Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

August 30, 2010

Germany: Giant nude puppy pile on newsmagazine cover, re the West's poly future

This site is way past due for a roundup of poly in the German media, as a cover story in Germany's third-largest weekly newsmagazine makes clear.

Focus magazine devoted its May 22nd cover story to the future of sex and relationships in the Western world, and polyamory is the theme from which the entire article flows. For nine pages. However, I think there's less here than meets the eye.

What meets the eye on the cover is the most beautiful all-nude puppy pile I've ever seen. The article itself begins with a wider shot. Note the toddler and mom at left. No, this is not an actual poly pod; the caption says it's a performance-art exhibit in a museum's Rubens Hall.

The cover headline is, "How Shall I Love — and If I Shall, How Many? Why emotions, sex, and our relationships are going to change." (Warning, I don't read German, I puzzle at it with Google Language Tools and Babel Fish. If I've screwed up anywhere tell me.)

Focus is supposed to be what passes for a conservative magazine over there, at least on economic issues. It claims to have a high-end, information-savvy audience.


How shall I love — and if I shall, how many?

By Focus editor Carin Pawlak and reporter Andreas Wenderoth

Several partners at the same time. Potency into old age. The end of romance, but of egoism too. And men could be the losers of tomorrow. Futurists and scientists describe how emotions, sex and relationships are going to change.

Silvio Wirth and Mara Fricke love three-dimensionally. They love polyamorously — in which you have multiple partners, for head, heart and body. In 2030 Wirth, a psychologist, will be 60 and Fricke, an art therapist, will be 56. And maybe they will smile a bit about the fact that they had already anticipated the future in 2010.

They live as a family with their daughter in Belzig, Brandenburg. In addition to practicing tantra they are teaching that partnerships can be boundless. They have several secondary affairs, open and "with the consent or approval of all parties." They are both happy with this agreement. "Even if there are painful moments in which we grow, we want to."

Can we imagine a future of multi-dimensional love? And so, also, a future of other emotions in 3-D, as it were? For philosopher and writer Sven Hillenkamp, the lifestyle of Silvio Wirth and Mara Fricke is a realistic possibility in the world of 2030. "Networks of people living polyamorously are renewing the idea of open relationship," he says. "These people believe that they can do both long-term: be in a partnership and have unlimited possibilities."

...These developments, however, only make visible by exaggeration — like works of art — how society as a whole is changing....

And from there the article ranges off into dark and sophisticated ruminations on the end of romantic love, Brave New World dystopias, the aging and shrinking of the German population, the disintegration of the family, a future of singles living alone with polyamorous love for their many electronic gadgets; trial marriages and drug-enhanced sexed-up old people "who will drink wine not from South Africa but from Schleswig-Holstein, where, thanks to climate change, flowering vineyards will cover the landscape," as they slip away from reality into big-screen virtual-reality 3-D.

And on it goes — seeming to me like a big, disappointing exercise in literary thumbsucking — we're such big thinkers, we're jaded and funny and depressed and that makes us important. But it's all in German so what do I know. Comments, please?

Read the whole thing. Or, since the magazine is multinational, try reading it in Portuguese! (flip the pages with your mouse).


Coming back down to reality, here is a more focused introductory article in the Austrian newspaper Oberösterreichische Nachrichten:

Happiness is more love

In times of globalization, enhanced communication is changing our lives — and love. Unusual forms of relationship are increasingly being tried. This is about polyamory, the ability to love several people at the same time.

In German cities the theme of polyamorous love is more and more in vogue.

"More and more people believe that serial monogamy may not be the optimal way to happiness," says Wolf Schneider, editor of a magazine with a focus on esoteric Tantra. "These people do not have to hide their affairs. When you fall in love, you do not have to dispose of a person as an Ex. You are looking for loyalty and adventure at the same time — deep, lasting love and commitment, without having to build a prison for each other."

..."Polyamory is a major challenge to the individual," says Schneider.... Jealousy is the biggest hurdle, according to polyamorous lovers in real life. Ideally, the principal partner of a jealous person should treat them carefully, acceptingly, and concomitantly, similar to how one deals with the grief of a friend who has lost a loved one, or the fear of a child afraid to learn to swim. Such an attitude and willingness to meet with intense feelings is itself often a learning process. Therefore, lack of jealousy is seen as less important than willingness to face it....

Read the whole article (Aug. 8, 2009).


In one of Germany's major daily newspapers:

What is Polyamory? "Currently the situation is complex"

Philip Schiebler, 24, and his girlfriend Inci, 23, have a polyamorous relationship. Actually, only Philip has several girlfriends. Inci is "monoamorous" because she so far hasn't fallen in love with another man. Sounds complicated? It is; nevertheless it works....

See the original in Süddeutsche Zeitung, Munich (Jan. 12, 2010). To read past the first paragraph you have to pay 2 euros.


The spiritual/ New Age German magazine Connection devoted an entire issue to polyamory (issue number 85). The cover shows a lady holding three flowers for three guys with the headline:

I love you all!

The trend toward polyamory. And the eternal question is: solo, mono or poly — which makes for the happiest?

You can read some of the issue online or buy it for 9 euros.


An interview with Silvio Wirth appeared in the trashy, huge-circulation tabloid Bild, August 25, 2009 (full of NSFW soft-core porn ads). Wirth guesses in the interview that there are 10,000 polys in Germany. With the article is a lively video of the newspaper collecting person-on-the-street reactions to the topic.

This is a huge improvement over the last time we heard from Bild, when it reacted (or pretended to) with shocked moralistic horror.


Here is a lovely German TV show portraying Juliette Siegfried and her happy triad family with a toddler.


News.de published an interview with writer and lawyer Regula Heinzelmann, who "explains how multiple simultaneous relationships are feasible, and one's responsibility to partners, and logistical problems":

Fifteen years ago you published a book about polygamy [Die neuen Paare: Anleitung zur Polygamie / The New Couples: Instructions for Polygamy]. Have things changed since then?

Heinzelmann: Not really. I practice and I support this way of life today. At that time I called it polygamy, but now there is the word polyamory. I find it better. At that time the youth were extremely against it. The reason was that their parents, in part due to infidelity, divorced often, which unfortunately also happens today. Young people saw avoiding other relationships as better. Women also were critical. Men less so, because polyamorous relationships are much more difficult for men than for women....

Read the whole article (March 11, 2009). It also includes a video clip of editorial commentary.


Here's an article in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality: Friend hoppers, pleasure activism, the Schlampagne and the Octopus: Non-monogamous activism in the German lesbian-feminist subculture.

From the abstract: "Based on interviews with six activists, this article sketches four different approaches to activism around non-monogamous relationship concepts in the German lesbian-feminist subculture in the past thirty years." (Aug. 2, 2009).

"Schlampagne?" Well, a group of people made a documentary film. From the film's website (scroll down there for English):

In 2007 the first ”Ferien in Schlampenau”, which roughly translates to “Vacations in Slut Meadow”, took place in Germany, becoming since then an annual feminist summer camp for women who challenge the concept of monogamy as the sole accepted relationship model. (Watch ad.)

...In this DIY, no-budget film, voice is given to four participants in Schlampenau and they speak about polyamory, the camp itself, feminism, queer identities and their dreams for the future.


And I'm sure that's just a sample.

Here are some German resources:

Important German poly site: www.polyamorie.de, which includes a list of further German media coverage and an extensive book list in German and other languages.

"Polyamory on the Internet" page on the website of the German magazine Connection; loads of German links.

Vienna Poly People site, with German links.



OBHD (Offene Beziehung Heidelberg), with list of links.

Can't skip ZEGG (Zentrum für Experimentelle Gesellschaftsgestaltung), though it's not explicitly poly.


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August 28, 2010

Wonder Woman's poly origin receiving more attention

AOL/Asylum, and others

"AOL online reprinted the chapter on Wonder Woman from my book Eureka! The Surprising Stories Behind the Ideas that Shaped the World," posts author Marlene Wagman-Geller. Her article is the latest in a steady growth of interest in the remarkable origin, in 1941, of one of the first comic-book superheroes. Wonder Woman was invented to express the utopian ideas of her creator, William Moulton Marston, who lived in a big, happy polyamorous BDSM family of three adults and four kids that was decades ahead of its time. If you don't know the story, you should.

(In the photo at right, Marston is demonstrating the blood-pressure measuring machine he invented — taking the systolic blood pressure of his wife Elizabeth, seated and fitted with a breathing mask, while their life partner Olive Byrne takes notes.)

Here's the chapter reprint. It's quick and rather superficial. It was originally posted as "Wonder Woman's Sexy Past — How Polyamory Birthed the First Female Superhero", but some idiot with posting authority changed "Sexy" to "Dirty."

