Polyamory’s Awkward Date with Society

2- Bad Date(2)For many, the word polyamory produces a state of wistful confusion. At the mention of it, I’ll often get some variation of,  “ooooh free looooove, sex all daaaaay, sex all niiiiiiiight” while they sway from side to side, face toward the heavens. Back in real world, I explain in a rational-yet-amused tone that it’s not quite the same thing.


Some people react negatively, saying things like, “I bet poly people have tons of STIs” (which is probably one of the most common reactions I have seen in my own dialogue with people). Actually, the opposite is true. A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan showed that the risk of contracting STIs is actually lower in the poly community. Turns out, monogamous people who secretly cheat on their partners are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, such as being less likely to use condoms, more likely to be under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs, and less likely to tell their partner about the sexual encounter1. The researchers speculate that this might be in part due to the secretive nature of having sex outside of a monogamous relationship (and thus unknowingly spreading the STI to your partner), or the misconception that monogamous individuals are less likely to contract an STI at all. Imagine that.


However, there are also a lot of people who react with genuine curiosity or interest. In fact, many of the people I’ve talked with say things like, “what’s that, you say? Loving more than one person at a time? And telling your partner? And them being okay with it? Fascinating, tell me more!” In any case, I don’t mind the questions, or even the judgment really, and am always happy to fill in the gaps as much as possible. I especially love making jokes, like telling them it’s a secret underground club that requires a painful branding for entry; these situations usually end well once the tension is broken.


There is a growing familiarity with polyamory in “mainstream” society, what with an increase public discourse and media representations (like Showtime’s new reality series2, the movie Savages3, or the recent New York Times discussion panel4). Some non-monogamists think the media exposure is bad for polyamory because it’s often portrayed in a negative light. Others feel that some attention is better than no attention because it at least promotes open discussion. I am curious to know your thoughts on this, which you can leave in the comments below or on our Facebook or Twitter page. Polyamory definitely has a legitimate place in society, as one of many personal options for people in romantic relationships. Who am I to tell someone who or how many they can love?


Societies are rife with historical shifts and revolutions. Not to say that polyamory will end up being a revolution (cough), but some kind of shift is happening all around us. We’re here! We’re near! Get used to it! I think as time progresses, polyamory’s place in society will evolve into something more prominent. With more exposure, our awkward date with society can either turn into a night of passionate romance, or a fumbled attempt at the proverbial first kiss. Time will tell.


1 Conley, T. D., Moors, A. C., Ziegler, A., & Karathanasis, C. (2012). Unfaithful individuals are less likely to practice safer sex than openly nonmonogamous individuals. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 9(6), 1559-1565.


2 Polyamory: Married and dating. (2012). Retrieved September 18, 2012 from http://www.sho.com/sho/polyamory-married-and-dating/home


3 Universial Studios Savages. (2012). Retrieved September 18, 2012 from http://www.universalstudiosentertainment.com/savages


4 The Gingrich question: Cheating vs. open marriage. (2012, January). The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/01/20/the-gingrich-question-cheating-vs-open-marriage



  1. Ryan
    Mar 29, 2013

    I’m squarely in the “some attention is better than no attention” camp. Even if the media portrays polyaamory in a negative, shallow, or ‘otherized’ way, it still accomplishes the first step towards inclusion: it acknowledges that polyamory is a thing that exists. Once you cross that hurdle, communication becomes MUCH simpler.

    When you try to explain polyamory to someone who has never heard of it before, you have to work through phases of confusion and snap judgment as the other person processes what you’re telling them. “Wait, so you all lived together? And you let… how does that even work?” If you meet someone with any knowledge on polyamory, though – even cursory knowledge from unflattering media portrayals – the conversation becomes one in which you identify yourself to another. Whether or not they presume to judge, they at least know where you’re coming from.

  2. edie bernhardt
    Mar 29, 2013

    I actually watched the first few episodes of the Showtime “Polyamory” reality show…and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The fist episode had me a little upset; there was much drama, some dishonesty, and I thought they were going to make them all sensational like that. But I think they were just trying to suck people in. By third episode they were actually intelligently negotiating these issues and discussing things such as couples privilege (the third woman in the triad was constantly fighting for legitimacy even though she was on equal footing with her two married partners). Of course the unrealistic part was that they were all gorgeous and had way more sex than any normal person has time for! But it is Showtime, so what do you expect? I think it’s great that it’s out there (is it even still on?) because of the exposure – I heard several kids reference it in my Gender and Sexuality course last fall who had just learned about the concept from the show. The more choices people have the better decisions they will make, and right now a lot of people just *don’t know* that this is even a choice.

    • admin
      Mar 29, 2013

      Edie, I agree. I too was pleasantly surprised by the show. I know there are many people who don’t like it, for a variety of reasons, but personally I thought it was pretty well done given their limited parameters. I believe they are casting or filming the second season currently, so there will be a continuation of the show.

  3. Alex
    Mar 29, 2013

    I do like the fact that polyamory is in the media now. I also prefer the some is better than none approach. When talking to someone about it that doesn’t know I have referenced the Showtime show as something to check out. I do feel that I need to remind them however that it is a “reality” show, and to remember that not everything on that show is going to be the truth.

    • admin
      Mar 29, 2013

      Yes the Showtime show was a big step in the process of “normalizing” polyamory. Since they have such a huge fan base it reached a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed.

  4. SeattlePolyChick
    Apr 12, 2013

    I love the “any attention is good attention” approach, but agree it’s problematic. Having just discovered there even was such a thing as polyamory, the years I spent feeling like I was a bad person or somehow broken are still a little fresh for me. It has been so liberating and freeing and just.. affirming to learn that there was a name for what I am and that I can be a moral and ethical person and treat people well and still be exactly who I am. I wish I’d heard of it sooner, but eh.. you get there when you should I guess. Having said that however, I’d like to see more positive and reasonable representations in the media. I’d like to see a little more variety in representation too, because it just seems like poly people are so independent and often practice poly in a variety of ways. It’d be good to get that out there and maybe some of the more practical aspects too. Not all poly people have gigantic circles of super hot partners we are constantly having mind blowing sex with (much to our chagrin). A lot of us spend a lot of time talking and playing with our Google Calendars. :)

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