This is history in the making. Americans of every age are embracing this exciting new lifestyle. Polyamory is moving toward mainstream acceptance, and by the most unlikely people.
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Fifty Years of Polyamory in America is unique among the forty books published about polyamory in the last ten years because the scope of this book is the entire history of the polyamory movement. Instead of concentrating on the experiences of a few people exploring alternate lifestyles it is an exploration of two generations of Americans, the people and the organizations they founded, what they have chosen to do, and how it has changed their lives and affected the culture as a whole.
Written in an entertaining and easily accessible style reminiscent of Chris Ryan’s Sex at Dawn’s scholarly tone, this book covers the history of alternative sexual relationship styles starting with a quick peek at colonial times, the Mormon and Oneida movements 1840s-70s and modern day influences which began in the 1950s.
Polyamory, literally “many loves,” challenges the relationship norm: monogamy. As its name suggests, polyamory typically refers to sexual relationships that include multiple partners. Common applications of polyamory include open relationships including open marriage, triad (three people), two-couple (four people) “marriages,” and larger groups like intimate networks.
Throughout the course of Fifty Years of Polyamory in America, we explore the history of the polyamory movement, from clinical definitions and attempts at psychiatric treatment, to the advent of advocacy groups in the 1960s and ’70s, to contemporary practitioners and the future of the movement. A wide range of personal stories from advocates and practitioners guides the narrative to the modern day, highlighting the struggles and successes of the movement throughout the years.
The two recent books most closely resembling ours is The Polyamorists Next Door by Elizabeth Sheff (2013) and Polyamory in the 21th Century by Debra Anapol (2012).
The Polyamorist Next door tabulates Dr. Sheff’s fifteen year study of several hundred poly families, their children and communities. Elizabeth Sheff is a sociologist and draws many valuable insights from this fifteen year period of study but only mentions in passing the social movements of the era and has concentrated entirely on individuals choices and experiences, not on organizations at all.
Polyamory in the 21st Century is a follow up of the original book: Polyamory, The new Love without Limits. Dr Anapol’s book, sub titled Secrets of Sustainable Intimate Relationships is a strong teaching manual giving advice and examples of how to have successful non monogamous relationships. Our book has some “lessons learned” and teaching examples as well, but that is not the thrust of the book.
A manuscript of about 70,000 words will be delivered within one year after the signing of a contract. Illustrations will consist of line art and the reproduction of parts of some organizations newsletters. Color will not be required.
CHAPTER ONE: What is polyamory? And what is it doing to America?
Discussion of monogamy vs non-monogamy. Is polyamory new? Oneida Community Est. 1848, Mormons Est.1828, Native cultures; Iroquois Confederacy, Powatan nation during colonial times. The three strong cultural trends of Fifties/sixties leading to Summer of Love and beginning of modern non-monogamy behaviors: Civil Rights, Human Potential movement, Hippie movement. Fiction of Rimmer and Heinlein. Introduction of people and organizations like Oberon Zell (CAW) and Levy/Lafollette (Family Synergy) who will appear later in book.
CHAPTER TWO: Becoming Poly
What roads lead a person to choose polyamory? Personal contacts, articles, books, organizations, media? Spiritual journey, search for identity? Dee’s story of opening her marriage. Terry's discovery of open relationships. Is there a biological basis for monogamy?
CHAPTER THREE: Why do you people do this- Are you All Nuts?
Discussion of desire vs cultural norms. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) and short period of time homosexuality was declared a mental illness. The changing legal landscape concerning sex and who you can marry. Some definitions; bigamy, adultery, nymphomania, etc. Finding what is “normal” for you.
CHAPTER FOUR: The beginning of Synergy. Est. 1971
Founders Hy levy and Pat Lafollette. The search for likeminded people, gathering a group and creating Family Synergy. The quest for the ideal two couple, four person marriage. Finding out the realities. The strengths of three. FS goes nationwide and to other countries. Family means it’s got to be good for the children too. Monthly/yearly Activites. Two other members stories. The later years.
CHAPTER FIVE: Morehouse, Est. 1968
Founder Vic Barranco. Is it a commune, a school, a radio station, a soup kitchen? Morehouse tricks the state of California into letting it grant degrees. The More philiosophy. Mark groups. Height of More: forty live-in communes. Concept of “screening”. Spinoffs: One hour Orgasm book, OMing (Orgasmic Meditation). Legacy of Morehouse.
