Dr. Elisabeth Sheff is an expert on polyamorous relationships and has conducted a 15 year study on poly relationships with children. She is an educational consultant and public speaker, and specializes in gender and sexual minority families, and issues facing trans people. You can read more about her work in her books, The Polyamorists Next Door, Stories From The Polycule, and When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous.
Are most polyamorous relationships short-lived, or long-term commitments?
It would be hard to say ‘most’. Some are certainly short-lived, but there are also poly relationships that last over 50 years. There isn’t enough data to say. However, the more people who are involved in the relationship, the more likely there will be some turnover.
How do poly relationships differ from polygamy?
A person of any gender can have a partner of any gender, and there is no religion on which these relationships are based. Polygamy is centered around religious beliefs, such as Mormon beliefs, and says that a man can have multiple wives.
Why do you think the idea of multiple partners is rejected by most people– even those who would consider themselves to be open-minded?
The idea scares people. It causes insecurities, it makes people feel like their relationship is being threatened. For some the fear is religion based, because most religions believe that sex is exclusively for reproducing, not for fun. In a lot of poly relationships sex is used for fun.
What is the main appeal of being in a polyamorous relationship?
Nowadays we have longer lifespans which means we have more time to make choices, to seek out what we want from different experiences. For some being in a poly relationship is about having their sexual needs met, for some it’s about having a broader social life or a sense of community.
Some decide to open their marriage to strengthen their relationship. They find they are able to have sexual and emotional needs met that maybe one person couldn’t provide them with.
In your article, you mention that there are some members of more traditional religions who are in poly relationships. How does this fit into their church or spiritual beliefs?
People who are hardcore in their religious beliefs tend to practice polygamy which is on the edge of poly groups. A lot of these relationships have a ‘one penis policy’, which is rejected by most of the poly community. Judaism for example is very different from Christianity in its attitude towards sex– they tend to have more happy marriages, be more relaxed about sex, and place less emphasis on virginity and purity. They believe in the ‘Mitzvah‘, sexual expression, that it’s important for women to also enjoy sex.
How does polyamory differ from open relationships? Or is it the same idea?
Some open relationships are polyamorous. The main difference is about the label. Open relationships may be ‘monogamish’– focusing on the couple but are open to threesomes, for example. And a lot of open relationships have rules like ‘what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas’, but don’t bring the other person home. Open relationships are an umbrella category.
Is polyamory more common than we realize?
Probably. Monogamy has to be negotiated now, it can’t be assumed. If you’re dating someone you can’t assume that just because you’ve had sex, you’re exclusive. People don’t view monogamy the same way they used to, so non-monogamy is definitely more common than we realize.
Do poly parents face a lot of discrimination? Are families with more than two parents becoming a more widely-accepted group?
They certainly face less discrimination than gay couples, for the simple reason that they blend in. When you see three people having lunch together, you assume they are friends or family, you don’t assume they’re all lovers. Families with more than two parents are becoming more acceptable because of divorce and re-marriage. It’s now common for a child to have three or four parents.
How does growing up with multiple parents affect kids?
Often it’s great for them, they say that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. Their families tend to be in good financial shape because they have more resources, help, the kids get more individual attention. These families tend to have better emotional intimacy and the kids are better at forming support groups and have stronger communication skills.
The two biggest drawbacks are that the kids feel they have too much supervision, and that when the relationships break up they must face people no longer being part of their lives. But it’s not usually the other adults they miss most, it’s their kids. The kids must say goodbye to their friends.
These kids also grow up with different attitudes towards relationships because they don’t assume monogamy. They view relationships as possibilities, and are open minded to different ideas. They don’t necessarily enter poly relationships themselves but they aren’t closed off to the idea.
Sheff, E. A. (June 5, 2017). Four Reasons Why Paganism And Polyamory Are Linked. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-polyamorists-next-door/201706/four-reasons-why-paganism-and-polyamory-are-linked