Polyamory has a certain credibility these days. Media outlets interview poly people and actually present with a positive spin. Talk show audiences are incredibly hostile to poly guests, but the talk show hosts are usually on our side. While coming out as polyamorous can still lose you friends, often people turn out to be surprising supportive, respecting your choices without getting insecure about their own situation. Moreover, the idea of polyamory seems to be hitting a cultural tipping point, where people are simply expected to know the word and the ideas behind it, with zero explanation. There is a certain legitimacy there, the legitimacy of being recognized by the culture at large.
I want to point out that current credibility of polyamory is in fact odd. Let us not forget that we live in a culture that is still puritanical, where mere positive mention of masturbation is enough to have you removed from the Surgeon General’s office, where infidelity is grounds for impeachment, where polygamy is typically mentioned in the same breath as bestiality, where virginity is prized ahead of sexuality, and where same-gender sexuality is still unrecognized. In short, we live in a heavily sex-negative culture.
Also, let us not forget what polyamory is. The poly movement is a straight-out refutation of monogamy. Polyamory upends notions of what a proper relationship should be, obviating the need for the large and growing adultery-advice industry, reforming jealousy from a green-eyed monster into a tame housepet, jettisoning possessiveness and its attendant insecurity, and redefining words like fidelity, commitment, and marriage.
If you listen to the radical conservatives, sexual monogamy is the bedrock of our culture, right up there with the sanctity of (heterosexual) marriage. And while I vehemently disagree with their conclusions, they are correct that monogamy is central to the current structure of relationships. So much is built around monogamy: concepts of relationship security, possessiveness, marriage, social assumptions, and so on. As long-term poly practitioners can tell you, we are heavily indoctrinated with monogamous thinking, and the process of deprogramming takes a while and requires the review of some fairly base assumptions.
Since polyamory is a basic rethinking of some primary structures in relationships and culture, you would think it would not be so readily accepted. We should be be getting more flak, more backlash, more hostility, more attempts to make us invisible. The fairly rapid spread of polyamorous ideology, and the relatively positive media and cultural responses to polyamory, are all a bit surprising to me.
The positive shine to polyamory does not seem to apply to other mixed-gender nonmonogamy movements, like communal marriage, swinging, open relationships, or BDSM-based nonmonogamy. The wide media exposure of polyamory does not seem to make sense, given that the actual numbers of practicing poly people are likely somewhat less than these other movements, and polyamory is not nearly as well-entrenched in the culture. I do not want to imply here that these other nonmonogamous movements are doing poorly: they actually all seem to be healthy and growing. But, they lack the widespread cultural acceptance and attention that seems to be focusing on polyamory.
To make the strange credibility of polyamory more clear, I wish to compare it to two similar movements, namely the swinger and BDSM movements. Both are good candidates for comparison: both movements are mixed-gender and not located primarily or exclusively in the queer world, both have acheived a measure of mainstream recognition, and all three movements share enough common goals that they can form political alliance in groups such as NCSF. However, polyamory somehow seems to be ahead in terms of credibility, despite probably being smaller in terms of numbers.
First off, polyamory fares better in the media. A quick scan down the Polyamory in the Media blog shows that most feature articles on polyamory give it a positive slant. The last negative article capitalized on a murder stemming from jealousy in a three-person arrangement. Amazingly, the story did not seem to travel outside of poly channels, despite its tabloid appeal and the fact that it is the second death of a poly person in the media in as many years. More typical are website or magazine articles that focus on subjects as diverse as poly parenting, a queer poly triad, Southern Baptist polyamorists, and a poly network in Florida. All of these articles are positive. Even ABC News has run a poly-positive story. When articles do have a partially negative slant, like this one, they do it by quoting therapists or other self-proclaimed “experts” that polyamory cannot work, right next to happy tales of polyamory working, delivered by perky nonmonogamists. We come out pretty well in such comparisons. Sometimes an article will sensationalize polyamory, but doing so only makes us seem sexier and more hip than we actually are. In short, despite the occasional talk-show hatchet job or similar setback, polyamory is doing very well in the media.
BDSM and swinging are not doing so well. In particular, a look at the NCSF media updates shows that BDSM and swinging are most often addressed in a legal or authoritarian framework, in articles dealing with busts, zoning, and court cases.
