Fun fact, Ireland is replacing the more Catholic parts of its constitution which reference to durable relations.

From “ The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.”

The proposal is to add “ whether founded on marriage or on other durable relationships”, after family.

Hard to see how this wouldn’t legalise some forms of polyamory, maybe not in marriage but in other legal forms.

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Okay, this doesn't have anything to do with the post and has probably been said before, but who else, every time there's a Highlights post, is like "Well, I thought I had read the comments to the posts, but apparently I didn't, since I don't recall seeing any of these comments"? Were they just all posted after I had stopped following the comment sections or whatever? Or, more likely, they're just in the comment threads that I collapsed since the first comment didn't seem particularly interesting.

Also: "The second happiest are people who have sex so frequently and compulsively that it’s impossible for them to be angry with their partner for sleeping around because not-sleeping-around seems as impossible to them as falling upward. "

...I guess this is just a type of personality I fundamentally don't understand. I know them, I'm friends with them, but still, if they go "Well, I accidentally ended up having sex with her, and..." when telling the story, I won't say anything, but I'm thinking "What, your clothes accidentally ripped off and you accidentally fell on top of her and your dick was accidentally hard and you both accidentally started bucking?" It always just feels like the sort of stuff people who very well know there's no compulsion and accidents and they do have self-control tell themselves to justify their behavior... but what do I know, this is probably one of those fundamental disconnects between different groups of humans.

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I think everyone is gonna have a hard time debating this so long as 1) people have very different definitions of the primary term and 2) incentives to define it differently/ambiguously in relation to themselves.

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> An alternative is that Aella got a bad sample (but her sample ought to be much more representative than mine), or that poly people lie / misremember / have a hard time answering surveys

Or that a random sample of subscribers to Aella isn’t a random sample of the population.

That said I don’t suppose that matters much to the argument that full polly > intermediate polly.

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DISCLAIMER: I don't know any poly people IRL so all this is speculative. I'm speaking as a libertarian-ish person here; my personal religion, Orthodox Christianity, will be recognizing the validity of polyamory around the same time it canonizes Beaker the Muppet. I believe prostitution should be legalized to avoid a lot of pernicious add-on effects while still believing prostitutes are plying a morally illegitimate trade and should be viewed with contempt. Same general principle here, though I don't view polyamory in general anywhere near as negatively as prostitution so don't take that as a comparison! More of an analogy. Hope that makes sense.

With that said, I can accept that there are people who are more happy in polycules or what-have-you for whatever reason. I find it hard to fathom, but it's a big world etc. It seems likely to me that these people are not especially common compared to the people for whom monogamy, broadly, works--though this may be because we have way more experience with monogamy and the ways it can go wrong, so we are generally better at patching it up. Encouraging poly could easily make a few people happier while also encouraging many more people to rationalize their failures of monogamy with a trendy new thing (and, yes, probably messing up kids in the process, though to be fair the kind of people who seem likeliest to do this also seem like the kind of people who would mess up their kids anyway). I'm not sure the two are compatible as coexisting norms, as normalization of polyamory makes it more attractive as a lure for shitty monogamists to justify doing their thing wrong--which would inevitably create friction. And possibly vice-versa, IDK.

Then you have the basic stability problem of building consensus in groups larger than two. If my wife and I disagree on something important, that's bad, but it means two people have to come to an agreement. Add a third person, and you now have three times as many bipolar relationships to keep in harmony; add a fourth, and it doubles compared to having three, etc. And relationships are, by nature, dyadic; I don't have a relationship with "my family" as a unit, I have a relationship with my wife, and with each of my three sons. You can only relate to other people, not to collectives, unless you're psychologically very peculiar. My family unit works because my sons don't get a real vote in major decisions (though of course we think about how they will be affected). Ancient polygyny sort of worked because women had an absymal legal and social status so only the man got a vote. I imagine it was still pretty toxic much of the time.

I'm not even talking about sexual jealousy here, just the potential fault lines from different priorities, the human tendency to form coalitions around shared interests, etc. If I get a job in another state or something, I have to get one person to agree, my wife. Add a third person and I have to juggle in how it incorporates their work life too, and if I am willing to drop the new opportunity to keep them, etc. If that person is, strictly speaking, my wife's second husband, I might think he's a great guy and maybe not be jealous (this is hypothetical alternate sheep, real me would totally be jealous) but the new job is going to be comparatively more attractive to me than if "she" were my second wife. Meanwhile my wife might feel that we could use the extra income compared to keeping otherwife around, since her music gig is tied to the local scene and doesn't bring in much money. Just an off-the-cuff example of why modern plural marriage sounds like a mess to me. Certainly not the kind of arrangement I'd want to bring children into, leaving aside any other objections. If it comes to being expected to factor in other people's kids with my wife and how any decision affects them too, crikey, what a headache. It's like establishing stepfamilies on purpose instead of as a patch for one or more prior ended marriages.

I can take it on faith that there exist groups of people who can make these multipolar clusters work, in the same way that I can accept there are saints who spent decades of their lives standing on pillars. It just doesn't feel like the kind of thing you should encourage large numbers of people to try.

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You write "Aella’s survey includes data from 430,000 people! The average social class is somewhere between lower-middle and middle, so this isn’t just capturing elites, and should be able to address concerns that polyamory only works as a “luxury belief”." However, I can't see any data on social class in the file she provides https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/180EK7HaTu-W9cKC599AeLMTVLRhxTAfbaLh9n-B4hek/edit#gid=0. I may have missed it. And, this may sound a bit defensive, but self-reporting of social class is notoriously unreliable: in short, most people throughout history have thought they are poorer than they are, because our brains are very finely tuned to perceive (often illusory) differences in status, and to feel bad about them. This just an example, of many, from popular media https://nypost.com/2023/08/14/some-of-the-richest-people-in-america-feel-very-poor-survey/. I suspect that people in the Bay Area who think they are struggling aren't really struggling as much as upper-middle class people in, say, West Virginia; not to speak of Namibia and Peru, where they are going to watch those Netflix shows about cool polyamorous people starring Hollywood hotties.

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Okay I was confused about poly before, so this really helped me. As someone who is not jealous, loves sexual variety, and is not interested at all in additional emotional relationships, I just couldn't understand that there were so many people who want more emotional relationships.

That being said, I feel constantly shamed for my extremely high socio-sexuality. Ideally, I'd like to see a hooker of different ethnicity 1x a month. While I see marriage more about building a life together, less about sexual desire, I don't look like I did at 25 either. But I guess that's not a thing with a name that society can pressure my wife into.

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There are many people who want a relationship but can't seem to find a good one, for various reasons. I'm one of them. For people like that, is the polyamory vs. monogamy discussion meaningful? I've been asked which I would prefer, and I'm never sure how to answer. I know I prefer one good relationship to zero, but I have no idea whether I would prefer two good relationships to one (or having a partner who has two good relationships instead of one) since I can't seem to even find one.

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"in most poly families all partners would consider themselves parents [ergo we wouldn't expect poly families to have higher rates of child abuse than mono families]" seems like exactly the same kind of naïveté as "trans women are women, so they're bound to commit violent crimes at the same rate as any other woman!"

Props to you for (kind of) acknowledging this point.

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> I was surprised how certain people were that poly relationships were disasters that couldn’t work, compared to how little of a sign there was of that in the data.

Well... I can only speak for myself, as part of quite successful polycule for many years. Not giving a fuck what other people think about how terrible polyamory is is a huge part of having happy polyamorous relationship. Nobody in my polycule or any other I know ever tried to prove anything. YKINMKBYKIOK but in relationship, you know? Most of the people telling you polyamory can't work are absolutely correct, they just forget to add "for them". Most people preaching that polyamory is the best thing ever also right and also "for them".

That's why there's strong bias in things people heard towards the "disasters", while success is quiet but don't mind filling a poll from time to time and show up in data.

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Feb 21·edited Feb 21

>As Overton windows move for new social norms like LGBT and polyamory, the mainstream media narratives evolve along the axis of omission/taboo -> negative/critique -> ambiguity -> struggle/oppression ->positive -> new normal. We have seen LBGT cover almost all these steps during recent 40 years, currently I think we are between positive and new normal. With polyamory, we have just recently moved from omission/taboo to negative/critique. Portraying polyamory as positive or struggling/oppressed in mainstream media is still out of the Overton window, showing ambiguity is now at the edge, only negative critique is in the window

This argument can be applied to anything you want, it's entirely meaningless imo. Just because something is currently fringe doesn't mean it's destined to become mainstream. Some things did, like feminism, Christianity, lgbt rights, others very much did not such as polygny (1800s version), pedophilia, racism from the mid 20th century to today. Some fringe cultural memes just remain fringe cultural memes without ever picking up mainstream appeal.

"it's unpopular now so it will evolve into being popular later" is an expression of faith, nothing more

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"In the canonical poly survey, women were over-represented in polyamory; about 35% of poly people were men and 49% women (the remainder either didn’t answer or were nonbinary or something).

Commenters agreed with this, and said their experience was that polyamory was mostly female-driven. This is my story too; I became poly because the woman I wanted to date at the time was.

Why should this be, since men traditionally prefer sexual variety more than women do?"

Men want it more, but women find it easier to acquire if they do want it.

