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What is
Polyfidelity?

Polyfidelity and Its
Contribution to the Idea
of Sexual Liberation

By Punkerslut

By Team Grotto
Image: Ancient Indian Sexuality,
Photograph by Team Grotto,
Released Under Creative Commons
"Attribution 2.5 Generic" License

Start Date: June 21, 2010
Finish Date: June 21, 2010

An Introduction to the Concept of Polyfidelity

"When a love-relationship is at its height, there is no room left for any interest in the environment; a pair of lovers are sufficient to themselves."
          --Sigmund Freud, 1930
          "Civilization and Its Discontents," Chapter 5

     Polyfidelity is a combination of two words: poly, meaning many, and fidelity, meaning faithfulness to an obligation. Often, the term "fidelity" is used strictly in terms of spouses in a single marriage. Polyfidelity means the combination of those two meanings, something like a group marriage. One who engages in this relationship is called "polyfidelous."

     The participants in one of these relationships can each be sexual with others, but it is restricted to others who are part of the group. There is an equality between these members, and new participants are added only according to collective decision-making. Or, groups have often decided to become exclusive families and closed to possible new additions.

     The word "Polyfidelity" itself was invented by the Kerista Commune, sometime in the 1960's to the 1970's. [*1] Kerista was an experiment in polyfidelity and "intentional living," or a decentralized, communal setup of society. The term "compersion" was also developed here, which when someone experiences joy because their partner is happy through another romantic interest.

Polyfidelity, as Opposed to Polygamy

"Marriage must consist either of love or of law, since it may exist in form with either term absent; that is to say, people may be married by law and all love be lacking; and they may also be married by love and lack all sanction of law. True marriage must in reality consist entirely either of law or love, since there can be no compromise between the law of nature and statute law by which the former shall yield to the latter."
          --Victoria C. Woodhull, 1871
          "And the Truth Shall Make You Free: A Speech on the Principles of Social Freedom," with Stephen Pearl Andrews

     It is not a typical group marriage, under which we largely find the institution of polygamy. This is typically an institution where there is one male to many female partners, and in a few cases, the situation is reversed. A male with many wives is called Polygyny, while a female with many husbands is called Polyandry. This type of polygamy is inherently sexist, in that an individual is allowed multiple partners based on their gender -- or then condemned to be only one of multiple partners on the same justification. In a way, these polygamous relationships are even more authoritarian than monogamous relationships. In monogamy, you give yourself for the whole of another person; but in polygamy, you give yourself for only a fourth or a fifth of another person.

     This type of polygamy can be found in the Bible, we see multiple regulations and justifications of polygamy (Exodus 21:10, Deuteronomy 21:15-17, Deuteronomy 17:17). Mormons in the United States justify the practice of this type of relationship. [*2] Similarly, we find the Qur'an of Islam to justify Polygamy (Surah 4 Verse 3). Polygamy still is practiced in many countries with Shariah, or Islamic Law, or in nations where a significant portion of the population is is Muslim.

     These institutions, the Mormon Church and the Islamic Mosque, are authoritarian and opposed to any type of real, sexual freedom. The Church of Latter-Day Saints, for instance, will expel teenagers for "listening to rock music" or "dating" in order reduce the competition for wives. [*3] The Mormon organization also has an exceptional number of cases of domestic and child abuse. [*4] [*5] [*6] The Qur'an, as well as justifying polygamy, also encourages men to beat their wives as a form of "discipline." (Qur'an 4:34) The holiest scholars and researchers of the Muslim world, ironically all men, have similarly promoted this practice among their own people. [*7] [*8] This has its effect: 25% of married women in Muslim-dominated Syria reported being beaten by their husbands. [*9]

     Polygamy, as it has been practiced throughout the world's cultures, has always tended towards this hierarchical, dominating structure. It does not encourage the freedom of all individuals, but rather, it encourages the submission of half to the other half; it encourages the domination of men over women. Naturally, it produces the other ill by-products of Sexism: domestic violence, discrimination, and exclusion.

     Polygamy is a situation where there is one ruling spouse, and others must contend for their attention. This is vastly different from Polyfidelity, where each member of the group is in an equal position to the other. Rather than there being one man and many women, or the reverse, it tends toward having an equality of partners. In some cases, this has meant a proportionate and mixed group of men and women, as in the Kerista commune. [*10] In other cases, this has meant a polyfidelous relationship consisting of all gay men or all gay women. [*11]

     The traditional system of polygamy, harems, and concubines works to serve the sexual interests of just one at the expense of many. Polyfidelity serves the interests and liberties of all participants equally. Both polyfidelity and polygamy exclude outside members from interacting with the partners, but they are distinguished in their purpose. Polygamy is a device of sexism for social exploitation, while Polyfidelity is an open, sexual society, though exclusive to its chosen members.

