Monogamy vs Polyamory is NOT the Issue

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There are two sides to the ‘humans are meant to be monogamous’ argument, which are passionately debated. On the con side, some say monogamy is separation, denial, ownership, possessive, limiting, compromise, ripe for conflict, selfish, etc. On the pro side, monogamy is simple, efficient, freeing, safe, enabling, secure, natural, creates paternalistic certainty, etc.

There are also two sides to the polyamory (i.e. humans are not meant to be monogamous) argument, also passionately debated. On the con side, some say polyamory is fear of commitment, indulgent, superficial, complicated, ripe for conflict, selfish, etc. On the pro side, polyamory is efficient, freeing, enabling, secure, safety in numbers, natural, creates community, etc.

The arguments have heated up as the practice of polyamory increasingly hits the mainstream. Some monogamists feel compelled to attribute polyamory as a cause of society’s breakdown. On the other hand, some polyamorists feel compelled to attribute monogamy as a reason for the breakdown of society in the first place.

Yes, the arguments regarding the pros and cons of each sexual relationship model are similar. It just depends on perspective, which is surely a recipe for circular debate.

As long as we stay distracted by labels and structures, without addressing the underlying fundamental needs and characteristics of human beings, we won’t get to the heart of the matter.

So what is the heart of the matter?

For me, the disagreement distills down to our approach to sharing; how we decide what and how we share. And how we apply what Willow and I call the “spirituality of sharing”, if we’re aware of it, to our lives.

At the core of our existence is the truth that we are all sharers, whether we acknowledge it or not. We must ‘share’ the total amount of energy available on earth—Mother Earth if you like—at any given moment, with everything else that she is comprised of. Even at the penultimate moment we call ‘death’, we share. Although our physical body dies, our ‘life energy’ does not. Energy cannot die or disappear, so we ‘share ourselves’ back into Mother Earth’s energetic system, transformed into something new. There is no decrease in energy. In the same way, a vegetable grown in our garden does not die when we eat it. The energy of the vegetable is simply shared, and transformed. Death, you could say, is an illusion. It actually represents an act of sharing.

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It is humbling to understand that if every human on earth suddenly died it wouldn’t matter to Mother Earth. Our collective human energy would still continue, and she would share it with whatever life forms evolved after us. Mother Earth, if you like, with inputs of energy from the sun, moon and stars, is an ongoing sharing system of attraction and reproduction and flow. She shares. She ‘gives’ energy to all living things, to all types of matter. She has no prejudice or favorite. How the energy ‘pie’ is split up at any given moment is not her concern. Sharing is a divine mandate for all that we call life, and indeed for all matter. This understanding is at the root of the ‘spirituality of sharing’. (Willow will blog more on this later.)

It is ironic that for all our science and technology and centuries of thought, it was the earliest tribes of humans whose lifestyle most clearly reflected an intrinsic understanding of our connection to Mother Earth and the ‘sharing’ of all things.

Part of our rise to pre-eminence as a species was the adoption of sharing principles as a way of life. There were no ‘possessions’. People shared food, and housing, and land, and lovers, and children with each other. Early matriarchal societies were modeled after Mother Earth’s constant gifting. Sharing and gifting were spiritual imperatives. Women were central to the celebration and maintenance of the spirituality of sharing.  They were viewed as having a ‘knowing’ and special alignment with Mother Earth’s gifting through birthing. And they were revered for it.

Yet somehow, over the past few millennia, we have ended up with a world economic system that is directly opposite the principle of sharing. Our exchange economy is all about possessions, and runs on the principle that for everything we get we must pay something in return. Everything has a ‘price’. This is reflected in the theology of Christianity and other ‘newer’ spiritual belief systems and in almost all of our social structures. The culture of possessiveness has, to a large degree, fueled the debate about monogamy and polyamory.

But, what if instead of focusing on frivolous arguments about labels and structures, we returned to Mother Earth’s imperative—the spirituality of sharing—and let that govern our relationships, politics and business?  

What could it mean to approach all of life with a deep, abiding desire to share without attachment? To renounce ownership? To share what we consider to be precious: money, power, home, land---yes, even our partner. What would it mean? And how would it change our world?

Now that would be a worthy dialogue.

Why Women Are the Catalyst & Foundation for Polyamory

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In the hetero-normative world, you say open relationship and most men think ‘threesome’. You’d have therefore thought that would be a popular option for many. But as it turns out polyamory, a truly egalitarian multi-partner ideology, is strongly vilified in our patriarchal world. Because what is sauce for the goose, is definitely not sauce for the gander. Relationships where women have as much power as men to own and share their sexuality, are dangerous and scary. But what would such a society look like? We don’t have to look far to find out.

