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Polyamory Is Not Polygyny

[Content warning: polyamory, brief quote of weird Heartiste stuff]

The objections I hear to polyamory tend to separate into two narratives sharing a common thread.

The first narrative is supposedly concerned about women, and typified by National Review’s Polyamory Is A Modern Name For A Backward Practice. It asks:

What happens to women in a world where we scrap the “binary axis” of monogamy? Women suffer, that’s what. Nobody is asking for a show called “Brother Husbands.” Nine of ten pictures for polyamory involve one man with multiple women. The other one in ten is usually just a crowd of people. Men may sleep around, but they don’t tolerate the degradation of being a part of a modern male harem, nor have they ever, really. Polygamy uniquely subjugates one sex; it’s like an institutionalized form of the hookup culture — with women on call for male pleasure, just with some boundaries and a relationship status.

The second narrative is supposedly concerned about men, and typified by Heartiste’s Polyamory Is Disguised Polygamy:

Polyamory — multiple and simultaneous sexual relationships — means, in practice, a few high value dudes hording all the pussy. Multitudinously and concurrently. Polyamory cheerleaders, like Christopher Ryan, note the shape of our penis heads and go on to weave a happy utopia of free love where all the men and all the women get their rocks off whenever and however they wish, like the bonobos (who, by the way, are territorially squeezed compared to their more prodigiously successful chimp cousins). But he has to ignore female hypergamous mate choice and male jealousy to concoct this vision of a peaceful hedonist paradise. The reality would be considerably darker; women would still want to bang the alpha, leaving the beta male out in the cold, clawing and scratching for rode-worn scraps, but now shackled with the obligation to help provide for kids that are likely not his own.

Despite the different focuses, they both have the same theory. Men – especially high-status men – are going to date lots of women. But women aren’t going to date lots of men, so all the women will end up dating the same few high-status men and ignore the low-status men. Therefore, women (NRO’s concern) and low-status men (Heartiste’s concern) will lose out.

I got so tired of trying to explain that this doesn’t match reality that I started digging back in old survey data to see if I could just disprove it. The latest SSC survey didn’t have enough questions on relationships, but the 2014 LW survey did. I got a sample of 53 poly women, 164 poly men, and 70 monogamous women, and 690 monogamous men.

I interpret NRO and Heartiste’s theories to predict that more poly men than mono men would be single, that the median poly woman would have more partners than the median poly man, but that there would be more poly men with very high numbers of partners than poly women with the same. Neither of these hypotheses were confirmed.

For poly men, 29% were single, 47% had one partner, 17% had two partners, 4% had three, 2% had four, and only 0.5% had five or more.

For poly women, 8% were single, 44% had one partner, 23% had two partners, 15% had three partners, 8% had four, and 4% had five or more.

For both sexes, the median person had one partner. But the average number of partners was higher for women, and there were more women with very high numbers of partners than men with the same.

Poly men were more likely than poly women to be single. However, poly men were still less likely to be single than mono men. 45% of the mono men in the sample were single, suggesting polyamory doesn’t hurt low-status men’s chances of getting a date.

This sample is pretty skewed since it has three times more poly men than poly women. This at least partly corresponds to there being many more men than women in the community it was sampling. Poly men might either date women from outside the community, or have one poly woman date multiple poly men in order to even the odds. I think this second factor probably explains some of poly women’s higher number of partners.

There’s another possible skew: I’m not sure how people decided to identify as poly or monogamous (the question itself asked whether you “prefer polyamory” or “prefer monogamy”). If single people defaulted to monogamy, and some people only claimed to be polyamorous insofar as they were actually dating somebody, that might skew the percent of single people in each style. People who said they were “unsure” whether they were poly or mono were more likely to be single than people with either style (70% of unsure men and 58% of unsure women).

This doesn’t seem compatible with NRO and Heartiste’s theory, but it’s also not great data. If some supporter of theirs wants to tell me what I have to do in the next SSC survey to get results that they’ll be willing to believe, then let’s talk.

[EDIT: Many people are pointing out I’m looking at actually-existing-polyamory, not polyamory as it would be practiced if it hypothetically took over all of society. But actually-existing-polyamory is the thing at issue here, and the practice that has to defend itself. I consider the idea of polyamory taking over all of society maybe somewhat more probable than the idea of homosexuality or transgender doing so, but not probable enough to be very likely.]

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778 Responses to Polyamory Is Not Polygyny

  1. gbear605 says:

    If you could provide the percentages for mono men and women being single/with a partner, that would be helpful!

  2. ravenclawprefect says:

    45% of the mono men in the sample were single, suggesting polyamory doesn’t hurt low-status men’s chances of getting a date.

    I don’t think this is necessarily correct. Heartiste is arguing that if everyone was polyamorous, the average low-status man would be out of luck, not that it is bad for individual low-status men to practice polyamory if they could choose to do so (obviously, allowing for more partners will increase your expected number of partners!). Even if a low-status man has to choose between being exclusively mono and only dating poly people, the apparently larger fraction of women who are currently poly might still make this an attractive option, while being worse overall if universalized.

    In this case, it seems that the higher average number of partners for poly women means Heartiste’s argument doesn’t hold anyway, but not for that reason.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I was interpreting poly vs. mono not just as individual choices but as communities, where your community membership suggests you will mostly only date people from within that community. I’m not sure how accurate that is or to what degree it gets around your objection.

      • ravenclawprefect says:

        I realized just after posting the above comment that I might have misinterpreted you as such, and edited to add that “even if a low-status man has to choose between being exclusively mono and only dating poly people [i.e. being part of one community or another], the apparently larger fraction of women who are currently poly might still make this an attractive option, while being worse overall if universalized.”

        Although I’m not so sure I’m right about that, because we are people of one study and one with significant bias at that. Let’s say we take “5+” to be roughly 7, since there’s rapid decay as we reach larger numbers of partners but likely a few outliers. Then we have about 4 times as many polyamorous relationships per randomly selected woman than we do per randomly selected man, which means that either extremely high fractions of poly women have majority or exclusively female partners (unlikely, given the sexuality demographics of the 2014 survey) or the LW survey has biases beyond the gender split.

        Given that LW is probably one of the worst possible groups to try and use for making predictions about how people usually behave (are there any areas of life where that population isn’t disproportionately atypical?), and our data about the central assumption of Heartiste that some men obtain 10+ partners comes from either a sample size of 1 or 0 people depending on how many partners our 164*0.005 people had, I think the number of meaningful conclusions that can be drawn from this data is probably fairly limited.

        I did find some additional polyamory data, though: a larger survey also indicates more women than men participate, though it doesn’t appear to have data about number of partners.

      • popjammer says:

        There’s less overlap than you’d think between people who call themselves poly and people who pursue multiple overlapping sexual relationships with non-zero commitment.

        I don’t drink anymore, but i know that i’m an alcoholic. People who drink more than me would argues strenuously that they are not alcoholics. If you ran a survey asking, “1) Are you an alcohol? 2) How many units of alcohol do you consume per week?” you could easily find that self-identified alcoholics consume less alcohol than non-alcoholics (I’d imagine especially in the LW survey). Which would be weird, until you realize that people whose identities are built around their problems with alcohol spend a lot of time thinking about and fighting those problems.

        People who go so far as to self-identify as poly think a lot about that lifestyle and have coping mechanisms to deal with it. Most people who live an empirically poly lifestyle don’t, usually.

        • vV_Vv says:

          People’s self-identifications may be factually wrong.

          You can self-identify as a top-class basketball player, but this does not make you a top-class basketball player.

          Even those who are big supporters of identities defined purely by self-identification can’t seem to argue on a standard. Like, non-binary genderqueers are totally legit, but Rachel Dolezal is phony?

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            Like, non-binary genderqueers are totally legit, but Rachel Dolezal is phony?

            As a non-binary genderqueer person, I’ve always been confused by those contradictory attitudes. I mean, most of the people who accept that gender is to some extent a social construct also accept that race is to some extent a social construct. Yet a lot of the same people who accept my identity don’t accept the concept of transracialism.

            Though, IIRC, Rachel Dolezal also lied about being the victim of hate crimes and some other stuff, so I think a lot of the dislike toward her is coming out of that.

            It’s complicated, too, because there are people who look very white but identify as people of color and are accepted as such within the SJ community because they have some non-white ancestry (and, interestingly, these people tend to claim that their experiences and struggles match those of more non-white-looking PoC–such as being stopped often by police, etc).

            In any case, the “you qualify regardless of appearance if you have the right ancestry” thing has always seemed arbitrary to me. If race really is more about culture and identity than genetics, and if someone identifies more with black culture than white culture and sees themself as black, then they’re black.

          • SchwarzeKatze says:

            Saying that gender is a social construct is an oxymoron. It isn’t to some extent, it is by definition. ‘Gender’ is not a polite synonym for “sex”. It refers specifically to the observed differences in the sexes that are cultural. I.e a lot of women wear dresses but dresses have nothing to do with biology. Dresses are a gender thing. Breasts on the other hand are a sex difference. When it comes to race, it usually refers to real or perceived biological differences between human groups. Therefore “transgenderism” makes sense while “transracialism” doesn’t. Transsexualism is also far easier to admit because the genetic difference between a male and a female of the same racial group is lower than two individuals of different racial groups and the differences between the sexes are on a spectrum because of how sexual selection works. Changing the sex hormones balance of a person can go a long way in changing their phenotype pretty close to the other sex, while you can’t really do much to get the phenotype of a person to look like a typical person of another racial group.

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            while you can’t really do much to get the phenotype of a person to look like a typical person of another racial group.

            Dolezal successfully passed as black for years. If someone wanted to go even further they could get plastic surgery to change their facial structure.

            ‘Gender’ is not a polite synonym for “sex”. It refers specifically to the observed differences in the sexes that are cultural.

            Yes and no. It can also refer to a more personal sense of stable internal identity (which is admittedly kind of hard to define) as “male” or “female.” There are transwomen who dress in a feminine style because they identify as female, and then there are cis-men who enjoy crossdressing as a hobby or a fetish. (And also, there are transwomen who don’t dress in a particularly feminine style.)

          • SchwarzeKatze says:

            Dolezal successfully passed as black for years. If someone wanted to go even further they could get plastic surgery to change their facial structure.

            I doubt she passed as black, but yes she probably passed as mixed race, and mixed race people are usually considered black by default. It would be interresting to see pictures of people who have had surgery to look like someone of another racial group. While I can find a lot of pictures of transsexual people who pass completely as the other sex I have never seen any pictures of people that pass completely as another race. The only person I can think of is of Michael Jackson, and he looked a little bit strange.

            Yes and no. It can also refer to a more personal sense of stable internal identity (which is admittedly kind of hard to define) as “male” or “female.” There are transwomen who dress in a feminine style because they identify as female, and then there are cis-men who enjoy crossdressing as a hobby or a fetish.

            I’m not really sure that internal identity is something biological.

          • psmith says:

            While I can find a lot of pictures of transsexual people who pass completely as the other sex I have never seen any pictures of people that pass completely as another race.

            Neymar Jr.?

          • Hyzenthlay says:

            I’m not really sure that internal identity is something biological.

            What else would it be? All thoughts, feelings and states of mind originate in the brain.

            If you mean “not genetic,” then I’d agree, gender identity is probably not purely genetic. There are cases of identical twins with one having gender dysphoria from an early age (sometimes very early, like two or three) and the other being comfortable with their biological sex. It could be hormonal, or a developmental quirk, or a combination of different things.

            I don’t know exactly where gender identity comes from, but the fact that it can’t be easily pinned down to one cause doesn’t mean that it’s not “real.” Unless someone takes the hardcore behaviorist stance that subjective internal experiences aren’t real to begin with and that only observable behavior matters…but even then, there are probably going to be observable differences.

            It’s kind of like when doctors ask a patient to rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10. What they’re rating is a subjective internal sense of their own pain level, as opposed to hard physiological data like heart-rate, and it’s hard to say how accurate it is, but it’s still a form of data. Similarly, I’d say that how “male” or “female” someone feels is a form of data.

            @psmith

            I hadn’t seen Neymar Jr. before this. That’s pretty interesting.

          • SchwarzeKatze says:

            @psmith: Interresting, thanks. Going to look into this.

            @Hyzenthlay

            Sure. But because all sex differences are on a spectrum I have a hard time seeing how something like internal identity could be biological. And because we know that the brain differences between males an females are statistical and there is quite some overlap I don’t see how there would be some binary switch somewhere that someone would just know they are “female” or “male” without some external reference to compare. And I also don’t see how information such as “male” and “female” could be encoded somewhere in the brain like a computer.

            Gender identity is certainly real, no doubt about that. But I think it’s always dependent on external reference and culture.

    • robirahman says:

      “(obviously, allowing for more partners will increase your expected number of partners!)”

      Not necessarily true! For example, I live in a culture where most women would be repulsed by the concept of polyamory, so if I were poly, and the women I would like to date were to know in advance that I were, they would probably avoid me. I expect the increased rejection rate would outweigh the effect of the increase in possible simultaneous partners, although I have no way to empirically confirm this. (I suppose I could start pretending to be polyamorous, and then approach a lot of people…)

      • ashlael says:

        I believe most people live in such circumstances. My basis is that most men will want to get as much sex as they can, so if identifying as poly would achieve that goal then that is what they would do. Since most men identify as monogamous (even when in practice many are not), I think it’s fair to conclude that identifying as monogamous is the sex-maximising strategy for most men.

        And yeah, not all men are sex-mad horn dogs. But most of us are. Just being honest here.

        • wiserd says:

          There are a lot of men who don’t want their partners having romantic or sexual relationships with other guys, though. That’s often part of the package.

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        I’ve slept with a lot of men and I can’t say that as a group they strike me as sex-mad horndogs (as opposed to some more reasonable claim like “on average desiring sex somewhat more often than the average woman does”). You yourself might be a sex-mad horndog but the typical mind fallacy is real.

  3. AnonYEmous says:

    I got a sample of 53 poly women, 164 poly men, and 70 monogamous women, and 690 monogamous men.

    You kind of talk about this, but notice that you’ve got about 1.4 monogamous women for every polygamous one and over 4 monogamous men for every polygamous one. That at least signals that – if self-selection isn’t going on here – a lot more women than men are interested in polygamy.

    With that said, it’s entirely possible that many women will stick with an alpha, but some will have an alpha and some side guy or two side guys as well, which would explain why polygamous men are with someone; the question is what is meant by a poly partner, a full-time girlfriend or not? But I admit that you could easily be right.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m not sure how much of this is some kind of selection effect. I’ve found that women are much more common in some subcorners of the rationalist community than others – for example, the Unsong wrap party was over a third female, about 3x more than the SSC community as a whole. I wonder if women are more common in the main Bay Area group which is mostly poly. If I had more people I would have tried crunching Bay Area and non-Bay separately.

      • tmk says:

        Side note, but I get the sense that there has become a huge split of the rationalist community into Bay Area group and the online group. I think you count in the Bay Area group despite not living there, because you have the real-life social connections.

      • Error says:

        If there’s a selection effect, the first that comes to my mind is: People of either sex who expect to be able to attract multiple sexual partners may be more likely to be interested in, and identify as, poly, because it benefits them more.

        Maybe include self-assessed attractiveness/mate value in the next survey?

        (context: I identify as somewhere vaguely in the poly sphere, and empirically I can attract more than one woman. How many more is questionable, and even thinking about my own “mate value” feels distasteful even though I acknowledge that there is something real in the concept)

      • Mengsk says:

        I would believe, based on social norms, that married women have a substantially easier time having casual sex than married men.

        • Alex Zavoluk says:

          I don’t know what social norms you’re referring to, but it almost certainly would be easier for the women in these relationships to find more sexual partners.

          • Wency says:

            I suppose if the social norm was “married women cannot leave the house without the supervision of a male relative who will reliably kill them if they stray”, the statement would not be true.

            Short of restrictions placed on women, it’s true of all times and places. Or at least the market only clears if men are the ones paying money. I suppose for some people paying a prostitute is “easier” than going to a bar and chatting up strangers.

      • fortaleza84 says:

        It occurs to me that the fair way to have an open marriage is to open up the money as well.

        e.g. the spouse who makes more money at work should be free to use that money to rent or buy a residence to use for other relationships, even if it means leaving the primary residence and moving somewhere a lot cheaper.

        Also, if the spouse who makes more money is subsidizing purchases for the lesser-earning spouse, such as a car, clothing, what-have you, those subsidies should stop and the higher earning spouse should start spending that money on other partners.

        Of course I’m not seriously proposing this, I’m just pointing out that open marriage is biased towards the woman. Traditionally, and even to this day, marriage is an exchange involving financial and sexual obligations with the financial obligations falling much more heavily on the man. And the sexual obligations falling more heavily on the woman in the sense that it’s far easier for her to go out and get casual sex.

        I would guess that most women, even those who support open marriage, would never in a million years support it if the man was relieved from his financial obligations.

        • Aapje says:

          The woman can also contribute labor in the form of housework or child rearing.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            “The woman can also contribute labor in the form of housework or child rearing.” I’m not sure what your point is here, but one can imagine an open marriage where the husband impregnates other women and expects his wife to help out with child care, especially on Friday and Saturday nights when he is going out with his paramour. Of course I’m just kidding, open marriages in the West are about casual pick-up sex and short-term non-committed relationships. Which by some strange coincidence are far easier for women to obtain than men. I’m pretty confident that for your typical middle aged couple in which the wife wants an open relationship, she would freak out if her husband got another woman pregnant and started using his income to support the new child and its mother. Especially if he did it by going to East Asia and finding some pretty young thing who will be able to support her parents as well.

            Edit: In fact, American men whose wives ask for an open marriage should do just that. “Great honey, by the way I am cancelling our annual vacation and instead I’m going by myself to the Philippines for a couple weeks. Have fun with the kids while I’m gone and please clean up the spare bedroom in case I bring someone back with me.”

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            fortaleza: The whole idea is that you are supposed to find someone else who wants the same thing you do. Unilaterally deciding to have children with two women is the same thing as having your partner walk in on you fucking someone else and say “surprise, honey, we’re poly!” It’s not what any of the poly people in this thread are recommending.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            fortaleza: The whole idea is that you are supposed to find someone else who wants the same thing you do.

            That may very well be the case, but that’s a different point. It doesn’t change the fact that “open marriage” as that phrase is typically understood, is biased towards the wife since it will be far easier for her to obtain casual uncommitted sex than it will be for her husband.

            If a couple agrees to such an arrangement, before getting married and before having children, I wouldn’t have much of an objection, but it’s still a bit like having a co-ed swim team where everyone has to be topless. On the surface, it seems to be equal between the sexes but in reality it’s not.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            fortaleza84: Most poly people aren’t going around having tons of uncommitted sex; they’re poly because they want to date more people. I don’t think it’s easier (on average) for a man to get a girlfriend than it is for a woman to get a boyfriend. (Local differences aside, such as the rationalist community’s gender imbalance.)

          • It doesn’t change the fact that “open marriage” as that phrase is typically understood, is biased towards the wife since it will be far easier for her to obtain casual uncommitted sex than it will be for her husband.

            Two responses.

            1. If the wives are going out having casual uncommitted sex, they are having it with someone, probably men. So men must also be having casual uncommitted sex–the same amount as women, putting aside the case of same sex affairs. Are you arguing that, for some reason, sex with women in open marriages is easier for single men than for men in open marriages?

            2. It is commonly, and I think plausibly, claimed that men have a greater taste for sexual variety than women. The usual evolutionary explanation is that a woman produces the same number of children per year whether she sleeps with one man or ten, while a man can produce substantially more children by having sex with multiple women.

            If so, the benefit of open marriage is greater to the men than to the women.

            There used to be a balancing effect, due to the fact that the woman in an open marriage might get pregnant by someone other than her husband and not tell the husband, leaving him to spend his resources bringing up another man’s child. But we now have paternity tests.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            So men must also be having casual uncommitted sex–the same amount as women, putting aside the case of same sex affairs

            There are a few problems with your analysis. The most important one is this: While the total amount of uncommitted sex is roughly equal for men and women, there’s no mathematical reason why it needs to be evenly distributed among men. And in fact, it isn’t. What happens is that a few guys, call them “Chads” or “Alphas” or “Players” who are at the top in terms of attractiveness get the lion’s share of the sex while all other men get far less; if they are towards the bottom in terms of looks, they will get none at all.

            As you yourself point out, men have a stronger desire to mate with a variety of women than vice versa. The upshot of this is that a girl who is a 7/10 in terms of looks can pretty easily get a quick fling with a man who is a 8/10 or 9/10 in terms of looks but the reverse is not true.

            This is common sense when you think about it, but it’s also very easy to verify. Just set up a phony online dating profile of a 5/10 woman and a 5/10 man and express and interest in having a casual hookup. The woman’s profile will get plenty of responses; the man’s profile will attract little or no interest, even if he reaches out to every woman he sees.

            So it’s really true: In an open marriage where the man and woman are roughly average in terms of looks, it will be far far easier for the woman to have casual flings than for the man.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            fortaleza84: Most poly people aren’t going around having tons of uncommitted sex; they’re poly because they want to date more people. I don’t think it’s easier (on average) for a man to get a girlfriend than it is for a woman to get a boyfriend

            I’m not sure what your point is here. Are you disputing my claim that for a typical male/female couple, it’s far easier for the woman to get casual uncommitted sex than it is for the man?

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            The reason that it is easier for women to get casual, uncommitted sex is that women as a group don’t want casual, uncommitted sex. To the extent it is an actual benefit for women as a group to have casual, uncommitted sex, the imbalance between men and women is smaller, and it is more difficult for women to obtain casual, uncommitted sex.

            Women and men, however, are equally likely to want secondary relationships, and as such there is no systematic imbalance in men’s and women’s ability to obtain secondary relationships (although of course one partner may be more attractive, more extroverted, less picky, in possession of more free time, etc. and thus have an easier time of it).

          • GregQ says:

            @DavidFriedman says:

            So men must also be having casual uncommitted sex–the same amount as women, putting aside the case of same sex affairs. Are you arguing that, for some reason, sex with women in open marriages is easier for single men than for men in open marriages?

            Of course we are. Single men, and rich men, can afford ti take the married women out to nice restaurants, on trips, etc. The vast majority of married men, OTOH, aren’t going to have the financial resources to do well by their family AND take other women out to nice restaurants / nice trips (and I’m pretty sure if you’re taking other women on trips, and not taking your wife on trips, you’re going to find yourself in divorce court).

            I may have missed it, but I don’t believe the poly community has moved to a “woman pays cash” model. So, how many married men do you know who make enough to take care of their family well, AND have an extra $10k / year for entertaining their “Secondaries”?

          • GregQ says:

            @Ozy Frantz says

            Women and men, however, are equally likely to want secondary relationships, and as such there is no systematic imbalance in men’s and women’s ability to obtain secondary relationships

            Really? What % of “dates” in the poly community are “dutch”? What % are woman pays? What % are man pays?

            Unless the women are paying 50% of the cost of all events (dinners, trips, etc), then yes, there IS a rather large “systematic imbalance in men’s and women’s ability to obtain secondary relationships.”

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Are you arguing that, for some reason, sex with women in open marriages is easier for single men than for men in open marriages?

            The question answers itself – men who allow their wives to sleep with other men are, by allowing that, low status non-desirable men.

            It is commonly, and I think plausibly, claimed that men have a greater taste for sexual variety than women. The usual evolutionary explanation is that a woman produces the same number of children per year whether she sleeps with one man or ten, while a man can produce substantially more children by having sex with multiple women.

            If so, the benefit of open marriage is greater to the men than to the women.

            You’re kidding, right? For a man “Marriage” without exclusive sexual access is a negative. That he can also try to sleep with other women is no benefit because he was in exactly that situation before he got married without being tied to a woman who publicly humiliates him.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ reasoned argumentation

            seconded.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Women and men, however, are equally likely to want secondary relationships, and as such there is no systematic imbalance in men’s and women’s ability to obtain secondary relationships

            I think that this is complete nonsense. It’s very easy for an average woman in a relationship to get a secondary relationship, i.e. a man she regularly dates, spends time with, and has sex with. There are plenty of men interested in having such a relationship. By contrast, an average man in a relationship will have a much harder time. Why would any woman regularly date and have sex with him when he can’t and won’t make a commitment to her and it’s easy enough for her to find such a relationship with a more attractive man?

            Anyway, there’s no need to theorize about it, it can be easily tested with personal ads. If a woman who is average in attractiveness places an online dating ads saying that she is in a relationship but it’s an open relationship and she is looking for other men to have a sexual relationship with, I’m quite confident she will get plenty of interest. If an average man does the same thing, I’m quite confident he will get little or no interest.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            “and I’m pretty sure if you’re taking other women on trips, and not taking your wife on trips, you’re going to find yourself in divorce court ”

            Yeah, I mentioned this issue in another post. I think most wives who want an open marriage would freak out if their husband took that as license to open up his wallet for other women just like she wants to open her legs for other men.

          • Aapje says:

            @Ozy

            Hooking up on college campuses has become more frequent than dating in heterosexual sexual interaction. Analysis of the relative benefits and costs associated with dating and hooking up suggest that women benefit more from dating while men benefit more from hooking up.

            https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11199-010-9765-7

            Males are more likely to favor hooking up, whereas females prefer dating (Eshbaugh 2010). Sociologists have found after analyzing the costs of dating and hooking up that each gender gains greater benefits from its respective preference. Part of the reason that men prefer hooking up over dating is because traditionally dating requires much more effort on the male’s part. Men are more vulnerable during the traditional dating process.

            https://cola.unh.edu/sites/cola.unh.edu/files/student-journals/P12_Gallagher.pdf

            It seems to me that you are selling a model that increases the need for dating, which harms men. You merely argue that an equal number of men and women must end up in secondary relationships (which technically is not even true), but you completely ignore the possibility of different costs to achieve those relationships when you say:

            Women and men, however, are equally likely to want secondary relationships, and as such there is no systematic imbalance in men’s and women’s ability to obtain secondary relationships

            As a SJ advocate and having studied ‘gender studies’, you should be aware that people’s desires are not the only relevant factor, but social norms or other factors in the the environment in which people operate affects the fairness of the situation. If two people want to get to the top of a mountain, but one person gets to drive a car up the road to the top, while the other is merely allowed to hike a dangerous and cumbersome path, there is no equality, even if they both make it to the top.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            @GregQ

            It occurs to me that looking at paying for dates and trips actually understates the problem. There is also the possibility of making a long-term serious financial commitment to the woman by marrying and/or fathering children with the woman.

            When you think about it, this is the average man’s best hope of competing with some handsome player, i.e. making a hard-core financial commitment for 20+ years.

            Which is why “open marriage” is so gynocentric and unfair to men.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            So, how many married men do you know who make enough to take care of their family well, AND have an extra $10k year for entertaining their “Secondaries”?

            I would guess that if the husband is financially successful, the wife is a lot less likely to ask for an open marriage. Because she knows that her husband will be able to set up an arrangement with some young hottie.

            These stories I read about women asking for open marriages seem to involve men who are mediocre in terms of looks/money/status and don’t have a lot of options.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            For a man “Marriage” without exclusive sexual access is a negative. That he can also try to sleep with other women is no benefit because he was in exactly that situation before he got married without being tied to a woman who publicly humiliates him.

            You raise an interesting question: If you are going to have an open marriage, why be married at all? If a couple is divorced or never-married, they are still free to have sex with each other or with other people. So how is it different to be married? The answer is that marriage entails other obligations, significantly including the pooling of financial resources. Which as a practical matter is a nice way of saying that the man supports his wife and children or at least disproportionately subsidizes their lifestyle.

            As another poster pointed out, a man in an open marriage who cut off his financial subsidy of the family and started using the money to wine and dine his “secondary” would quickly find himself in divorce court. So much for open marriage.

        • hlynkacg says:

          @ fortaleza84
          And therein we have the asymmetry.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          I’ve been hearing all thread that I’m an outlier who shouldn’t generalize from my own experiences, but judging from this comment being an outlier is great. My marriage is based on things like “liking each other’s company” and “wanting to spend time together” instead of being an elaborate, plausibly deniable form of prostitution.

          (…you know, if you move to Germany, you can get twenty minutes with a prostitute for like twenty bucks, this seems far more affordable and reliable than marriage and no matter how old you get the girls’ll all stay the same age)

          • fortaleza84 says:

            I’ve been hearing all thread that I’m an outlier who shouldn’t generalize from my own experiences, but judging from this comment being an outlier is great. My marriage is based on things like “liking each other’s company” and “wanting to spend time together” instead of being an elaborate, plausibly deniable form of prostitution.

            Yes, your typical marriage has an element of prostitution to it. It’s been that way for thousands of years. At this point, female preference for high-income high status wealthy men is probably written into our DNA.

            Of course, I know next to nothing about your personal situation, but it’s fascinating that you are married to a physician, the classic job title of the prized potential husband.

          • Barely matters says:

            Uh, why Yes Ozy, existing as a member of the sought after class in an environment that is biased 10:1 in your favor is a nice position to be in. It’s also an example of being born halfway between third base and home and lecturing people about how you hit this home run, which is why people aren’t taking your advice from personal experience terribly seriously.

            With those odds, it would be difficult for you to fail even in the face of active self sabotage. As with all privilege related discourse, this isn’t to say that you’re a bad person for having it so easy, but don’t be surprised if people don’t react well to your advice that doesn’t generalize to most people’s situations.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            fortaleza84: No, that is not my husband’s occupation. 0/10 on the stalking front. Would you like to try again?

            Barely matters: I really don’t think my marriage is an elaborate form of prostitution from my husband’s side either, he being the unprivileged side of this particular interaction. I am significantly more expensive than a German prostitute (particularly when you consider the monetary value of Topher’s time). I am even significantly more expensive and time-consuming than a German prostitute, an Indian surrogate, and a full-time nanny. The only reasonable conclusion here is that he liiiiiiiiiikes me.

            And when I look at the marriages I’ve been around… like, the people involved like each other! This is a really common trait of pair-bonding! Women will marry low-earning men because he’s her best friend, men will marry women any reasonable person would insist are appallingly ugly and insist that she is actually the most beautiful woman in the world and she is, to him, because he loves her.

            I guess you could argue that this is a situation which is only possible with a 75/25 imbalance in favor of women, in which case women can be picky enough to find a male partner who loves them? In which case you should be ecstatic about polygyny, because by your own argument polygyny is the only situation in which any men will get to experience actually being loved as opposed to being considered a walking pocketbook.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            No, that is not my husband’s occupation. 0 10 on the stalking front. Would you like to try again?

            My mistake, I thought I read somewhere that you were married to the proprieter of this blog. Sure I’d like to try again:

            What’s your occupation and your husband’s occupation? Do you live together? How do financial contributions break down?

          • instead of being an elaborate, plausibly deniable form of prostitution.

            I think that oversimplifies the argument. Think of a marriage as a long term contract in which the partners are exchanging a variety of services, which include sex, production of children, joint household services, financial support, …

            We observe, as a pretty consistent pattern, that men often pay women to have sex with them, women rarely pay men to have sex with them. That suggests that, in equilibrium, the market price of sex provided by a woman is positive, by a man negative.

            That suggests that, in the complicated exchange, the woman’s willingness to sleep with the man is seen as a benefit to him, balancing various benefits the woman gets from the relationship.

            Reliable contraception may change the market equilibrium, since one reason for the usual pattern was that women get pregnant and men don’t, and pregnancy without a commitment to long term support was for many, probably most, women a negative consequence of sex. Your account of the current German market suggests, however, that the sign of the price in the market equilibrium is still the same.

            Along related lines, if women regard a child without a father willing to help rear it as a net cost, a child with a father willing to help rear it as a net benefit, then the fact that part of what the husband is contributing is his commitment to help rear the resulting children is a significant difference between marriage and prostitution.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ DavidFriedman

            I think GregQ covered this below. In a society where monogamy is the dominant relationship model a middle-aged man who’s a good father and has a with a decent job is a catch, in a polyamorous society he’s a loser. As such we should expect a society where polyamory is widely accepted to contain significantly fewer “good fathers with decent jobs” and by extension a greater number of “fatherless children”. I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as a potentially serious problem.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            David Friedman: I think the “exchange of services” model is quite useful, but if our exchange of services includes things that aren’t sex and money, fortaleza’s original proposal gets kind of silly. If, for instance, emotional support and romantic dates are part of the exchange of services, then the man can say “sure, we’re poly, but I am going to provide more emotional support to and have more romantic dates with other women, and thus have less time and emotional energy to do it with you.” Which isn’t a reducto ad absurdam at all, that’s just part of how polyamory works.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            “David Friedman: I think the ‘exchange of services’ model is quite useful, but if our exchange of services includes things that aren’t sex and money,”

            I think there are other things besides sex and money in play, but those are the big two. Especially if you tie reproduction into sex.

            Anyway, since you brought up your own situation, I’m really curious now: What are you and your husband’s occupations? Do you live together? How do the finances break down?

          • John Schilling says:

            What are you and your husband’s occupations? Do you live together? How do the finances break down?

            That’s the second time you’ve asked that deeply personal question in, what, eight hours? If you didn’t get an answer the first time, asking again is unlikely to help your case.

          • fortaleza84 says:

            That’s the second time you’ve asked that deeply personal question in, what, eight hours?

            Lol, you have got to be kidding. The person I asked is all to eager to volunteer information about her sex life in order to bolster her argument. She’s opened the door wide to questions about her finances.

            If you didn’t get an answer the first time, asking again is unlikely to help your case.

            Thank you so much for your concern, but it seems that sometimes replies get buried in other comments on this board.

            Anyway, I’m going to take a wild guess here and guess that (1) Ozy’s husband makes a good deal more money than her; and (2) from a financial perspective, he contributes a lot more to the relationship than her. I’m also going to guess that his income makes him far more attractive to her as a marriage partner than she realizes. I’m also going to guess that if he ceased making his disproportionate financial contribution and instead started spending the extra money on a “secondary” relationship, she would lose interest him right quick.

          • Barely matters says:

            @Ozy

            The only option that allows you to flatter yourself is that he liiiiiiiikes you. This is undoubtedly true (and kudos to that), though mediated by the fact that he doesn’t have many ooooooooptions because his circle is disproportionately duuuuuudes and he still wants to pair with soooooooomeone.

            To illustrate the gender premium you’re receiving here, look back to the thread by Kevin C a couple opens ago wherein he was asking for dating advice while listing all his barriers. (Cannot work or hold a job, requires financial support, on the autism spectrum, other psychiatric illness, tied to current city, strong opinions on the far fringe of the dominant tribe in the area, does not comprehend normal social cues, little interest in changing any of these things, sparkling truth-bombing personality). When stated by Kevin, people responded with something between sympathy and barely restrained contempt, some advising him never to procreate and virtually all concluding that he is patently fucked unless he can change most of those limitations. However, if he were female and in the bay area, these credentials are adequate to date this blog’s host, marry one of his peers and live on this other fine gentleman’s dime. While you do an excellent job of making Topher sound like a total badass by emphasizing how much he must pay to keep you around, I’m not sure it bolsters your point.

            Your second paragraph follows the theme where you take advantage of the fact that across large populations, there is no daylight at all between “X happens” and “X is so proportionally rare as to be a rounding error from zero”. Women do marry their low earning peers because they’re best friends… at rates slightly above 0%. Likewise with ‘men who make claims that the woman everyone around thinks is absolutely heinous is actually the most beautiful woman in the world’: This happens, but at rates well below Lizardman’s constant.

            I’m not even entirely sure where your final paragraph is going. Though I hadn’t mentioned it here, I’m mostly indifferent, if somewhat accepting of polygyny, being that I’m at the cusp of where I can compete on the Chad level given some effort. I reap a lot of spoils if I push, while acknowledging that the system looks terrible for the majority of other men, and would be for me as well if I wanted to relax and stop hustling.

            My only real problem with Poly is in conjunction with forced alimony and child support. My preferred solution to this, is to change the norm of women being able to expect involuntary support, and for them to be expected to stand on their own feet and work for a living. Once the unilateral financially coercive norm is out of the way, I have no problem at all with ‘love as thou wilt’, as I think the market is then able to self-correct. Get rid of the ulterior motive to marriage, and all that’s left is marriage for love. This is equality at its finest.

            I think your argument would have more teeth if Topher actually had the ability to ever say “You know, this isn’t working for me anymore. I don’t like the direction this relationship has taken and would like to leave.” Without you being able to follow up with “That’s cool, just as long as the support cheques keep coming in perpetuity, you’re free to do whatever you like! (Bee Tee Dubs, I’m taking the kids!)” .

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Barely matters: I assure you, my husband and I have discussed child custody, property division and alimony arrangements in great detail before we married. While this is a private matter, I very much doubt he would have any reluctance to divorce me for financial reasons.

            He is also… definitely capable of finding a spouse who isn’t me, limited only by his own pickiness. While there is a gender imbalance in the rationalist community, Topher is not a rationalist and not particularly interested in marrying a rationalist, and anyway he possesses the rare and striking ability to ask girls out.

          • Aapje says:

            @Ozy

            A substantial number of women do not take maximal advantage of the law and the chance is surely quite high that you are part of that segment, yet there is clearly also a large group that does take advantage of the non-egalitarian laws. Not infrequently, the animosity that led to the split and desire by people to not feel regret leads to ex-partners shifting from the assumption of good faith that existed during their relationship to the assumption of bad faith afterwards. This, coupled with the adversarial nature of revolving the break-up (deciding who gets what), can lead (over time) to a level of resentment that leads to very selfish behavior (up to using children as weapons in the ‘battle’).

            So it’s not so much that these people are inherently bad people, but the dynamics of the situation can bring out the worst in people.

