More than 500 thousand American families are in open polygamous relationships. Moreover, the number of people involved in such relationships has more than doubled during last 15 years. Human nature is not intended to be and never was meant for monogamy. The aggregate number of factors leads to the fact that long-term monogamous relationship causes problems in humans, however, plenty of aspects from political, religious, and legal fields shape a negative attitude towards polyamory and contribute to its stigmatization.
Monogamy is a historical form of marriage and the family, in which there are only two representatives of the marriage union. It is opposed to polygamy. The term polygamy refers to a form of marriage in which a man or a woman can have more than one spouse. There are two types of polygamy. They are polygyny, in which a man can be married to more than one woman at the same time, and less common polyandry, where a woman may consist simultaneously in two or more marital unions with different men. Polyamory is a system of ethical views on love, admitting the possible existence of multiple love relationships of one person with several people (as well as between several people) at the same time, with the consent and approval of all participants of these relations. Polygamy and polyamory are the close notions, but they are not identical since the first focuses on the love, and the second describes the family format.
Factors Explaining the Societal Attitudes toward Polygamy and Polyamory within Modern Western Societies
Modern western culture discriminates against polygamy and polyamory. Attitude to these forms of intimate relations is, mildly speaking, ambiguous, but rather sharply negative. The system is fully focused on the model of the nuclear family with two biological parents. Within it, the concept of polyamory is an alternative and unacceptable system of views on the organization of interpersonal relationships involving sex or romance discourse. People engaged in it are not understood and are condemned in the Western society. They can practice non-monogamy only secretly (adultery) or serially (divorce and re-marriage). According to the poll, 28.5 % of 4 thousand persons involved in polyamorous relationships faced discrimination.
Normalization of sexual behavior that exists at the level of the unspoken rules and stereotypes is a very important aspect of modern human consciousness. The conduct that does not fit into the most common, sustained and endorsed format of relations, instantly becomes an occasion for social stigmatization. One of the most traditional and strong views on sexual behavior is taboo on the plural number of partners. The culture of sexual relations allows only pair relationships. Political, religious, psycho-social and other factors back up this taboo, but the precedents of violation of it are known. These aspects shape social attitude towards polygamy and polyamory.
In most countries, there are no legal restrictions on the formation of multilateral alliances between adults, including sexual relations, with the possible exception of restrictions on homosexual unions available in some nations. However, in most Western states, marriage uniting more than two people is forbidden. Moreover, in many countries, civil unions which are only possible for polyamorous people do not have the same legal status as an officially registered marriage. At the same time, legal differences between official and civil marriages can occur in child custody, inheritance, decision-making related to health and life of partners, and many other aspects. In this respect, the status of polyamory relations currently has no legal confirmation. Thus, there is not legal recognition of family relationships. As a result, this fact contributes to the discrimination against polyamory units.
Many religions popular in the Western society condemn sexual relations outside of marriage or outside the union, which plays the role of marriage. As a consequence, the attitudes of the believers of these religions towards polyamory essentially are the same as to polygamy. Most of them condemn polygamy not considering it the acceptable form of marriage. However, even in religions, in which polygamy is considered permissible, it often refers to a strictly defined form of a group marriage, which makes polygamy a rule.
Now, at the beginning of the XXI century, polygyny is common in some Muslim countries, but it is not recognized by the majority of Christian and Jewish teachings. Christians condemn polyamorous people most. Nevertheless, the Old Testament, which is the basis of all the three major Abrahamic religions, contains many references to polygyny, such as, for example, the story of King Solomon. Religion is also a serious factor influencing the negative attitude of the population towards polygamy and polyamory.
Having polygamy or polyamory life style, people immediately break the taboo. They do not just move away from the norm, this position has political meaning. Moreover, polyamory as a political position shapes the more negative attitude of the conservative society. In the Western countries, women are expected to be monogamous. They should take the role of mothers and guardians for their partners. Polyamory allows them to get rid of it, which is a good from a feminist point of view but bad from socially acceptable perspective. It can be annoying for men, because they are deprived of their usual roles. Polyamory has feminist overtones. It is linked to the emancipation of women. Polyamory brings the real equality which most Western societies are not prepared to. Thus, it causes a certain resistance which is manifested in a negative attitude to it.
Changing of the Attitudes
Today, polyamory relations have good prospects. They are becoming more popular in the Western societies. Earlier, civil marriage was considered a top of debauchery. Today, it is the socially acceptable form of union. There is a hope that the same will happen to polyamory unions. This prediction is based on the fact that now, in the area of sexuality and forms of relations, radical changes including dissatisfaction with the restrictions associated with serial monogamy, that is, the replacement of one partner to another in the hope for a better outcome are occurring.
Thus, today, society revises the assumption of cultural origin that monogamy is the only acceptable form of relationships. Sociologists threat the new trends in family and intimate relations more pragmatically. They associate the possible shift to more tolerant attitude towards polyamory with the crisis of the institution of marriage occurring now, which largely explains the emergence of new forms of love. The statistics of divorce, getting higher every year, can be considered the evidence. It cannot be excluded that eventually polyamory will become the only possible family scheme.
Debates over Same-Sex Marriage and the Debates over Polygamy and Polyamory
90% of Americans are against polygamy. Meanwhile, the proponents of polygamy may give rise to a mass movement for the legalization of this phenomenon in the next 15-20 years on the background of the struggle for the rights of homosexual couples. Debates over same-sex marriage draw attention to the issue of gay relations. Polyamory also ignores the sexual affiliation of the partner, which means that it welcomes gay unions. The more people know about a variety of relationships, the more understanding they treat them with. These findings are similar to what psychologists have discovered against gays, lesbians, and other sexual minorities: the closer acquaintance is, the less severe is condemnation, stigma. If people are familiar with at least one homosexual, their attitude towards all homosexuals becomes much friendlier. The more people know about polyamory, the more positive their opinion is. Thus, there is mutual influence of the debates over these two issues
Correlation of Social Characteristics of People with Their Attitudes
There are certain social characteristics that determine people’s attitudes towards polygamy and polyamory. Gender factor consists in the fact that monogamy lies in the nature of most females given their natural desire to be protected. A woman tries to find a reliable man who can take care of her and their children throughout life. This is quite difficult having a polygamous relationship. That is why women are prone to condemn polyamory more than men.
People adhering to traditional or religious beliefs are less likely to treat polyamory with understanding. True believers condemn premarital sex and a fortiori polyamory. ‘Do ‘not commit adultery’ and ‘You shall not covet your neighbor's wife" are the words from the Bible. They put polyamory beyond the religious law.
Ethnicity is also an important determining factor. Polygamy is common in Muslim societies. Within them, such a marriage is a responsible decision. The man has to be responsible for several women and children. Here, polygamous nature of marriage is not the main feature of it. Thus, people from Muslim society consider polyamory from another point of view and are less prone to condemn it due to the cultural settings.
In the societies of the Western type, marriage and, consequently, the family is associated with monogamy. It is considered illegal to be married to more than one woman or one man at a time. On a global scale, monogamy, generally speaking, is the most common form of marriage. However, polygamy is not an atavism. Now, it is stigmatized. This is due to the certain factors of legal, politic, religious and other characters. However, in future, this trend can change.
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