For example, we see BDSM included in articles on subjects like an art gallery forced to close, strip club licensing woes, dominatrices in court, a leather festival angering conservative members of the community, and Catholics attacking the Folsom St. Fair, and radical right scare stories. And of course the media jumps at any story that brings together kink and death, in articles such as these. Most of the positive articles come from within the community itself, or from queer press, like this one. We do see the occasional human interest story, especially around leather festivals. Also, we do really well in college student publications. But overall, when it comes to BDSM reporting, it is almost entirely law-and-order stuff.
Media coverage of swinging is no better. Swinging is compared to stripping, is heartily denied, is zoned out of existence, triggers violence, or is fodder for blackmail schemes. There is the occasional human-interest story, but it is swamped by the negative publicity.
The law-and-order focus of BDSM and swinger coverage is sending a not-so-subtle message that the only acceptable response to such practices is authoritarian and repressive, or alternatively that kink and swinging always ends badly. In contrast, polyamory seems to show up as friendly human-interest stories, and even when it is linked to murder, the story does not have tabloid appeal and is quickly dropped. Polyamory is treated in the media as something that the readers might be interested in doing, whereas swinging and BDSM are treated as titillating scandals the reader might like to hear about, so long as there is sufficient conflict and drama. There is a subject/object trick happening here: it is assumed that the reader might want to be polyamorous (though they are not currently) and it is also generally assumed that the reader would not want to be a swinger or kinkster, specifically that they would only want to read about what is being done to stop swinging or BDSM, or the supposed problems with these movements.
In a similar vein, swinger and BDSM events seem to become targets for community outrage. Religious radicals have made a practice of attempting to halt BDSM conferences by targeting the hotels they are held in. Similarly, it is common for communities or city councils to attempt to zone swinger events out of existence or otherwise shut them down, as the media coverage illustrates. To my knowledge (which admittedly is limited, not being a conference organizer) polyamory conferences have never faced similar censure, even though they typically incorporate elements similar to BDSM conferences: play parties, workshops that touch on sexuality, and people running around mostly unclothed.
Polyamory seems to have a certain cachet on the political left as well. Polyamory is mentioned positively on well-known feminist blogs, for example here, here, here, and here. Polyamory is generally met with curiosity and tolerance on these blogs, even when the writers do not practice it themselves, for example here. Swinging is rarely mentioned on these same blogs, perhaps because it is seen as largely neutral to the question of gendered power, or perhaps because it flies under the radar. BDSM faces real obstacles to acceptance in feminist circles: for an ongoing and detailed discussion of these, check out the SM-Feminist blog. Of the three, polyamory is clearly ahead.
This positive attitude seems to be replicated in most left-wing discussions of polyamory, for example among Unitarians, in Pagan circles, and in queer communities (though BDSM is also generally accepted in the LGBT world, presumably due to its descent from the queer leather movement).
This leads us to the central questions of this essay. First, why is polyamory doing as well as it is? Second, can we expect this trend to continue? Third, what political strategies should we follow to keep this winning streak going?
In putting together the following list, I have mostly focused on aspects of polyamory that distinguish it from other movements. There are numerous other ways in which polyamory gains credit, for example the steady release of poly how-to manuals, the poly propensity to come out and form community, and so on. However, these things do not explain the strange credibility of polyamory in comparison to other movements.
1) Polyamory is new(ish). While the word polyamory has been around for 18 years now, that is relatively young in terms of mixed-gender nonmonogamy movements: swinging is around 50 years old, open relationships are about 35 years old, and communal marriage has been popping up occasionally for over a century.
When people dismiss swinging or open relationships, they often bring in an association with the 60’s and 70’s. Swingers are stereotyped as creepy guys with mustaches and bright clothing. Open relationships are associated with free love and supposedly unattainable hippie ideals. These arguments are not actually arguments in the logical debate sense, but rather free-association style dismissiveness. The goal is to refute these forms of nonmonogamy without actually having to think about them or make a coherent argument. But it works none the less. Dismissing swinging and open relationships in this way is really making a historical argument: the idea is that in the 80’s we got rid of all that free love junk, and so advocating it is hopelessly anachronistic. This argument is also flawed, though it works: many of the advances of that era exist to this day, though we take them for granted. These include a basic level of sexual freedom, women working alongside men, access to birth control, and anti-discrimination laws.
Since polyamory did not exist during that era, it is hard to dismiss it in the same way, though that does not stop people from trying. (For example, in one of his well-known anti-poly screeds, Stanley Kurtz states “Polyamorists trace their descent from the anti-monogamy movements of the sixties and seventies–everything from hippie communes, to the support groups that grew up around Robert Rimmer’s 1966 novel “The Harrad Experiment,” to the cult of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.”) But poly people do not resemble free lovers in many ways. The focus is not as much on sex, there is a certain seriousness attached to polyamory, some of us wear business suits, we can field respectable families for the media, and bright colors and bell-bottoms seem to be kept to a relative minimum. In other words, polyamory tends to present as the modern pragmatic grown-up version of free love, and I think that gets us some mileage in these arguments.
