[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, 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. None 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.]