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Long quote to make clear what I'm responding to:

"Nobody can indulge the entire human experience, unless they’re very lucky and have no contradictory desires. If you’re monogamous, you have to fight the natural human urge to desire people other than your partner (some people won’t have this urge, but many do). If you’re polyamorous, you have to fight the natural human urge to feel jealous (some people won’t have this urge, but many do). I think a good monogamous community won’t pathologize desire, but will politely and firmly remind you not to surrender to it, and a good polyamorous community will do the same with jealousy. Some people will do better with one set of restraints, and other people with the other."

The thing is, Scott, some people absolutely can indulge the entire human experience, because you can desire multiple people and insist that all of those people do not desire anyone but you. You just have to be much more powerful than all of them. If you throw the concept that human beings are equal out of the window, then you can have polyamory for me and monogamy for thee. There are several versions of this, but one is the "one-dick principle" that many polyamory sites warn about. If the rule of the relationship is that there can only ever be one dick in it, then the dick is the guy attached to the penis, not the penis itself. This is, of course, exactly how pre-Graeco-Roman polygyny worked (and how it still works in those societies that never adopted the Graeco-Roman idea of monogamy) - rich and powerful men have lots of women; those women are usually allowed to have sex with each other but not with outside men. Most men in these societies aren't in this situation; they have monogamous relationships with one woman. And the society has enough wars to keep the male: female ratio low enough that this doesn't result in lots of unmarried men.

I am inclined to the argument that the cultural evolution to sufficient sexual equality to make polyamory on equal terms a realistic proposition runs through companionate marriage and that, itself, required monogamy (I'm not saying it couldn't have got there by another route, but that this was the route that it did follow) and so the strong memetic resistance to polyamory is, I think, path-dependent. We dropped polygamy for monogamy and then later on our monogamy evolved into companionate marriage and sexual equality, so it's easy to conceptualise polyamory as being a reversion to the "rich and powerful men have harems" model of ancient polygamy.

Also, it's not like those people don't have a point: if it was socially acceptable to have a harem, then I think (based solely on the fact that their sexual behaviour gets reported enough that even someone like me who largely ignores gossip knows this) that Elon Musk and Leo DiCaprio would have one each. There are probably a bunch of other rich and powerful men who would. The difference would be that there are quite a few women that would too. And there would also be all sorts of other types of poly relationship, not just that one problematic model.

But yes, it likely would be yet another way that social inequality manifests.

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I've been poly for over a decade now. Myself and my partner Titania have been together eleven years. In my experience there is very little drama unless you feed the drama. The way I see it I can fuck and date any consenting partner I want. If my partners have a negative emotional reaction to my sex life that is their problem. Maybe I will be a little reassuring, but any emotional coddling I provide is me being extra nice. Its their responsibility to not be a dick to me. They are my partners. They are support to support me not emotionally sabotage me or ruin my fun.

Of course they have the right to behave however they want. But I would very quickly show a controlling or unsupportive partner the door. Im not signing over my life or my dick to anyone else. People know what they are getting into. I don't let myself get pulled into their issues. Mostly this results in total serenity and clear blue water. This attitude seems harsh but don't feed emotions that you aren't trying to grow. Im not going to spend long engaging with jealousy or other emotions that cache out to 'desire to control sapphs love life'. If a partner has those emotions I don't even want to hear about them. Handle your own shit.

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> eg “Poly people in the bottom quintile of status will report lower relationship satisfaction” or “Poly marriages among people without a college degree are more likely to end in divorce than monogamous ones.”

Polyamorous relationships require significant time investment. So I hypothesize that people at the two ends of the income distribution will report highest satisfaction (and adoption for!) polyamory.

And that the bulk of folk at the middle will come in at the bottom of the range.

I mean, it's possible that a poly pod will have a normal distribution of income amongst its constitution. And that the relationship style redistributes time and effort - one or more folk with a lot of time on their hands doing most of the work to hold the entire pod together. But that sounds a bit off, right? People tend to be attracted to other people who are a lot like them, so I suspect most pods are relatively homogenous.

So folk in the middle of the distribution, who have the least time for it, will likely be most unhappy and/or not have enough time to do poly things.

More specifically, folk who are upward (or downwards) mobile (or in the process of mobilizing).

Probably this is a likely explanation for why, on average, there are fewer children in poly pods (though the number is just measuring children with primary partner? I suspect that pods will actually increase average birth rates, since they increase the number of folk who can be in a relationship. Something like fewer children per pod member who would have been able to hold down a trad relationship, but relatively higher total children summed over everyone in the pod)

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"poly people have fewer children, and even when they do there’s rarely a third partner in the house"

This surprises me (or maybe I'm misunderstanding it)--I'd have thought that stable, long-term polycules would typically live together within the same household, even moreso when raising children. I'm imagining households with 50-100% more parents, but also 50-100% more children, a big happy giant family under one roof. I wonder what about my imagination is incorrect, or what makes it unlikely, and I also wonder at what the alternatives are, and their tradeoffs.

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"I decided to operationalize this as "on the SSC survey, polyamorous men would have a higher correlation between self-rated social status and self-rated romantic satisfaction than monogamous men"

That is *very close* to a good test of my claim. I appreciate the scrutiny and I admit to mild surprise at the closeness.

Big problem though: men are more likely to become, *and* remain, polyamorous, if they think it will work out for them. Seems very plausible you could control for this, even on a survey, though I can't immediately see how.

(Now that it is more public I regret writing "competition for females", but it's on me. Maybe there's no nice way to put it anyway.)

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In the past, strictures against polygamy must have been mostly motivated by a need for more certainty of whose kids were whose, for inheritance purposes and the father's reassurance they were raising their own kids. But with DNA testing that is no longer much of an issue.

In the distant past, many thousands of years ago for most societies, polygamy may have been more the default because people weren't aware of the link between coition and conception. So a biological father wasn't even a known concept! Most of their womenfolk were pregnant almost continuously through their child-bearing years, they were all mating like rabbits, but nobody had linked the two as cause and effect.

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On the topic of polygyny in Judaism, a few notes:

1) R. Gershom's edict is a complicated question historically, it's probably attributed to him rather than actually imposed by him. Additionally, it seems to mostly be about creating a legal justification to penalize men who cheat creatively by "Marrying" their second partner in the context of what was already a monogamous society, rather than an attempt to restructure a polygynous society. It only ever applied to ashkenazic communities, and there were many non-ashkenazic communities that never-the-less practiced monogamy. Sefardic communities in Europe were more or less uniformly monogamous.

2) Conversely, many North African and middle eastern Jewish communities continued to practice polygyny well into the 20th century. The Yemenite Jewish community is one of the most prominent. It was only mass migration to Israel and the Israeli government's efforts to shut it down that more or less ended polygyny in these communities.

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> Three thousand years ago, a cultural selectionist could have said that most societies in the world were polygynous, so we should avoid monogamy.

They wouldn't have even been aware of monogamous cultures that got replaced.

> A hundred years ago, they could have said that most societies in the world were monarchies, so we should avoid democracy.

This is a fairer point, the founders of the US were aware of classical philosophers who wrote about democracy being a degraded form government that got replaced eventually. Which is why they tried to constrain democracy (in ways that tended to get overturned later).

> But now you’re not really making a cultural selection argument, you’re making an “I did some armchair reasoning and decided this was bad” argument.

No, I don't think it qualifies. Polyamory really is spreading via memes rather than a group out-competing other groups, and your data above shows poly people have fewer children. Below replacement fertility is not an ESS.

> I think TGGP would answer that it doesn’t require any selective pressure to explain why people would want to have more romantic partners, since this is inherently fun for everyone.

That wouldn't be my answer. All sorts of arbitrary things can spread memetically. Even ones that seem like the opposite of fun: https://westhunt.wordpress.com/2017/11/07/skoptsys/

> But this is also how almost every cultural trend spreads. Monogamy didn’t spread to Scandinavia because the Vikings died out and the Romans colonized their land, it spread because missionaries converted them to Christianity.

Those missionaries were from monogamous Christian cultures which had an ESS. Christians warred with pagans for a long time, eventually forcing them to accept Christianity. The Roman civilization (already monogamous) adopting Christianity might be a better example, although per Robin Hanson there Christianity was selected because it was anti-infanticide.

> Years ago, Jason Pargin (of Cracked.com, back when it was still relevant) said that outsiders looking back at our culture would see romantic love as our religion, and I think he was right.

Spotted Toad would say the "cult of love" was a midcentury thing. Unfortunately, he erased his existence from the internet, so the closest thing I can link to is this: https://forum.earwolf.com/topic/74961-when-harry-met-sally/?do=findComment&comment=324547

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'if it means “no woman has ever been good at math”, this is an insane statement that I’m not sure anyone has ever believed'

Jim Donald, who used to post at SSC until you banned him, did literally believe that. He'd argue that all the examples of women being good at STEM were women who were OK but nothing special and being hyped up, or were women taking credit for men's achievements (he argued that about Marie Curie, FFS!). Then I pointed him at Emmy Noether and he has been posting for ten or more years saying "women can't do STEM except for Emmy Noether", because even he couldn't argue with pure math,

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> (obviously having kids with someone you love who isn’t responsible and stable won’t work either. It’s maybe unfair that you need both love and responsibility, and maybe I’m doing something wrong since billions of people have had kids since the beginning of time and surely they didn’t all have both these things. But I’m not sure that I could do it without both.)

