Should Feminists Be Critical of Compulsory Monogamy?

Poly2In 1980, Adrienne Rich broke new ground in her essay “On Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” in which she argued that feminism need not merely include lesbian voices but actively critique compulsory heterosexuality as a patriarchal institution. More than 30 years later, feminist support for gay and lesbian rights has become commonplace, and is frequently accompanied by an awareness of the intersections between patriarchy and heterosexism. But we have yet to turn a critical eye toward the similarly functioning institution of compulsory monogamy.

Throughout our lives, we’re bombarded with messages about what we’re supposed to desire in romantic relationships. It begins in childhood with fairy-tales and continues to RomComs, dating-advice columns and diamond commercials. This is where we’re taught that straight relationships are ideal, but it’s also where we’re taught that monogamy is the only possible option. As feminists, we’ve learned to speak out and criticize these narrow visions of romance for their heteronormativity as well as for their strict enforcement of gender roles, their frequent double-standards for male and female behavior and their two-dimensional portrayals of women. But we fail to acknowledge the institution of compulsory monogamy that underlies media portrayals of love and romance, or how that institution has worked hand-in-hand with patriarchy for much of history.

In a multitude of times and places in the world—including the present day—sexual infidelity has been either implicitly or explicitly condoned for men, while for women punishments for infidelity have ranged from social condemnation to death. When men have faced harsh legal punishments for adultery, it is typically only when they have played the role of “the other man:” that is, when they have “stolen” another man’s rightful property. But women are still sentenced to death for infidelity in some parts of the world—often for a mere perceived flirtation with another man. Sometimes, such “unfaithful” women were the victims of rape.

In the United States our punishments are thankfully much less severe, but our double-standards for male and female infidelity—just as for all expressions of male and female sexuality—are alive and well. As with sexual promiscuity, a woman who engages in infidelity is shamed as a “slut.” Male infidelity is not entirely condoned in all social spaces, but there are still plenty of men willing to high-five their friends for their extra-marital conquests, and frequently “the other woman” is the one who faces condemnation for “tempting” the man. When men break the bonds of monogamy, they are seen as giving in to their base, masculine nature. But when women commit infidelity, they are viewed as not only betraying a partner, but betraying their virtuous, sexually pure gender role as well.

When people consider alternatives to monogamy, however, most think only of religiously based patriarchal polygamy, an arrangement which merely reproduces the same double-standard by allowing multiple wives for men and denying women the same freedom. But far more egalitarian non-monogamous relationships do exist. Though exact numbers are hard to come by, it’s estimated that between 4 and 5 percent of Americans are in some form of openly non-monogamous relationship, many of them polyamorous. Defined as the practice of romantically loving more than one partner with the full knowledge and consent of all involved, modern polyamory has many feminist roots, and though there is great variety to what a polyamorous family might look like, polyamorous men and women are generally equally free to seek multiple romantic and sexual partners. And although there are polyamorous folks across the political and ideological spectrums, a large number are feminists, progressives and leftists—hardly the people who come to mind when we think of traditional, patriarchal polygamy.

Of course one function of compulsory monogamy is that polyamorous relationships are widely condemned, by both liberals and conservatives alike. But it’s important to reflect on the root of that condemnation. Whenever a society prohibits a certain behavior or identity, that prohibition is most likely serving the interests of people in positions of power. As feminists, we should always question these socially mandated norms. Is monogamy enforced simply out of tradition? Or is it enforced as yet another way to control and police women’s bodies and sexuality?

As feminists, I believe we have an interest in supporting, rather than condemning, egalitarian polyamorous relationships. These relationships reject male ownership of women and offer a challenge to traditionally gendered expectations for monogamy. In turn, they have the potential to disrupt gender roles in an even broader sense. We all stand to benefit from supporting relationships that serve as a model for less patriarchal, less hierarchical ways of intimately relating to one another.

