Posted by: terrapraeta | July 1, 2009

Too Poly or Not To Poly

In my dreams, I can see us in a tight embrace
Doin all the things that we never really did
I think I’m in love with you
Must we go run through our lives with our eyes closed
To the loving happiness that we can share
I think I’m in love with you and your friend

Snake River Conspiracy, You and Your Friend

I’ve been struggling for some time, with my thoughts, ideas, opinions about polyamourism. Part of me says this is the key to loving, resilient and functional communities. Yet another part of me says that, all in all, this was NOT a characteristic of traditional sustainable communities, so how could it possibly be the answer now? After the explorations I have engaged in over the last few years: meeting people active in this lifestyle – from swingers to true polyamourists — talking with them, dealing with these ideas in my own relationships, and experiencing my own intellectual and visceral reactions, I think my thoughts are finally becoming clear.

Polyamoury, as a modern social construct and lifestyle, promises deep emotional connections, resilient relationships (as a function of networked relationships as compared with linear ones), deep social support structures and an honesty and openness that is heavily contrasted with the standards of modern main line society. Looking at this list of attributes, there is a clear and direct association with those attributes that any true community should provide. And, in fact, those attributes provided amongst primitive, egalitarian societies.

With that in mind, why do we not find polyamoury as a default (or at least common denominator) amongst primitive societies?

To be blunt… because none of these characteristics have anything to do with sex. Even amongst primitive, egalitarian societies sex is understood to be potentially disruptive to the social order of the community. Because humans are emotional creatures – emotions created by chemical reactions in the brain – chemical reactions created in evolutionarily adaptive ways to protect offspring, families and communities (in that order of priority).

As a result, most primitive societies are monogamous, or at very least serially monogamous. At the same time, they tend to have a very practical response to sexual dalliance. Simply put, they generally look the other way unless, and until, sexual behavior creates a disturbance in the community. When that happens, then the response is firm and immediate. Desist or leave. Choose between your lover and your community, because the community cannot survive the chaos you are creating.

So why is it, that best I can tell, it is the polyamourists that are coming closest to creating truly deep relationships and communities? I submit it is for exactly the same reason.

Sexual intimacy is the one avenue for true intimacy that our culture provides. Not to suggest that non-sexual friendships cannot be deep and long lasting – obviously they can and do – but it is a much longer, slower and less consistently effective strategy for developing deep emotional and intellectual ties. Additionally, polyamourism (and swinging as well) require a level of trust and openness between partners that is rarely accomplished (or even pursued) in main stream society.

So I guess what I am trying to say is this: sex is a shortcut. Perhaps an effective one, but also, perhaps, one that is destined to fail in the long run. Because everything else aside, humans are still emotional creatures and sexual intimacy creates vulnerability. Community, by contrast, creates resiliency. Which leaves me, at this point, thinking that polyamourism may be an exceptional way of learning what is possible within human community, but also a poor way of trying to create durable, generationally strong, sustainable communities.



  1. Hey Terra!

    I’m just checking in to see what you’ve written, and I admire that you have put energy into examining polyamory. I know some folks for whom it has worked very well, but I see the complexity involved in making it work being a strong disincentive. Not that complexity is a reason to shy away from things in general, but since people are engaging in open strong emotional and sexual doors, it can be tough if one’s not prepared. (Working on creating and strengthening those ties with one person requires the devotion of much energy.)

    Hope all is well!


  2. Hey Joe!

    Yeah… you know me, always examining and re-examining…. that’s why I blog, ya see 🙂 Hope all is well with you, too!


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