For many of us, navigating the world of relationships can seem like a never-ending maze of emotional trauma. It feels impossible to find the right guy, and even when you think he’s the “one” you’re still not sure all of your needs are being met. Dating is a challenge. Marriage is harder. But being single (when you don’t want to be) can suck. Seriously, it feels like we can’t win. But perhaps it’s not the dates or the guys or even us that’s the problem, maybe it’s our romantic methodology. Maybe finding Mr. Right is an unrealistic goal, because there is no one man to satisfy all our needs. Maybe it’s the job for several men.
No, we’re not suggesting you have an affair. Cheating (where you are the only person aware of your romantic and sexual relationships with others) almost never leads to lasting happiness. On the contrary, being unfaithful only implies that your relationship is lacking certain degrees of trust, intimacy, and commitment necessary for a joyful, healthy, fulfilling relationship. And that level of joy and pleasure is probably what you are looking for in the first place. Again, we are not down with cheating. But having mutually agreed upon committed relationships with more than one man at a time? That’s an arrangement we can most certainly get down with, or at the very least, it’s something we want to learn more about.
The idea of juggling romantic commitment with more than one partner at a time is a tough and complicated pill to swallow. After all, sometimes managing a monogamous relationship is enough work as it is. Adding more partners to the mix seems like a recipe for disaster. But hear us out and try to keep an open mind. It’s time for you to become familiar with the dynamic world of polyandry — aka when one woman has committed relationships (marriage or life-long partnerships) with multiple male partners at any given time. It’s not for everyone, but for some women polyandrous relationships might be the solution to all of your romantic woes.
What Exactly is Polyandry?
Merriam Webster defines polyandry as “the state or practice of having more than one husband or male mate at one time.” While traditionally it involved a female being married to several males at once, in modern times it can mean any sort of committed, life-long relationship with those multiple male partners.
Think of polyandry as the female-centric version of polygamy. In polygamy, a man can have multiple wives — like on the HBO series Big Love or the TLC reality series Sister Wives — while polyandry is focused on the woman choosing to mate with and commit to two or more men.
Polyandry is not the same thing as a woman casually dating multiple men. Dating more than one person is almost required if you want to survive the modern dating world of juggling dating apps and set-ups and swiping left. Polyandry is more official than that. It’s an actual committed and lasting relationship, but instead of dedicating your heart and loyalty to one person, it’s with multiple men at a time.
It’s like a harem in reverse. The woman is in control. The men are a part of a collective group of partners who are all dedicated to her as their one partner.
How Common is Polyandry?
Not surprisingly, the concept of polyandry is somewhat shocking to many of us. In the past, it has not exactly been a widely talked about topic or a socially acceptable relationship arrangement. While you often hear about males collecting sexual and romantic partners in cultures around the world, you almost never hear about a woman being married to multiple men.
Polyandry is most definitely a rare relationship arrangement. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. In fact, evolutionary biologist and professor of psychology emeritus at the University of Washington, David P. Barash Ph.D., would argue, “patriarchy pushes polyandry underground, but does not eliminate it.”
So why is it that polygamy is openly discussed in cultures globally, but polyandry is borderline unheard of? In Psychology Today Barash suggests that part of the reason that polygamy (a man who has multiple wives) is more common or more accepted in cultures is because of the biological need of males to reproduce and the inherent requirement of female fidelity. “Selection has not only favored a male tendency to accumulate as many females as possible (polygyny), but also an especially high level of sexual jealousy on the part of males generally and of men in particular,” he explains. Some experts might suggest that polyandry goes against human biology, and because humans (males and females, but more often men) are prone to sexual jealousy it would make polyandry relationships unsuccessful or unrealistic.
Another potential reason that polyandry is rare is there’s still a lot we don’t know or understand about it. It’s a widely misunderstood phenomenon. Remember that polyandry was first formally defined back in the 1950s by anthropologist George Murdock, who described it as, “unions of one woman with two or more husbands where these [types of union] are culturally favored and involve residential as well as sexual cohabitation.” We know what you’re thinking – what the heck does “culturally favored” even mean? And remember that at that time, many of the anthropologists and experts trying to understand polyandry and shaping theory on this type of human relationship were men. So, clearly it is more challenging and complicated for a man to understand why a polyandrous relationship might make sense for a woman. Cough, sexism, cough.
So, while polyandry might be rare, it’s still misunderstood, and it is technically illegal in the United States, it does still exist. Yes, it is illegal to be formally married to more than one male partner at a time, but there’s the obvious loophole in that many people engage in committed, life-long partnerships without ever being legally married. And then, of course, in various communities and cultures across the country and the world, polygamy and polyandry occur under the radar (for example, as it often does within Mormon communities).
Polyandry vs. Polyamory vs. Polygamy
There are various forms of unconventional relationships — open marriages, married but living separately, cohabitation but unmarried, consciously uncoupled (thank you Gwyneth), consensually non-monogamous partnerships etc. — and each of these romantic and intimate arrangements has a unique definition and offers unique benefits. While people often group polyandry, polyamory, and polygamy together and mistakenly assume they are the same, they are different in various ways. To be very clear, let’s get the definitions out of the way.
