50 Shades of Polyamory: Why it is important what the media writes about multiple relationships

The following article has been published on the science blog of the "Young research network Female and Gender History" (in German Language, 14th of January 2017). Translation has been done by google translate, so apolgies for spelling or other mistakes.



Polyamory - according to the academic definition, "emotional and sexual multiple relationships among the knowledge of all participants". Does this academic attribution contradict personal perception as well as the media external presentation? Or has 'science' so far overlooked something essential?

The view of the media

The following terms can be found in German-language printed media, if polyamory is made a journalistic topic:

(Picture at the end of the article)

The view of science

With these approximately fifty (different and contradictory) attributes, the German-speaking newspaper and magazine world describes polyamory. It is in good company, for science has not found a uniform definition of polyamony; The differences in the definitions also point to the research gaps on the subject: Luke Brunning [1] describes polyamory as "a form of consensual non-monogamy" [2]; Mitchell et al. [3] understand polyamory as "simultaneous consensual romantic relationships with several partners" [4]; Schröter and Vetter have incorporated a and / or phrase into their definition ("Polyamorie is a relationship concept that allows sexual and / or emotional love relationships to be shared with multiple partners at the same time") [5]; Haritaworn et al. [6] "Polyamorie describes a form of relationship in which it is possible, permissible, and worthwhile to lead multiple intimate and sexual relationships with multiple partners simultaneously (and over a longer period of time) . [7] In a nutshell, it is actually 'neologism' composed of the words polys (Greek for 'many') and amor (Latin for love) [8] - they already see dear readers with difficulties The multiple relationships already begin when we define what we are talking about.

Why is it important what is written in the newspaper and what we are talking about?

Media (with) determine the social discourse. Especially when the subject is a new subject, to which people do not already have a definite opinion ("schemata"), what the audience gets medial in the media contributes strongly to the opinion-forming process. This approach is called "framing" in the communication science. [9]

The power of definition

And why is it so important to find a uniform definition? In contrast to persons who feel like a letter from the LGBT (I) acronym, there is no minority protection for professing polys - and to ask for it, it would first have to be clarified what polyesthesia or poly-life or polyfeas actually means: status quo of research , One wants to rely on current English-language journal articles are three different approaches to which I would like to add a fourth access after the first results of my research: sexual orientation, identity, intimate practice or multiple love relationships - to put it more precisely: polyamorousness As sexual orientation (1), polyamorous life as a form of identity (2), polyamorous action in the form of intimate practice (3), or polyamorous feeling in the form of love relationships to more than one person (4). With this knowledge the inclusion of the polyamory into the "LGBT family" can be called for, and the first important step towards legal recognition is done.

How is polyamory categorized?

A plea to understand polyamory as a sexual orientation comes from Ann Tweedy of Hamline University School of Law. In her most widely read article, the assistant professor refers to the discrimination faced by people who live polyamorously, and argues why the definition of sexual orientation (based on sex to which people feel attracted), which is currently defined according to her understanding, is broader Should be taken. [10] Christian Klesse contradicts this approach because he suspects a cultural imperialism that is continuing in the discourse in this approach. According to the sociologist, this creates a normative tropus that hinders intersex, transgender, gender queer or pan-gender identities, as well as erotic subjectivity, which in turn leads to an intensified reduction of the topic. [11]

Polyamory as an identity is the core statement of one of the first scientific articles on the topic, which appeared in a peer-reviewed journal. The British Meg Barker (meanwhile Meg-John Barker with hyphen to question the bureaucracy of sex) [12] points out on the basis of a social-constructivist and cognitive perspective how poly-individuals create personal and group identities in relation to conventional monogamy , And on this basis investigate consequences for polyamorous perception. [13] The third category of intimate practice is considered by Clesse in the title of his article with the same value as identity and sexual orientation, but in flow text he still owes the sources for this statement. The unproven core statement states that a personal disposition is established to prepare for entry into more than one intimate and / or sexual relationship that is to be conducted in parallel. [14]

What unites these three approaches is that they were created on the data material of mostly qualitative studies within the polyamorous community in the English-speaking western area. On the basis of my preliminary research results, I may add a further consideration, the findings of which are based on two factors which have not yet been investigated in the form: the mediated mediation of polyamorous, living, professed, loving persons in German-speaking countries. The quintessence lies in the last attribution - polyamory is the emotional love of more than one person.

How to measure polyamory?

In the research project "Polyamory in Media, Social and Identity Perspective" financed by the FWF for three years, all journal articles from the German-speaking world, which have been published since January 2007, and a content-related dimension as the keyword Polyamory. Over the period of one decade (until January 2017), this resulted in nearly 400 articles. The first 100 articles were already analyzed and analyzed in detail by a qualitative content analysis according to Mayring. It was found that in more than 35% of all mentions the most common understanding of Polysein is presented in seven categories (according to the design of the examination, further categories were granted, as long as a minimum number of nominations were made) 30% polyamory is reproduced as a multiple love affair to more than one person in the press. If these results also continue for the further 300 articles still to be analyzed, one must allow more space than one of several attributions in the definition, at least if the medial representation is taken as an object of investigation of the emotional attachment.

Is the question resolved?

The question why it is important what is written about polyamory in the newspaper should be answered. What exactly is written about polyamory in the newspaper, and how is written about it, we know at the very latest to projects in spring 2019 in detail.


Stefan Ossmann




[1] Brunning, L. (2016). The Distinctiveness of Polyamory. Journal of Applied Philosophy, 33(3), S. 1.

[2] „A form of consensual non-mongamy“.

[3] Mitchell, M. E., Bartholomew, K., & Cobb, R. C. (2014). Need Fulfillment in Polyamorous Relationships. The Journal of Sex Research, 51(3), S. 329.

[4] “(…) simulteneous consensual romantic relationships with multiple partners

[5] Schroedter, T., & Vetter, C. (2010). Polyamory. Eine Erinnerung. Stuttgart: Schmetterling-Verl., S. 26.

[6] Haritaworn, J., Lin, C.-j., & Klesse, C. (2006). Poly/logue: A Critical Introduction to Polyamory. Sexualities, 9(5), S. 515.

[7] „Polyamory describes a form of relationship, where it is possible, valid and worthwile to maintain (usually long-term) intimate and sexual relationships with multiple partners simultaneously”.

[8] Vgl. Pieper, M., & Bauer, R. (2014). Polyamorie: Mono-Normativität – Dissidente Mikropolitik – Begehren als transformative Kraft? Journal für Psychologie, 22(1), S. 7.

[9] Vgl. Matthes, J (2014). Framing. Baden-Baden: Nomos, S. 9-13.

[10] Vgl. Tweedy, A. (2011). Polyamory as sexual orientation. University of Cincinnati Law Review, 79(4), 1460 – 1515.

[11] Vgl. Klesse, C. (2014). Polyamory: Intimate practice, identity or sexual orientation? Sexualities, 17(1/2), 81 – 99.

[12] Persönlicher Mailverkehr im Rahmen der Adaption Ihres Namens für die Polyamorie-Projekthomepage: http://polyamorie.univie.ac.at/kooperationen/, Zugriff 14/10/2016.

[13] Vgl. Barker, M. (2005). This is my partner, and this is my… partner’s parter: Constructing a polyamorous identity in a monogamous world. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 18(1), 75 – 88.

[14] Vgl. Klesse, 2014, S. 90.



Copyright: Stefan Ossmann