Monday, July 09, 2007

What makes a Person a Poly Person?

Many marriages in recent decades have ended because one partner or the other acknowledged that they were, by nature, gay or lesbian. Often part of the process that led to that acknowledgment was sexual activities that violated the marriage vows of sexual fidelity. As a general rule, many consider these vow breaking acts to be less of a betrayal than heterosexual adultery, because it is understood that the marriage vows were in some way less than fully binding because they contradicted one of the party's basic nature. We now presume that gay or lesbian sexuality is part of someone's nature, whatever that is. One can't be expected to keep a vow that contradicts one's basic nature.

Many of the arguments that the affirmation of multi-partnered relationships is warranted, necessary and socially beneficial include the notion that some people are "poly people" and that to expect a "poly person" to uphold monogamous marriage vows is like asking a gay person to uphold monogamy with an opposite sex partner; it can be done, but only at great cost and difficulty.

Floating the meme that some people are naturally "poly people" into the culture sets loose a ready-made excuse for all sorts of adultery. My mother asks "What if every person caught in adultery can point to the fact that they is coming to grips with his/her essential poly nature, and hence this affair, while regrettable, is as understandable as Jake and Ennis' fishing trips on Brokeback Mountain?"

It matters whether this "poly" sexuality is a real thing, just as it matters that our scientific understanding of gay and lesbian sexuality points to a real difference. Yet, is there any real scientific evidence that "poly" sexuality is real?

My suspicion is that human beings are neither monogamous or polygamous by nature, but are so, by culture. Certainly, by nature, humans beings are capable of, and desire, sexual relations with many different people. Cultural rules and standards say that some desires can be appropriately acted upon, and others cannot.

In the absence of any real evidence of natural difference, we can only conclude that people who are "poly" are proposing a different set of cultural rules that govern our sexual behavior. To make that argument that they are compelled to a different set of rules because they are, by some nature, different, is a deception, first of themselves and then of others. Cultural rules based on that kind of deception, and false understanding of human beings, will fail and cause more harm than any good they might do.

And the immediate harm will be setting up another reason why it is somehow acceptable to violate one's vows of fidelity in marriage. In a culture already awash in infidelity, suspicions, jealousy, controlling abuse, and the abandonment of single mothers and children by fathers, creating specious justifications for adultery is socially irresponsible.

10 comments:

Joel Monka said...

I am not Poly, but I am interested in the logic and consistency of the arguments. You ask, "Yet, is there any real scientific evidence that "poly" sexuality is real?"- but then provide no scientific evidence, only your suspicion... and then say the Polys are engaged in deception because their claims do not match your suspicions- that hardly seems fair.

You also speak of "...setting up another reason why it is somehow acceptable to violate one's vows of fidelity in marriage.", and "creating specious justifications for adultery". But that would not be true for people entering into a marriage with the known intention of polyamory or polygamy, as would be the case for a fundamental Mormon or people who met through a Polyamory function- there would be no monogamous vows to break.

I also fail to see how Polyamory would increase the rates of "infidelity, suspicions, jealousy, controlling abuse, and the abandonment of single mothers and children by fathers" As I mention above, it's not infidelity if the third (or more) person was included in the original vows; I would think one would be less jealous of a third party that one was aware of from the beginning than a monogamous spouse feels for the unexpected illicit lover one discovers accidentally from an ungaurded email or whatever; and I suspect that the kind of scum who abuses or abandons would do so no matter what type of marriage it was.

It seems to me- without any scientific data (because I am unaware of any studies)- that children would be better off in a poly marriage than in no marriage. I cannot see that it would be any more confusing for the child than a gay marriage, and being married would leave a better paper-trail to use in suing for support should the marriage fail.

LT said...

Joel,

A man says that mountain lions live on the moon. I say that I suspect that his statement is not true, because no evidence has been offered for his claim. He cannot refute my suspicion by saying that I have offered no evidence that mountain lions DON'T live on the moon. I don't need to offer evidence that his positive statement is not true. He just needs to offer evidence that his statement is true, or he is attempting to deceive himself and me by claiming something as true that he has no evidence for.

People are claiming that such a thing as "poly person" who is somehow different than other people exists, and is different at some essential level. I ask them where the evidence for this, and there doesn't seem to be any. Draw your own suspicions.

