I don’t entirely agree with the definition of polygamy here. It’s true that it’s a legal term, but the fact that most people who officially adopt it are religious polygynists is a cultural fluke. The fact is, if you’re a poly woman living with two guys, one is your legal husband, and you’ve had a non-legal marriage ceremony with the other guy, and you all live together, y’all are as polygamous as any Fundamentalist Mormon.
CNNMoney did a piece on polyamory:
Imagine being in a serious relationship with your husband, a boyfriend, a girlfriend and dating around on the side — that’s polyamory. It’s not new, but is infiltrating tech culture.
The anthropologist they consult is surprisingly ignorant on the subject. Has it never occurred to her that people feel obligated to construct monogamous relationships only, and thus hiding and cheating become common? And what does she count as failure? Most monogamous couples break up, but that never becomes a sign that monogamy itself was the problem. If you have multiple partners, just by probability you’re more likely to experience at least one breakup: there are more people to break up with! But polyamorous relationships usually don’t explode the way monogamous ones do, because the participants (if they’re doing it right) have already established open lines of communication.
I believe very few animals have faithful lifelong monogamous relationships. I believe there’s probably some evolutionary basis for non-monogamy. I also think social customs are natural, and our social customs lean towards monogamy. But I also don’t think we should unquestioningly participate in social customs. And I don’t think something being natural makes it good, better, or right. Mostly I just think this is totally the wrong question to ask. Or at least it doesn’t mean anything about how humans should act. And if we were going to look at how relationships used to work as a model for how relationships should work now, I think we’d really have to recognize the huge ways that contemporary monogamous and non-monogamous relationships are both really new inventions and kind of incredibly similar.
As I usually point out, what is “natural” is an interesting idea, but considering we’re using high tech electronics and communications to discuss this, clearly things that aren’t natural can be fine to enjoy. I’m polyamorous, but I also support people who want monogamy or no relationship at all.
We can’t look at the reproductive strategies of other species. We really can’t. Many birds, for example, are more monogamous than humans. Geese and albatrosses do not mate again if their first mate died. Ironically, the incidence of constitutional homosexuality is higher in extremely monogamous birds than in other animals. Female house cats, on the other hand? Sluts. A female house cat, left to herself, will have as much sex as possible with as many different males as she can catch while in heat. Unless humans intervene, it’s normal for the kittens in a littler to have two or three different fathers between them.
These are reproductive strategies. They have nothing to do with morality and nothing to do with the complex issues surrounding human sexuality.The thing is that as sentient beings we can change our strategies for survival culturally. This includes our reproductive strategies. We tend, as a species, to lean towards semi-monogamous pairings. But we will cheerfully switch to polygamy or polyandry if those prove to be better reproductive strategies. There are tribes in Tibet that practice polyandry as a way of keeping the population down – only some females get to breed, the rest get to be nuns. They live in a very marginal habitat for homo sapiens and just can’t afford to produce many children. Meanwhile, the Mormons practiced polygamy on the frontier because it was dangerous – so they protected the fertile females – so they ended up with more women than men. Reproductive strategies.
In a high tech society that does not favor one strategy over another, the individual variances that lead to these strategies start to be highlighted. Polyamory is not favored over monogamy, so we see different individuals practicing both, and each is doing what is perfectly natural for them.