It would be unreasonable to argue that all feminists should reject monogamous relationships, just as it is unreasonable to suggest that all feminists should reject heterosexuality. Monogamous, heterosexual relationships can be wonderfully egalitarian, too, and certainly not everyone has the desire or the inclination to be in multiple romantic relationships simultaneously. But just as one can be straight and still critical of compulsory heterosexuality, it is possible to engage in monogamous relationships and yet still be critical of the institution of compulsory monogamy. I hope we can begin having a dialogue about this institution, examining what it is and how it functions, and envisioning a future without it.

What do you think?

Photo from Wikimedia Commons user Akrabbim under license from Creative Commons 3.0


  1. anonymous says:

    I’m bothered by the assumption in this article that different-sex relationships are and will continue to be the norm by which all other relationships should be measured. Please don’t forget that some of your readers identify as queer feminists. Our point of view adds to the conversation.

    • JaneCitizeb says:

      I don’t think they or anyone has forgotten that the majority of folks are in hetero (looking) relationships – regardless of identity. As a cis-gendered, bisexual woman, I have noticed that the monogamous norm has permeated any relationship I have had. For the most part, the straight men, queer women, butch-lesbians, funny-haha-men I sleep with have all demanded my “undivided attention.” Not to discount that one beautiful queer lady that did ask me, “Is Poly OK?”

      I hate assumptions, too – and I hate to rely on statistics. Mostly because none of us who are fluid/bisexual/open have the gall to actually declare it.

      Especially if we are in relationships that mimic the “norm.”


    • I did’t feel that underlying assumption at all!

    • I don’t see that as being her underlying assumption for what *should* be. Quite the opposite, in fact. I see that she is acknowledging that, *in terms of statistics*, their *existence* is the “norm” and is likely to continue to be the norm. As far as what “should” be the standard, I see that questioning the assumptions of compulsory monogamy is a crucial next step in moving toward a relationship “norm” that assumes that Love Is ALWAYS OK, no matter how many people are involved, or what their genders or orientations. Compulsory monogamy is part of a larger “ownership paradigm” with a competitive basis. Moving away from that, and toward a cooperative, egalitarian model is important in many different areas of feminist thought. Learning how “not to be jealous” of people (one of the primary skills in polyamorous relationships) prepares us to learn how not to be “jealous” of things and money, which in turn can lead us to creating a more just society for all, not just the 1%.

  2. Makeesha says:

    As long as we continue to be thoughtfully engages about polyamory and not simply embrace it because it seems more liberal or accepting or egalitarian I think you’re spot-on. Polyamory can be very challenging and all of my polyamorous friends (granted, I only have a handful) have experienced great stress and strain and ultimately returned to a more traditionally monogamous arrangement – which is not necessarily evidentiary. I only mention it to suggest we continue to be critically thinking advocates.

    • I have been polyamorous my whole life. I do not experience the “great stress and strain” you refer to nor have I seen it in other polyamorous people I have known. There are challenges with everything in life, including monogamy, but polyamory is not that hard as long as you are open and honest and you deal with your feelings with love. Polyamory is part of my spiritual path. Not controlling or possessing what I love is why love remains. Possession is not love, it is fear. Follow love and everything fits together in your relationships. “Rules” are created out of fear. Do what feels right. If you don’t feel like ever having sex with anyone else than don’t. Why do you need this rule of monogamy to be comfortable? Everything changes. It won’t stop changing. Let go.

      • Lewis Smart says:

        Hooray for you.
        Personally I’ve found it very difficult to be a polyamorous person in a monogamous society. I feel like an alien. I get depressed about it. At times I have been suicidal. When I try to talk to people about this they say they don’t understand why I can’t just be normal and monogamous. I’ve learned to keep it to myself and to expect nothing good to come of it.
        Perhaps you live in an area or a country with a supportive poly community, or at least a number of poly people around you, but please understand that in many places and communities there’s little hope for poly people right now.

    • Engaging in thoughtful dialog about poly is, I think, exactly what will help all of us become more free and able to engage in more egalitarian relationships. And one part of the dialog is to be aware that there are polys who have NOT experienced great stress and strain and returned to a more traditionally monogamous relationship. My poly relationships have been immensely less stressful for me than monogamous ones, and I’ve been poly for around 30 years. It’s true that doing anything that does not comport with cultural norms can trigger great stress and strain, as anyone who has done that knows, but that does not mean it is a bad thing.

