Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

April 30, 2008

Poly and the Bible

Jackson (Tennessee) Sun

Deep in the Bible Belt, a founder of Focus On Christ Ministries gives a reasonably correct description of polyamory in her newspaper column, while denouncing it as "depravity and immorality.... A polyamorist lifestyle defiles and destroys your wedding vows."

Marriage is beautiful in God's sight and was created for one man and one woman. The very first marriage occurred in the book of Genesis with Adam and Eve only; not Adam, his buddy Fred and Eve with her best friend Wilma.

Read the whole article, "Marriage Should Be Kept Sacred" (April 30, 2008).

In reply (don't you just love that the internet allows comments?), MikeRios graciously stepped in to show our flag. Michael is one of our most thoughtful and experienced advocates for alternative new-culture community, and in his youth he went through rigorous training to be a Christian scholar. He replied:

I appreciate that, despite Delita's personal feelings, she described polyamory reasonably accurately.

I was raised Christian, and it was because of my extensive Bible study that I became polyamorous. In the Old Testament, many key figures had multiple wives with God's blessing; Solomon had 300! God commanded Abraham to take a second wife.

In the New Testament, Jesus never mentions monogamy, even though polygamy was then a common practice among the Jews. Jesus taught about Love, and made no separate reference to "married love." He taught about loving everyone, even sinners and foreigners.

Paul's only comment about monogamy is that a bishop should have only one wife — because he wouldn't have enough time with two or more. Polygamy was a part of common Christian practice for hundreds of years, before the civil authorities outlawed it.

I know many married couples of all types; the most stable marriages I know are polyamorous.

Chime in with thoughts of your own. I recommend that you be respectful and considerate; that's not what they expect of devil-driven people.

P.S.: Here's a good article for those engaged in the conversation between religion and sexual behavior: "Sex and the Liberal Christian" in American Sexuality magazine (July 2007), published by the National Sexuality Resource Center.

And here's an old but interesting article on the "liberated Christians" subculture in the swinging community: "Onward Christian Swingers" (1995).


April 23, 2008

Poly pro and con

KPFA Radio Chronicles

KPFA, an alternative radio station in the San Francisco Bay Area, aired a one-hour show on April 6th on the topic of Queer Love. Nearly half was about the pros and cons of polyamory. Featured were several polyfolks, the daughter of one of them, and a couple of people who tried polyamory and, after grueling experiences, left it behind. One of these is John:

John: It was difficult. I lost a partner I cared about a lot, probably the first partner I ever deeply fell in love with.... I found it something I could not resist exploring. I ended up breaking up with her over whether or not it would be okay for me to pursue another relationship.

John is indirectly connected to Akien MacIain, a Bay Area poly educator and activist. Akien has been married to his wife Dawn for 18 years.

Akien: One of the things about the monogamy model is it comes with a whole box full of rules. And the poly model, in general, comes with very few rules. Everybody kind of defines their own. And the most important one is, finding the level of communication that supports making all the relationships work.

Announcer: What are the best things about being polyamorous?

Akien: One of the best things is there's just this tremendous feeling of abundance around the whole topic of love. Not just, "I have a lot of love with my primary partner," but I have a lot of different love, in a lot of different ways. I get to have romantic feelings around the teaching work that Dawn and I do. I get to have romantic feelings around energetic romance stuff that I do with another partner.

The announcer went back and talked with with John about an eternal topic:

Announcer: What about One True Love?

John: Nice! I think that's exactly what has caused me to decide to be monogamous. Is I think I've found that one true love.

[About Akien's comments that you can have two or more true loves:] Yeah, that sounds like somebody who hasn't found their one true love.

Announcer: ...I asked Akien what he thought of that switch. And he told me this: his version of the Creation story, and an explanation about my friend and what he might be going through.

Akien: In the beginning there was God. And God was infinite and knew everything, except what it was to be finite. So one day God split itself up into zillions of little bits and commanded them all forget that they were one. And to go figure out what it was to be finite. And so we are all those little bits of God the infinite, learning what is to be finite.

And as such, every piece of learning is absolutely necessary. Every experience, all of the joy, and all of the pain, equally important. I think John is learning what it is to be finite.

Listen to the show. The parts about poly run from time 23:20 to 47:00.

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April 16, 2008

"An Unlikely Refuge for Hippie Apes"


If you're up on poly topics, you've probably read about the bonobos ("pygmy chimpanzees"), so you know why this week's Time magazine would devote four pages to a project that might actually save them from extinction.