Polygamy – the practice of having more than one wife or husband at the same time
Polyamory – a form of consensual non-monogamy (CNM) with emotionally intimate relationships among multiple people that can also be sexual and/or romantic partners. Note, these relationships can be with people of the same or opposite sex or both
Polygyny – a man being married to multiple women
Polyandry – a woman being married to multiple men
Aside from the actual definitions, one of the main distinctions between polyandry, polygamy, and polyamory lies in who has the power and the control over the relationships. Traditionally most atypical relationships involving multiple partners gave the power to the man. For as long as the institution of marriage has existed, men have claimed multiple partners in various cultures around the world. You see it in ancient texts and learn about it in ancient cultures.
But polyandry is not about male dominance over women. Polyandry allows a woman to be involved with multiple men, while those men are completely devoted to her. Polyandry is for women who desire monogamy from their partner(s), but who don’t personally want to be limited to one partner. They want men who are completely devoted to them, without the binding limitations of only being intimate (sexually, romantically or both) with one man.
Breaking Down the Beginning Of Polyandry
While this relationship arrangement is far from common, some experts believe that it is rooted in human nature with evolutionary influence. As The Atlantic reports, according to a paper in Human Nature co-authored by two anthropologists, Katherine Starkweather, and Raymond Hames, polyandry is not as mysterious and rare as it may initially seem. They suggest that “polyandry constitutes a variation on the common, evolutionarily-adaptive phenomenon of pair-bonding — a variation that sometimes emerges in response to environmental conditions.” In ancient civilizations, women would pair with multiple male partners in an effort to improve chances of survival and in human cultures where resources were scarce or where women themselves were scarce. Polyandry was practiced in cultures where farmland was limited when there was a need to consolidate familial agricultural estates and sometimes when a family was providing secondary protection for a wife in order to preserve the interests of an ancestral line of men.
But, clearly, those polyandrous arrangements had a different purpose than they do today. Historically, polyandry, while involving a female with multiple male partners, was not about female control. In many of those cultures, the first husband was still the dominant figure, calling the shots and making all decisions for the wife, family, and fellow spouses. But in modern-day polyandrous scenarios, the woman is in charge. Polyandry can contain elements of goddess worship and female superiority. It’s about devotion to a single woman in a relationship where that woman has access to all of the love, respect, attention, sexual satisfaction and romantic support she needs, she just happens to be finding all of that fulfillment from multiple men, rather than one partner.
The Perks and Flaws of Having Multiple Partners
As with any relationship, there are pros and cons to being involved with multiple partners at once. Polyandry, while it can be fulfilling and satisfying on another level, can be complicated.
In terms of the pros, there’s the obvious “the more the merrier” mentality. Having more male partners means more attention, more love, more sexual satisfaction, and more companionship. Rather than trying to gain all of the pleasure and love you desire from one person (who may or may not be equipped to meet your every need) you are taking control of your romantic and sexual needs and attempting to fulfill those needs through multiple people. It’s the ultimate form of delegating responsibility and taking an authoritative role in your love life.
According to Effy Blue, a New York City-based life coach who specializes in unconventional relationships, more men offer her more sexual and emotional support. “My partners have different strengths, styles, points of views, all coming together to be an amazing support network for me,” she said in an interview with Vice. “It also provides me different sexual experiences, somewhat eliminating monotony that inevitably happens in all long-term relationships. The variety ultimately keeps all of our sex lives exciting.”
The cons of a polyandrous relationship can be similar to that of a traditional monogamous marriage or partnership, but because there are more people involved, it can be exponentially more challenging. Imagine how frustrating it can be when you and your partner have opposing opinions or fight over relationship issues. Now imagine you have to fight with not one, but several people, all of whom have their own ideas and differing points of view.
Another challenge with polyandrous relationships is that it can be hard to find other partners who are open-minded enough to welcome polyandry into their lives. As we said, polyandry is far from common, so it might take men some time to warm up to the idea. Of course, many males have a problem allowing women to take a more dominant role in the relationship. And many men (or people, for that matter) might struggle with the idea of sharing a partner with others, especially if this partner is a woman you are completely devoted to, while she is not 100% devoted to you but dividing up her devotion to a collection of men. And should you want to try a polyandrous relationship, where would you even look for interested participants? It’s not like there’s an option to swipe up if you’re intrigued but would be willing to engage in a committed relationship with a woman who has several male mates. Maybe one day, but we’re not there yet.
So, if you’re a woman looking for multiple men who are open to polyandry, then it seems your best bet may be to first embrace the kink community. Both the kink community and polyamory community are all about openness, trying new things and welcoming unconventional romantic and intimate relationships and activities. The important thing for any woman interested in polyandry is to first decide what you want, and then be willing to put in some extra effort to find it. In that same Vice article Dr. Denise Renye, a San Francisco-based psychologist who specializes in sex and intimacy, suggests that for every person with an out-of-the-box desire or relationship goal, there must be other people who shares that same interest and openness. “If that’s what’s desired, create it—because it’s possible, but no matter which people are seeking in love and sex, there is inevitably somebody else out there who is also seeking that.”