Also, the newness and relatively small size of polyamory means that we may still be flying under the radar to some extent. While the right wing is clearly aware of us, we are not yet a target. There have been right-wing attacks leveled at polyamory, most notably by Stanley Kurtz (as above, and also here and here), but those have really only been pulling in polyamory as an argument against same-sex marriage, not as a target in its own right.
All this does raise a troubling possibility. We seem to currently be in a new sexual revolution, where Susie Bright and Mistress Matisse exist right alongside Miss Manners, who it should be noted is also fielding questions on polyamory. What happens when and if this current springtime of sexual openness ends? And it may very well end, perhaps not with an epidemic like HIV, but more likely due to one of the looming catastrophes we seem to be eager to produce: another depression, climate change, an oil crisis, or (as Bush would have it) World War III, fought over that very same oil.
What will happen to polyamory in such an era? Will it be dropped, as we focus on other priorities? Will it become a convenient scapegoat and go underground, much like queerness in the 40’s and 50’s? Or lose membership heavily, like nonmonogamy in the 80’s? We should plan ahead for such times: as queer activists know, conservative eras can be horrendous or straight-up deadly, and can destroy a movement. We need to be prepared for scapegoating efforts, heavy backlash, and hostile legislation. Currently we are too small and unknown to be a good target, but we may well see such tactics as polyamory grows, even in the absence of world crises.
2) Polyamory is theoretically disconnected from sex. This is true both of the word itself, which focuses on the love (“amory”), and in the community, where the focus tends to be on relationship conceptualizations instead of sexual freedom.
In the mainstream, there is a heavily trafficked sex/love dichotomy. However, this duality is on the face of it problematic: sex and love are supposed to be different, but at the same time love is always supposed to include sex. Phrases like “making love” do little to clarify this, referring simultaneously to the sexual act and the act of love. What is really happening here is that we tend to use this sex/love duality to separate out sexual relating into two separate categories, one which is loving and valued, and one which is somehow carnal and unworthy, exemplified in the phrase “just sex”. But of course, there is no easy way to distinguish between the two, allowing the culture to judge sexual relationships positively or negatively in a fairly arbitrary manner. This is the virgin/whore power structure projected onto relationships, and indeed women are often judged depending on whether their sexual relationships get to qualify as love.
Of course, this mainstream mechanism is heavily sex-negative. Its purpose is to be able to cast a variety expressions of sexuality as false, transient, dirty, deviant, or sinful, while simultaneously reserving a narrow set of expressions as somehow above reproach or examination (those that get to be “loving”). Notably, queer relationships have for the last century had trouble being recognized as “loving” instead of some sort of deviant sexual expression.
I do not mean to say that sex and love are somehow synonymous: the fact that they are different concepts is quite useful. What I am saying is that attempts to draw a strong line between sex and love are destined to fail, and moreover that such attempts are usually undertaken in pursuit of political goals.
The polyamory community has apparently managed to use this sex/love dichotomy to our advantage. Poly people tend to distinguish between sex and love, and point out that polyamory is specifically the pursuit of multiple love relationships, not “just” multiple sex relationships. Most polyamory books (The Ethical Slut being the counterexample) steer away from the sexual realities of polyamory and instead focus on relationship dynamics. We work hard against the tendency of the media to sexualize anything we say by fielding representatives who carefully steer the conversation back to love. In public, we downplay the racier aspects of polyamory, like our heavy overlap with the tantra and BDSM communities, or the fact that many poly folks regularly attend play parties, or that possible access to sexual threesomes is a nice side effect of living polyamorously.
This “it’s all about the love” strategy works to some extent. Downplaying the sex in our love lives removes its taint and disassociates us from the mainstream stereotype of out-of-control hedonism (which is presumably what you get as soon as people depart from a straight monogamous lifestyle). This puts us on footing where we can be taken seriously by the mainstream media, and more generally by people with mainstream attitudes. It buys us respectability. In other words, the focus on love in polyamory is an end run around the culture’s censure of deviant sexualities. If polyamory is about love and multiple relationships and not about sex, then we can break with monogamy while still retaining a measure of social authority.
