Sunday, March 07, 2010

Monogamy is just one of many relationship models

There has been recent debate about the South African president, Jacob Zuma, over his open practice of polygamy. He has been married five times, and currently has three wives.

When it comes to polygamy, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it is an important cultural tradition for many; on the other hand, polygamy is primarily based on patriarchy.

Polyamory, however, is one model of non-monogamy that seems to be more inclusive of both sexes. Also referred to as open marriage, polyamory (from the Greek word poly which means 'many', and the Latin word amor which means 'love') is the philosophical idea that it is possible to have more than one romantic relationship at a time, provided that these relationships take place
with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.

As this interesting Wikipedia article states:

What distinguishes polyamory from traditional forms of non-monogamy (i.e. "cheating") is an ideology that openness, goodwill, intense communication, and ethical behavior should prevail among all the parties involved.

The first major different to polygamy is that polyamorous relationships are not necessarily bound by an act of marriage. The second difference is that polyamory is not patriarchal. Rather, it is based on

. . . such concepts as gender equality, self-determination, free choice for all involved, mutual trust, equal respect among partners, [and] the intrinsic value of love . . .

From what I've read, polyamorists tend to stress responsible non-monogamy, placing importance on honesty, negotiation, respect, and the use of safe sex.

In one Oprah poll, 7% of woman and 14% of men who responded indicated that they are in open marriages. There are families where the kids grow up with two dads and one mom in the house. In this article, the parents of one polyamorous family - consisting of a child, one father and two mothers - explain how they make it work.

As a Christian, I grew up believing that the only valid model of romantic relationship was monogamy, but it is interesting to learn that there are many people out there who are practicing various forms of non-monogamy. And it seems as if many of them are making it work.