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That's (poly)amoré: academics reveal a passion for plurals
By Lewis Smith
April 04, 2005
TWO academics have boldly declared their love — not just for each other but also for the other partners in their multi-lover relationship.

“I am a polyamoric,” each told a spellbound audience at the weekend as they tried to explain their life together.

Like homosexuals before them, polyamorics are having to invent a terminology to define their relationships that is comprehensible to the wider world.

Polyamory is people having multiple partners openly and consensually, often of both genders, and fully aware that each of their partners will have other lovers.

As they opened a window on to the infant culture of polyamorism Ani Ritchie and Meg Barker went on to introduce fellow psychologists to the world of frubbling, wibble, metamours and ethical sluts.

Miss Richie, from the Southampton Institute, and Dr Barker, a senior lecturer at London South Bank University, are lovers, each living together for half the time and each having other partners.

“I have four partners,” Dr Barker said. “I have two main partners — Ani and Erich — and two other fairly regular partners. I live with two, spending about half my time with each, and see the other two maybe once a week. Two are male, two are female.

“I became polyamoric about three years ago. I’d been thinking about it for about ten years and coming out about it to my parents wasn’t easy, but they were brilliant about it.”

Polyamory has been seen in a number of ancient foreign cultures but is a new phenomenon in the West. It began in the United States about 20 years ago and has spread to Britain.

Use of the internet has dramatically increased the number of people living in polyamoric relationships because it has put them in touch with one another and assured them that they are not isolated “freaks”. A Google search reveals 170,000 references.

In Britain there are up to 2,000 people living openly in polyamorism and the nature of their complicated relationships, being friendly with all their partners’ partners, means that they have their own “poly” communities.

“You get a sense of community; it’s like an extended family,” Dr Barker said as she and Miss Ritchie presented a paper to the British Psychological Society (BPS). “I’m not trying to sell it to people. I just think it’s fascinating a group of people are trying to do something different from the rest of society.

“Coming out is hard and having children is hard, though some of us have children and they’re as good as any parent.”

Prejudice against polyamorism exists — “polyphobia” — but most of their non-poly friends soon accepted it as a way of life.

“After an initial ‘Eek!’ most of them have settled down to the idea,” Dr Barker told the BPS conference in Manchester that ended at the weekend.

Few people have heard of it and few works exist to explain the lifestyle succinctly, so polyamorics are attempting to create their own language.

Miss Ritchie said: “Widely held as the bible of polyamory, the positive reclamation of the term ‘slut’ by its two feminist authors can be likened to the embracing of ‘queer’ in gay communities.”