British magazine FK recently surveyed 1,006 gay men about their opinions on open and polyamorous relationships — that is, relationships that aren’t exclusively monogamous. In short, gay and bi guys who’d never been in an open/poly relationship tended to regard them as negative, and guys who had been in one tended to view them more positively. These findings reflect similar ones from a September 2013 study in the journal Psychology & Sexuality.
Considering the negative outlook by monogamous people, it’s not surprising that 65 percent of those surveyed perceived societal stigma against poly/open relationships.
A polyamorous session at this year’s national conference on LGBTQ equality (Creating Change) said that anti-poly stigma includes the inability to bring more than one partner to company events, the awkwardness of mentioning multiple partners to other potentially judgmental people, the lack of healthy poly relationships on TV or film and the dangers of being labelled a pervert, getting rejected from jobs or having your children taken away in a custody battle just for being polyamorous.
Seriously. The struggle is real.
But there may be more poly/open people than most Americans realize. Australian academic Kelly Cookson said that anywhere from 1.2 to 9.8 million Americans are in some sort of non-monogamous arrangement (that’s up to to 3 percent of the U.S. population). And the numbers could actually be much higher as many people only call themselves monogamous to avoid social stigma.
Truth is, we’re taught to see non-monogamy as evil, slutty, immature and selfish rather than viable, healthy, mature and loving. Just think of “the other woman” or the “homewrecking playboy” tropes in movies in TV.
To change that, polyamorous attendees at Creating Change sought to lay out a social and political agenda for the modern polyamory movement. Here’s some of the goals they came up with:
- Changing zoning laws so that multiple parent families aren’t kicked out of “single family homes”
Creating a comprehensive website with legal info about parenting/employment/tax/healthcare for quick, easy reference. This site should include information about legally and emotionally dissolving polyamrous relationships too.
Providing information about non-monogamous relationship styles in sex education classes.
Training workers in the childcare, family services and domestic violence fields about the existence of poly families so that they’re not viewed as a threat to child safety.
A push for governments to recognize polyamorous marriage and to ensure non-discrimination protections for polyamorous people.
A push for employers to start providing multiple-spousal benefits.
A push for polyamory workshops during local Pride events that teach (among other things) that polyamory is not cheating but that cheating can occur within polyamorous relationships.
Educating counselors and therapists about polyamorous relationships so they can effectively counsel them .
Pushing for positive representations of polyamorous relationships in the media.
Protests and awareness campaigns to teach people about anti-poly stigma and polyamorous political aims.
Now that they’ve defined a concrete agenda, it’s up to poly-activist and educators to start doing the hard work for social change. They have a hard road ahead: a March 2015 Gallup poll showed only a 16 percent public acceptance of polyamory — that’s not high, but it’s almost double what the poll showed in 2001.
Despite public distaste, studies that have been done on polyamory explode the stereotype of it being “unhealthy.” For example, a 2015 survey of 8,566 women by the queer women’s site Autostraddle showed that non-monogamous partners aren’t sluttier or less sexually safe than monogamous partners. Sharing that information with the wider public will help change attitudes about how poly people look and act.