I think that modern-day parents in the developed world are laboring under some unique disadvantages due to living in a society that's atomized to a historically unprecedented degree. The community-level institutions that people have relied upon since the beginning to help ease the burdens of child-rearing are either unavailable entirely or greatly diminished. We have greater levels of affluence and personal autonomy than our ancestors did, which definitely helps to some degree, but in practice it doesn't help as much as some people might expect, because affluence and personal autonomy can provide a lot of things easily, but experience and wisdom are not among them, and that's something sorely needed for effective child-rearing.

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Looking at Aella's article on polyamory, which I found fascinating and enlightening, the following stands out to me:

1) "Fully polyamorous" is 3% of the survey sample.

2) "Fully monogamous" is 60%.

3) Despite the fact that "fully monogamous" is basically the social and cultural norm, it performs almost as well as the "fully poly" option, which Aella describes (and I think it's a logical description) as something akin to a deep, natural orientation, that her life is almost inconceivable without.

I feel like Scott uses this survey to make the point that polyamory works, but I almost come away with the conclusion that monogamy comes off looking pretty good here. Traditional monogamy gives you basically equal satisfaction scores to full polyamory, except it's a mode that works for 60% of the population. Full polyamory may work quite well for a very small minority, which seems largely to be made of people for whom it is a non-negotiable orientation, and society should be empathetic to that and not shame it. But if we're talking about polyamory as it is actually practiced by most people who are poly, Aella's point is that it's usually a disaster, and people are forcing themselves into those categories / lifestyles for the wrong reasons. So to me this seems like an affirmation of tradition with a small caveat that there are groups of people for whom said tradition will not work. Which feels reasonable to me.

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Feb 21·edited Feb 21

In nearly all the graphs in part I, polyamory has higher error than monogamy (in the strictly statistical sense). Is this reflective of just sample size, or greater actual variance within the set? I could believe either; we kinda take polygamy to mean merely "not-monogamy", and there are lots of widely-varying ways to do that. The more I see people arguing about this, the more I think that lots of different polygamies are happening, and people arguing about it are very often "seeing different parts of the elephant".

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I should like to know the criterion for classifying people as full/mostly/slightly <X>. Was it simply what label they themselves chose? Or was there some behavioral assessment based on statements about their behavior? Even the latter wouldn't be entirely convincing, as there seems to be lots of evidence that self-reports of behavior are often inaccurate, but it would be clearer what it was attempting to measure than the former.

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Is the fertility decrease more severe if you look at just the “non primary” partners? That would be my guess.

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>I didn’t know before looking into the statistics for this post that poly people were that much less likely to have children.

One interesting bit of somewhat collaborating evidence is polygamy seemed to have decreased the number of children born for Mormons overall when they practiced it. For example, a study on the effects of Mormon Polygamy found "for the average mated women born in the late 19th century, sharing a mate with an additional female would have reduced her number of offspring by slightly more than one."

Quoting From: "Mating system change reduces the strength of sexual selection in an American frontier population of the 19th century" found at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6430215/

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In response to Some Guy:

I had the opposite experience. My parents divorced when I was 8/9 and my mom dated multiple people simultaneously. She was always very clear that I came first and she only brought men home if they were 100% on board with kids. The only one of her partners I interacted with extensively has always been kind to me. My mom is still with him and I call him my stepfather. I didn't like his children (my kind-of step-siblings) but I never had to spend much time with them. Not having clear 'family unit' lines helped a lot here! Otherwise these kids would have been my actual stepsiblings and I would have had to spend so much time with them.

On the other hand, I had a friend whose mom got divorced and remarried a little after my parents. Her new stepmom actively disliked kids and made her and her brother's life miserable.

The major difference here is "does the parent prioritize their children", but polyamory probably helped a bit by making it easier to have casual relationships that stayed outside the home.

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"The happiest polycules I know are asexual people."

I ask in all sincerity... are these _friendships_? With maybe less of a personal space bubble?

I think we have a lot of social respect for romantic/sexual relationships and a very eroded view of friendship as something that can have a place of privilege in your life, so some variants of polyamory seem like an excuse to prioritize friends.

I remember about ten years ago a poly piece where the woman said she opened her marriage because her husband didn't want to go to the opera with her, and she found a lover who would, and all I could think was, "they don't ask you if you're having sex when you try to buy two tickets!"

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The entire conversation about this is deeply fascinating for me with my three long-term partners (all more than a decade) and no one I've ever disclosed this to (and I do this often, because e.g. I have some relationship-related arrangements with my manager(s) about sabbaticals so my partners don't have to fight over my vacation days as much) having ever made a fuss over it. I feel privileged and lucky that I've been spared the drama.

(Also, I don't want kids of my own, but you've made me realise that I'd actually be open to co-parenting, especially to assist with the messy parts (if this surprises you, it may also surprise you that I'm the software engineer who prefers fixing bugs to writing new features), which is a fascinating insight to me.)

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Virtually all relationships start with exactly two people, so some extremely large proportion of all poly relationships will involve a couple opening up their relationship. If you stipulate that this is a perilous course of action then it's clear that having it as a socially sanctioned option is bad for people.

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Just wanting to chime in as a polyamorous person, with a kid.

A huge part of polyamory’s PR problem is that “multiple relationships” is by definition more vague and ill-defined than monogamy. My family has three adults (2 women, myself included, and one man) and one child (my female partner’s from a previous relationship), who we all parent. We hope to have more children together.

Our relationship is closed-ish, we don’t have time or desire to date outside our group.

We are out with family and friends but quiet. We all are basically normal and you might not know from seeing us, even all together in public, that we are a triad unless you were paying attention.

I can’t speak to whether this is a “normal” polyamorous experience. Certainly the messes and the weird people with 8 partners or the couples “opening up” who treat their partners like shit get more air time. But it can be done, it’s not even that hard. You just have to have the right people (both as individuals, but also as a unit - just like lots of monogamous pairings don’t work, lots of poly groups don’t work either. And because the dynamics are more complex, it’s extra important to get a good match.)

Personally, I feel like having two partners pushes and challenges me to grow in a way I can’t get with one partner. It’s also very nice to have more hands on deck to deal with practicalities. People who say this is all for sexual gratification have not thought for one second about what actually living with multiple serious partners would be like.

I agree with Scott that it’s sad more poly people don’t have children. The structure of society makes this very, very challenging - limiting legal parenthood to two individuals, stigma from healthcare providers, schools, taxes and government benefits, etc. I think there would be more people like us if there were solutions to these issues, not even easy solutions, just anything at all one could do. I do think there is probably some selection at play too, though, in that lots of people who identify as poly do so because they don’t want the traditional narrative, which includes forgoing children.

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I suspect the link between 'non-parent in house' and child-abuse is a selection effect.

Many/most divorces have abuse of sort as the root cause ==> people that leave abusive relationships tend to repeatedly fall into abusive relationships.

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Speaking as someone who's never interacted with a polyamorous person, and is 85-90% sure would get blank looks if I used the term in front of anyone I knew, this really looks like it's being used to describe a bunch of different things that aren't especially related. Throwing every form of sexual/romantic interaction that's not monogamy (or covert breaches of monogamy*) into one bucket looks like about as natural a category as "gentiles" to refer to the set of Inuit, Colombians, Han Chinese and Danes but excluding Jews; it's potentially useful in some contexts, but probably not a group you can generalise about.

Teasing out a taxonomy, I think you have:

1. Open relationships (a romantic couple where one or both has sex (or possibly romance) with other people).

2. Swingers (similar to above, but as part of a structured group; principally sexual).

3. Casual sex/relationships (having sex with several people without being in a committed relationship; dating multiple people without being in a committed relationship).

4. Polygamy/polygyny/polyandry (one person having multiple sexual/romantic partners).

5. Web-type polyamory (multiple people each having multiple partners, but as a series of relationships; eg. John's dating Jane and Becky, Becky's also dating Steve and Toby, Jane's also dating Toby, not dating Steve and dating Brad, Brad and Steve are both dating Claire).

6. Blob-type polyamory (a group of people who are all having relationships with every other [compatible?] member of the group; a group relationship).

I always thought polyamory was a new word for 5/6 (I'm not sure to what extent 6 exists), invented for the purpose of distinguishing it from 4. Including 1, 2 and 3 seems to needlessly muddy the waters and catch a bunch of wholly unrelated people engaging in something that isn't remotely new (my fortunately-limited interaction with swingers IRL confirms the retired policemen and divorced receptionists stereotype). Again, it's a bit like trying to discuss what gentiles are like while one person's talking about Nebraskans and the other's talking about San bushmen.

*Coming soon: I'm not cheating on you, I'm crypto-polyamorous.

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Supposing that polyamorists did have more kids, I think you would have a serious free-rider problem with multiple people trying to co-parent kids that aren't biologically their own.

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Most of the discussion of problems with polyamory seems to be just an extension of problems with any open relationship, formally polyamorous or not. But the polyamorous group I know best is a stable three-person marriage (2 men, 1 woman). Both men are straight, so it functions as a woman with two husbands, who treat each other as housemates/buddies. The three don't, at least not actively, have romantic/sexual relations with others, and they've been together for decades and seem very happy.

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> Poly emphasizes the part where you have multiple relationships. This is more of a female fantasy than a male one, hence the female predominance.

Yeah, in my experience, gay men don’t do polyamory, they do sexual-but-not-emotional non-monogamy (where sex outside the relationship is allowed, according to some set of rules, but falling in love with someone else would be considered cheating).

