When did women gain more power by being polyamorous? We shouldn’t forget, marriage and monogamy constitute positive progress — for women, men and children. Photo from Pixabay

Sneaking polyamory past its sleeping victims

  • March 7, 2024

“Is Toronto finally shaking off the sexual stigma of polyamory?” reads the recent headline in the Toronto Star. News outlets have been peddling polyamory apologetics after a middle-aged woman released a book about her life-changing adventures pursuing polyamory in January 2024.

If you’ve missed all these polyamory stories, I salute you. They are pretty painful to read. But this particular pain is only an extension of the ways in which discussions of family structure in the Canadian public square are painful. When they happen at all, they rest on a solid foundation of puffy naiveté, bolstered by misleading research.

A reader posed a better question of me, as an observer of social trends who is co-authoring a primer about marriage. “Why was sharing partners (married or not) capable of generating extreme anger in one generation but is now valued in another? What happened in between?”

The short answer is the sexual revolution, which stands among other great revolutions in history for its profound implications. The sexual revolution continues unabated in times of relative peace, which makes it a sneaky revolution. Quebec had a Quiet Revolution. Czech Republic had a Velvet Revolution. The Sexual Revolution is a Sleeper Revolution. It has altered assumptions of how we do marriage and family life. Yet for many young people, particularly those from intact families, it will dawn on them only ever so slowly as even real.

Prior to one sociologist ever having conducted a study, there were guardrails around family, enforced largely through cultural mores (read: stigma). We have a distaste for stigma with good reason. But on the positive side of the stigma coin, it is a much better tool for promoting positive human behaviour than, say, police enforcement. The State all too often uses a stick, not a carrot.

And why might the State care about family life? Because children are born and they just don’t, much to my chagrin, raise themselves. The helplessness of the human infant, stretching into years, distinguishes human beings from the animal world. Mothers, too, are exposed and vulnerable in pregnancy, needing care themselves, just as infants need a mother and a father. Before the invention of genetic testing, the father needed to be established as the father, and drawn into family life. Marriage achieves all this.

Certainly marriage has not always been monogamous, but arriving at monogamy as a cultural norm has unleashed creativity and wealth while protecting against various abuses.

When the technological shock of the birth control pill rendered many relationships more reliably sterile, we ceased to observe the connections between sex, marriage and child-rearing. Women could more function as men with respect to sexuality. Other technologies would change who can have children and how. We ceased caring about economic and genetic inheritances once part of marriage.

At the same time, religiosity dropped off. Once an integral part of the culture, for better or worse, religious institutions that bolstered historic views of marriage ceased lending their voices. Fewer people were listening anyway.

There’s also the contribution of the academy, and research that’s too often skewed toward studying new niche or woke topics. Over time these studies, whether or not they are reputable, filter into more mainstream venues, creating a veneer or respectability and offering a vocabulary.

There are, of course, studies that polyamory enthusiasts never mention. Rob Henderson, author of the newly released book Troubled: A Memoir of Foster Care, Family and Social Class, has no such inhibitions. He knows first-hand what it means to live without the stability of any family — intact or otherwise — and thus does not take it for granted. With the spate of articles applauding polyamory, Henderson tweeted research pointing to the fact that “young children who live in households with one/more unrelated adults are nearly 50 times as likely to die from an inflicted injury, usually being shaken or struck.” He also introduced the concept of “luxury beliefs” — ideas that the wealthy and powerful can act upon with any negative consequences mediated by wealth and power. Polyamory is one such idea.

“Will Toronto shake off (even more) sexual stigma?” Who knows. Any society can tolerate a fringe of unseemly behaviour. But marriage and monogamy both constitute positive progress for children, women and men. We should not be so quick to lose our opprobrium for those who wish to mess with that.

(Andrea Mrozek is Senior Fellow at Cardus Family.)

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