  3. Ya know, I would much rather folks put their energy toward changing something more meaningful, like the unfair and undeserved prejudice against fat people in our society, than picking up on a coattail issue in the human sexuality arena. Monogamy. Really?

    • John Ullman says:

      Monogamy is not really compulsory, since roughly half of the US population eschews it. But couples are highly privileged, both in terms of social approval and financial benefits. Married couples receive more approval and benefits, of course, but it is generally assumed that unmarried couples are on the relationship escalator to marriage. What is mind boggling is that what will soon be a majority of Americans are only now awakening to their marginalization. The real solution to the marriage issue is to get the government out of marriage. Fortunately there is at least one organization devoted to this cause, Unmarried Equality.

    • Annette – Patriarchy has a heavy hand in determining standards of beauty (or “body-normaty”) for both men and women. That is to say, patriarchal norms for acceptable bodies – and, therefore, patriarchy – is why “fat” is discriminated against. Thus, both issues of “acceptable” sexuality and issues of “acceptable” bodies are the result of patriarchy, and therefore two different sides of the same die.

    • It is only a coattail issue for some. For others, the compulsory aspect of monogamous culture has been like a hammer than has deformed the frame of our lives, our house. It is easy to dismiss an issue that has had not impact on your life without considering it fully. It is reasonable to stop and ask how this issue is bound up in the issues that feminists care about. If feminists are not sufficiently focused on fat shaming and prejudice (and issue that seems to be getting quite a bit of feminist attention by my eyes), that is a debate worth having too.

    • Wow, Annette, you probably don’t realize how insulting and insensitive that sounds to the tens of thousands of us struggling for and working toward acceptance of our polyamorous identity. Many causes deserve support, and if you understood this one you wouldn’t think to refer to it as coattail or less meaningful.

      Mononormativity is real, is oppressive, and has its roots in patriarchy. Like heterosexuality, monogamy as a choice is fine, but when it’s compulsory it causes suffering.

      Thank you Angi for a spot on article. I’ll be sharing this with my local poly discussion groups, where incidentally a huge majority of members are feminists.

    • Way to downplay the issue. Compulsory monogamy IS a serious issue. It is impossible to separate it from the patriarchal family structure and the general subjection of women. (note: I’m referring to the compulsory part, not monogamy on its own.) Not to mention all the failed relationships because of individuals who find it hard to exist in a monogamous relationship and believe the only alternative is to either cheat or end it. Not to say that fatphobia isn’t a serious issue too. Let’s not do the oppression olympics thing, here.

    • How about you advocate to abolish fat prejudice on a different forum, and allow Angi Becker Stevens to write an article without fundamentally questioning the validity of that perspective. I personally just do not care about fat prejudice, but I am interested in issues of human sexuality. I do not choose to comment on articles about fat prejudice with, ‘Why can’t we talk about something more important, like compulsory monogamy?’
      If fat prejudice takes precedence over matters of human sexuality, then I raise you one. Who cares about fat prejudice in the face of modern racism, victimization of the poor, the predatory national healthcare system, or the poverty and political unrest throughout much of the world. I’ll bet Syrian refugees are not concerned with fat prejudice.

    • D.M. Atkins says:

      As a feminist and a size acceptance activist, I really find it sad that you would fall into the old trap of thinking looking at multiple issues is a problem. Feminism is the most powerful when we look at all issues of social justice. I will fight for the right to be treated as a person, no matter the size of my body, or the gender(s) of my partner(s) or the number of people I love. Rise to the challenge with me and we are both stronger.

    • elfeleventy says:

      I’m fat and poly and I think we can work towards better awareness of both things! 🙂 Intersectionality FTW. A lot of people don’t realize just how compulsory monogamy has become until they try to do something or be something different. I face just as much prejudice in both arenas, thanks. The thought of a fat girl attracting enough attention to have multiple loving relationships is something that often blows people’s minds. But the judgment I get for it–when someone at work saw a picture of me with two of my lovers, I got called a slut! At work!–definitely reflects the compulsory attitude Angi is articulating here. In fact, so does your comment, Annette.

