Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

April 26, 2009

"Are Bisexuals the Glue that Holds Poly Together?" And some numbers for how many polys there are.

A few days ago on BiNet USA ("America's umbrella organization and voice for bisexual, pansexual, fluid, and all other of us 'somewhere in between' "), a columnist posed the question in the title above.

...At this point in the conversation, someone made the comment that while bisexuals aren't necessary to hold poly relationships together, they certainly do help. That got me to thinking.

In most poly situations I know of, the folk ARE bisexual... but that may be because I am bi and therefore have a natural affinity for bi community. Perhaps the majority of poly folk aren't bisexual, I don't know. That's why I am posing this question.

Are Bisexuals the connection that makes triads, and quads, so common?... If you remove the bisexuals from the equation... would the numbers of poly community be drastically reduced or just unnoticeably reduced?

Read the whole article (April 16, 2009). A discussion about it has also sprung up on the LiveJournal BiPolyPaganGeek community.


There's no question: bisexual people are way, way more abundant in the poly world than elsewhere. Some statistics:

In Loving More magazine's survey of 1,010 polys taken in 2000, 667 stated their sexual preference; of these, 51% said they were bisexual. (The complete survey data are now online at the Kinsey Institute; see page 23 in the documentation.) My own experience is that when you ask a roomful of people at a poly conference how many consider themselves bi, something like 30% or 40% raise their hands. Workshops at poly conferences on exploring your bisexuality are well attended. Other informal estimates have put the proportion of bi polys at 30% to 60% of all polys.

This compares to just 2.3% of the general population. (That is, 1.8% of men and 2.8% of women age 18–44 in the U.S. gave their sexual preference as "bisexual" when surveyed for the CDC's 2002 National Survey of Family Growth; see tables 12 and 13 on pages 30 and 31 of the PDF doc. If the link remains broken, try here and see page 3 and Table 8. Note that nearly another 4% chose "other" rather than either homo-, hetero-, or bi-.)

So to answer the question in the title of the article: if bi folks disappeared, the poly world would immediately shrink by roughly 45%. And I suspect that this particular 45% plays a role beyond its numbers in binding together intimate poly groups and households.

Interestingly, statistics also exist on the other side of the coin: That is, how many bis are poly?

Psychologist Geri D. Weitzman, in her paper "Therapy with Clients Who Are Bisexual and Polyamorous" (Journal of Bisexuality, Vol. 6, Issue 1-2; 2006), summarizes some of the little that's known about this:

Page (2004) found that 33% of her bisexual sample of 217 participants were involved in a polyamorous relationship, and 54% considered this type of relationship ideal. West (1996) reported that 20% of her lesbian respondents were polyamorous, while Blumstein and Schwartz (1983) found that 28% of the lesbian couples in their sample were. Blumstein and Schwartz found that 65% of the gay male couples in their study were polyamorous, and that 15-28% of their heterosexual couples had "an understanding that allows nonmonogamy under some circumstances" (p. 312).

The references, if you want to look them up, are in the paper's bibliography.

Pepper Mint has written (on the LovingMore_Polyactive Yahoo group, May 24, 2007):

Kassia Wosick-Correa from UC Irvine has unpublished numbers that peg self-identified polyamorous bisexuals as 44% of all bisexuals.

Also see the studies supporting similar conclusions in Footnote 1 below.

All these items together lead to another interesting point. If roughly 45% of polys say they are bi, and roughly 45% of bis are say they are poly, this implies that roughly equal numbers of each exist in the general population2. So if 2.3% of Americans call themselves bi, then about 2.3% of Americans should be poly. Numerous caveats apply! One, I think, is that both communities have grown significantly in self-awareness and self-identification, perhaps unevenly, since those surveys were done.

Lastly: We are not the only ones to take an interest in this. Stanley Kurtz, a leading anti-gay-marriage writer for top-of-the-line conservative think tanks, warned darkly in a cover story for The Weekly Standard nearly four years ago that bisexuals are an unrecognized hidden force behind the polyamory movement and its plans to bring down civilization. Enjoy.


Update: More from Pepper Mint:

...If we assume Kassia's numbers are right, and we combine these statistics, we get that about 1% of the 18-44 age range is polyamorous bisexuals. If we assume zero polyamorous bisexuals above 44 or below 18, that gives us around 1.35 million polyamorous bisexuals.

The high-end percentage of bisexuals within polyamory seems to run at around 60%, from informal polls, which would give us an overall count of 2.25 million polyamorous people.