(Then there are “throuples”, but those also don’t behave like classic straight polyamory, in that once the throuple stabilizes, they are generally agreed to be three-way-emotionally-monogamous, not open to further relationships.)

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If you're interested in data on the child-rearing aspect of this, I have some I could provide in a private side channel.

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The survey data are going to have survivorship bias of the form, people who have tried X, found they were miserable, and had enough self-awareness to stop X, probably don't self-identify as X any longer.

One can still use those U-shaped curves to say "The thing that is working for you, can probably continue to work for you."

But I don't think we can use this data to test hypotheses like, "The median hetero male would be more/less satisfied trying X."

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And how will the wording go on the 'polyamorous' marriage license?

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""I think there’s something really attractive about being poly even if you never get around to having any other relationships, just so you don’t have to constantly be getting angry at your partner for having normal human desires."

Respectfully, this reads to mono people as "I think there's something really attractive about not having pain receptors, so that you don't have to constantly be jumping around in agony every time you stub your toe."

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One selection bias that might be worth checking (idk if the data is available) is life/relationship satisfaction of practicing monogomist/polyamorists (i.e. only those currently in a relationship). Anecdotally I've never met a poly person who was single, and it seems like the kind of thing where a soon-to-be poly person might self-identify as monogamous until they get into their first poly relationship, so there might be disproportionately more dissatisfied single people calling themselves poly on surveys, dragging down life satisfaction, etc.

I doubt this will actually change the result of the test, but it has been gnawing at my brain as I read.

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"One interesting demonstration of this is how many asexual people are poly. In the 2017 SSC survey (the same one cited above), about 5% of polyamorous people described themselves as asexual (having no sex drive) compared to about 3% of monogamous people. These people are probably in relationships for the emotional benefits."

Either that, or they're opening their relationship under pressure because society tells them that their partner won't be satisfied with an asexual partner and they need to allow their partner an outlet.

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It seems hard not to conclude that all the benefits Scott sees in polyamory would be even better realized with traditional sexual morality ("enforced monogamy"). Side relationships are even easier to form and less likely to have issues with jealousy if they're strictly and automatically non-sexual, plus then you don't need to have the same worry about children being born into unstable or abusive situations. Giving up the sexual aspect is apparently no big deal anyway, since, according to Scott, the relationship aspect is what people really want. In fact, the one aspect truly unique to polyamory, promiscuous sex, seems to be the aspect that Scott is least enthusiastic about defending.

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"I don’t really know how to rescue cultural selection arguments from these kinds of considerations."

I think the rescue would go something like this:

When we had basically universal monogamy, made official by marriage, while there were plenty of problems, there were also lots of kids. Fertility was sky high. As we have moved away from that, we can debate problems, happiness, etc. But there is not much debate about what happened to fertility: it collapsed. Our society may be happy, but it is dying out. Our mores will either be replaced by others, which are more kid-friendly, or we will go extinct.

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Does anyone else think it’s weird how Scott and Aella have apparently never heard of survey bias? Like social desirability bias is why most of survey research is bunk and doesn’t replicate yet we are somehow supposed to take these internet surveys of online rationalists seriously?

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Just some general thoughts.

1). True love/soulmates is a stupid harmful concept, but that isn’t what makes a good monogamous relationship work.

2). I think as a 10-25 year old with absolutely raging hormones I found the arguments for poly lifestyle pretty compelling and only suffered monogamy due to my partners wishes and societies insistence (and cheated a bit a few times). Once I got much past 25 though my main concern became landing as high quality mate as possible and then having as much stability and loyalty/trust in the lat relationship as possible. And monogamy just seems like a much better teamwork than that. I should add that our married sex life is like a solid B+/A- even in year 13 of marriage, if it was bad I might be a lot more interested in cheating or an open relationship situation.

3). I don’t think there is any reason to doubt that if 2 parents are better than 1, that 3 is even better, or 10.

The issue is do those non genetically connected parents actually care as much and act like true parents. I suspect having 4 parents is strictly speaking better, but often if there are 4 adults and one kid two of the people aren’t going to act/be “real” parents.

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I was wondering how polyamory plays out among heterosexuals, for gender balance. I can imagine two scenarios. One, a polycule of couples, or so-called “swingers.” Each man-woman couple joins up, with a partner contributing their opposite-sex partner’s sexual availability to the polycule in exchange for sexual access to the opposite-sex members of the polycule. I feel like, usually, the contributor is the man and the contributed is his woman, but I’m open to the other way around. In this model, everyone would have a primary partner. I wonder how norms would be negotiated around mate-swapping. Swinging seems to reify almost a property norm in the primary relationship. Like, for it to work, everyone needs to acknowledge each other’s right to their primary partner and not poach.

The other model seems to be the harem. I’m thinking one man and several women, but sure why not an aspie cumdump. Equal opportunity. Perhaps the alpha rotates among partners equally, maybe one partner is primary. Maybe the partners serve different functions (conversation, wealth, hotness, fertility) so they aren’t directly competing. Perhaps the alpha invites a same-sex guest star, if he approves of the desire on the part of one of his opposite-sex partners. But a same-sex regular (a beta?) would seem to disrupt the dynamic if he had sexual access independently of the alpha, which is that the harem focuses on the needs of the alpha. If the beta were to become the effective alpha for part of the harem, (1) he would be stealing mates from the alpha or (2) the alphas would become “swingers” with respect to the opposite partner they share.

I’m not anti-polyamory! But the discourse seems oversold and misleading in the way it’s about individual fulfillment and autonomy. I question whether polyamory is ever individualistic and egalitarian, in practice. In swinging, the couple or the harem’s alpha is the autonomous unit. For a harem, one partner is the sun; the others, planets. Again, I don’t think these arrangements are inherently bad. But in some way they are less sexually liberating than the normal practice of hooking up slash dating then monogamy. I think polyamory gets oversold or leads to disappointment when people get into it without considering whether being swingers or being in a harem is right them.

I don’t have a problem with someone choosing polyamory over monogamy. Yay freedom! But the choice is between one set of social norms and expectations (one faithful partner) for another (swinging and harems), which constrain their participants in a different way.

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It seems pretty obvious that polyamory and having children are an ... interesting mix, evolutionarily.

Certainly there's an advantage to collaboration: for a man to help out with his friends' kids if the friend also helps out with his kids.

But if his friend is banging his wife and it turns out all the kids are actually biologically his friend's and none of them are his, that's clearly a big evolutionary disadvantage for the man.

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"In many, (though not all) polyamorous groups I've seen, kids are often an afterthought who are brought up by single mom's who often find themselves as satellites to several disparate polyamorous groups. The nature of easily picking up a new flame and dropping old ones makes it easy to pick up attractive but difficult people, and get rid of them (and their kids) when they become too inconvenient or unreasonable.{snip}

Raising healthy children who have stable family backgrounds could be a primary focus within polyamorous culture in the US if expectations were a little more codified and there were fewer individuals flying the polyamorous flag for hedonic sexual pursuits alone. Kids need a fair amount of support, stability, and need to have connections to people of all ages to grow up as responsible, strong minded people.{snip}

I'd be interested to see what effective polyamorous marriage would look like as a legal institution, as it could provide satellites who have kids more recourse. However, it still wouldn't solve the cultural issue of commitment to relationships, which is increasingly rare in monogamous couples as well.{snip}"

In terms of romantic relationships, society has moved from an obligations-based viewpoint to a more rights-based viewpoint. Traditionally, marriage included an obligation to stay beside the spouse, for richer or poorer. Now, many married people reject this interpretation of marriage, others never marry or marry later in life. More and more are in relationships where there's no moral obligation to remain. Instead, the focus is on the rights of the individual to pursue his or her own personal happiness. This parallels the rise of individualism in society more generally.

But this trend stops where children begin. Almost nobody thinks its morally acceptable for a mother to tell her ten-year-old, "sorry, but this relationship just isn't working out for me, have fun in foster care!" With polyamory, kids bum out the whole project, you don't want to raise someone else's kids, but you don't want to make explicit the attitude "DNA test or its not my problem," so you just shrug and say nothing.

Fundamentally, people don't want to raise kids that aren't genetically their own. I don't think this is destiny, at least some people could make polycule childrearing work, but it would likely require a lot of social pressure like you see in fundamentalist religious groups, not laid-back, whatever worksism.

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>Trans people in polycules tend to go either very well or very very badly, no in-between.

Now I'm worried, being trans and considering whether I am poly or not... are there some stories or anecdata about risk factors here?

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People talk a lot about how impossible it is for regular people to have families in this late-stage capitalist hellscape, but then it becomes all the more fascinating how Ultra-Orthodox Jews have an *average* of 7 kids each (often in New York apartments?). And these aren't even well off Jews I take it, lacking much secular education. According to the economic perspective these families must be suffering greatly, but it seems like people get used to living at pretty much any economic level as long they're not poor relative to their community.

And before anyone says "community support", consider how much the kids must outnumber the adults if every generation is 3.5 times the size of the previous one. Grandparents? Good luck helping out with your 49 grandkids. Older kids can care for younger kids, sure, but any community could teach their kids that.

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>Do you think it’s bad for someone to have a second child? Surely if they really love their first child, one should be enough for them!

It could actually be bad from the point of view of the child, and it might indicate that a selfish biological imperative is overriding the best interests of your current child.

