4th Jun 2015

“How Prevalent Is Polyamory?”

Polyamory in the News has aggregated various findings about consensual non-monogamy in the United States, and come up with some estimates of the number of people practicing it.

Psychologist Geri D. Weitzman has a new paper out, “Therapy with Clients Who Are Bisexual and Polyamorous” (Journal of Bisexuality, Vol. 6, Issue 1-2), where she summarizes some of the little that’s known:

Page (2004) found that 33% of her bisexual sample of 217 participants were involved in a polyamorous relationship, and 54% considered this type of relationship ideal. West (1996) reported that 20% of her lesbian respondents were polyamorous, while Blumstein and Schwartz (1983) found that 28% of the lesbian couples in their sample were. Blumstein and Schwartz found that 65% of the gay male couples in their study were polyamorous, and that 15-28% of their heterosexual couples had “an understanding that allows nonmonogamy under some circumstances” (p.312).

[…] The last item cited above — that 15% to 28% of American couples had an “understanding” to allow some nonmonogamy — implies that 18 to 35 million Americans live in such marriages or partnerships, based on U.S. Census data. But my guess is that many of those understandings are just some form of a DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell), a sickly and pathetic thing in my opinion. Polyamory is about sharing the magic — not sweeping it under the rug and pretending it’s not there (say I).

So: how many conscious, self-identified polys are there?
Robyn Trask, editor/director of Loving More magazine, recently said on the Steve Douglas radio show, “In our national database that we have here at the magazine, we have 13,000 people, and that probably only represents a very small portion of the polyamorous community.” She explains that that figure “is the number of people who have ordered, subscribed or requested information. It is the largest ‘poly’ database but it does not really give us any idea of the real numbers. Another thing to keep in mind is that many people are in couples, triads or quads but are listed as one customer.”

[…] The publisher of The Ethical Slut, the most popular how-to guide for multipartnering, says in a January 2007 press release that “more than 75,000 copies [are] in print.”

In Loving More issue #30 (Summer 2002), Adam Weber summarized a survey of poly people carried out via the magazine. “Over 1,000 people responded directly to the survey, and they talked about another 4,000,” for a total sample of 5,000. From the fact that roughly one in 10 polys he knew or encountered at conferences were in the survey, he estimated that “the number of poly-identified people [is] around 50,000 in the U.S. I would estimate that only about 1 in 10 people who are actually poly have even heard the word ‘poly,’ bringing the estimate up to about a half million.”


“I Grew Up in a Polyamorous Household”

VICE has a really articulate piece on the experience of growing up in a polyamorous household. Testimonials like these put the lie to the argument that having multiple parents is inherently damaging to children.

Few cultural symbols have as much heft as the “traditional” nuclear family. You know the one: two heterosexual parents, two kids, one dog, two tablespoons of white picket fence, whisk gently. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with that—it’s just not how I was raised.
My parents are polyamorous, a Greek/Latin mishmash word meaning romantic non-monogamy with the consent of everyone involved. As a kid, I lived with my dad, my mum, my mum’s partner, and for a while, my mum’s partner’s partner. Mum might have up to four partners at a time. Dad had partners too. I was raised by an interconnected network of grownups whose relationships which weren’t exclusive, but remained committed for years, even decades.

They first explained it to me when I was about eight. My four-year-old brother asked why James, my mum’s partner, had been spending so much time with us.

“Because I love him,” mum said, matter-of-factly.

“Well, that’s good,” my brother replied, “because I love him too.”

It was never really any more complicated than that. Looking back, that’s what I find most extraordinary about our situation: how mind-numbingly ordinary it all was.

[…] I never resented my parents for hanging out with their partners. We all went on trips to the movies and narrow boat holidays together. Having more adults around the house meant there was more love and support, and more adults to look after us. Dad and James didn’t get jealous or resent each other either, far from the alpha male antler clattering you might expect. They were good friends.

I do remember the first time James told me off. I was eight, and had almost toddled into traffic, when he pulled me to the pavement and shouted at me for not looking left and right. I remember thinking: Oh, this grownup is allowed to discipline me too? But it didn’t take me long to realize that it also meant that another grownup had my back—and would keep me from being flattened by oncoming traffic—and that this was a good thing after all.

[…] Our church community, on the other hand, did find out about my parents’ arrangement. We were very close to our parish at a local Anglo-Catholic church in East London—my mum even taught at Sunday school. […] Most people tried to understand, but not everyone could. One family was so condemning of our parents’ lifestyle that they forbade their kids from playing with us. This later escalated into a particularly nasty phone call to social services, essentially conflating polyamorous parenting with child abuse, and sending a swarm of social workers into our home. I remember sitting on the living room floor with my Robot Wars toys, Hypno-Disc in one hand, Sir Killalot in the other, trying to convince them that my parents weren’t hurting me.

Nowadays, if I mention to people that I have poly parents, reactions oscillate between “that’s so weird” and “that’s so cool.” Most people enjoy the novelty of it. Some feel threatened, but they’re usually OK once I reassure them that it’s not a criticism of their monogamy.

[…] I never envied my friends with monogamous parents. I knew kids who lived with two parents or one, or stepparents, or grandparents, or aunts and uncles. So what I had didn’t feel odd. I’d imagine there’s very little variation between the ways monogamous and poly parents fuck up their kids. Good parents are good parents, whether there are one or two or three or four of them. Fortunately, mine were incredible.

[…] A lot of people ask me whether having poly parents has shaped the way I look at love as an adult, which is hard to answer. Growing up with polyamory as the norm, monogamy seemed alien and counterintuitive. We can love more than one friend or family member at the same time, so the idea that romantic love only worked linearly was befuddling. I’m in my 20s now, and I tend to have multiple partners (though that’s more my libido than a philosophical conviction). I don’t consider myself poly, but I am open to having either multiple partners or just one.

Life is mostly pain and struggle; the rest is love and deep dish pizza. For the cosmic blink of a moment we spend on this tiny dust speck of a planet, can we simply accept that love is love, including love that happens to be interracial, same-sex, or poly? Discrimination against love is a disease of the heart—and we get enough of that from the pizza.