Polyamory’s Awkward Date with Society
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