Here are some pictures of Marston, his highly accomplished wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and their longterm life partner Olive Byrne, in a story about Wonder Woman's origin by Lucius Scribbens on his blog Bigger Love.

The following is from a review of the book Wonder Woman: The Complete History, which another reviewer called "the best available history of both Wonder Woman and her creator":

...Marston always succeeded in defending his ideas. For him, Wonder Woman was not a role model for girls (as is often claimed) but the vehicle through which he would get young boys used to the idea of strong, dominating women. He believed that the next century would see the subjugation of men by women, and that, through domination, women would create a more loving society:

Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world. There isn't love enough in the male organism to run this planet peacefully. Woman's body contains twice as many love generating organs and endocrine mechanisms as the male. What woman lacks is the dominance or self assertive power to put over and enforce her love desires. I have given Wonder Woman this dominant force but have kept her loving, tender, maternal and feminine in every other way.

Marston was a fascinating character. He loved two women, had two children with each of them; all seven lived as one big, happy family. He invented the notorious lie detector; this book shows many pictures of Marston strapping svelte young women into early prototypes of his machine. Marston, despite (or because of?) his fantasies of a world ruled by dominating women, obviously enjoyed binding women -- and the thought of women binding each other:

Women are exciting for this one reason -- it is the secret of women's allure -- women enjoy submission, being bound. This I bring out in the Paradise Island sequences where the girls beg for chains and enjoy wearing them.

All this may sound like cheap porn, but somehow Marston did imbue his strip with a strange utopian drive. The contradictions and conflicts that erupted between his vision, his sexuality and his era's ideas about women and sex all combined to create a series not easily deciphered and fascinating to read simply because it struggles to say something -- something quite at odds with everything the cultural context in which Wonder Woman was created was willing to accept.

I have developed elaborate ways of having Wonder Woman and other characters confined ... confinement, to WW and the Amazons, is just a sporting game, an actual enjoyment of being subdued. This ... is the one truly great contribution of my Wonder Woman strip to moral education of the young. The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound ... Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society ... Giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element.

William Moulton Marston is the subject of the book's first 89 pages. Conversations with some of his children make this part of the book all the more interesting. Marston -- the psychologist, the con man, the shameless self-promoter, the Hollywood consultant, the inventor, the utopian, the sexual adventurer, the father, the historical novelist, the creator of Wonder Woman -- deserves a book all his own. These 89 pages, excellent as they may be, make the reader yearn for yet more information on this strange man.

Sadly, Wonder Woman's story -- and subsequently this book on her history -- loses virtually any interesting elements with the passing of her creator [in 1947]. The remaining 120 or so pages read like an overlong epilogue and only emphasize again and again how post-Marston Wonder Woman is nothing but a string of disappointments.

In Boston, where Marston and Holloway were educated, Kamela Dolinova posted a few days ago: Wonder Woman the product of a polyamorous union with a feminist bent.

Of course, you can google up lots more.

Want to see some of those early comics? Here's Suffering Sappho! A Look At The Creator & Creation of Wonder Woman at Comic Book Resources, with links and bondage-y pages reprinted from early WW issues.

UPDATE OCTOBER 2016: More Wonder Woman coverage here since this 2010 article!


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August 27, 2010

Sex at Dawn, quickie version

Counterpunch and elsewhere

Not to keep dwelling on this book (see my post Sex at Dawn and the future of the polyamory movement), but amid the continuing media attention it's getting, here's a particularly good summary of it if you don't want to tackle all 400 pages.

The article is by sex therapist Susan Block. She ends by saying,

This is not to suggest that we should all live in polyamorous households. Personally, I love being married — to just one husband. And the Sex at Dawn authors, themselves married for over 10 years, aren’t overtly advocating anything except opening our minds to the evidence of our innate promiscuity and the way in which it influences our lives.

But that doesn’t mean that others won’t use Sex at Dawn to validate their open marriages and polyamorous adventures.

More power to them.

Audio: If you prefer listening, here's a 52-minute interview with Christopher Ryan on a public radio station (WLRN, South Florida). Click on the August 25th show.

TV interview with Thom Hartmann (who claims to be "the nation's #1 progressive radio talk show host"). Hartmann has become another enthusiast of the book. (9 minutes).



August 26, 2010

"Queer Polyamory for Lesbians"


There's the idea that lesbians are way less interested in multi-relating than gay guys. Maybe so, but not always. The online magazine Autostraddle — "an intelligent, hilarious & provocative voice and a progressive online community for a new generation of kickass lesbian, bisexual & otherwise inclined ladies" — presents an interview with a couple of poly girl girls.

Do you have a girlfriend? That’s fine. I also have a girlfriend. But I think you’re cute, and you think I’m cute, and let’s not waste all this cuteness and attraction just because we both have girlfriends. I’m sorry, did that come off a little harsh? It wasn’t supposed to. It’s just what a conversation might sound like in a world where monogamy wasn’t the norm. Contrary to popular belief, monogamy and fidelity are not one in the same....

LAUREN: You guys, I’m a real lesbian! I think U-Haul jokes are trite but true, I can’t help but make cooing sounds at babies and small animals, I love Tegan and Sara like whoa, and oh, right, I like girls. I’m just like any other lesbian — but I don’t believe in monogamy.

KATRINA: A lot of people right now are beginning to see a shift in the definition of what it means to be in a relationship, and that definition is no longer contingent upon monogamy. The concept of polyamory is nothing new, of course, but the concept of serious, loving, and functioning relationships that are also sexually open sometimes seems to be.

LAUREN: Because let’s face it, most of us can’t really seem to get down with the idea of a true, real, loving, and open relationship. I’ve been there! I used to be one of those preachers too: monogamy and self-control and don’t you ever think about cheating....

KATRINA: I get it, the idea of straying from monogamy is scary. I know that when Sara Quin first sang “I’m not unfaithful, but I’ll stray,” all of our lesbian hearts stopped as we resigned ourselves to believing that if Sara Quin didn’t believe in monogamy or happily ever after, then none of us ever had a chance at falling in love again. Ever!

It’s no surprise that we feel this way. “Monogamy” is most relationship’s #1 Rule. Straying from that is like falling down a slippery societal slope which eventually leads to women getting the right to vote and gays wanting to get married....

We are inclined to cling to monogamy as the defining factor of ‘serious relationships’ because society values it above all else. It’s more important than trust, honesty, stability, reliability, or emotional availability....

LAUREN: My new outlook on relationships has been vague and life-changing, kinda like when I came out to myself as a non-hetero. ‘Monogamous’ is yet another mold I don’t fit into, and its one that I’ve been trained to see as wrong, immoral and just plain “unnatural.” And if you do do it, you’ve gotta be a gay man, because they’re the only ones who can get away with it.

KATRINA: ...Much like coming out to yourself as queer (I hear a lot of us around here have done that), coming out as non-monogamous isn’t just about sexual freedom, it’s about sexual honesty.

It’s important to us not just as queer women, but as WOMEN. Men have monopolized the idea of multiple sexual partnership for all of time: from the pre-feminist acceptance of men having mistresses to how lesbians have been repeatedly left out of same-sex couples’ polyamorous movement. We’re mired in ideas like “men want to fuck, women don’t.” “Boys will be boys.” But it’s not fair to ignore this desire in women.

Sex does matter to us. It’s not an obligation and it’s not for procreation, and we do it for love, yeah, but we do it for fun too. ‘Cause it feels good, ’cause we wanna, and ’cause we can....

LAUREN: If you don’t fit into the box, it’s okay to let yourself out of it. And it’s okay to stay in the ‘box’ if that’s what makes you happy. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with monogamy; just that we’ve observed that the pressure put upon it makes room for some nasty things, like being overly possessive and jealousy.

...LAUREN: I actually ended up in an open relationship on accident. Me and my partner let an elephant out of the room when we finally had a conversation about how we both found the same girl attractive, and admitting this out loud to each other brought us closer, actually, rather than jealousy pulling us apart.

Things opened up. We saw each other as people with independent sexualities instead of just each other’s girlfriends. Of course it was more comfortable to tell myself that she only wanted me, forever & ever, and that we’d live happily ever after, but that would be lying to myself about what I really wanted and about who she really is.

KATRINA: ...Exploring polyamory for me is almost like exploring a new kind of queerness....

We shouldn’t expect to get non-monogamy right the first time we try to understand or execute it. We still might not get it the second time, or even the third. But maybe it’s not because monogamy is the only way that works, but because there are an infinite amount of ways for relationships to succeed or fail or rework themselves before it’s right.

...This is the generation in which it’s becoming possible to grow up gay. To be able to come out and live without alias or excuse. Maybe our sexual revolution is a revolution of exposure and presence. And although the ultimate goal that some chase is normalcy, we are in a period now where being out means that sex and sexuality are intrinsically tied to your identity, whether that’s the way you perceive it or the way others perceive you. Being gay forced us to honestly consider the possibilities of our sexualities; being non-monogamous forces us to honestly consider the possibilities of our sexualities as they relate to others and re-evaluate the forces that make our partnerships special and honest above all else....