            I don’t believe that the way people behave in good times is perfectly indicative to how they behave in times of stress, especially when they perceive major threats to their or their children’s well-being (where those threats may be real or imagined).

            So IMHO it would be unwise for anyone, including Topher, to assume with 100% certainty that their partner won’t act unfairly. At the end of the day, if Topher does decide to break up with you, he is gambling that he can control the dynamics of the situation and/or that you will do so (perhaps the gamble is 99% vs 1%, but it still a gamble).

            Normies often tend to think in absolutes, which tends to result in great surprise then they end up losing a gamble.

          • Barely matters says:

            @Ozy

            I would suggest that using yourself as the sole evidence for your arguments during the good times, and retreating to ‘this is a personal matter’ when questioned is bad discourse form.

            Further, I’m glad that *you* would not expect Topher to have any financial liabilities to worry about upon divorce. Do you suppose many men get married expecting to be divorced and left paying support for decades? It’s possible that I might be engaging in a typical mind fallacy and there are lots of men who look forward to this outcome, but my understanding is that most everyone who gets married thinks it’s a good idea at the time.

            Yes, The rationalist community skews male, as does the entire bay area. Further, even given the skew, I’m sure that you’re not literally his only option. I’d guess that you’re in fact the best of all his possible options!

            Anyway, I’m finding it impossible to really disagree with your comments without insulting you, so rather than go forward I’ll just wish Topher the absolute best of luck given that he’s entrusting his entire financial future to the hope that you don’t, y’know, change your mind at any point down the line and decide you don’t like him anymore.

            Best, you two.

          • Aapje says:

            typo: revolving -> resolving

          • fortaleza84 says:

            Further, I’m glad that *you* would not expect Topher to have any financial liabilities to worry about upon divorce

            Even putting that aside, it’s interesting to ask what the financial arrangements are like right now. It would appear that as is the case in most marriages, her husband out-earns her by a significant amount. Which is fortunate from the point of stability — in marriages where the wife out-earns the husband, the incidence of divorce is shockingly high.

            Why is this important? For one thing, it undercuts Ozy’s claim that money is not a factor in the attraction between her and her husband. More importantly, it illustrates one of the unwritten rules of marriage: The parties are supposed to pool their financial resources and the brunt of the pooling is normally born mostly by the man. This principle is deeply ingrained in human culture to the point where it’s probably part of our DNA at this point. A big part of a man’s sexual attractiveness is the resources he controls and shares with his mate.

            And this, in turn, is why “open marriage” is such a scam. If the husband and wife are equally free to enter sexual relationships with other people but the husband is still expected to be the financial provider, it’s completely gynocentric and unfair.

            Of course people are free to enter into unequal relationships — some people may even prefer it. But we shouldn’t pretend that “open marriage” is equal.

    • Deiseach says:

      a lot more women than men are interested in polygamy

      Or possibly: a lot of guys are interested in poly, a lot of women aren’t, so the women who are interested in being poly will have a lot more men as potential partners than the other way round, e.g. if Tom and Howie and Luke and Ryan are open to a poly relationship but Bill and Roger aren’t, while Marie and Lucy and Sarah and Julie aren’t open to a poly relationship but Anne and Alice are, then individually Anne plainly has more potential partners than Howie does in their group (unless everyone is bi/pan).

      Granted, that invented example above isn’t the same as the ratios from the survey where it’s 1 poly woman:3 poly men and 1 monogamous woman:10 monogamous men, but unless we get some kind of good figures on what exactly is the size of the Polygamous-American community, we can’t really draw any conclusions one way or the other.

  4. andavargas says:

    It would be very good to have data as to the characteristics of each respondent’s partners, particularly their number of partners.
    Q1. How many partners do you have?
    Q2. If you have one or more partners, what is the average number of partners they have?
    and/or
    Q2. If you have one or more partners, what is the highest number of partners any of these has?

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      I think you’d fall victim to the friendship paradox.

      • Yaleocon says:

        Wouldn’t we be precisely measuring for the friendship paradox? The “paradox” results because there are some people with a great many friends, and others who have very few (but are friends with those who have a great many). The more the super-social people dominate the “friend scene”, the stronger the “paradoxical” result will be.

        Therefore, the difference between average partners and average partners-of-partners for both genders could serve as an excellent proxy for whether there’s more polygyny or polyandry, and what the distribution is. Like, if the friendship paradox effect were strong in men, but weak to negative in women, that would strongly imply predominant polyandry, and vice versa. Even when both effects are positive, relative effect size would be useful.

        That paradox is only veridical, and understanding why it happens can turn that confusion into useful data. (Although we’d need a larger data set, LW is guaranteed to be confounded to hell)

      • Yaleocon says:

        Or, wait, to put it more clearly. The friendship paradox happens because of centrality; centrality is what we’re looking for; therefore, the friendship paradox is a good tool to use to look for it.

  5. Eponymous says:

    Um, if you’re sampling from a population (i.e. the rationalist community) with a 10:1 M:F ratio, then sure, lots of poly relationships will be multiple men to one woman. But I bet that wouldn’t be the case in the population at large.

    High-status men keeping harems is the norm historically, conforms to stereotypes and personal experience about relative sex drives, and makes sense biologically.

    • gbear605 says:

      I’m not sure that pleading to history is accurate here, for the same reason that “women only working at home and caring for children is the norm historically” is not a good prediction of modern reality.

      • Eponymous says:

        History is suggestive of the underlying biological forces, even if their exact manifestation changes depending on the cultural and economic context. While it’s true that women no longer spend all of their time working at home and caring for children, they still do the majority of housework and childcare, and earn less than men mainly because they pursue less ambitious careers that allow them more flexibility, and are more likely to take time off to raise young children at home. So the basic pattern has hardly vanished, because the underlying biological forces have not changed.

        Now it’s true that the historical pattern in polygamous societies reflected in part a patriarchal social structure that legally subjugated women, which is not the case today. However, those social structures were not arbitrary, but themselves derived from the underlying psychology of our species. The prevailing pattern is grounded in biology, and thus unlikely to change.

        • wiserd says:

          The underlying psychology of our species is usually filtered through utilitarian need. You can find matriarchal societies where men raise their sisters children and there’s little male paternal investment. The bar against such an arrangement is not human psychology or human nature, but the tendency for low-paternal-investment societies to be defeated in warfare and to be less productive (since more energy must be devoted to competition for mates.)

          Modern polyamory, with genetic testing and family planning, can potentially avoid some of these downsides.

          • Anonymous says:

            matriarchal

            Matrilineal, not matriarchal. AFAIK, matriarchal societies are the lizardmen of lizardmen in the realm of societal structures.

          • Yaleocon says:

            Are the historical drivers of polygyny being the dominant paradigm societal or biological? Honestly, I don’t know and neither of you should claim to. I’m biased toward biology, and I think the bias is a good one, but ultimately I don’t have too much of an idea. I do think that humility should imply caution, though.

            Modern polyamory, with genetic testing and family planning

            This is closer to the reason that I am not down with polyamory. Lower-class people fail to use family planning and STD testing, let alone genetic testing, in an at-all reliable way. The rosy picture that quote expects is a pipe dream. If a bunch of largely rich LW’ers in Cali want to have their orgies, I say let them. But should this trend trickle down to less weird, less obsessively conscientious communities, I expect pain and tragedy.

          • Deiseach says:

            But should this trend trickle down to less weird, less obsessively conscientious communities, I expect pain and tragedy.

            I think we have functional polyamory amongst exactly those communities and it isn’t at all like the rosy world of ethically-informed and conscientious intelligent high-achieving people used in the kind of “the new trend in relationships” articles.

            I’ve talked on here before about my experience in social housing and I do think forget about serial monogamy, some at least have moved on to “he’s my ex- and my sister’s current boyfriend and my new boyfriend is her ex and I also have another ex that I see from time to time and my boyfriend goes to spend time with his ex-partner who is the mother of one of his kids and oh yeah I met another ex and it was his birthday and we went back to his place to celebrate and well, things happened and that’s how I’m expecting this new baby”. (I’m thinking of one particular situation that gave me the shivers to contemplate and I don’t foresee it becoming rarer as time goes on, and I’m not talking about the quasi-incest of “had a baby by my boyfriend, when he was sent to prison I took up with his dad, the grandfather of my child, and had a baby with him” situation).

            The running ‘joke’ in the section was that in about ten to fifteen years’ time there would be a hell of a lot of unwitting incest going on because none of these kids had any idea who their fathers and half-siblings were, and if Michelle and Paddy meet up in the pub now that they’re both 18 and strike it off together, there could be every chance that they have the same father and not know it.

          • Yaleocon says:

            You can already see how the slope is slipping from gay marriage into polyamory, and how it could go from there into incest. Hopefully we can find good Schelling points, but given the near-prophetic power of all the social conservatives who have been called “alarmist” in the past, I’m increasingly pessimistic.

            A fun quote from a friend of mine: “What conservatives do in these situations is take principles and apply them uniformly and then see the results. And that gets called the ‘slippery slope fallacy’ when really, it’s just something far older and totally non-fallacious: reductio ad absurdum.”

      • Schmendrick says:

        “women only working at home and caring for the children” is in fact not the norm historically for most people outside of local elites. Elites had access to sufficient surplus income that they could afford to maintain portions of the household (read: women and children) in a condition of idleness. Though it should be noted that this was not always the case: for significant portions of subsaharan africa, agriculture was viewed as “women’s work,” and left almost exclusively to females while men engaged in military or pastoral activities. For European peasants, labor was at a premium due to the time-sensitive nature of agricultural tasks, familial poverty, and the lack of modern labor-saving devices, and so women, men, and children all worked in the fields. Town populations which grew wealtheir attempted to gain prestige through aping the practices of the elite, and so it became de rigeur for any respectable burgher to have a stay-at-home wife. Though even here there were exceptions; brewing, innkeeping, and small-scale crafting were all significant sources of trade expertise and income for non-peasant women.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          Brewing and innkeeping was perhaps the most respectable kind of job for women from the dawn of civilization until the Industrial Revolution. The only king on the Sumerian King List called out as female, Kug-Bau, held it before seizing power in Kish. =)

          • Schmendrick says:

            A quick google does not turn up any Kug-Bau beers. Clearly, we either don’t have enough classicists or historians becoming craft-brewers.

    • Matt M says:

      Even more generally speaking, I suspect that polyamory, as practiced within the rationalist community, probably differs quite a bit the version of polyamory that might be practiced anywhere else.

      I haven’t actually seen an episode of Sister Wives, but I’d be willing to bet nobody appearing on that show is likely to be confused with someone who might have taken a Less Wrong survey at any point during their life…

      I’m not sure you can draw conclusions about polyamory generally by taking a sample of polyamorous rationalists…

      • tcheasdfjkl says:

        Rationalist polyamory is indeed very different from “Sister Wives” polygamy, but the former is much closer to what “polyamory” generally refers to in other poly social groups.

        • Tedd says:

          Data point: the only other community I’ve seen with a high concentration of poly people is the fusion dance scene, which does poly in a way very similar to the rationalist community and is much closer to gender parity.

          (That is: you do not see high-status men “hoarding” women. A large majority of poly people who are dating at least one person are dating at least two people, and this is approximately as true for women as for men.)

          • Anatoly says:

            >A large majority of poly people who are dating at least one person are dating at least two people, and this is approximately as true for women as for men.

            This is the opposite of Scott’s numbers for the SSC poll-taking community, not very similar – in the post, a large majority of poly people who have partners have just one partner, and this is true for either gender.

            Scott’s numbers seem to suggest that the majority of poly relationships in the rationalist community are such that both partners in the relationship are poly in theory, but only one is poly in practice. To be sure, that’s a somewhat overreaching interpretation, and there may be other factors that explain a large majority of one-partner responses (such as large numbers of transient one-partnerhoods).

          • Tedd says:

            Sure, dance has more relationships in general – presumably related to having closer to gender parity, but possibly also being a more outgoing community. I just meant in terms of gender dynamics.

            I don’t think you can infer “both partners in the relationship are poly in theory, but only one is poly in practice” from the given data. It seems equally consistent with “two people in a relationship are poly in theory, but neither is dating anyone else”, no?

      • Virtua Lyric says:

        In my area there is a large polyamorous community and a small rationalist community. The rationalist community is about half polyamorous, I’d say. It has noticeably more men. The polyamorous community has more women than men, but not by much. In both communities most people are 25-35 but several are older and a few are younger. The poly community has quite a few pagans, believers in astrology, etc. Even some liberal Christians.

        In the poly community, friends with benefits and casual dating are common, but high-commitment relationships and relationships with significant logistical entanglement are also common. “Polycules” (connected graphs where romantic relationships are the edges and people are the vertices) tend to be sprawling and not fully connected. I am part of such a graph containing at least 30 people.

        There are certain individuals who tend to have more partners at a time than average, and there are perhaps slightly more of these “hub” individuals who are women. There are also a few individuals who have only one partner and hardly ever date anyone else, while their partner has other partners. A bit more of these are men than women. Most of these individuals, as far as I can tell, just don’t really want to date much. They’re attractive people and IMO wouldn’t have trouble finding dates if they wanted them.

        I haven’t discussed community norms regarding money that much with others, but I do contribute about half the money for things like food or tickets when I spend time with partners. My preference is to pay separately when I’m just getting to know someone, but if it looks like we’re going to keep seeing each other, we end up taking turns picking up the check. This is the same pattern I use with platonic friends too.

        It’s a significantly queer community, and the straight men also tend to be significantly more comfortable sharing physical closeness with each other than most monogamous straight men I’ve met.

        I know zero men who cohabit with more than one female partner and no other men. I know a few women who cohabit with more than one male partner and no other women. I also know of households containing multiple men and women.

        One example is a woman (Alice) who was living with both of her male partners, one of whom she has bio-kids with (Ben), and the other (Carl) has kids from his previous relationship living there too. Then another of Alice’s boyfriends moved in (Dave), along with his ex-wife (Erica) and their kids. Erica is also dating Carl, plus other men and women who don’t live in the household. Alice has other partners outside the household, as does Carl. I’m not sure who else Ben or Dave might be dating these days.

        The “primary relationship”/”secondary relationship” model is somewhat less common in this community that it probably is in some other poly communities. Even if there is more logistical entanglement with a particular partner, leading to higher stakes and generally higher priority/commitment/time in logistical matters, this dynamic is often acknowledged as something separate from the dynamic of emotional attachment or depth of intimacy — logistics and emotions *often* go together, but aren’t assumed to. Platonic relationships are also acknowledged as having high potential for intimacy, attachment, and commitment.

        Most of the people in my poly community also enjoy kink/fetish activities, boardgames, cannabis, political engagement, and talking about relationships. They’re mostly white and middle class.

    • Elizabeth says:

      The two other poly communities I’ve been in were mostly female, and tended to involve F/M relationships + both partners dating other women.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think many cases where polyamory exists are a (successful) adaptation to communities with very skewed gender ratios.

  6. reasoned argumentation says:

    Talk about ban bait.

  7. Bugmaster says:

    My only problem with polyamory is the same problem I have with the Social Justice movement.

    First of all, if you want to be polyamorous, go for it, that’s totally fine — provided the usual constraints, i.e. everyone involved is a consenting adult, all the children are taken care of properly, all the taxes are paid, whatever.

    But, secondly, being polyamorous doesn’t somehow make you smarter, or more moral, or generally more enlightened than non-polyamorous people. It’s just a romantic preference. Similarly, preferring to date people of your own sex/gender/whatever doesn’t make you wonderful and special and a paragon of virtue; it’s just a preference.

    • blacktrance says:

      While polyamory certainly doesn’t make you smarter, I expect that it’s positively correlated with IQ (in the general population, probably not among rationalists, who are already selected for that).

      • bbeck310 says:

        Selection effect. “Polyamory” is an upper-class concept, and the impoverished baby daddy to four single moms is not treated as practicing polyamory.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          This. “Polyamory” is a neologism of wealthy progressives. The polygamous behavior of less WEIRD parts of even the US population don’t get that label.

        • blacktrance says:

          Because most likely he’s not practicing polyamory. If he had multiple partners at the same time, he probably had to hide them from each other, and he wouldn’t have been fine with his partners seeing someone else while he was with them.

          • bbeck310 says:

            blacktrance–This is both a “no true Scotsman” fallacy and still evidence of selection bias. Openly having multiple concurrent partners is a lifestyle only accepted among upper class progressives, a high IQ subset of Americans. Country club membership is probably also strongly correlated with high IQ, for the same reason.

          • blacktrance says:

            No True Scotsman is a fallacy in which conceptual boundaries are never clearly drawn and/or are changed ad hoc to avoid counterexamples, but here’s nothing like that here. Polyamory, by definition, requires everyone involved to be informed about the non-monogamous rules of the relationship and to consent to them. Therefore neither serial monogamy nor cheating are polyamory.

            Openly having multiple concurrent partners is a lifestyle only accepted among upper class progressives, a high IQ subset of Americans. Country club membership is probably also strongly correlated with high IQ, for the same reason.

            That’s true, though I’d guess that polyamorous people tend to be higher-IQ even among upper-class progressives.

          • vV_Vv says:

            Because most likely he’s not practicing polyamory. If he had multiple partners at the same time, he probably had to hide them from each other, and he wouldn’t have been fine with his partners seeing someone else while he was with them.

            This is quite of an assumption. Arrangements such as “hookups”, “friends with benefits”, etc., where people have sexual encounters with multiple partners without an expectation of exclusivity, are rather common and socially acceptable in many circles.

            Upper-middle class nerds systematize this and call it “polyamory”, because they are nerds and they like to systematize things, and because they want to set themselves apart from what they consider as low-status cultures of low-IQ, low-impulse-control people who end up making lots of single-parent children (even though in reality the results might not be necessarily much different: some time ago there was an unemployed single mother on this very blog begging for money, with Scott’s endorsement, in order to raise a child who accidentally resulted from one of those allegedly enlightened high-IQ rationalist polyamorous relationships).

          • Jaskologist says:

            Because most likely he’s not practicing polyamory. If he had multiple partners at the same time, he probably had to hide them from each other, and he wouldn’t have been fine with his partners seeing someone else while he was with them.

            I think this is an entirely unjustified assumption. I’m surprised Deiseach hasn’t yet piped in to regale us with stories of polyamory-by-another-name she’s encountered in the underclass.

          • Anonymous says:

            @Jaskologist

            Like this?

          • Evan Þ says:

            @vV_Vv, very good point about “friends with benefits.” I wouldn’t be surprised if the duration of those friendships is comparable to the duration of rationalist polyamoric relationships. Though, both for duration and single-parenthood rates, we should really have more than just a single datapoint each to generalize from…

        • herbert herberson says:

          It’s even simpler than that. Polyamory isn’t exactly the hoity toity Millennial name for what older generations and working class people call “swinging,” but it’s damn close.

    • Alexandre Zani says:

      It sort of depends. I consider myself more enlightened than people who made their relationship “choices” by just going with the flow and never considering any alternative. But people who thought about themselves and their options and decided for monogamy are no less enlightened.

      Enlightenment is about making decisions instead of passively letting the world around you make a decision for you.

      • Baja Roki Thompson says:

        Just because your choice in something is arrived at through your own reasoning doesn’t make the choice better. Often conventional wisdom is smarter than you.

        It’s like saying that people who have meticulously read and pondered Von Däniken’s theories are more enlightened than those who haven’t, regardless of the conclusions they draw.

    • makoyass says:

      But, secondly, being polyamorous doesn’t somehow make you smarter, or more moral, or generally more enlightened than non-polyamorous people

      Implying… you’ve somehow proved that there are no moral arguments for polyamory, or you believe morality favors monogamy?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I feel like there’s this irritating bait-and-switch where society attacks poly people as horrible, poly people say “We’re not so bad, honest!”, and then society interprets this as “Oh, you’re saying you’re better than us and all of you are scum? Then fuck you!”

      I realize that this is probably based on “society” not being a single actor, but I guess I can just plead that people notice when others are defending themselves as not worse than anyone else, versus claiming to be better than others.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        It seems like the “you think you’re better than me!?!” aspect is separate, at least from this anti-poly guy’s perspective.

        Poly people are pretty aggressive proselytizers. If you ever mention a relationship issue in a poly-leaning space it’s nearly guaranteed that someone will chime in to ask “have you tried switching over to poly?” It’s like Linux fanatics or vegans if they were also trying to get your girlfriend to cheat on you.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          As a poly person, I have literally never observed this happening. (That said, in my experience, omnivores have far more difficulty shutting up about being omnivores than vegans have about being vegan.)

          • hlynkacg says:

            Ozy please don’t take this the wrong way but you’re weird, and your social circle is also weird. Bay Area rationalists are pretty much the central example of anglospheric weirdness. I don’t think your observations are representative.

          • allspoilersallthetime says:

            Haha, yeah, I had that same conversation all the time when I was a vegetarian:

            Person: Would you like a burger?
            Me: No thanks, I’m a vegetarian.
            Person: Oh really, why’s that?
            Me: Well, you know, I don’t really like meat that much, I can’t see any compelling reason to eat meat, but there are a lot of reasons not to, like health benefits or preventing animal suffering – ‘
            Person: ‘ANIMAL SUFFERING!!! ARE YOU CALLING ME A TORTURER? ARE YOU CALLING ME A BAD PERSON? WHY ARE VEGETARIANS SO FUCKING SMUG?!

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            hlynkacg: I have been vegetarian since I was three years old. My community is very weird, and I’m glad about that, because it means the omnivores will just give me some food I can eat instead of deciding that they need to concern-troll about how I get my protein*, or wave bacon in front of my face while saying I BET YOU WANT TO EAT THAT THAT’S SO GOOD**, or making jokes about how vegetarianism is HIV and veganism is AIDS, or informing me that my tomato probably had a home and a family and don’t I hear its screams, or making fucking jokes about how fucking vegetarians can’t fucking shut up about being fucking vegetarian when literally the only reason I mentioned it is because I was sort of hoping that when I went over to your house I would be able to have something other than raw carrots for dinner. The omnivores here are very weird because they don’t do that! I am grateful for it every day!

            *for some reason it is always people who never willingly eat a vegetable who do this
            **no, literally no one who has been vegetarian for a decade wants to eat bacon, it smells repulsive and makes me want to vomit

          • Spookykou says:

            Yes, my brother is Vegan, he basically never talks about it, everyone in our family CONSTANTLY gives him shit about it, constantly. I am very far from any Bay Area Rationalist circles. There are only two things I can think of to explain the common perception. Older hippies, one of the larger groups that turn to vegetarianism but who I never interact with, talk about it all the time and try to push it on people, or omnivores* feel threatened when someone mentions that they are vegetarian and over compensate aggressively.

            *I am an omnivore, although before Ozy’s comment I have never seen anyone expressly call non-vegetarians as such.

            Edit: Good point Nornagest

          • Nornagest says:

            PETA ads probably have something to do with it, too.

          • Jiro says:

            Haha, yeah, I had that same conversation all the time when I was a vegetarian:

            When someone gets you to admit that you think he is the equivalent of a torturer, and then gets offended, he is offended by your beliefs. It’s true that you didn’t speak those beliefs until prompted, but you had the beliefs before being prompted, and the fact that you have them, not just that you speak them, is what he’s really objecting to.

          • SchwarzeKatze says:

            I am a pescetarian for some 6+ years now. So far, omnivores and vegetarians I know mostly express curiosity, while some of the vegans I know think they are “morally superior” to me.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Ozy
            Like I said, your social circle is weird and I don’t think your experiences/observations are representative.

            I suspect that in most “normie” households the response you’d get would be something more along the lines of; “there’s beans on the stove and garlic bread in the oven, help yourself” why would I taunt you with bacon if I didn’t love you? If you’re not having any that’s more bacon for me. I also suspect that the vast majority of herbivore/omnivore conflict that “normies” are exposed to comes in the form of PETA commercials, and things like this. (I feel like the whole EA menu-ghazi thing probably deserves a mention as well but that was a distinctly weird-on-weird conflict)

            In any case, your and Nabil ad Dajjal’s comments has helped crystalized something for me that I think explains my reflexive distrust of poly-advocates, utilitarians, (and to a lesser extent) vegans.

            You see we have norms. Norms like; don’t defect in prisoners dilemmas, don’t sleep around, and don’t pass judgment on others’ dietary preferences. These norms exist so that we might coexist in relative peace. Then someone comes along and says “Hey guys it’s ok to violate Norm X” and I kind of want to slap them because people who are protected by, or derive benefits, from a norm that they themselves do not appreciate or follow are kind of a bugbear of mine.

            You’re thinking that because your own relationship has not devolved into a vicious circle of drama, hurt feelings and recrimination, that the norm against sleeping around can be safely removed and my point is that you’re weird, and it’s a mistake to assume that your relationship is representative of what would happen if the norm were removed.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            hlynkacg: I did not spring full-grown out of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s forehead. I went to public elementary and middle schools and a Catholic high school in Miami (followed by a small liberal arts college, which I agree was unusual); the former had a normal cross-section of the population, and the latter had a normal-cross section of the wealthy Catholic Republican population. I am genuinely interested in what part of this you think is so abnormal it’s completely ungeneralizable. It is also interesting to me that you speak with authority about vegetarians’ experiences without being one yourself.

            People not passing judgment on other people’s dietary preferences sounds like a wonderful norm and I would encourage omnivores to adopt it.

          • Jiro says:

            If you’re an ethical-vegetarian, you are inherently judging other people’s dietary preference. You can be silent about the result of your judgment, but the judgment itself is a logical consequence of your beliefs and cannot be avoided.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            I am genuinely interested in what part of this you think is so abnormal it’s completely ungeneralizable.

            You inject testosterone and claim to be delighted at the disgusted reactions you get from people when you go out jogging.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            reasoned argumentation: Wait, your argument is that my observations about the behaviors of omnivores in middle school are incorrect because more than a decade later I transitioned?

          • hlynkacg says:

            Ozy,
            Vegetarians and vegans are less than 10% of the US population. Are you seriously claiming that 9 out of every 10 people you meet mocks your dietary habits? If so, I would strongly encourage you to escape your obviously toxic social environment and burn every bridge behind you.
            However, If (as I suspect) the number of people you’ve met who’ve mocked your dietary habits is closer to 1 in a 100 I would suggest that the norm has already been adopted and is working reasonably well so please stop trying to knock down this particular fence. Like I said, people who do not appreciate or follow a norm that they themselves are benefiting from are a bugbear of mine.

          • Megaflora says:

            You see we have norms. Norms like; don’t defect in prisoners dilemmas, don’t sleep around, and don’t pass judgment on others’ dietary preferences. These norms exist so that we might coexist in relative peace. Then someone comes along and says “Hey guys it’s ok to violate Norm X” and I kind of want to slap them because people who are protected by, or derive benefits, from a norm that they themselves do not appreciate or follow are kind of a bugbear of mine.

            Don’t mention politics or religion? Talk less, smile more?

            I feel like as a left-leaning atheist that also disagrees with some of my tribe’s sacred cows most open expressions of my beliefs will be reliably viewed as much more “disruptive” then my preferred relationship style or diet.

            Sleeping around is already a norm for a sizable number of the population, there are plenty of valuable cultural adaptations for monogamous relationships, but very few for alternative relationship configurations which is one of the reasons the current dating scene is such shit. People lack the norms and social expectations to reliably coordinate in a positive-sum way.

            The poly community has spent a ton of time trying to develop a collection of norms around sex and relationships that I think would benefit everyone. I don’t care about spreading poly, but I do care about spreading certain memes that have grown and refined within poly circles.

        • Virtua Lyric says:

          As a poly person I would never encourage mono people who are having relationship issues to switch over to poly. There’s even a humorously disapproving phrase poly people have for that: “Relationship broken? Add more people!” It’s widely acknowledged to be a bad idea.

          I don’t see much poly proselytizing, but I do see a lot of mono people reacting as though poly people are inherently seductive and must be trying to lure mono people into converting or cheating.

          • Jack says:

            This reminds me of an idea SSC once considered: at least some homophobia comes from closeted self-denying gays who experience same-sex attraction as highly tempting. This explains their fear that it could plausibly take over society: they imagine everybody has similar temptations (typical mind fallacy). So they react. Perhaps some a lot of negative responses to poly are grounded in a similar sense. Or to put it another way, this is (flimsy) evidence for Ozy Frantz’s claim elsewhere in this thread that most people could be happy in poly relationships.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Jack

            I think you’re mischaracterizing the objection. It’s not so much a fear “that most people could be happy in poly relationships” so much as the farmers telling you we put this fence here for a reason. Stop messing with it.”

            The conservative argument against polyamory is essentially the classical argument against utilitarianism. Even if you personally believe that there’s nothing wrong with defecting in prisoners dilemmas you need a norm against defection to keep defect/defect from becoming the natural equilibrium.

          • Jack says:

            There’s not only one objection, and it was not my intention to characterize all the purported objections raised in this thread. That said, it seems to me I successfully characterized part of the objection you mention. “You need a norm against defection to keep defect/defect” is precisely the analogous assumption that I am attributing in part to a latent polyness.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Jack,

            By your reasoning, if I want to own something without paying for it I’m a latent anarchist. Clearly I have a deep unexamined belief that property is theft rather than just a selfish desire for things I haven’t yet earned.

            The set of people who are tempted to cheat and the set of people is relationships are equal: everyone wants to go outside of their relationship sometime. Poly isn’t the cause of that desire but it’s a convenient excuse to justify acting on it.

            What a cruel world, where naturally polyamorous people are pressured into relationships with boilerplate expectations of monogamy! Where intolerant bigots insist that their husbands not step out on them with other women, not even considering how horny they are!

            It’s a total reversal of morality, holding incontinence up as a virtue while fidelity is denounced as a sign of oppression.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Nabil: I really, really don’t think that’s true. I have personally known several couples who became monogamous because they realized that neither of them wanted to date other people. I also know of many people in poly relationships who seem uninterested in dating more than one person. It would be very surprising to me if the only people with such a preference are those with a history of polyamory. Perhaps a desire to sleep with multiple people is very common, but it is most certainly not universal.

          • Matt M says:

            Ozy,

            I don’t think what Nabil is getting at is that everyone is some super-horny monster who wants to sleep with everyone they see all the time.

            But rather, everyone wants to have the option to sleep with other people when they decide they want to. The fact that you know a lot of people who have decided that they don’t want to (for now) does not disprove that they do not want the option to do so, should they change their mind about that.

            If anything, I would take the fact that someone seeks out a poly relationship despite preferring monogamy in that particular moment as a potential indication that this person that this person DOES highly value the “option” to sleep with others. That’s one of the key selling points of poly, is it not? If you didn’t care about that option, why not just go enter a normal, completely-monogamous relationship?

          • Jack says:

            Matt M: there is a list elsewhere in this thread of benefits of poly relationships other than “sleeping with others”. There are people who don’t much care for sleeping with others but are in poly relationships for those sorts of reasons. I think the most compelling is wanting your partner to be happy if they are the sort of person who might want to sleep with others.

          • Matt M says:

            You have completely missed my point.

            It’s not about “sleeping with others,” (which I concede many people do not explicitly value), it’s about “having the option to sleep with others” which is a different consideration entirely.

            Options are quite valuable. So long as you assign a non-zero probability to the likelihood that, at some point in the future, you will want to sleep with someone else, then a partner who will allow/tolerate/encourage you to sleep with someone else would be considered more valuable than a partner who will not.

          • Jack says:

            @Nabil ad Dajjal

            I’m not sure what people think I’m saying here or why, but it doesn’t seem to be what I mean. Here are some words I have been using: “at least some”, “perhaps some”, “flimsy evidence”, “not my intention to characterize all objections”, “part”, and “in part”. So no, if you want to own something without paying for it, it does not follow “by my reasoning” that you are an anarchist. BUT, if you are against anarchy it could well be in part because you think people would commit all sorts of wrongful takings under anarchy, and you might think this in part because you feel like you would be tempted to behave that way. Someone else who has their own reasons for not engaging in wrongful takings (or don’t believe they exist) might be less likely to fear this aspect of anarchy. But both of you could observe that you are not typical and that in fact there are lots of people like you and different from you and come to a more nuanced appreciation of what would happen under anarchy.

            Or to put that back in terms of polyamory, what Ozy Frantz said.

          • Jack says:

            @Matt M,

            I am telling you it is not necessarily about sleeping with others or having the option of sleeping with others. You can calculate theoretical valuations of that option all day; it won’t mean that some people don’t value it much and yet are in poly relationships for the other sorts of reasons that have been listed. But I now remember you are the person in the other part of this thread who expressed a general disbelief in poly people’s self-reported experiences so I doubt we’re going to get anywhere on this front.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Ozy,

            This isn’t specific to your last comment but a general point that has come up a fair bit. You’ve been equivocating between dating and having sex, which is a serious problem given the topic.

            Anyway, there are two specific issues with your example.

            Firstly, as Matt M pointed out, not everyone is tempted to cheat all of the time. But over the course of a lifelong committed relationship it will come up eventually. When that time does come it’s better not to have a convenient narrative to justify why cheating as a natural response to an oppressive mononormative culture.

            The second is that this social mores work at the margins. Your friends would never look at anyone except their partners, sure. But what about the guy who hits his midlife crisis and starts eyeing the cute redhead at the gym? Or the woman who has a fight with her fiance and starts saying to herself how much better looking her yoga instructor is. Poly narratives are already responsible for a lot of heartbreak and that will only increase with more acceptance.

            People are already far too eager to break up functional relationships over trifles. Look at the stats on low and high conflict divorce if you don’t believe me. Lowering the barrier to exit a LTR even further is exactly the opposite of what we need.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Jack,

            [I]f you are against anarchy it could well be in part because you think people would commit all sorts of wrongful takings under anarchy, and you might think this in part because you feel like you would be tempted to behave that way. Someone else who has their own reasons for not engaging in wrongful takings might be less likely to fear this aspect of anarchy.

            Or, you know, because you have any knowledge of human nature whatsoever.

            People lie, cheat and steal. That’s a fundamental part of who we are and why society exists in the first place. Pretending that those impulses aren’t a part of us is ridiculous and naive.

          • Jack says:

            You are not convincing me that this is different from the idea about homophobia. I’m just seeing a lot of encoded value statements and assumptions about universal human nature. I KNOW you think that “people cheat” is a “fundamental part of who we are”–just as some homophobes seem to think same-sex temptation is universal. The narrow point I was raising was that there is a reason you might expect the kinds of belief you express to be held precisely by those who think that desire for sex with others during a monogamous partnership is universal. Doesn’t matter how many people claim not to be tempted to cheat–they’re wrong, or if they thought about it harder they’d realize that really they put high value on the possibility that they might one day change their mind? “Sexual temptation is human nature. If we don’t have norms against homosexuality, perversion will take over society. And that will be bad because ___. It has already caused a lot of anguish, probably. Think of the children.” The memeplex is so similar.

          • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

            @Jack,

            You’ve constructed an unfalsifiable narrative which conveniently allows you to dismiss anyone who disagrees with you on this topic. That should set off some alarm bells.

            I’m bowing out of this discussion now because arguing false consciousness is pointless.

          • Jack says:

            All I did here was point out a similarity between part of this conversation and a thing that might explain part of homophobia. You can draw your own conclusions from the apparent similarity, or you can try to deny it. I basically said, “maybe this is a phenomenon that exists” and then several people responded as though I were claiming that the hypothetical phenomenon were the single and complete explanation of all mononormativity. But coming up with other plausible explanations of other parts of mononormativity doesn’t contradict the possibility that the phenomenon I hypothesised is a (meaningful) part of it. And this story is not unfalsifiable. What you seem to mean is that you lack the empirical evidence that would be needed to convince me it’s not partly the case (just as I lack the evidence needed to decide one way or another). Your “everyone wants to go outside of their relationship sometime” is unfalsifiable on this standard in so far as it is the expression of an assumed model of human nature that directly contradicts what still seems to me the best evidence we have about these matters–the self-reports of people who disagree (and I’m not clear which of us you think is arguing about false consciousness). These logical jumps only make me more strongly suspect motivated reasoning.

          • hlynkacg says:

            All I did here was point out a similarity between part of this conversation and a thing that might explain part of homophobia.

            Right, and several of us responded by pointing to significant dissimilarities that you have yet to address. Claiming that two things are alike so long as we ignore the differences is essentially a null argument.

          • Jack says:

            If what you are saying is that there are differences as well as similarities, I agree. That seems to me an important element of comparison. What is the one significant dissimilarity you are talking about?

            Perhaps the dissimilarity you are talking about is that everybody wants the option of cheating but not everybody wants the option of homosexuality. I and others have repeatedly contested that. If “wants the option” of sex with others means thinks they might actually get non-marginal use out of it someday, I think there are many people who do not want the option, but that we do not have great evidence either way (there are certainly people who do want the option). If “wants the option” just means “options have non-zero value even if ever exercising them is extremely unlikely”, that seems to apply just as well to the option of engaging in homosex. But this difference does not seem to be relevant to my comparison, because it boils down to “we here believe that everybody wants to (be able to) cheat but not that everybody wants to (be able to) have homosex”. My comparison, if apt, does not disclaim that some people have such beliefs; on the contrary it offers a partial explanation of why such beliefs might arise.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Perhaps the dissimilarity you are talking about is that everybody wants the option of cheating but not everybody wants the option of homosexuality.

            No, the dissimilarity is that you benefit from norms against promiscuity even if you are polyamorous just as a utilitarian benefits from norms against defection.

          • Jack says:

            Just as a homosexual person benefits from norms against homosex, because homosex is sinful and dangerous? I’m not sure where in this part of the thread (I mean, since I drew the comparison we are talking about) the idea that polyamorists (meaning people with multiple partners? or who would like to have multiple partners?) benefit from a norm against polyamory was made explicit, but how would it relate to the comparison I drew?

