Misconceptions

#01 - It's A Man Thing

One of the criticisms I've encountered during discussions with those who are unfamiliar with polyamory is that it was invented by men to give them an excuse to cheat on their spouses. However the facts are quite different.

As covered in the Introduction, the person credited with coining the term was a woman named Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, and in a true polyamorous relationship there is no such thing as cheating as everyone is aware of what's going on.

The religion Morning Glory adopted ( Neopaganism ) is also far more egalitarian to gender than mainstream patriarchal religions. She was born in 1948 to a strict Pentecostal home in Long Beach California. At the age of 14 she discarded Christianity over a disagreement with her Methodist grandfather who didn't believe animals have souls.

By the time she joined the Church of Many Worlds she had changed her name from Diana Moore to Morning Glory, was in her mid twenties, and had been living in harmony with the principles of polyamory for years. Morning Glory was also a member of the priesthood, a position reserved for men in Judeo-Christianian religions.

There also wasn't any pressure on Morning Glory by her church to agree with polyamory. It was always a free choice and preference for her. So if anything, from a historical perspective, polyamory represents freedom from male dominated culture and tradition where women were once considered men's property. Last but not least, there are more poly women than men.

A survey in 2012 of 4,062 poly-identified individuals between the ages of 16 and 92 found there are more poly women than men. Essentially half of the respondents (49.5 percent) identified as female, while only 35.4 percent identified as male. The remaining 15.1 percent either declined to choose between male and female or wrote in “third” genders. - The Advocate

All this being said, there is still some merit in being concerned about the true motives of those who claim to be polyamorous. As outlined on the Reasons For Caution page, there are wolves in sheep's clothing types who use polyamory as an excuse for infidelity. But they are not true poly people. They are frauds who give truly poly people an undeserved bad reputation.

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#02 - It's A Religious Thing

Although there is a religious aspect to the history of polyamory, one doesn't have to be religious to recognize that it makes sense from a philosophical and normative scientific perspective. This is of particular relevance for those ( like myself ) who prefer to make decisions about their life based on critical thinking rather than any sort of faith.

Of particular importance is that it is completely different from polygamy as practiced by a number of religions, including Mormonism and Islam. The huge difference is that marriage and religion really have nothing to do with the basic principles of polyamory.

Instead of religious or legal validation, polyamorous relationships are defined by the people involved according to their emotional bonds, and morals are more aligned with natural justice than statute or decree.

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#03 - It's All About The Sex

Something that is all too often overly emphasized is the role that sex plays in polyamory. In actual fact the sexual aspect of polyamory is of secondary concern. Depending on the relationship, sex may only be of peripheral relevance.

It is a romantic connection in an atmosphere of openness and honesty where true heartfelt love can flourish that is of primary importance. For many poly people ( myself included ) meaningless sex is as tasteless as it is for anyone else who is looking for a non-superficial relationship.

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#04 - It's Not Natural

This is probably the most misunderstood aspect of polyamory because it's assumed that being polyamorous is something that one chooses. In actuality that is as erroneous as saying that we choose to be human. In fact in can be argued that being polyamorous is one of the things that makes us human, or at least distinguishes humans from species that are incapable it.

This seems counterintuitive to mono people, but the evidence is overwhelming that we are born with the natural ability to form simultaneous appreciably interrelated romantic relationships, but are taught through example and social conditioning to avoid or repress polyamorous behavior. This is covered in some greater detail on the Nature Versus Nurture page.

Therefore from an objective perspective, people are naturally polyamorous but practice monogamy because of training and social expectation. So when someone says they aren't polyamorous, or that polyamory is unnatural, they're out of touch with the reality of the situation. If anything, it's monogamy that's not natural.

During her life Morning Glory was involved in poly relationships with up to six simultaneous participants. Polls vary, but today polyamory is consciously practiced by up to 10% of the population and the trend is growing. Given this situation it's also likely practiced on an intuitive level by many more who feel that open and honest relationships are more natural and ethical than the alternatives.
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#05 - Poly People Lack Commitment

It's not that poly people lack commitment. It can be fairly said that truly poly people have plenty of commitment. As mentioned in the Discovering Polyamory section, my life-partner and I were together for about 25 years and I stayed with her literally until "death do us part" when she died of cancer. That's commitment.

The reason that poly people are assumed to lack commitment is because the kind of commitment they have isn't based on the same notions about commitment that mono people commonly have. This gets a bit complicated, but if you want to get a more objective perspective on commitment check out the About Commitment page.

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#06 - Poly People Are Abnormal

A frequent criticism of polyamory is that it's not normal. However that assessment is in the context of cultural relativism as seen from the status quo of current Western culture. A more objective view of what is normal is in the context of what is biologically natural and what is normal from a psychological and anthropological perspective.