Read the whole article (Aug. 24, 2010).


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August 25, 2010

Objecting to "Polyamory Chic"

Scientific American blogs

"There’s a strange whiff in the media air, a sort of polyamory chic in which liberally minded journalists, an aggregate mass of antireligious pundits and even scientists themselves have begun encouraging readers and viewers to use evolutionary theory to revisit and revise their sexual attitudes and, more importantly, their behaviors in ways that fit their animal libidos more happily."

So begins Jesse Bering, a research psychologist writing for the Mind & Brain section of Scientific American's website. He continues:

Much of this discussion is being fueled by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá’s scintillating new book Sex at Dawn, which explores how our modern, God-ridden, puritanical society conflicts with our species’ evolutionary design, a tension making us pathologically ashamed of sex. There are of course many important caveats, but the basic logic is that, because human beings are not naturally monogamous but rather have been explicitly designed by natural selection to seek out ‘extra-pair copulatory partners’ — having sex with someone other than your partner or spouse for the replicating sake of one’s mindless genes — then suppressing these deep mammalian instincts is futile and, worse, is an inevitable death knell for an otherwise honest and healthy relationship.

Intellectually, I can get on board with this.... But the amoralistic beauty of Darwinian thinking is that it does not — or at least, should not and cannot — prescribe any social behavior, sexual or otherwise, as being the “right” thing to do....

...However, there’s an even bigger hurdle to taking polyamory chic beyond the tabloids, talk shows, and message boards and into standard bedroom practice. And that is simply the fact that we’ve evolved to empathize with other people’s suffering, including the suffering of the people we’d betray by putting our affable genitals to their evolved promiscuous use.

Heartbreak is every bit as much a psychological adaptation as is the compulsion to have sex with those other than our partners, and it throws a monster of a monkey wrench into the evolutionists’ otherwise practical polyamory....

Monogamy may not be natural, but neither is indifference to our partners’ sex lives or tolerance for polyamory. In fact, for many people, especially those naively taking guidance from evolutionary theorists without thinking deeply enough about these issues, polyamory can lead to devastating effects....

He goes on to ruminate about why, as a gay man with no reproductive stake in his male partner's sexual behavior, he himself has been prone to wildly irrational fits of jealousy when cheated on. Where's the evolutionary sense in that?

What he needs to hear is that, for some of us, life is not this false-dichotomy choice between suffering in monogamy and suffering with broken hearts and jealous rages. For quite a few people, a modern, consciously managed, ethical, communicative version of multi-partnering — what we mean by the word polyamory! — offers a third way that is neither what animals do nor what our grandparents believed they had to do. Can't he get this?

...And that’s this once-heartbroken gay evolutionary psychologist’s musings for the day.

Read the whole article (Aug. 25, 2010).

Begs for comments, no? Go have at it.



August 24, 2010

"Why Do People Choose Polyamory?"

Psychology Today online

Deborah Anapol, at her Psychology Today blog Love Without Limits, has posted an excerpt from her new book Polyamory in the 21st Century. She discusses the many reasons why, in actual practice, people find their way into today's polyamory scene. Anapol was one of the founders of the modern polyamory movement some 30 years ago and was a co-founder of Loving More, and she has observed the movement's development all along.

Do you recognize yourself in one of these categories?

Why Do People Choose Polyamory?

By Deborah Anapol, Ph.D.

Just as there are many different forms a polyamorous relationship can take, there are many different reasons people choose polyamory. We're not always conscious of the reasons we do things, and sometimes we even make up reasons which have little to do with our real motivations. I'm not saying that we intentionally lie to ourselves, and to others. Rather, we find ourselves doing something and then make up a story to explain it.... It's not always easy to discover the reasons people choose polyamory. However, if you watch them over time, as I have, you can often determine their motivations by observing the results of their choices. And of course you can listen to what they say and what they report in anonymous surveys. I've employed all these methods to compile a fairly comprehensive view of possible motivations for choosing polyamory. Some are predictable, others may surprise you.

Humans are natural problem solvers. We're always looking for ways to solve or avoid problems. So it's probably inevitable that some people will come to polyamory hoping that polyamory will allow them to avoid dealing with problematic personal issues or that it will solve problems in an existing relationship, but if this works at all it's usually a temporary fix. In a few cases, however, polyamory does allow people to create healthy and functional relationships they probably could not have managed otherwise.

More often, one partner reluctantly agrees to polyamory to win the affections of the other, secretly hoping that this unwelcome twist will magically vanish once they are committed to each other....

Some want a stable and nurturing environment in which to raise their children. Some use polyamory to mask or excuse addictions to sex, work, or drama, while others seek utopian or spiritual rewards or want to take a stand for cultural change. Others are simply doing what's fun and what comes naturally for them or are rebelling against religious prohibitions or family expectations. Some use polyamory as a weapon in a power struggle or to punish a controlling partner. Some want to keep their erotic life alive and vital while in long term committed relationships or to fulfill sexual or emotional desires they can't meet with only one person or with their existing partner. Some are trying to make up for developmental gaps or to balance unequal sex drives. Some people do not start out consciously choosing polyamory at all, but find that polyamory has chosen them.

Nancy and Darrell are a good example of a couple who deliberately chose polyamory for its opportunities for growth as well as to allow a broader sexual context within their marriage....

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the drama of co-dependency and sex addiction. For Thelma, the idea that she was attempting a polyamorous relationship that would involve a potentially painful confrontation with her own jealousy but would be well worth it in the end, allowed her to drawn into an abusive relationship....

Sex and love addiction can traumatize an addict's partners, and to the extent that partners fit the co-dependency profile, polyamory can effectively skirt the need to face an addiction and the painful feelings it covers. However, polyamory can also be utilized as a healthy means of coping with psychological difficulties, pre-existing trauma, differences in sexual desire, and the garden variety erotic boredom so common in long term monogamous marriages.

...While there is no data to support the common assumption that polyamory impairs attachment or is risky to the longevity of a pair bond, and, in fact, Perel and others acknowledge that it may be just the opposite, I suspect that whether polyamory or monogamy does more to stabilize a relationship depends upon the individuals involved and their life experience. When two or more people are well matched, opening their relationship usually makes it stronger. When they're not, opening up can be destabilizing....

...The blessing and the curse of polyamory is that love which includes more than one tends to illuminate those dark shadows many would prefer to ignore. While some people deliberately seek out polyamorous relationships for the purpose of freeing themselves and their children from the neuroses arising from typical nuclear family dynamics, most inadvertently discover that polyamory provides a very fertile environment for replicating any dysfunctional patterns carried over from the parental triangle experienced in their family of origin....

Read the whole article (Aug. 23, 2010).



August 23, 2010

Upsurge of poly in the French media

Guilain Omont writes from Paris:

Hi Alan,

There has been an increase of interest in French media about polyamory in the last few months :-)  I've built a list of all the French publications (newspaper or radio) about polyamory; I found 13 of them, 7 of which are in the year 2010! The list:


There are also at least three TV channels that are making documentaries or broadcasts about the subject now.

Here's his list machine-translated into English, with the graphics. If you click through to the articles from here, most of them will also appear in (fractured) English.

One of the best, with the cutest graphics, appeared May 12th in the women's section of the major newspaper Le Figaro: "The Season of Polyamory". Excerpt:

...So then, one partner or several? Everyone is free to decide in good conscience, but one thing is certain: polyamory is not a microphenomenon born from the sexual looseness that has been hyped in recent years, but an alternative to traditional couplehood/marriage that could grow to assume a larger place in a world where independence, autonomy and freedom are held up more and more as the fundamental values of individual fulfillment.

"My book [Guide des amours plurielles], published in 2002, has brought me hundreds of letters from women and men relieved to see written what they had long dreamed," says Francoise Simpère....

As for Guilain Omont, he sees the Internet as the best ally in the advent of polyamory: "Before, to express polyamorous desires, one had to turn to hippie communities, marginal by definition. Today, the Net enables people on the one hand to discover the wide variety of ways to live in plural loves, and secondly, to finally put the polyamorous in contact with each other."...

Omont posted his list on a French poly site he runs, Amours Pluriels, which also offers local contacts, meeting dates, and links to other French resources.

Here are all my posts about poly in French media (including this one; scroll down). But I'm clearly missing many articles that are appearing in foreign languages.



August 22, 2010

Canada: Green Party votes down polygamy law repeal

Toronto Sun

The Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association (CPAA) is preparing to have its say in the upcoming court case to test Canada's anti-polygamy law, which is written so broadly that it criminalizes polyamory too. (The law reportedly has not been enforced in 60 years, but the British Columbia government is bringing a test case with Fundamentalist Mormon polygamist leaders in mind.)

