For people new to the subject, here's some background on where we're at.
Throughout human history, intimate relationships and family structures have sometimes been openly non-monogamous. In some cultures these traditions have served well, and such traditions continue in some deep-rooted and indigenous cultures today. More often, however, non-monogamous social structures have enabled the powerful to oppress the weak, in particular by enabling a few powerful men to rule over many women – leaving the women with little agency and thin resources and other men with little chance of ever finding a life mate. In the West in particular, such polygamy has long been outlawed or discouraged partly to reduce the effects of these abuses.
Meanwhile, more egalitarian multi-relationships – freely conceived among all parties, with mutual consent and respect – have long been present to some degree. However, these usually stayed deeply hidden outside of a few bohemian and artistic subcultures.
In recent years, many more people have been creating such models for relationships and shared intimacy. Especially in the West – where the freedom and dignity of people to create their own lives is widely respected, and where women have achieved equality with men at least in principle – a striking development is now under way: People are creating successful, happy, intimate romantic and/or sexual relationships in groups of three, four, or more, or in networks more loosely connected, with the full knowledge and free consent of everyone involved. It's called polyamory, and it comes in many forms: from informal networks of friends and lovers, to closer "polycules," to poly families that are group marriages in everything but legal recognition. Polyamory itself is one type in a broader category of relationships that social scientists call consensual non-monogamy (CNM).
In the United States and Canada, for instance, recent surveys consistently indicate that about 4 or 5 percent of adults are currently in some form of consensually non-monogamous relationship, and that about 20 percent have been so at some time in their lives. These numbers vary surprisingly little across income, class, race, geographical area, education level, and religion. Modern, egalitarian poly families raising children have now been followed and studied across 25 years or more, and all indications are that the kids thrive and grow up at least as successfully as kids in traditional families of matching socioeconomic status.
While the polyamory and CNM communities have many millions of people from every walk of life, many of us remain misunderstood, misjudged and discriminated against by those who still believe that society should control who and how people love, and that intimate relationships of more than two are wrong or cannot work.
Thus many people in polyamorous relationships are deeply closeted – afraid that their friends, family or colleagues will learn of their life path with possible negative repercussions. These could be anything from being ridiculed and excluded, to being actively discriminated against by employers or landlords. Many polyamorists have been denied promotions at work once their relationship choices/orientations have been learned, and some have been fired for it with none of the legal protections of many other minorities.
Divorced parents who practice ethical, consenting polyamory have often lost custody or even been prevented from seeing their children, by hostile family-court judges acting against the best interests of the child. Partners in a polyamorous relationship where a member faces medical problems are often ignored by the law, excluded from hospital or hospice visiting rights, unable to make end-of-life decisions for their loved ones, and sometimes are denied basic information such as how the loved one is doing during surgery.
The past few years have seen monumental efforts around the world to legitimize ethical, consensual polyamory and those who practice it. Organizations such as the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition are conducting efforts on the legal level and have been successful in crafting polyamory-friendly domestic-partnership legislation in several localities. The Chosen Family Law Center has been doing amazing pro-bono work in support of non-traditional families facing various legal challenges and gaps. Groups such as Loving More, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, Black & Poly, OPEN, and others, and countless writers, bloggers, podcasters, book authors, conference organizers, and local activists, have gotten us where we are. The American Psychological Association has established a Committee on Consensual Non-Monogamy to educate therapists and others on the nature of, common issues around, and best practices for consensually non-monogamous clients of all kinds. Other professional organizations are increasingly taking note of this new demographic.
However, the road is long and we have much more to do. The movement has accomplished an incredible amount in the last 35 or 40 years with very little money. The Polyamory Foundation was established to help it do more – and we need all the help we can get. See our Grants Made page for what we have been able to fund so far.
If you find it in your heart to donate, please do. The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (as a private non-operating foundation, charitable/educational), so your donation is tax-deductible to the full extent of the law. Per our bylaws, members of our board may receive no salary or benefits; nor do we currently plan for any paid staff. Our founders and board are committed to keeping administrative expenses to the bare minimum to maximize the effect of donors’ dollars. We are committed to funding grant proposals on their specificity and merits, and to require accounting (receipts, etc.) as appropriate to ensure that grant money is spent for its designated purposes. Reports on outcomes are also required.
The funding we currently have is not large by the standards of most foundations. However, the polyamory movement has already accomplished spectacular success in public recognition and understanding on extremely thin finances. We hope to help with that a bit. We intend for the Foundation to be an increasingly significant institution supporting creative choice in relationship structures for decades to come.