Polyamory comes from the Greek poly, meaning several, and the Latin amor, meaning love. In other words, polyamory is a relationship philosophy that practices multiple intimate partners, putting an emphasis on love and emotional intimacy over sexual encounters (Klesse, 2011). Important is, of course, transparency and honesty among the involved partners,. There are, however, strong norms against non-monogamy. The concept of polygamy, and any form of intimate relationships outside the relationship, is perceived through societal and religious lens as being unfaithful (especially in western cultures). According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics (2016), the divorce rate stands at 3.2 per 1,000 population, and indication that people are underscoring the need for monogamy. Approximately 50% of these divorce cases stem from one partner engaging in extramarital affairs. The statistics are an indicator that people are slowly changing their perceptions on what the society describes as infidelity as they explore other intimate relationship options to satisfy the emotional needs. However, the society recommends conformity to monogamous relationships, which begs the question, how has sociocultural theory of polyamory impacted the amount of people who identify as polyamorous?
The rapid changes in sociocultural factors inform and reflect a major shift in social morals. Balzarin et al. (2017) answers this question through a vivid discussion on the perceptions on primary and secondary relationships in polyamory. While borrowing from the authors’ points of view, it is important to acknowledge the common trend that has seen an increase in blended families, cohabiting, and single parenting. Balzarin et al. (2017) reported that in the North American continent alone, approximately five percent of the population engages in or have been in polyamorous relationships. Based on these statistics, it is evident that such trends provide a clue on the subversive form of resistance against the traditional monogamous relationships. Study findings point out as much as people as trying to fight their way up the societal ladder to gain recognizance, the society is yet to widely accept polyamorous relationships. In this study, the researchers based their findings on results obtained by interviewing participants with at least two partners, which aligns it to the research question on polyamorous relationships. The researchers established that while families accepted and approved the primary relationships, secondary relationships, which relate to polyamory faced rejection. The society questions and stigmatizes such secondary relationships because they challenge or defy the widely accepted monogamous relationships, from cultural and religious points of view. These findings give indications on why people who identify as polyamorous or get into such relationships prefer to keep it as a secret to avoid rejection from their family members and friends.
Most people engaging in consensually non-monogamous relationships seek counselling and therapy services and their revelations provides concrete responses to the research question (Henrich & Trawinski, 2016). The authors use their personal experiences since they are from polyamorous families, which makes their research findings reliable in this context. In their findings, the authors identified the challenges faced by polyamorous individuals who were on a mission to disclose their identities. According to Henrich & Trawinski (2016), polyamory is a lifestyle and identity, not just sexual orientation. From this clarification, it is possible to change societal perceptions on polyamory as purely sexually oriented. The personal interviews provide expressions and how polyamorists project their identities in society. Most of the interviewees reported cases of marginalization based on their polyamorist identities, which serves to explain the society influences people who identify as polyamorous. Therefore, it has become an uphill task for people to disclose their polyamorous identities to families, friends, and society because of the fear losing family and friends as they distance themselves from such forms of relationships.
While a good people in the U.S. and across the world are engaging in various forms of non-monogamous relationships, Klesse (2011) believes that this concept seems appealing only to a small group of people, especially the neo-pagans, who also embrace the diversions from the naturally accepted intimate relationships to engage in alternatives such as homosexuality. Hence, those who identify as polyamorous do not do so publicly, but rather, use it as a non-label to express themselves. Klesse (2011) further noted that “polyamory has an appeal to people who are close to lesbian, gay male, bisexual, queer, transgender, queer-feminist, BDSM, anarchist or other progressive tendencies within the ‘new left’” (p. 7). The decision to identify themselves with a selected group of people reflects the harsh societal expectations and its attempt to preserve the traditional monogamous relationships.
Klesse’s (2011) discussion on polyamory identities, communities and practices coupled with anecdotal evidence from the personal interviews offers a perfect guide in answering the research question since it shows the different perceptions that have blossomed in response to polyamorous relationships. In one of Klesse’s (2011) interview with a respondent named Marrianne, it is possible to note the impact of sociocultural theory on polyamory and how it affects identity. Such people are more comfortable disclosing their identities on online platforms because they have an advantage of anonymity and often, would attend events and concerts, or be part of subcultures that accommodate people with such identities. Therefore, it is more likely that people identifying as polyamorous because the society associates such people with subcultures that consist same sex marriages, bisexuals, and transgender.
