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A Cultural Moment For Polyamory

on Monday, 27 March 2017. Posted in Front Page Headline, Media Updates



The word polyamory, according to this FAQ page maintained by writer and sex educator Franklin Veaux, "is based on the Greek and Latin for 'many loves' (literally, poly many + amor love). A polyamorous person is someone who has or is open to having more than one romantic relationship at a time, with the knowledge and consent of all their partners."


(Polyamory, then, isn't to be confused with polygyny, when one man has several wives, or polyandry, when one woman has several husbands.)


Lately, I'm seeing "polyamory" everywhere. It's not a new word or concept of course, but it seems to be having a cultural moment.


Some of the heightened attention to polyamory may be because philosopher Carrie Jenkins published a book about it early this year.


Last month in this article at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Jenkins discussed — in addition to various scholarly aspects of polyamory — having both a husband and a boyfriend.


Around the same time, an article in Salon magazine profiled people who participate in a monthly event in New York designed for the polyamorous.


And the topic is here, again, in New York magazine this month in an article citing a study that reports polyamory has been practiced by 20 percent of single Americans at some point.


To some degree, the focus of mainstream-media articles like these aims at overturning incorrect assumptions about polyamory. It's not the same as promiscuity, for instance.


To quote from the Chronicle piece about Jenkins:


"There is no necessary connection between polyamory and promiscuity, Jenkins argues. She thinks like a logician, and to her, this is simply a confusion of concepts. She points out that a person could fall in love with two people at the same time, have only two partners her whole life, and be considered a "slut." Meanwhile, someone can sleep around while dating, or go through a string of brief, monogamous relationships, and have dozens of partners without receiving censure. Still, Jenkins recognizes that most people will struggle with her ideas."

Jenkins is no doubt right that people struggle with her ideas about sharing one's life with multiple romantic partners. The U.S., for instance, is a country that very much espouses monogamy as a value.


Yet when we take a close look at polyamory — and embrace an anthropological perspective — we may gain a clearer understanding.


Polyamory is sometimes defined as "consensual non-monogamy." Yet polyamory isn't automatically or inevitably in a binary, oppositional relationship with sexual monogamy. As Gaylen Moore wrote in "An Open Letter to the Press" posted on the Polyamory Society website, "it is love, not sex, that is the key issue in polyamory." ...

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