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            Just as a homosexual person benefits from norms against homosex, because homosex is sinful and dangerous

            Well yeah – like a third of them have HIV now and they’re 2/3rds of new HIV diagnoses.

          • hlynkacg says:

            It’s been made explicit many times, both in replies to this post and in the threads that Nabil linked. Like I said at the outset; you’re mischaracterizing the objection.

            Edit: @ reasoned argumentation

            Fuck off dude you’re not helping.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            hlynkacg –

            Oh this fence is really necessary but that one wasn’t?

            Look at what happens when a fence gets torn down – the predictable terror and slaughter return but the fence tearers gets angry if you mention it and the fence defenders think it’s impolite to mention all those icky consequences.

            The “well, I’ll disagree with you about tearing down the next fence until the day you tear it down, then I’ll scold anyone for mentioning it” position is a guaranteed loser, so I’ll keep mentioning the consequences of tearing down the last fence whenever someone says “we tore down the last fence and everything was great”.

          • Jack says:

            I think an argument that is incapable of distinguishing bad from good social change is more of a guaranteed loser than one that attempts to find principled distinctions. I still don’t think it is relevant to the comparison to the typical-mind idea about homophobes I was drawing, but things other people have been saying in this thread have prompted me to think about the desireability of encouraging widespread polyamory in a way that you have not.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Jack

            I think an argument that is incapable of distinguishing bad from good social change is more of a guaranteed loser than one that attempts to find principled distinctions.

            For fucks’ sake man this is precisely the argument being made against polyamory. You’ve taken it as a given that the distinctions are meaningless and that incentives don’t matter then accuse people of assuming too much when they question your assumptions.

            @ reasoned argumentation

            If I was “waiting till the day after” I wouldn’t be here. In the mean time, if you’re not going to help, get the fuck off my side. I’d rather have a lion for an enemy that a rat for an ally any day.

          • Jack says:

            I think you misinterpreted me? I was referring to reasoned argumentation as “you” and their comment as failing to distinguish bad from good social change, and the arguments of you and others as attempting to find principled distinctions. I’m not convinced the distinction you have tried to draw is a distinction, or significant, but I recognise that the form of argument you’re employing is capable of drawing distinctions.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            In the mean time, if you’re not going to help, get the fuck off my side. I’d rather have a lion for an enemy that a rat for an ally any day.

            You’re the coward here – you can’t even defend social rules that were discarded 30 or 40 years ago – that’s beyond the pale! You spend effort insulting someone that points out the last fence was pretty damned important too because even pointing out the bad consequences of that means that progressive will think less of you for (in this case) being a (ooooh) homophobe. You will of course, retreat if polyamory wins and condemn anyone who points out the entirely predictable negative consequences as being “unhelpful”.

            This isn’t a new pattern – here’s a classic quote from Robert Lewis Dabney in the late 19th century:

            It may be inferred again that the present movement for women’s rights will certainly prevail from the history of its only opponent, Northern conservatism. This is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution to be denounced and adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves towards perdition.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            I think it is far more principled to have some things from the past you think are good things and other things from the past you think are terrible; presumably any culture gets some things right and other things very wrong. For instance, as a generally quite liberal person, I can name several social changes I would quite like to reverse, such as the transition from animal husbandry to factory farming and the tremendous loss of freedom children have experienced. I tend to have more respect for conservatives who agree that some social changes are good, even if they disagree about particular changes, such as (perhaps) women’s rights or the acceptance of homosexuality.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            I tend to have more respect for conservatives who agree that some social changes are good, even if they disagree about particular changes, such as (perhaps) women’s rights or the acceptance of homosexuality.

            I wouldn’t mention this unprompted but since you put it out there I don’t view your “respect” as a positive.

            EDIT –

            As to the substantive part of your comment:

            For instance, as a generally quite liberal person, I can name several social changes I would quite like to reverse, such as the transition from animal husbandry to factory farming and the tremendous loss of freedom children have experienced.

            Leaving aside factory farming for now the loss of freedom for children is a social adaptation driven by the results of earlier social changes that were favored by – if not you specifically – all culturally liberal people. Social liberals didn’t like traditional law enforcement so they got rid of it – crime exploded. Social liberals didn’t like disapproval of bastardry so they got rid of it. They didn’t like legally enforced racial segregation so they got rid of it. They decided that “diversity” was the highest good so the country went from being almost all white with a small but significant black minority to a hodgepodge with no unifying culture.

            The results? People adapted in countless ways to high crime – including by severely curtailing the freedom of their children (ya know, so they don’t get raped and murdered). Note that “but crime is really low” isn’t a counterargument because the point is that people created social adaptations.

            Disapproval of bastardry was confining to women so out it went. Now parents have to watch their daughters very closely and keep them occupied 80 hours per week with sports and school activities so they don’t fall in with a peer group that might lead their daughters to end up as a single mother.

            Legally enforced racial segregation went away but racial segregation didn’t – it’s just done by price now. The result is that people have to work very hard to be able to afford racial segregation – working more hours, delaying child-rearing, investing more in fewer children.

            Finally note Putnam’s research on diversity and the implications here. Diversity destroys social trust. People used to allow their children out unsupervised because lots of people in the neighborhood (where everyone was integrated into a social network) would keep eyes on them and keep a lookout for outsiders.

            Can’t lament the downstream effects of the stuff you supported in the first place.

          • Jack says:

            You realize the parable of Chesterton’s fence is about understanding the rationales for existing norms before advocating for changing them? It doesn’t mean that you should invent post-hoc explanations that cannot plausibly, and in some cases possibly, have been a rationale for a norm, and then argue that means the decision to change the norm was flawed. Your comments turn a plea for understanding the past into a requirement that people perfectly predict the future. That’s to say nothing about their specifics, which seem to exaggerate the disbenefits of each example and not even mention uncontroversial benefits.

          • reasoned argumentation says:

            It doesn’t mean that you should invent post-hoc explanations that cannot plausibly, and in some cases possibly, have been a rationale for a norm, and then argue that means the decision to change the norm was flawed.

            So you assume you got it right when you figured out the rationale for the norm then when there are a whole host of horrible results you say those couldn’t have been the rationale for the norm because that’s not what you thought the rationale was when you tore the norm down.

            How perfectly circular.

      • mupetblast says:

        I’m intrigued by this idea that polyamory is just a formalization of what what is becoming a common practice in youngish urban circles: multiple and ongoing friends with benefits. You can say “yea but we are upfront and discuss what we’re doing with potential new partners” but that just gets to the formalization part. Except for THAT, how is polyamory different, apart from certain characteristics of poly that I’ve seen in my admittedly limited exposure in the bay area (odd-looking, obese, especially intelligent/sensitive, druggy-but-not-coke-druggy-more-like-LSD-druggy)?

        • I’ve never been directly involved in polyamory, but I was reading discussions of it back in the Usenet days and have known various people since who were part of it.

          I think the main difference between that and “multiple and ongoing friends with benefits” is that it’s more structured. The typical pattern seems to involve a single pair who regard each other as “primaries” and may well choose to produce and rear children together, along with one or more open sexual and emotional relations with others which are expected to be reasonably stable but probably not as stable. The usual assumption is that someone will not produce a child with a secondary.

          I don’t think all groups fit that pattern, but it seems typical.

          Also, in either an open marriage or your friends with benefits, there is usually no link between A and B who are both partners of C. In the typical polyamorous group, A and B at least know and like each other, may themselves be lovers. So it’s more like a single family than the other two patterns are.

          • mupetblast says:

            “Also, in either an open marriage or your friends with benefits, there is usually no link between A and B who are both partners of C. In the typical polyamorous group, A and B at least know and like each other, may themselves be lovers.”

            Good point, but in small enough social circles (e.g. the noise scene) this is pretty closely approximated.

  8. JoeCool says:

    I mean, the thing that bothers me most about anti-poly inequality arguments is that they are willing to control individuals sex and family life for the sake of inequality *only* when it comes to polyandry.

    I mean, if these same people constantly wrote about the need for parent licenses (we want children to grow up in at least a somewhat equally good environment after all) or some such I could take them more seriously, as it is I start to suspect that they are emotionally against poly and then they work backwards.

    Another interesting thing I’ve noticed; people don’t seem to mind single people having casual sex and or less serious poly relationships as much as people having loving relationships or loving relationships that involve child rearing. I mean, conservatives love to go on about the need for a two-parent household but get freaked the fuck out at the mere prospect of a 3+ parent household, despite the fact simple arithmetic concludes that the kid will have more resources lavished upon her/him.

    • Eponymous says:

      conservatives love to go on about the need for a two-parent household but get freaked the fuck out at the mere prospect of a 3+ parent household, despite the fact simple arithmetic concludes that the kid will have more resources lavished upon her/him.

      An interesting point, particularly since the historical pattern is actually an intergenerational home, in which grandparents assisted in raising the children. Thus our atomized nuclear family (hehe) actually provides less care for children than the historical norm.

    • Jaskologist says:

      I remember back when I was a little kid in public school and they were trying to sell divorce to us. “You get to have two houses to live in! Isn’t that great?” This was very long ago, but I do believe there was also stuff about how lucky it must be to have 4 parents who love you.

    • John Schilling says:

      Another interesting thing I’ve noticed; people don’t seem to mind single people having casual sex and or less serious poly relationships as much as people having loving relationships or loving relationships that involve child rearing.

      Casual sex and “less serious poly relationships” are traditionally viewed as a temporary phase in which one samples among the available partners to find the best single candidate with which to settle down and raise children. As I’ve noted before, it is telling that the standard term is premarital sex rather than e.g. amarital.

      And yes, I think most people even in traditional societies have tacitly accepted this sort of thing so long as it is understood that everybody will be formally paired off by child-raising time. Formalizing polyamory as a lifestyle rather than a phase, is a substantial change from the tacitly-accepted norm.

      [conservatives get] freaked the fuck out at the mere prospect of a 3+ parent household, despite the fact simple arithmetic concludes that the kid will have more resources lavished upon her/him.

      You are assuming that the 3+ parent household will have the same number of children as the 2-parent one. This seems unlikely (and has long-term demographic issues if true).

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        You are assuming that the 3+ parent household will have the same number of children as the 2-parent one. This seems unlikely (and has long-term demographic issues if true).

        I think the math still checks out even if a 3+ parent household has the same amount of kids they would have if they’d been separated into an equivalent number of two-parent households. This is simply due to economies of scale. Maintaining a single household is cheaper than maintaining multiple households, which means more money left over. Even if you need to buy a bigger house for all the people, it’s still cheaper than buying a bunch of small houses.

    • Leonard says:

      simple arithmetic concludes that the kid will have more resources lavished upon her/him.

      You are assuming that the 3+ parent household will have the same longevity as the 2-parent one. This may be true with high-IQ nerds. I doubt it is true of normal humans. Indeed, in our modern liberal society, the lower classes cannot even seem to navigate 2-parent marriages.

      • Yaleocon says:

        This is the most important problem with this article and many others like it. “X can be done well” does not imply “X should not be stigmatized”. If a way of life has great potential to be harmful for the worst off, it should be stigmatized, and those who are truly committed to living it should be willing to work through the stigma to live how they want.

        • Ghatanathoah says:

          @Yaleocon

          Stigmatizing social behaviors that low-conscientiousness people fail at is an extra-legal form of what some conservative thinkers call “anarcho-tyranny.” It leaves the people doing harm alone (that’s the anarchy) while hurting the innocent (that’s the tyranny).

          People with low-conscientiousness are nonresponsive to stigma for the same reason they are nonresponsive to other, more severe social incentives like firing, bankruptcy, arrest. and imprisonment: They have low-conscientiousness! This means that the only people stigma harms are the people who are conscientious and prudent enough that the stigma matters to them. And these are the kind of people who can safely engage in the stigmatized behavior anyway.

          I’m not sure I agree with the original, conception of anarcho-tyranny as it applies to the legal system. But when it comes to extralegal social norms like stigma it hits the nail on the head again and again. Another obvious example is the lowered birth rate in modern countries. People who’d be great parents put off having children, or don’t have any children at all, because of stigma aimed at low-conscientiousness parents, who continue to have kids as normal, since stigma doesn’t affect them.

          • Yaleocon says:

            I don’t think the only variable at work is conscientiousness. A lot of it is intelligence, time preference, risk aversion, etc.

            Also, I strongly disagree with the overall narrative sketched out. Homosexuality is stigmatized (which I disagree with) to a significant degree in lower-class communities–and that has a serious negatize impact. Skipping out on a woman you’ve impregnated is less stigmatized than in the past–and that has a serious negative impact. Norming effects are real throughout the class distribution, and are probably stronger among people who have stronger senses of community. If anything, it’s the atomized elite who are going to spurn social norms, due to their relative financial and social independence and individualism.

      • ashlael says:

        In all fairness, I don’t see the upper classes doing a great job of navigating 2-parent marriages either.

    • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

      despite the fact simple arithmetic concludes that the kid will have more resources lavished upon her/him.

      Only if you assume amount of resources spent on particular kid(s) grows with the number of partners the parent(s) has/have. Which does not follow from “simple arithmetic” in any way.

      Also if you think the main and only thing that concerns the conservatives is the amount of resources, you may need to seriously upgrade your knowledge about conservatives.

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        The more people living in a house, the smaller each person’s share of the mortgage or rent will be. That means that even if the partners who aren’t biological parents give nothing to the kid, their parents will still have more resources.

        • shenanigans24 says:

          Have more resources does not equal give more resources. And I don’t think the third parent that didn’t donate biological material will be into helping the one that did. In fact I think it’s likely a part of our biological hardware. Though it can be overcome I suspect it won’t be as much as people dream.

          • random832 says:

            Ghatanathoah’s point was economies of scale in housing costs (and housing-adjacent costs like utilities, cable/internet, etc). Even a meticulously divided ‘fair share’ is going to be less for a larger number of people living together as a single household.

            In principle this is entirely possible without polyamory, though it does probably provide a good Schelling point w.r.t. all of the adults involved being comfortable around each other.

        • MostlyCredibleHulk says:

          Given that “more people” would need more of a house, I’m not sure that actually comes out ahead. Then there’s a question of choice – not every community would accept such a family, and raising kids in a community that hates your guts is not a great idea. Tolerance of the community may be positively correlated with house prices, at least in the middle segment (if you’re a billionaire, you probably can buy a property where you can’t even see the nearest neighbor from your window). So again, it’s not at all obvious even in this one point.

    • GregQ says:

      How many “three parent households” are you familiar with? How many last through 20+ years of child rearing?

      Personally, I’m more familiar with the pathologies associated with re-married fathers, and observing how often their new wives cause the men to short children from previous wives.

      Is there really some reason to believe that in a 1 man – 2 woman relationship, the mothers will treat the other woman’s child as well as their own?

      Is there some reason to believe that in a 2 man – 1 woman relationship
      1: You’ll get twice as man children as in a 1 man 1 woman relationship?
      2: The men will treat the other man’s child as well as their own?

      In either case, should we expect the half siblings to treat each other as well as their whole siblings? Why?

      Do none of you people believe in genetics? Inheritance? Darwinian evolution?

      • Ghatanathoah says:

        In either case, should we expect the half siblings to treat each other as well as their whole siblings? Why?

        Yes. Adopted siblings treat each other well more often than not, and they aren’t related at all.

        Do none of you people believe in genetics? Inheritance? Darwinian evolution?

        Evolution is not sophisticated enough to program people to care about genetics. It just programmed people to care about people that they grew up with, because in the ancestral environment you were almost always related to those people.

        • reasoned argumentation says:

          Look up numbers on how often step parents abuse step children physically and sexually compared to biological parents.

          Cultural transmission of the idea of wicked step-mothers and wicked step-fathers happens because these are very dangerous situations for children.

          Evolution sure as hell is sophisticated enough to get unrelated adults to treat unrelated children as unrelated.

          • John Schilling says:

            Now look at the split between stepparents who raised their stepchildren from infancy or nearly so, and those who stepped in at a later age.

            Ghatanathoah is mostly correct. Humans have a very limited ability to determine who is or is not genetically related to one another, so evolution cannot program us to treat people differently based on genetics. Evolution instead programs us to treat people differently based on how much time we have spent with them at various stages.

          • Wency says:

            I suspect John Schilling is directionally right, though a large part of the effect is probably selection bias: the kind of man who will stick around and help raise a girl from infancy to the age she’d be of sexual interest to him can probably be trusted more around all young children than the average man who shows up in a single mother’s life. But first you need to get past the hurdle of him, say, shaking the baby to death, a category in which mother’s boyfriends/stepfathers appear to be over-represented.

            Evolution is sophisticated enough for tomcats to figure things out, apparently relying on their sense of smell. Humans don’t smell so well, but we’re reasonably good at cognition. I’d think that there would be immense evolutionary value in applying this ability to correctly identifying our own children and investing resources accordingly, though of course evolution hasn’t had the time to work on this problem for as long as with tomcats, so our instincts are more easily fooled.

          • John Schilling says:

            But first you need to get past the hurdle of him, say, shaking the baby to death, a category in which mother’s boyfriends/stepfathers appear to be over-represented.

            Yeah, the general rule seems to be that spending a few years living with someone in infancy/toddlerhood puts them firmly into the “family” category, which includes rules like never allowing this person to get hurt, never ever hurting this person, and never ever ever thinking about having sex with this person.

            But as you note, humans are likely motivated to use cognition as well to sort out such matters, and spending a few months living with an infant or toddler who you intellectually know isn’t family may introduce cognitive dissonance. Which will resolve either by adopting them as family, or by bashing their head in after X hours of incessant crying that you are expected to stop, but in either case before incest becomes a major issue.

        • SchwarzeKatze says:

          @Wency

          Just remembered something I read earlier this week:

          It’s a myth that humans’ sense of smell is inferior to that of other animals – here’s why
          https://phys.org/news/2017-05-myth-humans-inferior-animals.html

          • Wency says:

            That’s interesting. I have trouble watching dogs smell things and not believing they’re receiving more raw sensory data than I am. If dogs created art, it would surely be smell-based.

            I take this to be similar to how it’s sometimes argued that humans are inherently better built for long-distance running than horses, yet in reality, horses win the man vs. horse marathon nearly all the time, despite having to bear a rider.

          • Spookykou says:

            My understanding of Mans advantage in running is that we are endurance hunters, or capable of endurance hunting, something I believe only wolves also engage in. Which is basically that we can jog behind an animal (and importantly unique to humans, carry water) until the animal eventually collapses from exhaustion/heat. This hunting method is still practiced today by some African tribes. I am not sure how well this translates to a marathon.

          • Nornagest says:

            The phrase is “persistence hunting“. It’s not just us and wolves, but only a bare handful of other predators do it, and most of them are canines. Works best against prey that’s adapted for short bursts of speed, like deer and antelopes.

            Besides endurance, it also takes tracking skills, which big brains are helpful for.

        • GregQ says:

          Yes. Adopted siblings treat each other well more often than not, and they aren’t related at all.

          How does how they treat each other compare to how biological siblings treat each other?

          I’ve read a fair number of stories set in cultures with polygamy. And “Mother fights to get her children treated better than other Mothers’ children” is a fairly common plot line.

          So while men may be petty good at “spend early time == my child”, I don’t think there’s any real proof that the same is true for women.

          Do you have any such proof?

          • John Schilling says:

            I’ve read a fair number of stories set in cultures with polygamy. And “Mother fights to get her children treated better than other Mothers’ children” is a fairly common plot line.

            How often do these stories have the children of various mothers being communally raised? If these are the Arab/Ottoman courtly intrigue stories, I believe high-level Islamic polygamy has usually involved the various wives maintaining separate living quarters and possibly households (even if within a single palace).

          • Jaskologist says:

            You don’t even need polygamy. Take just about any European fairy tale. How does the step-mother come off?

          • Nornagest says:

            A lot of those stories have older variants where the villain was the biological mother (e.g. Hansel and Gretel). Not sure they’re all bowdlerized, though.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            You don’t even need polygamy. Take just about any European fairy tale. How does the step-mother come off?

            Or indeed just look at the real world, where step-parents are significantly more likely to abuse their children than biological parents are.

  9. gbdub says:

    Not polyamorous or particularly close to anyone who is, so I could be totally missing the point here, and I ask these questions in good faith out of curiosity.

    But how does a polyamorous person typically define their “partners”? Only people they actually have sex or other romantic engagement with, or everyone in their group? Would a heterosexual man in a triad with another man and a woman say he had one partner or two? What about the woman?

    What percentage of polyamorous people are gay, bisexual, or asexual? Probably much higher than the general population? If so that might also skew things.

    Do people in “open relationships” with a primary partner describe themselves as polyamorous on the survey? How do the partner numbers of those people map out?

    While the gender-swapped version of a harem of concubines might be rare, what about the other “failure” mode a Heartister might worry about: a “beta” male notionally in a polyamorous relationship with a woman who isn’t very sexually available to him, but relies on him for support while getting most of her sex from somebody else.

    There are some people that identify themselves as “involuntarily celibate” – are there people who are involuntarily poly? That is they’d prefer a monogamous relationship, but being part of a poly group is the best they can get? (uncharitably, basically cuckolds in the literal sense, but putting a fig leaf of “poly” or “open relationship” on it)

    Obviously that’s not the ideal or healthiest poly arrangement and may not be typical – but can it be said that never happens?

    • blacktrance says:

      But how does a polyamorous person typically define their “partners”? Only people they actually have sex or other romantic engagement with, or everyone in their group? Would a heterosexual man in a triad with another man and a woman say he had one partner or two? What about the woman?

      Typically, a partner is someone with whom you’re in a romantic relationship, but unfortunately there’s no consensus about the threshold for how much involvement counts as that. But only the people you’re personally involved with count as your partners – the heterosexual man in your scenario would have one partner, and the woman would have two (and technically it would be described as a V, not a triad, because not everyone is in a relationship with each other).

      While it’s not impossible that some polyamorous person is in one of your last two scenarios, I personally don’t know of any instances of that, though I do know of a case in which someone who preferred more hierarchical poly didn’t have that option.

      • xXxanonxXx says:

        While it’s not impossible that some polyamorous person is in one of your last two scenarios, I personally don’t know of any instances of that…

        This strikes me as one of those things that sort of obviously exists but will be notoriously difficult to detect. I recall a few years back a blogger (a sort of third string New Atheist) announced one day that he was polyamorous and his marriage was ending. He’d opened up to her about his needs and she decided to have a go at the poly thing only to discover after some time that she couldn’t make it work.

        Clearly she didn’t have a really choice in that situation, but her husband said she did. I don’t think she’d have contradicted him even if you asked her outright.

    • dndnrsn says:

      @gbdub

      While the gender-swapped version of a harem of concubines might be rare, what about the other “failure” mode a Heartister might worry about: a “beta” male notionally in a polyamorous relationship with a woman who isn’t very sexually available to him, but relies on him for support while getting most of her sex from somebody else.

      There are some people that identify themselves as “involuntarily celibate” – are there people who are involuntarily poly? That is they’d prefer a monogamous relationship, but being part of a poly group is the best they can get? (uncharitably, basically cuckolds in the literal sense, but putting a fig leaf of “poly” or “open relationship” on it)

      So, there was an NYT Magazine article about open marriages. One criticism (I don’t have the link; it was in Huffpo; it was by a woman in a couple profiled extremely briefly but not brought up) is that the couples in this article seem largely to be couples where sexual incompatibility was threatening to destroy the relationship, and opening the relationship – so maybe not the best image. (On the other hand, the article seemed positive – there have been various articles that seem to be kinda-sorta pushing open relationships in various upper-middlebrow publications like NYT Magazine, New York magazine, etc.

      Three bits jumped out at me that seem to fit what you’re saying, to some degree. (I’m aware there are differences of definition; let’s say there are people who are perhaps not-entirely-voluntarily in open marriages, at the vary least, whether you count that as poly or not).

      [couple where the man’s sex drive etc had been greater than the woman’s; woman is diagnosed with Parkinson’s; meets man at Parkinson’s-related event]

      Elizabeth did not announce that the friendship was turning romantic, but she did not deny it either, when Daniel, uneasy with the frequency of her visits with Joseph, confronted her. That she intended to keep seeing Joseph despite Daniel’s obvious distress shamed him: He was suddenly an outsider in his own marriage, scrambling for scraps of information and a sense of control. This was not at all what Daniel had in mind when he proposed opening the marriage. They had not agreed on anything ahead of time; they had not, as a couple, talked about their commitment to each other, about how they would manage and tend to each other’s feelings.

      “It wasn’t like we had a conversation about it,” Daniel said the first time I met him, in April 2016, when they were just starting to put that painful period of their relationship behind them. “It was more like: This is what I’m doing — deal with it.” We were at a restaurant near Elizabeth and Daniel’s suburban home in New England, a place where I met them several times over the course of a year, sometimes together and sometimes apart. Usually they sat close to each other, Daniel in a dress shirt he’d worn to the office, Elizabeth dressed like someone on vacation — a beaded bracelet, a sleeveless tank. Elizabeth has a Zen way about her, and as Daniel’s food grew cold while he relayed his past grievance, she looked untroubled. “It caused a lot of pain, so I’m still not even sure why I fought for it the way I did,” she finally said. “I really just felt like it was right, like it was important to my growth. It was like I was choosing to take a stand for my own pleasure and sticking to it. It was so strong, that feeling.”

      Elizabeth’s intransigence, and Daniel’s pain, had brought them back into couples therapy. After several months of surveying the situation, which seemed to be deadlocked, the therapist told them in early March 2016 that she thought they were most likely heading for divorce. It was the first time the word had been uttered aloud in that room.

      “It was like a fever broke,” Daniel said about Elizabeth’s reaction. She told him, that night, that she was ready to give up the relationship with Joseph if Daniel could not make peace with it. “She was suddenly able to talk about it calmly, and kindly,” Daniel said. “Suddenly my needs mattered again.” As soon as he felt that she cared about his well-being, he was able to consider what she wanted. “When I had no say in the matter, I was miserable,” Daniel said. “When I could say no, suddenly it was — O.K. This opening of our marriage started to seem less like something that was being done to me, and more like something we were doing together.”

      So: she finds a man who she is attracted to, sexually, more than her husband, cheats on her husband, and basically presents the whole thing as a fait accompli. The idea that he might get some say in it, instead of just getting cheated on, leads him to agree to an open marriage.

      The kicker: the boyfriend’s wife didn’t know this was going on, and as of the publication of the article, still doesn’t. And you have to wonder whether the husband – with his wife chronically ill, and with the article making it sound like he’s the breadwinner (she’s described as picking up some work she could do from home prior to the Parkinson’s diagnosis, while he’s described as being tired after the workweek) – was worrying he would get wrecked in a divorce, and just went with the path of least resistance. It certainly wasn’t a fair way for it to occur – it’s pretty obvious he got less of a say than she did.

      A suburban married man on OkCupid told me he had yet to date anyone, in contrast to his wife, whom he called “an intimacy vampire.”

      This one is kind of open and shut. It’s an ostensibly open relationship, he’s not dating anyone, she is, a lot. This couple isn’t profiled in the article, so we don’t know anything more, but it just comes off as a poor deal for the guy.

      At Poly Cocktails, the wife who was watching her Brooklyn husband flirt said that although they had opened their marriage a few months earlier, she was the only one of the two of them who was seeing anyone: a wealthy entrepreneur, and a soccer player. “It’s an element of fantasy,” she said. “It’s play. And if it ever stopped being that, I would get out.” She was also a business owner, and had found, from the entrepreneur, a form of emotional support that her husband could not provide.

      Her husband told me he had little interest in putting in the work necessary for even casual flings. “If I could meet someone for sex once a week with no emotional obligation, like a regular tennis game, I would do it,” he said. “But I already wooed someone, my wife,” he said. “I don’t want to have to do that again.”

      “I don’t want to have to do that again” is the sentiment I have seen in (monogamous) people in bad relationships where they worry that, as bad as it might be, it would be too hard to find someone new. She gets to date a rich guy and a soccer player, while still having the comfort of her main relationship. He gets not having “to do that again”. This, again, seems like a pretty uneven arrangement.

      If partner A starts cheating, and when caught says “let’s have an open relationship”, or if partner A says “let’s have an open relationship” without the cheating (morally superior, of course), if partner B says yes because they don’t want to blow the relationship up…

      • Ralf says:

        @dndnrsn
        > And you have to wonder whether the husband – with his wife chronically ill, and with the article making it sound like he’s the breadwinner – was worrying he would get wrecked in a divorce

        How do you mean? I don’t want to overanalyse a short description, but for me it read the other way around. The text describes how she immediately turned around 180 degrees as soon as “divorce” was made an option. Because then it wasn’t sex and attraction anymore, but about losing the wealth, home and security (and spousal health care coverage?) her breadwinning husband provides for her.

        And quote: “while he relayed his past grievance, she looked untroubled” Not exactly a reaction I would expect from a caring spouse.

      • Brad says:

        So: she finds a man who she is attracted to, sexually, more than her husband, cheats on her husband, and basically presents the whole thing as a fait accompli. The idea that he might get some say in it, instead of just getting cheated on, leads him to agree to an open marriage.

        You left out the part where earlier in the marriage he suggested opening it up and she said no. It makes him somewhat less sympathetic.

        • dndnrsn says:

          This is true. For reference:

          But as with any happy marriage, there were frustrations. Daniel liked sex, and not long after they were married, it became clear that Elizabeth’s interest in it had cooled. She thought hers was the normal response: She was raised by strict Catholics, she would tell Daniel, as if that explained it, and she never saw her own parents hold hands, much less kiss. It was not as if she and Daniel never had sex, but when they did, Daniel often felt lonely in his desire for something more — not necessarily exotic sex but sex in which both partners cared about it, and cared about each other, with one of those interests fueling the other.

          Elizabeth, baffled by Daniel’s disappointment, wondered: How great does sex have to be for a person to be happy? Daniel wondered: Don’t I have the right to care this much about sex, about intimacy? Occasionally, when he decided the answer was yes, and he felt some vital part of himself dwindling, Daniel would think about a radical possibility: opening up their marriage to other relationships. He would poke around on the internet and read about other couples’ arrangements. It was both an outlandish idea and, to him, a totally rational one. He eventually even wrote about it in 2009 for a friend who had a blog about sexuality. “As our culture becomes more accepting of choices outside the norm, nonmonogamy will expand as an acceptable choice, and the world will have to change as a result,” he predicted.

          He was in his late 30s when he decided to broach the subject with Elizabeth gingerly: Do you ever miss that energy you feel when you’re in love with someone for the first time? They had two children, and he pointed out that having the second did not detract from how much they loved the first one. “Love is additive,” he told her. “It is not finite.” He was not surprised when Elizabeth rejected the idea; he had mostly raised it as a way of communicating the urgency of his needs. Elizabeth did not resent him for bringing it up, but felt stuck: She was not even sure what, exactly, he wanted from her, or how she could give it.

          Neither of them comes off as hugely sympathetic, although in my view the wife dramatically less so – she’s the one who cheated, after all. Her response to him proposing opening the marriage – on the grounds that he was more interested in sex than she was; more attracted to her than she to him – was, no. Then, when she finds a guy she is actually attracted to, she cheats (what happened to her Catholic upringing?). When she gets caught, what her husband suggested and she shot down some time before becomes the new state of affairs.

          • Brad says:

            I agree she comes off as worse off, but I also agree neither comes off well. I read between the lines of “poke around on the internet” and writing a blog article on the subject that it was not a suggestion that he brought up one time and then let drop.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      But how does a polyamorous person typically define their “partners”? Only people they actually have sex or other romantic engagement with, or everyone in their group? Would a heterosexual man in a triad with another man and a woman say he had one partner or two? What about the woman?

      In the poly communities I’ve been in, there isn’t really a “group”– it’s more like Alice is dating Bob and Charlie, Bob is dating Daniel and Eve, Charlie is dating Frank and Greg, Daniel is dating… and so on and so forth.

      While the gender-swapped version of a harem of concubines might be rare, what about the other “failure” mode a Heartister might worry about: a “beta” male notionally in a polyamorous relationship with a woman who isn’t very sexually available to him, but relies on him for support while getting most of her sex from somebody else.

      I have not observed this dynamic happening (except insofar as some people have primary relationships and don’t like sex very much). In general, amount of sex is highly correlated with amount of commitment, for pure reasons of convenience– it’s much easier to fuck someone if they live in the same house.

      There are some people that identify themselves as “involuntarily celibate” – are there people who are involuntarily poly? That is they’d prefer a monogamous relationship, but being part of a poly group is the best they can get?

      While I have observed this happening, I strongly suspect involuntarily monogamous people are far more common.

    • Alexandre Zani says:

      But how does a polyamorous person typically define their “partners”? Only people they actually have sex or other romantic engagement with, or everyone in their group? Would a heterosexual man in a triad with another man and a woman say he had one partner or two? What about the woman?

      Generally speaking, your partners are those you have a direct relationship with. Your partner’s partners are your “metamours”. In a triad, every partner has a direct relationship with the other two members of the triad. So both the man and the woman would have 2 partners. (Considering only the triad) The transitive set of relationships (you partners + you partners’ partners + their partners and so on) is often referred to as “your polycule”.

      While the gender-swapped version of a harem of concubines might be rare, what about the other “failure” mode a Heartister might worry about: a “beta” male notionally in a polyamorous relationship with a woman who isn’t very sexually available to him, but relies on him for support while getting most of her sex from somebody else.

      IME, that certainly happens, but it not particularly common. After all the “beta” male is able to seek out more partners until his own sexual needs are satisfied.

      There are some people that identify themselves as “involuntarily celibate” – are there people who are involuntarily poly? That is they’d prefer a monogamous relationship, but being part of a poly group is the best they can get?

      Undoubtedly. I have met some people who are “poly” because the person they want to be with is but are deeply unhappy with the situation. It’s a pretty unhealthy situation and probably an unstable one. But the idea that “this is the best they can get” seems weird to me. What are they getting out of that situation? Romantic fulfillment? Clearly not. Sexual fulfillment? You mean they are so unappealing as a partner that they can’t find a single monogamous person who will have sex with them, but they will find poly persons (who already have other partners) who will have sex with them? That seems highly unlikely to me.

      IME, the situation above arises because Alice really wants to be with Bob for some reason. Bob is poly and refuses to become monogamous with Alice. And while Alice could find other partners, Alice is fixated on Bob and will stick with him no matter how bad an idea this is. (You could replace “poly” with any other incompatibility) Usually, eventually Bob gets tired of Alice’s dishonesty (I mean, Alice needs to keep pretending to be at least somewhat OK with the situation) or Alice realizes she really needs to date someone she’s compatible with instead of Bob. Either way, they break up and everyone is happier.

      • Anonymoid says:

        I think you’re overstating the ease, or at any rate glossing over the difficulty, with which ‘the “beta” male is able to seek out more partners until his own sexual needs are satisfied’.

        Someone in this role is going to have a much easier time finding a relationship if they are in a position to become a monogamous partner. The great majority of women are not looking for NSA sex or for that matter a role as someone’s secondary partner, and those that are will probably be able to find someone who is relatively more attractive.

        Full disclosure, my situation is pretty much exactly what is described. I am in an open relationship. Have a wife and children. Opened the marriage maybe ten years ago. Would end it except that this would cause great suffering for the children and a financial catastrophe (not so much for me but for my wife). Unsurprisingly it is relatively easy for my wife to find prospects for sex, and relatively difficult for me. While I could no doubt close the marriage again by threatening to leave, it would gain me nothing. Overall I can’t recommend the practice to any man whose main selling points are his reliability as a mate, provider and father. And I would expect that most similar relationships would eventually disintegrate, with the attendant downsides if children are involved.

        • Alexandre Zani says:

          @Anonymold

          I guess I’m confused. Are you unhappy about your marriage because your wife isn’t fulfilling your sexual needs? I would say this is no different a problem than, say, if your wife just didn’t want to have sex enough for you to feel satisfied. That’s the sort of thing you should talk with her and a therapist about to figure out a solution.

          And honestly, as the child of divorced parents, I wish my parents had divorced a decade earlier and spared me and each other their years of growing mutual hatred. Divorce is hard on children, but so are unhappy marriages.

          • Tarpitz says:

            Seconded (based on similar personal experience) on the divorce front. I don’t believe staying together for the children is actually good for the children.

          • Anonymoid says:

            I appreciate your advice, but I am actually not unhappy and my marriage is not characterized by growing mutual hatred. In the absence of children I would end it not because it’s intolerable, or even particularly bad, but only because it would at that point be relatively pointless and would simply be a hindrance to finding a new partner (also my wife would be in a better position to support herself).
            What I do claim is simply that the situation is not at all symmetrical, that *most* men would probably find my situation considerably less tolerable than I do, and so I would strongly suggest to them to reconsider if they’re on a similar path.

        • Svejk says:

          Overall I can’t recommend the practice to any man whose main selling points are his reliability as a mate, provider and father. And I would expect that most similar relationships would eventually disintegrate, with the attendant downsides if children are involved.

          This quote echoes a common sentiment I’ve encountered in discussions of polyamory.

          Reflecting on this comment thread as a whole is moving me to a more negative position on polyamory. The people poorly served by the practice seem to be 1.) those whose reproductive prospects and social position are most precarious and 2.) those responsible for producing the positive societal externalities I value most. I worry that the network effects inherent in the polyamorous model would compel these groups to participate in a system that poorly serves their reproductive and emotional needs and disadvantages them in the mating market. I am apprehensive about the spread of a practice that would complicate the lives of high-parental-investment men and women who are reasonably satisfied with one lifetime partner.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      dndnrsn: I know a lot of poly people who only have one relationship. Most of the time, this is by choice: they only have emotional energy or time for one relationship, they’re picky about romantic partners, or they’re hella introverted. I think it is a mistake to assume from “one person has lots of partners, one person doesn’t” that the latter person is being taken advantage of.