CHAPTER SIX: Church of all Worlds. Est. 1968
Founder Oberon Timothy Zell. An unusual man, philosopher, hippie, artist, author, publisher, wizard. Launched a new earth religion, eventually with adherents worldwide. Responsible for unifying the American pagan community, published The Green Egg. Deep thinker on multiple relationships. Showed that self-discovery, following a spiritual path and having integrity can lead to great sex. In an open marriage over forty years, wife Morning Glory who coined the term polyamory.
CHAPTER SEVEN: Kerista. An intentional commune began in 1956, lasting til 1990. Similarities to Oneida Community of previous century, unique urban setting. Coined terms compersion and polyfidelity. Also Phoenix triad: an outgrowth of Synergy. Formed in 1983. Story of two couples who loved each other and tried to build a four person marriage using Robert Rimmer’s theories, NLP and other human potential techniques. How they fared when one pulled out and they became a triad of one man, two women lasting a quarter century. The eventual death of the man did not break up the remaining two. Lessons learned.
CHAPTER EIGHT: Human Awareness Institute. Est. 1986
Founded by Stan Dale. How HAI came to be. Creation of powerful workshops leading to better loving relations with your partner. How workshops never promoted poly relationships openly but were a perfect structure for them. 70,000 people have taken HAI workshops over the years. Stan dale’s own triadic relationship of 20 years. Lessons learned.
CHAPTER NINE: Live The Dream. 1987
How founder Terry Brussel became interested in poly. Board member of Synergy. LTD is launched, becomes separate organizations with parallel missions. 30 years of monthly meetings showcasing all aspects of non-monogamous relationships, lessons learned, importance of newsletters. Many people who come to LTD seem to find it just when their relationship hits the point where they need answers to avoid crisis. Others come for the support of kindred spirts.
CHAPTER TEN: Love without Limits/Loving More. 1992/1995
Founder, author and workshop presenter Dr Deborah Anapol. Insights, popularizer of the term polyamory. The power of workshops, the creation of an excellent poly community magazine.
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Sex Positive World, Portland/Los Angeles. Est. 2009
Founder Gabriella Cordova recognized that communities were forming around social media. Her story. She created meet groups in Oregon, Los Angles, New York, London, Europe showcasing ideas of polyamory, sexual choice and personal growth. Over time several thousand people have joined, meetups in each area have risen to 20-30 a month.
CHAPTER TWELVE: The future of polyamory
The Polyamorist next door. An estimated five percent of Americans are in some type of negotiated non-monogamous relationship; polyamory, monogamy lite, monogomish, FWB, swinging. The trends that got us here. Polyamory in the media, what the future may hold
It is estimated that up to five percent of Americans (sixteen million) are in recognized non-monogamous relationships.
About forty books on polyamory have been published in the last ten years. Most are “how to” books or books that chronical the experiences of the author, usually a couple or a triad.
Fifty Years of Polyamory in America is the first comprehensive history of the Polyamory movement ever written. It will appeal to anyone who has ever been involved with non-traditional lifestyles (70,000 people have taken HAI workshops, there are several thousand members each of Morehouse, Synergy, Live the Dream, Sex Positive World, other allied groups including those formed through social media), there will be academic interest as well; anthropologists, sociologists, sexologists.
The general public is showing interest in this subject through buying books like Sex at Dawn, the proliferation of alternative lifestyle websites and blogs, and the production of recent TV shows and movies with polyamorous characters in them.
Glen Olson is a retired fire captain, paramedic and technical writer. He is a contributing author to the Los Angeles Fire Department’s CERT Disaster Preparedness Student Manual, distributed nationwide by FEMA and has written several other student manuals for internal Fire Dept use. He is also a self-published fiction writer.
Terry Lee Brussel,
Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, is the founder and Director of Success
Center. She has been helping people attain their personal and professional
goals since 1969. She started the polyamory educational and support group Live
The Dream in 1987. She gives talks and seminars about multiple committed
relationships, has been presenter at Sandstone, Elysium, Family Synergy, Loving
More and Lifestyles conventions among others. She has written articles for
Loving More magazine, the Family Synergy newsletter, and is the publisher of
the Live the Dream newsletter which has been continuously published for thirty years.
Terry has appeared on the Leeza Gibbons TV show discussing polyamory and the law. She has appeared many times over the years on ABC and NBC local affiliate stations as a matchmaking expert for Valentine’s Day special programing. She has been interviewed on the Susan Block radio show, The Shama Helena radio show, Steven Barnes podcasts and her own radio hour Matchmakers Corner on the Romantic Holidays radio show.
