Jealousy Incarnate, a Korean drama aired on the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), recently came to end, drawing close attention for its particular love line with the lead female character being in love with two different lead male characters. Although this form of love is not the usually portrayed style, it clearly depicts the practice of simultaneous love, known as “polyamory.” If asked about the concept of love, many people would most definitely think of an affectionate relationship between two people. However, polyamory does not reside upon the conventional relationship, but being in love with many partners concurrently. The Sungkyun Times (SKT) introduces the notion of polyamory, analyzes its development in society and mass media, and examines the different responses to its essential nature.
What is polyamory?
Concept of Polyamory
Polyamory is a combination of the Greek word “poly” which means “many” and a Latin word “amory” which means “love.” It is a multilateral love in which people love more than one person and do not monopolize each other in the relationship. Polyamorists who practice polyamory claim that polyamory is distinguished from having an affair in that it is practiced only under the agreement of the partners. While it may seem that everyone in the relationship should love each other for the relationship to be considered polyamorous, it is actually enough for people to simply be aware of and consent to their partners’ other relationships.
Rise of Polyamory
French writer Simone de Beauvoir and French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre are known to be the first public figures to practice polyamory, inspiring people to rise against monogamy, the existing marriage institution that restricts people to have only one spouse. Polyamory movements have risen since the 1970s, and Loving More, the oldest organization to advocate and support polyamory, was established in 1984. Polyamory rose as a cultural and sexual political issue in the 1990s and is considered as a new paradigm of human rights movements. According to a 2009 article published on Newsweek, there were more than 500,000 polyamorous relationships in the United States at the time. Meanwhile, as polyamory organizations are becoming larger, some concerns have also arisen.
Characteristics of Polyamory
Polyamorists pursue a loving relationship not confined to one person and view monogamy as being against human nature. They believe that unless causing harm to others, having simultaneous and consensual relationships with many people brings more satisfaction to their lives. People tend to focus only on the sexual aspect of polyamory, but polyamorists regard bonds such as commitment and emotional intimacy as most important. Although polyamory can be easily confused with polygamy since they both stand against monogamy, there is a distinct difference between them. Polygamy is a standardized marriage system that allows multiple spouses based on religious or regional traditions, while polyamory is an idea that suggests new relationships outside of norms.
Types of Polyamory
Although there are diverse types of polyamory due to the variable number of people in the relationship, the most typical polyamorous relationships can be categorized into four types: Vee, Triad, Triangle, and Polyfidelity.
The Vee type is the most common type of polyamory, with one person in the relationship having two or more partners, and usually consists of three people. The Korean movie My Wife Got Married (2008) shows the typical Vee type relationship.
The Triad is a more developed version of the Vee. In this type, three people are in love with each other, but they form a loose relationship. That is to say, all three people within the Triad type relationship love each other, but they usually spend time in pairs.
The Triangle is a type in which three people share a strong, intimate connection. The only difference between the Triad type and the Triangle type is the degree of love in the relationship. Usually, in a Triangle type relationship everyone forms a relationship as a single bundle, unlike the pairings in the Triad type. An example of the triangle type is found in the American movie The Dreamers (2003).
Polyfidelity is a new form of family in which people live with multiple partners, developing both emotional and physical relationships. It is the most evolved form of polyamory. The relationship between the main characters of the American movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) is a polyfidelity.
Social Response to Polyamory
Views Regarding Polyamory as Normal
Today, some psychologists, anthropologists, and biologists claim that monogamy is not the nature of humankind. According to anthropologist George Murdock, of 1,231 societies, more than half are living a life of polygamy. He stated that only 15% of 1,231 societies have enacted monogamy as law. British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips said that if people did not know about monogamy, most of them would never have a monogamous relationship. Murdock and Phillips both regarded polyamory as a natural phenomenon. Polyamorous individuals and organizations are also working on various activities to introduce and advocate for polyamory. Activists such as Ken Haslam and Jum Fleckenstein are coining new terms, giving speeches in conferences, and writing journals about polyamory. Organizations such as the PolyFamily Advocacy Division are also working for polyamorists and their family members, supporting and helping them.
Concerns on Polyamory
Since polyamory is not as well known as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) issues, communities that show hostility against it are hardly found within society. However, there are still some concerns regarding polyamory. Some people worry about polyamorists being more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections (STI), because they have a higher chance of having more diverse sex partners. Furthermore, children raised in a polyamorous relationship might be negatively influenced. Psychotherapist Karen Ruskin indicated that children who experienced the continuous meetings and breakups in their parents’ polyamorous relationships would have difficulties in developing their own relationship and become dependent on others. Anthropologist Helen Fisher insists that people have tried for several centuries to love more than one person, but failed because of dopamine, a chemical that causes people to become addicted to only one person when they fall in love.
Polyamory in Society
On the Internet, there are anonymous interviews on polyamorists in Korea. The topic of polyamory is also being dealt in mass media quite frequently. However, the absence of data on polyamory demonstrates that it is still an unfamiliar concept in Korean society. Polyamory used in many mass media as their contents were not understood by the public and were blamed for its immoral contents. The example would be critiques for the movie My Wife Got Married, the first work to bring the topic of polyamory up to the surface in Korea.
Survey on Polyamory in SKKU
The SKT has conducted a survey on polyamory in SKKU to look over the awareness of and response on polyamory of Kingos. 142 students have participated in the survey. According to the results, 64.8% of students have never heard of polyamory before, and 91.5% replied that they have never seen polyamorists around them. This shows that polyamory is a very unfamiliar idea for most of the students.
On the question about whether they would understand and accept their friends if they were to come out as polyamorists, exactly half answered “Yes” and the other half said “No.” On whether they would accept their boyfriends’ or girlfriends’ suggestion to practice polyamory, 89.4% of the students said “No” while only 10.6% said “Yes.” The result demonstrates that Kingos are somewhat accepting their friends being in polyamorous relationships, but are very much against the idea of experiencing it for themselves.
Polyamory rose to the surface as society continued to fluctuate and innovate the values and rights of diverse minority groups. Although there are some who view polyamory as just a different expression of one’s freedom to love, criticisms and issues due to polyamory also exist. Although polyamory is not widely accepted in Korea and remains as a controversial argument, the SKT hopes that this article is able to introduce the concept of polyamory and offer a neutral viewpoint.
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