There are of course also countervailing arguments. Mostly variants of, "Having a second child would be good for my current child actually." which, to the extent it is true, renders the point moot.

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> I challenge you to operationalize this in a way that we can test on future (or existing) surveys

Well the one I'd like to see is "people who think polyamory will work for them but haven't been sifted yet". So right now when you compare people in monoamorous relationships to people in polyamorous relationships, the monoamorous group contains people "built for polyamory" who have never seriously considered polyamory while the polyamorous group won't really contain many people "built for monogamy". This is exacerbated by the fact that "people currently in poly relationships" don't include many of the people terrible at polyamory who drop out. Whereas people terrible at monogamy don't drop out of monogamy at nearly the same rate.

So look at people who believe they are poly but who are just starting to look or have been in such a relationship <1 month. Follow them out for a few years.

If polyamory statistics are heavily improved by "survivorship bias" this n00b group should do poorly as it is unaffected by survivorship bias. It would be the proper group for someone considering taking up polyamory but who wants to see stats.

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"I want my wife to definitely be the most important person in my life and vice versa. But I find I can carve out a category “secondary partner” that doesn’t interfere with this, any more than her having friends , hobbies, children, etc interferes with this. Probably other people’s psychology doesn’t work this way, and those people wouldn’t enjoy being poly."

I can't help but think of the "secondary partner" here and how they view this. Does that person also have a primary partner to whom they're the most important? If so, there's no problem, but otherwise, I can't imagine that this can't result in at least one person feeling pretty bad (and the others feeling at least a bit guilty over it) unless they're not interested in attachment much or just care about occasional sex.

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I enjoyed reading this more than the original post, go figure. The polls at the start were particularly interesting. That said, I think you're interpreting them a bit too favorably? Polygamy is largely an opt-in method of romance, while monogamy is the default, something you opt out of. I'm pretty sure that boosts the satisfaction numbers for polyamory, since anyone who doesn't like it will just, y'know, choose a different style of romance. Meanwhile, miserable monogamists remain monogamous, yet still the group as a whole is relationally satisfied and generally happy. Comparable outcomes actually favor monogamy as a superior option, at least on the macro scale.

Still, I think the data supports a lesser form of your argument, the idea that polygamy is valuable as an available alternative to the norm. Seems like it can make a select group of people happier than they might otherwise be. Good ole market economics at work. Except with love I guess.

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One relevant statistic from Aella's survey that this post didn't include is the percent of survey-takers in each group:

Fully monogamous: 59.5%

Mostly monogamous: 22.4%

Slightly monogamous: 7.7%

Slightly polyamorous: 3.9%

Mostly polyamorous: 3.7%

Fully polyamorous: 2.9%

If you buy the story that it's best to be at an extreme and bad to be in the middle, it's notable that most (66%) of the people on the monogamous side of the spectrum are at the "fully monogamous" extreme, while only 28% of the people on the polyamorous half are "fully polyamorous".

You could also think about this in terms of the intention-to-treat vs. per-protocol distinction. Of the people who intend to be polyamorous, what fraction manage to follow the protocol, and how do things go for the ones who do and the ones who don't? And similarly for the monogamy treatment? The surveys didn't exactly ask these questions, but we could use the spectrum question as a rough approximation of the answer, assuming that the "fully" people are the ones successfully following that protocol and the mostly/slightly groups are the ones with the intention who aren't following the protocol. On that interpretation, both protocols work pretty well if followed, and the monogamy protocol is much easier to follow.

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The graph of children by length of relationship is fascinating. It shows that poly relationships' number children jumps up for relationships longer than 18 years, compared to anything lower. It seems highly unlikely that poly people just decide to start having kids that long into a relationship (especially with how it becomes harder to have kids after your early 30s--for 18 year relationship starting when you're 20, you'd be 38 at least by this point). So I think this graph is strong evidence of one or both of cohort effects (e.g. polyamory is rare, but becoming more common over time, so the average poly person in 2003 and even in 2008 might be very different) and selection effects (the kind of people who stay in poly relationships for 2 decades are different from those who stay in them for even 15 years). The former intuitively seems likely to be stronger to me; does anyone have any idea which one is bigger or why? (There could also be overlap between these 2 effects--i.e. are you the kind of person who was poly in 2003 *and* stayed together 20 years, or the kind who was poly in 2008 *and* stayed together 15 years?)

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A couple thoughts -

1) “fully poly/mono people are more satisfied with their poly/mono relationships than people who are not fully poly/mono” feels like a tautology, and therefore kind of a meaningless result.

2) All the results you show from the Aella survey are referenced to the primary partner. Does this provide an accurate picture? Having a secondary partner could impact your overall life satisfaction independent of the quality of your primary relationship. Or maybe a bad secondary relationship would make your primary look better by comparison. What about people who are nobody’s primary?

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Two possible survey questions can shed light on some of these unknowns in the future.

1. If you could enter into some form of a multi-marriage legal status, would you do it?

Obviously this is already legal in many places around the world, typically in the one male to many female format. But I think it is fair to say we're talking about poly in the western context where this is generally illegal. This could elucidate if the polycule structure exists and has a true level of commitment behind it for legal, social, etc. status or opinons about that type of status.

I think a genuine group marriage would be legally very difficult to administer if by marrying one person you had to marry everyone else already in that marriage. What rights and what fraction of resoruces could be claimed in a divorce and why? If you get 1/3 by breaking up a 3 way marriage, do the same rules of 'dependency' apply with alimony etc. with or without kids for a 'certain lifestyle' or whatever.

How would a divorce work? If a woman married into an existing male-female marriage out of interest for the male...would the other pre existing female owe alimony payments to the other woman if she left? Would she be married to the other woman? If this is a choice, what does marriage even mean or convey with such diverse subsets of rules for each scenario? Cheating can't exactly be a set of clear cut grounds for divorce in such a situation, unless it is sex with someone outside the marriage trio, which draws into question how the poycule formed in the first place. Is this already true in a de facto way to some degree in serial marriages where the new wife loses out on resources sent to the old wife?

Anyhow it would show if there were any kind of genuine and long term financial and familiar desire to legally link themselves through multi and or group marriage structures. I'd guess this would be quite unpopular in practice and we'd see even lower rates of utilisation of such a legal arrangement compared to same sex or opposite sex 2 person marriages.

2. If you have children, how many years of your child's life have been spent with you, or the other parent, as a single parent household? Plus age and number of children to help with statistics on this question.


2b. How many significant romantic/sexual partners have you had during your children's life while they were under 18 who are no longer present in the same way?

While poly people may have fewer children, the issue of understanding children's welfare could be better understood. We currently have a huge data set on the impacts of divorce and other factors in mono relationships on children's welfare and mental health, but we mostly have hand waving speculation about western poly childhoods, however limited in number they may be. Looking to polygamy in some religious communities tends to not shed much light on the status of polycule children, but I noted the other commenter talking about single mothers hanging out in the orbit and fringes of poly groups as lower status and temporary partners and this is concerning.

This question set can be parred with poly vs mono status and others to tease apart the impacts on children in a direct way. Even with serial marriages or multi person poly situations, the rate of introducing more people into your child's life is a factor creating instability. A stable mono or poly situation with the same 2 or 3 adults in a child's life the whole time is very different than some mono situation of a new husband or wife every 3 years or a poly situation where adults are a revolving door of abandonment for the child.

By anecdote what I've seen is disorganised communities of single mothers and children leading poor quality lives with many half siblings and various deadbeat dads, abusive or disinterested step parents, and distracted mothers in a lower income hippie community practicing poly, free love, Osho, etc. While single child status has grown, not so much in these scenarios and the tenuous or missing relationships with various half siblings and step parents or partners coming and going has had significant detrimental impacts on those children whom I know as adults from a somewhat still ongoing Osho related community with a diverse palette of poly structures and its fallout.

The ephemeral and abandonment issue for children is explored here along with the sheer number of such encounters. To truly get into this issue would require several questions likely unsuitable for most surveys, but this can be a good indicator of how much disruption and abandonment a child is experiencing due to their parents appetites for serial mono or fluid poly environments.

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Self-identified comparisons between poly and mono seems incredibly biased, since identifying as poly will be disproportionately affected by survivorship bias. Many more people have probably attempted to be poly and given up than vice versa.

You are polling high openness, highly educated, high income individuals who are actively in successful polyamorous relationships and comparing them to, well... everyone else.

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I was thinking about the woman who complains that her husband is jealous about her male bestie who speak chats with once a week. Um wtf??? She’s cultivating a back-up husband to his face. Women look for the same things in men for romance as for friendship. So, the bestie is definitely competing. The bigger issue is that she feels the need to cultivate the bestie. Like, she might value her husband but she is definitely looking to add another man.

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There is a possible effect where, because monogamy is the default, a higher proportion of its practitioners do it per-protocol - in which case equal outcomes would mean an advantage for monogamy. (Because if someone tries poly and it goes catastrophically they'll likely not try it again, whereas monogamous people would likely keep at it.)

Or the opposite effect could be true due to poly people being much more analytical towards their relationships?

I imagine the way to try and look for this is asking several concrete questions about social and economic status but also about "love languages" sort of thing, plus the sorts of questions already asked. And then you could do a sort of Prosperity Score Matching analysis on responses to see whether these results are still there when sufficiently similar people are compared. Not sure how big a sample you'd need to do this properly though.