Klesse (2018) theorizes on multi-partner relationships and sexualities by providing in-depth reviews on research articles in an effort to pinpoint the societal judgmental attitudes on polyamorous relationships. For instance, in theorizing emotions, Klesse (2018) reviews Jillian Deri’s Love’s Refraction to argue that jealousy influences how people identify as polyamorous since it demonizes such relationships. Through these reviews, a reader gets a clear perspectives of how the poly culture is working to create an identity by transforming the perceptions about jealousy, which are powerful tools used by men to control women who have an interest in expressing their sexuality without limits. Furthermore, theorizing intimacies and sexualities using Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli’s book on Border Sexualities, Border Families in Schools also contributes towards responding to the research question since equipping learners with information on non-monogamous relationships allows them to identify and accept peers with non-mainstream sexual identities.
Mitchell, Bartholomew, and Cobb (2014) believe that social scientists’ support to people who identify as polyamorous is an indication that such relationships can be the solution to problems associated with need fulfillment in intimate relationships, and thus, people should be comfortable identifying as polyamorous. Social scientists draw their arguments from three patterns of association to explain the association between need fulfillment and their potential outcomes in polyamorous relationships: additive model, contrast model, and compensation model (Mitchell et al., 2014). In the additive model, social scientists affirm that polyamory is a relationship encounter for the 21st century because it proves to help people in attaining greater emotional and sexual need fulfillment as compared to the redundancy in monogamous relationships (Mitchell et al., 2014). Today, people are openly settling down with two or more partners and identifying themselves as family units. Multiple partners fulfill the relationship needs that people who identify as polyamorous seek. Therefore, the perception of need fulfillment stems from a positive psychological well-being, which plays a critical role in determining the degree of satisfaction. Other than for sexual passion and intimacy, people are pursuing other options that enhance their levels of happiness in relationships such as going on vacations and picnics and sharing hobbies, which could explain why some societies, especially the neo-pagans are comfortable with people who identify as polyamorous.
Nonetheless, the contrast model weighs between the benefits of needs fulfillment and costs of engaging in multiple intimate relationships (Mitchwel et al., 2014). Normally, multiple intimate relationships undermines an individual’s commitment, since issues such as jealously remain unsolved (Mitchwel et al., 2014). Therefore, people tend to settle in relationships that offer them a higher need fulfilment than ones that do not, which pushes one partner out of the equation. Since most relationships thrive on partners’ heavy emotional, time, and financial investments, entering in polyamorous relationship devalues the main relationship. Hence, the contrast model suggests that in situations where the need fulfillment creates any form of conflict, partners must forego their polyamorous statuses and engagements and either continue with their monogamous relationships or remain single. The compensation model posits that people seek for alternative relationships to compensate for low need fulfillment in their monogamous relationships (Mitchwel et al., 2014). Based on this model, the society perceives people who enter into other forms of intimate relationships other than their primary one as people in pursuit for another level of satisfaction, which is missing in the monogamous relationship. These models offer a comprehensive overview of how societal perception can push who identify as polyamorous to pursue what they like or adhere to societal norms.
The research articles respond to the research question by arguing that the society is rigid to accept people who identify as polyamorists. While each article takes a different approach in validating the argument, most of the authors openly advocate for monogamous relationships. They do so because their research findings point towards a society that marginalizes such people and most often associates them with homosexuals and bisexuals. For instance, Klesse’s (2011) findings compliments Klesse’s (2018) and Henrich and Trawinski (2016) in many ways. Klesse (2011) and Klesse (2018) rely on the discourse of love to justify their claims. In their opinions, love plays a critical role in influencing perceptions on polyamorous relationships. More so, Henrich and Trawinski (2016) base on the foundation of love to explore the risks of disclosing such relationships to family and friends.
Polyamorous relationships are becoming a trend in the 21st century. However, the society still champions for the traditional monogamous relationships for purposes of raising children in respectful family structures and showing respect to the cultural and religious affiliations that insisted on monogamy. Therefore, this makes it difficult for people who identify as polyamorous to come out for fear of stigmatization and rejection by family members. The society speaks volumes about polyamorous relationships, most of which point towards its ills. Stigmatization and rejection puts such people between a rock and a hard surface, since they are not yet ready to face the wrath of a society that advocates for a family unit that respects children, relatives, neighbors, and friends. While some argue that the society is changing and seems to be accepting such forms of relationships, it is evident that only a fraction of the society, especially the neo-pagans and those who identify themselves as LGBT are willing to accommodate and associate with people who identify as polyamorous. Some key questions remain unresolved such as, why did researchers fail to seek public opinions on how people perceive polyamorous relationships? Most of the research findings revolve around opinions from polygamists. The next step to take when asking another question on the topic is to look at the researchers’ future recommendations as well as establish the gaps in the existing research.
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