Meanwhile, this morning (Sunday August 22) the convention of Canada's Green Party considered and voted down a proposal that would have committed the party to repeal of the law. From CNews:

Greens defeat polygamy motion

OTTAWA – The Green Party voted down a motion that would force the party to push to decriminalize polygamy Sunday morning.

The vast majority of members voted against the motion, with 82% against and 18% in favour.

The motion called for the party to push to decriminalize “polyamorous” relationships where people are intimately involved and living with more than one partner.

Party members in a workshop session on Saturday voted to send the idea to the full party plenary where everyone could debate and vote on it.

Speakers in the workshop [had been] careful to define polygamy as a marriage between multiple spouses. They made a clear distinction between polygamy between consenting adults and a polygamist sect in Bountiful, B.C., where domestic abuse has been alleged, though a judge has thrown out charges against two alleged sect leaders.

Several Green members argued that polyamorous relationships are impossible to sell to voters and could mean losing support at a time when they hit record numbers in the last election....

Read the whole article (Aug. 22, 2010). I can't tell whether the confusion between polygamy and polyamory here is the reporter's or the Greens'.

Photo of the vote.

Previous story, from the Toronto Sun:


Last Updated: August 21, 2010 8:26pm

The Green Party of Canada will consider a motion Sunday on whether or not they will push to decriminalize polygamy.

Party members in a workshop on Saturday evening voted to send the motion to the full-Party plenary, where they'll debate and vote on it.

Speakers in the workshop were careful to define polygamy as a marriage between multiple spouses. They made a clear distinction between polygamy between consenting adults and a polygamist sect in Bountiful, B.C., where domestic abuse has been alleged, though charges were thrown out in 2009.

“It's a human rights issue,” said Trey Capnerhurst, a Green Party candidate in Edmonton East, noting that she is polyamorous.

Polyamory is the process of having more than one intimate relationship at the same time, according to the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association.

Capnerhurst says in cases where police suspect domestic abuse against multiple wives and children, that should be the subject of criminal charges.

“We should be not be charging people with polygamy,” she said.

Several Green members in the workshop argued the policy is impossible to sell to voters and could mean losing support at a time when they hit record numbers in the last election....

Green Party leader Elizabeth May says the party is open and democratic, allowing any motion with enough support to be discussed.

“It certainly isn't a motion I voted for,” she said. “It's something I continue to oppose.”

A spokeswoman for May says she doesn't expect the motion to pass the full party plenary on Sunday.

Capnerhurst says there's a bias against those in polyamorous relationships, of which she estimates number in the tens of thousands in Canada....

Read the whole article. And here's a blog post by the reporter on How did the polygamy motion make it so far?

The Green Party of Canada is small but growing; it received 6.8% of the national popular vote in 2008. Under a parliamentary system, like Canada's, small "third parties" can have a small but meaningful role in politics and governance. In particular, the large party closest to them may need to invite them to form a coalition government. This is unlike under a strict two-party system such as in the United States, where the only effect a third party can have, when it begins to attract votes, is to spoil elections for the large party that's closest to it — thereby alienating the people who might be most drawn to it in the future, and thus cutting its own throat. Any third party that begins to succeed under a two-party system automatically kills itself off this way. For example, where is the Ralph Nader party now?

Update later in the day: Trey Capnerhurst, a poly activist who was in the Green Party convention workshop in question, explains more of the story in three of the Comments below (under the name Treasach).

Update August 24: Here's the reporter's discussion of what happened, and people's comments on why polyamory is not ready for rational discussion in electoral politics.

This episode damaged the Green Party not just by making it look fringy but, more importantly, by hijacking public attention away from the Green convention's actual statements, platform and proposals — the main reason to hold a political convention.

At least the episode got some decent discussion going on the Ottawa Citizen's editorial board's blog.


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"Help, our daughter came out poly!"

Boston Globe Sunday Magazine

The advice columnist "Miss Conduct" (Robin Abrahams), in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, fields a poly coming-out-to-parents problem and handles it just right.

My 25-year-old daughter, A, and her husband, B, revealed to us that she has a romantic and sexual relationship with their mutual best friend, C. Not an affair or a three-way, more of a second-tier husband. I see this as a doomed experiment, likely the result of immaturity, a poor choice on A and B’s part to marry, and a lot of magical thinking. One day I blurted out that I didn’t want to hear about C anymore; I am more comfortable pretending that C is just a friend of theirs and, as such, doesn’t need to be included in visits, family gatherings, or reports on A’s life. A is sad and tearful that she must keep her second great love in the shadows. I am sad that I’ve put this barrier between us. Any suggestions for how I can make this better?


Thank you for asking me what you can do, instead of asking how you can change your daughter. You’re already ahead of most of the people who write to me, and I suspect you and A are going to be all right in the long run.

If you’re not familiar with the term, your daughter and her husband are what is known as “polyamorists.’’

These are people who don't feel that monogamous relationships can satisfy all of their intimacy needs. Maybe learning a little bit more about polyamory will help you feel more comfortable -- the Wikipedia entry on the topic is very helpful, if a bit overwritten. (Polyamorists undoubtedly contributed to the entry; they tend as a group to like wikis and open-source code, for reasons that are obvious when you think about it. What your daughter and her husband are doing is definitely an experiment, but not necessarily a doomed one; many poly relationships last for years, and there are lots of communities online and off to help polyamorists learn the communication and logistical skills they need.

So, Dad, if your daughter is committed to this lifestyle, ask her to start using those skills with you. Polyamory is a new and disturbing concept to many people, and maybe you feel you don't even quite know your daughter anymore. Approach your daughter, alone, and start some conversations. Polyamorists know that relationships are always in a state of change and that all relationships need structures and boundaries that must be negotiated. Point that out to her! It will show her that you are open to learning about the way she lives, while at the same time putting some responsibility on her to honor your feelings and beliefs and not expect you to make an overnight 180 and invite C to carve the turkey at Thanksgiving.

Read the original.

On a related note: Bitsy has gone live with her new Openly Poly website on handling the problems of coming out, with stories, support, and advice. See how others have dealt with these issues, and join the discussion.


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The Clueless

Albany Times-Union

A newspaper columnist in Albany, NY, doesn't get it:

Open relationships

By Amanda Talar

During a conversation I was having with Kelly a couple days ago, she was telling me about a married couple she is acquaintances with that have an “open relationship”. They agree that they are allowed to have sex with other people, and no consequences involving their relationship will arise as a result. Maybe it’s because I’m single, or somewhat old-fashioned, or a hopeless romantic…or maybe I’m just naive — but, what in the world of all that is relevant, is the point of this?

...I just think that if you want to have sex with various people, then why don’t you remain single? Then you can have sex with as many people as you wish. Why be in a relationship at all and why, oh why…get married? I suppose you could say people fall in love, get married and then decide they want an open relationship, but…I say that’s just too bad. That’s how I feel. While I’m not saying “Yay, divorce is awesome!”, I am saying that if you need to make an agreement that one or both of you can sleep with other people in order for your marriage to work, then maybe divorce is the lesser of two evils....

Read the whole article (Aug. 20, 2010) and join the comments. The polys there are valiant but outnumbered.



August 21, 2010

The Rolling Stone cover

Rolling Stone

Yowser, I don't watch teen vampire shows, but the cover of Rolling Stone makes it look like they're about gorgeous naked hunky MFM threesomes. Warning: Don't click if you're squicked by blood.

I mean, if these people were ever to give me the wink (like hell freezes over) I would insist they go wash up. Talk about exchange of body fluids.

On True Blood the vamps aren't actually poly, more's the pity. They're just wild. Or so I grok from a little internet research.

Of course the Rolling Stone cover is causing a stir, and some news outlets are refusing to display it. That's the idea, right? Publicity?

The thing to understand here is that threesomes (or rather hints and suggestive images of threesomes) have become a hot ticket in pop culture — as ABC News reported last December and I expanded upon at the time. That was a few months after the national ruckus over the Calvin Klein foursome ad looming five stories over New York.

Oh, you want to read the Rolling Stone article? Sorry, you can only get a teaser unless you subscribe (issue dated Sept. 2, 2010).



August 17, 2010

Polyamory, Robert Heinlein, and his definitive new biography

Today's polyamory movement, in 2010, would not exist in anything like its present form had it not been for Robert A. Heinlein's science-fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land, published in 1961.1

Bear with me, please.

The first edition, hardcover

Love it or scorn it, Stranger was one of the books that made the Sixties happen. It thunderstruck countless people — including me — with a Road-to-Damascus revelation about the possibilities of genuine multi-love. This was a couple of decades before the word polyamory came into being. (In fact the word was co-invented by the life partner of one of Stranger's most important early disciples2.) In my case, it wasn't just the book that did it but real, live waterbrothers who introduced me to the book and then invited me in.