Now, I think that's too high. Perhaps Kassia's numbers are off, perhaps because she had limited options in her surveys? If we assume that she's off by a factor of 4 (giving 11% of bisexual identifying as polyamorous, which definitely seems like an undercount), then we have around 500,000 poly people.

This gives us a decent range, I think. We're probably not as low as 100,000, but I doubt we've made it past a million or so. Estimates of the BDSM and swing communities come in at 2-4 million, and I don't think we're as big as either of those. Unfortunately comparing with swing events is not a good measure, since swinging is more event-oriented than polyamory. We can however compare with BDSM since it is typically practiced outside of events, and there are a lot more (and a lot bigger) kink events. In any case, I am quite certain that we do not have nearly the numbers that kinksters have, despite there being a solid overlap.

Okay, I'm a numbers geek.



1. Update, October 2010: Kelly Cookson provides these additional references regarding how many bis are poly, with brief summaries:

Here are a few studies in which bisexuals commonly preferred and/or engaged in sexually non-monogamous relationships:

Burleson, (2005). Bi-America: the myths and truths of an invisible minority. Binghamton, NY: Harrington park press. [In a chapter discussing the relationship between bisexuality and non-monogamy, Burleson claims bi people tend to be non-monogamous more than people of other sexual orientations. I got this from a secondary source: Tameeza, S. (2007) Bi and in love: A phenomenological inquiry into the committed couple relationships of bisexual women. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco, CA.]

George, S. (1993) Women and Bisexuality. London: Scarlet Press. [See page 230: "Do you have simultaneous 'open' relationships (i.e., have several lovers who theoretically have the same importance)?" Out of 107 bisexual women that responded, 72 (67%) said no, 14 (13%) said yes, and 21 (20%) said they had open relationships in the past. So 35 (33%) of bisexuals in this study had open relationships at some point.]

Keener, M. C. (2004). A phenomenology of polyamorous persons. Unpublished masters thesis, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT. [A phenomenological study of 10 people recruited through an announcement distributed among the polyamorous community. Five of the 10 participants identified as bisexual.]

Klesse, C. (2006). Polyamory and its ‘others’: Contesting the terms of non-monogamy. Sexualities, 9, 565-583. ["Although polyamory is not essentially linked to any particular sexual identity, a significant part of the UK polyamory scene seems to consist of bisexuals or – as one of my interview partners3 put it – ‘heteroflexibles’. It is not surprising, therefore, that polyamory emerged as one of the most significant discourses on nonmonogamy used by bisexual-identified participants in my study" p. 566]

Klesse, C. (2005). Bisexual women, non-monogamy and differentialist anti-promiscuity discourses. Sexualities, 8, 445-464. ["The scarce research into bisexual relationship practices (that mostly refers to the US context) suggests a relatively high frequency of nonmonogamous relationship arrangements among bisexual-identified women and men (George, 1993; Rodríguez Rust, 2000; Rust, 1996; Weinberg et al., 1994)." p.448]

McLean, K. (2004 ). Negotiating (non)monogamy: Bisexuality and intimate relationships. In R. C. Fox (Ed.), Current Research on Bisexuality (pp. 83-97). Binghamton, NY: Harrington Park Press. [In this study of bisexuals, 60 percent of the men and 52.5 percent of the women indicated their relationships were sexually open. Various forms of sexually open relationships were observed.]

Rodríguez-Rust, P. C. (ed.) (2000) Bisexuality in the United States. New York: Columbia University Press.

Rust, P.C. (1996). Monogamy and Polyamory: Relationship Issues for Bisexuals. In B. A. Firestein (Ed.) Bisexuality: The Pyschology and Politics of an Invisible Minority (pp.127-148). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. [When bisexuals were asked about their relationship preferences, the most popular relationship preferences involved some form of sexual non-monogamy.]

Sheff, E. (2005). Polyamorous women, sexual subjectivity and power. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 34. 251-283. ["Bisexuality. Bisexual women were quite numerous in polyamorous communities. In fact, bisexuality was so common among women in the polyamorous community that they had a standing joke that it allowed them to 'have their Jake and Edith too!'" p. 266]

Weinberg, M.S., Williams, C.J., Pryor, D.W. (1995). Dual Attraction: Understanding Bisexuality. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. [When bisexuals were asked about their ideal relationships, the most popular ideal relationships involved some form of sexual non-monogamy. Not all of them realized their ideal relationships. But 30 percent of them currently had more than one significant partner. See chapter 8.]