  4. I tried non-monogamy, and it worked for a certain point in my life. I’m monogamous now (and in a hetero relationship).The ways that self-identified “poly” people profess non-monogamy works are not actually true. All too often, men are allowed to have multiple female partners who incidentally cannot or should not see other men. It became for me an experiment in patriarchy writ large once I tried to engage in my local poly community. I’ve had a few friends who’ve tried some degree of open relationship, but it caused more pain than it was supposed to.

    It’s a great *idea* but just doesn’t work for most people in practice. Almost no one is capable of the level of communication, self-awareness, and persistent benevolence that being in a functioning non-monogamous relationship requires.

    • Hi! I’m apparently one of those you think doesn’t exist. 🙂 I’m a woman, with multiple male partners (and occasional female partners as well.) I’m sorry that your experiences with your local poly community were not satisfactory to you. I assure you that there are MANY happy, functional, and long-lasting poly relationships of one woman with multiple men. There are also many awesome feminist men who ARE that level of self-aware, have superb communication skills, and are able to be persistently benevolent. Is it always perfect? By no means. It takes a lot of WORK to develop these skills! And relationship challenges happen in ALL relationships, no matter how many people, of which genders, and which orientations, might be in any particular group. Not all relationships succeed. Not all people are “enlightened.” Frankly, some people can’t have ANY successful relationships! But with greater awareness, and greater skills and abilities in relating, all relationship styles have a better chance of working. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you, but to say that it won’t work out for *anyone* based on your experience (and even that of the other folks you know who tried it once or twice and didn’t have the outcome they sought) is actually a Logical Fallacy, one of Confirmation Bias. There are many people for whom it does work, the original author here being one of them. Just because you don’t know them, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. 🙂

  5. ailimhazel says:

    It needs to be discussed and I’m really glad this article came out right during the Anthony Weiner debacle. I really think he and his wife might have an open marriage. Whether they do or anyone does is no one’s business but a culture where polyamory isn’t stigmatized as “slutty” or “lack of commitment” could make coming out as an open marriage or an “other” relationship less stressful. I imagine a lot of poly relationships break down due to secrecy and snarky behavior from those that don’t approve. Sabotage and jealousy follows. Both are killers for relationships. Monogamy is so easy by comparison because of the social supports already in place. This happens with a lot of things, like breastfeeding. A social push created such pressure and stress against breastfeeding in the 70s that almost all women in the US stopped. Social pressure is behind a lot of movements and cultural changes. When attitudes reach critical mass then laws are changed and behavior is changed. I’d love to see a time when a person’s romantic arrangement is not used against them in custody laws, property disputes, etc. As long as the conditions are clearly drawn and agreed upon and no one gets hurt, people should feel safe to be who they are and not fear reprisals. With the third wave of feminism addressing gender fluidity, social issues and inequality, and differences in spirituality (many of the things ignored or not fully addressed in the 2nd wave to the point where 70s feminism was considered a middle-class white woman’s movement) it would make sense to question all the things we take for granted about relationships, including nuclear families, and monogamous families.

  6. Northern Free Thinker says:

    Congrats on this article! Monogamy is a social construct historically linked to patriarchy. Monogamy is not a natural system for Homo sapiens, but monogamy (including the idea of marriage) are social constructs meant to ensure that each male, no matter how selectively “un” fit, would reek the benefit of breeding. Reproduction is erroneously looked upon as a god given right, when in fact breeding is a heavy burden that only the fittest (in the biological fitness sense) should embark upon, those with good support networks. But patriarchy begath religion and monogamy (marriage), and to fight patriarchy without fighting the two other two bed brothers is a lopsided approach to social change. I vote for the complete abolishment of state marriage contracts, leave patriarchy in the churches, where it belongs, I’ll have no part of it.

    • Having multiple sexual partners predates monogamy. Both are patriarchal.
      Not all pastors and congregations embrace patriarchy. Some are trying to change
      but just like any other organization, they have to work with what they’ve got while
      thinking outside the box.
      Religion comes in many forms. Some people worship money, celebrity, status, and
      yes even sex, so while I too am critical of “The Church”, I feel it is unfair to dump all
      of our ills on organized religion just because it is an easy target and few bloggers
      will criticize you for such dumping.

