Fox Professing
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials



Polyamory Psychology and Politics

Atlanta Polyamory Weekend, Atlanta, Georgia

March 2013

Polyamory is a contested term, generally referring to open, ethical, non-monogamous relationships. Making sense of the sources, practices, and implications of polyamory brings in material from psychology, sociology, anthropology, and other disciplines that seek to understand relationships and intimacy, sexual identity and practice, and competing views of human nature.

My own experience in the ethical non-monogamous world came initially via interconnections between social psychology and anarchist political theory, both of which have much to say about things we often take for granted about relationships and sexuality.

A large literature critical of monogamy and the nuclear family existed long before the terminology of polyamory developed. In the 1960s and 70s, many of us read books such as Open Marriage relationshi-bending science fiction by Robert Heinlein, novels by Robert Rimmer, and other spurs to escaping traditional relationships in search of free love and communal bonding. At the level of academic and political theory, there were also critiques of broader issues such as the nuclear family, patriarchy, family life under capitalism, the role of sexual repression in political authoritarianism, and the liberating effect of throwing aside things we take for granted.

Questions to consider:

  • how does our view of human nature affect how we understand our choices?
    • views of monogamy, free love, nuclear family, intentional community, etc.
    • why do we think human nature is what we think it is?
  • how does political ideology relate to human nature?
    • liberal vs. conservative, anarchist/libertarian, Marxist, etc.
    • political arrangements reflect views of what’s “natural” to human beings & to human society
      • what’s inevitable vs. what’s modifiable
      • what’s preferable
  • how does our sense of polyamory connect to other sex-positive communities such as swinging, LGBT, and BDSM?
  • how can psychological and political work contribute to poly acceptance and success?
    • enhancing skills in personal growth, communication, intimacy, sexuality, etc. can help us deal with common issues - e.g.,  jealousy, insecurity, safety, stability, scheduling, child-rearing
    • alternative poly-useful settings: HAI, New Culture, NVC, Byron Katie, etc.
    • enhancing political acceptance can bring legal rights
  • how can poly contribute to psychological and political thinking?
    • expose mainstream therapists & academics to positive alternative models
    • encouraging re-thinking basic assumptions about relationships and sexuality can inspire re-thinking assumptions about other things taken for granted -
      • hierarchy, family, possessiveness,… capitalism, centralization, cultural expectations,…..

Books I've liked specifically on poly:

  • Dossie Easton & Janet W. Hardy (2009) - The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships & Other Adventures (2nd edition)
  • Tristan Taormino (2008) - Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships
  • Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jethá (2010) - Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality
  • Deborah Anapol (2010) - Polyamory in the Twenty-First Century: Love and Intimacy with Multiple Partners

Other books "poly-friendly" and/or "sex-positive" and/or dealing with personal growth/interpersonal communication/intimacy in poly-friendly way

  • Jett Psaris & Marlena S. Lyons (2000) - Undefended Love
  • Clinton Callahan (2010) - Directing the Power of Conscious Feelings: Living Your Own Truth
  • Marshall Rosenberg (2003) - Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

Related Material

Sexuality Psychology and Politics
Web links on Sexuality, Intimacy, Polyamory, and Ethical Non-monogamy

up to top

personal/political observations
Academic Papers Opinion Columns Personal Essays Course Materials
some political, most not


Page updated March 6, 2013