"Are Bisexuals the Glue that Holds Poly Together?" And some numbers for how many polys there are.
A few days ago on BiNet USA ("America's umbrella organization and voice for bisexual, pansexual, fluid, and all other of us 'somewhere in between' "), a columnist posed the question in the title above.
...At this point in the conversation, someone made the comment that while bisexuals aren't necessary to hold poly relationships together, they certainly do help. That got me to thinking.
In most poly situations I know of, the folk ARE bisexual... but that may be because I am bi and therefore have a natural affinity for bi community. Perhaps the majority of poly folk aren't bisexual, I don't know. That's why I am posing this question.
Are Bisexuals the connection that makes triads, and quads, so common?... If you remove the bisexuals from the equation... would the numbers of poly community be drastically reduced or just unnoticeably reduced?
Read the whole article (April 16, 2009). A discussion about it has also sprung up on the LiveJournal BiPolyPaganGeek community.
There's no question: bisexual people are way, way more abundant in the poly world than elsewhere. Some statistics:
In Loving More magazine's survey of 1,010 polys taken in 2000, 667 stated their sexual preference; of these, 51% said they were bisexual. (The complete survey data are now online at the Kinsey Institute; see page 23 in the documentation.) My own experience is that when you ask a roomful of people at a poly conference how many consider themselves bi, something like 30% or 40% raise their hands. Workshops at poly conferences on exploring your bisexuality are well attended. Other informal estimates have put the proportion of bi polys at 30% to 60% of all polys.
This compares to just 2.3% of the general population. (That is, 1.8% of men and 2.8% of women age 18–44 in the U.S. gave their sexual preference as "bisexual" when surveyed for the CDC's 2002 National Survey of Family Growth; see tables 12 and 13 on pages 30 and 31 of the PDF doc. If the link remains broken, try here and see page 3 and Table 8. Note that nearly another 4% chose "other" rather than either homo-, hetero-, or bi-.)
So to answer the question in the title of the article: if bi folks disappeared, the poly world would immediately shrink by roughly 45%. And I suspect that this particular 45% plays a role beyond its numbers in binding together intimate poly groups and households.
Interestingly, statistics also exist on the other side of the coin: That is, how many bis are poly?
Psychologist Geri D. Weitzman, in her paper "Therapy with Clients Who Are Bisexual and Polyamorous" (Journal of Bisexuality, Vol. 6, Issue 1-2; 2006), summarizes some of the little that's known about this:
Page (2004) found that 33% of her bisexual sample of 217 participants were involved in a polyamorous relationship, and 54% considered this type of relationship ideal. West (1996) reported that 20% of her lesbian respondents were polyamorous, while Blumstein and Schwartz (1983) found that 28% of the lesbian couples in their sample were. Blumstein and Schwartz found that 65% of the gay male couples in their study were polyamorous, and that 15-28% of their heterosexual couples had "an understanding that allows nonmonogamy under some circumstances" (p. 312).
The references, if you want to look them up, are in the paper's bibliography.
Pepper Mint has written (on the LovingMore_Polyactive Yahoo group, May 24, 2007):
Kassia Wosick-Correa from UC Irvine has unpublished numbers that peg self-identified polyamorous bisexuals as 44% of all bisexuals.
Also see the studies supporting similar conclusions in Footnote 1 below.
All these items together lead to another interesting point. If roughly 45% of polys say they are bi, and roughly 45% of bis are say they are poly, this implies that roughly equal numbers of each exist in the general population2. So if 2.3% of Americans call themselves bi, then about 2.3% of Americans should be poly. Numerous caveats apply! One, I think, is that both communities have grown significantly in self-awareness and self-identification, perhaps unevenly, since those surveys were done.
Lastly: We are not the only ones to take an interest in this. Stanley Kurtz, a leading anti-gay-marriage writer for top-of-the-line conservative think tanks, warned darkly in a cover story for The Weekly Standard nearly four years ago that bisexuals are an unrecognized hidden force behind the polyamory movement and its plans to bring down civilization. Enjoy.
Update: More from Pepper Mint:
...If we assume Kassia's numbers are right, and we combine these statistics, we get that about 1% of the 18-44 age range is polyamorous bisexuals. If we assume zero polyamorous bisexuals above 44 or below 18, that gives us around 1.35 million polyamorous bisexuals.
The high-end percentage of bisexuals within polyamory seems to run at around 60%, from informal polls, which would give us an overall count of 2.25 million polyamorous people.
Now, I think that's too high. Perhaps Kassia's numbers are off, perhaps because she had limited options in her surveys? If we assume that she's off by a factor of 4 (giving 11% of bisexual identifying as polyamorous, which definitely seems like an undercount), then we have around 500,000 poly people.
This gives us a decent range, I think. We're probably not as low as 100,000, but I doubt we've made it past a million or so. Estimates of the BDSM and swing communities come in at 2-4 million, and I don't think we're as big as either of those. Unfortunately comparing with swing events is not a good measure, since swinging is more event-oriented than polyamory. We can however compare with BDSM since it is typically practiced outside of events, and there are a lot more (and a lot bigger) kink events. In any case, I am quite certain that we do not have nearly the numbers that kinksters have, despite there being a solid overlap.