I suspect that downplaying sex buys us a certain amount of respectability even in feminist circles, where sexual hedonism tends to be read as “sexual freedom the way men want it” and therefore anti-feminist. To be fair, there is a long history of sexism in sexual freedom movements, as I have discussed previously, so a certain guardedness is appropriate, but it can easily slip into mimicking mainstream sex-negativity.
Notably, both swinging and BDSM are strongly associated with deviant erotics in the mainstream imagination: group sex and sex parties in the case of swinging, and S/M and roleplaying in the case of BDSM. This effectively means that they are not proper subjects of conversation, and bringing them up de-authorizes the speaker.
We can see this by revisiting media coverage, where swinging and BDSM tend to be dealt with primarily in terms of authority and the law, and polyamory stories are human-interest. Polyamory is operating on a whole different level of authority than swinging or BDSM, one where poly people are legitimate subjects, and polyamorous lives are newsworthy. I suspect that much of this is due to common view that swinging and BDSM are primarily sexual practices. In other words, as soon as a practice or community is sexualized, it ceases to be a legitimate subject of interest and loses the authority to describe itself. If we take media as an accurate reflection of the manner in which the mainstream treats polyamory, then it becomes clear that the desexualization of polyamory is a primary advantage when compared with the treatment of swinging and BDSM.
The approach of downplaying poly sexuality is legitimate. Polyamory is about much more than just sexual nonmonogamy, and so resisting the mainstream tendency to focus on our sexuality (“does everyone sleep in the same bed?”) is very important. Also, multiple relationship dynamics are central to polyamory, and so a focus on relationships is entirely appropriate. And as I have stated, playing mainstream sex-negativity games makes it more likely that one is taken seriously when discussing polyamory.
At the same time, we need to be aware that sex-negativity is a poison pill, one that may cost us more than it buys us. For example, sex-negativity tends to alienate queer folks, and so could harm our standing in queer circles. If we remember that bisexuals make up a very large chunk of polyamory, then a sex-negative approach is potentially divisive. Also, allying with sex-negative traditional polygamists would harm our standing among feminists, as I have stated previously.
However, the primary problem with sex-negativity is that it strikes at the very core of what it means to be polyamorous.
This becomes clear if we examine the relationship of sex to monogamy. Monogamy, at its core, is about sexual fidelity, or rather, sexual fidelity is the one thing you need to be monogamous. Everything else is optional, like marriage, or living together, or not living with other people, or who you share secrets with, and so on. We can also see this in the contrapositive: having more than one sexual partner is by definition nonmonogamous. In other words, monogamy is actually “all about the sex”, or rather who you have sex with is monogamy’s first and most crucial requirement.
This means that polyamory’s most crucial departure from monogamy is in the area of sexual fidelity. While polyamory is about many other things as well (multiple romantic attachments, economies of abundance, triad or group dynamics, rethinking the role of relationships in structuring our lives), polyamory’s primary point of resistance to power is in its refusal to adhere to the cultural rules of sexual fidelity.
Bearing this in mind, the danger of sex-negativity becomes clear. The purpose of sex-negativity is basically less sex, and poly people who have less sex have trouble practicing polyamory. Poly people having trouble means less poly people, which means less of a movement. I know this seems very vague, so let us look at the solid example of less-involved (aka “secondary”) relationships. Less-involved relationships are crucial to polyamory, both on their own and as starting points for more-involved relationships that are simultaneous with one or more established relationships. However, admitting a sex-negative attitude can make it difficult to hold down these relationships, since they are easily dismissed as transient, as one person using another, as slutting around, as “just sex”, and so on. Overall my sense is that poly people have more trouble with these less-involved relationships than with more-involved (aka “primary”) relationships, and one reason for this is the culture’s sex-negativity.
What I am getting at here is that sex-negativity is not a neutral phenomenon. Sex-negativity tends to not address sex that is non-deviant, heterosexual, and monogamous. Instead, the sex that people are negative about tends to be that which is deviant, queer, and/or nonmonogamous. Sex-negativity is a political project, one that attempts to push people into sexual conformity. As such, it is directly opposed to the practice of polyamory, and we self-limit our movement (and our poly practice) to the extent that we adhere to sex-negative codes.
