Multiple-Partnerships Throughout History

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For The Media

I've never heard of this before. Isn't this polyamory thing just some New Age hippie free love idea?

Actually, relationships of some form of non-monogamy have been around for as long as human civilization has been around, some of which were even honest, multi-partner relationships and not cheating. Today's concept of monogamous, nuclear families is a very recent development ... within just this last century! It is important to note that "it has always been so" is not a good enough reason, by itself, to continue doing anything. But it is false to say that monogamy has "always been so", because the fact is, it hasn't.

  • In the Ecotopian Encyclopedia, Ernest Callenbach contends, "In the long sweep of human history, the nuclear family will probably be seen as a very brief aberration, brought about by the special needs of industrial capitalism and the isolated suburban living made possible by cars, but insufficient for nurturing and supporting human beings. In [communes and extended families] we will approximate the ancient groupings our species has relied on for survival: small bands whose variety of strengths and talents give great resilience against outside threats, and whose interior psychological life is rich and complicated enough to challenge its members' developmental potentials."

  • Polygyny, the most common form of Polgyamy, is widely practiced in many African cultures and countries. Fraternal Polyandry, where one woman is married to brothers, is traditionally practiced among nomadic Tibetans including Nepal and parts of China.

  • Ancient Mesopotamia was originally a matriarchal society guided by a female Goddess, Ishtar, who was the ruler of everything including war and weapons. After victories, women in her temples would celebrate with feasting and sex. When male gods arose and power shifted towards men, the temple became a house of prostitution, however the prostitutes were considered "holy". All women were required to go to the Temple of Ishtar at least once in their lives (usually after they were married) to sit in the temple until a stranger came and threw a piece of silver into her lap. Then she had to leave the temple and have sex with him. Only then could she return home. Also in Mesopotamia was the Peor cult, which was mainly a public orgy that began with an exhibitionist show of people engaged in various sexual acts. The finale included the audience and bestiality was also part of the show. In this most early of civiliations, we find some of the first references to sexually transmitted diseases: gonnorhea and syphillis.

  • In Ancient Egypt, pretty much any sexual practice was accepted and condemned at one point or another. During one period, a woman could go into the Temple of Amun and have sex with anyone she wanted until menstruation. Then followed a celebration. After that she was married.

  • Throughout the thousands of years of Chinese history, it was common for rich Chinese men to have a wife and various concubines. Before the establishment of the People's Republic of China, it was lawful to have a wife and multiple concubines within Chinese marriage. Emperors, government officials and rich merchants had up to hundreds of concubines after marrying their first wives.

  • During the Chou dynasty (770 - 222 BC), female homosexuality was widespread, but male homosexuality was forbidden. For a brief time, it was believed that female prostitutes had acquired more "yin" than other women because they had sex with so many men and therefore men could gain more yin from prostitutes than normal women. Then Chinese doctors discovered STDs and began warning men against prostitutes.

  • 220 BC - 24 AD, the Ch'in Dynasty saw sex as only for procreation, but allowed men to see concubines with an entire set of Confuscianist rules governing the practice. Confusianism also claimed that the ability to manage a family that included more than one wife and set of children was part of the steps of learning for spiritual growth.

  • With the return of Taoist doctorines after centuries of war and unrest, during the Sui Dynasty in 590 - 618 AD, Chinese males once again desired many sexual relations with women.

  • 675 BC, the Ionians settled into the North Aegean Islands. Their rulers were polygynists.

  • During the 4th Century BC, the Etruscans of Italy were described to have the women giving themselves to men that were not their husbands and participating in some sort of public orgy with drink and a feast, after which all the men and women watched each other having sex and swapped partners. The women engaged in gymnastic sexual positions with the men. The women had no way of knowing who the father of their children were because they had sex with different men but there were no illegitimate children in their society. That suggests matrilineal lineage of children if the women were allowed to have multiple partners with no worry of illegitimacy of their children.

  • The Torah (what Christians know as The Old Testament) includes specific regulations regarding polygamy, including: Exodus 21:10, which states that multiple marriages are not to diminish the status of the first wife; Deuteronomy 21:15-17, which states that a man must award the inheritance due to a first-born son to the son who was actually born first, even if he hates that son's mother and likes another wife more; and Deuteronomy 17:17, which states that the king shall not have too many wives. One source of polygamy was the practice of levirate marriage, where a man was required to marry and support his deceased brother's widow. Usually, however, only leaders and rich men had several wives. Some examples are: Esau, Isaac's son had two wives; Jacob had two wives; Gideon had many wives and 70 sons; King David had several wives; King Solomon had many wives; King Rehoboam had 18 wives and 60 concubines.

    Poor men were allowed concubines which sometimes consisted of sex and children with their wives' handmaids, however many men would simply purchase a concubine from the girl's father. Sarah gave Abraham her handmaid when she was unable to have children. Rachel gave Jacob her handmaid. Hannah gave her husband her handmaid and from that sexual encounter came Samuel. Israelite tribal fathers also offered sexual hospitality by giving their daughters to houseguests. The Canaanites had "fertility cults", temples with prostitutes, which were not frowned upon until Leviticus, one of the later books, or "chapters", and further along the timeline.

  • According to traditional Islamic law, a man may take up to four wives, and each of those wives must have her own property, assets, and dowry. Usually the wives have little to no contact with each other and lead separate, individual lives in their own houses, and sometimes in different cities, though they all share the same husband. Thus, polygamy is traditionally restricted to men who can manage things, and in some countries it is illegal for a man to marry multiple wives if he is unable to afford to take care of each of them properly.

  • The Laws of Manu, in India, allow for a husband to "seek pleasure elsewhere" with no retribution, however should a wife "violate the duty which she owes to her lord, the king shall cause her to be devoured by dogs in a place frequented by many".

  • In Ancient Greece, the following passage is found in the Oration against Neaera: "We keep mistresses for our pleasures, concubines for constant attendance, and wives to bear us legitimate children and to be our faithful housekeepers." Wives had virtually no freedom for sexual or romantic expression. Men could choose from any number of acceptable partners, like wife and concubine, including young boys.

  • The Roman Empire allowed men to marry women at 12 whether she had reached puberty or not, to engage in adultery, to have sex with prostitutes, concubines and slaves, and to rape women. Wives had no sexual rights and were obligated to submit to their husbands, however prostitutes had more freedoms.

  • North American Tribal marriage practices vary from tribe to tribe, but the majority of tribes practice some form of polygyny. All sexual practices can be found throughout the tribes, including polygny, polyandry, wife-swapping, premarital sex, extramarital sex, and monogamy, however it is rare that monogamy is the sole sexual practice found in any given tribe.

  • Under Queen Eleanor's reign (beginning 1122 AD), France & England enjoyed cultured courts, including a Court of Love, which strictly codefied and promoted courtly love. The Court of Love specifically claimed that love can exist only in affairs, not marriage. The advent of Courtly Love introduced the elements of emotional love between men and women for the first time, where love was based on mutual relationships of respect and admiration.

  • During the 16th Century, Queen Marguerite of France was involved in intense but platonic love affairs with 12 men simultaneously. She also wrote stories of platonic and "perfect" love intermingled with orgies, incestuousness, partner swapping, sexually insatiable priests, etc.

  • In 1532, Dr. Martin Luther claimed that Jesus probably committed adultery with Mary Magdalene and that sexual impulses were both natural and irrepressable.

  • "On February 14, 1650, the parliament at Nürnberg decreed that because so many men were killed during the Thirty Years' War, the churches for the following ten years could not admit any man under the age of 60 into a monastery. Priests and ministers not bound by any monastery were allowed to marry. Lastly, the decree stated that every man was allowed to marry up to ten women. The men were admonished to behave honorably, provide for their wives properly, and prevent animosity among them." Larry O. Jensen, A Genealogical Handbook of German Research (Rev. Ed., 1980) p. 59

  • 17th Century England had a legal term that referred to a person with three spouses, implying that it was common enough to have a law making it illegal - "Trigamy".

  • Diary entries dating back to Medieval times through the 19th Century speak of "love" for neighbors, cousins and fellow church members more often than spouses. In fact, when honeymoons became popular in the 19th Century, couples often took along friends and family members for company. Victorian men wrote plainly about bedding down with a male friend and expressing love for each other, while Victorian women routinely kicked their husbands out of bed to accomodate a visiting female friend or relative, spending the night kissing, cuddling and pouring out their most intimate thoughts.