By Raffaello Sanzio, June 1505
Image: By Raffaello Sanzio, June 1505

Emotional Security and Sexual Liberty

"Each will enter the marriage state with physical strength and moral confidence in each other. Each will love and esteem the other, and will help in working not only for their own welfare, but, being happy themselves, they will desire also the universal happiness of humanity. The offspring of such unions will be strong and healthy in mind and body and will honour and respect their parents, not because it is their duty to do so, but because the parents deserve it. They will be instructed and cared for by the whole community and will be free to follow their own inclinations, and there will be no necessity to teach them sychophancy and the base art of preying upon their fellow-beings. Their aim in life will be, not to obtain power over their brothers, but to win the respect and esteem of every member of the community."
          --Emma Goldman, 1896
          "Anarchy and the Sex Question,"

     Polyfidelity balances the concepts of security and emotional commitment with liberty and sexual impulse. The individual lover, as much as they value their independence, does enjoy the security of knowing that they have partner with whom they are regularly active socially and sexually. This security is actually expanded within a polyfidelous relationship, since there are more partners interested in creative and sexual expression. The relationships are built around the same principles of mutual affection and desire, so they can last just as long. Though some of these polyfidelous relationships share living space, such as in a commune, this is not always the case.

     This is one of the large justifications used on behalf of the monogamous relationship: it guarantees an activity partner for mutual interests and enjoyments, including the stimulation of sex. However, within the monogamous culture, the desire for exclusion is usually accompanied by a greater, personal insecurity. Some believe that even if they had a group marriage, as described by Polyfidelity, they would find themselves left out, with everyone else paired up to someone. The guarantee of personal gratification in monogamy, then, is based on the fact that your monogamous partner only has only you for their own gratification.

     With this security of having long-term, meaningful relationships, Polyfidelity also offers a significant amount of personal freedom to the participants. Monogamy only allows one partner. But Polyfidelity allows multiple, so that a polyfedilous relationship may be three people, or as many as ten or twenty. As every individual has a variety of tastes in all aspects of their culture and society, they must so in terms of their sexual preferences. With each participant of the polyfidelous relationship, there is another chance of being able to arouse these desires in new and different ways.

     The polyfidelous relationship also has the option of inviting new members to join. Most would choose the democratic voting to require a unanimous decision, but others, particularly the larger communes, might require only a majority or two-thirds count. In this sense, Polyfidelity does not expand liberty to its fullest: the participants cannot be sexually active with members outside of the group. There is still a limitation, in this respect, and for some this helps to deepen the emotional commitment of the members.

Painting by an Unknown, Ancient Greek
Image: Painting by an Unknown, Ancient Greek

Toward the Greater Fulfillment of Sexual and Emotional Needs

"A person's approach to sexuality is a sign of his level of evolution. Unevolved persons practice ordinary sexual intercourse. Placing all emphasis upon the sexual organs, they neglect the body's other organs and systems. Whatever physical energy is accumulated is summarily discharged, and the subtle energies are similarly dissipated and disordered. It is a great backward leap. For those who aspire to the higher realms of living, there is angelic dual cultivation. Because every portion of the body, mind, and spirit yearns for the integration of yin and yang, angelic intercourse is led by the spirit rather than the sexual organs. Where ordinary intercourse is effortful, angelic cultivation is calm, relaxed, quiet, and natural. Where ordinary intercourse unites sex organs with sex organs, angelic cultivation unites spirit with spirit, mind with mind, and every cell of one body with every cell of the other body. Culminating not in dissolution but in integration, it is an opportunity for a man and woman to mutually transform and uplift each other into the realm of bliss and wholeness."
          --Lao Tzu, c. 600 BC
          "Hua Hu Ching," Chapter 69

     It would be justifiable to argue that Polyfidelity represents a significant transition out of Monogamy. The individual lover does no longer has one object of affection, but many. There is not commitment to just one single person, but spread out among a community. There are still restrictions in both aspects, so it does not quite reach the level of Free Love -- a philosophy developed century earlier. There are couples today actually practice limited forms of non-monogamy, though many probably do not know the word "Polyfidelity." To quote Geri D. Weitzman, from the work, "What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory..."

"Blumstein and Schwartz (1983, cited in Rubin & Adams, 1986) noted that of 3,574 married couples in their sample, 15-28% had 'an understanding that allows nonmonogamy under some circumstances. The percentages are higher among cohabitating couples (28%), lesbian couples (29%) and gay male couples (65%)' (p. 312). [*12]

     The advantage of sexually-transmitted disease protection, which is similarly an argument for monogamy, is also supported by the polyfidelous relationship. Members of the group are active only with each other, completely restricting outside contact. If a new member is introduced, it requires nothing more than a simple test, with results usually available within a few days. It is possible, though, for certain diseases to remain undetectable for months after a person has become exposed. However, other than the introduction of new partners, a polyfidelous relationship is equally free of STDs.

