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Showtime's Polyamory: Married and Dating centres on a family of four lovers living together in San Diego, Calif. The four members of the "pod" are, from left, Tahl Gruer, Michael McClure, Kamala Devi and Jennifer Gold. (Handout courtesy Natalia Garcia)
Showtime's Polyamory: Married and Dating centres on a family of four lovers living together in San Diego, Calif. The four members of the "pod" are, from left, Tahl Gruer, Michael McClure, Kamala Devi and Jennifer Gold. (Handout courtesy Natalia Garcia)

Polyamory: Exploring the ins and outs of multiple partners Add to ...

The majority of the women in the sample identified as bisexual (68 per cent), while bisexual men are less frequent (39 per cent) and exclusive homosexuals are rare (3.9 per cent for women and 2.9 per cent for men).

The study found that on average, polyamorists spend more time with and feel more committed to their primary partners than their secondary partners, though they may find secondary partners better satisfy their sexual needs. Seventy per cent of the sample live with their closest partner and 47 per cent are married to him/her. The average relationship length was nine years for closest partners and 2.5 years for second-closest partners.

The researchers note that because the survey is self-selected, it doesn’t provide a representative sample, but Dr. Sheff says the SFU results line up with those of other studies, such as the 71 focus interviews she conducted with Midwestern and Californian polyamorists from 1996 to 2009.

Dr. Sheff says that despite the pronounced importance of gender equality to polyamorists, it’s not unusual for men to be drawn to it because they believe that it will lead to easy sex or sex with multiple women.

But philanderers and pickup artists have a difficult time meeting the emotional demands of a polyamorous lifestyle and are eventually turned off – or ostracized – by the community.

“Ongoing poly relationships can be enough of a challenge, and require so much communication, that there is often less sex than talking,” Dr. Sheff said. “If the men come in thinking, ‘This is going to be a big free-for-all,’ and they’re not willing to put in the effort to maintaining the relationship part of it, they get a bad reputation.”

Polyamory: Married and Dating makes it clear that the advantages of open relationships come at a price: While the members of the cast have a lot of sex, they spend much more time deconstructing their emotions and debating each other’s rights and responsibilities.

What seem like common marital hiccups – for example, when Jen Gold gets angry that her husband, Tahl Gruer, has invited his ex to a party – spawn deep, emotional arguments.

Ms. Garcia, the producer, says she never wanted to give the impression that polyamorous families are perfect. “Truthfully, poly doesn't work for everyone, the way monogamy doesn't work for everyone,” she says. "To claim that polyamorous families don't argue and everything is perfect would be a lie."

On polyamorist websites such as Modern Poly and Polyamory in the News, reactions have been mixed – some fear that the show is exploitative and oversexualized, while others are just happy to have representation on TV.

Tim, a firefighter living in Toronto, says the constant relationship drama in the show seems close to what he has experienced in the two years since he and his partner, Lola, opened their relationship and became polyamorous. (They requested that their real names not be used.)

“We all struggled with things in the start – and we still are,” he says. “I didn't realize that I was going to have the problems of two relationships as well as the benefits.”

For Tim, polyamory as practised by the groups on the series is an ideal to strive for. “I like the way that everyone is open and honest, and they have civilized adult conversations about wanting to have sex with other people,” he says. “It’s funny, people seem to think that cheating is more acceptable than polyamory. It’s a strange idea, but that seems to be the way it is.”

However, Lola, Tim’s primary partner, doubts the realism of a large family in which all of the members are bisexual and involved with each other. While she is comfortable with Tim having another girlfriend, the two women have never met, and Lola does not see any chance of them developing into a live-in triad.

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