  • In 1831, Joseph Smith began the Church of Latter Day Saints which sanctioned polgyny as "plural marriage" or "celestial marriage". The church's practice of polygamy was not recorded until 1843 and remained a secret practice until 1852. In 1890, in an attempt to gain statehood for Utah, the church officially denounced polygamy, although the annexation didn't happen until 1896. A sect known as Fundamental Mormonism continues to practice polygyny in secret. The official LDS Church does not recognize this sect as part of the Morman Church.

  • In the mid 1800s, one of the most famous Polyamorous communities came about called the Oneida Community in New York. It was founded by John Humphry Noyes who asserted a doctorine of Perfectionism, which basically claimed that a man reached a state of sinlessness or perfection upon conversion. In his community, he taught "Mutual Criticism", "Complex Marriage", and "Male Continence". In 1848, he purchased 23 acres of land in Oneida, New York and his group grew to 87 people.

    The Oneida Community was a self-supporting agricultural and industrial community. They had a working farm and a sawmill, grew and canned fruits and vegetables, produced silk thread, and manufactured animal traps, among others. In fact, they were the primary supplier of animal traps to the Hudson Bay Company. They began the manufacture of silverware in 1877 and it is the sole remaining industry. The InnKeeper's personal set of "good silverware" comes from the current incarnation of this industry. They had a communal dwelling house, they appointed administrative committees and set up a pattern of living that lasted for 30 years. One of the more unique qualities of this community was that the women had equal status to the men in religious and administrative duties and responsibilities and shared in all activities. This is a huge split from previous polygamous arrangements in which women were most often considered property of the men. There was a communal childcare system in place so both men and women could work, and the females adopted a style of dress that consisted of a short skirt over trousers that afforded them greater freedom of movement than contemporary styles.

    Starting in 1849, several smaller branches of this group arose around New York state and by 1878 there were 306 members total from all the communities combined.

    The breakup started when Noyes began to hand over leadership to his son, who was agnostic and ran the community with "a tight fist" that the members resented. Noyes came back to lead, but the factions within the community resulting from the poor leadership of his son combined with pressure from surrounding communities caused Noyes to abandon the Complex Marriage concept. The members were too accustomed to the Complex Marriage arrangement and could not settle down to "normal life". In January 1881 they reorganized themselves and created a joint-stock company called the Oneida Community Limited and the Oneida Community was abandoned. More on the Oneida Community.

  • On March 21st, 1851, Josiah Warren and Stephen Pearl Andrews started Modern Times, an individualist anarchist colony in Long Island, NY. It was based on the idea of "individual sovereignty" and "individual responsibility". All individuals were to pursue their own interests as they wanted to, and all products of labor were private property. They had their own private currency that they exchanged for trade goods and labor. There was no system of authority, no courts, jails or police, and there were also no reports of problems with crime. Polyamory and polygamy were not specifically part of the tenants of this community, but rather a total lack of "what should be", which included the right to live non-monogamously if one sees fit. It is believed that the Civil War is one of the most contributing factors in the groups dissolution. Warran abandoned the project in 1862. In 1864, its name was changed to Brentwood, NY.

  • The extreme repression of the Victorian era found its release in a massive rise in prostitution and pornography. There were a reported 50,000 prostitutes in London and over 300,000 copies of the book A Monk's Awful Disclosures sold before the Civil War.

  • With the Industrial Revolution in America at the 20th Century, families lost ties with extended relatives and neighbors as close emotional confidentes, and husbands and wives were required to meet their needs for intimacy completely within the context of marriage and their spouse. Society began to reject the emotional claims of friends and relatives, seeing them as competition for spouses with regards to time and attention. The 1950s saw this social concept reach its height in which women were expected to find total fulfillment in marriage and motherhood only. But with the war effort in the 1960s, women had to leave the home and rediscovered the joys of social contacts and frienships outside of their husbands. A very deep schizm has appeared in American society of those who maintain that their spouse should be able to fulfill all emotional and physical needs and those who recognize that humans are social and sexual beings and that one person cannot possibly fulfill every single need for their partner. Stephanie Coontz writes about the decline in social connections and the rise in dependency on a single person (the spouse) to supply all of ones emotional needs.

  • A researcher who worked with the Cheyenne Indians in the 1930s and 1940s told the story of a chief who wanted to get rid of two of his three wives. The wives joined ranks and said that if he sent two away, he would have to send the third as well.