Okay, I'm a numbers geek.
1. Update, October 2010: Kelly Cookson provides these additional references regarding how many bis are poly, with brief summaries:
Here are a few studies in which bisexuals commonly preferred and/or engaged in sexually non-monogamous relationships:
Burleson, (2005). Bi-America: the myths and truths of an invisible minority. Binghamton, NY: Harrington park press. [In a chapter discussing the relationship between bisexuality and non-monogamy, Burleson claims bi people tend to be non-monogamous more than people of other sexual orientations. I got this from a secondary source: Tameeza, S. (2007) Bi and in love: A phenomenological inquiry into the committed couple relationships of bisexual women. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA.]
George, S. (1993) Women and Bisexuality. London: Scarlet Press. [See page 230: "Do you have simultaneous 'open' relationships (i.e., have several lovers who theoretically have the same importance)?" Out of 107 bisexual women that responded, 72 (67%) said no, 14 (13%) said yes, and 21 (20%) said they had open relationships in the past. So 35 (33%) of bisexuals in this study had open relationships at some point.]
Keener, M. C. (2004). A phenomenology of polyamorous persons. Unpublished masters thesis, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT. [A phenomenological study of 10 people recruited through an announcement distributed among the polyamorous community. Five of the 10 participants identified as bisexual.]
Klesse, C. (2006). Polyamory and its ‘others’: Contesting the terms of non-monogamy. Sexualities, 9, 565-583. ["Although polyamory is not essentially linked to any particular sexual identity, a significant part of the UK polyamory scene seems to consist of bisexuals or – as one of my interview partners3 put it – ‘heteroflexibles’. It is not surprising, therefore, that polyamory emerged as one of the most significant discourses on nonmonogamy used by bisexual-identified participants in my study" p. 566]
Klesse, C. (2005). Bisexual women, non-monogamy and differentialist anti-promiscuity discourses. Sexualities, 8, 445-464. ["The scarce research into bisexual relationship practices (that mostly refers to the US context) suggests a relatively high frequency of nonmonogamous relationship arrangements among bisexual-identified women and men (George, 1993; Rodríguez Rust, 2000; Rust, 1996; Weinberg et al., 1994)." p.448]
McLean, K. (2004 ). Negotiating (non)monogamy: Bisexuality and intimate relationships. In R. C. Fox (Ed.), Current Research on Bisexuality (pp. 83-97). Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press. [In this study of bisexuals, 60 percent of the men and 52.5 percent of the women indicated their relationships were sexually open. Various forms of sexually open relationships were observed.]
Rodríguez-Rust, P. C. (ed.) (2000) Bisexuality in the United States. New York: Columbia University Press.
Rust, P.C. (1996). Monogamy and Polyamory: Relationship Issues for Bisexuals. In B. A. Firestein (Ed.) Bisexuality: The Pyschology and Politics of an Invisible Minority (pp.127-148). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. [When bisexuals were asked about their relationship preferences, the most popular relationship preferences involved some form of sexual non-monogamy.]
Sheff, E. (2005). Polyamorous women, sexual subjectivity and power. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 34. 251-283. ["Bisexuality. Bisexual women were quite numerous in polyamorous communities. In fact, bisexuality was so common among women in the polyamorous community that they had a standing joke that it allowed them to 'have their Jake and Edith too!'" p. 266]
Weinberg, M.S., Williams, C.J., Pryor, D.W. (1995). Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [When bisexuals were asked about their ideal relationships, the most popular ideal relationships involved some form of sexual non-monogamy. Not all of them realized their ideal relationships. But 30 percent of them currently had more than one significant partner. See chapter 8.]
As an historical aside... several members of the Kerista commune may have been bisexual. Jud, who started the Kerista religion and co-founded the commune, said "We believe in love. People shouldn't be like balloons, ready to explode if they're touched. We believe in total sharing, and that means sharing love and affection as well as property. In Kerista, the only standard of a sexual relationship is mutual consent, by the two or three or four or however many parties are involved. We only have one full-time homosexual member that I know of, but most of us are bisexual. People either dig that this is the natural, decent, loving way to be-have, or they don't." Source: http://www.rawilsonfans.com/articles/kerista.htm
Also in October 2010 came this European report on preliminary results released from a large study, which found that 40% of bisexuals "consider themselves to be polyamorous." The full study was to be published in 2011 in the Journal of Bisexuality.
2. The math: If a = the number of polys, b = the number of bisexuals, and c = the number that's in the overlap of the two, and if
0.4a = c
0.4b = c
a = b
regardless of the value of c.
Update, February 2012: The number of open marriages in America became a news topic after presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's second wife accused him of demanding one.
The number of open relationships is surely larger than the subset of poly relationships. News reports during the Gingrich episode quoted sociologists' evidence that 5%, or "anywhere between 1% and 10%", of American marriages are sexually open by agreement. That would translate to 6 million, or between 1.2 and 12 million, individuals.
Better: the Wikipedia article "Open marriage incidence", which is rich with links to academic research sources, says: "...Despite these difficulties, researchers have estimated that between 1.7 percent and 6 percent of married people [in America] are involved in open marriages." That would be between 2 and 7 million individuals. "The incidence of open marriage has remained relatively stable over the last two generations."