      • Matt M says:

        How can you possibly describe “someone who intentionally chooses to only have one relationship” as poly? What am I missing here, exactly?

        • tcheasdfjkl says:

          Another possibility is that they only have one relationship but they occasionally go on dates/hook up with people/don’t have constraints on what they might do romantically or sexually with someone else if they happen to want to.

        • leoboiko says:

          Me (male) and my partner (female) both fit this definition. We have chose to date only each other at the moment, for matters of convenience and logistics—we’re just too busy at the moment to sustain more relationships. But we both have had more partners (casual and long-term) in the past, and we’re open to the possibility of any of us starting more relationships if conditions are favorable, or if we fall hopelessly in love etc. Even if we only date each other in practice, our status as “poly” still matter a lot of us, and it has many practical consequences; for example, we feel at ease about talking to each other about desiring other people sexually, or being infatuated by someone at work, etc.

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        Their partner has more than one relationship.

        • Matt M says:

          So what makes them a poly and not a cuck?

          That they (claim to) don’t mind that their partner has another relationship?

          I pretended to do that once too when my girlfriend said “I’m going to date someone else too and if you don’t like it you can get lost.” Do I count as poly?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            So what makes them a poly and not a cuck?

            Nothing, nothing at all.
            The only way they wouldn’t be a cuckold/cuckquean is if the relationship was legally recognized, in which case they’d be monogamous with their polygynous/polyandrous spouse.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            I’m not sure what you mean by the word “cuck”.

            If your partner is dating more than one person with your consent, then you’re poly, yes. But it seems like you don’t want to be poly, in which case I would strongly advise you to have a monogamous relationship instead.

          • Matt M says:

            Does it count as my “consent” even if I dislike the situation, but prefer it to being dumped?

            Obviously in that case I wanted a monogamous relationship – but that option was not given to me. I was told “you can be my guy on the side or you can be nothing at all.”

            I guess I’m technically “consenting” to the situation, but I think it would be a HUGE stretch to say that I, myself, was poly.

            And I think that’s the root of a lot of the criticism here. The assumption that a whole lot of low-status men AND women will end up in poly situations that they don’t actually want all so the higher-status member of the relationship can enjoy themselves marginally more.

          • Tedd says:

            @Matt M:

            Clearly that’s not a great situation.

            But I am confused. Did you prefer to be in the relationship on those terms, or not? To be clear, it sounds like there was never a “you get to be monogamous with this person” option; it was “you get to be in a poly relationship, or you do not get to be in a relationship at all”, yes?

            If you did, I’m not sure how you think “no poly anywhere” would be better – that’s precisely “you do not get to be in this relationship which you prefer to be in”.

            If you didn’t, in what way is that problem with poly? Is your objection merely “more people will end up in relationships that they don’t want, because people are bad at not having relationships they don’t want and poly increases incidence of relationships in general”?

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Matt: My advice is that naturally monogamous people in polyamorous relationships never ends well. You’re going to be jealous and unhappy; you and your girlfriend will fight all the time; you or she will eventually get tired of the conflict and break up (hopefully before you drag children into this mess). It is much better to pull off the Band-Aid now than suffer through a couple years of misery that ends in exactly the thing you want to avoid. You found a girlfriend once, which implies that you’ll be able to do it again; there are many more monogamous fish in the sea than there are poly fish.

            If you choose to make a stupid-ass decision then, okay, I guess you’re poly by relationship style but not by inclination. It is still a stupid-ass decision.

            Nevertheless, in my experience, relationships where one person has way more partners than the other person are almost never instances of a naturally monogamous person making a stupid-ass decision (because that decision is clearly idiotic so most people are smart enough to avoid it).

          • Matt M says:

            because that decision is clearly idiotic so most people are smart enough to avoid it

            Right, and this is where I think that elite silicon valley high IQ snobs fall dangerously off course.

            It’s like dismissing spousal abuse as a problem because clearly violent men are easy to identify and only stupid women would get involved with one. And once he actually hits you, you know for sure, so you’d have to be a REAL idiot to not immediately leave, right?

            People make “idiotic” decisions when it comes to relationships all the time. Like yeah, OBVIOUSLY you’re going to be miserable if you want a monogamous relationship and your partner insists on seeing other people too. But maybe you put up with it anyway because you think you’re in love with them, maybe you think they’ll change, maybe you think it won’t be that bad, maybe you’re just terrified of dying alone. But I’m unconvinced that having someone come along and say “you can avoid this by not making stupid decisions” solves any of your problems much at all.

          • Jaskologist says:

            Of all the conceptual gaps here, I find the idea that anybody is “naturally monogamous” to be the hardest to swallow.

          • blacktrance says:

            Matt M:
            Do you really find it implausible that someone might be happy with an arrangement in which they have one partner, who has multiple partners?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Ozy: How do you justify your belief that a particular human is naturally monogamous, polyamorous, polygynous or polyandrous?

          • Tarpitz says:

            Jaskologist, in what sense do you find the idea of someone being naturally monogamous hard to swallow? Is it that you don’t think anyone sincerely prefers monogamy to polygamy, or that you think any such preference must be in some sense culturally derived and hence not “natural”? If the latter, you may be right; if the former, I assure you that I for one would strongly prefer to have exactly one partner.

          • Alexandre Zani says:

            @Matt M:

            People make “idiotic” decisions when it comes to relationships all the time. Like yeah, OBVIOUSLY you’re going to be miserable if you want a monogamous relationship and your partner insists on seeing other people too. But maybe you put up with it anyway because you think you’re in love with them, maybe you think they’ll change, maybe you think it won’t be that bad, maybe you’re just terrified of dying alone. But I’m unconvinced that having someone come along and say “you can avoid this by not making stupid decisions” solves any of your problems much at all.

            If you look for resources on broaching the subject of poly to your existing partner, you will inevitably come across something along the lines of “Your partner might decide they don’t want to have a relationship with you on those terms and they are entitled to that and if they can’t be happy in a poly relationship, then them making that decision is a good thing.” Similarly, if you look for resources for people whose partners have brought up poly, they will say something along the lines of “If this is a deal breaker, then that’s ok and you should do what’s right for you.”

            In other words, if you spend any time researching the topic you will come across very specific advice on how to avoid making a stupid decision. And sure, breaking up with somebody you love sucks either way. But this is really no different than any other way your partner might identify a boundary as a deal breaker for them.

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            @Alexandre Zani
            I believe Matt M’s point was not that the poly person is making a stupid decision, but that the other (preferring monogamy) is making a “stupid” by being stuck in a relationship that makes them unhappy but where they see no easy way out.

            See the examples further above mentioned by dndnrsn, where one partner decided to be polyamorous while the other person just went along. Now people who happily (!) practice polyamory obviously have a different view on this, but in general, jealousy seems to be a strong motivating force for many human beings (it is at least portrayed as this in popular fiction; it also seems to be a non-negligible motivator for homicide). Someone who is attractive with a large social circle might wonder why anyone would choose to stay in a relationship that makes them unhappy – don’t these people who stay in a half-poly relationship show by revealed preferences that they are okay with this?

            Consider someone deciding that he will, from now on, sometimes communicate with his wife using physical force. She is free to hit back, of course. This is not domestic abuse if she doesn’t leave, right? — see how she even covers up her bruises with make-up and tells everybody she is fine! And while a large proportion of onlookers would assume that she is a “victim”, they are only committing the typical mind fallacy: they certainly wouldn’t want to be in a relationship where they get assaulted regularly, but how can they draw a conclusion about her?

          • SchwarzeKatze says:

            Of course there are “naturally” (I don’t like this roman theological word, genetically-inclined is a better word) monogamous humans. We’re those “dysfunctional” people called “co-dependent” in the same books that used to call homosexuals and transgender people crazy too. Nevermind co-dependance describes pretty much exactly the mechanism by which genetically monogamous species such as owl monkeys are possible and that this biological mechanism has been shown to exist (more or less) in humans too. I.e distress when separated from pair bond mate. We’re found in higher numbers in egalitarian forager (hunter gatherer) overall less sexually dimorphic populations such as the south african Hadza, or to a lesser extent northern europeans.

            Ozy is right, the rational thing to do is to not involve yourself with someone who isn’t as monogamously-inclined as you are. But that’s easier said than done, particularly if your dating pool is pretty shallow because you’re not sexually dimorphic enough by current western standards of desirability.

          • @The Element of Surprise: That seems like a potentially poor analogy given fear of getting stalked, harrassed or beaten to death is typically not a factor in the polyamory scenario (unless it is also abusive, in which case the problem is the abuse – not inherently the polyamory, though it’s certainly a persuasive weapon to the so inclined).

            Monogamy does not at all guard against jealousy. It’s not at all unheard of that some people are ‘married to their work’ despite being in a relationship – that’s stressful for their partner in a monogamous relationship as well, for nearly all of the same reasons as someone being given poor treatment in a polyamourous arrangement would. The partner desires attention and love and isn’t getting as much as they need to be psychologically healthy, or as much as they would deserve given they pitch in.

            Going “aha, but polyamoury is bad!” doesn’t address the problem that some people get ignored despite pulling their weight in a relationship. But just as a functioning monogamous relationship doesn’t cause this imbalance, a functioning polyamourous relationship doesn’t, either. It’s about communication – about listening to what your partners want and need. This goes both ways and often involves compromises.

            where one partner decided to be polyamorous while the other person just went along

            Just to pitch in on this in particular: I am a woman in a relationship where I have a primary who would rather be in a monogamous relationship with me. He will not fuck me, though, and I’ve told him this is intolerable for me in the long run (it contributes to depression), but I desperately don’t want to leave because I love him (the thought is emotionally terrifying), and he desperately doesn’t want me to leave because he loves me.

            He understands my problem and is allowing me to be polyamourous is his part of our compromise. My part of the compromise is a massive financial commitment, in the form that I take a sabbatical every time I want to spend vacation time with my other relationships, so that my actual paid vacation time is dedicated to my primary (at the moment this means I have no savings – working on it). My inofficial part of the compromise is also that I do most of the household and give him all the attention he wants (which actually isn’t a lot – I’ve told him a few times he treats me like I’m a (beloved) piece of decoration in our living room). Recently he’s started to give me some financial support of his own accord (mostly in the form that he pays for certain groceries by himself – he’s always had a higher food consumption and we split all our bills 50/50 unless it’s personal entertainment items) because he’s coming to understand that our arrangement costs me about three grand a year.

            Is he not as happy as he maximally could be? Sure. He’s made concessions. Is he happy with the arrangement in absolute terms? Definitely. If you’re going to tell me he’s actually getting shafted, given I subsidise his life I’m honestly going to be heavily sceptical. However, if you just asked him, he’d say “well, I suppose my girlfriend is polyamourous and I’d rather she was monogamous”, because the other things aren’t at the forefront of his mind, and you’d be none the wiser about how much commitment this means from me.

          • Matt M says:

            Do you really find it implausible that someone might be happy with an arrangement in which they have one partner, who has multiple partners?

            I find it INCREDIBLY unlikely (although not completely impossible) that someone who prefers monogamy for themselves would prefer their partner to have multiple partners. I can see some people who would be “willing to put up with it” (as I was, for a short deal), but that’s a different story.

            And this is the whole point of both National Review AND Heartsie. We shouldn’t focus on genders here, we should focus on status. Poly won’t be a tool for women to oppress men or men to oppress women, it will be a tool for the high status to oppress the low status.

            And I ESPECIALLY object to Ozy’s decision to describe “people who have only one partner but date people with multiple partners” as poly themselves. It’s a crude analogy, but I think it’s apt and I’ll continue to make it – just because someone dates someone who beats them up does not necessarily imply that the person taking the beating is super into BDSM. Nor do I think anyone would justify telling a battered spouse “well you just made stupid decisions, try to be less of an idiot in the future.” Yeah, you can put on your rational hat and tell me about revealed preferences all you want. But the person dating a poly/abusive partner is not necessarily expressing a preference for poly/abusiveness itself. They are expressing a preference for “partner I like + poly/abuse” over “not having partner I like at all”

            Of course, the revealed preference route could lead us to suggest that spousal abuse is a net good for society, right? I mean, clearly the abuser enjoys it and derives a great deal of utility from it (given the reputational, not to mention real legal risk involved). And the fact that their partners don’t leave them shows they clearly enjoy it too, or at the very worst are neutral on it. So overall net utility is increased, right? So surely an enlightened society would embrace domestic violence and stop telling consenting adults how to live their lives, right?

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Matt: Spousal abuse is different because the first act of any remotely sensible abuser is making it so you can’t leave. The calculations of a spouse who is being beaten are often “well, if I stay he’ll hit me, but if I leave he might kill me.” As described, your girlfriend has not made it so you can’t leave, but if she has I strongly advise calling the domestic violence hotline. Emotional abuse is real abuse; a person who has unilaterally made your relationship poly and caused you to feel like you can’t leave it is abusing you, and I hope you find the help and support you need to leave.

            But most people who are poly and only in one relationship themselves really aren’t in the situation you describe. My husband is an example. My husband is very definitely poly; in fact, monogamy was one of his dealbreakers about finding a spouse. He doesn’t have a girlfriend, because it is terribly time-consuming and he’s quite introverted; he hooks up with girls maybe five or six times a year. But those five or six times a year are important to him and I don’t think he’d be able to be happy without them. I think it would be very much a mistake to call him monogamous (not the least because the average monogamous person would probably frown on their husband having six one-night-stands a year!).

            Le Maistre Chat: I suspect the most common category is “can be happy in either a monogamous or poly relationship.” But I’m definitely incapable of being happy in a monogamous relationship, and I have given advice to people who are like “I was really good at being monogamous, and then I became poly and now I’m miserable! What gives?” At which point I pointed out that polyamory is not actually for everyone, it is okay and possible to be happier as a monogamous person, and they broke up with their partners and became mono in short order.

          • temp3402 says:

            @Ozy Frantz:
            I’m seriously astonished that you can’t understand the following (common) situation.

            X and Y are in a monogamous relationship.
            Y wants to open the relationship/be polyamorous.
            X has monogamous preferences and feels like they have low mate value and would struggle to get on without Y.
            X reluctantly agrees to open the relationship/be polyamorous.

            Your argument is: X should leave the relationship (or refuse to open the relationship). Yeah, maybe they should, but it’s not always that easy. You’d have to be autistic not to recognise this.

            I say this as someone who was in the above situation but chose to not agree to open the relationship. She then cheated on me; I immediately broke up with her. Most people aren’t as decisive.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            My position is that people are, in general, too reluctant to break up relationships that are making them miserable. I understand that people have this issue; I have had this issue in the past as well. However, speaking with all the fervency of a new convert to a way of doing things, it is actually a very easily solvable problem. You should break up with people who are making you miserable. To the extent that people are not doing this, the problem is not polyamory; they could equally well be in a miserable relationship about their sex life, or their partners’ extroversion, or the dishes. And it surely would not make sense to socially forbid having a high libido, being an extrovert, or failing to own a dishwasher.

            In addition, this seems to be fake consensualism. Polyamory isn’t very common; even if you assume more people are naturally mono than naturally poly, pretty much all naturally poly people wind up in one if not several mono relationships before, with a sigh of relief, they discover this “dating other people” thing, while the vast majority of naturally mono people never wind up in a poly relationship. In fact, I suspect many naturally poly people never find polyamory, and instead become serially monogamous, repeat cheaters, or people who devote large amounts of willpower to miserably forcing themselves not to cheat. So to the extent you think this is a problem, the solution is destigmatizing polyamory! (This will probably also prevent the situation you’re talking about– naturally poly people won’t wind up in relationships with naturally mono people which they then want to open up.)

            You’d have to be autistic not to recognise this.

            …Yes, yes I am. Got a little piece of paper and everything.

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            @Ozy
            Say if someone is (physically? emotionally?) abusive but there is no threat of retribution to a breakup and the abuser is not making it unusually hard for the other person to leave — would you not call it “abuse”, or at least you wouldn’t have moral objections?

            I imagine there could be many reasons for someone to stay in a sub-par relationship, from financial and emotional dependency to fear of loneliness and loss of status, without the abuser having actually worked to (or even choosing to) create that dependency.

            ETA:

            You should break up with people who are making you miserable.

            This sounds similar to “if you don’t like your job, just quit it”, “if the water in Flint is poisoning your kids, just move away” etc., in that it is good advice if you can afford it; on some people the friction involved takes a much larger toll than on others.

          • John Schilling says:

            Spousal abuse is different because the first act of any remotely sensible abuser is making it so you can’t leave.

            Then the “remotely sensible abuser” is a thought experiment slightly better grounded in reality than the New Soviet Man. The first act of actual abusers is making it so that you think you can’t leave, in ways which usually don’t hold up to examination. You bring up death threats against the abused spouse, but aside from their dubious credibility there are all the abused spouses that can’t leave because of the abusers’ death threats against themselves. You “can’t” leave because your scumbag of an abusive husband says he’ll commit suicide?

            However, speaking with all the fervency of a new convert to a way of doing things, it is actually a very easily solvable problem. You should break up with people who are making you miserable.

            But only if they are polyamorous, not if they are abusive?

            The point Matt and 3402 are I think trying to make, and which I agree with, are that these are in practice much closer scenarios than you would like to admit. In both cases, an objective dispassionate observer can clearly recognize departure strategies that solve the problem. In both cases, the person actually suffering doesn’t have the detachment to recognize this and, between their investment in the relationship and their fear of the unknown, will predictably stay with the relationship even when you explain to them that they should leave.

            There are substantial differences between polyamory and violent abuse. But in both cases, people are suffering by the actions of their spouse or partner, and in neither case does “you could leave if you don’t like it, problem solved”, actually solve the problem.

          • random832 says:

            @John Schilling

            You “can’t” leave because your scumbag of an abusive husband says he’ll commit suicide?

            If you’re not in the best position to evaluate whether it’s a cynical threat or he is unstable enough to actually do it, and are horrified by the possibility of being “responsible” for someone’s death…

            Most people’s reactions are probably not going to be “the trash is taking itself out”

          • blacktrance says:

            Matt M:

            I find it INCREDIBLY unlikely (although not completely impossible) that someone who prefers monogamy for themselves would prefer their partner to have multiple partners… And I ESPECIALLY object to Ozy’s decision to describe “people who have only one partner but date people with multiple partners” as poly themselves.

            Monogamy isn’t just a preference to only have one partner, but for a relationship rule that forbids both partners from seeing anyone except for each other. It’s a bad idea to practice polyamory if you have the latter preference, but that’s not what I was asking about. (The word “arrangement” might’ve been ambiguous, so I’ll clarify.) Suppose Alice and Bob are a couple that has the rule that both partners are permitted to be in romantic relationships with other people. However, only Alice actually has multiple partners – Bob, for whatever reason, only has one. Do you find it implausible that Bob might be happy with this situation?

            People who have only one partner but date people with multiple partners are practicing polyamory – whether that’s sufficient for being poly is a semantic issue. There is a sense in which they’re not poly if that arrangement makes them unhappy. Nevertheless, poly isn’t about having multiple partners, but about not minding if your partner has relationships with other people. So you can be poly while only having one partner, or even while being single.

          • Wrong Species says:

            @Ozy

            It seems like you think there are these two distinct group of people, mono and poly, and that one can’t be in a happy relationship with the other in which case they should call it off. But I don’t think it’s like that. I can imagine a couple that’s mostly happy together but one partner would also like to have other options and asks the other one for permission. If it hadn’t been brought up they could have stayed together much longer but by asking the question, the relationship has been poisoned in a way that may never be healed. If the higher sexual value person gets to have multiple relationships, the other person will resent them and if they don’t, then it’s the other way around. Maybe polyamory can work if they are both at an equal status and don’t get jealous.

          • notpeerreviewed says:

            Sorry, that sounds like a deeply unpleasant situation. I think it’s fair to say you were “poly” but didn’t like it. If “cuck” is a term that simply describes how you *felt* about the situation, then you were both poly *and* a cuck.

            But, in answer to your original question, it could simply be that they are free to date additional people if they change their mind.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Wrong Species: I think there are three distinct groups of people. By far the largest group is “people who can be happy in both mono and poly relationships.” But that group doesn’t really present a problem (after a brief adjustment period, they can weather a shift in relationship style easily).

            It’s possible that you have a weak preference for monogamy and you’re happy to override it for the sake of your relationship, or that your partner has a weak preference for polyamory and she’s happy to override it for the sake of the relationship. But again, that’s not really a problem, because you can come to a happy resolution! If you think about it sensibly, if your partner really really really wants to be poly, and you only kinda want to be mono, then being poly is the best solution for everyone, because if you love someone you want them to be happy. And I think that discussing the issue openly and honestly, with “maybe we should amicably break up because our needs are simply incompatible” on the table as an option, is the best way to figure it out.

            (Well, the absolute best way is to sort this sort of thing out before you start dating people, but unfortunately that doesn’t always happen.)

            It seems to me if your relationship is fundamentally poisoned by asking a question, then it probably wasn’t that strong to begin with.

            Never getting jealous is not realistic. Everyone gets jealous sometimes. But if you don’t treat small twinges as a bigger deal than they actually are, and take serious jealousy as a sign of a problem that can be proactively dealt with, it doesn’t have to cause you any serious distress or harm your relationship. (Unless by “jealousy” you mean that thing monogamous people sometimes have where the relationship feels less special if there is more than one; unless that preference is extraordinarily weak I’d suggest breaking up.)

          • Alexandre Zani says:

            I find it INCREDIBLY unlikely (although not completely impossible) that someone who prefers monogamy for themselves would prefer their partner to have multiple partners. I can see some people who would be “willing to put up with it” (as I was, for a short deal), but that’s a different story.

            I spent a while with only my wife as a partner while she had multiple partners. That was an awesome part of my life. I had a lot of space and free time to explore my various interests and was very happy. I loved it so much, I very seriously considered switching to that state of affairs permanently. (You mean, I get to have a partner with whom to share love and build a life and a whole bunch of people pitch in to meet my partner’s needs and my partner keeps bringing awesome people home with whom I can become friends without having to vet them myself and I get a lot of time by myself to indulge my introversion? That’s amazing!) I eventually decided to seek out other relationships, but I know people who are completely satisfied having exactly one partner and love the space that the time away from their partner gives them. They’re also very happy that they don’t have to be solely responsible for meeting their partner’s needs.

            But more generally, relationships involve lots of compromise because you’re different people who choose to build something together, not soulmates meant to satisfy each other’s desires perfectly. Maybe you have incompatible projects in mind and if that’s the case, the relationship won’t work. Poly is no different than your partner deciding they want to live on a boat circumnavigating the globe while you’re terrified of water or deciding they want to become a farmer while you can’t stand being far from a city.

          • John Schilling says:

            If you’re not in the best position to evaluate whether it’s a cynical threat or he is unstable enough to actually do it, and are horrified by the possibility of being “responsible” for someone’s death…

            You’re sort of making my point here with the scare quotes. The difference between responsible and “responsible”, is the difference between making it so you can’t leave and making it so you think you can’t leave.

            If your abusive scumbag spouse threatens to kill himself if you leave, you can leave – and you won’t be responsible for anyone’s death. But unless you have a level of detachment rare among abuse victims, you may think you can’t leave on account of being “responsible” for his death.

            Similarly with the spouse of a selfish polyamorist, “responsible” for breaking up a healthy marriage and thinking they will die alone and unloved if they leave.

            Leaving is almost always physically possible and usually socially and economically practical, but it may be psychologically infeasible – and exploiting someone else’s psychological limitations is a Bad Thing whether you’re doing it so you can beat them up or just so you can sleep with their hot sister.

          • Wrong Species says:

            It seems to me if your relationship is fundamentally poisoned by asking a question, then it probably wasn’t that strong to begin with.

            I don’t think this is really true. Let’s say a guy who has been faithful to his wife is in a situation where he gets drunk and cheats on his wife with some girl. It’s very possible that he could have gone the rest of his life without doing that but because he did it this once, he has put his marriage in jeopardy. Asking for an open marriage is often a bad sign of where a relationship is headed. One person may interpret that request as permission to formalize the infidelity already going or about to go on regardless of the answer. On the other hand, maybe the person asking would simply drop it and never say anything again. But there is still going to be that general mistrust that wasn’t there before, which could come back to end things.

            A lot of people have this idea that a good marriage will withstand anything and a bad marriage will easily disintegrate but that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes a good marriage will take a turn for the worse over a short period of time and then ends but if they had gotten through it they would have stayed together. Having someone else have sex with your partner is just another potential complication.

          • mayleaf says:

            Differences in extraversion levels. It’s pretty common in monogamous relationships for one partner to be much more extraverted, and have several close friends outside of the relationship, while the other partner doesn’t because they’re much more introverted.

            In the past I was in a relationship where my primary partner (closest / most committed partner) needed a lot needed more alone time than me. I’m very extraverted and get lonely easily. So, while my primary got his alone time, I’d hang out with other partners. (If we were monogamous, I’d have spent that time with other friends.)

          • Φ says:

            So, I just discussed this comment with my primary (a.k.a. “Wife”) and we both objected to the implication that only extraverts get lonely, or even get lonely more easily than introverts. I think the truth is more complicated.

            For instance, I’m the introvert in the relationship. That means that I don’t crave much in the way of social stimulation. I’m quite happy eating lunch at my desk (in the context of a work environment where everyone else does the same). I run/swim/lift alone. I don’t spend evenings or weekends “with the guys”. I don’t really want to spend time with any other human being not in my immediate family. But . . . I suffer crushing lonliness coming home to an empty house, or an empty hotel room when I’m traveling by myself. I’m even lonely in nominal social situations I’m not with a family member. It’s not like they even have to be interacting with me; having them nearby is sufficient comfort.

            My extrovert wife is the exact opposite on all these metrics. She craves all sorts of external social stimulation, and gets it from her circle of friends. But she is happy as a clam when I take the kids on vacation without her. Part of this is that she’s a stay-at-home mom and this is the one week a year she gets to do whatever she wants. But the point is, she never gets lonely (at least in the space of a week).

            Maybe we’re both just weird examples of the types. But I’d like to hear more testimony before accepting any generalizations.

          • Anonymous says:

            I don’t know what it’s like in other areas, but I’ve seen a few physically abusive relationships where the only thing keeping the abused partner there was emotional/social/fear-of-abandonment reasons, not fear of physical retribution for leaving.

            One friend of my partner’s broke up with the guy who was hitting her/kicking her out of the car hours from their home without her wallet/etc, moved to another country and found a new job and partner, then after about a year *moved back in with the original guy*. So I think it’s fair to say people don’t always make rational relationship decisions, and I’m very reluctant to use any argument based on “revealed preferences”.

            That said, if someone says, effectively, “Being monogamous is a deal-breaker for me. Either accept that, or we have to break up. Either is fine.” then, to some extent that’s really on the partner if they choose to stay. It’s a shitty situation, but…

          • Jaskologist says:

            @Tarpitz,

            I am “naturally” inclined to sit on the couch watching tv and eating nothing but bonbons all day. But I’m also “naturally” inclined to want to live past 40, with money to spare. The heart wants many conflicting things.

            I have a natural preference to build a life together with my wife and carve out a section of the world for us and ours. But I also have a natural preference to bang every pretty little thing that smiles up at me (red hair or no). Again, the heart wants many conflicting things. A man chooses.

            I feel that terms like “naturally monogamous” or “naturally poly” are smuggling a particularly bizarre form of teleology. We have lots of “natural” impulses, and many of them are self-destructive. We still have to choose wisely.

      • dndnrsn says:

        @Ozy:

        I’m not assuming someone is being taken advantage of, but in the way it’s profiled in the NYT article, I can’t help but be suspicious – that one person is being taken advantage of, or is getting a lousy deal in a way that borders on getting taken advantage of. I have no doubt that there are poly relationships where one person dates a bunch, the other doesn’t or doesn’t much, and it works out. But that is probably something that was entered into with open eyes, full knowledge, and before there were entanglements (eg, children).

        “Oh, hey, I’ve been cheating on you” and it becomes an open relationship as an alternative to ending the marriage (and then there’s a divorce battle, and what happens to the kids, etc) is sketchy. “I want this to be an open relationship” and person B agrees to it (to avoid the divorce battle, what happens to the kids, etc) is sketchy, although less sketchy, because at least there’s no cheating.

        Person A says “before we start dating, you should know, monogamy is not going to be a thing” and so person B can say “well, I’m not interested in dating outside the relationship, but as long as this is done in as physically and emotionally safe a manner as possible, OK” or “hey, I’ll give it a try” or “no, not interested” before they’ve got a mortgage and two kids and the prospect of an ugly divorce? That’s a vastly better situation than the above.

        The NYT poses the question “is this a better way to do relationships?” and then gives a bunch of examples most of which cause me, at least, to lean towards “no”. The first couple pictured (of whom the wife wrote the HuffPo piece criticizing the NYT article, and who don’t actually get profiled) opened their relationship same year it started, and got married 5 years later. The gay couple did likewise, as did Joe Spurr and Zaeli Kane (I’m using their names because dang those are some cool names). The other couples pictured opened their relationships up after, sometimes a long time after, marriage, and while I’m not keeping track, it seems like all the ones written about but not pictured did that too. The former strikes me as a situation where one person is far less likely to get taken advantage of than the latter; prior to marriage, the smaller the gap between the relationship starting and opening, would seem to be less likely to feature someone getting taken advantage of.

        A lot of people have this idea that it will be too hard to find a new relationship, what if they can’t find someone else, etc, that leads them to stay in unhappy relationships. A relationship getting opened where one person wants it more and is getting a better deal, and the other person acquiesces rather than breaking up, would be an example of this. That’s not a knock on polyamory or open relationships in general, any more than the existence of unhappy relationships where one/both people don’t leave because they’re afraid of ending it is a knock on relationships in general, but I do think it makes relationships that are poly/open from the start look a lot better than ones where that happens down the road.

  10. Urstoff says:

    The obvious problem here seems to be sampling and self-selection: the statistics are those who self-identify within an already idiosyncratic group. I don’t think the arguments against are “current poly people shouldn’t be so” but “if this were the cultural norm in society as a whole, these would be the consequences”. Your data doesn’t really speak to that latter hypothesis.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Spot on. Scott cannot validly infer anything about human society from his survey.

      • Wrong Species says:

        And he’s arguing against basic evolutionary biology too. In almost every species, the male is less choosy than the female and the exceptions are when males perform more parental care. Monogamy is just a cultural restraint on our inherent biology. Letting it loose would be opening a Pandora’s Box that would be difficult to close.

        • SchwarzeKatze says:

          Humans vary biologically. Selective pressures of environments have shaped human populations differently. Perhaps most humans tend towards a mild form of polygyny (as compared to textbook tournament species such as chimps and baboons). But there are humans that tend toward bonobo-style egalitarian polygamy (I think that’s the case of some poly people and some south american tribes work like this too) and then there are humans that tend towards monogamy like the Hadza (they have high levels of paternal offspring care btw).

          • biblicalsausage says:

            I would be very, very surprised if there is one South American tribe that has widespread egalitarian polygamy — i.e. where a person with multiple mates is about equally likely to be male or female, and in which the culture generally looks positively or even neutrally as polygamous people of both cultures.

            To put it bluntly, my guess is that either (1) no one will be able to name one of these tribes, or (2) it’ll wind up being like Margaret Mead, who saw sexual egalitarianism in a South Pacific culture, when later anthropologists coming along to look at the same group see girls getting stoned to death for not being virgins on their wedding night.

    • Dog says:

      I agree, I Kant imagine this would work as a cultural norm.

    • spinystellate says:

      This was my reading as well.

    • ThirteenthLetter says:

      Yeah. Game, set, and match, pretty much — this is a poll of a bunch of self-selected psychologically eccentric outliers within a group that is already a bunch of self-selected psychologically eccentric outliers.

    • meltedcheesefondue says:

      >This doesn’t seem compatible with NRO and Heartiste’s theory, but it’s also not great data. If some supporter of theirs wants to tell me what I have to do in the next SSC survey to get results that they’ll be willing to believe, then let’s talk.

      He’s not claiming it as decisive data; he’s claiming it as *some* data, which is more than anyone else has brought to the conversation so far. If the Less Wrong data had backed up the NRO/Heartiste theory, then I would have slightly increased my belief in it. Since it doesn’t I have to decrease my belief in it, at least to a small extent.

      • temp3402 says:

        Bad data is no better than no data. The flaws in what’s been presented are profound and should not affect your priors at all.

        • meltedcheesefondue says:

          Biased data is worse than no data. Bad data is weakly indicative, and much better than no data.

          Would you really have said the same thing if the LW survey had show the opposite of what’s presented here?

          • temp3402 says:

            I was vague; I apologise. When I said ‘bad data’, I meant: ‘data whose bias cannot be corrected’. I believe the data in the post fit that criterion. When I said ‘no better’, I really meant: ‘usually no better, except in those cases where the effect size is so large that it dominates one’s uncertainty about the bias’. (In the case that it is better: given large uncertainty about the bias, the effect should be a priori obvious and therefore it’d still barely affect the prior, so it’d still be hardly any better than no data.) Would you disagree with any of those claims?

            And, frankly, yes: I would have said the same thing had the LW survey shown the opposite. Bad data is bad data. I don’t have a dog in the fight. It’d actually be reassuring if prophecies of doom were convincingly falsified by solid, generalisable survey data, but self-described polyamorists are such a niche group that I’m not convinced that any survey data could be generalisable to the parent population.

          • Urstoff says:

            Weakly indicative of what? I don’t see how that data is relevant at all to the hypothesis “if polyamory were the cultural norm in society in general, widespread polygyny would be the result”.

            Of course, I don’t think the cross-cultural and cross-species data cited in support the hypothesis is terribly strong, but at least it is supporting the relevant hypothesis.

          • meltedcheesefondue says:

            @temp3402:
            >And, frankly, yes: I would have said the same thing had the LW survey shown the opposite.

            I don’t think you should have. Several people propose a hypothesis that polyamoury leads to polygyny, and then the first test we have of that, would show exactly that.

            But I think we’re quibbling between “a very small update” and “no update”, so it makes little difference in practice.

          • meltedcheesefondue says:

            @Urstoff:
            >Weakly indicative of what? I don’t see how that data is relevant at all to the hypothesis “if polyamory were the cultural norm in society in general, widespread polygyny would be the result”.

            Weakly indicative evidence against that hypothesis. Before modern polyamoury, most poly societies went for polygyny (though there may be a tribal/agricultural civilization divide). Now we have what seems to be a clear counter-example, and one that is more relevant to the debate in at least one aspect: it’s thoroughly modern (both in that it exists in the modern world, and is not based on any old tradition). It might not be proof of anything much, but it’s certainly evidence.

          • temp3402 says:

            @meltedcheesefondue:
            I agree that the ‘no update’ versus ‘extremely small update’ dispute is a quibble, and I’ll cede that it probably ought to be an extremely small update with the caveat that, on the level of beliefs, it’s impossible to distinguish between that and there being no update; in practice, the heuristic to abandon the data rather than waste time trying to incorporate it is, I think, a useful one, even if it’s not perfectly rational.

            I think where we more seriously differ is on whether the data can be used to test the hypothesis. I think we may even differ on what the hypothesis is: I think it’s “if polyamory were adopted at scale, then we would see polygyny more than we see polyandry”, not “for every polyamorous subcommunity, we would see polygyny more than we see polyandry”. My view is that the sample Scott has is essentially useless for drawing any inferences about polyamory being adopted at scale. I’m, of course, open to adjusting that belief.

            (I should add that it’s refreshing to argue amicably with people.)

    • Svejk says:

      The low-moderate income African-American community is probably a better model than Bay Area/LW Rationalists for what polyamory would like look if applied to the (heterosexual) wider US society. Polygamy/polyamory is tolerated in males, the sex with greater leverage in the mating market, and occasionally observed in women. Serial monogamy is relatively more common in women, and may be the more common pattern overall.

      The sex-patterning of polyamory in society at large will probably depend to a large degree on which groups have greater bargaining power in their respective mating pools. The NYT article suggest that certain demographics of low-status men can use polyamory as a hedge against abandonment/no monogamous mating opportunities because it is a relatively rare strategy, but that might change once high-status men can openly take multiple paramours. Monogamy has always been a sort of affirmative action for men. Polyamory may work very well as a frequency-dependent mating strategy, especially for women of all status levels who can enjoy their greater relative access to partners.

      My expectation from historical and cross-cultural observation is that polyamory would devolve into polygyny/polygamy for most of the population once it is established as a norm. Because of this expectation, I would prefer that polyamory remains a tolerated practice rather than a social institution on par with monogamous marriage. Polygyny/Polygamy is a very stable attractor state that appears to have a lot of undesirable social correlates.

      • meltedcheesefondue says:

        That example is possibly skewed by the male-female sex ratio among available african-americans. But I admit it is at least a bit relevant.

        • Svejk says:

          The African-American community has been a bellwhether for diachronic changes in US mating markets and social norms, but I agree with your point about skewed sex ratios. I think the key here is to identify the real vs theoretical mating pools for each demographic group and imagine how they might change under different regimes not just at the transition, but at t+1. It is possible that certain of polyamory’s current advantages obtain largely because it is a low-frequency non-standard strategy.