  • It wasn't until the rise of the Industrial Age, post the Victorian Era, that it became acceptable to marry for love. Suddenly, love was the only reason that marriage was acceptable. Up until this time, the idea that a marriage should include love was not only thought to be unimportant, it was strongly advised against, claiming that loving one's spouse was dangerous and took away from the love and duty one should hold for God and one's extended family. The belief that tenderness and excitement of love could coexist with household cares and childrearing brought about the "traditional marriage" concept currently being debated in the U.S. and other Western countries. The rising divorce rate was not a sign of a lack of values, but rather a consequence of believing that a marriage should include love, as more and more people refused to settle for loveless marriages or marriages where the love is no longer. The Industrial Revolution made this even more possible by giving women economic power of their own and, consequently, the ability and freedom to leave unhappy marriages.

  • "Dating" evolved in the 1920s as a new way of mate selection. Many conditions of romantic relationships after the Victorian Era were very similar to Roman times, in that women had economic and legal emancipation, children became a luxury rather than an asset, and sexual enjoyment was seen as a "right". The main difference was that the Romans moved away from marriage while Americans became more marriage-minded than ever.

  • China allowed polygamous marriages until the Marriage Act of 1953 after the Communist Revolution.

  • From 1960-1980, the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook derived from George P. Murdock's Ethnographic Atlas recorded the marital composition of 1231 societies. Of these societies, 186 societies were monogamous. 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had polyandry. That's right ... 85% of the world's population included some form of polygamy. Because of the considerable resources required to support multiple wives, polygynous societies often depict multiple wives as a status symbol denoting wealth and power.

  • In 1961, author Robert Heinlein wrote a book called "Stranger In A Strange Land" that empahsized open sexual relationships and used such terms as "Line Marriage" and "Nesting" and is arguably the most referenced work of fiction depicting plural partnerships. He wrote several other books that dealt with this topic, including "Time Enough For Love".

  • In 1969-1976, John and Barbara Williamson opened the Sandstone Retreat. It was primarily a nudist-spa type of retreat where a small group of nudist/swingers lived year round in a communal sort of intentional community and on weekends, adults over 18 could join as members and enjoy leisure and health-sponsered activities, full nudity indoors and outdoors, large buffet-style dinners and, in the upstairs "Ballroom", members could, if desired, engage in swinging and group sex. The founders of Sandstone held some ideas that will be very familiar to poly folk. John and Barbara believed in personal growth through relationships and openness and honesty as the cornerstone to healthy relationships and healthy individuals. They encouraged communal living and do-it-yourself therapy sessions to remove jealousy and posession from relationships. John and Barbara were very egalitarian, believing that women should be equal contributors to the relationship and to society, even when that meant a woman taking on a traditionally male role, if that's what made her happy. John and Barbara Williamson believed their views of love, respect, and lack of privacy would transform the world. Their work centered around getting existing married couples to open their relationship to sexual and intimate encounters with other people, to eradicate jealousy, and to grow, emotionally, as an individual.

    In 1970, the Los Angeles Public Welfare Commission denied the Sandstone Retreat a "growth center" license which prompted a lengthy and expensive court battle, forcing the Williamsons to sell the club. An appeals court eventually overturned the decision and Sandstone reopened in 1974 under the management of Paul Paige, a former US Marine and marriage counselor. Paul shared the Williamson's idealistic views, but was more pragmatic about money. He instituted annual dues of $740. The story of the Sandstone Retreat was later mentioned in several books and articles about the sexual revolution, including Esquire, Playboy, Penthouse, The Los Angeles Times, The Sandstone Experience by Tom Hatfield, Thy Neighbor's Wife by Gay Talese, Oui magazine, and Barbara Williamson even appeared on The Dick Cavett Show. They also boasted such famous members as the above-mentioned authors, Dr. Alex Comfort (author of The Joy Of Sex, which also mentioned the Sandstone Retreat and lyricist for Pete Seeger), journalist Max Lerner, Bernie Casey (a football star and actor), Daniel Ellsberg (famous government critic).

  • 1971-1991 saw the creation of the Kerista Commune, an intentional community centered in San Francisco, CA that was essentially started by Brother Jud Presmont. They were made up of several smaller family clusters of between 4 and 15 people each who were sexually fidelitous to each other. They had a work-optional lifestyle and shared income. They also had a free newspaper and several magazines that discussed their philosophies, and they became one of the biggest Apple computer resalers when the computer industry was revolutionized by IBM competitors. At its height, Kerista had 33 members in several locations. The group eventually broke up when their unofficial leader, Jud, left and the group could not maintain itself without his leadership. One of the contributing factors, given by another founding member, Eve Furchgott, was that the sense of communism within the group created a lack of personal motivation and individuality that eventually caused disgust in several members because the living spaces were rarely kept clean and household finances were "in the red for years".