LT said...

Joel,
Read my post "In Defense of My Mother" for an explanation for why I consider arguments for multi-partnered relationship that depend on those relationships all being best case scenarios as weak.
One has consider the possible implications of the arguments for multi-partnered relationship being accepted as cultural norms, not in an ideal world, but in the real world.

Adam Becker Sr said...

Proponents say that there is no evidence that poly causes great harm to children.

Forty years ago, proponents said that divorce caused little harm to children – that much greater harm was caused by continuing in a family when the parents fought and were unhappy. So we instituted no-fault divorce. The divorce rate mushroomed.

Decades later, the evidence is in. It shows that children of divorce are at much greater risk of many evils – more likely to be rapists, more likely to rape, less likely to finish school, more likely to live in poverty. More likely to be in jail, be hospitalized for drug addiction... the list goes on. The first studies were weak, but sociologist got better at controlling for confounding factors – the disparity persists.

Recent work shows that even kids that escape the worse pathologies, divorce leaves a stain that manifests in less joy, poorer relationships, more depression, less trust.

Except in extreme cases of violence, substance abuse and psychosis, kids are better off if parents stay married. Even if the parents aren't happy together.

My observation is that polyamory leads to divorce. People fall in love with people they sleep with, even when they don't intend to. People experience intense jealous feelings, even when they thought they were OK with it. Divorce happens; it happens more than it would have.

Proponents say that my observations are anecdotes, not data. Sure, there's precious little rigorous study one way or the other. But the onus is on the polys to come up with the proof – the rigorous, twenty year longitudanal study kind of proof – that poly is harmless. Until then, the best estimate is that poly endangers children similarly to the way that no-fault divorce has endangered children.

Joel Monka said...

Given the history of the human race, I'd say that claiming that some people simply aren't capable of monogamy is a less extraordinary claim than that there are mountain lions on the moon. And remember that "not proven" is not identical to "false"- you can only claim deception if it is in fact false, something we don't know yet, as there has been no scientific studies done. Did you hold gays to the same standard all those years prior to any scientific studies? Were they being deceptive until suddenly they weren't? In point of fact, homosexuality being genetic still hasn't been conclusively proven.

Personally, I don't demand scientific proof of things that are not scientific in the first case, such as affairs of the heart.

lareinacobre said...

I was troubled by this post when I first read it yesterday, but I couldn't articulate why. Joel, however, has done a good job of expressing my doubts.

I can understand the emotional and cultural response against polyamory, but I could not follow the logic provided for that emotional/cultural response.

Becky said...

I was confused by the very first paragraph of your post here. I have been reading your posts, and the many comments on multi-partner relating, with great enthusiasm.

Anyway, you say: many consider these vow breaking acts to be less of a betrayal than heterosexual adultery, because it is understood that the marriage vows were in some way less than fully binding because they contradicted one of the party's basic nature.

This understanding of ones true nature being a reason to break a vow seems to be, and logically so, the basis for your further discussion of poly causing an "open door" to adultery.

I am quite surprised at your comment that cheating on a spouse for ANY reason is morally "ok", especially as a minister! Ones feelings, and ones actions, heterosexual or homosexual / mono or poly, are very different. What one DOES and what one FEELS are two different things.

Cheating is cheating, no matter your "nature". Therefore, instead of saying that poly is an open door to adultery, why not admit that people who cheat on heterosexual marriages because they are homosexual are just as guilty of adultery as heterosexual people?

In my own sense of morality, poly people who "discover" their polyness during a monogamous marriage are just as obligated to live within the bounds of their current relationship until an alternative can be worked out (whether through divorce or negotiation of a different relationship framework) as a person who discovers that they are homosexual while in a monogamous heterosexual marriage.

- Becky

Kim Hampton said...

It's been a while since I read much cultural anthropology, but if I remember right, the most accepted theory was that humans are hardwired for serial monogamy; not one person for all time....but one person at a time.

I'll say it again.....religious history....and history in general... shows that polygamy (which is what we're really talking about) does not produce grand and glorious families. Most of the time, they've produced the opposite.

Jamie Goodwin said...

Actually, it is important to note that we are not in fact talking about Polyagamy. That is a misperception.

Some Poly families are one man and two or more wives. Some are one woman and two or more husbands. Some are 2 or three gay men or lesbians all living together.

