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« Elsewhere | Main | Arthur Mathews -- California's Best Artist? »

March 12, 2007

Many Loves

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Annalee Newitz introduces us to the Polyamorists.

Fun passage:

For some, poly may be more realistic than monogamy. Having multiple partners frees people from the process of trying to find "the one" who is perfect for them in every way ... Critics call poly self-indulgent and morally reprehensible. Yet it is hardly a sexual free-for-all. The freedom has limits - and managing emotions like jealousy becomes a central issue. "These are designer relationships," Cook says. "Every group decides for itself what's open and what isn't."

It all sounds to me like what we used to think of as "young people's first year or two after college." But what do I know?

The Wife and I know a few young people who play the polyamorous game. Here's the rulebook.



posted by Michael at March 12, 2007


Hmmm. No one has hazarded a comment on THIS one yet I see. ;-)

Well, I'll throw something out here.

I’ve long been sorta fascinated by the possibilities, scared of them, and usually ended up thinking it would likely, but not absolutely certainly, end up badly for most of even the very adventurous and unusual types who give it a try. But there’s STILL so much I don’t KNOW, really. Like histories of sizeable numbers who have tried it.

My guess about polyamory is that while there are probably FAR, FAR fewer women who have any interest at all in exploring the lifestyle at least as one in which they’d like to raise kids or spend much of their life (early and mid 20’s experimentation being perhaps different), that among initially pair bonded couples (married or not) who do, and don’t flee within a few months, that more women than men remain happy with it. I would expect the pattern to be a few men who are VERY, VERY happy with it for extended periods of time (and who get most of best time with the most attractive to him women in the ratios he wants), lots of women (having passed through the initial self selection described above) who are happy in somewhat varying degrees with it (since these probably unusually highly sexed women are getting plenty of that, and at least some time/sex with most of the men they want time with, and lots of men who become increasingly unhappy with it (since they’re tending to get the leavings, and smaller fractions of attention from the women they most want it from including the woman they came in with) and typically leave (if they and their initially pair bonded mate stay more than a few months) without the mate they came in with. Just a guess. But it’s based on socio-bio and evo psych type factors, viewed at a right tail of sexuality distribution (esp. for the women).

When I say “lots” I’m talking relatively. My impression is it’s still a pretty rare thing, or rather something that was explored a fair bit in the “60’s” (64-78 or so), largely abandoned, and is now coming back a bit among some Y’s. Perhaps as an extension of more casual “hook up”, “friends with benefits” relationships in college.

But Michael I’m sure you know much more about both sides of what I’m conjecturing from mere shards of info, and I’d LOVE more light on this fascinating (but to me also rather scary) subject.

Posted by: dougjnn on March 13, 2007 10:40 AM

This is a timely post from my perspective as I was just reading this article (via Steve Sailer via this blog) about how much of the spread of AIDS in Africa is caused by polyamory among its inhabitants. Leaving aside the moral question, it's not a safe lifestyle activity.

Posted by: CyndiF on March 13, 2007 12:57 PM


There is no doubt that the fear of AIDS in the early 80’s is what put the final kybash for the vast majority of people on the “swinging sixties & seventies”. Brought to an absolute screeching halt, after already having slowed down and lost a lot of it’s following. A somewhat apologetic “I just don’t think that’s for me” or “for me any longer” among female avant guarde (and many other) types was almost overnight replaced with utter horror and social shaming for those who wished to in any way continue – making it an underground sort of activity with rapidly dwindling numbers.

[Gross out alert. Much of what follows is, I think pretty much necessarily, pretty graphic and may well ICK out some people. So proceed or not accordingly.]

However it’s long since been shown that in the conditions of America, the incidence of AIDS among exclusive heterosexuals (on the male side – no male/male anal intercourse being the crucial factor) and non-needle using population is very, very, very low. Check out Fumento’s book and others. Lots of misleading MSM articles based at first on genuine near hysterical fear and alarm, which then remained largely uncorrected and continuing as contrary facts came in due to a combination of 1) wanting to support the rising pressure in the age of Reagan to commit massive research efforts and condom propaganda against the plague even if some of the cognitive elite came to realize that it was almost entirely a gay and IV needle using plague in America; and 2) aging boomer and by then 2nd and later wave feminists with lots of influence in the MSM being plenty happy to have fear of the plauge among heteros help them in their new campaign to stamp out excessively “male oriented” casual or many partner sex. The age of McKinnon and Dworkin had arisen. Other boomer feminists figured they'd tried it; it was much more a male fantasy than good for women as it turned out; done with it and lets make it taboo again.

It’s probable that much of the incidence that there actually is among self reporting non IV drug and no bisexual anal intercourse heteros, comes from lying to researchers about occasional gay or bisexual male anal sex, or occasional needle use -- both of which most who aren't utterly committed to those lifestyles regard as shameful acts. And of course the occasional blood bank route, before those banks were effectively screened.

It’s pretty hard for a healthy woman without STD vaginal sores to get aids through vaginal or oral intercourse, and even harder for the man to get it that way. Hetero anal is vastly riskier but still requires a route for the male or (possibly female, but much less likely transmission direction) partner to have gotten the virus meaning most likely the males IV drug use or fairly frequent “receiver” of anal intercourse. Without condoms that is.

Intercourse with dry, unlubricated vaginas (that tear) is another route, but that’s very painful for women and it’s the mighty rare American woman these days that will put up with that (and not so many American men that want to subject them to it either). Wouldn’t expect any polyamory type females to do so. Even with medical problems there are usually cures, and as well water soluable lubricants.

Anyway, it’s my understanding that virtually all these groups, if they don’t require condoms virtually all the time for all couplings within the regular group other than when trying to conceive, as a more female friendly sort of birth control (perhaps combined with diaphragms to get up into very low combined failure rate territory), certainly do if anyone goes outside, which also requires permission, etc. It’s my impression that polyamory is nearly always accompanied by a good deal of pretty extensive and often pretty radical feminism (another repeller for me) – unlike sometimes swinging, where it’s often more 1st wave feminism. Impressions anyway.

Would love someone with much deeper knowledge on past and current polyamory styles and outcomes to jump in.

Posted by: dougjnn on March 13, 2007 2:56 PM

Where am I getting this from?

A bunch of discussions on Salon back in it's heyday, back in the day, primarily. You know, Bay Area centered Salon, certainly in those days, circa 2000.

Posted by: dougjnn on March 13, 2007 10:31 PM

As much as I like to think of myself as a product of the sexual revolution (and I revolved my share as a single girl, thank you), I just cannot wrap my mind around the concept that anyone with a serious life partner would consider such a narcissistic adventure.

Intimacy = trust + respect + passion, in that order for me personally. It takes so long and so much effort to saddle that horse, why risk a good ride with a loose cinch? (pun intended)

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on March 15, 2007 9:41 PM

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