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>In either case, the ban is now expired, and the prohibition on polygamy rests on questionable legal footing.

It is important to remember that polygamy =/= polyamory. Polygamy, particularly as practiced by ancient Jews, was multiple women married to one man. So while it is possible polygamy is koshor for Orthodox Jews, if there isn't a marriage relationship and if there is more than one guy involved at a time then its not.

It makes sense that most societies used to be polygamous. It preserves family lines by ensuring each child in the family has the same father (vital in societies where inheritance travels through the male line, which is most of them), and from a reproductive perspective it's efficient. Adding another woman to a polygamous marriage means the family can have one more kid a year (realistically every two or three years based on weaning, but you know what I mean). Adding another male to a poly marriage doesn't increase the number of kids the family can have at all (assuming everyone is fertile).

Since polyamorous people today don't seem concerned with complicated inheritance situations, or having a lot of kids, there doesn't seem to be much parallel between historical polygamy and modern polyamory.

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I am reminded of this old Less Wrong article:


If I were a well-known writer with important things to say about rationality and altruism and x-risk and so forth, then I'd probably concentrate on spending my weirdness points writing about those, rather than pissing them up the wall defending polyamory.

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Re cultural selection:

"Treason doth never prosper? What’s the Reason?

For if it prosper none dare call it treason."

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The current dyspepsia over monogamy is just another facet of Epicurean self-absorption. It was all the rage in the early 1970s, but wore out its welcome pretty quick. Polyester bell-bottoms and mutton chops were in style.

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> The happiest polycules I know are asexual people. The second happiest are people who have sex so frequently and compulsively that it’s impossible for them to be angry with their partner for sleeping around because not-sleeping-around seems as impossible to them as falling upward. Autistic is third (and sometimes overlaps with the previous two categories). Trans people in polycules tend to go either very well or very very badly, no in-between.

I don't understand how this is not at the top of every discussion about this subject!!! I feel like these obviously explanatory demographic facts take all of the mystery and intrigue out of it. Asexual people! And to think some want to make this part of the culture war...

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> I found Some Guy’s concern about the abuse risk of having an extra person in the house to be thought-provoking and something I hadn’t considered before.

You asked hypothetically in your comment response in the thread if single moms should be discouraged from marrying. Here is my anecdote - I am a single mom of a girl and decided at the time of divorce a couple years ago that I will not remarry while my daughter is a minor for this exact reason. Stepdad abuse is so common that this is an obvious decision to me. Not cohabitating with a man for the next 15 years is a cost am willing to bear pretty easily, and it wouldn’t even break the top three in a list of sacrifices I have made for my child.

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"I’m fascinated by how many people think there are two types of poly people, but disagree on what those types are."

There are two kinds: Toxic ones and not particularly toxic ones.

It takes a while for the latter to figure out who the former are.

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You must have one of the most thoughtful comment sections on Substack. I thought I had read through most of the comments on the original post, but I guess I hadn't.

I'm not sure if this point has been addressed prior or not, but based on my very anecdotal evidence, poolyamory is more prevalent in the LGBT community. My wife and I are in a monogomous relationship however, I would say 80% of our gay male friends are in an open relationship, not necessarily 100% poly. Women and NB relationships are 50/50. When I see a same sex couple I now assume they're in an open relationship.

As far as I can tell, as an outside observer, when "done right" all of the partners seem to be extremely happy and satisfied with the relationship, unfortunately not many do it right (lack of education, communication, pure novelty, they were pressured into it, etc.) and it's cause for more drama than it's worth.

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I think this is a really confusing topic because there's basically only one way to be monogamous, but there are multiple ways to be polygamous.

Like the children topic. I would naively expect that children in a closed commited poly household can access better parenting than in a closed commited mono household. Poly parents have access to more parents and are better placed to specialise and play to their strengths, while mono parents are basically stuck with wage-earner or childrearer (unless they're in really unusually good or bad circumstances - like households with access to non-wage income, or households where income is so low that both parents are primarily wage-earners and no one is doing much childrearing). The poly household would tend to have more flexibility - you could have one adult do full time childrearing and the other adults work, or one adult breadwinning and everyone else else do childrearing. In an idealistic utopia where polyam is legally and socially legitimate, more parents also means more access to in-law resources - experience, labour, inherited property, money.

It wouldn't shock me if, like mono marriage, poly marriages make the economics of house buying and childbearing actually attainable for a lot of people. Maybe this would be bad for mono families (poly households having a better ratio of wage earners vs mouths to feed and can better afford scarce housing?) but maybe this can be good in other ways (drives down cost of childcare if a % of households can afford to do childcare in-house).

I would speculate that a lot of the queer relationship anarchy type people make very low wages and those big open polycules allow them to live in high CoL areas on part-time pay - a member of a polycule is basically like a roommate you can't easily evict! Idk if this is widespread, but I also get the sense that a lot of these arrangements are possible due to one of the members having rich, open minded parents that let them stay in the house basically rent free. If you think about it in the find-somewhere-to-sleep way, having 8 partners is better than having 1 partner because the odds that your partner has a parent who owns a house and won't charge you rent is significantly and absurdly improved in the 8 partner scenario.

(This is what I think of the 20-something poly vs the 40-something poly, btw - I think a not insignificant portion of the 20 somethings are probably barely poly, and have a strong preference for not being homeless over a preference for their partner to exclusively sleep with them. The 40 somethings tend to be better at asserting boundaries because a bad breakup probably won't leave them homeless!)

I do agree with a lot of commenters pointing out that open polyam would probably be bad for children. I don't think having a constantly shifting cast of adults in their life is great for child development, regardless of how amicably their parents deal with parting - even amicable divorces aren't super great for the kids. Luckily for us, at the moment, the trend seems to be that people who prefer open relationships also prefer not to have kids.

Although, maybe I'm just speaking from a space of exhaustion in a mono household - basic household management when I was single was super difficult for me and improved a little when I coupled up. My logic is that, provided both me and my partners have the emotional competence to manage it, adding more adults to the household would only improve the ratio of housework and labour as well as the ratio of earnings vs expenses. On paper, a closed polycule just seems way more resource and labour efficient.

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I suspect that less children in a poly relationship can have something to do with being less bored. A mono relationship means that you are mostly hanging out just with a single person and the only option to add someone else is to give birth to them. In a poly relationship you can just add an already grown up interesting person to hang out with which is much less trouble than raising a child.

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I am bewildered what toxic people many of the comments talk about. I know a few poly people and constellation, and they are... well, pretty boring.

Whatever bubble Scott lives in, mine looks exactly the same. The poly constellations are mostly about multiple romantic relationships, not about sex. It's just a few people figuring out how to arrange their lives best given the desires of the partners. Sometimes, this works out pretty well for all sides, and gives a real surplus. For example, because A can live out their adventurous side with B, and their cuddling side with C, and all are happy about it.

Sometimes, not all sides get exactly what they want. For example, a good friend of mine would spend more quality time with B alone, but B likes spending their time with the whole group of partners. But that's pretty much the same as in mono relationships, where A would like to have more sex with B, or go on more adventures with B, and B doesn't want that.

Obviously, some people are good at negotiating their desires. It helps a lot to be open about their desires in the first place. I think poly relationship work really well for these people, and give a true surplus. I happen to live in a bubble where almost all people I know are pretty good at that. This goes for my family (which is *ridiculously* good at integration; my uncle cheated on my ex-aunt and had twins with a younger women; a few years later all five of them get along pretty well and come together to the annual Christmas celebration of the family). Also, basically all my friends are like this. Heck, from what I know, my colleagues at work are also like this. I really don't know a lot of people who are bad at this type of relationship things. I think most of them would find poly nice if they tried (some do), some of them would find it better than mono, but they get along well either way. On some level it's not the big life-changer for them, it's more on the level of having different flavors of icecream. I would be really sad if strawberry was the only icecream flavor that society would allow, but I would get over it and still be able to live a happy life.

The big exception for me is my family-in-law, which is not good at relationships. So I know that there is this strange world of people out there who suck at relationships, and I get a glance every few months (they live far away). I assume these people suck at either poly or mono, but probably poly is worse for them because you can screw up with more partners. But I don't know a lot of these people. I can 100% relate to everything Scott describes about poly, because this is how it would look for almost everyone I know.

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I'm old enough to remember when Scott spent time writing about the ever-growing plight of lonely, miserable, nerdy men... rather than trying to explain that we should change society so high-status, attractive, sociable people dominate the relationship market even more than they already do. But I guess being high-status for long enough makes you forget. I look forward to his future article on whether it's possible to eat too much caviar.

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1. I suspect that to really compare between number of kids between poly/mono people, you need to control for LGBT status. LGBT people seem to have kids much less than straight cis people, even when doing "traditional monogamy".

I would suspect (anecdotally) that LGBT people may also be more likely to be poly - some LGBT people I've known have in general been more likely to question common societal norms around sex and relationships, as they're already outside the mainstream in one way, and I'd expect this to correlate with poly status. (Also anecdotally, some LGBT people I've known have had big misunderstandings of straight cis dating culture, taking some things to be arbitrary which have good reasons, because they overlooked child-rearing completely.)

2. I live in a European country which is in some ways more gender-egalitarian than the US median but also has a substantial Muslim minority. I suspect that greater legal recognition for poly relationships would hit a major stumbling block with regards to this population for two reasons.