This is not to say that we should all go have orgies on television tomorrow. What I am saying is that we should promote a balanced approach, one where we mix a sex-positive message with our poly-positive message. There is a place for downplaying sex (in particular, talk shows, which are purposefully created to be sexual spectacles) in our presentation. But it should be balanced with sex-positivity in other forums. The sex we have is not a liability; it is one of our primary strengths. Our primary successes will be those where we strike a balance, being pro-sex (and therefore sexy) while still including all the other powerful aspects of polyamory. My model for this is Cunning Minx of PolyWeekly who weekly reminds listeners that “it’s not all about the sex” while incorporating erotic material alongside narratives on the tribulations of polyamory. It is this sort of honest all-angles view that best promotes polyamory. Mistress Matisse is another good example of this.
In the past polyamory has relied almost entirely on a self-help approach to media, producing prolific reams of “how to” and “what to watch out for” material. While this is important and not going away (the most-viewed article on this blog is the how-to piece), we need a second track. How-to approaches tend to effectively ignore the fun and good things that come with polyamory, which is appropriate to their mission, but does not make for good media. The second track could be personal narratives or something similar, anything that simultaneously tells the good and bad of polyamory while not erasing sex.
3) Polyamory is generally queer- and women-friendly. While there are certainly people and social scenes within polyamory that are sexist and/or homophobic, in general polyamory is friendly to women and LGBT folks. We can see this in the various queer authors of polyamory books, which include numerous bi women, some lesbians, and a trans man. In other words, the ideology of polyamory has been laid down by women and queers.
This authorship has to date largely prevented the usual drift of mixed-gender nonmonogamous scenes towards rituals geared to the needs of straight men. We can see these rituals in other nonmonogamous movements: most (but not all) swinger scenes prohibit sex between men, the free love movement preached a doctrine of women’s sexual availability, and some kinky scenes here in San Francisco (namely the Power Exchange and the Exotic Erotic Ball) seem to be more geared to the needs of men oblivious to personal space than the comfort of women.
While polyamory does have some similar problems, like too much focus on the elusive Hot Bi Babe, in general poly communities do a good job of staying friendly to women and queer people. Poly relationship possibilities are often described as “any genders in any combination”, and even straight poly people seem to take pride in the ability of poly structures to violate heterosexual and gender norms. Online poly forums sometimes end up with a heady mix of sexualities and genders, with a lot of BDSM practitioners in each group. There seems to be a base level of comfort, even when the group is mostly straight. The LiveJournal polyamory community is one example of this: not only do a good number of the posts include queer content, but the strong presence of women on the forum means that sexism does not go unaddressed.
One effect of the queer- and women-friendliness of polyamory is that polyamory has stayed very flexible in terms of relationship structure. For example, full triads (everyone involved with everyone else) can generally only exist if they contain at least one queer member. The rituals I have described that buttress the position of straight men tend to lay down rules about who may sleep with whom, or they can bring in strong power dynamics supported by a heterosexist culture. Avoiding these rituals tends to keep things more open and flexible. For example, the emphasis in poly circles around getting over possessiveness seems to fall more heavily on men, who would otherwise be entitled to possessive feelings by sexism in the larger culture. Nonmonogamous movements that permit strong levels of possessiveness tend to be hampered by them, for the simple reason that possessiveness prevents other sexual or romantic connections from happening.
A further effect is that polyamory has kept its shiny radical glow. It is hard for a sexuality/relationship movement to appear revolutionary these days if it reproduces regressive sexist and homophobic attitudes. (Though notably this apparently does not apply to racism, and poly communities are not necessarily friendly to people of color. More on this in a future post.) The relatively progressive ideology of polyamory has endeared it to left-wing folks, making polyamory a largely unproblematic choice in these circles. Also, this progressive aspect has helped define polyamory as distinct from more conservative nonmonogamous movements (most notably traditional polygamy), making it hard for our right-wing critics to conflate the two. The relationship structure flexibility of polyamory has also helped the movement adapt to changing nonmonogamous priorities, keeping it on the front lines.
4) Polyamory is the opposite of monogamy. Which is to say, polyamory has managed to establish itself in opposition to monogamy. We see this in the usage of the word polyamory as a catch-all phrase for nonmonogamy or as a general analogy. Nonmonogamy is anything that is not monogamy, but polyamory seems to have taken up residence at the other end of the spectrum. Polyamory forms a kind of conceptual bookend, the farthest you can get when traveling away from monogamy.
This may be due to the ideological work that poly publications have done, deconstructing monogamy as part of the project of producing polyamory. In other words, polyamory has become the opposite of monogamy because we keep thinking about it that way, and we keep thinking about it that way because it was created specifically to be oppositional to monogamy, a full alternative to monogamous living. The Ethical Slut is a prime example of this: the practice of the authors (“ethical sluthood”) is set in explicit opposition to monogamy itself. Notably, The Ethical Slut and Wendy-O Matik’s Redefining Our Relationships are not explicitly about polyamory: the former was reclaiming sluthood and the latter attempted to create a certain sort of politically radical relationship consciousness. But both books were claimed by the budding polyamory movement. More on this below.