As an historical aside... several members of the Kerista commune may have been bisexual. Jud, who started the Kerista religion and co-founded the commune, said "We believe in love. People shouldn't be like balloons, ready to explode if they're touched. We believe in total sharing, and that means sharing love and affection as well as property. In Kerista, the only standard of a sexual relationship is mutual consent, by the two or three or four or however many parties are involved. We only have one full-time homosexual member that I know of, but most of us are bisexual. People either dig that this is the natural, decent, loving way to be-have, or they don't." Source: http://www.rawilsonfans.com/articles/kerista.htm

Kelly Cookson

Also in October 2010 came this European report on preliminary results released from a large study, which found that 40% of bisexuals "consider themselves to be polyamorous." The full study was to be published in 2011 in the Journal of Bisexuality.

2. The math: If a = the number of polys, b = the number of bisexuals, and c = the number that's in the overlap of the two, and if

0.4a = c


0.4b = c


a = b

regardless of the value of c.


Update, February 2012: The number of open marriages in America became a news topic after presidential candidate Newt Gingrich's second wife accused him of demanding one.

The number of open relationships is surely larger than the subset of poly relationships. News reports during the Gingrich episode quoted sociologists' evidence that 5%, or "anywhere between 1% and 10%", of American marriages are sexually open by agreement. That would translate to 6 million, or between 1.2 and 12 million, individuals.

Better: the Wikipedia article "Open marriage incidence", which is rich with links to academic research sources, says: "...Despite these difficulties, researchers have estimated that between 1.7 percent and 6 percent of married people [in America] are involved in open marriages." That would be between 2 and 7 million individuals. "The incidence of open marriage has remained relatively stable over the last two generations."


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April 18, 2009

New forms of marriage

When I was a teenager in 1969, one of my beloved waterbrothers found a magazine article declaring that marriage as we knew it was ending, that new and different ways of partnering were the future, and that group marriage would be one of them. Part of me was elated that ideas like our little group's were getting into print. Another part of me, even at that age and in the midst of poly NRE, knew that the article was out to lunch.

And indeed, talk of "the end of marriage as we know it" disappeared for a generation. Now it's back, driven less by starry visionaries than by ugly statistics.

You know the drill: the roughly 50% divorce rate, the high rates of cheating and infidelity (depending on which surveys you trust), and see my last post about the news that 40% of American babies are now born to unwed mothers. This is very bad news for many of those babies (yes, I'm conservative about some things. So kick me.)

But the collapse of one social structure always drives the invention of new ones. Some of those 40% of babies will grow up in stable, happy un-marriages. Gay parents have always had to live this way, and of course much of the current attention to the role of marriage in society is driven by the gay-marriage debate.

One gay-marriage solution now getting a lot of notice is for the state to quit the marriage business and let churches do it however they want — for their own members. As in France, you'd sign a civil contract at City Hall that makes you spouses under the law. Then, if you want, you could have a church wedding under the rules of the church of your choice. No church would have veto power over nonmembers' marriages.

See the argument for this idea by Stephanie Coontz, "Taking Marriage Private" (New York Times, Nov. 26, 2007). Coontz is author of the excellent books Marriage: a History and The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. Also see San Francisco attorney Colin P. A. Jones's article, "Marriage proposal: Why not privatize?" (San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 22, 2006).

The prospect of legalizing group marriage hovers in the background of these discussions, as conservatives point out with horrified glee. But as I've discussed, the legal frameworks for group marriage would have to be very complicated and worked up almost from scratch — unlike same-sex marriage, which maps right onto existing marriage law. I suspect it will take generations for a good body of law to evolve to accomodate polyfamilies' needs. But already this future is getting noticed.

On The Colbert Report last Thursday, for instance, Steve Colbert brought on the Catholic legal scholar Douglas Kmiec. Kmiec argues for the state to stop trying to define marriage to exclude gays. In the Catholic Church, he noted, marriage is a sacrament, and

you don't go to the state to get baptized, you don't go to the state to get confirmed.... There's a role for every church to decide the terms on which marriage will be defined in their own tradition... [but] the state has an obligation to treat all of its citizens equally and to observe the principle of equality.

Later in the interview, Colbert challenged him about allowing relationship contracts among three people. Kmiec refered to "these kinds of arrangements" as if everyone knows they exist:

Colbert: If you're just establishing a contract between two people, what's to say the state can't establish a contract between three people?... Would you agree you could make a contract between three people to share property, and have visitation rights in hospitals?

