Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

March 7, 2015

"Compersion: A Polyamorous Principle That Can Strengthen Any Relationship." And the word's origin.

HuffPost/ Weddings

Here's more of the good press that poly ideology is getting for what it can offer anyone. This article appeared in the wedding-planning section of Huffington Post, now gearing up for the spring/summer wedding season. (It isn't exactly a niche site; the article had 2,600 likes in its first 24 hours, probably from its links elsewhere on HuffPo.)

Compersion: A Polyamorous Principle That Can Strengthen Any Relationship

By Gracie X

I vividly remember the first time I felt it. My husband and I were in the backyard, lazing in the sun, sipping drinks as he described the previous evening. As he talked, his face looked brighter, his eyes clearer. In a flash of déjà vu, I remembered that same vibrant and enraptured look from 25 years earlier, when we first met. It was a sudden reemergence of his vitality that I hadn't fully seen in our domestic nest for many years. But now, in his detailed (and scintillating) descriptions, that fire in his eyes was beaming.

"Baby," I told him genuinely, "I am so happy for you!"

What brought on these feelings of joy in both of us? To be honest, he'd just had sex -- with another woman. And, yep, I was stoked for him.

There's actually a word for the joyful feeling that a polyamorous person has when his or her lover or spouse walks through the door after spending the afternoon making love to his or her new girlfriend or boyfriend: compersion. Compersion is such a novel concept that you won't even find the word in the dictionary (unless you look in the Urban dictionary).

Feeling all warm and gooey because your spouse had a great time banging someone else is not something we're socialized to feel....

Read on (March 6, 2015). Though I don't see where she actually explains how compersion can be relevant to a monogamous couple.


For people wondering about the etymology of "compersion," by the way, forget Greek or Latin. The word was invented some time before 1985 by members of the Kerista commune in San Francisco, which ran from 1971 to 1991. I've long heard that Keristans invented it using their variant of the Ouija board, which they called the alphabet board. But can this be documented?

Yes. First, here is a one-step-removed source, writing on a Wikipedia discussion site:

Actually, I did trace down the origin, from one of the original Kerista members who claims to have been present (and whom I find believable). For your curiosity, he says it was created by the group via Ouija board (a device of which Kerista made extensive use for decision making), prompted when a couple of the female members were discussing positive feelings they had about their male partners with others and thought "there ought to be a word". It was not consciously invented from any roots. Alas, I don't believe there is any Wikipedia-citable source for this origin, so even if true (and I believe it is), we can't describe it here.

A direct source, however, is the a key Kerista member, the writer and cartoonist "Even Eve" Furchgott, who in spring 1985 wrote in a Kerista glossary,

Alphabet Board — An important cultural artifact used for 'telepathic information transfer through touching inspiration together'. The alphabet board looks something like a ouija board, with the letters of the alphabet and numbers painted in a circle on its surface. Keristans (two or more at a time) put their fingers in a cup on the board. The cup moves to spell out messages and answers to questions posed. The movment is spontaneous and totally uncontrived, occurring via subconscious ideomotor activity.... It is the source of all Keristan's names, as well as volumes of advice, wisdom, practical suggestions plans, stories, plays and great comfort.

...Compersion (the word) was coined by the alphabet board when a word to describe the emotion was being sought. Interestingly, some years later, an anthropological term 'comperage' was discovered by a Keristan in a book opened at random. 'Comperage' refers to a custom practiced by certain pre-technological tribes of men 'sharing' their wives with visiting male guests (the women sleep with the visitors as an expression of goodwill and hospitality). At the time that the board coined 'compersion', no one [of us] had ever heard of comperage or any words similar to it.

My guess is that someone with their finger in the cup was trying to spell "compassion" and someone else was trying to spell "person." Not bad. Compersion could have ended up named "fplkjqwhr."


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Blogger https://www.facebook.com/POLYAMORY.LWOH/ said...

Hi Alan. I hope you'll post part II when it comes out. Thanks for sharing this.

March 08, 2015 2:07 PM  
Blogger Tom Winegar said...

the root for compersion appears to be an anthropological term 'comperage', with a description at http://www.kerista.com/compersion.html. In summary, Claude Levi Strauss in the 1940's refers to 'comperage' as a traditional custom of 'brothers-in-law sharing wives'.

March 24, 2015 6:01 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

Tom-- As for "comperage," Even Eve says in the quote above that they invented the word "compersion" before any of them stumbled onto "comperage."

April 04, 2015 12:47 PM  

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