Are Poly Relationships “Healthy”?

Stained Glass Capital Letter There’s been some really interesting discussion in a poly list I’m on, on the topic of definition/s of polyamory, and how we as “poly leaders” represent polyamory in speaking to the media and public.  Shall we just say this discussion has been spirited. ;^) I thought I’d share with you all some of my thoughts on this topic.  This section in particular is discussing some concepts related to polyamory and health, and how the two are and are not related, and how “mainstream society” judges those who transgress its boundaries.  I’ve edited this piece somewhat from my original post, mostly for clarity, and to add some links.  Enjoy.

~♥ Dawn

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I spend some time hanging out in the Health At Every Size (HAES) community. There’s a large (pun not intended, but appropriate!) overlap with other related communities, e.g., Body-Positive, Fat-Acceptance, Size-Advocacy, etc.  I’ve seen VERY similar conversations there as we’re having here [about how to define and speak about polyamory], up to and including a venn-diagram of the overlapping groups (thanks Franklin [Veaux], for your[ Map of Non-Monogamies]!

One of the issues that is often brought up is that of “health,” since of course one of the main accusations of the fat-phobic culture is that “Fat is defacto UNhealthy and that fatties R gonna ruin our healthcare system, cost society eventy-billion dollars, and infect us all with TEH FATZ Oh NOOOOOEZ!! (so it’s OK to shame them, marginalize them, preach to them, punish them, and ostracize them for their own good)!” [It’s also popular to shame fat people “for the sake of society,” and “for the sake of the children,” of course.] Different groups deal with that differently (e.g., advocacy groups usually focus on the RIGHTS of fat people to exist and have fair treatment; Body-positive groups usually focus on affirming that ALL sorts of bodies have beauty, irrespective of health-status, etc.).

My favorite version of addressing the health concerns is in the HAES community, which holds (among other things, and paraphrased):
1) You cannot judge a person’s health by looking at them,
2) All people have a right to health, regardless of body shape and size
3) Health includes more than weight or other physical markers; it definitely includes MENTAL health
4) No one has a right to dictate to another person what “health” means FOR THEM.

I think that this group has some really good things to model for the polyamory community, in dealing with the public perception of polyamory (or other forms of ethical non-monogamy).  The parallels are obvious, at least to me.  [For one thing, an awful lot of people think that polyamory is defacto UNhealthy and that slutty people R gonna ruin our healthcare system (with all the “extra” people), cost society eventy-billion dollars (from STIs), and infect us all with TEH FATZ Oh NOOOOOEZ lead us all down the slippery slope to moral bankruptcy — so  it’s OK to shame polyamorous/non-monogamous people, marginalize them, preach to them, punish them, and ostracize them for their own good!” It’s also popular to shame polyamorous people “for the sake of society,” and “for the sake of the children,” of course. (Is this sounding familiar yet??)]  So to borrow from the HAES model:

1) You cannot judge the health of a person’s relationships from the outside
2) All people have a right to have relationships, regardless of their form
3) Healthy relationships include more than just duration; happiness and fulfillment are definitely part of a healthy relationship, regardless of length
4) No one has a right to dictate to another person what a “healthy relationship” means for them.

While I definitely agree that it’s possible to include “health” as a piece of the ideal concept of polyamory (e.g, “polyamory can be a healthy relationship choice“), the idea that we can possibly know whether someone ELSE’S relationship is healthy (analogous to judging “someone who is eating fast-food 24-7 and sleeping little” as unhealthy based only on appearances) is entirely bogus, so let’s not get into relationship-shaming, OK? That includes [not] labeling swingers as unhealthy, people who “aren’t committed,” or folks whose relationships don’t even contain sex, or are “all about the sex.”

So ultimately, I’m with those here who are advocating that we write and speak about polyamory in positive terms, as one possible healthy relationship choice among many, and that we steer clear of placing our own judgements, fears and projections into the mix.

[More on this last in another post, soon….]

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[© 2011 Dawn M. Davidson]

2 thoughts on “Are Poly Relationships “Healthy”?

  1. Lady Dionne

    It seems to me that most judgment of other people’s health, relationships and other choices, stems more from a desire to feel okay about one’s own choices. That is nothing but ignorance and insecurity, sadly there has never been a short supply of that in our culture.

    1. dawnd Post author

      Dionne, I think you’re absolutely correct! It can be very difficult to “live and let live” around certain kinds of very charged choices or different ways of being. But as they say… when you point a finger at someone, three fingers are pointing right back at you! Generally, if we’re judging others, we’re already feeling judged ourselves. Becoming more compassionate with both self and others is an important way to get out of this cycle.


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