Bonobos are said to be our closest living animal relatives. They're famous for their polyamorous lifestyle that seems to actively promote conflict resolution and, sometimes, a culture of kindness and compassion — in contrast to the supposedly more possessive and war-making classical chimpanzees, the other contenders for our closest living relatives.

Eerily, much of human nature is reflected in both species. Some polyfolks argue that a shift toward more bonobo-like culture will be essential for Homo sapiens' long term survival, now that our war-making tools have evolved from sticks to world-enders. Others scoff at this kind of thinking based on oversimplified views of apes.

Personally, after years of reading and pondering about it, I've decided that the bonobo analogy is apt. What we polys are up to — when we're at our best — is damn important, maybe more so in the long run than we'll ever know.

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

From the Time article (April 10, 2008):

...If the new model of conservation [based on benefiting the local people, not just the animals] is so smart, why did it take bonobos to push us there? There's no denying that human beings are powerfully drawn to other high primates — and to bonobos perhaps most of all. Depending on which lab report you use, bonobos vie with chimpanzees for the title of man's closest relative, with a 98.4%-to-98.6% DNA match. As a result, says Coxe, understanding the bonobo is "fundamental to our understanding of ourselves."

Still, it was an understanding we came to late. Bonobos were recognized as a separate species only in 1933, less because of their subtle physical distinctions than because of their peaceable, highly sexual ways. The bonobos' best-known champion is Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University. De Waal argues that bonobos overturn established, bloody notions of the origins of man. So popular has this idea become that for humans, bonobos are now cultural — and commercial — darlings. A raw vegetarian restaurant in New York City calls itself Bonobo's. California sex therapist Susan Block has developed a conflict-resolution protocol dubbed the Bonobo Way. (Sample dictum: "You can't very well fight a war while you're having an orgasm.") But do bonobos deserve their gentle rep?

In a July 2007 article in the New Yorker, writer Ian Parker reported a bonobo pack aggressively pursuing a baby duiker, a kind of small antelope. Coxe admits that her Kokolopori researchers reported troubling behavior in one bonobo group after a female gave birth to a stillborn baby. "The other adults let her keep the dead baby for a day," she says. "Then they ate it." These reports have given rise to a prickly cultural debate, with the unknowing bonobos being recruited into America's political wars. "Bonobos' genteel qualities may be overstated," said a headline in the Wall Street Journal after Parker's piece appeared. De Waal shot back in eSkeptic magazine, accusing Parker of being a "revisionist." Says Coxe: "The right wing doesn't like bonobos, but open-minded liberals love them."

On my second day in the forest, a group of 21 bonobos, oblivious to the political silliness an ocean away, oblige the liberals by showing us their gentler side. A baby kisses its mother. A group of females shoo an unpopular male away with matriarchal authority. A bonobo couple, apparently enjoying a kind of ape honeymoon, share figs, nuts and shoots and hang out in the trees with moonfaced expressions before copulating twice high up in the canopy.

The truth is, of course, that 1.4% to 1.6% of DNA and millions of years of evolution equals an evolutionary ocean. Even the most liberated humans would hesitate to have sex in front of complete strangers. And bonobos aren't likely to harness fire or invent the wheel or the Internet soon. Still, for too long the study of nature has been the study of zero-sum savagery — a universal bloodlust that allows us to shrug at our own brutality, reckoning that mere animals like us can hardly be expected to do better. Discovering such close genetic cousins who behave themselves so well — even sometimes — ought to give us pause. There are already plenty of reasons to save the Congo Basin, but teaching the highest species on the planet the value of a little peace and love is one more very good one.

Read the whole article.

You might want to contribute a few bucks to the Bonobo Conservation Initiative.

Here is Ian Parker's New Yorker article referred to above (July 30, 2007). It points up the bonobos' sometimes darker, brutal behaviors (at least in captivity) that run counter to the exaggerated happy stereotype. Sometimes these guys are... well... animals.

And here is Frans de Waal's reply to Parker's article, in eSkeptic (scroll down a bit).

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April 15, 2008

"Beyond Monogamy" in a natural living magazine

New York Spirit

Living in Manhattan isn't "natural living" in my book. But those who hope otherwise can pick up the free magazine New York Spirit, "resources for natural living." And like another recent article in New Age magazines, the current issue offers a positive look at polyamory as an alternative to explore if you think you might be right for it.

By LiYana Silver

...Gleaned through work with my clients and a series of recent in-depth interviews, I offer you some examples of non-monogamous relationships, the elements that have them be workable, the challenges that come along with them, and the reasons why the people have chosen to set up their lifestyles and love-styles thus.