    In the 1970s, Geo of the Kerista Commune created the word "polyfidelity", which means faithful to many. It is generally reserved for a sexually fidelitous group marriage of co-equals - all equally bonded to each other member.

  • In 1984, Loving More newsletter (which later became a magazine) began and used the terms "polyfidelity", "open relationships" and "intimate networks".

  • In 1985, the Polyfidelity Primer was published by Loving More.

  • In 1990, Debora Anapol used the phrases "non-monogamy" and "intimate networks". She was also one of the first authors to use the term "polyamory" in print, a couple of years later. Also in 1990, Morning Glory Zell, who is actually attributed for coining that term, published an article called "A Bouquet of Lovers" in her church magazine Green Egg, in which she used the term "poly-amorous". It is reported that Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart and her spouse Oberon Ravenheart discussed the semantics dilemma of not having an inclusive term that encompassed all forms of multiple-love/sex relationships during the process of writing that article and came up with the Latin and Greek combination of "poly-amory".

  • In 1992 Deborah Anapol published the book Love Without Limits - The Quest for Sustainable Intimate Relationships : Responsible Nonmonogamy (Paperback), which again used "A Bouquet of Lovers" and Morning Glory's term "poly-amorous".

    Also in 1992, the online Usenet Newsgroup called alt.polyamory, created by Jennifer Wesp, brought the term into widespread use after Wesp attended a conference at which she met the Ravenhearts, who had begun using the term to explain their romantic connections.

  • In 1997, Deborah Anapol published the new edition, Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits : Secrets of Sustainable Intimate Relationships ; the book The Ethical Slut was released, written by Dossie Easton and Catherine Liszt, and is not specifically polyamorous but rather about ethically, honestly and responsibly maintaining multiple sexual relationships, which may or may not include romantic love.

  • In 1999, the Oxford English Dictionary contacted Morning Glory and requested an official definition for the word "polyamory". She took the opportunity to explain that "polyamory" is meant to mean all forms of multiple loving relationships but is not meant to include multiple purely-sexual relationships like swinging and casual sex.

  • As of 2006, Indian marriage laws are dependent upon the religion of the people involved. Hindu marriage laws specifically prohibit polygamy for Hindu, Jains, and Sikhs. However, Muslims in India are allowed to have multiple wives.

  • "In some societies, traditional marriage meant one woman wedded to several men. In others, a woman could take another woman as a "female husband." In China and the Sudan, when two sets of parents wanted to forge closer family ties and no live spouse was available, one set sometimes married off a child to the "ghost" of a dead son or daughter of the other family. Among the Bella Coola and Kwakiutl native societies of the Pacific Northwest, two families who wished to become in-laws but didn't have two sets of marriageable children available for a match might even draw up a marriage contract between a son or daughter and a dog belonging to the desired in-laws. Most traditional marriages were concerned with property and wealth, not love or sex. (taken from Stephanie Coontz)

    Throughout history, marriage has been mainly used as a method to control property. Love and sex have been seen as seperate from marriage, except where paternity affected property laws. People, as a group, have never successfully maintained sexually monogamous relationships. Even societies that consider themselves monogamous show a high incidence of "cheating" or secret multiple sexual partners. Current American society values monogamy highly, but most people participate in either cheating or serial monogamy (or both), suggesting that humans do not necessarily remain monogamous with only one partner for life, even when they claim to want to.

  • Starting in 2005, the Polyamory In The Media blog keeps up with mentions of polyamory and related-forms of non-monogamy in the news and popular media.

  • In the early 2000s, Dr. Kenneth Haslam, M.D., began curating the Polyamory Collection at the Kinsey Institute where archives of any and all poly-related materials are stored for future historians to access when they study the origins of the polyamorous movement. Archived materials include newspapers and magazines that feature stories about polyamory or related non-monogamy; videos of television news reports, talk shows, TV shows, documentaries, and even fiction movies; polyamorous music; academic research; and even personal letters, diaries, and other materials from polyamorous people, particularly those who have passed away.



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