Terry has email lists of several thousand people who are past and present members of Live the Dream and as a Southern California Poly Meetup organizer has additional contacts to make announcements on other organizations newsletters and blogs. She is personal friends with Oberon Zell, founder and leader of Church of all Worlds, whose worldwide membership is estimated at one hundred thousand. Announcements can be made through CAW and other sources in the neo-pagan community, whose members often practice polyamory and other alternative relationship styles.
Glen gives talks and seminars about the history of polyamory to interested groups and knows both Dr. Charles Moser (PhD and MD) and Dr. Laurie Bennet-Cook PhD, of the Institute for advanced Study of human Sexuality. Dr. Bennett-Cook is personal friends with Chris Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn. I feel it is likely we can get reviews, book cover blurbs and social media postings from these people to help announce and promote the book.
This book is unique among the forty books published about polyamory in the last ten years because the scope of this book is the entire history of the polyamory movement. Instead of concentrating on the experiences of a few people exploring alternate
lifestyles it is an exploration of two generations of Americans, the people and the organizations they founded, what they have chosen to do, and how it has changed their lives and affected the culture as a whole.
The two recent books most closely resembling ours is: The Polyamorists Next Door by Elizabeth Sheff (2013) Rowman and Littlefield, and: Polyamory in the 21th Century by Debra Anapol (2012) Rowman and Littlefield.
Other excellent books include More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert (2014) and Sex At Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha (2010) Harper Perennial.
What is polyamory? And what is it doing to America?
Most of us are familiar with the term monogamy. Often connected with marriage or other committed relationship, it is a contract between two people who agree that they will have sex only with each other. It is the most prevalent form of emotional/sexual relationship between two people in our western cultures and is believed to be sanctioned by all modern Judeo/Christian religions.
But that is not the only sexual/relationship choice people can make. Polyamory is a term used by Dr. Deborah Anapol (the new Love without Limits 1997) to cover relationships that could be but are not necessarily a marriage. In its broadest sense the word polyamory may be used to describe every other form of multiple lover/spouse arrangement people enter into.
Everything that is not a one partner, agreed upon monogamous relationship, can be described by the Greek prefix “poly”- meaning “many” and “amor” Latin for sexual love.
Throughout these pages we will meet many people who use the term polyamory and find they do not always mean the same thing by it. Some people have much narrower definitions of what it is “they” do as poly people, which is different from what those “other people” do. At the end we may, respectfully, come to some consensus of what the word means- if not we will at least have a better understanding of what people have been doing the last fifty years.
When did Americans begin practicing polyamory? Is this style of loving brand new or has it in fact been around for a while? A better question to start with might be, was there ever a time on this continent when people did Not practice some form of multiple partner arrangement?
A quick perusal through the history books shows us that some Americans have in fact experimented with all kinds of multiple partner life and love situations…. And have even in some cases called them ‘marriage’. One well known experiment in cooperative living, economic entrepreneurial ship and shared spouses began in a sleepy part of rural New York in 1848.
The Oneida Community began as one man’s vision of the perfect form of Christian living and eventually became a powerhouse of economic success and stability for several hundred people, all of whom practiced a form of relationship called Complex Marriage. (Britannica on line, by the editors)
John Humphrey Noyes was born in Brattleboro Vt, in 1811.
Originally headed for a career in law he was swept up in the religious revival of the period and instead became a minister. After years of perfecting his philosophies on social utopias and religious freedoms he gathered a following and founded what was essentially a commune outside of Oneida New York, based upon what he believed God wanted from a good Christian.
The Oneidas’ adopted Noyes philosophies and implemented his vision of complex marriage in 1848. A complex marriage is one where every woman in the community is wife to every man, and every man is husband to every woman. They also believed strongly in a form of free love, where any adult was free to have sex with any other adult who consented. Possessiveness and exclusive relationships were frowned upon.
While sex was not limited to one partner- it was also not just for pleasure. The Community believed strongly that raising children was a sacred shared responsibility and the decision to have a child was not solely up to the individual. The Community would choose who with, and when, a child would be conceived.
The Oneida Community lasted more than thirty years and grew to over two hundred adults and a myriad of children. It provided homes and livelihood for its members by owning and successfully operating farms, a trapping company and a silver working company. Yes that Oneida. For many years Oneida was synonymous with silverware.
Even after the Oneida Community broke up and the participants reorganized into more traditional marriages the legacy lived on. As its final action the Community provided funds for all the children who had not reached adulthood to get a start in life and provided advanced educations for them as well.
