Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

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.




Blogger freewomansholyinheritance said...

While bonobos (presumably our closest living genetic relatives)are polyamourous, I would like to point out that I believe the majority of animals that were once thought to be non-monogamous have actually been found to have some kind of monogamous instinct. They return to the same partner, a single pair-bonding, more often than others. But, yes, this does seem to indicate why the multi-partner relationship that actually does constitute polyamoury would be completely different compared to what Jesse Bering seems to believe evolutionary psychology is suggesting is involved in it.

Btw, I have a link to a court case over polygamy that is taking place in the next province over from my home province:


August 26, 2010 12:56 AM  
Blogger Anita Wagner Illig said...

freewomansholyinheritance wrote: "... I would like to point out that I believe the majority of animals that were once thought to be non-monogamous have actually been found to have some kind of monogamous instinct. They return to the same partner, a single pair-bonding, more often than others."

And I would like to point out that what you believe is monogamous behavior is hardly scientific evidence in and of itself. Also, your point is moot if you are trying to convince us of something you think we don't already know. We polyamorists know full well that humans pair bond - we do it ourselves. What we call the open dyadic relationship, i.e. two primary pair bonded people in a committed long term relationship with other partners they see from time to time, is by far the most common model of polyamorous relationships. What you refer to as "some monogamous instinct" couldn't be more incorrect. Just because we pair bond for long periods of time doesn't mean we do so exclusively, and neither do the animals to which you refer.

August 26, 2010 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not to mention, the pair-bonding has a shelf-life. The chemical makeup that encourages pair-bonding is known to only last a certain length of (variable) time. Which means that even *if* monogamy was "natural" (and that's not what the pair-bond means), life-long monogamy isn't.

The current consensus is that a dyad pair-bonds long enough to create offspring & give it a start, since humans have such dependent offspring as to need significant parental care. But an emotional pair-bond and sexual behaviour are two different things. Both sexes (if we go with a binary system) seek out additional sexual partners during the pair-bonding phase and do not necessarily remain with the same partner for the next set of offspring.

August 26, 2010 5:02 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

> Not to mention, the pair-bonding has a shelf-life.

That's true of the limerent, giddy-in-love stage of a pair-bond. When that tapers away, some couples find there's nothing left. But others transition by then to the best-friends, life-companion type of bond, which seems to be mediated by a different batch of hormones. This feels quite different, but it can slide in and take the place of the NRE stage so smoothly you hardly know it until you look back and remember.

I'm so thankful that Sparkler and I accomplished the transition. We're now 14 years on and still constantly delight in each others' company.

Not that you have to be exclusive during either stage!

August 26, 2010 5:44 PM  
Blogger freewomansholyinheritance said...

Whoah, I think ALL of you misinterpreted what I was saying, com*plete*ly. Otherwise you would have noted that the term "Actually does", as regards the constitution of polyamoury in reality, used together in conjunction with the term "completely different", as compared to the idea that Bering brought up, would both imply that I think Jesse Bering is WRONG, after all....

Btw, the monogamous instinct (and, yes, the scientific community can and DOES define it the same way I do, and, which, of course, is not referring to emotional but sexual pair-bonds) I am discussing is NOT exclusive. The one I ACTually refer to is the act of reTURning, in serial moNOgamy, to a single mate more OFten than others. (The one Anita described more closely resembles the bonobos behaviour and since I made a distinction between the two is obviously not the one I was discussing.) And that even if this IS an instinct that informs the one Bering holds up as the standard for polyamoury, that 'monogamous instinct' is STILL different (as I said) from the actual reality of polyamoury. Thanks.

To clarify (once more): I am not even INterested in either type of relationship, unLESS I were to decide to adopt a child, and, only then, would I be interested in monogamy more, because I prefer non-sexual relationships, I know children take a lot of time and effort that would require more than myself to raise them, but, since I am already going out on a limb to develop a committed relationship with a single person, plurality would be out of the question for me. However, I do believe that all polyamourist relationships should be treated as equal with any other type of relationship that doesn't involve some kind of indoctrination (which polygamy does, as I also already mentioned, IN that context).

I also absoLUTEly believe that sex and emotional bonding (inCLUding love) are both hormonally induced, just that the latter is more complex than the other. That some sexual and emotional bonds can last a life-time while others do not. And that some are exclusively monogamous while others are not.

August 26, 2010 7:49 PM  

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