...When people think about non-monogamous relationships, jealousy is usually the first challenge that comes to mind. Bitsy is 23, just graduated college, and describes herself at the center of a “V” of two young male partners.... Wise beyond her years, she says “People give the emotion of jealousy so much sway. We believe that you can deal with and get over huge things in life like being abused as a child, but jealousy, no, it’s too much, it means you’ll just to have to leave. We’re afraid we might not be able to handle what comes up; but you can experience jealousy, you can sit there and it can hurt and that is OK, it’s not the worst thing.”

[Ed note: Bitsy says she took that almost word for word from Cunning Minx's jealousy seminar on the Polyamory Weekly podcast.]

...Reid Mihalko, a relationship and intimacy coach, sex educator and Cuddle Party co-creator, adds, “If people handle jealousy with themselves and partners in the same way they handle ecstasy and intimacy, sadness, love and grief, they would surprise themselves. You are saying yes to emotions when you get into any relationship, and you need to get excited, like bird-watching; quick there is a green-eyed jealousy bird! If you spend some time watching it and not trying to fix it, it can become beautiful; suddenly, nothing’s wrong.”

Some additional challenges of non-monogamy can include: lying, being reactive, being afraid and not taking action, not taking time to honor and take care of yourself, and acting from scarcity. As Reid says, “Being poly, there’s no way to ‘step over the garbage.’”...

...Another layer of complexity is admittedly added when raising children. Rebecca Reagan, a 35-year old relationship coach, offers her unique perspective of being raised by her biological parents in concert with another heterosexual couple, over 30 years ago. The four parents, along with one daughter each, functioned as a single family, sharing a single bank account and trips to the doctor and principal’s office, as well as their beds. Although generally wonderful, there was more tension and rigidity that was perhaps necessary, and Rebeccca wishes her parents, with no like-minded community, had the tools she has now. “We were told to lie, and the secretiveness put my sister at risk for an unhealthy relationship with authority and abusive behavior. I felt disempowered and not considered as a person; it formed me as a being and had me not trust my parents to take care of me. I am an advocate for considering that kids are capable of discernment.”

And why, with all these challenges, would people choose non-monogamy? Tessa, a 35-year old psychologist, chose it years ago because the levels of communication and honesty it requires of her brought a kind of intimacy that was deeper than anything she had ever experienced....

...For better and worse, with non-monogamy, there is no script, no default, no auto-pilot and no template; you have to make it up as you go along. Rules are co-created and morph and change as they get put to use. Thus, those practicing non-monogamy tend to hold those in their life to high standards, and hold themselves to even higher ones. They often have amassed a wondrously rigorous skill-set of self-awareness, self-expression, “black-belt level” communication, honesty, integrity, transparency and a commitment to grow and learn; a skill-set that isn’t much different, however, than that needed to make monogamous relationships workable, fulfilling and extraordinary.

...This land beyond monogamy, where the rules are made up dynamically by the people applying them, is neither a better nor worse, but rather a matter of self-expression, honesty, freedom, and ultimately, of choice.

Maybe it's my Stoic leanings, but that bit about high standards is one of the reasons why today's poly movement appeals to me. I know it's a lot to live up to, and many don't, but a guiding star is a good thing even if you don't get to the star.

Read the whole article (April-May 2008 issue).

P.S.: Speaking of the Polyamory Weekly podcast, I've found me a new medium! I brought a little Radio Shack voice recorder with me to Loving More's Poly Living conference in February and played news reporter, interviewing people. I tidied it up into a 13-minute segment using Audacity freeware (way cool editing program, good for beginners), and you can listen to it on this week's Polyamory Weekly: episode #151. It ain't National Public Radio, but for an amateur newbie I'm kinda proud of it.

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April 12, 2008

Texas polygamy raid leads to polyamory on Voice of America

Voice of America TV

The news this week has been full of the police raid on a compound of polygamist Mormons (FLDS Church) in Eldorado, Texas. In brief: police say an underage girl called a hotline pleading for rescue from beatings and abuse; by the time the raid was over authorities were holding 416 children, accompanied by 139 women; read all about it anywhere on the news.

In the midst of this, board members of Loving More, the nonprofit polyamory education and support group, wondered aloud in a meeting if/when the media frenzy would reach us.

"It didn't take long," board member Anita Wagner writes on her Practical Polyamory blog. "First thing Wednesday morning I had an e-mail from [Voice of America] reporter Carolyn Presutti, asking for comments on how polyamorous families compare and contrast to FLDS polygamous families."