The first is that this population may practice polygyny in ways that are bad for women (I am not actually sure if it is but it seems that way from the outside to the broader culture). Muslim polygyny does seem different in some important ways from the more feminist-derived Bay Area poly culture.

The second is that there is already a (IMO overblown, but that's another question) panic about Muslim immigration, which could be increased if a man were allowed to bring over more than one wife, with more accompanying minors.

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Does Jewish law prohibit a woman having more than one husband?

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On a lighter note:

Those were full of inside jokes as an 'Easter Egg' for the commenters. Hope some of you saw and enjoyed them.

"Becoming Fully Myself" is an ironic transposition of Richard Spencer's 'become who you are'. The joke is that removing context and changing wording slightly can turn a far-right slogan into a New Age title you'd skip past at Barnes and Noble.

"Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem" is an actual Gloria Steinem title from the nineties.

"Me/Myself/I: A Journey of Three and One" alludes to the love of postmodernists and some science fiction writers for slashes.

"Every Man and Woman is a Star" is, as Scott has said, a reference to Aleister Crowley's Book of the Law, a nod to an earlier 'sex-positive' ideology.

"Transgressing Boundaries: A Non-Binary, Non-Toxic, Non-Violent Journey" is a reference to the Sokal hoax, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity".

"Neutralizing Poison: The Fourth Level of Self-Healing (the first three being, of course, Curing Light Wounds, Slowing the Venom, and Banishing Blindness, and the sequel being Returning from the Underworld)" is based on 1st and 2nd edition D&D spells: Cure Light Wounds, Slow Poison, Cure Blindness, Neutralize Poison, and Raise Dead. A decidedly non-serious form of spirituality.

"The Love of an Influencer: Very Different from Conventional Love" is a reference to the Idiocracy quote, "The love of a pimp is very different from that of a square."

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I would like to know how many people in Aella's survey answered Fully Mono, Fully Poly, or somewhere in the middle. It sounds like a lot of commenters have noticed 'two types' of poly people that basically boil down to those who do poly well and those who don't. Then there seems to be concern that the popularization of polyamorous relationships will cause a lot of people to attempt some form of open relationship who shouldn't and have themselves a shit show. I know your surveys aren't a good representative sample of the population, but you could ask people on your next survey if they've had experience with poly or mono, what type, and whether it worked out for them. I think the more interesting dialogue about the topic isn't whether poly is always terrible or always great, but what works and for whom. Then again - people are going to try things and fall on their face and get up again. I certainly know people for whom poly worked out and people for whom it was a shit show. I hasn't seemed to me that trying and failing at poly is all that different than trying a failing at other romances or leaves particularly more scars.

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As a comment on a comment...

>> I think the reason most people are uncomfortable with polyamory is that it subverts the dearly-held mythology of all-conquering “true love” between soulmates that pervaded western culture for a few centuries until the last decade or-so. Years ago, Jason Pargin (of Cracked.com, back when it was still relevant) said that outsiders looking back at our culture would see romantic love as our religion, and I think he was right.

The mythology of 'true love' between 'soulmates' has some similarity to the story attributed to Aristophanes in the the Symposium by Plato.

See here


That story gave a mythical-sounding explanation about how people were originally bonded together in a way that provided two faces, four arms, four legs...and were separated by Zeus and company. The separated couples wouldn't be whole until they found their other half, whom they could love.

This may be a cultural thread distinct from modern love stories, but it does show that the idea of a 'soulmate' isn't confined to the last few centuries.

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My biggest concern would just be Chesterton's gate: monogamy comes with a set of rules that have more or less worked for most people, and with well understood failure modes. Poly relationships have to choose which rules to use, and may be more likely to fail in unpredictable ways. (As opposed to predictable ways.)

You could argue that recent changes to monogamy have removed most of the historical know how, so we're all in the same boat anyway.

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i really doubt asexuals or supersexuals succeed either.

lets say im ace but romantic. here's the thing; romantic love isn't something that gets better with loving more people; there is just one me to give love. (this is applicable for sex with polygyny; the women are property because there is only one man to love and have sex with them).

the opposite for supersexual; there is no benefit to fixed partners because they crave novelty, or monogamy with a similar hi drive partner can be fine.

the thing here assumes a weird balance of being romantically or sexually promiscous but not TOO much, but in an equal sense when do relationships ever work like that?

the reality is still 2-1 power differentials. the asexual loves her partner but cant sexually satisfy him. the wife lets the husband cheat because she cant live without him. and big surprise, a big fantasy of women is being desired and doted on by two men, and of men to sleep with tons of women. if you receive or benefit its great, but i really wonder how many self-selected surveys are made of those people.

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So Scott has challenged me to operationalize why I think polyamory is bad.

Challenge accepted!

I will make the following predictions (reasoning bellow)

1. Polyamorous relationships of more than 2 people will have a "rate of divorce" approximately 3 times higher than monogamous relationships

(where a "divorce" is defined as at least one member of the n-tuple no longer having a romantic relationship with at least one of the other members )

2. Polyamorous n-tuples are much less likely to share income or assets (meaning shared by all members of the n-tuple)

And this is related to

3. Polyamorous n-tuples having less children (already confirmed by the survey)

1. Is because in a 3 person relationship there are actually 3 binary relationships. Triple the binary relationships means triple opportunity for divorce

(technically though this means the expected rate of divorce would be 1-(1-p)^3

If p is the rate of divorce for monogamous couples than the rate of non-divorce should for troples should be (1-p)^3. Necessary caveat since otherwise point 1 would mean probabilities greater than 1)

2. Is expected from 1. If you think relationships might end you are less likely to risk losing your assets in that case.

3. Follows from 1 and 2 because having kids almost requires you share assets. For one thing major expenses like child care or a bigger house to fit kids are expenses everyone has. For another, if you aren't secure enough to keep a joint bank account, how could you expect to keep a kid together.

And I would posit that this shows that polyamorous people are not as committed as they say. Meaning that, the reason they aren't having kids is because they are not committed.

The realtionships might last long (atleast 1 out of the 3 might last long or longer than the average binary marriage)

But if it's not the case that "all 3 of the relationships" are expected to last than that reduces the sense of security of all 3 of them. One of the 3 may last by dumb luck. But it was not a "lasting commitment" that lasts because it was expected to from the outset.

And to me this goes to the core of what relationships are "supposed" to be about. They are about being able to invest in each other: emotionally, financially, physically etc even when it is not the case that both partners are "gaining" from the investment. It's about being able to sacrifice for your partner because you have the expectation that this relationship will last for your whole life and in the course of the next 70 years your partner will sacrifice for you.

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"The happiest polycules I know are asexual people. The second happiest are people who have sex so frequently and compulsively that it’s impossible for them to be angry with their partner for sleeping around because not-sleeping-around seems as impossible to them as falling upward."

I think that points to an issue with sex-mediated long-term attachment. Apparently during sex significant amounts of oxytocin are released and that is related to long-term bonding. Asexual people might lack in this due to low sexual activity, while compulsive sexual behaviour might decrease oxytocin release in each act (as the ability to produce oxytocin is likely limiited).

This seems like a testeable hypothesis.

It might also have a genetic component, and someone could find a polyamory polygenetic score.

In any case, this type of biological explanation might make everyone happy: normies can rest assured that polyamory will not work for them or most people because they lack the unusual oxytocine (or whatever it is) phenotype, while polyamorous people can claim that they polyamory works for them because they are different and should be respected.

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Responding to your response to my quoted comment.

The point about having a second child is a good point, and one I'm not precisely sure how to answer. Roughly, though, there seems to be a major difference between creating someone and then loving them, and loving someone who already exists. Why people have children is a complex question, but I would assume and/or hope that a selfless desire to bring someone into the world and give them a good life is at least as important as a personal desire to have someone else to love you. In any case, what I'd like to know is *why* people have a desire for a second partner. What's wrong with their current partner, why are they not enough for you? It's definitely not like a friend who is, by definition, not a maximally close relationship; if they were they'd be a lover. Much like abortion, if there's a good reason for it, and crucially *if people recognise that they need a good reason for it to be acceptable!* then my attitude to it will be *inconceivably* different to when it's "I don't need a reason, I can do whatever I want".

Do you accept you need a reason, and if so what are the reasons people think they need to be polyamorous?

I'm not convinced about it not being mostly about sex. The asexuals could be an exception, but it's 5%! And measuring sex drive is meaningless when there could be numerous people with high sex drives in monogamous relationships who are controlling it, or finding a way to channel it into their existing relationship. Indeed, there *should* be numerous such people; that's exactly what anti-polyamory people are saying you should be doing! (not eliminating your sex drive). Also, lots of people are bringing up incompatible sex drives within monogamy as a reason for polyamory, in these comments. You're saying it's not about sex but the pro-poly comments are saying otherwise! I wonder if those people realise that conservatives are the ones who advocate sexual obligations within marriage; sexual frustration is the fault of the progressive ideology where the highest moral law is always "whatever *I* want".

And *also*, even if it's not about sex right now that won't remain so. Say it's 2010 and a feminist says that all rape accusations should be believed without question. And let's say you have ironclad evidence that there are absolutely zero false accusations being made currently. Do you support that policy? No you don't, because you can be sure that that will change once accusations start being automatically believed. Currently polyamory may be fringe enough that it's attracting principled people who aren't just looking for more sex (though see my doubts above). But you're trying to normalise it, to make it less fringe. What could possibly make you think that that won't be accompanied by a massive rise in people using it as an excuse to cheat, sleep around, and otherwise indulge their base and selfish desires?