The book's ripples continue to spread. Even today, ask any group of poly activists what originally got them going, and some are likely to mention Stranger and/or other books by Heinlein. Many others in turn discovered poly because of these people's work and influence, two or three or six times removed. For an early, important, and very typical story of Stranger-discovery, see footnote 5.

Other poly folks say the book... well... stinks.

They kinda have a point. It's dated, sexist, the characters are rather cartoonish — and although it works well as a fast-paced adventure story and brilliantly as a thought-provoking social satire, it's useless as a guide for real life, what with its characters' complete reliance on magic psychic superpowers learned from Martians. Life is too easy when you can make air cars full of raiding policemen vanish into the fourth dimension with a flick of the mind.

Stranger was a surprise break from Heinlein's first 22 years of science fiction. Up to then he had written with a very commercial eye for the pulp and juvenile markets and showed practically no trace of what we would call the counterculture. [But see biographer William H. Patterson's remarks about how Heinlein tried to sneak liberal ideas about sex into his early stories, in the comments below.] Heinlein cultivated his persona as a crusty, gallant military man — he was an Annapolis graduate (1929) who got dumped from the Navy for tuberculosis in 1934 and, it's pretty clear, never got over the loss. By the Fifties, under the influence of his third wife Virginia — who was poles apart politically from his second3 — he had become an outspoken cold warrior, championing military values with a contempt for non-militarists that, to many, amounted to fascism. At a time when the FBI was digging into the lives of almost all science fiction writers for evidence of subversion (FBI director J. Edgar Hoover is reported to have called science fiction the most dangerous literature in America), Heinlein apparently got a free pass from the federal snoops.

If so, the joke was on Hoover. Stranger became the most subversive science fiction book in America. It helped inspire a generation of straight, serious, all-American teenagers, such as me, to become free-love radicals, utopians, and visionaries. It became part of the Sixties' rush to unloose all kinds of revolutionary color onto beige America. [Update: In 2012 the Library of Congress included Stranger in an exhibition of 88 "Books That Shaped America."] Stranger remains the best known, best selling, and most influential of Heinlein's half century of work.

Hidden History

And yet, Heinlein was always reticent about how he came by Stranger's extremely liberal ideas. He refused to expound on the book, other than to say that he wrote it to earn a living and to entertain the paying customers. He certainly didn't "believe in it" the way many of its followers did. In one of his few public remarks about Stranger, he famously wrote to a fan: "I was not giving answers. I was trying to shake the reader loose from some preconceptions and induce him to think for himself, along new and fresh lines. In consequence, each reader gets something different out of that book because he himself supplies the answers.... It is an invitation to think — not to believe."

[UPDATE: The fan in question, Oberon Zell, has saved his correspondence with Heinlein. In the comments below, Zell posts a more extensive letter that he received from Heinlein about writing Stranger.]

At times Heinlein, in his reticence, almost seemed to be embarrassed by the book. Nevertheless, from then on he made capable, dynamic polyamorous families a staple of his far-future tales for the next 36 years. Some of these too had wide poly influence, notably The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, 1966, and Time Enough for Love, 1973.

Heinlein died in 1988. And now we should be getting more of the backstory.

Today is the publication date for the first volume of William H. Patterson Jr.'s massive authorized biography, Robert A. Heinlein: In Dialogue with His Century. Volume One, titled "Learning Curve," covers the years from his birth (1907) to 1948, the year before his third wife Virginia suggested the basic plot idea for Stranger to him.

His private radical ideas on sex and marriage, however, were formed well before then. Some of them appear in a book-length manuscript titled For Us, the Living that he wrote in 1938, the year before he sold his very first science fiction story. The protagonist is knocked unconscious and wakes up in 2086, where he proceeds to learn about the better world that people have created in the interim. Later Heinlein — and significantly, Virginia — rounded up what they thought were all copies of For Us, The Living and burned them. They also burned almost all other letters and documentation of his early life and thoughts.

But after his death a surviving copy of the manuscript, annotated in Heinlein's handwriting, was tracked down in a storage carton in a student-of-a-friend's garage. It was published in 2003 as a mass-market paperback. There, plain to see, are poly and anti-jealousy ideals that would later become key to Stranger. Near the end, for instance, is a scene — treated not at all salaciously — of the protagonist waking up comfortably in bed with two brainy, informative women. These themes reflected formative experiences that Heinlein had in the 1930s with the approval of both his first and second wives.

And on that cliffhanger, I'll call a halt. I ordered the new biography today and haven't seen it yet! The above is from earlier sources. I hope I'll have more to tell after I read it.

UPDATE: Okay, I've now finished the book. Short version: it's a massive, masterful piece of scholarship, finally filling in huge amounts of the first half of Heinlein's life and revealing many early influences that would later show up in his books and fictional characters. Highly recommended, and I can't wait for Volume 2. [Update July 2014: Volume 2 has just been published.]

There are no great new revelations regarding the genesis of Stranger, beyond what's already been out there for those who go looking for it. It was, however, news to me that Heinlein happily spent the summer of 1930 in the free-love and genderqueer bohemia of Greenwich Village (an environment he never returned to), or that he and his lifelong Navy friend Cal Laning took women "double dating in bed" in the 1930s. Or that Heinlein met and married Leslyn when Laning, her boyfriend who was thinking of proposing to her, basically herded Heinlein into befriending and bedding her to get his opinion on how she might be as a life mate. Laning seemed more bemused than upset by Heinlein marrying Leslyn out from under him, and they all remained good friends.

It was also news to me that Heinlein, Leslyn, and Virginia not only were friends together for a few years during and after World War II, but apparently lived in a sexual menage a trois in California toward the end, at a time when Leslyn was descending into alcoholism and mental illness.


Meanwhile, to get back to polyamory in the news, here are some reviews of the biography.

By Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing:

Heinlein memoir: Learning Curve — the secret history of science fiction

...It's the first authorized biography of the sf writer who popularized at least three important motifs of the 20st century (polyamory, private space travel, and libertarianism) and redefined the field of science fiction with a series of novels, stories and essays that are usually brilliant but sometimes self-indulgent, sometimes offensive in their treatment of race and gender, and always provocative and generally sneaky....

Read the whole article (Aug 13, 2010).

By Michael Dirda in the Washington Post:

...Patterson even asserts — and will presumably discuss more fully in Vol. 2 — that Heinlein "galvanized not one, but four social movements of his century: science fiction and its stepchild the policy think tank, the counterculture, the libertarian movement, and the commercial space movement."

...Throughout their unconventional life together, the Heinleins [Robert and his second wife Leslyn, to whom he was married from 1932 to 1947] practiced an open marriage, regularly attended nudist colonies and were periodically drawn to suspect schemes for societal improvement, including new theories of taxation (Social Credit) and new ways of interacting with the world (General Semantics)....

...During the war years, the Heinleins both worked at the Aeronautical Materials Lab in Philadelphia, where colleagues included two young sf writers, Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp (whose wife, Catherine, was once photographed nude by Heinlein)....

Sometimes fascinating, frequently over-detailed, Patterson's worshipful biography is no match in literary quality for Julie Philips's superb James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (2006), a superb study of an equally unconventional sf writer. While Patterson admires his hero without serious reservation, some readers may find Heinlein the man just a little creepy at times, not surprising given the controversial militarism he later revealed in Starship Troopers (1959) or the polyamory and sexual obsessions of the sprawling books after The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (1966)....

Read the whole article (Aug. 12, 2010).

On a site called Necromancy Never Pays:

Reading about Heinlein's high school classmate Sally Rand goes a long way towards explaining the character of Patricia in [Stranger], and finding out that a 1927 book entitled Companionate Marriage [by the progressive Judge Benjamin Barr Lindsey, who lost his judgeship because of the book's radicalism for the time] might have influenced his liberal views on marriage enlarges my picture of the man and the kinds of marriages he dreamed up in his fiction.

Read the whole article (July 21, 2010). A bit of history here: Judge Ben Lindsey was a nationally famous reformer who created America's juvenile justice system. After he was run out of Colorado for his book advocating legal contraception and trial marriage, he was elected to a judgeship in Los Angeles — around the same time Heinlein was living in Los Angeles and deeply involved in the political campaigns of the progressive Upton Sinclair wing of the Democratic Party. Could Heinlein have been influenced not just by Ben Lindsey's book, but later by personal contact with him during his campaign?

Here is an unflattering review of the Heinlein biography on the Tor Books site by SF writer Jo Walton.