Voice of America is a government-run news and culture service that broadcasts mainstream, middle-of-the-road radio and TV to many countries around the world. You can watch its 3-minute TV report on the Texas raid here. Wagner appears on camera briefly near the end:

Reporter: Some people, like Anita Wagner, support polyamory, or having multiple partners without officially marrying them. Wagner has three partners.

Wagner: We support them and their choice to be in those relationships. When you get into dealing with the children and getting child brides involved, that's where — our community would not be comfortable with that, and would vocally object to it if it were to happen in our community.

Wagner says, "My comments emphasizing that polyamorists tend to value egalitarianism were not included."

Two points:

First, it's interesting that a news organization that prides itself on being responsible and objective would think it should include a polyamory spokesperson to state the difference from what's going on in Texas.

Second, one of the reasons why I support Loving More (and think you should too) is because it helps provide the mainstream media with quick access to such excellent spokespeople for us.

If you see any other coverage of the Texas raids that touches on polyamory, please let me know so I can include it here. Email me at alan7388 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Cherie L. VeArd (Serolynne) has a nice essay explaining the differences between polyamory and religious polygamy, in case you need to point someone to it.

P.S.: A note about who's "Mormon": Mainstream Mormons — members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the LDS Church — object to the fundamentalist Mormons being called "Mormon" at all, because the LDS Church renounced polygamy in earthly life in 1890 (though it remains the expectation for good LDSers in the afterlife). However, the use of the word is correct. "Mormon" refers to anyone who takes Joseph Smith's Book of Mormon as holy writ. There are thus several Mormon sects or denominations, of which the LDS Church is the largest.

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April 4, 2008

"Women Want Their Sexuality Back — Now. And Opening Marriage Just Might Help."

Huffington Post

Jenny Block, one of our up-and-coming stars (her book Open is due to be published June 1st), has gotten herself a regular gig as a Huffington Post columnist. Her column on Thursday, her second, is a sex-positive poly feminist manifesto to knock your socks off.

Last night I heard the fearless Jessica Valenti, the author of Full Frontal Feminism and the founder of feministing.com, speak at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. I was both elated and devastated.... what really struck a chord with me was when Valenti spoke about the battle over women's rights over their own sexuality and how we're still frighteningly far away from owning those.

There are the purity balls attempting to convince young women that their value lies between their legs and that that commodity belongs to daddy until a suitable man comes along to whom its ownership can be transferred. There is abstinence-only education that fills young women's heads with lies leaving them more likely than those given true sex education to end up having oral and anal sex and contracting STDs. And, of course, they also reiterate to girls that their value is their virginity. Lose that and you have nothing left to offer....

I can't help but marvel at how much this battle over female sexuality... directly affects the way people look at me. As a bi-sexual, polyamorous, married woman, I epitomize a woman who demands control over her own sexuality. That terrifies people. And rightly so. Once we girls refuse to think of ourselves as nothing more than receptacles for the male sex organ, then we are free to spend less time tossing our hair and more time tossing out the trash who are serving in office, making the laws, presiding over the bench, and generally perpetuating the myth of woman as helpless toy.

...I used to be upset by the people who called me a whore and said they pitied my husband. "Who are you to think you deserve to be happy?" their comments seemed to say. "How dare you want to be fulfilled sexually? You're just a woman," I heard them whispering between the lines. But now I simply pity them. Sexuality has gotten a bad rap. It's great in the movies and in the glossy magazines, but when it comes to real life, it's supposed to be ignored for "higher" pursuits. Well, hell with that. My sexuality is part of me and it is no more nor less of a part than anything else.

Men who want to rule the playground are right to be frightened of women like me.... As long as woman can be made to feel badly about their sexuality, so too can they be distracted from the larger issues. But I have hope that those days are numbered....

Read the whole article (April 3, 2008), and leave a comment.

The article has just been reprinted here by Alternet, where comments are growing too.

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April 2, 2008

"Tangled Up In You and You and You"

Portland (OR) Monthly Magazine

The city magazine of Portland, Oregon, runs a long feature article introducing local polys, their lives and loves:

Tangled Up In You and You and You

Brian is married to April, but he also likes Maggie. April loves Brian, but occasionally snuggles with Bill. And no one is jealous.

By Bart Blasengame | April 2008

BRIAN LIFTS A PINT of beer from the table with both hands and slowly pulls it to his mouth as though it were a super-sized sippy cup. Convulsing from relentless bouts of giggling, giddiness and grinning, he has to forcefully lasso his lips into the requisite “O” shape just to manage a swallow.