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As a pollster, I loved seeing the data! Strong takeout that if you’re going to go Poly, go full Poly. But the challenge here is that this is a pretty extreme lifestyle, esp in the context of a family unit, so while it is easier for a 25 year old to explore, it seems the data implies that if you’re a married couple with kids, it is probably best not to try. As you’re unlikely to (be able to) make the full jump.

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> This isn’t really how things work for me. I want my wife to definitely be the most important person in my life and vice versa. But I find I can carve out a category “secondary partner” that doesn’t interfere with this, any more than her having friends , hobbies, children, etc interferes with this.

Forgive the prying personal questions, but this is actually really important considering you are publicly using your own life as testimony to support a trend that will have dramatic consequences for other people's lives. Questions: 1) Is your wife actively having sex with other men? 2) Is she actively going on romantic one-on-one dates with other men?

I ask this because if your wife is not actively in romantic or sexual relationships, you are not actually doing polyamory (even if it is the case that you have given her permission to seek other relationships but she chooses not too). You are doing ye olde "man has wife and dalliances or mistresses on the side" which is obviously quite functional and sustainable for the man, and historically may not even bother the wife that much as long as he invested sufficient resources and romance into the wife. You owe it to your readers to tell us whether you are actually finding success in "ethical polyamory" or success in being a Charles II/Louis XVI/Allan Dulles/ Magic Johnson-style chad philanderer (you being a chad because of your prominence and success within a certain circle).

It's also a relevant question, because from what I have seen in life, men have no problem loving more than one woman at the same time, but it is far more rare for a woman to feel intense sexual/romantic love for multiple men at the same time. If a woman falls in love with a new man, the previous man often becomes less attractive and something of an annoyance.

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"If you’re monogamous, you have to fight the natural human urge to desire people other than your partner"

What? No you don't. The rule isn't that you don't desire other people, it's: desire all you like, but stay faithful. Nobody ever said monogamy means becoming blind to every other attractive person.

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Feb 24·edited Feb 24

> Commenters agreed with this, and said their experience was that polyamory was mostly female-driven. This is my story too; I became poly because the woman I wanted to date at the time was.

Isn't it widely agreed that it's easier for women to find partners than men? From that you'd expect poly women to have more partners than poly men (who often end up with a single partner). So women benefit more and are obviously going to drive it?

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Having just now read deep enough in the article, I want to respond to the "limited resources" argument: that it's feasible to have multiple lovers because it's feasible to have multiple children, multiple friends, multiple people at your Christmas party.

For some people, those may be comparable situations, but for me they definitely aren't. For me, a lover is a major commitment in a way a friend is not. If I don't see a friend for weeks, maybe even months, on end, no harm is done, but ignoring a lover that way would seem pretty hurtful. (And if you think a person only counts as a friend if you see them all the time, then I've only had one friend at a time my entire adult life, which makes me a serial monogamist as a friend, not a polyamorist.)

When I first started dating my wife-to-be, I warned her that I was too busy (work, volunteer activities) to have a real relationship. But the pull of romance rapidly moved her up my priority scale, and I found myself reworking my life. My other activities had to move back on the stove burners a little. I would not, could not, risk the same thing happening to my primary relationship if I started a secondary.

As for multiple children, those are at least all living with you at once, so it's a little easier to juggle them. But, at the same time, sibling rivalry rooted in jealousy over amounts of parental attention is a classic problem. Handling multiple children turns out to be difficult! Just like handling multiple amorous relationships is.

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I don't think there is any rational justification for it. It's a depraved state of living that harms the soul long term.

You can get to any set of beliefs by asking "why not" enough. I sincerely believe that people doing this alienate themselves from God and so lose part of what it means to be fully human in the pursuit of their desires.

After all if we see sex as a positive it should be no retraction to pursue meaningless sex. And I the same light, all relationships as positive, then there should be no negative reaction to unlimited relationships.

And yet there is on both sides. It's clear the pursuit of our desires is just a form of idol worship. Whether that involve sex or a sexless harem.

Even the women who were sex positive understood boundaries of consent. And so saw how irrational desire hurts this.

Equivocation with jealousy doesn't change the fundamental nature of idol worship.

The question of benefits is unimportant if the loss of the soul is final.

To involve others is just to commit adultery with license. Rather than in a world where adultery is wrong. It is to inculcate the lie.

I cannot and never will support polyamory. If God does not approve of it, then the loss of the soul to satan is enough to cause an infinity of suffering post death.

And no possible earthly benefit is worth that.

If you are an athiest then your lack of knowledge of the divine doesn't preclude the risk you expose to souls.

It just means you would do it with impunity in pursuit of benefits.

For example what if you went to a witch and they performed craft on you for wealth. An athiest can always say "at worst I lose nothing" because they do not believe.

But there are far too many possessions and demonic oppression for this to be even remotely true. He loses everything thinking he lost nothing.

To me people contemplating polyamory are just peering over a cliff.

Their angel warns them not to jump. But the devil says the water is warm.

If they jump they don't die so they think it's not bad.

Human nature is just this kind of easily decieved thing without the holy spirit.

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I wonder what the monogamous response to the person who can't stop cheating on her partners would be? If you think cheating is wrong, and you accept that there are people who find it very hard to be monogamous, would you advocate that those people just remain celibate?

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I'm not exactly poly but not exactly monogamous - married and planning to start having kids soon, attend sex parties together and occasionally have sex/go on dates separately. Separately we live with another couple and a single person who are all long term friends. We are not sleeping with each other (outside of the couples) but we are planning to have kids and help each other raise them. I would not generally recommend non monogamy nor be happy if it became trendy because it seems to require very specific personality traits to be successful. Neither my husband nor I experience sexual jealousy. We have consciously prioritized each other, so that either of us could end the non monogamy if we felt that it was causing issues, but it has not. I do expect to be largely monogamous for the time we are raising young children just because of the time and energy required (maybe we'll go to the odd sex party when we can get a babysitter/housemates are planning to watch kids). I have seen poly with kids both go very well and very poorly, and I think it requires lack of jealousy, emotional maturity, impulse control, and common sense (for example, don't go on a date with a new person when your wife is 39 weeks pregnant!)

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There's many kinds of love, like selfless love and selfish love. I think the first fits polyamory well while the second doesn't. I also consider the second one to be real love (Nietzsche said that if you can't hate, you also can't love, and criticized the selfless, all-too-logical type.) Thinking logically rather than emotionally about relationships is a sign that one is more casual and hedonic, less invested. I think autism correlates with this trend of thinking of relationships in terms of utility.

Perhaps I just don't like polyamory, in the same way that I don't like porn addicts. I want great things to be sacred so they don't lose their value. Desensitized people rub me the wrong way. I'm reminded by an old 4chan rule, which went "Nothing is sacred" (know rule34? well, there's more rules). Perhaps this lack of sacredness is what degeneracy is, and what purists fight against. But I will be the first one to admit that these things aren't harmful, at least in the way that spending hours on liveleak doesn't hurt anyone. It just makes me think "Please don't do that to yourself. Your stoicism blunts positive emotions along with the negative ones. Is my puppy love stupid and immature? You bet, but it's a shame you will never experience it".

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> In the 2017 SSC survey (the same one cited above), about 5% of polyamorous people described themselves as asexual (having no sex drive) compared to about 3% of monogamous people.

I suspect that comparing these numbers directly relies on a too-naive theory of how people end up ace or poly. I don't want to be insulting about people's identities or practices or suchlike, but I suspect that the same kind of person is more likely to adopt these labels, and many more like them.

I wonder what the crosstabs are to various other factors: I would not be surprised if these people had high "Other" as gender identity and sexual orientation, young age, high autism, high anxiety disorder, and high IQ.

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Me, Myself, and I: The Holy Trinity of Narcissism

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Mar 3·edited Mar 3

I would be cautious about applying data about the dangers of unrelated adults living with children to polyamory. I think a lot depends on how well the studies control for socioeconomic status.

When I was poor, the modal household children seemed to be raised in was: Mother gets knocked up while underemployed by underemployed boyfriend and convinces herself he's The One to avoid getting an abortion. Baby daddy leaves her not long after, often to go to jail. Obviously mother has roommates because she can't afford an apartment of her own (and not because she lives in a major city with a housing crisis, just because she's poor for an American), roommates are often very dysfunctional. Mother continues to make bad decisions about dating, and a series of dysfunctional men make their way through the child's life. Things like divorce rates being anti-correlated with income point to this experience being more than anecdotal.

Studies find that most Americans born in the poorest 20% leave it by early adulthood. In my experience the ones raising children in it generally have specific personal problems holding them back or are downwardly mobile because of specific personal problems. These problems make it far more likely that the non-related adults are dangerous to the children.

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Mar 11·edited Mar 11

Not sure if this has been mentioned yet but…

> However, they only have about half as many children.

The survey asks how many children they have *with their primary partner*. I'm not certain this is a fair proxy for the total number of children among each group. Stepparents and secondary partners may confound the data. I think a better question for getting at the total number of children would be "how many biological children do you have?" (Although surrogates and adoptions may confound that data?)

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