A couple more notes, while we're at it:

● The only version of Stranger that the world knew for nearly 30 years was the choppy, fast-paced edition that came out in 1961. Heinlein's publisher had insisted that he shorten his original manuscript by 60,000 words, and over the years there were many rumors about what the full version contained. In 1990 Heinlein's widow Virginia brought it out as The Original Uncut Stranger in a Strange Land.

Soon afterward I put the two books side by side on a table and, over the course of a month, made a line-by-line comparison from start to finish. My conclusion: little was lost in the cutting. Want details? See footnote 4.

UPDATE: Oberon Zell writes in with a letter that he has from Heinlein talking about how and why he did the cutting. Heinlein says here that he thinks the cut version is the better version. See the comments below.

● Cherie L. Ve Ard has written an essay titled The Influence of the Science Fiction Writings of Robert A. Heinlein on Polyamory.

Update December 2017: Sometimes the sexism and misogyny in an old piece of art doesn't mist over with age but just looks worse. Following this season of #MeToo, Sophie Kleeman writes in The Outline The misogyny of ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ takes on new shame. "A beloved sci-fi vision of the future has no empathy for women," it's subtitled. Kleeman begins by quoting an example from Jill Boardman, Stranger's lead female character:

"Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s partly her fault."
That was supposed to be a cute throwaway showing how worldly and free Jill is about discussing something sexual. "Spoken by a woman, written by a man," notes Kleeman. "Why should it be a surprise that such bumbling misogyny is hidden in plain sight in one of the most popular science fiction books of the 20th century?"



1 Plot summary for the uninitiated (spoiler alert!): The first human expedition to Mars ends in murder and catastrophe, due to the captain's in-flight affair with another man's wife. Born of that affair is the mission's sole survivor and the hero of the novel: a baby who is raised on Mars by unisex Martians. The Martians possess vast but utterly unhuman wisdom and powers. Our hero is brought to Earth in young adulthood (around 2000 or so, when the sky is full of air cars, a world government rules the U.S., and a new pop religion is replacing Christianity). He discovers human male-female love, rejects jealousy and sexual possession, founds a polyamorous society of Martian-speaking initiates to be the next stage of human evolution, and finally goes to a Christ-like martyrdom to spread the group's message of love unbounded.

2 That would be Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, life partner of Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (born Tim Zell) who became one of Stranger's first important apostles in 1962. Zell gathered waterbrothers and founded the Church of All Worlds, which became influential in the formation of the Neo-Pagan religious movement. He and Morning Glory are still alive (he's writing his memoirs), and the Church of All Worlds continues today following several schisms and re-creations. Morning Glory's 1990 essay "A Bouquet of Lovers" first introduced the word polyamorous. Here's more on the word's origin.

3 What happened to Heinlein? Writes J. Bradford DeLong:

Heinlein in the 1940s, when he leaves left-wing populist politics and becomes a writer, seems, much more than I had thought, to have launched himself on a trajectory to spend the rest of his life as the center of a group whose raison d'etre was to try to live in the early days of a better future, to look sanely and humanely and in a reality-based way at humanity's lurching progress, and to try to help make us become who our best selves are — to be the heir of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.

But by the early 1960s he has aged mightily in mind: the best days are no longer in our future but instead in the pre-Great Depression midwest, Dwight D. Eisenhower is soft on communism, and his reaction to living in America's Martin Luther King years is to write Farnham's Freehold, of all things.

What happened?

DeLong then quotes the explanation from Isaac Asimov, Heinlein's friend and fellow science fiction writer, in his memoir I, Asimov:

There had to be a certain circumspection in [my] friendship [with] Heinlein, however. Heinlein was not the easygoing fellow... did not believe in doing his own thing and letting you do your thing. He had a definite feeling that he knew better and to lecture you into agreeing with him.... [While] Campbell always remained serenely indifferent if you ended up disagreeing with him... Heinlein would, under those circumstances, grow hostile.

I do not take well to people who are convinced they know better than I do, and who badger me for that reason, so I began to avoid him.

Furthermore, although a flaming liberal during the war, Heinlein became a rock-ribbed far-right conservative immediately afterward... at just the time he changed wives from a liberal woman, Leslyn, to a rock-ribbed far-right conservative woman, Virginia.

Ronald Reagan did the same when he switched wives from the liberal Jane Wyman to the ultraconservative Nancy, but Ronald Reagan I have always viewed as a brainless fellow.... I can't explain Heinlein in that way at all, for I cannot believe he would follow his wives' opinions blindly. I used to brood about it in puzzlement.... I did come to one conclusion. I would never marry anyone who did not generally agree with my political, social, and philosophical view of life.... I would certainly not change my own views just for the sake of peace in the households, and I would not want a woman so feeble in her opinions that she would do so....

4 Heinlein did the shortening that his publisher demanded mostly by relentlessly condensing nearly every sentence, a word or two at a time. The result was a faster-paced, faster-reading story with no significant scenes or ideas removed. I thought that about 1/4 of the cuts were clear editorial improvements, another 1/2 neither improved nor weakened the story on balance but did speed it up, and about 1/4 of the cuts resulted in genuine loss of depth and nuance. But not by much.

For instance: In the uncut version, Dr. Mahmoud (a minor character) comes across rather more fully as a serious person and a thoughtful Muslim. In the cut version he's rough-sketched and cartoonish.

The famous "too shocking" scene that the publisher is said to have demanded be changed is when Ben finally finds Mike and Jill in the Nest in St. Petersburg, and they sit Ben down with them, hug him, and vanish their clothes. In the uncut version, Mike and Jill are already having sex when Ben walks in. Big whoop. The meaning of the scene is identical each way, and I actually liked the "toned down" version a little better for its touching innocence and what this says about Ben's horrified reaction.

There were some cuts I was genuinely sorry to see, such as the loss of some scene-setting in the section where Mike and Jill have hit the road working for a carnival. The cut part is sweet, and it gets us inside Jill's head a little more than usual — and without it, the section starts off rather joltingly and confusingly. If Heinlein was going to cut in chunks, I'd have much preferred he removed the embarrassingly homophobic paragraph about "in-betweeners" (which is irrelevant to the story). Yet in his editing he plowed right on through that part, relentlessly removing a few words per sentence like everywhere else.

When my kids were old enough, it was an easy choice to give them the shorter version of Stranger for their birthdays. For most readers, I think it's slightly the better book.

P.S.: Here's a different opinion.

5 Oberon and Morning Glory Zell, legendary advocates for Stranger and leading figures in Neo-Paganism, are writing their autobiography, The Witch and the Wizard. [Update April 2014: They finished it, and it was published by Llewellyn in winter 2014.] In the preliminary text below, Oberon (OZ) and his lifelong friend Lance Christie (1944–2010) tell how they discovered Stranger in their freshman year of college, setting them on their life path:

OZ: That fall [1961] the October selection of the Science Fiction Book Club was a new book by Robert Heinlein called Stranger in a Strange Land. Lance was a subscriber and he got the book. He took it home and read it over Christmas vacation. When he got back he handed it to me and said, “You have got to read this!” So I did. There was an incredible sense of recognition — here was someone who understood us and was talking to us. And the ideas that he was putting forth were all ones that we resonated with on so many levels.

...Having been an avid reader of Heinlein’s juveniles all through high school, I was really ready for SISL. As the protagonists in his previous works had all been my age progressively, so it was with the newest one: Valentine Michael Smith… with his Martian-trained mental abilities and alien cultural perspective. A perspective uncannily like that of Lance and myself.

...Heinlein’s SISL introduced us to the ideas of immanent divinity (“thou art God”), pantheism (“all that groks is god”), sacraments (water sharing), priestesses, social and ritual nakedness, intimate extended families as a basis for community; and, of course, open, loving relationships without jealousy, and joyous expression of sexuality as divine union. By defining love as “that condition wherein another person’s happiness is essential to your own,” SISL changed forever the parameters of our relationships with each other—especially in the sexual arena. And all this in the context of a legal religious organization — a “church” — which could have all the rights and privileges granted to the mighty Church of Rome! This was heady stuff, and we drank it up.

LANCE: We talked a lot about the possibilities that were available to human beings to take a different path, in respect to the way society was put together and the premises on which it was founded. That’s where Stranger had such a powerful affect. Heinlein constellated the idea of trying to work out and install a different set of cultural premises, to develop an alternative human civilization based on more enlightened concepts about human beings, their relationships to each other, their relationships to the natural world, and the purpose and conduct of life, what constitutes right livelihood, what constitutes right action and so on.

We didn’t have those terms at the time. OZ and I were very early in receiving this impulse from the collective unconscious, and we were more cognitively differentiated and sensitive to it than the other people around us at the time. It doesn’t mean that we were superior in some sort of cosmic sense. We were just able to receive the signal at an earlier time than a large number of other people who have since started to receive the signal and recognize it.