     Just like a monogamous relationship, partners have the option of "fluid bonding," or using some form of contraception that doesn't include condoms. [*13] When a new partner is introduced into a polyfidelous relationship and they test clean for STDs, they should continue to be restricted to condoms for at least six months. At this period, if a retest indicates negative on diseases, then the new participant can join the fluid bond. This is one of the advantages of Polyfidelity that are not necessarily found within Free Love, where the individual has absolutely no restrictions and must protect themselves from disease in every encounter. Of course, an individual's approach to relationships will depend on how much they really value fluid bonding, or sex without condoms.

     Polyamory is a sexual morality that has far fewer restrictions than either Polyfidelity or Monogamy. The philosophy of Polyamory is based on each person being their own judge in whatever relationship decisions come up, whether to choose or reject another lover. Within Polyfidelity, these decisions are more widely shared by the individual's current and inter-involved partners. There is a distinction here, where Polyamory and Free Love are about the individual carving out their own orientation to their relationships. The Polyfidelous group sacrifice some of their individual ambitions in order to have the greater security of a wide, mutual, sex partnership.

     One should not necessarily conclude that the relationships of the polyamorous individual are less valuable or meaningful than those of Polyfidelity; they simply have more variation in the satisfaction of the individual's social, intellectual, and sexual needs. There is no need to depend on group marriages for the individual to meet new people for intimacy. These are simply different paths for people to reach their own definition of happiness.

     The similarity between the two concepts is significant. Polyamory and Polyfidelity both represent a strong, divergence from the tradition, controlling relationship of Monogamy. Both are the natural tendency of humanity to develop a social environment and human relationships forged on the mutual, cooperative interests of its participants. Both seek the individual to fully express their sexuality and to celebrate tho glory of sex. And both encourage multiple partners as a means of satisfying the diverse and complicated wants of the individual.

"The ancient Britons had a singular kind of marriage, to be met with among no other people. Any number of them, as ten or a dozen, joined in a society together, which was perhaps requisite for mutual defence in those barbarous times. In order to link this society the closer, they took an equal number of wives in common; and whatever children were born, were reputed to belong to all of them, and were accordingly provided for by the whole community."
          --David Hume, 1758
          "Essays, Moral, Literary, Politic," Section: "Of Polygamy and Divorces"

Punkerslut,

Resources

*1. Kerista.com website, Kerista.com.
*2. "Twentieth-Century Polygamy and Fundamentalist Mormons in Southern Utah," by Ken Driggs, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Winter 1991, pp. 4647.
*3. "Lost Boys Found," by Ted McDonough , Salt Lake City Weekly, 2004-09-23. Reprinted at rickross.com, RickRoss.com.
*4. "Polygamy's Rape of Rachael Strong: Protected Environment for Predators," by John R. Llewellyn, 2006, Agreka Books, ISBN 0977707210.
*5. "Paperdolls: A True Story of Childhood Sexual Abuse in Mormon Neighborhoods," by April Daniels, 1993, Recovery Publications, ISBN 0941405273.
*6. "God's Brothel: The Extortion of Sex for Salvation in Contemporary Mormon and Christian Fundamentalist Polygamy and the Stories of 18," by Andrea Moore-Emmett, ,2004, Pince-Nez Press.,ISBN 1930074131.
*7. "The Holy Qur'an: Text, Translation and Commentary," by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Amana Corporation, Brentwood, MD, 1989. ISBN 0-915957-03-5, passage was quoted from commentary on 4:34.
*8. "Tafsir of Ibn Kathir," by Ibn Kathir, Al-Firdous Ltd., London, 2000, pages 50-53.
*9. "U.N. Finds That 25% of Married Syrian Women Have Been Beaten," by Katherine Zoepf, April 11, 2006, published by the New York Times, Nytimes.com.
*10. "The Erotic Revolution," by Lawrence Lipton, 1965.
*11. "Lesbian Polyfidelity: A Pleasure Guide for the Woman Whose Heart Is Open to Multiple, Concurrent Sexualoves," by Celeste West, 1995, ISBN : 0912932155.
*12. "What Psychology Professionals Should Know About Polyamory," by Geri D. Weitzman, Based on a paper presented at the 8th Annual Diversity Conference, March 12th, 1999 ~ Albany, New York; Polyamory.org/~joe/. Original source: (Rubin, A. M., & Adams, J. R. (1986). Outcomes of sexually open marriages. The Journal of Sex Research, 22(3), 311-319.).
*13. "Fluid Bonding," by Dr. Pega Ren, 2005, published by Smart Sex Talk, SmartSexTalk.com.


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