Generally speaking, the vast majority of us have been taught about one ideal about love and relationships. We are told to strive for the perfect nuclear family: one partner with a gaggle of children living in the dream suburban home.
However, the landscape of love seems to be shifting as the typical monogamous lifestyle is gradually becoming less desirable in the modern age. Polyamory, a term first used in the 1960s meaning ‘many loves’ in Latin, may very well be on the rise as more and more people find love and happiness in a less ‘conventional’ way.
“Loving two people at once isn’t the hard part: it’s reconciling the fact that, unless you started dating them at the same time, the relationships will always be at different levels.” – Laura Allen, 27.
Polyamory is the consensual practice of multiple relationships, either sexual or otherwise. It is also seen as a philosophy and a lifestyle for those who practice it, a way of living that is open and non-possessive. There is not any one rule within the poly community, often every single polyamorous relationship is different and unique.
Some people choose to live with multiple partners in a family-style relationship, while others choose to explore short term relationships. Whilst there are no definitive statistics as of yet, polyamory seems to be rising in popularity, especially within the younger generations.
Many people believe that polyamory or any such branch is not ‘normal’ within society, but people in the community argue that monogamy is the foreign ideal. Divorce statistics show that most monogamous couples will not spend their life solely with one person, and affairs have long since been normalised, which, in essence, is not monogamy at all.
The common misconception that polyamorous relationships are a relatively new trend has no historical or scientific backing. Polyamory has been around for as long as human society has. In his book ‘Ancient Society’, anthropologist Lewis Morgan argues that old cultures such as the Iroquois (Native American hunter-gatherers) lived as large family units and participated in polyamorous relationships.
There is also evidence of polyamory in Ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome. Many religions, such as Judaism, Islam and even Christianity allow the practice of polyamory and multiple spouses. A journal published by L. Fortunato and M. Archetti states that “as many as 83% of societies around the world allow polyamory.” If anything, it would appear that monogamy is the newest phase of human evolution.
Despite the long-rooted history of polyamory, there are places where the practice is illegal, much to the outrage of the growing community. Even in places like Canada, where a child can be recognised as legally belonging to three parents, marriage with multiple spouses is still not allowed. Many people began campaigning for polyamorous marriage to become legal after the legalisation of gay marriage in the UK and the USA. Laura Allen, a polyamorous 27-year-old from Canada, will be marrying one of her male partners in the summer, and had this to say about the legality of poly marriages:
“Depending on where you live, it’s [polyamory] blatantly illegal. Depending on where you live it being illegal doesn’t matter…until you have kids or divorce gets involved. It gets super messy at times which is part of the major push in places to find a way to make it legal.”
Allen rallies actively against the legal restrictions on poly marriages and will also unofficially marry her other male partner at the same ceremony. A vocal voice within forums, Allen wishes to help rid the world of some of the misconceptions about her community, such as those who think polyamory is centered around sex, and she often gives her thoughts about polyamory’s place within the LGBTQ+ society.
“Some people have sex within their group, some don’t. Some start their journey through swinging and casual sex, some don’t,” Allen says.
While sex is an element within polyamory, it is by no means just another word for orgy. Most polyamorous people only engage in sexual activities in couples. Group sex is not unheard of but largely does not happen throughout the community – as Allen says, sometimes this is how fellow polyamorous people first meet each other but it is not a continuous practice within polyamorous relationships.
This being said, there is the misapprehension that polyamorous people are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases than monogamous couples, which in all actuality is false. An anonymous online study revealed that polyamorous people are actually more likely to practice safe sex than monogamous people who are unfaithful to their partners. Polyamorous relationships stem for a desire to emotionally connect with multiple people, sex is only a small part of that.
As for polyamory as part of the LGBTQ+ community, people are conflicted about where it falls on the spectrum. There is a recognised history of non-monogamous relationships within the LGBTQ+ community, Lord Byron is one such notable example. A polyamorous pride flag (designed by Jim Evans) does exist but Allen admits that there is still a long way to go before people finally accept polyamory as a part of the LGBTQ+ community:
“The idea that being polyamorous is part of the LGBT spectrum is…disagreed upon. There is a lot of discourse that personally I think comes from a lot of pain in the LGBT community. And the idea a cis-white straight guy could be part of the community is scary for a lot of people. I personally believe it is part of the spectrum.”
As well as admitting that she has faced a lot of discrimination in the past, Allen adds that not everybody that disagrees with polyamory as a part of the LGBTQ+ community is heterosexual:
“Much of the abuse I went through came from lesbians and straight cis white men. For me that creates an idea that really, if lesbians can be just as bigoted as a cis straight man…none of us will ever be intersectional enough when we start becoming ‘woke’. Some just have further to go than others.”
The modern version of love and relationships has changed dramatically over the past several decades. In the future it will most likely change again. Polyamory is by no means a new or passing trend and several cultures have already begun reflecting this in their lifestyles and mindsets.
There is still a long battle ahead for polyamory but small and important steps are being taken in the right direction. Relationships are diverse and unique within themselves, hopefully the law will come to reflect this ideal in the years to come.