          For example, it has been suggested that women might be more willing to partner with low-status or ‘unattractive’ men in a polyamorous regime where they still retain access to high-status men. But when social norms change so that higher-status men can more openly mate-guard multiple women, this might change. And when women have greater access to ‘more attractive’ males under widespread acceptance of polygamy, rather than only the those males which choose to participate in a polyamorous sub-culture (plus the top and bottom social strata where tacit polygamy is practiced), they may concentrate on pursuing smaller numbers of more attractive males rather than retaining multiple relationships with less-attractive males. A situation of increased female choice may lead to increased female choosiness.

          • random832 says:

            But when social norms change so that higher-status men can more openly mate-guard multiple women

            A strong anti-“OPP” norm might be a workable defense against this sort of change.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I think the arguments are, at least in part, “current poly people shouldn’t be so”. NRO starts with talking about how “nine of ten pictures for polyamory involve one man with multiple women” – I assume they haven’t found a way to take pictures of hypothetical future people. And since I don’t think there’s a “should all of society suddenly convert to being poly” debate going on, I assume they’re interjecting into the debate which actually exists.

      • Evan Þ says:

        Yes, that’s part of the argument material.

        But simultaneously, I think there is a debate going on about “should polyamory be socially accepted and recommended for you, Hypothetical Average Person Reading This.” On the one hand, rationalist-sphere blogposts are talking about how useful it is to Average Person; on the other hand, you’ve got NRO talking about the bad effects.

  11. temp3402 says:

    For poly men, 29% were single, 47% had one partner, 17% had two partners, 4% had three, 2% had four, and only 0.5% had five or more.

    For poly women, 8% were single, 44% had one partner, 23% had two partners, 15% had three partners, 8% had four, and 4% had five or more.

    You can’t compare these statistics. Assuming that everyone is heterosexual in these samples, the total sum of men in relationships has to equal the total sum of women in relationships. But the distribution of partners for poly women is right-skewed when compared to the distribution of partners for poly men; the percentages are higher in almost every category. Unless that 0.5% of poly men has an enormous number of partners, your own data proves that you can’t infer anything from it because it’s so shit.

    • Jack says:

      Actually, enough poly people are bisexual that these data are perfectly plausible. Your heterosexuality assumption is what makes it hard to understand. Heteronormativity ftw.

      • temp3402 says:

        The expected values are 1.035 and 1.87 [ed.: assuming ‘5+ = 5’]; were the number of men and women in the ‘community’ equal in size and had equivalent degrees of homosexuality, the expectations would be approximately equal. (Small departures in these assumptions will lead to small departures in equality.) Do you really think that this enormous discrepancy is better explained by a greater incidence of lesbianism and bisexuality amongst the women than by the data just being a really poor self-selected sample from a weird subcommunity where men badly outnumber women? (See also the response to @axolotl below.)

        • Jack says:

          To answer your question, yes. Men and women in the poly community do not have equivalent degrees of homosexuality. Women are indeed more than twice as likely to be bisexual. That said, I don’t mean to suggest that this data is perfectly representative of… anything really. Just that the heterosexuality assumption is even more wrong in this case than it usually is and plausibly explains most of the discrepancy.

          • temp3402 says:

            The LGBT population in the US is about 4%, and typically homosexuality is more frequent amongst men than women; for the purposes of the argument (absent any data about polyamorous women being gayer than polyamorous men) I think it was a reasonable simplifying assumption to pretend that only heterosexuals exist. Of course, the same argument holds if they’ve approximately equal degrees of homosexual behaviour. Do you have any statistics for polyamorous women being skewed in that way? It’d be interesting and informative—I’m always happy to narrow my priors!

          • INH5 says:

            The LGBT population in the US is about 4%, and typically homosexuality is more frequent amongst men than women

            Source?

            Most of the statistics that I’ve found indicate that in the US homosexual behavior is much more common among women than men. For example, this study found that 17% of women reported having “intimate same-sex contact” at least once in their life compared to 6% of men, and that 7% of women identify as gay or bisexual compared to 4% of men.

            Now, if you’re talking about exclusive homosexuality, the study did find that that seems to be more common among men – 2% of men identified as gay whereas only 1.3% of women identified as lesbian. But since we’re talking about polyamory, it seems to me that more general statistics are much more relevant.

          • Jack says:

            Source is this survey of the poly community, cited several times in this thread.

        • mayleaf says:

          Yup, as someone involved in the Bay Area rationalistsphere, I can confirm that more than 50% of the women I meet in this community are into women (ie they’re either bi or lesbian), and very few men that I meet are into men. This surprised me too and I’m not sure what causes it.

          • Whatever Happened To Anonymous says:

            Well, rationalist women are disproportionately trans, and MTF trans-people are disproportionally into women, no? That could explain part of the difference.

          • Jack says:

            It’s the patriarchy! (And maybe also the extra fluidity of women’s sexuality.)

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            The new race’s pansexual mutation is on the X-chromosome?

            Fun fact: Helena Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy, claimed that the next human race would evolve in California.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            MTF trans-people are disproportionally into women, no?

            Which, frankly, makes me think that a lot of Blue Tribe trans is about awkward males trying to raise their Social (Justice) status rather than biochemical errors in-utero.

          • mayleaf says:

            @Whatever Happened To Anonymous: Even if I only consider my ciswoman friends in Bay Area rationalistsphere, more than 50% of them are bi or lesbian.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Have you tried attempting to figure it out?

            Because there’s at least two obvious reasons:

            1. When two women get intimate, nobody has to endure the exact diametrical opposite of what they naturally want, i.e. get literally fucked in the ass. On the other hand, lesbian sex is like heterosexual sex minus the penetration, so there’s no obvious reason a woman wouldn’t enjoy it if she enjoys heterosexual sex.

            2. Women are more appealing from a gender neutral perspective, the fairer and more graceful sex. (I think there might have been studies done that ‘prove’ this, but I wouldn’t trust that. I appeal to honest observation.)

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            1) I absolutely, positively assure you that there are many, many, many men who naturally want to get fucked in the ass. Straight ones even.

            2) Gay men do not have anal sex every time they have sex. It is possible to have a long and happy career as a gay man and never have anal sex.

            3) As someone who likes having a mouthful of pussy, I am pretty sure that you really have got to love pussy for suffocating on a mouthful of it to be a remotely appealing prospect.

            4) “Women are just inherently more graceful and beautiful than men” seems to be an opinion primarily popular among people who are attracted to women but not to men. I assume no bias is involved here.

            5) Personally, I think men are inherently fairer and more graceful than women, particularly if you control for the fact that most straight men wouldn’t be able to pull together a flattering outfit if they had Anna Wintour herself to help them. There’s a reason that Michelangelo’s David is famous as the epitome of human physical perfection, and not any of the innumerable Venuses.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Just want to reiterate before I address these particular points that it’s dumb to be surprised when men are less inclined to be fucked in the ass than women are to cuddle.

            1. The world is a big place, so there are many examples of all common pathologies. Doesn’t mean they are natural or good. Wanting to be dominated or put in a humiliating position is not natural, and it’s even more definitely not good. What’s natural is to want to be the most you can be, not to want to be reduced.

            2. The same isn’t true of PIV sex for heterosexual people? Feel free to prepend “On average, ..all else equal, in perfectly spherical cow land, which aims to reflect the nature of the practice rather than any particular individual case”. gay sex is way more of a departure for a male, from heterosexual sex, which we know most people like, than lesbian sex is for a female. Or for a less contentious point of comparison, from cuddling. A priori, expect more of the latter. (even considering higher male ‘libido’ or whatever)

            3. I disagree (do it for partner’s pleasure, breathe) but I also don’t understand what the point was.

            4. I’m pretty sure lesbian experimentation is more common and more casual than male, as well as (practicing) bi orientation. Afaik revealed preferences say that the view is popular amongst everybody, and you’re the one who is being biased by this being a stereotypical male thing to say.

            5. Granting that donatello’s david is the pinnacle of beauty for the sake of argument, Joan of arc being the greatest warrior/leader of all time doesn’t mean woman on average are as inclined to combat, competition, defence, as males. Obviously they aren’t. Same is true for males and “fair”ness. Also male variance is higher in many fields. | | | | If this guy lacks the good grace to even dress himself properly, that leads directly to his being less fair and reflects that he put less level up points into the practice of being fair and graceful, or adjective of your choice. In an unbiased outside view, who wins more often, the person who cares and practices or the person who doesn’t? Also people say and repeat all kinds of wrong things, like that shakespeare is good or that there’s a magical sky fairy who will torture you forever if you say his name, or that death note was good past the first few episodes.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Lesbians don’t necessarily just cuddle when they have sex. Lesbians stick fists up each other’s vaginas. Sometimes two fists! (In fact, the existence of fisting is a very obvious sign that the lesbian porn you’re watching is for actual lesbians rather than straight men.)

            1) There are nerves in your butt. There is a thing called the prostate and having it stimulated feels amazing for most men. It is not about domination or humiliation (unless that’s your kink, of course), it is literally just the ass is a male erogenous zone for the majority of men who try it out.

            2) I still don’t understand why straight men can’t just get a blowjob if they feel so icky about anal sex.

            3) The point is that it is really hard for me to imagine a straight girl being willing to try eating a girl out. In the immortal words of Garfunkel and Oates, “I thought it’d be smooth and non-threatening or nonexistent like Barbie’s, instead it looks like a half eaten Beef and Cheddar in the garbage can at Arby’s.”

            4) Circular reasoning! “Women are more likely to have gay sex because women are inherently more beautiful, which we know because women are more likely to have gay sex.”

            5) Joan of Arc is not the greatest warrior/leader of all time. The only reason Joan of Arc is interesting to anyone is that she’s female, and otherwise she’d be another obscure warrior saint. Everyone you can make a real case for being the greatest warrior of all time– Alexander the Great, Sun Tzu, Miyamoto Musashi– is male, which is exactly what you would expect from the fact that men are more likely to be in combat in the first place. Also, I don’t think “greater male variance” is a good explanation for why a statue is hot, unless you’re proposing the novel theory that marble has DNA.

          • allspoilersallthetime says:

            Women may be fairer, but men are definitely more graceful. (My bias: I am a hetero woman).

            I think this is because men on average play a lot more sport and so have a better idea of how to use their own bodies. Men in motion is a beautiful thing. For example, if both sexes come to a fence, men are much more likely to casually leap over it with style and grace, while women awkwardly straddle their way over. This may be related to the average woman’s preference for silly shoes.

          • This discussion of which sex is better looking reminds me of a line of Mencken’s–that the female form divine, viewed from the side, is a drunken dollar sign.

            He is offering this as evidence of the intellectual superiority of women–men are so foolish they think women are beautiful, women do not think men are beautiful. Which is part of the theme of his In Defense of Women, which, like much of Mencken, is a lot of fun whether or not you find it convincing.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Joan of arc is the greatest warrior/leader of all time. Came from peasantry and near single handedly turned around a hopeless war and ousted invaders from her country.

            Alexander and that korean I think it was navy dude are probably in the same league. Or from the other side, Simo Hayha (500+ KILLS in a war, operating alone, not 60 duels in a kingdom that wasn’t even that martially-artsy in the first place), or even the top nazi ace in WW2 (but he’s disqualified), miyamoto musashi isn’t remotely close. Might as well declared brock lesnar the greatest warrior of all time. Sun tzu I don’t know, but I’m not aware of him doing anything to put him on a level with the others above, and his book isn’t that good so achievements is all I have to go off.

            And yeah the fact JoA was a women does give her points. It shows massive creativity and will on her part to go that route and massive competence to get away with it as a woman at that time, even on to top of everything else.

            re: “cuddle”, still talking about natures and averages here, not every last case. There’s no reason casually fooling around with your roomate has to lead to anyone getting fisted.

            1. You know what else feels amazing?

            2. still talking about the nature of the practice. In any case the example you gave has more or less the same problem as the original.

            3. Caring for a baby is infinitely more ‘disgusting’, but most people manage it just fine. It’s really not a big deal.

            4. While that doesn’t show that I’m right, it shows that your accusation of this being mere male bias is wishful thinking. -chicks think chicks are HAWWWWWT too. The people have spoken. Maybe the people’s choice doesn’t reflect reality, but it’s absolutely not just a male view that women are more attractive. Also, I mean, just go outside and have a look. Also, note that the ‘best looking’ guys have

            5. see #-1. Also if we’re admitting that it’s a statue, regardless of people usually being wrong when they repeat opinions because that’s what the ‘sophisticated’ people say, what a statue looks like has nothing to do with anything. I generously assume you use the statue as a proxy for brad pitt etc, so as to be making some kind of point. If your point is that michaelangelo happened to make a neat statue then that seems off topic.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Joan of arc is the greatest warrior/leader of all time. Came from peasantry and near single handedly turned around a hopeless war and ousted invaders from her country.

            No, she did not. Joan of Arc was important as an inspiration and rallying-point to her side, but the actual tactical command of the battles was carried out by the usual French generals.

          • John Schilling says:

            Joan of arc is the greatest warrior/leader of all time. Came from peasantry and near single handedly turned around a hopeless war and ousted invaders from her country.

            Interesting how “near single handedly” allows for the help of seventy thousand armed men, but never mind.

            Temujin came out of slavery and near single handedly conquered most of Eurasia. And for that matter, Hitler wasn’t exactly born to the Prussian aristocracy. I’m not sure what you’re trying to accomplish here, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t accurately assessing history’s great warrior/leaders.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Single handedly as in she was the sole fulcrum which swung the entire war around, much like hitler was a major but far from sole driver behind WW2. You either knew what I meant or would know if you exercised some basic reading generosity.

            Re genghis khan, it’s easier to build an empire from a strong position than it is to turn a war around from nowhere, as is getting in that position in the first place even if you have to unify warlike tribes first. And importantly she was a peasant at the time of the war, not just earlier in life. JoA>Ghengis on pure strength, though that wasn’t the metric. Also slave in monghol culture is probably a better preparation for war than peasant girl in christian france.

            Hitler wasn’t a general or a fighter but a prophet/policitian. And afaik he was also was also caught rebelling and got a pass because of his noble ancestry, when they should have cut his head off. If we’re including non fighters, maybe JoA is the second strongest, but Hitler is fucking hyperdisqualified for ‘greatest’. (also I know hitler was a war hero in WW1, but for trench running, not being in the thick of things like alexander or JoA. ‘standard bearer’ absolutely comes under warrior, trench runner is debatable).

            And you did see me disqualify erich hartmann right? Didn’t just ignore that? ‘greatest’ doesn’t just mean strongest, though I contend that JoA was *as well* (in the specified field. outside of it I can only think of hitler, and maybe that korean I think navy dude), it includes what direction you were fighting in too. Legacy and achievment are part of it.

            Yes, her contribution was more through inspiration and organisation than wading through the battle like sauron casting enemies aside, but war obviously isn’t just the actual cracking of heads.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            I agree with John Schilling and Mr. X. (Also, ugh, can’t believe I left out Genghis Khan.)

            I suspect that– on average and in the normal case– getting fucked in the ass is way more enjoyable for the average straight guy than eating a pussy is for the average straight girl.

            Most people– correct me if I am wrong– do not care for a baby in search of orgasms, so I am puzzled what application this has.

            No, I’m not using the statue as a proxy for Brad Pitt. (Brad Pitt’s pretty unattractive IMO anyway.) I am using the statue as a proxy for the long history of the veneration of the beautiful male form in art, from Adonis to St. Sebastian, from the Kritios boy to Cellini’s Narcissus, from Thomas Eakin’s The Swimming Hole to the works of Robert Mapplethorpe. It seems to me that whether artists (even those who happened to be heterosexual men) choose to appreciate the beauty of men is a far better measure than actors, who are often chosen primarily for being sexy, which is precisely not what we’re talking about here.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Temujin came out of slavery and near single handedly conquered most of Eurasia. And for that matter, Hitler wasn’t exactly born to the Prussian aristocracy. I’m not sure what you’re trying to accomplish here, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t accurately assessing history’s great warrior/leaders.

            Philip of Macedon inherited a situation even worse than Joan of Arc, his kingdom having been mostly occupied by the Illyrians and under attack from two sides. Not only did he manage to turn this around, he then went on unite the fractious Greek city-states for the first time since the Bronze Age, establishing a period of Macedonian hegemony that lasted until the Roman conquest. If he hadn’t been succeeded by the even more distinguished Alexander the Great, Philip would almost certainly be famous as one of the top generals of antiquity, and quite likely of all time.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @carvenvisage

            Hitler wasn’t a general or a fighter but a prophet/policitian. And afaik he was also was also caught rebelling and got a pass because of his noble ancestry, when they should have cut his head off

            What noble ancestry? His incredibly light sentence following the putsch attempt was the result of those trying him being largely sympathetic to his right-wing nationalism. It’s also more than a little bizarre to say that messengers weren’t in the thick of the fighting but standard bearers were.

          • carvenvisage says:

            @ozy, I think you’re crazy if you think that’s the case and you’re way overconfident to be proselytising the wonders of getting fucked in the ass based on whatever limited information you have/sample of probably LGBT and -adjacent people saying that it’s great, not just because of the insane selection effect of who is going to talk about it (somewhat relevant clip: https://youtu.be/LLWlBgj0uOc?t=1m), but also because a priori it’s pretty dangerous to be like ‘yeah this weird sexual shit, you’ll love it, (don’t worry it won’t fuck you up)’, instead of erring massively on the side of caution. *Not* getting fucked in the ass isn’t going to ruin anybody’s psyche or life, even if they’re gay- celibacy is a thing, but especially if they’re straight which is what we’re talking about.

            babys are just a disgusting thing that everyone deals with, no problem. If you want me to get kabbalistic then they’re both potentially disgusting things that have to do with the biology of sex that humans seem to be extremely good at being insensitive to anything to do with.

            re statues: didn’t you say that michaelangelo made many venuses? In any case there’s loads of confounding reasons why there might be more male statues (starting with self congratulatory cultures of men being da bestest), and in any case if you want to appeal to history you can also point to women having covering themselves to hide their dangerous beauty. And the topic is males now, not a thousand or thousands of years ago when they were expected to maybe go to war, hunt, do their own self defence enforcement, or arduous physical work. ‘Sexy’ isn’t “precisely what we’re talking about” but it’s closer to that than the opposite, given the topic. Anyway who cares about this statue, the real point is stop recommending people try getting fucked in the ass, dummy, its not safe. (or acting like it’s surprising when they don’t, which is basically the same thing writ small)

            _

            What noble ancestry?

            sorry, I might be misremembering, or read something false. He definitely got off easy though, whatever the reason.

            It’s also more than a little bizarre to say that messengers weren’t in the thick of the fighting but standard bearers were.

            no it isn’t. standard bearers are literally in the thick of things. Hitler did trench running behind friendly lines. Probably he did some insanely brave/loyal feats to get those medals, (running through area getting shelled maybe?) but it’s not just soldiers who can do insanely brave things in a war, so can spies, messengers, resistance members, etc. In any case Hitler is not renowned for his trench running in WW1, so whether it counts a ‘warrior’ job like standard bearer doesn’t need to be established for my point’s sake.

            _
            _

            Philip of Macedon inherited a situation even worse than Joan of Arc, his kingdom having been mostly occupied by the Illyrians and under attack from two sides

            Worse militarily probably but the dude wasn’t an uneducated and untried (christian) peasant girl.

            Also, cool, thanks for the reading-direction.

            _
            _

          • dndnrsn says:

            @carvenvisage

            sorry, I might be misremembering, or read something false. He definitely got off easy though, whatever the reason.

            He got off easy because the judges were sympathetic, and because in general the German establishment was far more worried about far-left than far-right insurrections. If you led a left-wing coup attempt, you’d end up dead.

            no it isn’t. standard bearers are literally in the thick of things. Hitler did trench running behind friendly lines. Probably he did some insanely brave/loyal feats to get those medals, (running through area getting shelled maybe?) but it’s not just soldiers who can do insanely brave things in a war, so can spies, messengers, resistance members, etc. In any case Hitler is not renowned for his trench running in WW1, so whether it counts a ‘warrior’ job like standard bearer doesn’t need to be established for my point’s sake.

            Being a trench runner was equivalently dangerous to being a front-line soldier, based on what I’ve read; it certainly wouldn’t have been less dangerous than being, say, an artilleryman (still dangerous). They were used well within the area that would be getting shelled during the fighting – several miles behind the front lines usually – and would be sent back and forth with advancing troops. Their job was necessary because communications wires got torn up by artillery fire, and because advancing troops would go ahead of the communications network.

            It is relevant to Hitler because his political persona was based in part as being an ordinary soldier, low-ranking (he was a rank that is probably best translated as “lance corporal”), decorated for bravery (but not incredibly highly – the Iron Cross first class was a lesser decoration than the VC or the Medal of Honor, to which it is sometimes erroneously compared, and the second class lesser still), but having faced the same dangers as the other front-line soldiers.

          • carvenvisage says:

            That’s very interesting (not being sarcastic, -thanks), but you can just replace ‘relevant’ for dispositive in my statement.

            Hitler was a pretty accomplished soldier (I wouldn’t say ‘warrior’ but it doesn’t matter), but he’s not known mainly for either of those things, so it doesn’t effect my point how you categorise him in WW1.

            and the point about him getting off light was john schilling implying he had it particularly tough, so for that point it doesn’t matter if they were pro nobility or anti left wing.

          • dndnrsn says:

            @carvenvisage

            It’s not what he’s mainly known for now, because what he’s known for now is “started the European part of the worst war the world has ever seen; committed genocide; arguable worst monster of history”, but in his time, it was a part of his political persona and his political appeal.

            If a politician runs as a good family man/woman, honest, decent, doesn’t take $$$ to give talks, incorruptible, returns constituents’ calls within 24h, and then once in office starts a nuclear war, they won’t get remembered for all that stuff, but it was part of their political persona.

          • carvenvisage says:

            that still doesn’t effect my point…

            he doesn’t fall in the reference class for the claim I made about joan of arc, so he can’t be a counterexample. most of his influence was not from being a soldier, but from movement building, speeches, etc, and only indirectly from parleying his experience as a soldier. I didn’t say that his history as a soldier did not contribute, so I’m not sure what you think you are contradicting. His earlier life is, as you say, greatly overshadowed by what he did later.

          • dndnrsn says:

            OK, that makes sense.

          • John Schilling says:

            Hitler wasn’t a general or a fighter but a prophet/policitian.

            You imagine Jeanne d’Arc made tactical decisions much beyond the level of “We will break the siege of Orleans without delay” or other Hitler-leve stuff? You imagine she ever killed a foe in battle? Her great contributions were those of the prophet/politician, and more literally so than Hitler on the “prophet” front.

            If charismatic leadership alone makes one a great warrior, then there were others greater than Jeanne. If one must actually fight, then she was no warrior.

          • The original Mr. X says:

            Worse militarily probably but the dude wasn’t an uneducated and untried (christian) peasant girl.

            Again, though, Joan of Arc didn’t make any meaningful military decisions at a lower level than “Let’s take Reims instead of Paris next.” Actual military command was still exercised by French noblemen, just as it always had been.

            (Also, I’m not sure why you write “([C]hristian) peasant girl”. Are Christian peasants inherently worse commanders than pagan ones or something?)

          • The original Mr. X says:

            @ozy, I think you’re crazy if you think that’s the case and you’re way overconfident to be proselytising the wonders of getting fucked in the ass based on whatever limited information you have/sample of probably LGBT and -adjacent people saying that it’s great, not just because of the insane selection effect of who is going to talk about it (somewhat relevant clip: https://youtu.be/LLWlBgj0uOc?t=1m), but also because a priori it’s pretty dangerous to be like ‘yeah this weird sexual shit, you’ll love it, (don’t worry it won’t fuck you up)’, instead of erring massively on the side of caution. *Not* getting fucked in the ass isn’t going to ruin anybody’s psyche or life, even if they’re gay- celibacy is a thing, but especially if they’re straight which is what we’re talking about.

            I don’t think this is a fair summary of Ozy’s argument. You originally claimed that getting it up the arse is diametrically opposed to what men want; Ozy countered that many men actually enjoy it. Now, whether or not her claim is factually true I’ve no idea, but it was quite clearly a factual claim about what men already like, not an attempt to “proselytise” to people who don’t want to try it.

          • carvenvisage says:

            to what males ‘naturally’ want. I find it extremely implausible that she or anyone else has priveleged knowledge about what drives people to such things, and a-priori the obvious assumption seems to be that when you put people in e.g. school and an otherwise imperfect society, you sometimes get lord of the flies and some young people will come out pretty broken. At which point I emphatically don’t think it’s acceptable to be floating these ideas around. (it’s normal, it’s harmless, it’s cute. It’s fucking SURPRISING that it isn’t happening.) No it it isn’t you fucking lunatics. Don’t be disorientated by the lack of.. [what I’ve laid out pretty directly already so I don’t need to repeat].

            (neither do I have special priveleged knowledge, but that’s why I make the low harm assumption instead of the blase ‘weird sex shit is cute harmless, proselytize it’ assumption. which is a ‘let them eat cake’ assumption in a culture which really hasn’t begun to solve problems of bullying domination or abuse, or allowing people to put others in their place and expect them to like it’, victims of which random targetting ‘designated losers’ are 100x more real ‘underpriveleged’ people than lets say your average woman.)

            So sure, I din’t need to use the word ‘naturally’, and then maybe the proselytising would have remained implicit, but neither did any of these kool aid drinkers need to pretend it’s weird that males around them aren’t offering up their dignity on the altar of feminism quite as much as they’d expect in this day and age. Your mind is so compromised if you find that disorienting.

          • carvenvisage says:

            Hitler is clearly in a different category- either religious or political or both. He’s reviled and casts a shadow from what he did between the wars, ascending to power, dragging a whole country after him in his madness, the world into war, and driving atrocities, NOT for military achievments in WW1, or even less so in WW2. The red baron would be more like a modern analogue.

            _

            Why is Joan of Arc not a warrior? A standard bearer is a combatant like any other. Their role aims the same as any other to faciliatate killing the enemy. Many accounts of the time place her on battlefields, close to the troops, and suffering injuries, so I don’t see the distinction.

            No one seems to have disputed that she was out there in the mud and the blood and the cold and the risk and the fear with everyone else, inspiring the soldiers to fight on and fight hard, and save their country from foreign invaders.

            None of her enemies seem to have accused her of said that she wasn’t a major inspiration or asset for the enemy, or that she was a mere figurehead or a fraud etc, rather they objected to *her* claims that she didn’t personally kill anyone. Also a cursory revisiting of wikipedia turned up a reference from the trial where she was asked questions about what orders she gave to the troops, so at least her enemies thought she was exerting direct control. (which she didn’t deny).

            So TL:DR you’re dead wrong to say she was “no warrior”. or pedantic

    • axolotl says:

      You’re ignoring the fact that there are differing numbers of men and women in a given subculture. If the poly communities that the respondents come from have 1.8 men for every woman, it works out (even assuming gay and bi people are a rounding error, which is unlikely here).

      The disparity is even bigger in the poll responses (more than 3:1), but it’s plausible that SSC readership is more gender-skewed than the communities that poly SSC readers date in.

      Of course, the large gender ratio is not going to be present in a hypothetical large-scale poly society, so that might affect some of the analysis. I’m not sure what sort of normalization you’d need to do to compare apples to apples here, or what underlying assumptions about poly dynamics that would translate to. It would make for an interesting statistics project.

      • temp3402 says:

        You’re obviously right that I was also tacitly assuming that the total number of women equalled the total number of men. I apologise and should have made that clear.

        But this doesn’t change the point. The expected values are 1.035 and 1.87 [assuming ‘5+ = 5’]; were the number of men and women in the ‘community’ equal in size and had equivalent degrees of homosexuality, the expectations would be approximately equal. Small departures in these assumptions will lead to small departures in equality. As it’s a massive departure, something is seriously amiss.

        As the point of the article is about the effects of polyamorism-at-scale, Scott’s data cannot bear on this if (1) the data come from samples of a ‘community’ where men badly, badly outnumber women, or (2) the data for men and women are just this skewed and not good samples (self-selection bias, differing interpretations of how to answer questions, etc.). (Even if polyamorous women in the ‘community’ are massively more likely to be lesbians or bisexual than polyamorous men are to be gay or bisexual—which would also explain the discrepancy in expectations—at the population level there are probably more gay and bisexual men than lesbian and bisexual women, so any such skew towards lesbianism (etc.) is yet another reason to give up on the data.)

        As for normalisations (or, more generally, the right way to model these dynamics): it’s a good question! But I think even a good answer to this good question wouldn’t be useful, given the data; a good model can’t save bad data.

  12. nydwracu says:

    Weird nerds aren’t a representative sample of the population, and I’m not convinced that it’s possible to gain useful insight about the population by sampling weird nerds.

    PS: Remember when Cletus Coorslight and Theocrat von Rushdoonsky were like “if gay marriage, then polygamy” and respectable society was all “haha no, you worthless inbreds, slippery slopes don’t real”?

    • Eponymous says:

      I think history shows that slippery slopes are very real. Only we look back and call it the march of progress.

    • Stationary Feast says:

      I came by to say just this, and nydwracu beat me to it. I wouldn’t wager that, if polygamy were legalized or if recognition of polygamous relationships were made compulsory by the state, polygamous unions would generally be mostly like it’s done in the Bay Area. I’d figure that most poly relationships would be polygynous. Considering that almost nobody moves from a culture dominated by monogamy to a culture dominated by polygamy for economic reasons (especially when you compare it to the migration in reverse), I strongly suspect polygamy is deleterious meme.

    • meh says:

      Why is it slippery? Does the argument for one not apply to the other?

    • Everest Fuck says:

      Given that the general population does not in any case have a norm of healthy relationships, I would rather expect that your point is moot.

      PS: Remember when some unidentified logician from your favorite political coalition was like “if gay marriage, then toaster marriage” and respectable society etc?

      • ThirteenthLetter says:

        Your two points contradict each other: you’re basically saying “Yeah, it did indeed play out the way the right-wingers feared, and it’s AWESOME. Also, it totally didn’t play out the way the right-wingers feared, and you’re crazy for thinking so.”

        • wiserd says:

          I’m not sure. There were claims that Same Sex Marriage would lead to pedophilia and bestiality. It hasn’t and it won’t.

          Will polyamory gain more formal recognition? Maybe. Did some critics of SSM predict that? Perhaps, but that wasn’t the biggest or most used bullet point in that discussion.

          At the most charitable to sexual conservatives, we could say “Sexual conservatives predicted four outcomes from the SSM slippery slope. We may get one of the four, or we may not. If we do, it’s the most socially functional of those outcomes mentioned.”

          • Anonymous says:

            There were claims that Same Sex Marriage would lead to pedophilia and bestiality. It hasn’t and it won’t.

            Oh, ye of little faith.

          • Evan Þ says:

            We may get one of the four, or we may not.

            I’m seeing polyamory as being in at least the same place, socially speaking, homosexuality was back in the early 2000’s. It’s probably better, because it’s riding off all the momentum generated by the gay rights movement. I would be very surprised if, in fifteen years, it wasn’t fully legally recognized.

            …to pedophilia and bestiality.

            I would be very surprised if bestiality laws survived their next test case.

            Pedophilia does have a strong opposition movement in parents, but… give it twenty years and then we’ll see.

    • SUT says:

      The Susan Fowler incident at Uber was triggered by a Poly manager:

      On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with.

      This is what polyamory looks like as it creeps out of artist collectives into mainstream society. Creepy [low-sexual-value] dudes using their [high-economic-value] to “get their’s”. Holding up a big sack of money and prestige to attract a women obviously still happens in monogamous societies. But once you make the marriage commitment, social expectations severely discourage this type of brazen solicitation in the everyday affairs of work, neighborhood, etc.

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        I feel like monogamous people also sexually harass people in the workplace.

        • gbdub says:

          True, but hitting on a married/committed person is stigmatized against in a way that hitting on an “available” person is not. There’s a reason “I have a boyfriend” is the stereotypical soft rejection for an unwanted approach.

      • Deiseach says:

        I disagree that the guy was poly, he was just a creep using the trendy variation on “my wife doesn’t understand me” and deflecting “but you’ve got a girlfriend, this is cheating on her” by blaming his girlfriend – “oh we’re in an open relationship but she gets more action than I do and so I can’t help hitting on my co-workers even though I’m trying not to” – A Man Has Needs, You Know.

        What that type of guy needs is a – well, I’ll let Sherlock Holmes take it away:

        “The law cannot, as you say, touch you,” said Holmes, unlocking and throwing open the door, “yet there never was a man who deserved punishment more. If the young lady has a brother or a friend, he ought to lay a whip across your shoulders. By Jove!” he continued, flushing up at the sight of the bitter sneer upon the man’s face, “it is not part of my duties to my client, but here’s a hunting crop handy, and I think I shall just treat myself to —” He took two swift steps to the whip, but before he could grasp it there was a wild clatter of steps upon the stairs, the heavy hall door banged, and from the window we could see Mr. James Windibank running at the top of his speed down the road.

    • Christopher Hazell says:

      I never understood the idea that legalizing homosexuality wouldn’t open people up to the idea of other legal marriage arrangements, but then, I’ve never been clear on what the problem with polygamy was, exactly.

      • sandoratthezoo says:

        Legal polygamy (as in, marriage, not just polyamory) sounds really, really complicated in a way that homosexual marriage is not.

        I mean, divorce, obviously. The entire concept of in loco parentis is thrown up into the air.

        But also things like “when spouse A goes into a coma and spouse B wants to take him off life support but spouse C does not.” And so forth with every other privilege that marriage confers.

        • biblicalsausage says:

          When it comes to the really, really complicated factor, the default historical way of dealing with the issue is treating the polygynous marriage as a series of unbalanced individual two-way marriages. So one guy has three wives, but nothing’s going to get super-complicated divorce-wise because either (1) they can’t leave him, (2) they leave with nothing financially, or at the very least (3) they’re each married only to him, and not to each other. In old-fashioned western marriage, for the most part a woman didn’t own any of the marital property. Recently, we’ve been experimenting with the notion that both parties simultaneously own the property in a (monogamous) marriage, and that it should be split relatively evenly through a massively expensive and complicated adversarial legal process if either party wants to leave. It will be interesting to see what would happen if this new “everyone is equal and divorce is a giant lawsuit” model is applied to 3, 4, or 5 person arrangements.

          (PS. I’m not saying that allowing no-fault egalitarian divorce was a bad decision. I think egalitarian marriage makes sense, and people being able to leave if they want makes sense. I just see potential legal headaches ahead.)

      • hls2003 says:

        Polygamy actually has a much more valid historical claim to the term “marriage” than the same-sex variant. I find it weird that it is the lagging indicator. Personally, I think it’s attributable to a quirk of timing in religious decline. Polygamy got associated with Mormonism during a time when people cared enough about religion to really dislike the “cultists.” By the time that stigma faded, religion had receded so much from the public sphere that the historical / religious arguments in favor of polygamy (“Muslims do it, the Jewish patriarchs did it, it’s in the Bible”) hurt polygamy’s case more than helped it.

  13. synecdoche says:

    I would suggest that the survey data is too unreliable to extrapolate into wider social trends. Even setting apart self-selection, the number of polyamorous people in the United States today is vanishingly small and unrepresentative. (By definition, they are self-selected sexual vanguard.)

    I think it would be more reliable to look at cross-cultural comparisons and historical examples of polyamory. These examples I think would be much more supportive of the scenarios suggested by Heartiste and NRO. Both in history and in modern culture outside the US, there are many instances of societies that create widespread patterns of one man having socially-sanctioned sexual relationships with multiple women, but few with widespread patterns of one-women/multiple-men or multiple-women/multiple-men. From Wikipedia’s entry on polyandry:

    Of the 1,231 societies listed in the 1980 Ethnographic Atlas, 186 were found to be monogamous; 453 had occasional polygyny; 588 had more frequent polygyny; and 4 had polyandry.[4] Polyandry is less rare than this figure which listed only those examples found in the Himalayan mountains (28 societies). More recent studies have found more than 50 other societies practicing polyandry.

    Historical and non-US cultural patterns won’t necessarily recur in the United States if polyamory becomes more accepted, but I know which way I would bet.

    Having lived in China and seen SE Asia up close for a decade, I would add two points from personal observation:
    1. Patterns where a few “alpha” men have multiple women partners also gives rise to flourishing prostitution to service the many unlucky “beta” (“gamma”?0 men that can’t find stable partners.

    2. The affects on society are quite pronounced, even for very small numbers. Just a few percentage points of disaffected young men that want, but can’t find, women partners can cause a surprising amount of trouble.

    As a moral matter, I am strongly in favor of more tolerance and acceptance of polyamory and other non-traditional relationship structures. But my support is based on moral principles in favor of freedom and allowing people to shape their own lives. I suspect that Heartiste/NRO have a better predictive case about the outcomes of more widespread polyamory, and it seems to me that strict utilitarians should be in favor of restricting/not tolerating polyamory.

  14. meh says:

    I’ll wager alphas just don’t like taking surveys.

  15. Nabil ad Dajjal says:

    Not to be a dick, but the experience of poly you’ve described having before casts your statistics in a different light. One more supportive of Heartiste’s characterization than yours.

    If a guy has multiple women ‘partners’ whom he never has sex with, and who are themselves having sex with other men… how is that any different from being left out in the cold exactly?

    The guys answering that survey might have one or even two partner, but I’d bet figurative dollars to donuts that they’re not getting half as much attention as they would in exclusive relationships.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      I don’t think it requires some enormous conspiracy to figure out why an asexual man does not have sex very often.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Wait, Scott doesn’t have sex? I had missed this fact.

      • Ralf says:

        AFAIK he does have sex, it just is not the most important part for him in a romance.