  7. We’re not there yet. Women haven’t finished their critical analysis of compulsory heterosexuality. Despite growing acceptance for others to be lesbian, we, as a sex, are still tracked to men as default for relationships. Even women’s bi-sexuality, which could be interpreted as questioning hetero norms, at its best, has been appropriated by men, for their sexual desires – swinging, 3-ways, voyeurism. Within the LGB population, more than 50% of women identify as bi-sexual. That is a dramatic statistic, especially compared to 25% bi-sexual males within the GB combined population. Why is that number so high if women have, indeed, critiqued compulsory heterosexuality? As with Anon 8/6 2:27, I am bothered that the article completely ignores poly-lesbianism. The assumption is to “advance” from Multi-women-single-man to single-woman-Multi-man. A pluralistic heterosexual relationship. I feel that women are not yet in an equal position from which to contemplate polyamory. Without equality, any considerations of polyamory will be usurped, as with women’s bisexuality, by men for their benefit.

  8. The issue Angi discusses here is *compulsory* monogamy, not whether poly is a good idea for you personally. It’s no coincidence that most of the modern poly movement’s founders, activists, book authors, bloggers, event organizers, and public spokespeople are women. Both Loving More and the Polyamory Leadership Network, the two main activist groups, base their mission statements on “relationship choice” — meaning the freedom and ability to choose either monogamy or polyamory as suits you personally, in a deliberate way, and have this respected. That’s pretty radical and brings a whole range of other social/ privileging/ feminist issues into view.

  9. PolyAndrew says:

    Poster – short reply to title of your article: totally! Long answer: for me, my identity as a queer and sex-positive feminist is inextricably linked to my *relationship orientation* as polyamorous. I would not be poly if I had not first learned to communicate openly about identity, sexuality, gender, feelings, thoughts, and–most of all–my truth. I learned these things at home (co-raised by two strong women) first. When society sought to reteach me about domination and my place in the world as “a man,” a found refuge and theoretical/tangible “enlightenment” in the Women’s Studies classroom. Just as “the personal is political” “love is abundant” and I walk my talk everyday by engaging in two or more consensual and ethical romantisexual relationships.

    Anonymous – I agree. Also, just as different-sex relationships are normalized. The diad or the couple is the norm which not only devalues triples, quadruples, and more-somes…but also the single person. Every one of us is told we have not fully arrived as an adult until we enter into a partnership with one other person (at a time*).

    *The norm is not actually monogamy, but serial monogamy–one at a time over and over until we find “the one.” I share this to reveal to you some of the research (and real-world implications) the feminist critique is and can flourish in studying relationship orientation.

    Makeesha – Thank you for mentioning your second-hand experience with polyamory, and your charge for us to “be critically thinking advocates.” Your voice is very valid, and reflects a fairly common point of view among poly-friendly people in my experience. No, poly does not always “work” and many experimenters return to monogamy. First, please recognize that idealized monogamy does not always work either. People break up all the time. You know the statistics. Is this evidence that monogamy is flawed and we should be critical thinking advocates of it? Yes, probably. I definitely advocate critical thought, itself, when it comes to each individual’s decision–first and foremost–to identify as mono, poly, swinger, non, open, fluid, or whatever orientation. The trouble with relationship orientation is that monogamy is the default choice. Most feel as though there is no other choice. There is! Here is my abbreviated experience as a poly person…

    Poly is challenging and so is monogamy. It is challenging to be open with feelings and thoughts, and honest about them, and to evolve through/past/around insecurity (the root of jealousy), and to manage time and energy (which unlike love itself, are not abundant). I have two partners presently. I have been in a relationship with Heather for seven years, the first four were monogamous. We love to talk, challenge one another to grow, have tantric and primal sex, go for walks, and watch films.