Kmiek: Well you can share a contract among three people, you can share it among a large number of people, but the state has drawn a distinction between two people and a larger number for a very good reason, because these other arrangements have side effects, external effects, where [joking] a "storm" would come and we would have to worry about it.

Watch the segment (6 minutes).

Meanwhile, a petition for legal poly marriage has started in the Netherlands. Dutch poly activist Ageeth Veenemans writes to us:

There’s a wonderful new initiative in the Netherlands. The Columbian artist Francisco Camacho started a petition to collect signatures to allow group marriage. By the end of September 2009, the petition has to bring in 40,000 signatures [to put the topic on the agenda of Parliament]. The German TV news program ’Heute in Europa’ (ZDF) paid attention to this Dutch polygamists' Initiative.

Watch the TV report (German spoken).

Read the press release about the petition (Dutch and English).

Here's more discussion in the Netherlands (on a spirituality website): "Polyamory: Evolution or Decadence?", in Dutch and English. (The article's conclusion: "Time will tell.") See also the many recent poly-related news stories in Europe cited at www.polyamorie.nl.

Lastly, Christians often say they believe in sticking with marriage as defined in the Bible. No they don't. For the Bible to define what marriage should look like, our laws should be amended as follows, comments gladkov on the liberal political blog DailyKos (Dec. 10, 2008):

A. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Genesis 29:17-28, II Samuel 3:2-5)

B. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. (II Samuel 5:13, I Kings 11:3, II Chronicles 11:21)

C. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deuteronomy 22:13-21)

D. Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Genesis 24:3; Numbers 25:1-9, Ezra 9:12, Nehemiah 10:30)

E. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deuteronomy 22:19, Mark 10:9)

F. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Genesis 38:6-10, Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

G. In lieu of marriage, if there are no acceptable men in your town, it is required that you get your father drunk and have intercourse with him (even if he had previously offered you for sex to men young and old), tag-teaming with any sisters you may have. This rule applies only if you are female. (Genesis 19:31-36)

For reference: here is a much more thorough, scholarly, non-snarky list and analysis of the types of Biblical marriage. It says basically the same things.


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April 15, 2009

"Is Traditional Marriage On Its Last Legs?"


The U.S. crossed a demographic boundary in 2007. The National Center for Health Statistics announced last month that for the first time, 40% of babies born in the U.S. were born to unwed mothers.1 The rate of unmarried births has zoomed up since 2002, following several years of relative stability before then.

Here in the pleasant, liberal Massachusetts suburbs, people didn't believe the headline. It was a typo, right? But out in Sarah Palin land, having babies without marriage has become almost the accepted norm. You can blame some of it on abstinence-only sex education, or parents who can't talk about contraception, or scarcity of abortion providers, or lousy opportunities in life for many girls and women. But among quite a few people (especially in places like Massachusetts), the un-marriage trend is the result of deliberate, carefully considered choice.

And one reason is because "marriage" is supposed to mean "forsaking all others" forever after. But it doesn't have to be that way.

At YourTango.com (successor to Tango magazine), columnist Dan Eldridge ruminates on his open relationship in a "Life Partnership" with someone who agrees with him that marriage stinks.

Is Traditional Marriage On Its Last Legs?

by Dan Eldridge

"...It probably wasn't so much the actual concept of marriage itself that rubbed me the wrong way. Rather, it was the style in which so many American couples practice their marriages: with constant arguments, with disdain and loathing, and with cheating and lies.

...I've been involved in an open relationship with my girlfriend for about two years now.... My girlfriend and I both occasionally see other women.

And now they've decided to get married in all but name:

Eventually we decided it might actually be, you know... nice to make a public commitment to each other, and to share that moment with our families and close friends. And after all, by that point we had both managed to admit to each other our respective desires to stay together forever.

And yet neither Carrie Ann's opinion about traditional marriage, nor mine, had changed one bit: We still weren't interested. Nor were we interested in having a ceremony in a church, or on a beach, and we sure as hell weren't going to lay out $10,000 for a pile of cheap party favors, a photographer, and a big cake.

And that was when it hit us: Maybe we actually were on the road to inventing something special....

When Carrie Ann spread the news to her family, she didn't pull any punches in her explanation of what it was that we wanted to do. And what we wanted to do, essentially, was to have a small ceremony in a private place. We wanted to publicly declare our love and our devotion to each other, and also our intention to remain together forever.

