Understanding the Difference Between Polygamy and Polyamory

As the world progresses, so do relationships. Some stay traditional and some explore less traditional, but not any less valid, forms of union. When it comes to romantic relationships, it’s all-too-easy to make judgments about lifestyles we aren’t familiar with. Educating ourselves on others' traditional and nontraditional relationships is the first step to understanding. Many relationships are loving and valid, regardless if some see them as unconventional.

Non-monogamous relationships such as polygamy and polyamory have been around for millennia, but many people still get them confused or use these terms interchangeably. However, the two are very much distinct from one another. Let’s go over the differences between the two, in an effort to better understand these topics and shed some light on a traditionally taboo area of love and sex. .


What Is Polygamy?

Polygamy is the practice of one person marrying more than one partner. When a man is married to more than one wife at the same time, sociologists call this polygyny. When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry. Polygyny is much more prevalent than polyandry around the world. A study done in 2015 found that a rough estimate places the polygamous population in the U.S. somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 people, chiefly in Muslim and fundamentalist Mormon families.

Illegal in the US

Polygamy is a crime that is punishable by a fine, imprisonment, or both, according to the law of the individual state it is being prosecuted in. There are laws against the practice in all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico.

Because state laws exist, polygamy is not actively prosecuted at the federal level, but the practice is considered "against “public policy” and so the U.S. government does not recognize bigamous marriages for immigration purposes, therefore any immigrant who is coming to the United States to practice polygamy is inadmissible and can be deported as a result.

Many times, polygamous relationships come about due to religious beliefs and customs which are a personal and spiritual decision. Consent is key in any type of relationship and as long as those who are entering into polygamous relationships are of age and consent and agree to the terms of the relationship, not much else can be said on the matter. If polygamy is legal in their country, then it is not up to anyone to judge other’s religious or private love lives.

Potential Issues with Polygamy on Partners

One of the potential pitfalls of polygamy is the adverse effects it tends to have on the women in the relationship. In polygyny, some studies have shown that it may hurt women’s self-esteem and cause or exacerbate depression. In a 2013 study, researchers found that women in polygynous relationships were more likely to have mental health issues than women in monogamous relationships. Women in the polygynous relationships reported significantly higher levels of anxiety, depression, and decreased life and marital satisfaction.


What Is Polyamory?

Polyamory is a consensual type of non-monogamous relationship and all of the people involved are knowledgeable and consenting to the other relationships. These other relationships can be romantic, sexual, platonic partnerships or any combination of the three. Whereas monogamy means consensual relationships with two partners, non-monogamy involves relations with more than one person with the consent of everyone involved. With polyamory, the focus is on having multiple romantic or love relationships (rather than just sexual).

Unlike other forms of nonmonogamy, polyamory is seen as a sexual identity, in a similar way as the LGBTQ identities. With the world becoming more open and progressive, people are opening up more about their poly relationships to help everyone better understand that they are about love, consent and communication.

The Difference Between Polygamy and Polyamory

Unlike polygamy, polyamory is usually not related to a religion and is unrelated to marriage, although some polyamorous people are married or have participated in commitment ceremonies with their partners. People in polyamorous relationships make sure to stress the importance of open communication and equal relationships between partners whether male, female or nonbinary. Most times, all parties involved know about the other partners and choose to be in those relationships.

To summarize, polyamory is the act of having intimate relationships with more than one person at the same time and while there can be marriage, it is always with a main couple who both agree to see other partners romantically or sexually. A polyamorous person might have or might be open to having several romantic partners. Polygamy, on the other hand, involves being married to multiple partners at the same time and is often religion-driven or spiritual based, and it is illegal in some countries.

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Post Categories: Sex
Tagged with: monogamy, polyamory

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