This ideological opposition to monogamy has produced an actual opposition to monogamy in polyamorous practice. In other words, any particular monogamous constraint, rule, or power dynamic is potentially overcome by some or all polyamorous people. While any given poly person likely retains some monogamous thinking or patterns of behavior, each piece of monogamy itself is upended by at least some poly people. Sexual monogamy is of course first among these, but the social practice of monogamy also becomes optional in polyamory: poly people come out, they insist on fully integrating multiple lovers into their social (friends, family, work) lives, they rearrange their social worlds along assumptions of availability or abundance, and so on. The meaning of coupledom and marriage are also up for grabs: couples become transient (since who is in the couple may change on the next date) or expand into triads, vees, and quads, or just change meaning altogether. Wedding rings cease to be mechanisms of ownership and revert to tokens of commitment. Ownership, possessiveness, and jealousy in relationships become liabilities and are jettisoned or managed, or are transferred to BDSM practice. Monogamous assumptions around living arrangements disintegrate and are rebuilt, in some cases leading to cohousing or other communal arrangements, in other cases creating the option for a person to permanently live with no lovers. People raise children with more than two parents, or with one live-in parent combined with the support of a network of lovers. Hierarchy among relationships is sometimes disavowed. Long-distance arrangements have regained a certain measure of respect.
Every structuring element, power dynamic, or assumption that goes into monogamy is potentially on the chopping block in polyamorous practice. In other words, polyamory is in practice the opposite of monogamy, not just ideologically. Due to its formulation, polyamory potentially includes any piece of resistance to monogamy, even ones that we cannot imagine yet, much like the relatively stable network arrangements of today would have been largely unimaginable a decade ago.
This ability to include opposite-to-monogamy practices creates a certain elasticity in polyamory, which means it tends to absorb other projects. This can be taken to ridiculous extremes, like when poly people claim that swinging is a kind of polyamory. While I am all for including any swingers who want to call themselves polyamorous, somehow I think most swingers do not, and at best estimate there are a lot more of them than us. (Oddly but unsurprisingly, these attempts at swinger inclusion happen right alongside furious attempts to distance polyamory and swinging, which I have discussed in another essay).
In any case, polyamory tends to absorb nonmonogamy movements, much like it absorbed The Ethical Slut and Redefining Our Relationships. Polyamory also can produce new relationship forms in its own communities, in response to changing needs. We have already seen one major shift: polyamory grew out of polyfidelity or group marriage, initially focusing on triads, quads, and closed systems. While all these relationship forms have been retained, these days the primary focus seems to be on primary/secondary-style arrangements in networks or that are otherwise open, including what would have been called “open relationships” two decades ago. In other words, while the idea of open relationships still has a certain mindshare, polyamory seems to have eaten the open relationship movement.
This sort of flexibility bodes well for polyamory as a movement. As social and economic conditions change, new types of nonmonogamy will arise, and polyamory may well incorporate them, so long as they are sufficiently oppositional to monogamy.
Of course, monogamy is deeply embedded in the culture, and the actual work of divesting monogamy tends to be done in small chunks. While polyamorous ideals sit at one of the spectrum, actual poly practice often includes monogamous elements, such as closeting, jealousy, strong hierarchy among one’s relationships, assumptions about living arrangements, and so on. Each decade the nonmonogamous movements seem to break through a new set of barriers. In the last couple rounds, we have added open networks and incorporated sex radical play parties and some amount of BDSM nonmonogamy (including D/S nonmonogamy). At the same time, very few triads and quads manage to stay stable, and we seem to be unable to get away from primary/secondary hierarchy and coupled living arrangements. Similarly, we are generally unable to maintain large but workable communal living situations, a dream that has existed since the sexual revolution but has only been practiced in fits and starts.
Perhaps the next round (not necessarily the next generation, since older generations will be involved) will bring solutions to these problems. Or perhaps nonmonogamy will veer off in some new direction, like loose-knit tribes. Presumably it will surprise us. Will the next round still be called polyamory, and will it retain the built poly community? Hard to say. We think of polyamory as the anti-monogamy, but that is a bit of a conceit, given the limitations we are still working with. The next round may retain the polyamory label, or it may need to jettison poly ideology in favor of something new.