Letters: Research about “poly wiring”?

Hi all:

Wow, thanks for all the great conversation here in the past few days!  I’m fortunate that I’m getting lots of good things to talk about.  In fact, someone already sent me a letter, despite the fact that I don’t have a place to submit one yet! Sweet!!

Do any of you have any research citations or other data to give to Syl, in answer to his question about whether polyamory is “wired in” as he puts it? (Interestingly, we’ve already touched on that in the last post, Vocabulary Words: Couples & Polyamory.)

Hi Dawn:

Best wishes for a great New Year!!

And now a quick question. How do your feel about poly “wiring”?

I have always been skeptical of the idea that poly is “wired in” the same way as being gay, opting for the notion that everybody can be poly given appropriate upbringing and societal/community support, but I have begun to wonder.

Do you have pointers to any research that could shed light in this area?  The fact that even being homosexual can lie on a continuum spectrum makes this even more challenging…


— Syl

Nature or nurture?  Behavior or orientation? “Wired in” or “taught”? Or maybe some of each? References, please, if you have them, in addition to your opinions. So WHY do you believe what you believe?

Thanks for your contributions!


5 thoughts on “Letters: Research about “poly wiring”?

  1. dawnd Post author

    Syl, I really suggest that you take a look at “Sex At Dawn.” A lot of what you say does make sense–from the point of view of the “Standard Narrative.” Ryan and Jetha examine that narrative in detail, and present some new information and collected research, and pretty much eviscerate it. Instead, they come to what is to many a startling conclusion: it looks a lot like humans evolved to be non-monogamous, and to have group sex and group parenting, which negates the need for paternity certainty.

    Regarding poly being an intellectual way to deal with meeting needs–well, as I said elsewhere, I’m of the opinion that at least some people are “wired” to be polyamorous. Certainly I was expressing polyamorous leanings and ideas at a young enough age that I didn’t know I had needs to address. I certainly wasn’t intellectually applying ideas that I wouldn’t learn about for another decade and a half, to meet needs I didn’t yet know existed!

    Obviously my experience is only one person, and anecdotal. That said, I’ve certainly seen enough people who express polyamorous and/or non-monogamous ideas at a young age, and have heard of plenty more.

    I’m guessing that polyamory is a continuum, much like sexual orientation. Humans tend to work that way, with a spectrum and some sort of bell curve or other regular distribution to any large enough sample about any one issue.

  2. Syl

    Here is what I think, but it’s only conjecture on my part, which is why I would love to see some good research.

    I agree that multiple partnering is a “natural” state for humans, but it also seems to me that this happens also “more naturally” in “serial” fashion. Not that it think that this is a good thing, but this is at the root of difficulties we encounter in gaining acceptance. Here are my reasons:

    We tend to fall in love with one person at the start, and the initial tendency is to become completely immersed in this person (even we polys acknowledge NRE). This is biological more than societal, as the female would want the male to stick around for support during pregnancy, and the male would want to make sure that it’s indeed HIS sperm that will produce off-springs. This initial biological motivation would fade away in time, with other potential partners beginning to look interesting… but here is where societal pressure steps in to maintain the status quo, probably for the sake of reducing conflicts within a tribe, insuring longer terms support for children etc.

    And here (after NRE) is where I see differences emerging perhaps between mono and poly tendencies. Polys being ready much sooner to look for the “next” partner. I suspect there is a continuum in the feeling of this “need”, with some people finding it relatively easy to “obey the outside rules” and some at the other extreme being easily drawn to other people. I see “wiring” or “orientation” in the urgency and expression of this need.

    Now, the poly concept, as a way to meet this need while maintaining previous couplings, is Intellectual in nature. It’s a decision to move away from the “serial” paradigm for the sake of certain values and a decision to cope differently with natural feelings such as jealousy.

    Does this make sense to you?

  3. dawnd Post author

    Thanks, Bill, for your comment.

    As I mentioned in the last entry, I have a personal take that polyamory (or other forms of multi-partner relating) is more of a “wired in thing.” I have a lot of personal reasons for this (e.g., the fact that I was already questioning the monogamous assumption by age 17), but in terms of “evidence,” the best I’ve seen to come across my desk in a long time is found in Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha’s thought-provoking book, “Sex At Dawn.”

    Pressed for time at the moment, but I wanted to get this out there as something with some actual “hard evidence” (har har) one way or the other.

  4. Bill G.

    I think humans are naturally inclined to mate with multiple partners. There’s a line from some antiquarian that the only monogamous creatures in ancient Rome were the sacred geese in the temple of Juno, and there’s a lot of truth in that observation. The reason most people adopt monogamous relationships in our society is because societal norms have developed over time that favor monogamy as the quasi-official model. This does result in some people who are *so* strongly socialized that they simply can not accept anything else, and buy into the idea that even looking at anybody else constitutes some failure of dedication to a relationship. It also means a whole lot of other people practice monogamy in public and non-monogamy in private.


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