."

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August 1, 2007

Franklin Veaux interview

Polyamory Weekly

I haven't said much here about Polyamory Weekly, but that's an oversight. This always-interesting podcast has been running for more than two years now, with 117 shows in the online archive. They're hosted by a smart, sexy, very articulate announcer who uses the name cunningminx. She has interviewed many noteworthies in the poly community and provides reports on events, commentaries on poly in the media, listener mail, observations on the poly-kink crossover, and lots of relationship talk. Shows range from about 20 to 50 minutes long. Each, she says, gets about 2,500 downloads.

She recently put up two shows not to miss: episodes #116 and #117, a two-part interview with Franklin Veaux, aka tacit. Among other things, Veaux is the creator of a rich and wise poly information and advice site that has become, in many people's opinions, the best all-around guidebook we have for understanding polyamory and doing it well. In fact he's currently working on a real book, which he discusses in the interview.

Some snippets:

Love does not conquer all, because love is an emotional state. An emotion by itself is not a plan of action. An emotion is not a toolkit for building relationships. An emotion isn't even really a good foundation. The things that you can build with it — those require things other than just love.

You don't normally think, when you're thinking in terms outside of relationships, of solving problems with an emotion. You wouldn't use love to try to solve your financial problems. You wouldn't use love to try to solve your business problems. So, why would you use love to try to solve your relationship problems?

Love is a necessary component to a romantic relationship. But the other necessary components are the things that actually make it work, in a practical sense, on a day-to-day basis. Things like being able to talk to your partner. Being able to share with your partner. Being able to to solve problems. Being able to work together. Love gives you the impetus to want to build those things. But love is not those things.


A lot of people will say that Rule #1 in polyamory is communication. But there is a prerequisite to communication, and that is knowing what it is that you need. Because you can't ask for what you need if you don't know what it is.

And then being able to ask for it. If you don't ask for what you want, you can't reasonably expect to get what you want.


Life rewards people who move in the direction of greatest courage.


(About the book:) The approach I'm taking is a practical approach of, these are tools that you can use to make relationships work. I've read a lot of books on polyamory, books that cover dealing with jealousy, that cover sexual issues, negotiating sexual partnerships, New Age aspects of polyamory — what I'm trying to do is a little different: to provide a toolkit for managing multiple relationships. This is how you get to be good at communicating. These are tools you can use to learn how to express your needs. Tools to help overcome ideas you have that new partners of your partner might feel threatening.


I am cynical about many things. I am not cynical about love.

I am cynical about NRE. I'm not a fan of new-relationship energy, because for me, it keeps you from learning who the other person actually is. And the part that I like about relationship is the part when you get past all the NRE, past all the butterflies in your stomach and your hands are sweaty and you've got the jitters— That part is fun. But that's not where the good stuff is in a relationship to me. Once you get past that, then you get the part when you actually start building a life with the other person. And that's fucking cool.

Definitely worth a listen.

(And you don't need an iPod or other MP3 player to listen to podcasts; any computer will do.)

Also, here are the Polyamory Weekly show notes and blog.

Update, January 2008: See also Noel Figart's interview with Veaux in her weekly Polyamorous Misanthrope column.


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