Channel 4 and the BBC have become actively engaged in Show and Tell/Discussion on the taboos around 'ethical non-monogamy' - an 'ethical' approach to non-monogamy and polyamory. The former involves 'honestly' opening up hitherto closed relationships by adding new sexual partners to facilitate personal and marital well-being. The latter literally means 'plural loves' and is relationally focused, creatively combining sex, relationships and commitment.
I use 'poly' as shorthand to describe these two related revolutionary sexual trends.
Channel 4's Open House: The Great Sex Experiment - 'the most shocking show ever' - is given rave reviews under headings such as 'I was worried her vagina was tighter than mine', with images of bright young things getting ready for 'threesomes'. And that is before the real action kicks in. For details see the surprisingly honest, perceptive and (thankfully) semi-censored analysis in the Guardian.
In The Case for Polyamory, the BBC interviewed Millennial Ana Kirova, creator of the first-ever poly app, and other sympathetic experts on poly psychology and experience.
Thankfully, public figures like Dr Tony Rucinski (C4M), Cristina Odone (Centre for Social Justice) and Harry Benson (Marriage Foundation) have challenged the madness. Benson quipped, "It's hard enough to make relationships work in the long run between two people. The idea anyone can make it work between three or more people is supremely deluded."
Blue sky thinking
According to poly ambassadors, however, this is the wave of the future! Aided by the success of the LGBTQ movements, poly allows you to have your cake and eat it, as it were. Love is limitless, we love more than one friend, so for pity's sake, why restrict ourselves to one lover?
In fairness, poly advocates claim sex is not always in the foreground. Poly adviser, Leanne Yau, observes that in real life, "You are more likely to find [polys] communicating boundaries and negotiating relationship agreements with their partners than participating in a wild hedonistic orgy on any given day." However, the 'wild hedonistic orgy' feature is part of the package and plays a role. Would poly sell so quickly if these relationships were solely platonic?
New world in the morning
Poly ambassadors claim this push to update and improve monogamous marriage meets the needs of the progressive 21st century. Poly is really about holistic liberation - personal, psychological, sexual, social and political - from rigid, oppressive structures, neanderthal and dysfunctional to boot.
And so poly targets sad, tired, boring monogamous marriage in the search for higher levels of consciousness and well-being. Poly is about integrity, authenticity, transparency. It is about joy, connectedness and love. Indeed, for LGBTQ Pride, 'Love is Love', end of. What is not to like?
Poly and the LGBTQ
Poly is often bisexual: postmodern, post-Christian, feminist and egalitarian. It is part of the panoply of sexual diversity and alternative lifestyles i.e. the LGBTQ.
Prof Ann Tweedy argues that polyamory is a sexual orientation. Its practitioners sometimes do as well, though in general they are not activists. They are too busy living poly for that.
The incremental gay to poly normalization
Poly rights have perhaps gained most traction in 'progressive' Canada, where poly activists happily announced 'Polyamory: Legal in Canada since 2011'. For them, "Gay history shows that liberation comes in steps. First gay relationships had to be accepted as legitimate and non-criminal. Once that occurred, then gay marriage followed. I think our normalization will follow the same course."
An insidious danger
In his brilliant analysis of 'the Libertarian Question' (on why poly et al is a threat), Stanley Kurtz notes:
"Once we as a society no longer take it for granted that marriage means monogamy, you may not decide to leave your wife. But you may be more likely to give in to the temptation of an affair. And that could mean the end of your marriage, whether that's what you wanted going in to the affair or not."
Polys believe in blue sky thinking, which embraces a change of fundamental ground rules i.e. taboos. However, that poly is viewed as a solution to a lack-lustre or troubled marriage beggars belief.
We began with the BBC's recent broadcast on polyamory. Unsurprisingly, it omitted important data in its programme details, namely that the marriage of poly ambassador, Anita Cassidy, had ended.
In fact, poly relationships tend to be terminal. Research published in Canada's premier Globe and Mail in 2012 admits that "the average relationship length was nine years for closest partners and 2.5 years for second closest partners".
Decades earlier, George and Nena O'Neill's pathbreaking Open Marriage, swept the West. However, few 'open' couples were still married decades on, but that 'news' was largely buried. Though they might have divorced anyway, opening their marriage did not prove a boon.
'Flat earth' biology
Another issue here is the refusal to do the science around sex. Again, why the omission?
For instance, we know that in coitus a woman produces oxytocin which bonds her to her partner while men produce vasopressin which does something of the same. Having sex with others outside this primary bond damages the sexual potential for 'gluing' and permanence.
According to Joe McIlhaney Jr MD and Freda M Bush MD, in their 2019 book, Hooked, write:
"The individual who goes from sex partner to sex partner is causing his or her brain to mold and gel so that it eventually begins accepting that sexual pattern as normal. For most people this brain pattern seems to interfere with the development of the neurological circuits necessary for the long-term relationship that for most people results in stable marriages and family development."
Though these comments focus on the impact of sex on adolescent brain development, something of the same is true for adults as well, though at a slower rate. We now know about the neuroplasticity of the brain which lasts throughout life: experience continues to shape the brain till death.
The elephant in the room: monogamy and gay marriage
There are other issues, such as STIs/STDs (and condoms do not begin to give 'safe' sex); the impact on the children from such homes; and what all children will be taught in RSHE as poly joins the LGBTQ movement.
However, a huge and mostly ignored concern is how the poly aspects of the typical gay marriage impact the monogamous template.
The first gay man to marry in the UK, Peter McGraith, who wed his lover David in 2013, has no inhibition about gay sexual norms being at variance with 'conventional' morality: in fact, the rest of us have much to learn from these 'mature, rational and honest relationships'! Writing in BBC's Magazine in 2016, McGraith goes on to note that "over 50% of gay men's relationships are sexually non-exclusive". For more on this see here and here.
The leading UK gay men's health site, LGBT Hero, supports this analysis. It comments on how over half their respondents to a recent survey had outside sex, as did their partners. In its article, 'Infidelity and the gay community: Do gay men struggle to be faithful?', the answer is yes. But in fact, monogamy seems to be part of the root problem, as it is still the norm.
According to the premier US Couples Study, which tracks generational change, there could be an increasing interest in monogamy among younger gays:
"All of my young friends want to get married and the 'white picket fence', but they get disenchanted with it, as it's not what they expect it to be and they become bitter. We have some other friends who are also non-monogamous, like us. There are also some who are legitimately monogamous. However, a lot of them are 'monogamish' couples, some of whom are actually just cheating."
Research shows that monogamous marriage is best by far for couples, families, children, communities and society. Those in troubled marriages need proper support, not a poly counterfeit. Gay marriage poses another serious threat, as monogamy is optional there.
Mainstream media is selling a naïve, sanitised vision of poly that ignores the realities, including serious downsides. Taboos against adultery - for that is what poly actually is - matter, and consciously or subconsciously influence us far more than is generally owned. The gullible will take this bad advice and 'explore' these minefields, ignorant of what they are letting themselves in for.
For Christians, the old adage, 'we do not break the commandments, we break ourselves on them', rings true. It is vital to pushback against poly propaganda for the welfare of us all.
Dr Lisa Nolland is CEO of the Marriage Sex and Culture Group, London.