Sip. Swallow. Giggle. Grin. Sip. Swallow. Giggle. Grin. When finally he does manage to speak, what comes billowing across the table of our tiny booth at the Virginia Café is a contrail of heart-shaped platitudes. “She’s got these sparkly eyes, a cute little laugh,” he gushes, eyes blinking off somewhere into space. “I totally have a crush on her.”

Tall and meaty, with soft features and longish brown hair, Brian (he asked that we not use his last name) has a date tonight. But the “she” he is drooling over is most definitely not his wife. Nope. While the 38-year-old computer data analyst is here trying to calm his pre-date nerves with alcohol, his wife, April, is back at their East Side home whipping him up a couple of vegetarian herbed cutlets. These Brian will eat later, with his date, down in the basement, while April stays upstairs. And after Brian and his date are done eating, they’ll settle in for a little one-on-one.

My puritanical mind—which was raised on the Good Book back in Arkansas—hurls mental stones across the table: Cheater. Adulterer. Pervert. But apparently that’s just me being a narrow-minded monogamist. Because for April and Brian, sleeping with somebody else isn’t lying. It’s a lifestyle—specifically, polyamory, a word that derives from the Greek word poly, meaning “many,” and amor, the Latin word for love. Last fall, even as they took their vows in front of friends and family, Brian and April knew (though most of their guests didn’t) the unique rules of their arrangement. Both would be allowed to pursue romantic or sexual relationships with multiple people simultaneously, as long as they had permission from one another and were honest about their intentions, and as long as neither objected to the other’s chosen partner… till death do us part....

Some might call them weird. Others might call them amoral. Just please — don’t call them “swingers.” For unlike those who stray from the marriage bed purely for sex, polys (as polyamorists are known for short) profess to be a higher-minded lot, in hot pursuit not just of orgasm but of intimacy. What they want are multiple respectful, nurturing, long-term relationships — a kind of Dr. Phil-inspired emotional approach to love that in recent years has helped move polyamory away from the edges of the sexual fringe and attracted more people to its ranks.

...Few places boast a poly community as robust in numbers and enthusiasm as does Portland, which is home to a thriving and complex social network of polys who are eager to meet up with other polys — Brian estimates about 1,500 alone are signed up for the local Yahoo poly chat rooms he moderates alone.

...As it has with most things once regarded as taboo, the Internet has acted like a dinner bell for anyone with even a passing interest in polyamory. Locally, the hottest address for the poly-curious is www.lovetribe.org.... Click. Just like that, an entire underworld materialized beneath my fingers. I could also access a social calendar that sounded like something out of Penthouse Forum. There’s a “Men’s Spirit Pajama Party” on Thursday, in which I could engage in massage circles and something called a “puppy pile.” A clothing-optional hot-tub party/baby shower on Friday. Or the “Rapture” on Saturday, a sexually charged dance party that promised to end in one of two ways—in the Snuggle Den, a room that’s meant for clothes-on touching, or in the Play Space, where sex was A-OK. There, the only rule, other than safe sex, was that you couldn’t expose your genitals on the dance floor — at least, not until midnight.... then I saw something more my speed: the First Thursday Art Snuggle. The description promised a fully clothed group groping amid poetry readings and lightly strummed music....

...The puppy pile is just one of many gateway drugs that feed a polyamorist’s need for nonsexual connection....

It doesn’t always work.

Erin (who also requested her last name not be used), a 28-year-old counselor, thought she was ready when she and her boyfriend of one year decided to explore polyamory. “We thought we were really radical and that monogamy was totally oppressive, boring and not cool,” she says with a roll of her eyes. “Obviously that was a bunch of crap.” Three years into the experiment, poorly handled encounters led to resentment and anger. Or as Erin bluntly puts it: “He was into it more for the booty than the politics.”

Now in a long-term relationship with a woman, Erin says the only thing polyamory enhances is a couple’s odds of breaking up. “The theory that you can share your partner without some sort of backlash almost always works better than the practice,” she insists. “You can talk about having an open relationship, but the second one of you actually acts on it, the shit hits the fan.”

“Polyamory can be a mess,” admits Avena, the Ashland-based therapist. “It sounds revolutionary, and to have that much love and support in your life is astounding. But there can be a lot of conflict, and if the core relationship isn’t solid enough to handle it? People can get hurt really badly.”

Read the whole article (April 2008 issue). Here it is all on one page with fewer ads.