What even is polyamory, you may ask? The dictionary defines it as “the practice of engaging in multiple romantic (and typically sexual) relationships, with the consent of all the people involved.” More simply put? Multiple people, not just two, are involved in a romantic relationship together.
Weird? Maybe in the past, but polyamory (simply referred to as “poly” today) is weaving its way into the mainstream fabric of our culture before our very eyes.
Whether it be the growing number of poly-themed TikTok accounts or even A-list celebrities flaunting their non-monogamous love lives, a poly lifestyle is on the rise in modern America and is changing the way we think about love more and more every day.
Fringe or Mainstream?
What may sound initially like a temporary cultural fad to you is, in reality, starting to lead mainstream culture – particularly for Millennials and Generation Z. In fact, a recent poll revealed 1 in 9 Americans say they’ve already been in a polyamorous relationship, and 1 in 6 say they’d like to try one in the future. Yep – more than 10% of us have broken the tradition of monogamy, while a growing number have seen their interest piqued.
As A-list celebrities go public about their polyamorous lifestyles, many Americans also see that possibility for their own futures. Take Bella Thorne, for example. A Gen Z icon who got her start dancing on the Disney Channel recently went public about her throuple with rapper Mod Sun and influencer Tana Mongeau, a relationship which lasted from 2017 to 2019. In an interview with Cosmopolitan magazine, Bella said, “I love loving two people at once.”
Bella isn’t alone. Actress Shailene Woodley has opened up about having been in both monogamous and polyamorous relationships in the past, as has actor Ezra Miller, musicians Yungblud and Kehlani, and more.
Even slapping specialist Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith have publicly shared their journey in an open marriage and the opportunity to practice polyamory together, with Will sharing in a GQ interview, “The experiences that the freedoms that we've given one another and the unconditional support, to me, is the highest definition of love.” Of course, there clearly seems to be some broken communication in that marriage as indicated by the 2022 Oscars – just saying.
1 in 9 Americans say they’ve already been in a polyamorous relationship.
Will and Jada’s move toward polyamory even influenced their daughter Willow Smith to “come out” as poly. She publicly shared in an interview, "With polyamory, I feel like the main foundation is the freedom to be able to create a relationship style that works for you.”
Meanwhile, TikTok, the most popular global social media platform and easily the most influential app for Generation Z, is filled with poly content pushing a generational shift to abandon monogamy entirely.
Widely popular television series like Gossip Girl highlight and promote polyamorous relationships, Netflix Original Tiger King showcases Joe Exotic’s wild gay throuples, and public Spotify playlists conglomerate songs ditching monogamy.
Publications targeting teens and young adults push polyamorous articles too, like Teen Vogue’s “What is Polyamory,” “The ‘Gossip Girl’ Approach to Polyamory Is a Refreshing Step Forward,” or even “Willow Smith Opened Up About Her Sexuality and Polyamory.”
Like it or not, polyamory is shaping the course of mainstream culture as we know it, affecting entertainment, education, and even the justice system.
Changing Legal Matters
In 2017, a gay polyamorous throuple made history in the United States by becoming the first family in California to list three fathers on their adopted child’s birth certificate. What at first began as a friendship between a gay couple of eight years and a new friend evolved into a throuple, and after living in “throuple-dom” for five years, the three decided to become parents when friends offered to donate their leftover embryos to them.
After months of a complicated medical journey finding a surrogate, going through the ups and downs of IVF, and legal battles petitioning for a poly birth certificate for their daughter, the throuple was successful in legally becoming parents of their child just a few months before their daughter Piper was born.
The California throuple successfully petitioned for a poly birth certificate for their adopted daughter.
Legal advocates for polyamory are now fighting for other changes, including changing the current reality that legal marriage in the United States can only consist of two people. Until marriage licenses are opened up to polyamorous couples, encouragement of poly “commitment ceremonies” is shared online.
The Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition says people in polyamorous relationships are consistently discriminated against in the United States, not always through legal matters but societal stigma. They share on their website, “Studies have identified shared forms of stigma and discrimination between consensually nonmonogamous people and LGBTQ communities including (but are not limited to): fear of coming out, retaliation for coming out, marital/adoption/custody/parental issues, family rejection, difficulty accessing supportive mental health care, housing discrimination, and workplace discrimination.“
One thing’s for sure, the legal system as it relates to monogamy is an evolving subject in the 2020s and appears to become more accommodating for polyamorous relationships with each passing day.
Why It Matters
Polyamory isn’t new to the human experience – even in biblical times, taking on more than one partner or engaging in poly relationships was practiced.
However, consistently throughout human history, polyamorous relationships have not been fulfilling nor beneficial to our lives. A 2017 study surveying more than 11,000 people in Europe found that open relationships were less sexually satisfying than monogamous ones. According to the study, “82% of those in monogamous relationships were satisfied with their sex lives…while only 71% of those in open or polyamorous relationships felt the same way.”
Polyamory has been linked to less emotional fulfillment than a one-on-one relationship.
In addition, polyamory has been linked to less emotional fulfillment than a one-on-one relationship with your partner. Advocacy group Polyamory For Us notes a clear link to experiencing anxiety within poly relationships, and open forums like AskPolyamory.com feature posts from people like this one: “Being in a polyamorous relationship is horrible for my mental health,” where one person shared, “I keep comparing myself to people he has sex with. Once I get in that mindset I can't get out. I have problems with anxiety and depression both severe. I'm on meds and have been for 2 years but I can't find one that works.”
In a world plagued by the most significant mental health crisis a young generation has ever experienced, with record rates of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, suicide ideation and more, it would be a huge mistake for us to continue glorifying a lifestyle that sets us up for failure physically and emotionally.
We deserve to experience the true depth of emotional connection, satisfying sex lives, and real intimacy and commitment from those we fall in love with. We deserve more than just a part of someone. We deserve more than the lies of modern dating culture.
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