Science fiction author Robert Heinlein (1907-1988) is one of several authors who are referenced many times by large segments of the polyamory community for his many novels with multiple spouse/lover themes. He has stated in his books his opinion that marriage has two functions; the conservation of wealth and protection of the children. He may have been thinking in part of the Oneida Community when he made these observations.
Even before Oneida, in the 1820’s, another powerful experiment in non-monogamy began, also in upstate New York. Joseph Smith also founded a religious movement and one of the many tenets of the revealed word of god instructed the elders to take more than one wife. To be very clear, the reverse was not true, women were not instructed to have several husbands. The Mormon’s faced many trials, and eventually moved to Utah territory where they thrived and nearly succeeded creating a State where their form of non-monogamy, called plural marriage, would be legal.
The present day Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints no longer actively permits its members to engage in plural marriage, a form of religious polygamy. However, as recently as this year the media reported that a Mormon enclave in Mexico still openly practices plural marriage- and many Mormons may in fact still practice this aspect of their religion informally. It is also a great American tradition to ignore what your church elders tell you to do and go ahead and do whatever you want to anyway! (site refs)
Colonial America was a time of great exploration and expansion as settlers from the great European nations came to our shores to found colonies, originally along the east coast of this continent. Of course the land was already inhabited! The powerful Iroquois Confederacy found though out upstate New York and the Powhatan’s of the Hudson Bay region had strikingly different marriage customs than the Europeans. It was very disturbing to the Europeans that Powhatan men were allowed to have many wives. (ref)
Notice that we have said that these examples meet the definition of non-monogamy. They may in fact not meet our modern definition of ‘polyamory’. More on that later. Let us jump a hundred years or so ahead to the present time.
In 1967 an event took place in that was destined to shake American society to its foundations and cause not just isolated splinter groups, but huge segments of the population to pay attention, to wonder and to ultimately question their relationships- with themselves and with the people they loved.
“The Summer of Love” was the culmination of three very strong trends going on in America at the time. The Civil Rights Movement had been changing people’s hearts all through the sixties, making activism respectable. The Human Potential Movement, coming from good old American philosophical and psychological roots had been quietly gaining momentum all decade with the message that you can change who you are, for the better. And the Beat culture of the fifties had turned into the Hippie movement of the sixties.
The result? An event and a movement- literally. In the spring and summer 1967 thousands of young people migrated to New York City and San Francisco California to attend weeks long “happenings” that celebrated music, drugs, personal expression and free love.
Some of these young people had a deep distrust of government as they perceived it, a strong desire to change society… and they started by changing themselves and how they related to one another. They also poured a lot of energy into the anti-war movement of the late 1960’s/ early 70’s. One slogan that continues to ring down through the years from that era is “Make love, not War”.
The fervor of these secular movements infused the following decades with excitement in human potential and the ability of humans to love. Many people who were otherwise happy and content with the society they were living in began personal explorations, leading them to include new ideas about what love and caring might look like and making broader choices in their personal lives.
Something unique in human history happened at this point. A few people began questioning the idea that marriage was only to be limited to two people. Not only could someone have more than one lover, perhaps they could have more than one spouse. In another section of the book we will introduce you to Family Synergy, a group that formed in 1971 and explored this concept deeply and learned a lot.
What do we believe was unique about this concept at this time in history? It was not based on the religious precepts of an Oneida or Mormon movement. Or any prior Christian or non- Christian philosophy. Nor even a deep cultural/economic necessity, like nearly every marriage style the world had seen before. What do we mean by cultural necessity?
Anthropologist Leanna Wolfe, author of Women Who may Never Marry, has made a study of women’s roles around the world, particularly what it means to be a married woman in dozens of very different societies around the world. She also gives seminars on the various types of marriage found in these cultures and hazards guesses as to why they may have developed that way.
For instance, in traditional Tibetan society, two brothers may choose to marry the same woman, making three. Well, that doesn’t sound like monogamy does it? But why would two bothers choose to marry one woman?
There turns out to be a very sound economic reason. If one brother dies the accumulated family wealth remains intact. Instead of two families with a death in one causing severe disruption there is only one family and it does not get poorer. This is a good thing in a culture where there is very little wealth and no economic safety nets.
Does the woman in question really want two husbands? Perhaps, but would she pick those two particular men if there were not serious economic pressures pushing her that way? And would they choose her in return or make a different choice? In America who you sleep with and who you marry is more of a personal choice now than at any time or anywhere else in history!
This is the journey we hope to chronicle here for the enjoyment and education of the reader. Perhaps you will find yourself somewhere in these pages- or wind up using them as a guidepost for the next exciting phase of your own life