    The first year and a half we were poly we dated other people casually (practicing very safe sex, the way I do poly is to be especially careful about fluid-bonding until a pseudo-closed or polyfidelitious system is in place…usually once a more serious partnership evolves). We talked a lot. “Communicate, communicate, communicate” is a poly axiom. People who do not like to talk and prefer to avoid tension may not thrive in poly. We made mistakes. We fell in love, had our hearts broken, and tweaked our form/s of polyamory. Heather, who is writing a dissertation on polyamory ( came up with the idea of “polyamorieS”. There is no one normalizing polyamory; their are infinite forms of polyamory…just as with monogamy. Is this what the dominant culture teaches us about relationship orientation? I think not. See the intersection between poly and feminism?

    Now I am lucky to still be with Heather and with Cordelia. I split my cohabitation between my two partners. Our plan is for the four of us (C has another life-partner, Ben) to move in together. H and C are very close friends. Sometimes they have sex too. Sometimes I am there too. Sometimes not. Ben is like a brother to me. It is actually a lot like a truly intentional family.

    Annette – I love you. I do not know you, yet I love you as a fellow being. Thank you for being honest about your feelings. I agree, fat-phobia is a major fucking problem. Also, relationship orientation and compulsory monogamy is not merely a coattail issue. Here are some resources:

    Please ask me anything! I would love to further explain my comments if requested. Thank you.

  10. Micah Marshall says:

    I completely agree with this article. We should stick together and bring down the norm of monogamy and heterosexual thinking do what makes us happy and not be ridiculed!

  11. anonymous says:

    @annette, sexualities are a breeding ground for prejudice and discrimination. in my country, people are murdered for not subscribing to heteronormative ideals. it’s really not about privileging one struggle over another. the issue of unattainable western standards of beauty that minoritise individuals that do not necessarily fit that mould matters just as much as the issue of compulsory monogamy does. please do not silence those that are prejudiced by the monogamous institution which is often aligned with heteropatriarchal norms. all these struggles matter.

  12. Not only is polyamory female-friendly (and feminist friendly) — it’s also friendly to individuals!

    Polyamory ultimately is about empowering individuals to come together in relationships in ways that suit the people involved, rather than just defaulting to social norms. This leads to lots of interesting relationship structures, ranging from closed polyfidelitous groupings, flexible and adaptable “tribes” or networks of overlapping relationships, and even solo polyamorists (people who engage in poly relationships but who don’t have/want a primary- or nesting-style relationship).

    Most media coverage of polyamory, and even discourse in the poly community, focuses on polyamory from the perspective of people in existing couples or other primary-style relationships. But actually, polyamory is about what PEOPLE do, not what couples/triads/etc. do. And many of these people are women.

    Speaking as a longtime solo poly woman and lifelong feminist, this a great way to live.

  13. William L. Turner says:

    Funny then how the feminists in Canada toke such a strong opposition to de-criminalizing polygamy. Their arguments mirrored those Republicans used to oppose gay marriage; (1) it just doesn’t “feel right”, (2) it will result in increased pedophilia (despite it still being illegal to marry children); (3) it will lead to further deviance like bestiality.

  14. I don’t think a paradigm outside of monogamy is “coattail” at all. And ironically, Annette your mention of fat acceptance is more allied with human sexuality than you might initially think — both have to do with body and identity sovereignty, neither of which are trivial issue at all.

    Self-determination, the rejection of victimization and advocacy for healing are all related. Your indignation is the divisive thing that I can observe. Sorry.

  15. This is great. Thank you.

  16. I’m happily gay, my mom was a charter subscriber to Ms back in the day, but don’t labor under the misapprenehsion that heterosexual binary gender is not the norm because I am not of the norm. Heterosexual binary gender is the norm worldwide independent of economics, religion or culture almost universally.

    It is okay to not be of the norm. What is not okay is to deny civil rights to those not of the norm. But trying to redefine everyone else in your terms in order to make yourself more comfortable with yourself collapses the moment that your definitions are meaningless to those you’re trying to redefine. Further, it objectifies other as monodimensional pieces on a game board for you to recast to your convenience. There are some very oppressive elements to post-sedentary agriculture, post-abundance humanity that are the norm not the exception.

    The way to contest this is the way that lesbians and gays did in the US over the past 30 – 40 years, the same way that Cesar Chavez organized the UFW, lots of people going one person at a time, living the positive example before their family, friends and coworkers and bringing people along with us.

