Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

April 26, 2009

"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

Kelly Cookson

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."


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Blogger BlogtoDiffer said...

I think this is one of those chicken and egger sort of things.

I don't see bisexuals as essential, however if you're already bisexual, you're already more familiar with sexuality as a fluid concept, and therefore more willing to accept other alternative lifestyles, such as poly.

I think this discussion can be cross-referenced with the other "how much minority cross-over is there between poly, queer, kink, etc?" discussion, and I think the answers are similar - people from those minorities are already used to expanding their horizons, so what's one more blurred boundary? Not that anything is quite that cut and dried, just that it boils down to none of those elements are required, yet birds of a similar mind-bent will hang out, form communities, networks, Letter Communes, and hive minds together.

Until my current girlfriend came into the picture, I was the only bisexual in my Quad. Prior to the Quad, my husband and I had been in a triad that would not have been a triad if I wasn't bisexual, but the Quad could have existed perfectly fine if I only liked men.

I think if you were to remove bisexuals from the equation, you would of course gets a much smaller variation of combinations, but that's true of the general population. I don't think that the combinations that can exist without someone being bisexual would be effected either way.

April 27, 2009 7:48 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I know in my own poly group I feel like an outsider because I am not Bi.

April 28, 2009 8:08 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I think the very question is interesting, in that it erases the poly identity of non-bi queer folks.

Oops. Did we assume a heterosexist model of poly? I guess we did. Interesting how easily that happens. (One assumes, of course, that it's accidental.)

As an exercise for the student:

Assume you are a big ol' dyke living in a dyke community, and having dyke relationships in the poly way for the last two decades.

Now run the question through that filter. "Are Bisexuals the Glue that Holds Poly Together?"

Um. Nope.

The dykes I know use dried lube instead.

- Elaine

May 02, 2009 8:44 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

My bias: I am a bisexual man in a polyamorous relationship. My primary partner is a woman (also bisexual) and at the moment the vast majority of my secondary partners are women. The fact that we are bisexual does not lead me to agree with the premise of the post. From my personal experience, the post just does not conform to the reality of sexual desire and its intensely subjective nature.

Here is a quote from my primary partner that sums up how 'incapacitated' am after being with another woman: "One of my favorite things about seeing you after a date is that I know without a doubt I am going to get FUCKED." Not bragging, just letting you know that for some of us the more we get the more we get.

But my largest concern here is that the comment smacks of just the sort of so-called 'biological basis' of gender roles that has contributed to the marginalization of polyamory, bisexuality and any other sexual expression outside of the oh-so-small heteronormative box. Increasing awareness of the various sexual lives we choose/need to live is immensely important. However, spouting such narrow viewpoints derived from simple conjecture is not a furtherance of this goal. If we want to push back against the heteronormative values that work against this awareness, then it behooves use to step out of that box not back in.

May 08, 2009 1:03 AM  
Anonymous Gruuv Thang said...

Wow! I remember posting the question and someone asking me if it was cool to post it on binets site. He gave me a link but I didnt come back to check it out after the first time. I didnt see all the comments or the research that had been done. Certainly it appears I got the answer to my question...lol, even if after all this time. I reeeeally need to say THANK YOU!

The only thing I would add, just for clarity sake, since someone seemed to think there was an assumption that the bisexual would be erased in a mmf triad. The conversation with the other folk I was speaking to allowed for the potential of the two men to partner, but the focus in that scenario was the potential for a mmf to be a straight situation rather than a bi-one vs the potential of a ffm being a straight one rather than bi. The folk I spoke to agreed that it was simply easier for two straight men to serve one woman than for one straight man to serve two women...in general circumstances, not the individual ones where a guy might have great health, stamina, endurance and talent.

I genuinely appreciate the numbers and logic of the above research. It supports and reflects my personal experience in poly circles...even queer and transgendered communities seem to have a good number of bi folk, although not as much as Ive seen in poly communities.

Thanks to everyone who made comments since the original posting. How cool to see it again this long after...lol.

Gruuv Thang

November 27, 2010 2:29 AM  
Blogger Skeeter Sanders said...

I've NEVER been strictly monogamous. That's been the one constant in my adult life since I first came out of the closet as a gay man in 1978 and later as bisexual in 1993. That the 1983 Blumstein-Schwartz study found that 65 percnet of gay male couples were polyamorous did not surprise me, as for most gay men at the time, monogamy was anathema. But the study was published just as the AIDS crisis was rearing its deadly swath in the gay community and more than a decade before the movement for marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples began, so the Blumstein-Schwartz study's findings on gay male couples are doubtless quite outdated now. No one knows how many gay male couples today are polyamorous, but one thing has emerged: Among same-sex couples who have legally "tied the knot," a solid two-thirds majority of them are lesbian couples, according to marriage-license records in the states where same-sex marriage is legal.

May 27, 2014 5:47 AM  

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