Polyamorists at San Francisco Pride parade, 2004. Pretzelpaws via Wikimedia Commons

 

Has there ever been a marriage conference where jealousy management and STDs are on the agenda, and where cuddle parties, tantra and BDSM groups beckon from the sidelines? My guess is no, although the “marriage” scene is changing fast.

The mainstreaming of “gay marriage” has been accompanied by frank admissions that the majority of gay relationships are not monogamous but at best “monogamish”. Can “plural marriage” be far behind?

In America, surviving Mormon polygamists provide a (illegal) precedent. Polyamorists, who (so far) define themselves by “love” rather than marriage, have been arguing the merits of their lifestyle and their rights for some years now, and the movement will hold its fifth international conference at the University of California, Berkeley, in February.

According to a chatty mailout from Saturnia Regna to “polylegal” groups, the International Conference on the Future of Monogamy and Nonmonogamy (official name) will focus on academic presentations but there will also be workshops and sideshows catering for interests ranging from jealousy management and STDs, through folklore, to BDSM.

“Anyone interested in matters related to polyamory and consensual nonmonogamy is invited to attend!” and “Lots of NEW information and fresh perspectives,” are promised.

Don’t think that it’s just boring old Christian fundamentalists in America “pushing monogamy on everyone else”, the blurb suggests; or that “polyamory is a purely white, middle class, suburban phenomena”, or that it is merely the product of brain explosions among anarchists and New Age gurus in 1990s California.

No, there’s stuff happening among black Americans as well as in Japan, Israel, Nepal, Latin America, Australia and most European countries. Furthermore, “serious psychological researchers and social scientists” (this might be one of them) have something to say about “consensual nonmonogamy”. There is a “real history” of polyamory and its likely future development to learn about.

If that is “too cerebral”, or if attendees sleep through the academic presentations and have plenty of energy still, there are presentations on:

* “dealing with jealousy, communication issues, relationship skills, STDs, and other practical issues.”

* Folklore/Mythology/Media studies, and another session devoted to historical/humanities studies as well.

Also, independent of the conference:

* an art exhibition on the theme of consensual nonmonogamy

* impromptu meetings (in previous years BAY Area poly, tantra, BDSM etc groups) potlucks, cuddle parties, and jealousy management classes…

And, not least, political training:

The political conclave and sessions related to poly-activism are all happening on Sunday (FEB 14). The Political session is being run as a distinct event through a separate website and has a separate registration fee, but it happens nearby on the same weekend. We are still recruiting presenters for this section, so if you have an interest in participating or assisting with the construction of this event, please do contact us ASAP.

All in all, it looks like a comprehensive effort to build a united movement with its own science, history, mythology and political programme.

The science will, no doubt, include studies on how well children are doing in households with more than two “parents”, where jealousy is always an issue, threatening the stability of the household and the security of the children. Perhaps it will also tell us the rates of STDs and complications among polyamorists, and rates of change in household composition.

Meanwhile, watch out for media stories about happy polyamorist “families” and a history of marriage which makes “consensual nonmonogamy” look almost superior to the one man, one woman and their own children model which is the legacy of our Judaeo-Christian tradition.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet