Written by Lay Sion Ng @ Issues Under Tissues
Polyamory: Discovering the Diversity of Love and Relationships in the 21st Century
Today, monogamous relationships remain within the mainstream culture in most parts of the world. I think that monogamous relationships have been enforced by society throughout history for “convenience”—it is easy to manage a society—because human beings are not naturally monogamous, we are taught to embrace monogamy instead. Besides this benefit, scholars such as Pearsall (1994) emphasize the healing effect derived from a loving, committed, sexual relationship. Following Pearsall’s idea, “extramarital sexual relationships [will] reduce the bonding and intimate connections that are necessary for [one’s] sexual healing” (Cook emphasis 11). Furthermore, some scholars such as Moschetta and Moschetta (1998) claim that “When you have the marriage spirit you are monogamous by choice” (256), suggesting that “there is a spiritual element present in every strong and vibrant marriage” (15).
However, it is now regarded that the traditional monogamous marriage can no longer provide adequately for the intimacy needs of some individuals due to, as I suggest, social changes like globalization and the popularization of the internet and modern thinking such as feminism, post-structuralism, and so on. It is estimated that half of a million Americans are polyamorous even though they are not familiar with the word “polyamory” (Wever 2002). Research has also shown that people who engaged in polyamorous relationships were more highly educated than the general population and had a higher household income (Cook 21). It is suggested that higher educated people are more likely to be able to “find a subset of the society that is outside their original social group,” and perhaps also more likely to be willing to question the traditional values of monogamy (Cook 62).
As a polyamory practitioner notes, “You need to take on poly as a path for long term personal growth because if you don’t, you’ll be taking it on as a path for long term personal suffering,” it is always hard work to challenge the traditional norms (Cook 54). Nevertheless, some valued challenges as “growth-promoting” (Cook 54). One of the difficulties in polyamory is the struggle of ambivalence, as practitioners often feel “both more empowered and more disempowered” in their relationships: “empowered by their greater freedom to make their own sexual choices,” disempowered by the feeling of jealousy, “fear of censure and social stigma because of their deviance” (Sheff, 2005; qtd. in Cook 22). As to the feeling of jealousy, drawing on the Kerista community (a polyamorous commune that existed in San Francisco from 1971 to 1991), Wolfe (2003) suggests that jealousy can be overcome by interpreting it in an opposite way, which is compersion: “taking pleasure at seeing one’s partner enjoying him or herself with another lover” (qtd. in Cook 21). Also, jealousy can be decreased by total honesty or open communication between one another, as White (2004) defines polyamory as “Living by the principle that it is possible to love more than one person at a time without deception or betrayal” (17).
The most significant difference between monogamy and polyamory is that the latter group feels a greater sense of community bonding than the former. This benefit of polyamory is emphasized by Lizful, a poly practitioner that
“It’s one way of having a wider community of people with whom you can rejoice and on whom you can count if you need help. Some people do it through their church, but the same kind of thing, you can do it through your poly.” (Cook 55-56)
Undeniably, Lizful’s description also embodies a sense of spiritual healing, which had once been emphasized in the monogamous relationship. Besides community bonding, this sense of spiritual healing is also associated with, as I suggest, sexual healing, as “polyamorous people are more likely to be open to being sensual and touching and giving nurturing touch than non-polyamorous people” (Cook 56). Another benefit of polyamory is that it is genuinely more fun, as Carol, in her interview, claims that she and her partner were more playful when they were with a third person than they were when they were just by themselves (Cook 56).I would like to conclude the paper by emphasizing freedom of choice—that no matter whether one chooses to be a mono or poly practitioner, we should respect his or her choice. From a feminist viewpoint, polyamory should be celebrated as it embodies equality in making a choice in term of love and relationships: “One of my big challenges in life has been being able to make choices, to feel that I [have a] choice, and by choosing polyamory I am choosing a path of choice…I equally believe that monogamy needs to be a choice too” (Cook 58). Although one shall also not forget that what should be an opportunity for equality becomes another means of exploitation by men of women, some men are skilled enough to allow the women to feel they are exercising freedom of choice when they are merely being groomed. Thus, as women, we should be much more careful before developing a relationship or relationships.
Cook, Elaine. Commitment in Polyamorous Relationships. Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Psychology. Regis University, 2005. Print.
Moschetta, E. and Moschetta, P. The marriage spirit: Finding the passion and joy of soul-centered Love. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998. Print.
Pearsall, P. A healing intimacy: The power of loving connections. New York: Crown Trade Paperbacks, 1994. Print.
Sheff, E. “Polyamorous women, sexual subjectivity, and power.” Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 34.3(2005): 251-283.
Weber, A. “Survey results: Who are we? And other interesting impressions.” Loving More Magazine, 30 (2002): 4-6.
White, V. “A humanist looks at polyamory.” Humanist 64.6 (2004): 17-20.
Wolfe, L. Jealousy and transformation in polyamorous relationships. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, San Francisco, CA, 2003.
Text © Lay Sion Ng
Article written by Lay Sion Ng @ Issues Under Tissues
Chinese Malaysian, American Literature at Osaka University, Japan.
Lay is a feminist writer/researcher/artist, techno/psyborg, free-spirit traveler, food pornographer, ukulele singer, diversity promoter: we connect and therefore we exist.
Find more articles on gender and sexuality written by Lay Sion Ng HERE.
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