    We learned that the Dworkinist damning of the night did little to move the feminist agenda forward. Per Gramsci’s war of position, the lesbian and gay success story serves as a template for how to change society through decentralized collective uncoordinated mass action of being in place.

  17. Just because it isn’t ‘more meaningful’ for you, does not mean that it is not for others.

  18. And just because I’m putting my energy toward this issue, which happens to be significantly important for me, and the growing, valid, and deserving poly community here in Melbourne, even if it is not for you, doesn’t mean I’ve not energy for other important things, including fatism.

  19. Stress and strain is common across all relationships, non-traditional or otherwise. I would venture that much greater discord and dissatisfaction seems to exist in traditionally structured relationships, however, but this is my personal observation, of course. For the record, I know many poly people, and who doesn’t have a wide sample of mono people to observe 😉

  20. wonderful! <3

  21. I think people should be free to organize their lives the way they see fit, and according to what works for them. My recent involvement in polyamory has immediately brought some bigoted reactions out of the woodwork. Does this mean I should crawl back into my shell? No, I will keep at it. Life is a great experiment, and some mountains must be climbed just because they are there. Polyamory is more difficult than monogamy, but it is also very rewarding with the right people.

  22. D.M. Atkins says:

    It was feminism upon which I based my “political non-monogamy” upon long before the term “polyamory” was coined. For me, daughter of radical feminist Mary E. Atkins (then chair of Oklahoma State NOW), I had been taught that “my body, my right to decide” meant that the “right to say yes” was as important as the “right to say no.” Feminist non-monogamy meant holding on to the rights of to my body. Later, polyamory, taught me to negotiate what I did and did not want in relationships. While I have sometimes remained “sexually exclusive” with one partner or even non-sexual for parts of my life, I refuse to cede control of my body, my mind or my heart to another, no matter how much I love them.

  23. Thomas Leavitt says:

    Literally millions of people, queer and straight alike, participate in non-monogamous relationships. While numbers are hard to come by (as mentioned), it is pretty clear, as a long time bi and poly activist, that a huge percentage of the overall bisexual population is polyamorous… my anecdotal experience suggest that at least a third of the bisexual population is (maybe more), and that they, in turn, represent around a third (maybe more) of the polyamorous population at large. Statistics indicate that a significant number of relationships among self-identified homosexual males are non-monogamous as well (if not formally poly in an indeterminate number of cases). What figures we do have are noticeably lower among the self-identified lesbian population, although I lack the knowledge to speculate as to why.

    Given that the best evidence indicates that bisexuals make up over half of the self-identified queer population, this makes non-monogamy a core queer issue (at least it should be), and hardly a “coattail” issue, given that it encompasses literally millions of people in the U.S., alone. It should also be a core issue for feminists, as a huge percentage of the self-identified bisexual population is female (I’ve seen figures that suggest the ratio is at least 4:1, if not higher, in that respect) , and women represent the bulk of the national bi leadership, both presently, and historically. The head of BiNet USA, Faith Cheltenham, is female, for instance. As mentioned, while polyamorous relationship structures are in no way immune from the overall sexism of the larger culture (witness the much debated “unicorn” phenomenon), there is a very strong egalitarian current in poly culture at large, which someone naturally derives from the fundamental principle of informed, mutual consent among partners who participate in such relationships.

  24. Liz Wilson says:

    I think monogamy is largely a thing of the past and should be treated as such by feminists.

  25. Krystal Starr says:

    Monogamy is a social construction which can be changed. Past movements lead by feminists and activists have made changes for equal rights, social justice, civil liberties. See for example with the recent paradigm shift in favor of gay marriage. The language our President used and other politicians speaking about “evolving” on their views are in stark contrast with the past when you would have been painted as a “flip-flopper”. All of these are worth fighting for. To be for true equality and egalitarianism you need to be consistent on these issues no matter who the disenfranchised group is. Hence way I started and help manage The Liberal Library, a fb page archiving media content related to social, cultural, and political issues shaping society:
    We should all be at the vanguard of change, because together we can make it reality faster.