        (God, it is a bit weird that strangers talk about such private stuff?)

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          It sure is. It’s also a confusing definition of “asexual”. Any of Arthur’s knights may have valued other things in a romance higher than sex, but I would only call Galahad asexual!

    • ravenclawprefect says:

      This survey of 4,000 poly people rates polyamorous men as 25% higher on a 6-point scale of sexual frequency than the GSS does for the general population.

    • Reasoner says:

      Not to be a dick, but the experience of poly you’ve described having before casts your statistics in a different light. One more supportive of Heartiste’s characterization than yours.

      Have you seen all the high-status people who link to Scott’s blog? Have you noticed that people gather to meet him when he announces that he’s going to be visiting a particular city? If that’s not alpha, what is?

      I’ve noticed that red pill people are really good at twisting their theory so it’s able to explain any possible piece of evidence. “Alphaness” becomes a circular definition wherein if you don’t get laid, the only possible explanation is that you are insufficiently “alpha”.

      • Nabil ad Dajjal says:

        So by your reasoning, David Sedaris is an alpha male?

        One of the unfortunate legacies of Robin Hanson here is the idea of a single global status ladder. There are many traits which will win you great acclaim in society at large but which will never arouse women. The original concept of the beta was of a mensch more than a schlub: he’s nice and financially secure but just not appealing at all.

        Anyway, my point wasn’t about trying to be alpha so much as the fact that these poly ‘relationships’ seem to involve a lot of sex for the women and little or none for the men. Doubly so since, pre-Topher, both sides had their own blogs and we got to see just what a stark difference that really was.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          Can you tell me what your evidence for this is other than one asexual man who has never, as far as I know, specified how much sex he has in public? (Which, like, why would he, that’s super-creepy.)

  16. publiusvarinius says:

    You’re misunderstanding Heartiste’s argument. He’s saying that low-status will be included in poly relationships, but only to help provide for the kids of the high-status men involved in the relationship, while not being allowed to father their own children. If polyism becomes mainstream and the overwhelming majority of women will belong to a polyist relationship, low-status men will be forced to choose between being abused in such a way and not getting any “action” at all. This is the usual “cuckolding” hypothesis popular in Heartiste’s circles, taken to its logical conclusion in a poly world.

    But even with your interpretation, the method of analysis is still wrong. In a world with 10 poly men, 1 poly woman, 10 mono men and 1 mono woman, such that

    1. the 3 highest-status poly men are in a relationship with the sole poly woman;

    2. the highest-status mono man is in a relationship with the sole mono woman;

    3. and nobody else is in a relationship;

    you would conclude that 70% of poly men are single and 90% of mono men are single, so poly doesn’t hurt low-status men. This is a complete non-sequitur: one simply cannot extract any evidence about low-status men’s chances of getting a date from these percentages.

    full disclosure: I don’t think either of NR or Heartiste is 100% correct, but I do think there’s enough evidence that more widespread polyamory leads to a crapsack world to resist it on consequentialist grounds.

    • Svejk says:

      I think Heartiste tarts up his argument with images of alphas and omegas and harems because that’s his thing, but society can expect poor results for openly-tolerated polygamy even in less extreme mate-hoarding scenarios. All it takes is for women on average to exercise a preference for the more-charismatic dentist to the boring accountant, or for both over the shelf-stocker, for many men to have a less rosy reproductive future. Likewise, trying to split a (male or female) dentists’ salary and attention among multiple households can lead to reduced material and emotional well-being. It’s not necessary to envision a Mike Tyson/Larry Ellison Super Harem Team Up to see that monogamy has egalitarian aspects that can be enjoyed by both sexes at various social statuses.

  17. Le Maistre Chat says:

    This counter-argument to NRO and Heartiste is so weak that I’m confused why you posted it.

    If you’re emotionally committed to Bay Aryan polygamy, it’s understandable to be annoyed by articles criticizing it, but they’ve got the Big Data called history and anthropology on their side.
    I mean, you do know that of the 1,231 societies listed in the 1980 Ethnographic Atlas, only 4 have polyandry, right? Do you think there’s a basis in universal human psychology for that? If you believe psychology is reducible to evolutionary biology, do you think Bay Aryans have diverged into a race whose polygamous behavior will produce gender equality rather than polygyny and the sort of patriarchy (not to be confused with Christian patriarchy) documented to follow it? Do you want the law to recognize Bay Aryan polyamory, and if so, what consequences do you expect from men of other races being able to have multiple marriages?

    • wiserd says:

      Traditionally, marriage has been consonant with ‘having kids with someone.’ I’m not sure that applies to most poly relationships.

      • Svejk says:

        If current poly arrangements are less likely to include reproduction and childrearing, then they have even less predictive power for a society where polygamy is a norm.

  18. Rationalist poly groups can’t possibly be representative of a generalized cross-demographic concept of polyamory.

    Outside of your rationalist survey data, empirically as far as I’m aware (am I wrong?) most poly societies of any sort result in high status men having on avg 1+ women.

    • Tedd says:

      Posted this above, but the fusion dance community is about as poly as the rationalist community while not being the same kind of weird nerd, so it makes a useful comparison.

      The (straight or bi) high status poly men in the fusion scene do indeed have >1 female partner on average, but this is true for the women as well, and everyone’s partners tend to have partners other than them. I’m not aware of any “harems”; the modal poly network is an approximately-bipartite graph (some non-straight relationships; disproportionately many of these among women) with average degree ~2.5.

      I’d certainly buy that this is unusual historically – I don’t think that’s in dispute. But poly as practiced today could not really have existed before birth control (and to a much lesser extent paternity tests), so I don’t think comparisons to pre-birth control societies are going to be that useful.

      • Ralf says:

        How old is “fusion dance” and what exactly is it?

        And how do children factor in? Are romances strictly relegated to that, and people still choose to have kids with the more stable/long term life partner, or is it patch work families?

        • Tedd says:

          How old is “fusion dance” and what exactly is it?

          It’s a style of social partner dance. Grew out of blues, west coast swing, lindy, and tango, mostly. It’s hard to say exactly how old it is, because these things do not evolve in discrete steps, but 15 years is a good guess, with the first 5 being very adolescent.

          And how do children factor in? Are romances strictly relegated to that, and people still choose to have kids with the more stable/long term life partner, or is it patch work families?

          People almost exclusively have kids with a single long-term partner. Often other partners will help out raising the kids in the way that a particularly close aunt or uncle might.

          That said, it skews pretty young: median age perhaps 27. So kids are fairly rare.

  19. cthor says:

    There’s a big sampling bias problem:

    1. LW and SSC survey respondents are not representative of the general population. What is or isn’t socially adaptive for them might be maladaptive for the general population.
    2. The LW-SSC memeplex has a huge gender imbalance (10:1 m:f), and since they’re more likely to partner with each other than the general population, this will skew the data massively.

    45% of the mono men in the sample were single, suggesting polyamory doesn’t hurt low-status men’s chances of getting a date.

    I think you’ve got the relationship backwards. Low-status men won’t identify as poly because they think it’s bad for them.

    Here’s my interpretation of the data:

    The LW-SSC memeplex encourages ideas which lead to a higher than normal rate of both polyamory and singles. I assume consequently that SSC respondents have a much lower than normal rate of parenthood. (Would be nice to have data on that though.) The closest proxy is the marriage rate at 28%, much lower than the US national average of ~60%. (Can’t find any data to correct for age though.) This is in my opinion bad news and maladaptive.

    Encouraging low-status single people to adapt to poly (or even to accept it as not bad for them) is a typical mind fallacy. 43% of SSC are single! They can’t even get one partner, and you’re asking them to get rid of the only socially acceptable mate-guarding technique.

    If some supporter of theirs wants to tell me what I have to do in the next SSC survey to get results that they’ll be willing to believe, then let’s talk.

    Poly is not currently the default, and we’re trying to figure out what the societal consequences would be if it were. This is probably the biggest Chesterton fence in our society (e.g., see What Is the Male Marriage Premium?) and until we fully understand it, I’m very cautious about tearing it down. Surveying self-selected SSC people and using that data to decide what that means for everyone else is sort of sketchy, or at least nowhere near sufficient evidence to tear down the fence. I think it would be sufficient data to inform unsure SSC people.

    You have to correct for a bunch of things that confound for “sexual success”. At the very least: age, IQ, education, income, race, height, and weight.

    Status and physical attractiveness also confound, but self-reported values for those probably don’t map well to reality. Sexually unsuccessful people probably underrate their own attractiveness. Are there any good quantifiable proxies for these?

    A question “Why are you not poly?” for non-poly people could help determine in which way the “poly men are single less than mono men” relationship goes.

    “How many biological children do you have?” would be interesting, though probably also depressing.

    Is age (or date/year of birth) not in the survey to avoid making the data too personally identifiable? What about having age brackets?

    • makoyass says:

      As a polyamorous person, I generally agree with this.

      (Re: Poly men are less likely to be single) I think you’ve got the relationship backwards. Low-status men won’t identify as poly, because they think it’s bad for them.

      There is no way I would have become poly if I wasn’t surrounded with evidence that A: I will get love. I wont be one of the ones who gets neglected, becomes a Disaffected Male and starts tearing at the seams of society like a mink stuck in a bag, B: There exist men who I wouldn’t mind sharing a home with. Both of these realizations are going to be a product of being in a pretty good place in life. A, for obvious reasons. B, because it’s basically the definition of being surrounded with reliable allies.

      (Generally, I do think we can probably come up with institutions to support polyamory for the masses that wouldn’t just collapse into polygyny like it did in most societies, that’d be beneficial to social cohesion and child rearing, though I haven’t thought in depth about what those institutions would be yet. Some taboos about house sex ratios and reproduction decisions would be a good start, I think.)

  20. Jack says:

    Poly women are much more often bisexual than poly men. This could throw off your interpretation of the numbers somewhat. That said, the two “narratives” you cite don’t seem like worthwhile places to start a conversation, given they both bare-facedly substitute uncritical assumptions for any attempt at finding facts. There are people who actually study these things. (Not many!)

  21. Wrong Species says:

    Let’s imagine that we can’t tell, a priori, whether monogamy or polyamory would be better for society. If you’re right, then we’re missing out on a more people having more fun in their life. If the anti-polyamory side is right, then we’re heading to a society categorized by a few men dominating over a multitude of women. The lonely men are going to kill themselves at alarmingly high rates. The women are going to be fighting each other just for a little attention and the kids are going to have fathers who don’t care about them. I’m not saying you should definitely switch over but this is really something you should think about before trying to completely revamp society.

    • Tedd says:

      … How could you possibly read this post as an argument for trying to completely revamp society? It’s rebutting an empirical claim about polyamory as practiced.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      I think, in the absence of any big red “EVERYONE IS POLY NOW” buttons, the increased suicide rate, unhappiness of women, and uncaring fathers will be noticed well before everyone converts to polyamory. Indeed, this seems like a self-solving problem– if the women are fighting each other for a little attention, they will eventually realize they can get all the attention they like by becoming monogamous, and then the men will have no one to dominate over.

      In the meantime, poly people can write blog posts that point out that none of this appears to be happening.

      • Wrong Species says:

        Let’s say that democracy was not only imperfect but was empirically shown as substandard but we couldn’t absolutely prove this until now. It’s too late to turn back the clock now. How would we even get out of this form of government? At some point, a movement explodes to the point where reversing is non-trivial. There is a reason people talk about slippery slopes. Society is not a science experiments where you can simply adjust the variables. One thing can lead to another in complex ways, some more foreseeable than others. Maybe the women will realize the problems they’re facing. But sexual attraction isn’t rational. They’re still going to want the high status guy. It seems pretty naive to say this won’t happen when both biology and history are against you.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          Wrong Species: The difference is that a country can either be a democracy or a dictatorship; you cannot have the same land be run as a democracy and a dictatorship and let people switch between governments depending on which one works better. (Ancapistan aside.) But before 52% of the population is poly, 50% of the population is probably going to be poly, at which point it is extremely easy for any individual woman who feels mistreated to say “poly men are fuckboys” and switch their dating site profiles to say “strictly monogamous.”

          • Wrong Species says:

            I don’t think that’s a stable equilibrium. They may complain about these “fuckboys” but if the have to choose between that and the nice low status guys, they’re going to choose the jerks. Like other commenters have said, ypu can see it already happening now.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            That’s assuming that the most desirable men will disproportionately become polyamorous which, mm, to put it lightly, does not seem to be true among actual poly people. (As the joke goes, polyamorists are, by and large, bi and large.)

          • Wrong Species says:

            Like other people have said, the current poly community is not representative of what society would look like. The closest analogue might be a college campus.

      • bbeck310 says:

        I think, in the absence of any big red “EVERYONE IS POLY NOW” buttons, the increased suicide rate, unhappiness of women, and uncaring fathers will be noticed well before everyone converts to polyamory

        Well…the increased poverty, unhappiness of women, and uncaring fathers have been noticed in lower class African-American populations for decades, and it hasn’t stopped those populations from abandoning marriage as a cultural norm. If anything, unwed motherhood is spreading among lower and middle class Americans of all races while the upper classes preach tolerance and practice monogamy when parenting.

        • hlynkacg says:

          Bingo.

          The point of being in a relationship isn’t just to get your balls drained or hole filled (we have apps for that), the point is stability, partnership, and hopefully kids. Posts like this one that drive home just how weird and alien the rationalist tribe is to me.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          Poly people can definitely have stability, partnership, and children.

          The instability in lower-class African-American populations seems to me to relate to structural issues (such as high rates of imprisonment) that leave single motherhood as the best of a bunch of really shitty options. If your choice is “single motherhood” or “marriage to a person who is constantly in and out of prison”, then single motherhood looks like a much better option.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Poly people can definitely have stability, partnership, and children.

            Nobody said they couldn’t, but you must acknowledge that “stability, partnership, and children” are not what poly-advocates are selling here.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            (1) Some people have definitely mentioned the advantages to children of having 3+ people willing to have some involvement in their lives.

            (2) I don’t think poly stability, partnership, and children are actually that different than mono stability, partnership, and children, so there is a natural tendency to talk about what’s different rather than being like “if you are polyamorous, you may still give your husband a hug after he’s had a bad day at work and offer to let him talk about it.”

          • hlynkacg says:

            In regards to #2…

            It seems trivially obvious to me that increasing the number of peers in a group generally comes at the cost of coherence and stability unless a conscious effort is made to codify a unifying principal or enforce a strict hierarchy. Hence the old saw about “Too many chiefs and not enough indians”. Likewise if most people are “bad at relationships”, it stands to reason that increasing the number of people in a relationship increases the likelihood that someone in that relationship is bad at relationships. I don’t think it would be controversial for me to assert that finding 1 person who’s strengths and weaknesses compliment your own is a lot easier than finding 2 or more who similarly compliment each other as well as yourself. Furthermore, wide-spread acceptance of polyamory severely weakens the bargaining power of the stereotypical “dedicated dad”, so we should expect to find fewer of them in a polyamorous society than not.

            These are all factors against polyamory’s long term stability that I have yet to see a poly-advocate address. Protestations that there is nothing to worry about because your own relationship has yet to implode fall on deaf ears because you’re an outlier. My own experience is closer to Acedia’s.

      • Stationary Feast says:

        [T]his seems like a self-solving problem– if the women are fighting each other for a little attention, they will eventually realize they can get all the attention they like by becoming monogamous, and then the men will have no one to dominate over.

        That’s not how it’s playing out among the sort of women profiled in Jason DeParle’s American Dream. Their relationships straddle the line between serial monogamy and serial polygamy (do their boyfriends have other girlfriends at the same time? who knows?). If they insisted on monogamy they probably wouldn’t get laid ever again.

      • Aapje says:

        @Ozy

        if the women are fighting each other for a little attention, they will eventually realize they can get all the attention they like by becoming monogamous, and then the men will have no one to dominate over.

        Many people don’t just want attention, they want their partner to help with the finances/provide. The ability to provide has been deteriorating for the lower and middle class, while it has been improving for an elite.

        It’s logical to assume that people will trade off preferences. For example, they will probably put up with less attention when they get provided for better. So the logical consequence of increased income differences is that it becomes more attractive to partner with a high earner and to sacrifice other desires for that.

        As we know that men are far more willing to support a low/no earning partner than vice versa, the logical consequence is that there is a far greater ability for women to get into a polygamous relationship where a high-earning man will care for them; than vice versa.

        the increased suicide rate, unhappiness of women, and uncaring fathers will be noticed well before everyone converts to polyamory

        I don’t believe for a second that a significant number of people who believe in an ideal will be willing to admit that bad trends may be due to their ideals. That’s not how people work.

        For example, how many feminists are debating whether they might have the wrong solutions because women’s happiness has been going down?

        • allspoilersallthetime says:

          I haven’t seen any feminists debating whether they have the wrong solutions becaues of that paper. But I have seen (from linguists who may or may not be feminists) that the paper (or at least, the journalists who reported on the paper) is wrong to claim that women are less happy. Mark Liberman says:

          And I’ll ask a simple question: What fraction of graphically and statistically literate people think that the right way to describe the data summarized in that graph is “In postfeminist America, men are happier than women”?

          Jezebel snarks about it here.

          Echidne of the Snakes also discussed reader responses to the paper, but still fairly brief.

          • Yaleocon says:

            Liberman’s snark is cherry-picked and misrepresents the paper. It’s worth reading the full paper: http://www.nber.org/papers/w14969.pdf

            That still only leaves us with only one study; there is far more literature to contend with before arriving at a sure answer. Nonetheless, we should always remember that science is more trustworthy than science reporting, as turns out to be the case here.

      • Spookykou says:

        This sounds like you are saying coordination problems will always self correct?

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          I disagree that this is a coordination problem, as (in the stipulated situation) most individual women could get an outcome they prefer more by switching to monogamy. You don’t have to coordinate with anyone! You can just do it!

          In fact, if 80% of the women are with the top 10% guys, a woman at the 40th percentile could monopolize an 80th percentile man simply by becoming monogamous with him. So you’d have to assume that women are not only hypergamous but also idiots.

          • Spookykou says:

            I will admit that I found the ‘unhappiness of women’ portion of the argument to be the weakest/nonsensical and glossed over it, but if we accept it, then I concede that it is possible that women will self correct/defect. It is possible that the social status incentives for ‘playing the game’ outweigh whatever unhappiness Wrong Species thinks they will suffer.

            Most of the ‘poly is bad for society’ arguments in the rest of the comments include the idea that the women can and do get 80th percentile men on the side for emotional and financial support, that the biggest losers are low status men, and to some extent low status women. The scenario described by Wrong Species seems a bit idiosyncratic.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            I mean, Wrong Species is fairly accurately describing historical polygyny. The difference is that modern women have significantly more legal and economic independence from their husbands, and thus much more ability to say “you want me to WHAT NOW? fuck you, I’m leaving.”

            If women collectively prefer polygyny to monogamy, and men with lots of girlfriends also prefer polygyny to monogamy, I think this is less a “coordination problem” and more “an improved situation overall which has some losers” (assuming the losers can be satiated with World of Warcraft and porn).

            However, I don’t actually think that’s what’s going to happen. My guess about what would happen if polyamory is destigmatized is that maybe ten or fifteen percent of the population does it (maybe half if you count the monogamish), and it is if anything beneficial to the unattractive, as they can have secondary partnerships when previously no one was willing to date them at all.

          • Spookykou says:

            I don’t actually think that a change in social stigma around polyamory would change much, although I am not necessarily a huge fan.*

            In my thought process I did not go so far as to think that women would prefer polyamory, just that it would not be obviously bad for them. I imagine it would have some pros and some cons(in particular that the pros would be front loaded with regard to age, creating a separate coordination problem just between young and old women), and then, I also imagine low status men out number high status men, so on net society is worse off, thus coordination problem.

            The idea that removing the social norms against it will suddenly make everyone poly is strange though. It feels kind of like the people who worried that, once gay marriage was allowed, nobody would bother to marry women anymore.

            *My primary concern with polyamory is that I feel like it might hurt the social norms around cheating, and our current legal system is very preferential to women in the realm of cheating. So anything that degrades the norms around cheating hurts me(as a man) and my lack of interest in polyamory means that I get nothing from it. But this is a totally selfish concern.

          • Aapje says:

            @Ozy

            The difference is that modern women have significantly more legal and economic independence from their husbands

            A person will substantially improve their financial well-being if they find an equal or higher earning partner, which women tend to have a fairly strong preference for (men are far more willing to redistribute their income to their partner).

            As inequality in the West is increasing and women are earning more, the pool of mates they find acceptable is actually decreasing. Again, because women on average have a pretty strong bias to a well-earning partner, compared to themselves.

            it is if anything beneficial to the unattractive, as they can have secondary partnerships when previously no one was willing to date them at all.

            This is doubtful.

            It seems that on average, men have higher libido than women and thus, a more desirable and polyamorous man who has as much sex as he wants will ‘service’ more than 1.0 woman.

            If monogamous relationships are preventing very desirable men from having as much sex as they want, leaving women who are not his partner to have sex with less desirable men, then this benefits those less desirable men to have monogamy.

            This ‘there are no losers to monogamy’ mindset that you display is the sign of a zealot/Utopian thinker. Believing it requires that you think that the proponents of mandatory monogamy are wholly irrational.

          • allspoilersallthetime says:

            Spookykou says:
            May 18, 2017 at 6:00 pm

            I will admit that I found the ‘unhappiness of women’ portion of the argument to be the weakest/nonsensical and glossed over it, but if we accept it, then I concede that it is possible that women will self correct/defect.

            If the theory that polyamory will descend into defacto polygyny is correct, then it seems that women would be unhappy. Polygyny is bad for women, children and young men.

          • Spookykou says:

            @allspoilersallthetime

            As many others have pointed out, the full blown polygamy idea doesn’t seem very likely to me, given other conditions of our modern world. This is what Ozy means when they say that women could opt out of a transition to true polygamy.

            High status men might be able to convince a few women to be exclusive to them, but the clear and constant presence of slightly less high status men, and freedom of choice should make true polygamy unlikely.

            Basically my assumptions go like this, a society that is broadly polyamorous would have to construct a variation on legal marriage for poly people, I would imagine that these would be considerably weaker contracts, particularly with regard to financial responsibility for any one member for any other.

            Taking this plus the ‘vision of modern wide spread polyamory’ that I have seen here and most agree with(assuming everyone suddenly becomes poly), you basically get tiered relationships with high status men having ‘harems’ but the women in these ‘harems’ having several lower status side men who provide for them financially/emotionally, etc. Because this is the only way those men can get into relationships.

            Importantly, this favors young women and is terrible for older women. As described elsewhere, women are trading for commitment and men are trading for sex in the relationship marketplace. Currently this is a massive advantages for women in open marriages, because the mans commitment is already tied up so he has nothing on offer for casual sex, where as the woman has exactly what is on offer + no messy issues with her expecting commitment.

            However in a less strict financially binding poly alternate reality, it should be relatively easier for older men to reassign their commitment, and very few would have much cause to commit to the older women. Since I personally(and I suspect maybe women agree?) think the ‘stable loving life partner’ is the more important aspect of a relationship, this creates a, if not immediately, potentially bad situation for women. That would be difficult to resolve once inside the system.

            Of course all of this is just me navel-gazing at a hypothetical.

            Edit: It seems that vV_Vv lays out the same basic idea deeper down in the comments, sans marriage changes.

          • allspoilersallthetime says:

            Spookykou said: Of course all of this is just me navel-gazing at a hypothetical.

            Edit: It seems that vV_Vv lays out the same basic idea deeper down in the comments, sans marriage changes.

            Navel-gazing at hypotheicals is interesting though!. I think perhaps my comment was a bit irrelevant to what you were actually saying, in this case.

            I’m not sure that I fully follow your argument though, for example you say:

            women are trading for commitment and men are trading for sex in the relationship marketplace

            and

            you basically get tiered relationships with high status men having ‘harems’ but the women in these ‘harems’ having several lower status side men who provide for them financially/emotionally, etc. Because this is the only way those men can get into relationships.

            If men only want sex, and woment only want relationships, then why would the low status men be so financially/emotionally generous if all they get is a relationship and not any of the sex that the women are having with the high status men? And why would the women bother being in a harem if all they get is sex and not a relationship?

            this favors young women and is terrible for older women
            Isn’t this more true of serial monogamy than polyamory? When a monogamist man wants sex and his wife gets old and loses interest, he either has to suffer in celibacy or leave her to their mutual pain. But for the polyamorist, he can maintain his loving relationship with his wife and also have a side fling for mututal sexual satisfaction*. Wouldn’t that make everyone happier?

            *Maybe, or from the comments below maybe this wouldn’t be so easy for him! :/

            a society that is broadly polyamorous would have to construct a variation on legal marriage for poly people, I would imagine that these would be considerably weaker contracts, particularly with regard to financial responsibility for any one member for any other.
            This is interesting. Scott said something about not supporting marriage laws for polyamory below.

          • Spookykou says:

            not any of the sex

            This comes up in a lot of other post with people who are being hard on Poly but never from the self reported poly people. I assume the lower status men still get sex/companionship/other things from their relationships, also I think a major part of the ‘friendzoned’ concept is men willing to give up a lot of time and money into ‘friendships’ with women on the off chance that they will get to have sex with them. At least this has been my personal experience, where girls I have known have gotten men to do ridiculous favors for them, regularly buy them dinners, even offered them free rooms to stay in, all while they have no intention or interest in dating or having sex with the men.

            The idea is that men trade commitment for sex, which is why it is so hard for men who are in open marriages to find sexual partners while it is easy for their wives, their commitment is already spoken for. Keeping my assumptions about the poly world from before, the man can very realistically offer up his commitment(unlike the married man) to others because.

            1.) Younger more attractive women are more actively seeking secondary and tertiary relationships so the pool of women he wants to have sex with who want his commitment is bigger/better.

            2.) He has few or no legal barriers to making the switch.

            So the big thing the older women are losing out on, is the commitment and financial support, which it seems like it would be easier for men to constantly be moving to younger women. Obviously they can still probably find sexual partners pretty easily.

          • Aapje says:

            Men also regularly stay in sexless monogamous marriages, despite desiring sex, often for reasons involving keeping access to their children or for mere companionship or simply because they have been convinced that they have a duty to do so.

            I think that it is completely wrong to portray male and female motivation as a dichotomy or as having a single goal. The evidence is overwhelming that men and women have very much the same preferences, but not to the same degree. That difference in priorities is very important though and drives a lot of conflict and misunderstanding.

          • If the theory that polyamory will descend into defacto polygyny is correct, then it seems that women would be unhappy.

            A critical issue here is whether individuals belong to themselves in the context of getting married.

            Polygeny increases the demand for wives, since it allows some men to bid for more than one wife. That bids up the price of a wife, for conventional reasons. If the price is received by the father in the form of bride price, that’s a benefit to him. If the price is received by the wife in the form of more favorable terms of marriage, it is a benefit to her. The former is more likely in traditional African societies, the latter in modern developed societies.

            I discussed the issue in more detail in a chapter of my Price Theory.

  22. registrationisdumb says:

    ITT Scott tries to morally justify his weird sex life rather than just accepting he’s got some weirdass fetish like the rest of us weirdos on the internet.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      It’s the sort of thing that cries out for an uncomfortable sci-fi novel rather than empirical claims on the internet.

      • Nornagest says:

        Uncomfortable sci-fi novels (well, novellas) have already been written in this community; I don’t think we need any more.

        • Evan Þ says:

          Like Scott said about Royal California way back when, a halfway-decent sci-fi novel is often better than an empirical argument from bad data.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            I wasn’t thinking halfway-decent, I was thinking a Heinlein novel about incest, or Gor.

          • Nornagest says:

            Hey, I read one of the Gor books on a whim a while back. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting; a little kinky, yeah, but fundamentally a perfectly reasonable adventure story with some anthropology thrown in for flavor. Late-period Heinlein was preachier, though he was also a better writer.

            Maybe they get worse later in the series, though.

          • Evan Þ says:

            @Nornagest, I’ve never read them (and don’t really want to), but according to someone on an earlier thread here, they do get worse later. A lot worse.

            @Le Maistre Chat, I’d guess that any hypothetical Scott novel would be at least halfway-decent. And not all the Heinlein novels with weird stuff are bad; look at Cat Who Walked Through Walls or Door Into Summer.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            @Nornagest: we had a long discussion about this in an IT months ago. Tarnsman of For was a perfectly fine adventure story, not as good as Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars but with some more logical worldbuilding that takes through Priest Kings of Gor to develop.
            One woman I know found the asides about gender roles already offense and long-winded by then. It got worse, especially when the author replaced Cabot (Cabot!) With a female protagonist whose story is, so I heard, all software torture porn rather than an adventure.

          • hlynkacg says:

            @ Le Maistre Chat

            I’m assuming that your autocorrect has replaced “softcore” with “software” but now i’m imagining what “software torture porn” would actually entail/look like.

          • Nornagest says:

            I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream?

          • Aapje says:

            @hlynkacg

            I assume that the chapter is written in Brainfuck.

          • random832 says:

            @Aapje

            Brainfuck is at least a “sane” language, with sequential execution, normal flow control constructs, no self-modification etc.

            Try Befunge or Malbolge.

          • hlynkacg says:

            Brainfuck actually strikes me as being reasonably intuitive. Maybe my brain is already fucked.

          • Maybe they get worse later in the series, though.

            (about Gor novels)

            I haven’t read all of them. My impression is that Norman was a pretty good story teller, although not in Heinlein’s class, with a good deal of information on various past societies that he used for world building. The problem was that, as the series went on, he did more and more preaching about his somewhat unconventional ideas, which got in the way of the stories.

            In some ways the best were the early ones, before it became entirely clear which side the author was on.

    • herbert herberson says:

      Really, it’s an argument between weirdass fetishists on both sides–Heartiste is just a hardcore D/s lifestylist with hilarious pretensions towards having any understanding of people outside of his scene.

  23. Mengsk says:

    I think there’s another thing– if single people are defaulting to monogamy and Heartiste’s theory is true, you’d expect that only the relatively alpha men to identify as poly-amorous, since they’re the ones who have a shot at multiple partners. This would result in the poly population skewing female, which is exactly what your data shows (poly population is ~30% female, while the monogamous population is only ~10% female).

    Of course, this would also be explained by the source; SSC probably appeals more to poly women than non-poly women. But here we’re bumping against the limits of our data set.

  24. Alexandre Zani says:

    The articles you reference above make the mistake of considering women to be passive objects in the play, while at the same time arguing that lots and lots of people want access to something they control. (sex with them) This contradiction is necessary in order to make the argument they make, but as all contradictions, it needs to be addressed.

    Because women get to decide whether they want to have sex with you or not, they can decide that they don’t want to be limited in their ability to seek out sexual partners too. And a lot of them do that. I know of a lot of people who started out with a “One Penis Policy” or one of those silly “We can both date women, that’s fair right?” which exploded in their faces because the woman decided she didn’t want to be unilaterally restricted in her dating and sexual choices. (I also know people who consciously negotiated the boundaries of their relationship such that the woman dates only her male primary partner, but that is the exception, not the norm)

    The poly men I know who have many sexual partners do not stop their sexual partners from having many sexual partners themselves. The men who do impose such limitations on their partner tend to have very few relationships outside of their primary relationship. It’s just not feasible to all by yourself satisfy the sexual needs of more than 2 partners and have a job and a life.

  25. I would not be willing to “believe” any result of a SSC survey, if believing the result means believing that the result is a good representation of people in general.

    • ashlael says:

      I agree with this comment. Equally, I’m not at all convinced that any amount of information about how polyamory functions as a small subset of the population tells us anything meaningful about how it would function as a mainstream social construct.

  26. fahertym says:

    What are the other major poly populations besides “weird nerds”? My completely conjectural/anecdotal guesses:

    – Wealthy urban socialites
    – Hard cultural/political leftist college kids and 20-somethings
    – Very poor populations with such high rates of out-of-wedlock birth and infidelity that polyamory is the de facto norm
    – Wealthy, psychedelic-loving, party-every-weekend club kids
    – Culturally-left libertarians
    – Mormons! (At least a a small subsection of fundamentalists)

    • The original Mr. X says:

      Most of the Islamic world.

      • fahertym says:

        True, I guess I was thinking in the American context.

      • Alexandre Zani says:

        That is a very different situation though. The islamic world is explicitly polygamous. It’s not ok for a woman to have more than one romantic or sexual partner. (And often harshly punished.)

        • ashlael says:

          Also while polygamy is allowed, it’s relatively rare in practice.

          • Anonymous says:

            IIRC, it’s about 5% Muslim men in polygamous marriages. (The more interesting statistic, which I’ve been unable to find, would be the percentage of Muslim *women* in polygamous marriages.) Muslims are permitted up to four wives. Let’s suppose that the average polygamist has 2.5 wives, that’s reasonable, right?

            That would indicate that in a village of 1000, there would be about 25 polygamous men, and about 63 polygamous women. That’s almost 9% of the population. I’d argue that the better word is “uncommon”, not “rare”.

          • Tarpitz says:

            About 7% of the cards in a Magic: the Gathering booster pack are rare, vs. 22% uncommon, while the chance of encountering a monster in an area where it’s rare in AD&D 2nd Edition is 11%, vs. 20% for uncommon. So extremely nerdy hobby usage is with Ashlael, whether Wizards of the Coast are involved or not…

          • ashlael says:

            I’m perfectly happy to substitute “uncommon” for “relatively rare”. My essential point is that a supermajority of relationships are monogamous. This probably has something to do with the strong Muslim stigma against having “favourites”. The polyamourous concept of “primary” and “secondary” partners doesn’t map well onto Islamic conceptions of polygamy.

      • John Schilling says:

        Most of the Islamic world.

        Polygamy legal in most of the Islamic world, but discouraged and rare in practice.

    • Wokely Carmichael says:

      Just anecdotally, the promiscuity of wealthy urban socialites a la the Mailers or Fitzgeralds may be a thing of the past. Starting in the 70’s, concurrent with the liberalization of divorce, there was a significant rise in disapproval of adultery, especially in the most educated classes.

    • adder says:

      The intentional communities movement has an over-representation of polyamorous individuals.

    • herbert herberson says:

      I have working class acquaintances from high school (basically, juggalo-adjacent) who are into swinging. I don’t know how common it is in that kind of context, but I bet it’s a lot more common than some people might expect.

  27. Sniffnoy says:

    People who said they were “unsure” whether they were poly or mono were more likely to be single than people with either style (70% of unsure men and 58% of unsure women).

    I mean, if you think about why someone would check “unsure”, this seems pretty unsurprising.

  28. spinystellate says:

    I found this to post to be fairly unconvincing for many of the reasons stated above, but it had one interesting unintended consequence that I’d like to share.

    I typically think that “exploitation” is sort of over-rated as a concept, and that “consent” almost always works out. But after reading some of the comments here suggesting that polyamory could lead to exploitative relationships (where the woman has multiple partners and the man doesn’t like it but feels like there is nothing he can do about it), something clicked and now I can see more clearly how “exploitation” could apply to other relationships outside the context of this whole discussion. It also made me even more sympathetic than I already was to abused spouses, who technically have the option of leaving but who may just be in a terrible situation with no good options.

    So by seeing how a norm I take for granted, monamory, might be preventing hypothetical exploitation, I am also now more able to see how other norms (some that exist, and some that could exist) might prevent other forms of exploitation. So in summary, the high strength of some of the right-leaning counterarguments to this left-leaning blog post paradoxically made me move slightly left.

    • Allah says:

      Me too. Maybe it’s because I can identify more strongly with the average Western male than the “exploited” garment workers in Bangladesh. To make me take that exploitation argument seriously, you will do well to first make me feel what exploitation might be like with me being the exploited.

      I’ve noticed too that right wing arguments have moved me to appreciate the lefty point of view much more than lefty arguments have. Another example: the kind of genetic determinism espoused in Murray’s The Bell Curve made me appreciate the welfare state a lot more. This is despite the fact that I read a different book arguing against the welfare state.

      • tmk says:

        Interesting, thanks. I’ll have to go think if there are examples of the reverse: Where a notionally “left” argument helps me appreciate a different “right” argument.

      • simoj says:

        Not too paradoxical: though it’s probably fair to lump Murray in with “the right”, he is pretty sympathetic to the idea of substantial social assistance. (Especially via UBI.)

        • Aapje says:

          My perception is that Murray is very progressive.

          • Murray clearly is not a hard core libertarian or conservative. Judging by his first book, Losing Ground, he started out as a supporter of the War on Poverty, was involved with it, concluded that it was a failure at its announced purpose, which was to get poor people to no longer be poor, and had been converted into a program to make being poor less unpleasant.

            I think he’s intellectually an independent, following out lines of argument that he finds convincing. I only read part of The Bell Curve, but it seemed to me that the central point, which had nothing to do with race, was that modern institutions were producing a society in which the spread of ability was wider and the correlation between ability and status closer than in the past, and that that was likely to produce very undesirable social effects.

            That’s neither a left nor a right nor a libertarian position–but it might be correct.

  29. adder says:

    Okay, sure. The rationalist community doesn’t represent a sample of the general population. But those saying that polyamory is rife with a certain gender imbalance aren’t pointing to any representative sample of the general population, or any actual sample at all. It’s fine to examine a subroup as a starting point.

    • notpeerreviewed says:

      Well, they sort of are: They’re pointing to a sample of pre-modern agricultural societies with no access to reliable birth control. Which isn’t necessarily any more representative of a theoretical modern polyamorist society than Bay Area nerds are.