All that said, I agree completely on the scientific and medical studies point of view. I just cannot know if Poly is natural or not. My assumptions are that Poly may be a more normal state than many would admit to, just like bisexuality is much more normal state than many would admit to.

But I just cannot know, and i point out, neither can anyone else until these studies are done. You can have guesses, make assumptions, base theories on your own experience, and all that is great.. but you cannot know .. all you can know is that if you are not poly, it is not right for you, and if you are, it is.

Jasmine said...

LT writes:

As a general rule, many consider these vow breaking acts to be less of a betrayal than heterosexual adultery, because it is understood that the marriage vows were in some way less than fully binding because they contradicted one of the party's basic nature.

I don't consider them to be any less of a betrayal. Perhaps I am more idealistic than these "many" you refer to.

One can't be expected to keep a vow that contradicts one's basic nature.

I'm not sure I believe that. The vow of celibacy that is taken before entry into certain religious orders or priesthoods contradicts one's basic nature for all but a very few asexual people. Initiates make this vow knowing it is against their very nature, and their churches and religious orders accept them and their vow knowing that it is against their very nature. Both parties expect the initiates to keep their vows. Some are able to fulfill the vow despite their basic nature. Some are not.

One CAN be expected to seek release from that vow in an ethical manor that involves at least the informing of the other parties involved and preferably their consent as well. I note that some divorces are one-sided without the consent of the other spouse. Of those priests and members of religious orders who cannot fulfill the vow the celibacy, some exit their priesthood or religious order before yielding to their sexual drive -- a divorce of sorts, that informs the other party and might or might not secure their consent. Others violate their vows while seeking to keep it secret and remain in the priesthood or religious order, neither informing nor securing consent. Yet others seek to change the rules requiring the vow in the first place, in part because it contradicts human nature -- a new covenant that both informs and seeks consent.

We now presume that gay or lesbian sexuality is part of someone's nature, whatever that is.

This is by no means scientifically established, even though most UUs I've heard from act as though it is. There is at least one hypothesis that a gay or lesbian orientation is hard-wired for some people, but a matter of choice for others. Should we develop a test to screen out those for whom it is a choice? If it is hard-wired for an individual, then this person is entitled to affirmation and ministry, but if it is a choice for someone else, then that person loses all of our support? What of bisexuals? Don't they, almost by definition, have a choice? Do you conclude that a bisexual with a same sex partner is unworthy of our affirmation and ministry merely because they could have chosen an opposite sex partner?

It matters whether this "poly" sexuality is a real thing, just as it matters that our scientific understanding of gay and lesbian sexuality points to a real difference. Yet, is there any real scientific evidence that "poly" sexuality is real?

I refer you to this Psychology Today article, in the July-August 2007 issue.

I've seen similar claims in other research as well, but I don't have those references handy. I suspect that there is more scientific evidence to support humans' polygamous nature than there is to support gay or lesbian nature. As is true with many facets of human nature, this polygamous nature is likely to be more compelling in some people than in others. For some, it is compelling enough to overcome a monogamous enculturation -- a "poly person." For others, culture wins out.

In the absence of any real evidence of natural difference, we can only conclude that people who are "poly" are proposing a different set of cultural rules that govern our sexual behavior. To make that argument that they are compelled to a different set of rules because they are, by some nature, different, is a deception, first of themselves and then of others.

When you talk about "them," you are talking about me. LT, you can ask me if I might be deceiving myself, but you don't get to proclaim it as Truth. You didn't know me the year that I spent wrestling with myself, my morality, my Scriptures, and my soul. You didn't see how scared I was, or how sick and ashamed I was at even contemplating such things, or how I longed just to be "normal." You didn't see how many times I second-guessed myself since then, or how deeply I've examined myself. You don't know what I went through all those years or how it affected me or those around me. You see only the result of years of work on this issue. You can wonder if I am deceiving myself, but you can't know for sure. And maybe, just maybe, you might consider giving me the benefit of the doubt.

And the immediate harm will be setting up another reason why it is somehow acceptable to violate one's vows of fidelity in marriage.

No. It is not acceptable to violate one's vows of fidelity in marriage. On the contrary, the immediate effect of opening up conversations about polyamory will be to provide an ethical and faithful alternative form of multi-partnering.