In our heteronormative society, monogamy is most frequently seen as the only correct type of relationship to be in. Our family and friends as well as childhood movies and television teach us that we should aspire to have an exclusive relationship with someone of the opposite sex that will end in a marriage, and ultimately, happily ever after. But what if that is not enough? What if a relationship with one individual does not satisfy the emotional and physical needs of a person?
As defined in class, there are several forms of non-monogamy that people engage in when a traditional, exclusive relationship just doesn’t seem like enough. The most obvious form is cheating, although it is not classically recognized as non-monogamy. Affairs are extremely common in marriages with 20-25% of men and 10-15% admitting to having one, and often end in divorces and broken homes. For some religious families there is polygamy, which involves a marriage between more than two individuals and is most frequently a man with multiple wives. An open relationship is more prevalent in open-minded individuals and involves a relationship in which sexual contact with individuals outside the relationship is acceptable. Swinging is a similar form of an open relationship but involves committed couples consensually exchanging partners specifically for sexual purposes. The term “monogamish” can be used to describe monogamy with exceptions such as one-night stands or permission to engage in only specific kinds of sexual activity. These non-monogamous relationships are often centered around the needs and desires of men and their sexual drive. The YouTube video below is a rap about HBO’s “Big Love”, a show about a fictional Mormon family in which the husband has multiple wives. The rap states that “there aren’t enough good men to go around” and insinuates that polygamy was created to be beneficial for women.
If polygamy is a relationship that tends to be more beneficial for men, what non-monogamous relationship can prove beneficial for women? Polyamory comes from the Latin word meaning “many loves” and is the practice of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the consent of each individual involved. This type of relationship seems to be a female’s counterpart to polygamy. A polyamorous relationship can involve multiple romantic, sexual, and or affective partners. Polyamory recognizes that relationships do not come in “one size fits all.” individuals are not suited for a relationship with only one individual, or feel that new people can contribute different things to preexisting relationships. Polyamorous relationships can be confusing in that many people associate it adultery or swinging. In her article, “Polyamorous Women, Sexual Subjectivity and Power,” Elisabeth Sheff explains that it different from adultery because it has a strong focus in honesty and full disclosure from everyone involved and different from swinging because its emphasis is on long-term, emotionally intimate relationships.
Sheff further explains that polyamorous relationships also end up being more successful for women because of their ability to more easily connect emotionally with multiple people, whereas men may see it as more as a sexual opportunity. In interviews she conducted with several women, it was the male partner who hoped to engage in polyamorous behaviors but also the men who hoped to exit the same relationships he so persistently aspired to have. Polyamory is often a tool of empowerment for women since there are often constrained and disempowered by traditional monogamy in which the men determine the rules and structure of the relationship. The women reported a sense of “release” upon embarking on polyamorous relationships, and many were reluctant to return to their previous lifestyles. This newfound power these women found, however, is threatening to men and other women. One woman described the response of others, saying:
“Women with multiple lovers are usually called sluts, bitches, very derogatory, very demeaning in sexual context. Whereas men who have multiple lovers- they’re studs, they’re playboys, they’re glorified names where with a woman it’s very demeaning.”
As the United States makes a shift towards becoming more accepting of different sexual identities and intimacies, polyamory is making its push towards becoming something that is normal rather than socially frowned upon. Articles including “Multiple Lovers, Without Jealousy” from The Atlantic attempt to explain the growing population of polyamorous individuals and families living in the United States. These people and families continue to face opposition from both sides of the political spectrum as well as well both sides of the sexual preference binary, in spite of their inclusive nature. Conservatives on the right support “traditional” marriages and households and fear that a new type family dynamic with threaten that. On the other hand, individuals who support LGBTQI rights and equalities are also concerned with a group of people who may take attention away from their cause. While this concept of polyamory is new to me since taking this course, I see plenty of benefits for everyone by remaining open minded and accepting of this type of intimacy. To some degree it empowers women and allows them to connect on many levels with multiple people, and it allows for a larger support system for families who choose to live this lifestyle. Additionally, polyamorous relationships do not require individuals to define their sexuality along a spectrum, which can often be difficult to do. Why then is not accepted by the larger community? Do you think that it is something that can ever be fully understood in our heteronormative society? Or does it stray too far from tradition to ever be deemed normal?