      My experience as a Bay Aryan polyamorist whose circles include both nerdy and not-especially-nerdy-by-Bay-Area-standards polyamorists is that polygyny doesn’t show up much in the latter group either. I have seen one common polygyn-ish failure mode, though – guys with no connection to polyamorist communities who describe themselves as “polyamorous” to their OkCupid dates but are actually cheating on their wives.

  30. Ashley Yakeley says:

    The polyamory community is already biased against polygyny: consider all the articles that denounce “one penis policy” as being Not True Polyamory, never mind that it’s the most popular committed relationship style in the world after monogamy.

    • tmk says:

      If people see the need to denounce it, that indicates it at least exists. Nobody is denouncing “one vagina policy” because it doesn’t seem to exist. Of course, the “one penis policy” might be extremely rare, and the Internet gets itself worked up about 1-3 examples (like with Rachel Dolezal).

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        In my experience, one penis policies are very uncommon because every time you try to have one everyone will laugh at you for having such a low-status relationship style. This is a fairly effective method of preventing attempts at polygyny, I think.

        • Le Maistre Chat says:

          I am skeptical that anyone in your tribe would laugh at them if they were Muslims.

          • notpeerreviewed says:

            My experience is that most liberals are perfectly willing to condemn individual acts of chauvinism by Muslims; for example, I know one liberal who successfully encouraged a Muslim woman to leave her chauvinistic husband. What they’re not usually willing to do is make blanket statements about Muslim strangers whose situations they aren’t familiar with.

        • Jaskologist says:

          How do they justify stigmatizing a consensual sexual relationship?

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            Something about inequality?

          • The Element of Surprise says:

            So it is the objection against the “both are nominally poly, but effectively only the woman gets other dates” arrangement in reverse?

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Jaskologist: Sex-positive people are perfectly happy to be judgmental about things we believe show poor relationship skills. (As an obvious example, talk to any sex-positive person about their opinions on consensual relationships in which one partner does not give affirmative consent to sex.)

        • simoj says:

          Reading this makes me very grateful to be in an environment where nobody feels entitled to judge the classiness of my relationship styles.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            sips champagne while wearing pearls
            “I say, Fred and his girlfriends seem downright oblivious that a one penis policy simply reeks of Patriarchy.”

            Wait, I got the snooty affluent stereotype wrong.
            sips an IPA while wearing a stocking cap

        • gbdub says:

          Would a “one vagina policy” be similarly considered low status? What if it was just a de facto 1VP?

          If you’re in a “relationship”, poly or not, it seems like a reasonable requirement ought to be some sort of obligation to worry about the happiness of your partner(s) in that relationship.

          Lets say Alice and Bob are a poly couple who are both totally fine with that in theory. But in practice, Alice gets all the relationships/tail she wants, and Bob only gets an unsatisfyingly small fraction of Alice’s attention and is therefore sexually and emotionally frustrated. However, he doesn’t want to end the relationship for the obvious reason that “not enough” > “none at all”.

          You seem to be saying the only answer is “Bob is stupid and a bad poly, shouldn’t have gotten into this in the first place”. But does Alice really have no obligation (obligation here meaning “thing you ought to do if you care about a person”, not a literal imperative) to either help Bob find additional companionship, or compromise a bit on her desires and give Bob a bit more attention, at least until his prospects pick up?

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            One vagina policies are significantly less common and as such seem to be less stigmatized. (One person with a one vagina policy doesn’t have much negative effect on a community, the problem is when everyone has them.)

            Of course you should try to satisfy your partner’s preferences. But being sexually and emotionally frustrated because your partner is busy all the time because they have a lot of partners isn’t actually any different from being sexually and emotionally frustrated because your partner works sixty hours a week, or because your partner likes going out with the guys, or because you have a new baby. Time and energy constraints are a real thing for the monogamous as much as the polyamorous.

            And the solutions are going to depend on your circumstances. Maybe Bob and Alice need a date night. Maybe Alice needs to cut back at work or put the baby in day care or break up with one of her partners or tell her friends that she can’t see them as often. Maybe Bob needs to get a hobby that gets him out of the house, so he’s busy while Alice is. Maybe this is a temporary thing and they just need to be as patient with each other as they can until it passes. It really depends on the circumstances.

            I think you’re talking about the conversation upthread where I was talking about people who prefer to be monogamous. But of course the existence of time and energy constraints is very different from having a preference to be monogamous; time and energy constraints exist in all relationships, both monogamous and polyamorous. (And this is also different, of course, from “Bob is envious of Alice’s romantic success,” which is a different problem with its own set of solutions.)

          • gbdub says:

            While I agree that both mono- and poly- relationships can have “partner is too busy doing X” problems, the situation where X is “having sex with other people, which I am not allowed to object to without being mocked/rejected by my partner and our social group for having poor relationship skills” is unique to poly, and I guess I’m not sure why you seem so reluctant to admit that that can be meaningful?

            “Bob is envious of Alice’s romantic success but not allowed to object to that success” is definitely a unique mode as well (and one I meant to include in my hypothetical).

            And yeah, both the failure of “Bob spends too much time at work” and “Alice spends too much time picking up other dudes” are going to leave one party unfulfilled and both can probably be addressed by some sort of compromise. But the percentage of people who can easily avoid jealousy is already small, and the percentage of people for whom their partner(s)’ extra hour at the office is exactly equivalent to their extra hour of naked playtime is even smaller.

            For the majority of people, sex and love occupy a unique part of their psyche. We can argue about how much of that is biology vs. social conditioning but in the here and now it doesn’t really matter, either way it’s not easily changed.

            I suspect that poly relationships are somewhat more likely to feature one highly sexually fulfilled and one unfulfilled partner, simply because both partners having to get all their sexual satisfaction with each other is more likely to keep them in tune (having sex with a sexually frustrated person is less fun – if that person is my only sexual outlet, I’m more likely to make an effort to fix their frustration for my own benefit if nothing else, whereas if I can stigma-free go elsewhere for good sex it’s easier to ignore their frustration). On the other hand poly relationships are probably more likely to have all parties equally fulfilled despite widely divergent libidos.

            Which one is a net benefit is obviously highly individual, but I think it’s possible to get stuck in a bad version of either.

            So basically I’m a little uncomfortable with a couple aspects of the poly-advocacy here (despite being totally supportive of people doing it if that’s what’s really best for them):

            1) The implicit assumption that jealousy is inherently problematic, a negative thing that ought to be worked through / evolved beyond (i.e. the jealousy is always the problem, never the behavior of another person that triggered the jealousy). You can be as careful as you want, but it’s very hard to not make that sound like “polys are superior people because we don’t get jealous like you rubes”.

            2) Maybe I’m reading too much into your online writing style, but your dismissal of potential problems in poly relationships feels a little cold and unsympathetic. I tend to agree that people are too likely to stick with bad relationships of all flavors. But dismissing that with “that’s not a problem with poly, that’s a problem with you, just stop being stupid” seems overly harsh. And also dismissive of the unique set of circumstances, customs, taboos, and stigmas that poly communities are going to have, not all of which are positive.

            [EDIT: 2) is referring to this whole thread, not just to your immediately preceding post, which was more sympathetic to undersexed Bob. But note that in my hypothetical, Bob was specifically feeling that his romantic/sexual needs were not met, so “date night” might work, but “go get a hobby” seems like it would not be a sympathetic suggestion]

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Well, what does “object to that success” mean?

            If “object” means “feel sad about it and talk about his sadness with Alice,” then of course Bob can, and Alice would be a shithead if she didn’t let him. If “object” means “stop Alice from being sexually successful”… look, I get the temptation, but that’s short-sighted. If you really think about it, that’s not going to get you the thing you want (lots of dates). The thing it’s going to get you is that you’re reminded less of the thing you can’t have, and Alice– a person you love!– doesn’t get to have it either.

            But it doesn’t have to mean that! Bob can ask Alice to set him up on a blind date, or to give him blunt advice about how to get laid more, or to have threesomes with him. Bob can realize that he doesn’t actually want lots of dates, it’s just that he feels really ugly, and try to work on fixing that. Bob can work on accepting “yes, this is a shitty situation, and I wish I knew how to fix it, but my life is overall pretty happy and I’m glad Alice gets to enjoy herself.”

            With regards to sexual fulfillment… look, I don’t mean to be rude, but how many people do you know in marriages of longer than a few years’ duration? Because libido imbalances are so common. Even if you start out with a similar libido, there’s stress (which some people respond to by getting hornier and some people respond to while getting less horny), there’s having kids… If anything, polyamory helps more often than it hurts, by giving the higher-libido partner another outlet. (Even then, it doesn’t always help: it’s a really common to hear the lament “I can have sex with lots of other people, but I don’t want sex with other people, I want sex with my husband.”)

            I think “jealousy” combines a lot of different things in a way that’s unhelpful for this sort of conversation. Many of the things that jealousy is are bad: insecurity, not getting your relationship needs met, envy. I hope it is not controversial of me to say “if you’re insecure or envious or not getting your relationship needs met, you need to fix that.” But sometimes jealousy is nothing but a brief twinge of envy, in which case it’s probably best to accept it and not make it a bigger deal than it is. And of course many monogamous people find that their partner only being romantically interested in them makes the relationship more special, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but you probably shouldn’t be poly if that’s true.

            Of course, there are lots of poly people whose strategy for dealing with jealousy is “it makes me feel insecure when you kiss her so you are NEVER ALLOWED TO KISS ANYONE EVER AGAIN”, which is a terrible strategy. And other poly people who think if they repress jealousy then it magically stops being a problem. (Nope.) And there are lots of monogamous people who proactively deal with their insecurity, unfulfilled needs, and envy. Poly people suck at relationships sometimes; mono people suck at relationships sometimes; I suck at relationships sometimes. And there is no such thing as a relationship style which will cause you not to have a sucky relationship if you suck at relationships. Sorry. No such thing.

            I’m not engaging in poly advocacy. Indeed, the thing I have been nastiest about is people becoming poly when I think that’s a bad idea. (Perhaps unkindly, but my hope is that if monogamous people see a poly person calling this a stupid-ass decision, then they will realize that monogamy is a totally reasonable and valid preference and they don’t have to stay in a relationship that doesn’t work for them.)

          • gbdub says:

            Your last paragraph I think clarifies my misunderstanding – I was interpreting your responses as advocacy in the form of “poly is flawless (or at least has no flaws that mono doesn’t share), anyone who screws it up doesn’t count as poly” when you meant it more like a warning of “here are ways poly can go wrong, if any of them sound like something you’d be likely to do, you should probably stay monogamous (which is fine)”.

            So anyway that clears up most of my objection (and some of mine downthread), I appreciate you taking the time to engage and if you want to ignore me from here out I’m happy to oblige.

            ****

            So that out of the way, a couple more thoughts if you don’t mind/are getting anything out of this:

            Let’s say Bob is struggling to have romantic success outside his relationship with Alice, is frustratedly horny, and would like more attention from Alice. My admittedly probably flawed impression given my indirect experience was that in (some? most? all?) poly communities, Bob asking “hey Alice, could you spend more of your libido on me?” would risk being considered something of a possessive shithead, and/or would feel guilty asking. (As opposed to a mono relationship, where it would be perfectly normal for him to expect Alice to get her rocks off with him or not at all, ignoring for a moment the other downsides of that arrangement)

            But some of your suggestions seem to be basically that Bob do exactly that, so maybe I was just way off base (how typical do you think your attitude is among poly communities?).

            And I think that hints at some of my earlier unease – my again possibly mistaken understanding is that the sort of polyamory we’re talking about here is practiced within “communities” such that doing poly badly or having a strong mono preference cuts you off not merely from a particular relationship but potentially from a pretty significant part of your social circle. It would also induce some pressure to be poly (much as people outside poly social circles are pressured to be mono). Peer pressure can be just as strong (even stronger maybe) in insulated minority communities, so I was concerned that overly rosy portrayals of the poly lifestyle could be harmful to people here who might be tempted to try it.

            But your intent seems to have been exactly the opposite, so apologies for my misinterpretation.

          • Jack says:

            It’s hard to say how typical this attituted is in poly communities, but it’s certainly very prominent in poly community materials–relationship advice blogs and self-help books. If you are unhappy in your poly relationship with Alice you say, hey Alice here is my concern how can we address it together, and that might well mean Alice spending more time with you if that’s what you need to be happy and if they will be happy providing it. Whether there’s an obligation is a more contested question. People leaning toward relationship anarchy would say no: everything has a strict consent base and you take Alice’s answer or leave it. Hopefully you and Alice talked about relationship anarchy going in and so are proceeding on the same basis. But a lot of poly people still believe in relationship obligations ranging from fuzzy dependence- or compassion-based obligations to straight-up contract-like obligations from relationship agreements and so would say maybe or yes.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            gbdub: I mean, there’s no one solution for libido mismatches, but certainly “I’d like to have sex more” is a reasonable preference (in a primary relationship or a secondary relationship! so many people wind up talking about this like secondaries don’t have needs, and they do!). And maybe Alice says “wow, I’ve been an ass and I’m neglecting you for my shiny new partner, sorry”, or maybe Alice says “I have the Coolidge Effect really hard, I’m going to want sex twice a week with each partner no matter how many partners I have, so not having sex with other people isn’t a good solution to this, but I’m happy to try some other solution.” Or something else! And oftentimes there’s no perfect solution to a libido mismatch, but with a lot of communication it’s usually possible to find a good-enough solution.

            It’s true that it’s hard to date monogamously in a mostly poly community. It’s also hard to date polyamorously in a mostly mono community, but it’s probably worse for the mono person in a poly community, because committed poly people like myself don’t remove ourselves from the dating pool. 🙂 It is difficult to come up with a solution for this, assuming you don’t want a bunch of people to break up their relationships for your convenience. But I do think it’s worth acknowledging the cost.

        • Deiseach says:

          everyone will laugh at you for having such a low-status relationship style

          Is that fair, though? Suppose Jon and Sally are in a relationship, and Sally is agreeable to Jon having partners but isn’t particularly interested in it herself, and Jon meets Kasey who is willing to be his partner but again, isn’t in another relationship herself at the time – if Jon, Sally and Kasey are happy, why sneer at “lookit the low-status people! If they were truly evolved poly people like us, they’ll all have multiple genderqueer pan relationships on the go!”

          That’s just as bad as saying “but you can’t have a relationship besides the one you have with Sally, you’ve made a commitment to her and must stick to it or break up with her if you want to date other people”.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            No one minds a relationship that happens to be a V with two women. The problem is when you make a rule that says that you can sleep with women, and your bisexual girlfriend can sleep with women because two women are HAWWWT and anyway a woman can’t be a real threat to you, but your bisexual girlfriend is not allowed to sleep with men.

            The problem with that rule is that relationships with that rule tend to go kablooey. If it’s not the man’s sudden realization that bisexual women generally fall in love with women and aren’t having sex with them to give him a hardon, it’s the girlfriend going “hey, there are lots of other poly guys who are totally willing to let me date men and women, sayonara”. If relationships with one penis policies stuck around long enough, you’d probably start seeing serious gender imbalance problems, but in practice a relationship with an OPP will either end or stop having a OPP in short order.

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            ORRR polygynous relationships will stick around and they just won’t go to your parties because they’re conscious that they’re not as deep Blue as you.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Le Maistre Chat: If the relationship drama is happening somewhere else where I don’t have to put up with it, then I don’t really care.

          • Ashley Yakeley says:

            Given how much more popular 1PP relationships (or at least polygyny) are than other forms of non-monogamy, worldwide, there are alternative explanations:

            * People in successful 1PP relationships stay away from the polyamory scene, for obvious reasons.

            * When people in 1PP relationships do get involved in the polyamory scene, the scene attempts to change them by pressuring the man to “evolve” past his feelings of jealousy.

            * People practice “stealth” 1PP, by getting in one man / two women closed relationships. Or, semi-closed relationships with a veto arrangement that just happens to allow the man to veto other men.

            I’ll admit I’ve never been in one, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them. I think they can be a sensible compromise arrangement for a monogamous man and polyamorous woman, particularly if the woman is not so shallow that she’ll say “sayonara” to a man she really loves just because she can’t get what she wants.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Ashley: 1PPs are not common worldwide. What is common worldwide is “men are allowed to have more than one wife, women are only allowed to have one sexual partner, and homosexuality is illegal and sometimes punished with execution.” You can see where this has certain advantages over a 1PP (no fear of the drama created once the man realizes that bisexuals also fall in love with women) and certain disadvantages (one might argue this situation is somewhat unfair to the woman involved, plus executing people for homosexuality is considered rather distasteful in these degenerate times).

            As to what happens for the men with One Penis Policies? You can find them on OKCupid messaging bisexual women to say that he and his wife want a threesome. They’re called “unicorn hunters” because of the unlikeliness of them ever finding the thing they want.

          • Evan Þ says:

            If the relationship drama is happening somewhere else where I don’t have to put up with it, then I don’t really care.

            Even if the cumulative energy of this relationship drama starts significantly decreasing national happiness? Or it starts breaking down the social order?

            (Which I believe has already happened over the last forty years or so, or at least would have happened absent other unrelated social changes.)

  31. Acedia says:

    Disclaimer: I move in mostly normie circles, not Bay Area tech geek circles; I don’t know many of the latter and don’t have experience with how well polyamory works for them.

    Literally every single time I have observed a group of people try polyamory in real life – and I’ve observed it many times – it starts with everyone talking about the beautiful theoretical framework you always see described on the internet, involving fully informed consent between enlightened people who claim not to experience jealousy, and ends a few months later in an explosion of drama, hurt feelings and recrimination. Whenever I hear anyone I know talking about their plans for an open relationship now my eyes roll into the back of my head.

    • Stationary Feast says:

      Sounds like a great home environment for rearing children.

    • leoboiko says:

      My two most long-lasting poly relationships have lasted 14 and 7 years. I’m no fancy Bay Area bourgeois, but a mere average Brazilian. I know personally several poly people with longer-lasting relationships than mine (including the one who first advocated the movement for me back in the noughies).

      I wish someone would make a great, statistically adequate poly census to end once and for all all the lies and misinformation based on anecdotal evidence, preconceptions and moral hangups. I mean you could just go to a polyamory forum and ask “how long have your current relationships lasted” and disprove the “few months” hypothesis in ten minutes.

      • Acedia says:

        What do you imagine my motivation for lying is?

        • Jack says:

          That escalated quickly. A charitable reading of leoboiko’s comment is that you have anecdotes and they have anecdotes and so “I wish someone would make a great, statistically adequate poly census”. They believe their anecdotes are more reflective of the truth than yours, and I’d guess it’s because they engage in poly communities (at least on-line) and they assume you do not. Attempts to generalize from such anecdotes can result in (uncritically motivated) falsehoods and misinformation. Incidentally, my own anecdotes are more like leoboiko’s than yours so beat that.

          • John Schilling says:

            To be fair, responding to a single anecdote with “all all the lies and misinformation based on anecdotal evidence” may not call for maximal charity, particularly from the raconteur in question.

          • Jack says:

            How can you use an uncharitable interpretation in order to determine that an uncharitable interpretation is in order? We seem to have got into a meta-conversation, but two reasons to be charitable come to mind. One is that charitable interpretations are more likely to keep a conversation going productively (there are a variety of reasons to think this). Another is that it might increase accuracy (people who disagree with us are often more reasonable than we think?)–and here I don’t think leoboiko meant to imply a malicious or purposeful falsehood on the part of Acedia (because there is nothing specific in the allegation), whereas I think Acedia meant purposeful falsehood because they assumed that lying comes with a motivation.

      • Stationary Feast says:

        I wish someone would make a great, statistically adequate poly census to end once and for all all the lies and misinformation based on anecdotal evidence, preconceptions and moral hangups.

        You’re not going to be able to convincingly dismiss worries that these arrangements are bad for childrearing by asking a bunch of adults whose TFR is less than 2 and publishing the results.

      • temp3402 says:

        I mean you could just go to a polyamory forum and ask “how long have your current relationships lasted” and disprove the “few months” hypothesis in ten minutes.

        Since when would going onto a forum where there’ll be clear biases (e.g. survivorship bias) falsify a claim like: most open relationships end in failure quite quickly? It falsifies universal claims, but nobody is making universal claims, because that would be really stupid.

        • Jack says:

          Survivorship bias would be a problem if you were testing for whether a new open relationship will end quickly, but not necessarily if you are testing whether existing open relationships tend to be stable, and not at all if you are testing whether there are a substantial number of people who have stable long-term poly relationships.

      • simoj says:

        Not going to read too much in to this, but my experience is identical to Acedia’s with one obvious counter-example I’ve often remarked on: Brazilians! No clue why that would be… probably just coincidence, but here it is again 🙂

      • shmohawk1 says:

        In other words, the longest-lasting relationships you were in still weren’t long enough to raise a child in.

    • blacktrance says:

      Most people are bad at relationships, so in the absence of any contrary considerations, polyamory shouldn’t change that. But when a monogamous relationship fails, we provide a variety of possible reasons, but when it’s polyamorous, people quickly jump to that as the cause.

      • hlynkacg says:

        I don’t think it’s much of a “jump”.

        If most people are bad at relationships, and you increase the number of people in a relationship, you’re increasing the likelihood that the relationship will contain someone who is bad at relationships.

    • hlynkacg says:

      @Acedia

      FWIW my own experience matches yours, but then I don’t move in “Bay Area tech geek circles” either.

    • Ozy Frantz says:

      It is commonly noted among poly people that opening up an already existing relationship is polyamory on hard mode, in part because you’re not filtering for a partner who wants to be polyamorous. Also, it’s a bad idea to say that you are enlightened because you never experience jealousy, because that means when you are jealous you’ll have no way to handle it. Much better to go “yeah, jealousy is a thing that happens sometimes, it’s a sign of a problem in your relationship that you should listen to, and if it’s dealt with proactively it doesn’t have to be a huge issue.”

    • Christopher Hazell says:

      Whenever I hear anyone I know talking about their plans for an open relationship now my eyes roll into the back of my head.

      As somebody who grew up in the 90s, this is how I feel about monogamous marriage.

      I’m kidding a little, obviously not EVERYBODY I know is divorced or unmarried. But for post-boomers in my circle, the success and prevalence of monogamous marriage is quite low.

  32. parasoc says:

    Obviously people who self-identify as “polyamorous” are less likely to be single. This doesn’t touch on the National Review or Heartiste point at all. Subpar post that was presumably motivated by Scott’s personal life.

  33. janrandom says:

    I like the approach of using data to get objective results about this question. I am also personally interested in the question, currently being male and single (albeit with children, which compensates at lot).

    But I am skeptical about our ability to infer meaningful results from relationship preferences and number of partners. It starts with what you are writing:

    > I’m not sure how people decided to identify as poly or monogamous

    But it doesn’t end there. Is ‘partner’ the same thing for women and men (as pointed out elsewhere in the comments)? Are there selection effects where people choose mono or poly based on prior experiences? Are these people happy with the situation? The subject is highly sensitive. While it would be nice data we probably can’t go around and ask for about number of affairs or frequency of intercourse and expect useful results. Arguably the topic is most important for many people, so we can assume all kinds of selection, signalling and self-deception.

    I’d like to say to go by revealed preferences, but how? I wondered about instead asking about perceived relative quality (“do you think your relationships are better/equal/worse than that of your peers?”) but while that might be interesting too, it doesn’t provide the answers we seek.

    And we do not know what the baseline is. How happy are women or man on average (in or out of relationships). Historically. Though wait. we should be able to get that from existing polls, right?

    I thought about looking at ancestry data bases and looking at number of offspring vs. some indicator of happiness but birth control completely distorts the relation we are looking for.

    I’m really curious about more potential survey questions. So far only few have been posted.

  34. eelcohoogendoorn says:

    This strikes me as very weak data; I can easily see selection effects explaining all there is to see in your data.

    This is one of those cases where I am inclined to go with ‘dropping a cup of water in the ocean raises the water level of the ocean’, rather than with ‘I cant directly measure it so who knows’. Unattractive males should expect a better penile-wetting-coefficient under a system of strict monogamy than under that plus polyamory. And alphas a lesser one. It would take a lot of data to convince me otherwise.

    However, the more important point here I think is that polyamory, being the niche that it is, isnt really the concern of omega males. Rather, in current day practice, it is hookup culture / serial monogamy that is getting most women’s needs met without ever having to endure omega males in their presence. And the same goes for the female perspective. On first principle, serial monogamy is also the institution which is the much more toxic one to the market, for those who are in it to extract long term commitment from it. The intent of a typical mormon groom is to provide more than just his semen, even if he has to divide his resources. The same can not be said of the average tinder match.

    And either way, I dont think peoples lifestyles should be dictated by their supposed effects on some sort of abstract sexual marketplace; but I respect that it can be a sensitive topic to scott since his lifestyle is defacto illegal almost everywhere on this planet, which is aweful. But as a rhetorical instrument for fighting against these legal injustices, id say you are better off contrasting yourself to the perfectly legal hookup culture. Any supposed threat posed by polyamory to the institution of monogamy and its supposed virtues, is dwarfed by that of tinder; as net total effect obviously, but also per participant.

    • eelcohoogendoorn says:

      Same caveat applies here as discussed below; I am a bt careless here in lumping together mormons and bay area polyamorists; both of whom tend to have quite different aims, affect the sexual market differently, and are affected by the sexual market differently. A market in which all actors are hedonists is quite a different (and more intrinsically symmetrical) market from one where all actors are sexually dimorphic and try to maximize their gene copies.

      Still, the general point stands I think; whatever evils are supposed to be associated with polyamory, are in practice dwarfed by whatever the effects of hookup culture are, as far as I can see.

      • sierraescape says:

        How many Bay Area polyamorists are there? Wikipedia tells me there are between 6 and 10k fundamentalist Mormons, which seems like a relatively negligible amount for non-anecdata compared to larger groups.

    • Creutzer says:

      This is one of those cases where I am inclined to go with ‘dropping a cup of water in the ocean raises the water level of the ocean’, rather than with ‘I cant directly measure it so who knows’. Unattractive males should expect a better penile-wetting-coefficient under a system of strict monogamy than under that plus polyamory. And alphas a lesser one. It would take a lot of data to convince me otherwise.

      Yes, but as you then point out correctly, strict monogamy isn’t actually the competitor system being practiced by the wider society. And with serial monogamy, there is an a priori consideration in the contrary direction: that women who might flinch from committing to a lower-status man as their only partner might be willing to take him on as one of several partners. And one doesn’t know how to weigh these a priori considerations, hence the desire to bring data into the picture.

      • eelcohoogendoorn says:

        Yeah; for specific subcultures, the net effect may indeed swing either way; but on a global scale I don’t really see that as a question that needs more data. I might be overestimating the rate at which women are ok with sharing partners though.

        But most importantly I would like to emphasize again that whatever externalities result from someones choices of voluntary association, I don’t consider anyone’s business anyway; so while I think the ‘is’ question is intellectually interesting, I find it much more important to question where the ‘ought’ is coming from; regardless of whether it is omega males or alpha females who are supposed to be drawing the short end of the stick.

  35. Unirt says:

    I suppose some of the critisism of polyamory comes from people assuming wrongly that there’s just one sexual strategy for all men (have as many partners as possible but guard them jealously) and one for all women (have one highly attractive partner to sire the kids and somebody – either the same or another male – to provide resources). But this is not necessarily true. I would guess humans have a whole bunch of sexual strategies that can be successful in different settings. E.g. there appear to be high testosterone-low jealousy males, low testosterone-low jealousy males, high testosterone-high jealousy males and so on; high promiscuity-high jealousy females, high promiscuity-low jealousy females, low promiscuity-low jealousy females etc, etc. Also, sexual strategies may be learned in humans to a high extent – not necessarily, but it would make sense. Many reproductive behaviors that other animals have good instincts for need to be learned in hominids, such as copulation and breastfeeding (I hope this information is not totally outdated).

    • Anonymous says:

      Is there a correlation between testosterone levels and sexual jealousy? Because I suspect there might be one.

      • Unirt says:

        Is there a correlation between testosterone levels and sexual jealousy? Because I suspect there might be one.

        I suppose there is, probably. Maybe a positive correlation in humans and a negative one in sparrows (I don’t remember which species, actually). Luckily, these things respond to selection and the behavioural traits that are not any more adaptive can be replaced in time. The point is that there is enough material for selection to operate on, since humans are so variable.

        The critic’s concerns could very well be justified if we made polyamory obligatory for everyone. Luckily, most polyamorians are probably selected to be mostly okay with it. Maybe selection will favour the psychological traits that support polyamory in the future, maybe not.

    • temp3402 says:

      I suppose some of the critisism of polyamory comes from people assuming wrongly that there’s just one sexual strategy for all men (have as many partners as possible but guard them jealously) and one for all women (have one highly attractive partner to sire the kids and somebody – either the same or another male – to provide resources). But this is not necessarily true.

      The issue is more that the mating strategies differ between men and women on average (and that this is in large part the product of our evolutionary histories). Nobody is making universal claims; there will always be exceptions.

      • Unirt says:

        It would certainly be terrible to make polyamory the norm for everyone at once (since most people are jealous), when natural selection hasn’t yet moved the populations toward more polyamoury-favoring traits. Which it can very well do, since our reproductive landscape has changed very much and the current behavioural traits are likely somewhat maladaptive.

        Of course the future may not be polyamory; maybe more likely some Galliform system where males don’t provide for the young at all, since the government helps the females to raise all the kids anyway.

        • Deiseach says:

          I think the problem of jealousy has been acerbated because of the movement in the West since the rise of Romanticism to put all the emotional eggs in one basket of “romantic love is the ultimate fulfillment of all humans”. Tying that to “you should only marry for love” and the notion of the soulmate (something I would dearly love to extirpate with fire), and you have a potent recipe for “I will find the One Perfect Real True Love and Destined Partner who will completely meet all my needs and we will be all-in-all to each other and there will be no infidelity or attraction or need of anyone romantically/sexually outside of our couple, and if it happens, that is immediate cause to end the marriage/relationship” which naturally makes for a steaming hellbrew of jealousy and possessiveness.

          I don’t think hip, modern, not-your-granny’s polyamory is going to cure that, not until we knock down Romantic Love off its pedestal.

          • Jack says:

            Congratulations, you have independently derived relationship anarchy.

          • … has been acerbated …

            Wow, I’ve never before seen that word used without the “ex-” prefix. And since it was you, I knew it was quite deliberate.

            And until this moment, when I looked it up, I had not noticed the direct connection to the Latin root for “acerbic”.

            I’ll say it once again: Deiseach, your contributions here are always very much appreciated.

  36. tmk says:

    It is interesting that there are many people here defending Heartiste’s theory, but nobody for the National Review theory. I suppose this place is full of Men’s Rights-style conservatives but no Family Values-style conservatives.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not unexpected. Unless I have a gravely inadequate image of the community, this place is hardly a young parents’ club. (And of those here who have children, I don’t expect many to have more than one.) It’s a pity that intelligent, prosocial and cultured people don’t breed. 🙁

      • Bugmaster says:

        Speak for yourself, man, I’m stupid, antisocial, and boorish ! Heh.

      • JonathanD says:

        I have three young ones myself, but I do imagine that I’m atypical. While I find this conversation interesting (mostly in a prurient sort of way), I doubt I have much to contribute.

      • sconn says:

        I have four kids, so I can make up for one non-reproducing member of this community. 😉

        Not a family values conservative, but I was raised one. Had a major change in values between kid 3 and kid 4, right around the time I started reading this blog.

        I definitely do get the impression that people here don’t seem to know a lot about kids. I figured it was because they’re younger than me/not starting families at 23 years old like I did. Though to have more than 2 kids on purpose, you basically have to be religious or a hippie — or at least, so say the randos I meet on the street who would like to speculate on why I have so many kids. (They are mostly right: I had the first two kids because I wanted them, the third because I was religious at the time, and the fourth by accident.)

    • eelcohoogendoorn says:

      Even if you are a Family Values-style conservative, it is not hard to spot the flaws in the National Review theory, cognitive biases aside. Under polyamory as scott understands the term, women have a choice to enter in the arrangement or not. Individuals do not always choose wisely, but by allowing polyamory, their options increase, which we should not expect to lead to a decrease in their average satisfaction.

      By contrast, the lower in the pecking order you are as a male, the more readily you see your options shrivel as society moves away from the limit where everyone is paired of one-to-one. Heartiste’s theory at least stands up to basic scrutiny.

      Why is the situation not symmetrical? As long as many women gravitating towards a single high status man remains a more popular arrangement than many men flocking to and being happy sharing a single women, this asymmetry on the lower end of the pecking order remains. And I think the national review is right on at least that part; women have only one womb, thats a fact. Hanging around it with ten dudes trying to fertilize it at the same time doesn’t make any evolutionary sense.

      It is this asymmetry that is fundamental; and definitely plays a role in the population at large. Mormons do not have multiple husbands. This asymmetry is obviously not so black and white for bay area polyamorists, and scotts data does suggest it swings the other way, all caveats aside. The more sexual demand either sex satisfies, the higher they will push the price of sex for those competing in the same market. And it seems the poly women are doing more to ‘depress the price of pussy’ than vice versa.

      But I think insofar that conclusion is valid, I very much doubt it generalizes to the population at large. Heartiste may well be wrong when it comes to subgroups such as bay area polymorists; here it is actually the women at the lower end who see their pool of blue-balled men eager to placate them shrivel. But his general calculus is valid. National review is just plain wrong.

      • Anonymous says:

        a more popular arrangement than many men flocking to and being happy sharing a single women

        It’s called prostitution, and it’s pretty popular. Not that it apparently provides much happiness all-around, just release.

        • eelcohoogendoorn says:

          Right. I suppose the mormons and bay area polyamorists are also very hard to lump together in any analysis, since for mormons, the arrangement is centered around raising children, whereas generalizing from the bay areans I know, they see it as a hedonism-maximizing institution. This adds another twist to the question of who stands to benefit and who stands to gain.

      • Svejk says:

        I think National Review overstates its case, but I’m not sure I would call them ‘wrong’. While women may have more choice of partners under polyamory, if it becomes widely established they may have less choice in terms of relationship dynamics. For example, mid-status women who can now reasonably expect to monopolize the attention and resources of one mid-status male for at least the duration of their reproductive career may have to share his attention with another partner. Women who do well under the traditional standards of the mating market – i.e. who marry a faithful middle-class high-paternal investment partner, and who do not have a preference for sexual novelty, might be disadvantaged under polyamory. These women probably form the core of the NR audience, and of stable middle-class society. I think historical evidence shows that low-status men fare worst under polygamy, but different demographics make different trade-offs, and NR is writing for its demographic.

      • Unirt says:

        women have only one womb, thats a fact. Hanging around it with ten dudes trying to fertilize it at the same time doesn’t make any evolutionary sense.

        This is exactly what female chimps do – when fertile, they copulate with as many males as are available. Makes perfect evolutionary sense, in social and survival terms; in particular, it’s good for the survival of the young.

        • SchwarzeKatze says:

          That’s what female bonobos do, not chimps. Bonobos evolved female promiscuity to protect against infanticide. Since the males can never be sure they aren’t their own offspring they don’t kill them. Alphas in chimps are only alpha for a while, and when there’s a new alpha he usually kills the offspring of the previous alpha.

        • eelcohoogendoorn says:

          And indeed that analogy would work perfectly well; if not for the fact that human females tend to be pretty hung up on securing male parental investment.

    • Deiseach says:

      I suppose this place is full of Men’s Rights-style conservatives but no Family Values-style conservatives.

      Ahem! Excuse you! Why, I recognised myself straight away in this quote used in Freddie deBoer’s latest article (thanks, Freddie!):

      William Burroughs summarized the whole social conservative movement perfectly as “decent church-going women with their mean, pinched, bitter, evil faces.”

      *reads this*

      *looks in mirror*

      Why, I never noticed before but – but it’s true, my face is Evil!

      🙂

    • bbeck310 says:

      There are Family Values-style conservatives, but the linked NR article is the weak Family Values conservative argument. Most Family Values-style conservatives are primarily concerned with family stability and the best situation for children, not whether the arrangement is particularly advantageous for adult men vs. women. There are lots of people on this thread making the conservative argument about family stability and child development.

  37. meltedcheesefondue says:

    Er, people? ravenclawprefect found another survey; we should definitely be using it, rather than speculating datalessly: http://www.lovemore.com/polyamory-articles/2012-lovingmore-polyamory-survey/

    Particularly interesting is that poly females report a higher number of sexual partners than poly males (whereas this is reversed in the “control group” General Social Survey). See “FIGURE 10: Number of Sexual Partners in the Past Year”

    • boragus says:

      This probably has a great deal to do with the fact that about 45% of poly females had partners of both genders, whereas only around 15% of poly males did the same.

      • meltedcheesefondue says:

        Sounds plausible (and not really in tune with the NRO/Heartiste complaints above).

        But let me reiterate: there’s a whole other survey! We have twice as many data sources as before, 2 rather than 1. Why is this not appearing in almost every comment?

        • carvenvisage says:

          Personally I’m a schlub who can’t stand data. I like Scott’s writing for many other reasons as well, but if I didn’t the fact that he’s 1. trustworthy and 2. willing to wade through it and explain it/himself, would be a huge draw for someone who lacks the will (or energy or time) to do so themselves.

  38. j r says:

    A bunch of people have already noted that the rationalist community may not make a great stand-in for the world at large. Anytime you base analysis on a self-selected group, you’re going to have a fair amount of selection bias and omitted variable bias. Atheism may make a good analogue. If you looked at a bunch of self-identified atheists and compared their outcomes to the openly religious, you’d likely found that they compared very well. But what happens when you compare the religious to people who don’t practice any religion but don’t bother to call themselves atheists either?