OZ: In Stranger, sharing water, and saying “Water shared is life shared,” is the fundamental ritual of the book. So on April 7, 1962, Lance and I sat down in a field, shared water, and dedicated ourselves to creating a life that would be based on the principles that were in this book — and to trying to actualize them and manifest them into reality. We became water brothers. That is essentially the founding date of what eventually became the Church of All Worlds — as well as the Foundation for the Tree of Life.

When our girlfriends (and future wives), Martha and Penny, returned from Spring Break, we turned them on to SISL and shared water with them, too. That was on May 25. And so it began....


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August 13, 2010

Sex at Dawn and the future of the polyamory movement

"Sex At Dawn is the single most important book about human sexuality since Alfred Kinsey unleashed Sexual Behavior in the Human Male on the American public in 1948."
—Dan Savage
(read more).

This summer a new book, Sex At Dawn, created something of a pop-anthropology craze. The co-authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá — a husband and wife duo — argue that the human organism is designed to seek sexual variety and cite adultery amongst our ancestors across all cultures and eras....
—The Independent, London
(read more).

Whether or not this book will really make such a splash in the wider world, I believe it is the most important thing to happen for the polyamory-awareness movement in a very long time.

Brief recap: Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality makes a well-documented case that for a million years or more, our hunter-gatherer ancestors evolved with an easy-going, egalitarian, polyamorous approach to sex and relationships. This crucial aspect of human nature was overridden and denied beginning relatively recently, when the invention of agriculture got large-scale civilization going. But modern anthropology has exposed our past and our evolved nature and made them undeniable, overthrowing the "standard model" that humans are naturally monogamous — much the way (says co-author Christopher Ryan) that accurate measurements of how the planets moved finally overthrew the increasingly awkward pre-Copernican model of the solar system. See my previous post.

Despite its fast, breezy style, the book provides a massive scientific underpinning to what we polys have been saying for years. It blows away the conventional wisdom that multiple relationships are unnatural or cannot fit with jealous human nature. In fact, it reverses the human-nature argument 180 degrees. No future discussion of the anthropology of sex will be able to ignore this work.

Why does it matter so much to us?

For most of the polyamory movement's 30-year history, advocates who have sought to give poly a theoretical foundation have generally turned to New Age or spiritual philosophies, involving things like the limitless nature of love, the spiritual heart of the universe, and other concepts that I find fairy-taley and unproductive. By unproductive I mean that theories built on them never seem to lead anywhere predictive or useful, as a good theory must.

Ryan and Jethá have now given us a theoretical underpinning that is concrete, scientific, and evidence-based. They show that polyamory matches what human nature actually evolved to be. Seen in this light, the modern, ethical, egalitarian version of poly offers a path to a saner future — in which humans are not so perpetually conflicted with themselves, and are less driven by the insatiable needs and neuroses that in many ways are causing us to ruin the world.

Yes, it's an important book.

Its impact on the poly awareness and acceptance movement isn't yet fully felt. Look in the book's index, and the word polyamory only appears on a few pages in the last chapter where the authors speculate about the future. In interviews, Ryan has said repeatedly that they don't really know what their findings imply for how people should handle their lives. Except they do say that couples should discuss from the start whether they want an open or closed relationship, and that everyone should realize that choosing monogamy means choosing a path that will become inherently difficult (though achievable), rather like choosing a life of celibacy or vegetarianism (both of which are unnatural but achievable).

Sound familiar? The need to have forthright relationship discussions, and to make deliberate relationship choices, is what the poly-awareness movement advocates. For instance, that's the gist of the position that the Polyamory Leadership Network agreed upon at its meeting last February. If anything, we are readier than Sex at Dawn to say that monogamy is the natural, hard-wired choice for many people.

At any rate, I think we're a little ahead of the Sex at Dawn authors in exploring how our true, ancestral nature can fit happily right into modern civilization. And perhaps make modern civilization itself a little more sane.


I won't try to keep up with the all the media attention the book is getting. Use Google News and see Ryan's Facebook page. But here is one article that goes into more depth than most. It's the cover story of the national news magazine of New Zealand, The Listener, for August 7-13:

By Hamish McKenzie

Here's the truth about sex: monogamy isn't natural, most libido-deprived marriages are no one's fault, and we like to do it in groups. A new book says we have been at war with eroticism for centuries, suppressing biological imperatives while attempting to abide by a societal structure set down by religious, political and scientific forces that have misinformed us about our sexuality. In service of the monogamy myth, marriages have been needlessly broken, families torn apart and political leaders from Bill Clinton to Don Brash humbled and humiliated. "By insisting upon an ideal vision marriage founded upon a lifetime sexual fidelity to one person — a visit most of us eventually learn is high unrealistic — we invite punishment up (ourselves, upon each other, and upon our children" writes psychologist Christopher Ryan....

...In the mid-1990s, Ryan was at San Francisco's Saybrook University casting about for ideas for his PhD thesis in evolutionary psychology.... [Ryan] had just read The Moral Animal, Richard White's best-seller on evolutionary psychology.... He started to see that the standard narrative [that humans are monogamous by nature] was naive in many ways. "It equated human beings with birds while ignoring the sexuality of chimps and bonobos, who are right next to us on the evolutionary tree." Ryan figured if he took that narrative and shifted it so the core principle became that humans evolved in groups that shared everything, including sexual pleasure, then everything started to make sense. "All of the different things, which, in the standard model have individual, mutually contradicting explanations — in our model they all fit into the same argument, and they're mutually reinforcing."

To turn his dissertation into a book, he spent five years reading up on primatology, anthropology and anatomy. What he ultimately found challenges or contradicts a slew of heavyweight intellectuals, including Steven Pinker, Helen Fisher, Napoleon Chagnon, Thomas Hobbes, and even Charles Darwin, who, though otherwise unimpeachable on evolution, apparently didn't know much about sex....

...The idea that monogamy isn't natural might not come easily to us. "It's normal that people are going to feel threatened by this," Ryan concedes, "because a lot of people, especially people who haven't read the book, think we're saying, 'Hey ladies, you should just let your husbands screw around and go back to the 50s when nobody made a big deal of it' — which isn't quite what we're saying." On the contrary, Ryan presents strong arguments for preserving marriages and useful advice for saving them. He talks about the power of "soul passion" over "sexual passion" and points out that all available statistics show single-parent kids do worse in life than kids with two loving parents. He is, in fact, married — to psychiatrist Cacilda Jethá , a Mozambique-born Indian with a Portuguese passport who shares an author credit for Sex at Dawn. Ryan and Jethá are simultaneously comforted and unsettled by the book's conclusions, but they hope they help, rather than hinder, marriages.

"We're not advocating anything except a candid and honest assessment of what we are, as animals," says Ryan. "Our greatest ambition for Sex at Dawn is that it will encourage and empower people to clarify their sexual nature and their sexual compatibility before they sign on to a long-term commitment that can't be renegotiated later without a huge amount of suffering for everyone involved."

...Ryan offers a sharp distinction between love and being in love. The former is deep and real, he argues, while the latter is probably just pleasantly delusional, a hasty misinterpretation of the hormonal frenzy that comes with initial, and ultimately fleeting, sexual passion (which lasts about two to four years).... But none of this is to say that love is doomed and there's no hope of finding a meaningful lifelong companion with whom to share intimacy... "We equate being in love with building your house on December ice," he continues with Northern Hemisphere-centric metaphor. "It's going to shift. It's not a very good idea. You're building on something that's not going to last very long. That's sexual passion. But there's a passion of the soul that doesn't dissipate with age and isn't touched by sexual attraction to other people...."

Ryan allows that his book's premise may not necessarily be right, but he did spend five years looking for a reason it was wrong and didn't find one. "If it is truth," says Ryan of his theory, "then it's completely predictable that the process of arriving at a life that incorporates that truth is going to be disruptive, because what you're doing is replacing one paradigm with a different paradigm, and that's always disruptive." But coming to terms with our sexual nature is, Ryan concludes, "ultimately liberating and invigorating". If he is right, then Western society, among a few others, may need to do some serious soul-searching....

...Of course, one of the big unanswered questions is why is jealousy such a powerful emotion, especially if monogamy was never meant to be such a big deal, and paternity certainty isn't as paramount as we at first thought. The standard evolutionary explanation holds that jealousy helps to ensure paternity certainty — making a man more sure about whether a child who emerges from a new mother's loins is his own. But Ryan argues this is a cultural construct with an economic justification. In its basic form, he says, jealousy is just fear of losing something that seems essential. "If you look at sexuality as a commodity — as it is now and has been for 10,000 years, more or less — it makes perfect sense that people are very afraid of losing it, because like all other commodities, it exists in the context of scarcity," he says. "So we fear losing our lover or relationship because we can't imagine ever replacing that feeling that we get from that person — that feeling of security, that feeling of intimacy. "If you imagine a society in which sexual pleasure — and intimacy and companionship and help with the kids and all the rest of it — was not a commodity and was not a scarce commodity, then people wouldn't be scared of losing it."...