    As far as Polyamory, I am very new at this and my first experience has been less than ideal. If anyone knows of any good resources, message boards, support systems that would be helpful.

    Thanks, this is a wonderful article I will be sharing.

    • PolyAndrew says:

      Please see my post above for some resources. Also, check out:

      “Opening Up” by Tristan Taormino
      “Polyamory in the 21st Centurty” by Deborah Anapol
      PolyWeekly (a podcast)
      Feel free to friend request me on Facebook at, and I can invite you to join a confidential poly friend group.

  26. Groups who permit polygamy should be obliged to allow polyandry as well. Period.

  27. Thank you very much for this article!!

    I definitely think feminists need to critique compulsory monogamy. Monogamy is great for those who really want it, but it certainly does not fit for everyone, including myself.

    I disagree that we are not ready to make this step and I really think that polyamorous relationships/non-monogamous relationship styles in general are often negotiated by women in order to gain more power and ownership over their sexuality and bodies. Of course the context we live in will influence these relationships as it does monogamous relationships, but that is just something we have to keep pushing back against. Besides, some people believe it is a ‘choice’ for them to be in a non-monogamous relationship while others believe it is somewhat of an orientation. I don’t think people should be held back from questioning compulsory monogamy just because someone thinks it won’t work out ‘perfectly’ – monogamous relationships never do either! Going in with eyes wide open is best and having relationships with people who hold similar values is also important, again, as it is in monogamous relationships.

    Non-monogamy is still something that is new to me and I have definitely had high and low points, but as much as I am scared to venture into unknown territory and go against monogamous norms I have been taught, I have also never felt as fulfilled in my romantic life as I am now that I recognize this tendency in myself. Fighting back against sexist and heterosexist norms is a daily thing for me (I am a cis female who is bisexual) and to be able to connect with others who are taking the next steps in questioning compulsory monogamy has been incredibly empowering. We cannot hold non-monogamous relationships to impossible standards of perfection (we certainly don’t hold monogamous ones to them!) and expect them to work incredibly smoothly, especially given the context that all romantic relationships are negotiated in, and the fact that everyone has a lot to climb out of in terms of how we are socialized to believe monogamy is inseparable from devotion, commitment, love, and our own self-worth.

  28. I think most people have such a visceral reaction to polyamory because it’s been so entrenched in our psyche by society to see anything beyond two partners as “threatening”. People get defensive and angry when they feel challenged, afraid, or are presented with something that they see as “dangerous”, and culturally, we have been conditioned from the beginning with the idea that the only truly fulfilling partnership is going to be between two people. Media, families, schools, etc., perpetuate the traditional idea to the point where people don’t see other options. It isn’t even that other options aren’t there or that other options couldn’t work; people have just become to used to the normalized concept that two people make a relationship and that relationship must follow certain rules that they cannot accept anything else without being defensive. The very way we define our own importance, value, worth, and abilities is tied to our ability to hold an accepted relationship, because society has told us that that is how we must define ourselves and our success.

    There is nothing inherently threatening about a consensual, communicative, and open polyamorous relationship, even though it isn’t “accepted”, because in reality, most polyamorous partners define the relationship on dynamics, rather than rules. Some polyamorous partners live in tri-partnerships, but are “monogamous” in the sense that between the three of them, there are no outside influences. Some are open, surrounding the two at the center, but with boundaries and rules for those who come in. Some are just open entirely without central focus. The relationships aren’t just about having sex with multiple partners, or people going out and screwing whoever they want when they’re bored. You can find a lot of self-worth, dedication, and fulfillment in the right partnerships that fulfill and validate your needs, but the first step is allowing the dynamics to define the relationship, and not outside influences.

    Really, even traditionally monogamous couples could learn a lot from successful polymorous partners; there is a lot of room for all individuals to be able to define their relationships based on what they ARE, and not on what someone has them they SHOULD be.

    Which really, any feminist, humanist, whatever, can benefit from, because that approach is gender-blind. I didn’t even realize that monogamy was compulsory until I met people who practiced and raised families in polyamorous situations, and I very suddenly realized that my previous definitions for success in terms of a relationship were completely not my own. Very eye-opening.

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