    I also wonder about using “partners” as the observable variable. How much casual or recurring but non-committal sex is happening in polyamorous communities? And does sex tend to follow the female hypergamy model more than relationships? Anecdotally, when I think about hook-ups, they certainly tend to adhere to that model. If you look at a random cohort of people who hook-up with and date each other and map the occurrence of sex, you’re probably going to find that a smaller group of men than women was having most of the sex within that cohort.

    All that said, the NRO and Heartiste objections have plenty of other problems. The question of “what is best for society?” is entirely too abstract to be meaningful. For one, it completely ignores the cost of enforcing norms and punishing people who defect from those norms. In other words, if enforcing monogamy comes with a price, that price may very well outweigh any gains from the monogamy.

    • temp3402 says:

      All that said, the NRO and Heartiste objections have plenty of other problems. The question of “what is best for society?” is entirely too abstract to be meaningful. For one, it completely ignores the cost of enforcing norms and punishing people who defect from those norms. In other words, if enforcing monogamy comes with a price, that price may very well outweigh any gains from the monogamy.

      What is the alternative to thinking about the question? To let change happen without consideration? Obviously we cannot actually estimate the change in utility that would occur from changing our societal arrangements to ones that have not yet been tried at scale. The argument is one from risk aversion. Thinking about the question will at least heighten our focus and bring people towards assessing the magnitude of the risk and the probability of its occurrence. Useful survey data could verify or falsify whether: 3+ parent households are deleterious to a child’s wellbeing; informed polyamorous relationships are stable; polyamorous relationships are more happy than monogamous relationships; and so on. All of this would be helpful. (I doubt any of this would be decisive, as self-described polyamorous people are a very niche group and I doubt their experiences can be generalised to the parent population. It would still be helpful.)

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m pretty against pushing to legalize polyamory, just because I feel like the least annoying equilibrium is one where the weird people who want to practice it do, the social conservatives don’t bother us, and we don’t bother them. Nothing’s stopping anyone from being polyamorous right now and I don’t think marriage benefits are worth the extra hassle.

      Also, you get weird stuff where you can circumvent immigration law by marrying the entire population of Mexico.

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        To be fair, it’s pretty easy to say the marriage benefits aren’t worth the extra hassle if you don’t want to marry more than one person.

      • John Schilling says:

        But what about the hospital visitation rights?

        Seriously, this is a healthy, pragmatic attitude that is probably the best near-term path forward for polyamory. I expect problems when there is nonetheless a non-trivial effort to push for legalized poly marriage, and every known polyamorist or poly advocate is asked (from both sides) “are you with us or are you against us”. Was it possible for a homosexual and/or progressive a decade ago to say “actually, I think quietly going with domestic partnership law would be best” and not lose friends?

        For added fun, toss socially conservative Mormons into the mix. Even some of the non-extremist ones who don’t presently practice polygamy may wind up on the pro-poly side.

        • Deiseach says:

          But what about the hospital visitation rights?

          I swear I recently read someone advocating for poly marriages on exactly this basis! Scott’s attitude is reminiscent of early gay activism, where it was “look, let’s just get the sodomy laws repealed and make it illegal to fire someone just for being gay and then we and the straights can live and let live”. Then down the line it becomes “The fight for gay marriage is on a par with the Civil Rights movement”. If there really is a poly activism movement, they will eventually go the “we want legal recognition of our families because Jane and Bob are just as much parents of my kids as me and Tim are” route.

          And because of traditional polygamy, it’s much less of a leap to try and get polyamory recognised. All the liberal Christians scrabbling for “David and Jonathan were gay lovers, Naomi and Ruth were lesbian lovers, the Scriptures recognise same-sex couples” backing will more easily find the examples of the Patriarchs to argue that “God accepts those in committed, loving, life-long relationships with multiple partners” when it comes to legalisation.

          • sconn says:

            But the property part of marriage law would be a nightmare! It’s hard enough for TWO people to get divorced. Many polygamists (read: the fundamentalist Mormons) don’t even want legal marriage, not because they’re trying to soften their argument, but because it actually makes a lot more sense for all the wives to be legally single, with their own bank accounts, cars, and houses, than to attempt to pool all that stuff.

          • In the traditional Islamic system, as I understand it, and I believe in modern Saudi Arabia, wives and husbands have separate property.

  39. Gigg says:

    Sad to say this is one of the weakest blogposts you have ever written Scott, I do admire your blog a lot but everyone has their ups and downs.

    How could such a vanishingly small subset of the population as polyamorous men and women from a rational community be an indicator of what would happen if polyamory was adopted by society at large? I don’t think your sample proves anything to be frankly and you would be ridiculed if you draw such far going conclusions from such a limited and skewed sample in a peer-reviewed paper.

    I’m no fan of Heartiste but in this case he is not talking out of the blue. Let’s review the established science shall we?

    1. Polygyny has been universally far more common throughout human history than polyandry, while the latter is isolated to a few special cases in a few cultures among poor families with limited access to land the former has a universal history. This is proven not only by historic records but also by human DNA. Several studies have been done and all show the same result, variance in male reproductive success is much larger. One scientist commented the result of their study this way:

    “This suggests that over the long period of human evolution our choice of partners has not been a free-for-all, and that it’s likely that humans have practiced a polygynous system – where a few men have access to most of the women, and many men don’t have access – over our evolutionary history as a species. This is more like the gorilla system than the chimpanzee ‘multimale-multifemale’ mating system.”
    http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/press/press-releases/2016/february/ancient-chimpanzee-2018adam2019-lived-over-one-million-years-ago-research-reveals

    There are several historical examples of a few human males who have left an extremely large genetic impact on modern populations, no such examples of women.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/04/25/half-of-british-men-descended-from-one-bronze-age-king/

    2. Human physiology reveals a lot about ancient human mating systems, and this is yet another nail in the coffin of the far too common fantasy that humans are just bonobos who have forgot their true way of living.

    Human physiology shows evidence of a mating system with harem keeping males, not a free for all polyamory a la bonobos. In such species sexual dimorphism is generally small and males have huge testes for sperm competition. Human males though lack the morphology for sperm competition and when measuring muscle mass humans are far more dimorphic than bonobos and are in fact much closer to gorillas. The difference in upper body strength is 3 standard deviations which is about the same as found in the most sexually dimorphic and polygynous primate species such as gorillas and baboons. Looking at total body mass when measuring human sexual dimorphism is misgiving since human females have large deposits of body fat that other primate females lack.

    On humans lacking morphology for sperm competition
    http://www.jstor.org/stable/20798866
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352250X15002067

    Human sexual dimorphism
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352250X1500189X

    3. Every study ever done cross-culturally clearly show that when it comes to purely sexual relationships women are much more choosy than men are. This is to be expected on basis of Trivers’ parental investment theory and it holds up across cultures and societies. This is also consistent with the studies described above on human physiology and DNA testing, that this phenomenon would somehow magically disappear if we all became polyamorous is frankly quite far-fetched
    http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1993-29295-001

    4. Monogamous norms were pushed for a reason, to decrease male violence. This is because polygamy in practice always tends towards polygyny and isolated cases of polyandry does not disrupt this very clear and established pattern
    http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/367/1589/657

    To summarize, you cannot seriously claim that your skewed and limited sample from an internet survey invalidates the sheer mass of evidence presented above. I’m no fan of Heartiste and would be on your side on most issues but on this subject I fear he is closer to the truth than you are Scott.

    • SchwarzeKatze says:

      While male bonobos do have larger testes relative to body size, males in genetically monogamous species such as owl monkeys don’t have larger testes either, so it’s certainly no criteria to decide whether a species is a tournament species or not. However twins and lower sexual dimorphism are some of the typical features of pair bonding species. It’s just plain wrong to compare humans’ sexual dimorphism levels to that of gorillas. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to talk of humans as a whole as environmental selective pressures have pushed groups of humans in different directions wrt sexual selection. And of course this completely ignores the Hadza and other foragers that are highly monogamous.

      Robert Sapolsky – Human sexual dimorphism
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8a1-Eu7n0hs

      Equality for the sexes in human evolution? Early hominid sexual dimorphism and implications for mating systems and social behavior
      http://www.pnas.org/content/100/16/9103.full

      “Humans today display relatively limited sexual dimorphism (≈15%), whereas some of the other hominoids (gorillas and orangutans) are highly dimorphic (>50%) (5, 9).”

      “In contrast to the consensus, their analysis revealed only slight to moderate levels of sexual dimorphism, more like Homo and chimpanzees than gorillas.”

      Craniofacial feminization and the origin of behavioral modernity
      http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/677209

      Human origins and the transition from promiscuity to pair-bonding
      http://www.pnas.org/content/109/25/9923.abstract

      The Neural Basis of Pair Bonding in a Monogamous Species: A Model for Understanding the Biological Basis of Human Behavior
      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK97287/

      Human Pair-Bonds: Evolutionary Functions, Ecological Variation, and Adaptive Development
      http://www.public.wsu.edu/~rquinlan/quinlan_EA_2008.pdf

      • Gigg says:

        Scott was speculating on what happened if we humans abandon monogamy for polyamory, and whether this would make us polygynous like gorillas and baboons or polygynandrous like bonobos. All evidence points to the former

        As I said in my post, measuring human sexual dimorphism by comparing total human body mass is misleading because human females are unique among primates by having large fat deposits. So total body mass dimorphism is comparatively low in humans because of more dimorphism not less. When we compare what really matters though whuch is muscle mass humans are highly sexually dimorphic. From one of the links posted above:

        “All of these types of evidence support the prediction that male contests have been important in human evolution. Men are larger, stronger, faster, and more physically aggressive than women, and the degree of sexual dimorphism in these traits rivals that of species with intense male contests. The relatively modest 8% stature dimorphism in humans (Gaulin & Boster, 1985) and a difference of about 15–20% in body mass (Mayhew & Salm, 1990) might suggest that male contests are reduced compared with our closest relatives. However, human sex differences in size underestimate sex differences in the traits most relevant to contests. This is partly because women are unique among primates in having copious fat stores (Pond & Mattacks, 1987), perhaps for building the large, fatty brains of human offspring (Lassek & Gaulin, 2008), and as sexual ornamentation (see below). When fat-free mass is considered, men are 40% heavier (Lassek and Gaulin, 2009, Mayhew and Salm, 1990) and have 60% more total lean muscle mass than women. Men have 80% greater arm muscle mass and 50% more lower body muscle mass (Abe, Kearns, & Fukunaga, 2003). Lassek and Gaulin (2009)) note that the sex difference in upper-body muscle mass in humans is similar to the sex difference in fat-free mass in gorillas (Zihlman & MacFarland, 2000), the most sexually dimorphic of all living primates.

        These differences in muscularity translate into large differences in strength and speed. Men have about 90% greater upper-body strength, a difference of approximately three standard deviations (Abe et al., 2003, Lassek and Gaulin, 2009). The average man is stronger than 99.9% of women (Lassek & Gaulin, 2009). Men also have about 65% greater lower body strength (Lassek and Gaulin, 2009, Mayhew and Salm, 1990), over 45% higher vertical leap, and over 22% faster sprint times (Mayhew & Salm, 1990). Contrary to earlier claims, sex differences in anaerobic sprint speeds are not narrowing (Cheuvront et al., 2005, Seiler et al., 2007).”

        That humans are a species with low levels of sexual dimorphism is simply untrue, this idea is popular among many and easy to believe when looking solely at total body mass and nothing else but sexual dimorphism is more complicated than that.

        This paper confirms that humans are among the most visually sexually dimorphic primate species that exist placing us in the 90th percentile tied with gorillas

        “In some animal species, the two sexes differ so greatly in appearance that they could be mistaken for separate species. Such was the case when Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, misclassified male and female mallard ducks as Anas boschas and Anas platyrhynchos, respectively (Andersson, 1994). Although men and women may not be as divergent in appearance as male and female mallards, they are not far off. By one subjective assessment, humans are the eighth most visually sexually dimorphic primates (tied with gorillas and white-faced sakis), placing humans in the 90th percentile for visual sexual dimorphism (Dixson, Dixson, & Anderson, 2005). The visual dissimilarity between men and women is partly due to men’s greater height and weight, but largely attributable to sex differences in body fat and muscle distribution (Lassek & Gaulin, 2009), along with conspicuous sex differences in body hair and, especially, facial hair. Not only do men and women differ in their soft tissue distribution, but they also differ in skeletal structure (e.g., Enlow & Hans, 1996). Besides the pelvis, probably the most obvious of the many human skeletal sex differences occur in the face. Men tend to have more prominent brow ridges and a longer lower face, including a larger, more angular mandible and squarer chin.”

        http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224499.2012.658924

        • SchwarzeKatze says:

          With these psychology studies the devil is always in the details, let’s examine one of the claims here :

          Men have 80% greater arm muscle mass and 50% more lower body muscle mass (Abe, Kearns, & Fukunaga, 2003).”

          The cited paper is this one :

          Sex differences in whole body skeletal muscle mass
          measured by magnetic resonance imaging and its
          distribution in young Japanese adults (Abe, Kearns, & Fukunaga, 2003).

          http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/37/5/436.full.pdf

          “Ten female and ten male college students volunteered for the
          study. All were physically active, participating in regular exer-
          cise (aerobic and/or resistance type exercise two to three times
          a week).”

          The sample size is far too low and the fact that the students volunteered is not the same as picking at random and more than likely completely skews the results cause these people were obviously highly into sports (a western cultural thing btw). The males typically obsessed with gaining muscle mass (resistance type exercise) while females will do aerobics and do not want to gain muscle mass.

          Then when you read the paper they cite it says :

          “Upper body muscle CSA (at P1, P2, B1, and B2) for
          women was about 56% (range 55.2–61.2%) of that for men. On the other hand, lower body muscle CSA (at P3, P5, and B3)
          for women was about 75% (range 68.8–84.4%) of that for men.”

          That is not “Men have 80% greater arm muscle mass and 50% more lower body muscle mass”. Which makes you wonder if the author of your paper actually read what they cite or just made this up completely.

          I’ve heard that the average upper body strength difference is more like 30%, on this sample there’s a 44% difference in upper body strength which is due to the sample population.

          • Douglas Knight says:

            You have an arithmetic error: “men have 80% more” is the same as “women have 56% that of men.” You should never say “44% difference.”

            However, “men have 50% more” is not the same as “women have 75% that of men.”

          • SchwarzeKatze says:

            Yep, you’re right. Thanks for pointing this out.

    • Nornagest says:

      There are several historical examples of a few human males who have left an extremely large genetic impact on modern populations, no such examples of women.

      This would be true under any history that allowed for multiple partners for men (even as rare exceptions), whatever the status of women, for obvious physical reasons.

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      isolated cases of polyandry does not disrupt this very clear and established pattern

      The pattern seems to be that cultures where the man is primarily responsible for the support and income of the woman, men who have the resources to support multiple women will engage in polgyny; unless prevented by laws or cultural norms.

      The cultures that buck the trend tend to be ones where someone other than the man is responsible for supporting the woman and her children. For instance, the Mosuo of China tend to have the woman’s extended family work together to support her and their children. First world countries, where women can work full-time jobs and institutions like day-care exist, seem more similar to the Mosuo’s situation than the situation of most polygamous cultures.

  40. Φ says:

    I think you should consider that survey data might be a poor predictor of what an actual polyamorous regime would look like. But I would nominate a question that would address the preference dimorphism that Heartiste alleges:

    Q: Which feature of polyamory appeals to you: (a) obtaining sexual access to multiple women (men) or (b) sharing sexual access to one woman (man) with multiple men (women)?

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Ah, here we have the horns of the dilemna.

    • anaisnein says:

      Speaking as someone to whom both (a) and (b) hold significant appeal: if you decide to use a question like this then both (a) and (b) should be rated on a scale of 1 (no appeal) to 5 (strong appeal), and you should take the time to think through whether you might still be missing options (c), (d), (e) and more before finalizing the question. For starters, (c) obtaining sexual access to partners of more than one gender, (d)-(f) the same as (a), (b) and (c) but about emotional bonding versus sexual access (“access” is a bit skeevy as a term here), and probably more — I don’t have time to focus or brainstorm at the moment, this is just my quick offhand initial ideas. I also would consider just using “partner” rather than “man (woman)” unless you’re planning to try to cut the data generated by this question by orientation and gender, and if you are, you should consider a broader matrix of demographic identifiers in both respects; this of course greatly boosts the n necessary to get any granularity out of the data, even just qualitatively, but that’s the price you pay for asking that set of questions if you want coherent answers.

      • Φ says:

        Quite right, and I wasn’t attached to that specific wording so much as emphasizing that we would be comparing the responses from men against those from women. I was assuming the respondents’ heterosexuality, but given the potential pool it would be wise to break it out by orientation.

        I appreciate the skeeviness of this particular framing. I suspect that some number of respondents are approaching this issue with very ill-defined notions of “free love” and that its attraction to them as a personal lifestyle choice would drop when the choices are put them that baldly.

    • Tedd says:

      Both. Both of them appeal to me. (To be more precise, I feel no particular desire for my partners not to have relationships with other people, and have a preference that I be able to have relationships with multiple people. I also prefer that my parterns’ preferences are satisfied, so to the extent that they prefer to have multiple relationships, I prefer that they do as well.) Although “sexual access” is not the right term; you’re describing open relationships, which are much older and much more common than poly relationships.

      This reads like a straight person asking gay people “which feature of being gay appeals to you: (a) putting your dick in someone’s ass, or (b) having someone else’s dick in your ass?” It’s just… missing the point, in the least charitable possible way.

      • Φ says:

        you’re describing open relationships

        Yes, though in my defense, almost everyone on this comment thread is describing open relationships rather than closed relationships involving multiple ( > 2 ) people.

    • Deiseach says:

      “Access” is really not a great word in this context, and option (b) sounds more like a query about the cuckoldry fetish.

      I don’t know what is a ‘tactful yet would get honest answers’ way to phrase it. Maybe not so much “sexual access” as “the opportunity to have more and/or more varied sex”? After all, if your partner is broadening their sexual repertoire you are likely to reap the benefit of that in your own sexual relationship with them as they find out new things to try out with you!

      • Ozy Frantz says:

        There are reasons people can prefer that their partners have other partners other than cuckoldry fetish. For instance, I had a partner who felt obligated to have sex he didn’t want if his partners were monogamous, because they couldn’t have sex with anyone else if they wanted sex more than he did. So polyamory was very freeing for him because he didn’t feel guilty about saying “no”. There are also people who are asexual or low-libido, and of course sexual fetishes other than cucking. (It has puzzled me greatly that people talk about “cucking” but no one talks about the thing where dominant men get off on their girlfriends being dirty sluts, although anecdotally the latter seems to be far more common.)

        Expanding from sex to relationships in general, there are lots of benefits like not having to be your partner’s sole source of emotional support, friendships with your partners’ other partners, and having someone else who is as interested in the topic of how great your boyfriend is as you are.

        • Anonnymous says:

          The obligation thing is a good point.

        • xXxanonxXx says:

          It has puzzled me greatly that people talk about “cucking” but no one talks about the thing where dominant men get off on their girlfriends being dirty sluts…

          Isn’t… isn’t that cucking? I promise I’m not playing stupid. What’s the difference? Whether or not you get off on the humiliation versus the general sluttiness of it?

          • Deiseach says:

            What’s the difference?

            A pimping fetish rather than a cuckoldry fetish? The idea that you control sexual access to her and she’ll do anything to please you, so if you want her to service your friends, you can ‘use’ her like an object and she’ll put up no objection?

            I dunno, my fetishes revolve mainly about people doing such kinky things as telling someone “I really like you!” 🙂

          • Le Maistre Chat says:

            You’re probably kidding, but sometimes I think things are getting so weird that “boy and girl live in the same neighborhood, realize they really like each other, say so and kiss” is becoming a kink.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          Cuck fetish is a submissive fetish where you get off on your partner humiliating you by cheating on you. (As distinguished from the insult, of course.)

          • xXxanonxXx says:

            The information is appreciated, even if I’m still inclined to see it as one big group of guys who all enjoy watching their women get shagged by other men for one reason or another. Isn’t it odd that the latter category doesn’t have a name despite being larger by your count? Or does it, and I’m just showing my fetish ignorance again.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            To the best of my understanding, when people with this kink look for porn they look for gangbang or free use porn. (Of course, there are practical difficulties with both gangbangs and free use in real life.)

        • Thegnskald says:

          Personally, I enjoy knowing I am the best/preferred partner, a knowledge which is reinforced with other partners explored and found wanting.

          Of course, that may require a confidence that most people lack.

          • gbdub says:

            That does seem to be the difference – confident dominance (I’ve got what everyone wants) vs. submissive (jealousy gets me hot).

    • blacktrance says:

      Neither. I don’t want to restrict my partner from romantic relationships with others – if they make her happy, she should be free to have them. And I don’t want to be restricted myself, even if I never make use of that freedom. I care about the rules, not about either of us having multiple partners per se.

      • gbdub says:

        I still feel like labeling someone polyamorous implies (or ought to imply) someone who either:
        a) wants to pursue multiple relationships (or at least partners) simultaneously at least some of the time
        b) prefers a partner who meets a).

        A person with no interest in multiple relationships who is agnostic on whether their partner is monogamous or not seems to be more accurately described as “monoamorous with low jealousy”.

        I get that rules are important, but using the rules at least occasionally is also important.

        Like, I’m glad that the legal rules allow me to have sex with another man if I ever feel like it. That doesn’t make me a bisexual.

        • blacktrance says:

          Certainly, someone who actually wants to have multiple partners is a more central example, and those rules are usually the result of that preference, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Though I do think it’s somewhat stronger than not requiring monogamy of your partner – it also takes a desire to not be bound to monogamy yourself (even if you want to be functionally monogamous), which is unusual enough to put you in the polyamory cluster. If having sex with other men were illegal and you particularly cared about overturning that for reasons relevant to your own sexuality (but not out of a desire to have sex with men), we might draw the categories differently.

    • notpeerreviewed says:

      Obviously most people are going to like (a) better, but I think you’re underestimating the many reasons why (b) can be a net positive:

      1) Sex can feel like an obligation if your partner has a higher sex drive than you and can’t have sex with other people.

      2) Additional partners can provide your partner with more social and emotional support than you are capable of giving them alone.

      3) Sex with other partners can broaden your partner’s repertoire.

      4) When they’re out on a date you have the house to yourself.

      5) Group sex can be fun, even for many straight people.

      • Jack says:

        6) Compersion.

        7) Reducing one way you might control your partner. (It is a benefit when others are more free.)

        • Said Achmiz says:

          As far as I can tell, “compersion” is a term invented by the (modern) polyamory community, never used outside it, and the alleged phenomenon to which it refers has never been investigated in any academic context.

          Is this an accurate summary?

          • Jack says:

            The first two claims are accurate more or less. The third is false. The earliest investigation of compersion specifically I know of is from 2006, but you’d also have to deal with the fact that compersion is just a name for a sub-set of empathy, which has been investigated a lot in lots of academic contexts. Not sure what the relevance of any of this is. If you have some sensitivity to the term, the idea is just that some people are made happy by seeing their partners happy and that one time this can happen is when they are excited about someone else.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            The earliest investigation of compersion specifically I know of is from 2006

            You wouldn’t happen to have a link handy, or at least a citation, would you? 🙂

          • Said Achmiz says:

            This appears to be a thesis for an M.S. degree. It’s certainly not anything published in a peer-reviewed journal.

            A bit of work with Google Scholar reveals that this paper has been cited a couple of dozen times, but of those works which cited it, I was not able to find any that also deal with “compersion” or, indeed, even mention the word at all.

            I did a bit more digging. Compersion was mentioned in passing in this paper; the only source of the concept, there, is this self-published e-book (link goes to author’s website, which informs us that she is a “relationship coach” and “certified Myers-Briggs trainer”).

            This other diploma thesis (2009) also discusses compersion, noting that “compersion has not yet been researched academically”; the author evidently did a study, but the details are behind a paywall. A skim through the section on related/previous work reveals a mass of confusing and confused definitions in the literature.

            This paper mentions compersion once, in passing. The reference is to this paper (2006), published in some sort of online gender studies journal (I can’t tell how respectable it is, but it does seem to be peer-reviewed). The latter paper, however, turns out to only be about the fact that the word ‘comperson’ has been made up by the polyamory community (and subsequently argued about at some length, it seems).

            Finally, this paper (2014), published in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality (a peer-reviewed journal which shut down in 2015 because, it seems, they received literally zero paper submissions, and which was run by an unaccredited institution labeled “questionable” by Quackwatch), describes a study (n=302) which compared (using a trait questionnaire taken from the previously mentioned paywalled diploma thesis) compersion and jealousy across genders, and investigated effect of compersion and jealousy on relationship satisfaction. (My skills in reading social science papers are rusty and so I leave it to others to give this paper the thorough treatment it deserves. The “outside view” characteristics I mentioned speak for themselves, however.)

            It is my view, on the basis of what I’ve been able to find, that compersion is not a real thing.

          • blacktrance says:

            It is my view, on the basis of what I’ve been able to find, that compersion is not a real thing.

            And the self-reports of poly people experiencing it are what – lies?

          • Jack says:

            I suspected this would happen. Yes, it has been investigated in a variety of “academic contexts” including peer-reviewed journals–but no, of course not “real” academic contexts. Of course I didn’t mean “real” academic contexts, just made-up academic contexts like sexual diversity studies and social psychology. The polyamory community is still consciousness-raising. There are still people getting together and sitting around talking just to make their sense of their own lives real. People in monogamous relationships don’t need to do this in our culture because mononormativity, just as men didn’t seem to need consciousness-raising back in the 60s-70s when feminist women started doing it. So far then, most of the empirical work into poly has been qualitative, focussing just on extracting poly people’s own experiences. So I don’t really expect people outside poly communities to believe the reality of poly experiences. History suggests this will be a long haul if it is ever partially successful. That said, research into all aspects of polyamory looks like it is starting to explode in the last couple of years. Sexualities’ special issue on polyamory from 2006 was a vanguard.

          • Aapje says:

            @blacktrance

            And the self-reports of poly people experiencing it are what – lies?

            There are quite a few self-reports that homeopathy works…

            People are bad at distinguishing random variation from actual effect.

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @Jack:

            Yes, it has been investigated in a variety of “academic contexts” including peer-reviewed journals–but no, of course not “real” academic contexts. Of course I didn’t mean “real” academic contexts, just made-up academic contexts like sexual diversity studies and social psychology.

            Please don’t strawman my comments, and let’s not gloss over the substance.

            My list of links above included just one — one — paper that was a) actually about compersion, and b) published in a peer-reviewed journal. And that peer-reviewed journal was — let’s be clear again — published by an unaccredited institution of highly questionable repute.

            The field of social psychology includes dozens upon dozens of reputable publications. Where is the research on compersion that’s made it into any of those?

            Attempting to make your preferred topic seem much more well-supported and mainstream-accepted than it is, by offhandedly mentioning “social psychology” (implying that my skepticism is the result of — what, some dogmatic rejection of social science in general?), simply looks dishonest.

            That said, research into all aspects of polyamory looks like it is starting to explode in the last couple of years. Sexualities’ special issue on polyamory from 2006 was a vanguard.

            And has this explosion of research yielded anything about compersion, that has seen publication in reputable journals or other mainstream venues? How well has it replicated? Have there been meta-analyses? Could you cite or link to any of it, so we can take a look?

          • Said Achmiz says:

            @blacktrance:

            And the self-reports of poly people experiencing it are what – lies?

            I don’t know. You and I both know that people say inaccurate, false, or misleading things for any number of reasons. Lies, motivated reasoning, lack of self-awareness, selection effects in the reporting or coming-to-prominence of self-reports, unexamined/unstated drastic diversity of mental make-up — these reasons come to mind in only the first ten seconds of me thinking about it.

            But, in any case, if the claim is based solely on self-reports, then you (the hypothetical “you” — the person advancing the notion that “compersion” is an advantage of polyamory) ought to make this explicit, so we can then examine these self-reports, and discuss openly how they may be explained, and just what there even is to be explained, if anything.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Aapje: I have to say, I’m kind of confused about how random variation could cause me to think I believe my boyfriend’s relationship with his wife is suuuuuuper cuuuuuuuute, when in reality I do not. Is the claim here that perhaps every time I am around my boyfriend and his wife I am also around their very adorable cat, but I have mistakenly attributed my feelings of cuteness about the cat to the couple?

          • Jack says:

            Attempting to make your preferred topic seem much more well-supported and mainstream-accepted than it is, simply looks dishonest.

            My apologies if you got the impression at some point that I think any aspect of polyamory is “mainstream-accepted”. I tried to make it clear that it’s not, but it seems to be gradually building steam. You can type “polyamory” into an academic database as well as I can and note the increasing frequency of articles about it across a variety of fields. I also noted that research so far has been primarily qualitative, yet your closing questions reference standards usually applied to quantitative research (eg replicability vs reflexivity). You seem to be moving from “never been investigated in any academic context” to “never been the sole focus of a replicable quantitative investigation”, thus importing additional criteria that, as I have already explained, we shouldn’t expect to be fulfilled at this stage of a fledgling (attempted) social identity. But if your concern is whether compersion is “a real thing” among poly people, the best evidence we have is qualitative research of poly people.

          • Aapje says:

            @Ozy

            Polly Advocate tells Polly Curious about compersion.

            Mrs Polly Curious has a threesome and sees her boyfriend enjoy himself with Mrs Young Cute. Polly feels bad and Polly Advocate tells her that she is a monogamous person.

            Polly Advocate tells Molly Curious about compersion.

            Mrs Molly Curious has a threesome and sees her boyfriend enjoy himself with Mrs Young Cute. Molly is in a good & horny mood and has a really good time pretty randomly. Molly concludes that compersion works! When she later has a threesome that is less pleasant, she attributes this to her being tired, having bad chemistry with the third, etc, etc.

            There are a ton of fallacies that enable people to rationalize away any evidence that goes against a belief and feel that the belief is confirmed by random occurrences.

          • Spookykou says:

            @Ozy

            I’m confused, as I understood it random variation is why seemingly rigorous research can produce results where homeopathy works. Is the contention here that random variation is what causes people to self report that it works, because these seem like different issues to me.

            More to the actual conversation though, this seems like an extreme example of an isolated demand for rigor. A 7 point list of reasons why somebody might like being in a poly relationship, and we have to list twenty articles to establish that a possible emotion people might feel that might make them like being poly has not actually been rigorously studied.

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Aapje: That works if most people are only poly for a year or two, but by the time someone has been poly for a decade and had literally thousands of opportunities to experience compersion, the random variation washes out and they should have a pretty clear idea of whether they are compersive or not. (The homeopathy example doesn’t apply here, because most people don’t have literally thousands of colds.)

          • blacktrance says:

            This skepticism sounds really arbitrary. Taboo “compersion”. I hope the skeptics will at least not doubt that your partner’s happiness can make you happy. This is just a specific case when the cause of your partner’s happiness is one of their other relationships.

            If something good happened to my partner, such as them getting a bonus at work, and I report that it produced an enjoyable feeling in me, presumably you wouldn’t challenge that with “Where’s the data that it’s possible?”

          • publiusvarinius says:

            If something good happened to my partner, such as them getting a bonus at work, and I report that it produced an enjoyable feeling in me, presumably you wouldn’t challenge that with “Where’s the data that it’s possible?”

            If you said “my girlfriend stole my car and ran off with my winning lottery ticket, I’m happy that her financial problems are over”, a lot of people would challenge you about the sincerity of your feelings. Plausibly, the challengers see the scenario closer to the latter than to getting a bonus at work, so their skepticism is not arbitrary.

          • Aapje says:

            @Ozy

            People regularly persist in superstitious beliefs even in the face of many tests of those beliefs. People are built to find patterns and to be conservative in letting possibly useful beliefs go.

            Now, I agree with you that compersion sounds plausible, at least, in the more general sense of sympathetic joy (which the Buddhists call muditā).

            However, it is especially when something seems plausible that people tend to get epistemologically sloppy. For example, why would compersion necessarily be stronger when your partner is having sex with someone else than when your partner eats some ice cream, which (s)he loves. The latter seems to have far less potential for destructive envy.

            Yet I presume that pollyanna people would not commonly use the term compersion when their partner eats ice cream, but merely for sex. So there we enter the realm of motivated reasoning, by only applying a concept selectively. This can lead to the strong claim that polyamory provides unique benefits to people, even though this is hardly a given, as many of the benefits that you claim can plausible be achieved differently and perhaps better (for many people whose brains are not like yours or even for you).

            So if we are at that level of deconstruction, we know very little about whether it is a good choice for many people to be polyamorous or whether many people are better off to design their lives around say, playing cooperative games together that don’t involve sex. Why would polyamory be superior to that, if we look at compersion?

          • blacktrance says:

            If you said “my girlfriend stole my car and ran off with my winning lottery ticket, I’m happy that her financial problems are over”, a lot of people would challenge you about the sincerity of your feelings.

            There are at least a few relevant differences. First, compersion is being used as a point in favor of adopting polyamory, i.e. you think about what it would be like and whether you’d be happier under that arrangement, and decide to switch to it based on your conclusion. So, rather than your girlfriend stealing your lottery ticket, it’d be more like adopting a rule in which she may take it if it’d be good for her without needing your permission. Which would be weird, but if you’ve chosen it, insist that it’s good for you and give a sensible explanation for it, then it’s not so implausible that you’d be right.

            Another important difference that in the case of theft, your girlfriend would be imposing it upon you without your knowledge or consent, and a breach of that magnitude would presumably cause you to care about her much less. Polyamory would be more like if she appealed to you, making a case that your car and lottery ticket would be really good for her, that solving her financial problems would be a significant relief, and so on, but that you don’t have to give them to her and that she won’t take them without your permission. If you agree to give them to her in this scenario, it’s quite plausible that it’s good for you.

          • Jack says:

            There’s a reason polyamorous people invented a word for the sub-set of empathy that can occur when one’s partner is happy with another, and that reason is jealousy. The dominant narrative, one assumed through-out this thread in the face of the data we have of poly people’s self-reported experience, is that the natural or appropriate reaction to seeing your partner happy in this way is to feel bad about it. Turns out not everyone feels that way. It’s useful to have a word specific to this situation in order to more congenially process the counter-narrative. If getting possessive and upset about someone else eating their own ice cream were a major cultural force enforced by legal and social sanctions, maybe we’d need a word for empathy in that situation too.

        • Ozy Frantz says:

          It seems like if the academic evidence is shit, that doesn’t mean the emotion definitely doesn’t exist, it just means that the academic evidence can’t shed light on this question. For instance, positive psychology was founded in the late 1990s, but I think it would be a mistake to assume that happiness did not exist until 1995.

          So instead we have to look at other aspects of the question. It seems to me the emotion is prima facie plausible– we know that people are often happy when their loved ones are happy, and we know that “awwwwwww” feelings about other people’s relationships are quite common. And thousands of poly people from a variety of different backgrounds have insisted they had this experience. So this seems to me that, on balance, the correct conclusion is that this is a thing people experience (although probably not a distinct “emotion” as opposed to an extension of empathy).

          • Creutzer says:

            Now, you’re completely right that absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence when people haven’t even properly looked, as is the case here.

            And certainly, people reporting this emotion is prima facie evidence for its existence. But the comparison with happiness is very far off, because nobody would ever have thought “happiness? what a strange emotion, I’m pretty sure I could never feel that”. Not so for compersion, where we know that a diametrically opposed emotion, that of jealousy, is very common. As for the semi-public self-reports that we have in considerable numbers, this is an issue where I would expect social desirability bias to hit hard.

            So I think overall the prima facie case isn’t quite as strong as you make it out to be.

          • Jack says:

            @Creutzer This is the real question. It seems like compersion only arises in situations where we might expect jealousy, but is the opposite sort of emotion. There is a piece of advice you see in poly materials not to “fake” compersion–which is to say this is a real thing poly people are worried about too. It’s not just social desireability bias; there’s also the desire to rationalize one’s choices. That said, the idea that compersion is “not a thing” is baseless. It seems clear that reactions of jealousy vary widely between different people and contexts. Compersion is just empathy allowed to occur in those contexts or for those people where jealousy doesn’t arise or arises less. Doesn’t mean everybody feels compersion all the time, but it does seem likely that we can be trained to feel it more often and different relationship frameworks might help us feel jealousy less.

          • Creutzer says:

            I agree: it seems absurd to phrase the question as “does compersion exist at all, ever, or doesn’t it”. Given the variability of human minds, I’m sure some people experience it, so the “it doesn’t exist” position is more reasonably weakened to “this is a quirk of some weirdos’ minds”. The question of relevance is: how prevalent is this thing really?

          • Ozy Frantz says:

            Creutzer: I mean, when I experience “jealousy”, it is always really envy or insecurity. And I don’t think there’s much peer-reviewed literature on the subject. And certainly people aren’t going to want to admit “yeah, the reason I’m not polyamorous is because I’m really insecure and the idea of trying to overcome my personality flaws is scary.” But I don’t go around saying “anyone can be poly if they get over their envy and insecurity,” because I’ve listened to monogamous people about their experiences and decided the most logical explanation for monogamous people insisting that they feel jealousy-which-is-not-envy-or-insecurity is that they do, in fact, feel that.

          • Jack says:

            I’m open to the idea that it is quite a quirky thing to feel and will never be the most common response to one’s partner being with another, but I also suspect a lot of it is socio-cultural baggage (we are trained to feel jealousy, on top of whatever natural explanation of it someone wants to posit) that could be conceivably re-jiggered. And as Ozy Frantz notes, conceiving of a feeling as “jealousy” is itself worth questioning. I think it’s like masochism. Most people don’t like pain, some do, and others have experiences of getting into it in the context of a supportive community, and then they nee