Who are polyfolks, really? "A lifestyle for white liberals"?
A year ago Rolling Stone stirred up buzz with a feature story saying millennials are flocking to polyamory (although claims of a youth-poly wave are exaggerated, according to actual surveys of young people). Now Rolling Stone reports on two recent surveys that gathered data on who polyamorists are — although one of them, apparently, used an extremely broad definition of the term.
The story is by bi-and-poly writer Zachary Zane, who you may remember from several earlier stories.
On the National Mall during the Equality March for Unity
and Pride in Washington, June 2017. (AP/Shutterstock)
Who Really Practices Polyamory?
For years it’s been brushed off as a lifestyle for white liberals — but new research suggests ethical non-monogamists are much more diverse.
By Zachary Zane
When my boyfriend suggested I move in with him and his wife, I laughed directly in his face. It was one thing to date a married man, it was another thing for all of us to live together in a cramped apartment. ... Still I gave him — and subsequently polyamory — a shot because I loved him, and he loved me… and her.
That’s really all polyamory is — being open to the idea of loving more than one person and having a serious relationship with multiple people at the same time. ... Still, polyamory doesn’t have to be “all or nothing” — there’s been a growing notion that like gender and sexuality, polyamory can exist on a spectrum. And one doesn’t have to equally support their partner(s) when it comes to them being sexually and romantically involved with others. [Uh-oh. That ain't poly in my book. –Ed.]
...While there’s this notion, summed up by the title of an article in Medium: “Polyamory is for Rich, Pretty People,” there’s been no hard evidence to prove this theory.
Now, however, thanks to the research of Dr. Rhonda Balzarini and her colleagues at the University of Western Ontario, we know who’s more likely to be polyamorous. In her paper, published [online] in the Journal of Sex Research this past June, Balzarini compared the demographic backgrounds of 2,428 polyamorous individuals and 539 monogamous ones by asking participants to take an online survey. ... Dr. Balzarini looked at all the usual demographics: age, race, education, sexuality, etc. ...
Balzarini was able to draw three... major conclusions from the data.
For one, bisexual and pansexual participants were much more likely to report being in polyamorous relationships.... Half of bi/pan people reported being polyamorous compared to only 36 percent of heterosexual individuals. [Wait, 36 percent of America's hetero normals call themselves poly? That alone says the study's definition was too broad to mean much. –Ed.]
Second, polyamorous folks were significantly more likely to report being divorced than monogamous respondents. ...
Third, as she wrote in her paper, she wanted to test popular assumptions... “that polyamorists are more likely to be white, bisexual and politically liberal than the rest of the population.” ... There were barely any differences between groups when it came to education, political affiliation and ethnicity. Only slightly more people who were in a poly relationship reported having a bachelor’s degree or higher and identified as Democrat. There were no major differences between groups when it came to ethnicity, except that respondents in poly relationships were significantly more likely to identify as “multiethnic” and “native.”
Folks in polyamorous relationships actually reported being in a lower income bracket that those in monogamous relationships, opposing the idea that all polyamorous folks are bored, rich suburbanites....
However, some of that contrasts markedly with the 2012 Loving More survey of 4,062 self-identified poly people. That survey found, among other things, a strikingly higher education level than average. It looks like a more accurate description of Balzarini's sample pool is simply be "non-monogamous." This gives it away:
Whereas Balzarini dichotomized relationship style to be either polyamorous or monogamous, more and more research is viewing polyamory to be on a spectrum with varying degrees. ... In September, Dr. Anne-Laure Le Cunff, a doctoral candidate at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, posted a working paper that surveyed 509 individuals who self-identified as polyamorous, monogamous, or ambiamorous (people happy to be in either a monogamous or polyamorous relationship.) “The most surprising finding was that women are overall more comfortable with the idea of non-monogamy than men,” said Le Cunff. “From a cultural standpoint, I did not expect those results.”
...“Poly [and] monogamy existing on a spectrum means people can start building more balanced relationships and have healthier conversations,” Le Cunff says. “Seeing polyamory and monogamy as two polar opposites that cannot co-exist has historically made these discussions more difficult than necessary.”
Here's the whole Rolling Stone story, with more interesting tidbits (online November 12, 2018).
Balzarini's full research report is behind an academic paywall, but here's the abstract.
Here's Le Cunff's paper (abstract and link to the full pdf).
Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex? (Cover illustration at right.) "Despite the easing of taboos and the rise of hookup apps, Americans are in the midst of a sex recession," it says, millennials in particular.
BTW, in that article's list of eased taboos we read, "Polyamory is now a household word." Congratulations to all of you over the years who helped to make that happen. Or at least to make it plausible enough for a serious major magazine to say it!