Afterwards, we planned to have a small party of some sort. And that was it. In other words, we wanted to go through the process of getting married, but without the inclusion of a priest, or anyone else who had the power vested in him by the State of Pennsylvania to proclaim us man and wife.

My own parents, when I tried to spell out the thought process behind our UnWedding, were understandably confused....

He's done a lot of reading about polyamory and open relationships and finishes by asking,

Is traditional marriage really on its last legs these days? Hell, I don't know. But I do know this: Ideas and suggestions for couples interested in an alternative to life-long monogamy seem to be all around us in the 21st century. I think that's a good thing, and I think it’s an honest way to begin a life-long partnership.

...While we may indeed be living in a freaky-deeky world, it’s a heck of a lot easier to navigate — and a whole lot more fun — when you’re living through it with a loving and devoted partner in crime.

Read the whole article.

P. S.: If you're interested in exploring un-marriage, including the legal ramifications, check out the Alternatives to Marriage Project.

Me? I'm happily married without a regret in the world.

Eldridge's five earlier YourTango columns are:

Open Relationships Dos and Don'ts
Alternative Relationships 101
The (Open) Marriage Contract
Marriage Without Monogamy
Open Marriage: One Man's Surprising Take


1 To be exact, 39.7%. See page 3 and Table 7 in the report.


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April 11, 2009

Poly YouTubers

Go to YouTube, search for (polyamory OR polyamorous) -porn -"Breaking Benjamin" (to filter out most videos of the 2002 Breaking Benjamin song "Polyamorous", not really about us1) — and you get, as of today, about 520 hits.

That's about a full work-week of 8-hour days of YouTube watching, including duplicates. Ouch.

To pare down the list, reader Jaclyn B. went through a bunch and selected her picks of the best, chosen "because they contain good information or are even just truthfully entertaining." Her top five:

It's a great short film. 16-year-old Kelly comes out to her boyfriend Will about falling in love with one of their friends, Brian. Will struggles with the idea before coming to his own conclusions about polyamory....

Hi! I'm Minx, and I'm Polyamorous
An excellent informational film by Polyamory Weekly podcaster Cunning Minx. It gets across what poly is, isn't, and where to find more information. It's put over in very clear terms.

A Couples' Guide to Polyamory
Dr. Joy Davidson, psychologist and sex therapist, talks about the difference between swinging, polyamory and polygamy; how to build a happy, healthy relationship while being realistic about not only the benefits but pitfalls for a couple of venturing into polyamory.

Oberon Zell Ravenheart — Polyamory
Oberon Zell Ravenheart — Challenges of Polyamory
Oberon, a legendary force behind the poly and neo-pagan movements since 1962, talks in his old age about the evolution of polyamory over the decades and how the term came to be. In the second video he talks about the challenges of polyamory and how to overcome some of these issues.

The New Low News Show, 6/2/2007, Part 1
The New Low News Show, 6/2/2007, Part 2
Starting at 8:26 of Part 1 and ending at 3:19 of Part 2, this absolutely hilarious and pointed talk about polyamory gets the word out there while being very entertaining about it. It made me laugh, it made me think, it works.

A few more:

"I lead a lifestyle that puzzles some and astounds others."
Geeky Valkyrie talks about how she and her fiance make it work. "Polyamory is not easy. Not easy at all. But it's fulfilling. I can honestly say I have never been happier in my life than when the three of us are going somewhere and I've got my fiance and my boyfriend on my arms." She does another video detailing how they understand and deal with jealousy. Also, a mono friend responds.

Young Metro Poly introduction.
Jessica Karels, the publisher of this new website ("A Twenty-Something Perspective"), talks about the hows and whys in her life, and where she wants to see the movement go for the upcoming generation.

BET-TV's show "My Two Cents" reports on Poly Pride Day 2007 in New York's Central Park.

And of course, you're totally missing out if you're not watching Terisa Greenan's biweekly sitcom "Family", now in its 11th episode. The versions on You Tube are censored and possibly blocked. The versions here aren't (with a couple bits of R-rated nudity and simulated intercourse) and they have higher video quality.

And how could we skip Kirby Ferguson's 2005 Polly Wally? Screechingly cringe-worthy and hilarious, R-rated, not for the easily squicked. Based on real-life events. Here is Minx's audio interview with Ferguson (Polyamory Weekly episode #14, June 21, 2005); starts at 11:40.

Hey, tell us your finds and faves! Post 'em in the comments below.


1 But don't miss SpongeBob SquarePants performing "Polyamorous" in concert.


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