The bonobos are arguably our closest genetic- and physiologically-related species. Unlike their chimpanzee ‘cousins’, much of their sexual behavior (including face-to-face mating, oral sex, tongue kissing, having sex for enjoyment, with perhaps the exclusion of their uncensored promiscuity) is similar to ours.

They are extremely egalitarian in nature and behavior. The females join together to nurture a cohesive, bonded community. One could say the females ‘gift’ themselves to the males to diffuse conflict and to encourage equal sharing. Food is often shared after sex. The males, who take their status from the status of their mother, are not competitive or warlike.

Bonobo groups are matriarchal in structure. The women wear the pants (metaphorically speaking…)! But not perhaps in the way we are used to in patriarchy, because there is no hierarchy. There is a sense of gender equality. While the males participate in gathering food, their peaceful lifestyle is possible because the females make sure no one goes without. The males have little to complain about.

Whilst debate continues as to whether early human societies were matriarchal, many of the tribal societies discovered by the Europeans as they spread across the globe were matriarchal in structure. And despite being slowly enveloped by patriarchal religions and culture, matriarchal societies still exist today. Examples include the Mosou of China, the Minangkabau of Indonesia, the Bribri of Costa Rica, the Nagovisi of South Bougainville, the Khasi and Garo of India, and more.

Heide Gottner-Abendroth has made the study of matriarchal societies her life’s work. The economic pattern of matriarchal societies is a gift economy, she says, where the giving of gifts is always intended as an entry into and a way to maintain good relationships and peace. Women usually control food and clan houses, so they facilitate the gift economy, which can extend over a broad geographic area and gift giving economics of matriarchal societies is deeply woven into a spiritual system.

The guiding image for the economy is Mother Earth herself, and as with earth, sharing and giving away out of an abundance are its supreme values. The gift is the lynchpin of the economy, patterned after the continuous gift giving of earth and sky.

This sharing aspect of spiritual, matriarchal gift giving extends to sexuality. Sexuality is valued highly, with satisfied sexuality regarded as a key to health, peace and culture. A form of open sexuality is often practiced, with the females engaging in multi-partner relationships. Jealousy, as with the bonobos, is almost non-existent. And not surprisingly, these societies are all very peaceful in nature.

In her book “For-Giving: A Feminist Criticism of Exchange“, Genevieve Vaughan, contrasts the patriarchal ‘exchange’ economy with the matriarchal ‘giftgiving’ economy. Regarding sex, she speculates that women may be practicing a natural urge for “co-municative giftgiving” in their love relationships, including their ‘promiscuous’ ones.

Giving ourselves sexually allows us to feel the emotions of giving and receiving ‘on our own skin’. It allows us to do something for somebody else, satisfy a need without actually transferring goods from one to the other.

It is clear that gift-giving, sharing and nurturing are part of female human ‘wiring’. If given the primary ‘leadership’ role in community, women create an inherently peaceful egalitarian existence. This intrinsic and valuable nature, however, has been repressed by centuries of patriarchal culture.

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Thankfully there is change in the wind. Embraced by increasing numbers of men and women, polyamory (a word coined in the 90s, that only got listed in the Oxford Dictionary in 2006) has brought multi-partner, egalitarian relationships back into the spotlight.

Based on the tenets of what makes polyamory work, it is clearly a matriarchal structure. Here are some of the keys to the ideology:

  •     Authenticity, transparency and honesty.
  •     Trust and open communication.
  •     Consent and compersion (the opposite of jealousy)
  •     Non-possessive gifting of each other to each other
  •     Gender equality and a spirit of sharing equally (egalitarianism)
  •     Sex-positivity (modern, patriarchal society is sex negative)
  •     Agreement by consensus.
  •     Spiritual fulfillment.

This is definitely not a patriarchal construct.

Women will continue to become aware of how their role in multi-partner relationships is so key. Like the bonobos, the communication and bonding between the females in particular, form the ‘glue’ of such arrangements. Their nurturing wisdom can diffuse any conflict that arises in the males. Women also seem to better sense the spiritual connection that is critical to such open, egalitarian sharing.

As multi-partner relationships continue to seed the world with matriarchal wisdom and leadership it is time to recognize the “feminine power” of polyamory and other egalitarian multi-partner communities. Let’s embrace and encourage their matriarchal principles and make our world a better place.

Originally published on Multiple Match, found HERE.