The whole long article will be available online after August 28, 2010.


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August 10, 2010

Sex at Dawn, New Culture, and the roots of polyamory

This post is kind of important to me.

I recently came back, dazzle-eyed and amazed, from the ten-day Network for a New Culture Summer Camp East in the mountains of West Virginia. Summer Camp East is mostly the creation of cultural activists Michael Rios and Sarah Taub, well known in the poly world. Both of them come from hard-science backgrounds. Summer Camp is an experiment — a sort of cultural petri dish in the woods designed to explore new models of human community based on radical transparency, communication, trust, intimacy, and self-responsibility.

Most days at Summer Camp revolve around various workshops that engender, expose, and test these values — laboratory exercises in community-creation. The setting is partly clothing-optional. Attendees are expected to "co-create" the camp experience, in a supple environment of curiosity, individual choice, and non-attachment to particular outcomes.

It works. The New Culture movement is growing and spreading. At the core of its success is a group meeting/sharing process known as ZEGG Forum. This process evolved over the course of three decades in the German ZEGG commune as a means of intimate disclosure, trust-building, and a way to uncover and examine conflicts that arise in a communal, tribal setting. The Forum practice is spreading among intentional communities in the U.S.

About 80 people from various backgrounds attended Summer Camp. Although New Culture events are not explicitly poly, at least half the folks were, often actively so within the group. I came away dazzled, awed, joyous, and utterly at home in finding my tribe — and in experiencing the way of life I felt I was born for.

I mean, literally. I had energy and alertness day after day that I didn't know I possessed. I felt serene, happy, enthusiastic about joining in chores (work-sharing is used both for community-building and keeping costs down), and enthusiastic about co-creating good things for my new people.

I felt this was exactly the life I was born to live.

In the mail when I got home was a new book explaining exactly why.


Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, is gaining a lot of mainstream attention and has edged onto the New York Times bestseller list. It explains, in breezy language and massive detail, the reason why humans the world over are failures at monogamy. It also examines the roots of human nature in other key regards.

The central thesis: For most of the last million years, we lived as hunter-gatherers shaped by evolution to live in "fiercely egalitarian" tribes and bands sharing food, resources, mates, and child-rearing. Among hunter-gatherers there was (and often is today, where such cultures survive mostly untouched) very little property; few sex-role distinctions; widespread easy partnering, re-partnering, and multi-partnering on the initiative of both men and women; public and sometimes group sex; and for much of the time, a surprisingly light workload required for everyone to stay fed.

The invention of agriculture, starting around 8000 B.C., changed everything. Humans found themselves pitched into a world for which they were literally not born and bred — with settled communities large enough that not everyone knew each other intimately; surplus food and settled life leading to accumulations of property, wealth, and power; the rise of class distinctions; and, particularly important for relations between the sexes, a desire to pass property to known blood heirs.

But enough from me. Ryan himself summarizes the book in an article on CNN's site (July 29, 2010):

Monogamy unnatural for our sexy species

By Christopher Ryan, Special to CNN

(CNN) -- Seismic cultural shifts about 10,000 years ago rendered the true story of human sexuality so subversive and threatening that for centuries, it has been silenced by religious authorities, pathologized by physicians, studiously ignored by scientists and covered up by moralizing therapists.

In recent decades, the debate over human sexual evolution has entertained only two options: Humans evolved to be either monogamists or polygamists. This tired debate generally devolves into an antagonistic stalemate where women are said to have evolved to seek male-provisioned domesticity while every man secretly yearns for his own harem. The battle between the sexes, we're told, is bred into our blood and bones.

Couples who turn to a therapist for guidance through the inevitable minefields of marriage are likely to receive the confusing message that long-term pair bonding comes naturally to our species, but that marriage is still a lot of work.

...This is a problem because there is no reason to believe monogamy comes naturally to human beings. In fact, for millions of years, evolutionary forces have cultivated human libido to the point where ours is arguably the most sexual species on Earth.

Most foragers divide and distribute meat equitably, breast-feed one another's babies, have little or no privacy from one another, and depend upon each other every day for survival. Although our social world revolves around private property and individual responsibility, theirs spins toward interrelation and mutual dependence. This might sound like New Age idealism, but it's no more noble a system than any other insurance pool....

...Research from primatology, anthropology, anatomy and psychology points to the same conclusion: A nonpossessive, gregarious sexuality was the human norm until the rise of agriculture and private property just 10,000 years ago, about 5 percent of anatomically modern humans' existence on Earth.
The two primate species closest to us lend strong — if blush-inducing — support to this vision. Ovulating female chimps have intercourse dozens of times per day, with most or all of the willing males, and bonobos famously enjoy frequent group sex that leaves everyone relaxed and conflict-free.

The human body tells the same story....

Ryan has been giving a lot of interviews. Here's one with Salon (June 27, 2010). Excerpts:

"Sex At Dawn": Why Monogamy Goes Against Our Nature

...You paint a bleak picture of the state of marriage in the West, particularly in the United States. What makes it so bad?

Marriage in the West isn't doing very well because it's in direct confrontation with the evolved reality of our species. What we argue in the book is that the best way to increase marital stability, which in the modern world is an important part of social stability, is to develop a more tolerant and realistic understanding of human sexuality and how human sexuality is being distorted by our modern conception of marriage....

One of the central ideas of much biological and genetic theory is that animals will expend more energy protecting those they're genetically related to — siblings, parents, offspring — as opposed to those they're not related to. Why wouldn't that apply to humans?

There are many, many exceptions to that rule in nature.... And in terms of animals that are much more closely related to humans, when you look at bonobos and their promiscuous interaction, it's virtually impossible for a male to know which of his offspring are related to him biologically. So to say that there's this inherent concern with paternity within our species, I just don't see evidence for that.

...We don't argue that people didn't form very special relationships — you can see this even in chimps and bonobos and other primates, but that bond doesn't necessarily extend to sexual exclusivity. People have said that we're arguing against love — but we're just saying that this insistence that love and sex always go together is erroneous.

...So if monogamous marriage isn't the right arrangement for us, what is?

We're not really arguing for any particular arrangement. We don't even really know what to do with this information ourselves. What we're trying to do in the book is give people a more accurate sense of where we came from, why we are the way we are, and why certain aspects of life feel like a bad fit....

All we're really hoping for is to encourage more tolerance and more open discussion between men and women about sexuality and about marriage, and to come to see that marriage isn't about sex. It's about things that are much deeper and more lasting than sex, especially if you have children. And the American insistence on mixing love and sex and expecting passion to last forever is leading to great suffering that we think is tragic and unnecessary.

From an interview in Canada's Globe and Mail (July 29, 2010):

...You end with a mention of a long-term triad relationship — Scott, Larry and Terisa [Greenan, members of a very public poly family in Seattle]. Do you think people in open relationships are better off? A lot of the book seems devoted to dissing the monogamous marriage.

Ryan: I don't think we diss monogamous marriage. I think we diss the lie that monogamous marriage comes naturally to Homo sapiens. That's what we keep banging away at.... It would never occur to me to diss people who make a decision to forsake all others and follow through with it.... We're not saying that everybody should be polyamorous or into group sex....

In Lemondrop, AOL's online women's magazine (July 28, 2010):

Ryan: Adultery has been documented in every human culture studied, including those in which fornicators are routinely stoned to death. In light of all this bloody retribution, it's hard to see how monogamy comes "naturally" to our species. If monogamy were an ancient, evolved trait characteristic of our species, like the myth says, adultery wouldn't be an issue. No creature needs to be threatened with death to act in accord with its own nature.

One of the things that really propelled us to write this book was the feeling we got that the standard narrative [that monogamy is the natural human state] is like the pre-Copernican version of the solar system. It's so complicated, and it's layer upon layer of explanation that doesn't fit together. [Emphasis mine.]

Says Newsweek (July 26, 2010):

Forget what you think you know about the origin of species. Sex at Dawn sets out to prove that our prehistoric ancestors were happy and healthy, thanks in no small part to lots of egalitarian, polyamorous, noisy group sex.

Here's an extensive review and analysis on Less Wrong, a website of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University.

Washington Post review (May 30, 2010).

Review by Seed magazine.

A rare negative review at The Smart Set, by the founder and editor of Bookslut.

You can google up lots more reviews and commentaries.

I'm waiting to see a serious rebuttal of the book from the ranks of the anthropologists whom Ryan and Jethá take to task, often with ridicule and one-line zingers. Should be interesting.

Here is the book's facebook page.

Here are Ryan's Huffington Post and Psychology Today blogs about the book.

Here's the book's website, including excerpts and an extensive FAQ about its claims and the intent behind it.

More on all this to come.


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