As illuminated in Myth #04 above, humans are not biologically monogamous and anthropologists are quick to point out that historically speaking, most cultures have been non-monogamous. Additionally, there is no objective medical or psychological evidence that poly people are physically or mentally deficient or compromised.

So far, studies suggest that polyamorous individuals are well-educated, holding more master's and doctoral degrees than the general population, said Champlain's Holmes, who is conducting ongoing research of an online sample of more than 5,000 polyamorous individuals. - Scientific American

To draw a comparison, although many people live in modern cities and breathe smog on a daily basis, there can certainly be a debate as to whether or not it's normal for humans to do so. At the very least we know that it's not natural, and if we are to defer to a rational perspective, calling it normal is a rather weak rationalization for tolerating it. So why do the same with our relationships when we have the personal choice to remove the cultural smog?

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#07 - Being Poly Necessitates Multiple Partners

As covered in the Introduction polyamory is a natural ability to have multiple simultaneous romantic relationships. However having a natural ability doesn't mean it will always be used. Humans have other natural abilities as well, such as the ability to have multiple simultaneous children. However that doesn't mean all parents will necessarily have more than one child at a time.

Poly people can be single, have only one partner, or have multiple partners. It all depends on the dynamics of the relationship and whether or not a poly person is fortunate enough to find other truly poly people to have a relationship with. So the notion that poly people are always involved with multiple partners or looking to make that happen is simply false.

What is generally the case is that poly people accept that becoming involved with more than one person at a time is a possibility that is perfectly natural, and could happen whether we want it to or not. Therefore rather than setting themselves up for failure, they embrace their nature and turn it into something positive. This is in sharp contrast to mono culture which tends to look upon our natural instincts as undesirable if not unholy traits that need to be repressed, punished, or forgiven.

Personally, it is the openness to the possibility as described above that forms the basis of my poly lifestyle, which I tend to characterize as poly in principle, but conservative in practice. That translates to establishing a close relationship with one person, after which time, although others are a possibility, the time and logistics required for my existing relationship tends to minimize the opportunities and desire for additional partners, making actual involvement with others unlikely and rare.

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#08 - Poly Relationships Lack Stability

In truth, the foundation of poly relationships is far more stable in principle because there is no threat of a relationship breakdown resulting from the addition of new romantic interests. Instead, additions are seen as adding more emotional and physical support to the relationship, which in-turn increases rather than decreases stability.

In contrast, when mono relationships are faced with additional love interests, it causes strain that often leads to a complete breakdown of the relationship, and this can be very hard on children and the circle of friends both partners have become invested in.

That's not to say poly relationships don't evolve and change ( they do ), and they can suffer from all the other issues that relationships are susceptible to, such as health problems, addictions, and financial challenges. But all things being equal, a poly relationship is designed to virtually eliminate infidelity problems while managing the rest more effectively.

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#09 - It's Part Of Hookup Culture

Hookup culture accepts and encourages casual sexual encounters, including one-night stands and other related activities which focus on physical pleasure without necessarily including emotional bonding. As is illuminated in the Introduction, that sort of behavior is completely backward from polyamory.

For poly people emotional and physical connections go hand in hand and strengthen bonds, while hookup culture reduces meaningful connections to robotic self-centered stimulus responses. Certainly that's fine for some people some of the time. To say otherwise would be to deny another facet of human nature, but it's not polyamory.

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#10 - Polyamory Is Unethical

Polyamory is sometimes criticized as being unethical, particularly by people who maintain Western Judeo-Christian religious traditions. However if you have read the Introduction and the misconceptions above, it should be evident that the ethics at the core of polyamory are well substantiated compared to most, especially ones rooted in the morals of repressive, possessive, jealous, vengeful deities.

That's not to say there aren't issues to be mindful of. The Exposing Bias and Reasons For Caution pages outline how bias can lead to questionable ethical behavior, and how wolves in sheep's clothing types pose as poly people in order to use them for their own selfish purposes. The Polyamory & Marriage page also outlines serious ethical issues with using polyamory to spice-up otherwise boring mono marriages.

The bottom line is that there seems to be ethical challenges with any type of relationship. But all other things being equal, where being true to one's self and others is concerned, polyamory tends to come out on top. So the real ethical problem isn't with genuine polyamory, but with biased portrayals and interpretations that unfairly paint polyamory as unethical.

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Summary

Hopefully the ten myths about polyamory outlined on this page will help some people think first before judging. Here again is the list, but this time in the context of what polyamory isn't:

  1. It's not a man thing
  2. It's not a religious thing
  3. It's not all about the sex
  4. It's not unnatural
  5. It doesn't lack commitment
  6. It's not abnormal
  7. It doesn't necessitate multiple partners
  8. It doesn't lack stability
  9. It's not part of hookup culture
  10. It's not unethical