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The culture of monogamy vs the culture of polyamory

patrick_fagan-100x100May 2010

This article is based on the speech held by Pat Fagan (Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Research on Marriage and Religion at the Family Research Council) during the 2009 World Congress of Families in Amsterdam.

Fagan has an interesting and provocative view on the fundamental differences between what he calls the 'polyamorous' and the 'monogamous' cultures of today. Fagan analyses both cultures and criticizes the currently dominating polyamorous culture. He delivers a fresh but also troubling insight on current events in American society.

The problem of freedom[1]

Patrick Fagan, Ph.D.

The “monogamous” and the “polyamorous” cultures have totally different approaches to life, with monogamous marriage and religious worship being the defining differences in their approaches to the sexual act.  Coexistence necessitates that the differences be observed by giving parents of both cultures control over the programs that cause conflict: education, adolescent health and sex education.  Monogamous men need to act in new ways to obtain this for the sake of their own children.

The culture of the traditional family is now in intense competition with a very different culture.  The defining difference between the two is the sexual ideal embraced.   The epi-center of the political and social storm is how the sexual is viewed, taught and practiced.   The sixth and ninth commandments, our personal, community and national governance of these issues is the great divide, not just for personal emotional reasons but for myriad reasons of profound impact on the local, national and global levels, as I hope you will see by the end of this talk.

Western civilization is based on and organized around lifelong sexual monogamy, meaning having a sexual relationship with only one person over the course of a lifetime, a spouse.  The competing culture, which is growing virulently, is polyamorous, with serial sexual relationships both before and after the first marriage. 

In this paper, I will be using “monogamy” and “polyamory” to refer to these two cultures, as we highlight the differences between and consequences of lifelong sexual commitment on the one hand and sexual fluidity and plasticity on the other.

To drive the differences home I will use  ideal types to distinguish the two cultures: monogamy and polymorphous serial polygamy, or “polyamory” for short.  Many people occupy a fuzzy middle (which puts them on the side of polyamory even if they regard themselves as being of the culture of monogamy.

Over both these cultures lies the welfare state and its operational bureaucracies.  This presents citizens of both cultures with a serious question:  How can one government and its set of bureaucracies serve these two very different cultures.

Can one servant (in our nation government is our servant, not our master) serve two masters simultaneously?

The complexities of modern life, driven mainly by constant new technologies, give rise to many physical dangers to individual and common good that were not present in earlier history.

But the nature of the task of  bureaucracies change when in the realm of the social, when protecting human beings from their own or others’ shortcomings. 

These behavioral (social) bureaucracies deal with issues such as poverty, crime addictions, many dimensions of health, including sexuality gone wrong (unwanted pregnancies, infectious diseases).  

By and large, the culture of polyamory today politically embraces the behavioral bureaucracy which embraces it in return, while the culture of monogamy has increasing disagreements with it and is shunted aside by these bureaucracies for they serve two masters at once.[2]  This is understandable and unavoidable when the differences between the two cultures are examined and understood.

The culture of monogamy and the culture of polyamory differ in profound assumptions on the way society functions.  Some of the differences are:     

  • The culture of monogamy is built around the traditional, natural family for its protection. In the culture of polyamory the traditional—natural—family is just one option among many and often considered a nuisance because of its claims to special difference and superior effectiveness.
  • In the culture of monogamy, men are anchored in their families and tied to their children and wives, through the free and  deliberate focus  of their sexuality.  In the culture of polyamory, which, at its core, treasures sexual freedom or license, such sexual constraint by men or women is not expected nor is any attempt to foster such acceptable, for such would be the antithesis of the main project of the culture of polyamory: polymorphous sexuality when mutually desired by two or more partners.[3] 
  • A co-equal difference is the place of religion and the worship of the Creator has a very different place in both cultures.  The culture of monogamy is infused from top to bottom with the sacred, in personal, family, community and national life.  Worship of God is frequent and assumed. The culture of polyamory tends much more to hide religion, even to suppress it in all things public.  It worships God less and demands that religion be private.[4]
  • The culture of monogamy views freedom as the freedom to be good while the culture of polyamory views freedom as having no constraints imposed on you.
  • Thus in the culture of monogamy insight and intellect are paramount for knowing the good that has to be pursued, while in the culture of polyamory what is paramount is the will to do what one likes.   Aristotlean realism on one side, Nietzschean will to power on the other.
    In epistemology, the culture of monogamy tends towards a belief in objective truth—that reality exists and can be known, while the culture of polyamory tends towards an ideological take (one can hardly call it “understanding”) on the truth—that reality results from an imposition of the will.
  • In morals the culture of monogamy tends towards universal moral norms while the culture of polyamory embraces moral relativism, not just in the sexual, but in many other moral issues also.
  • Freedom is seen very differently: The freedom to be good is the essential view of  the monogamous culture’s view of freedom while choice, unrestricted by moral norms, is the culture of polyamory’s view of freedom.
  • The culture of monogamy is at ease with rules when they serve to make wise decisions easier by eliminating temptations. Such rules free one from the distraction of evil in order to choose what is good.  The culture of polyamory sees freedom only as unrestricted choice, even if the choice leads to bad conclusions.[5] 
  • The language of virtue sits well with the culture of monogamy but uncomfortably with the culture of polyamory where some virtues, even fundamental virtues such as chastity and modesty, are held in disdain.
  • The laws of the culture of monogamy protect by forbidding—outlawing—certain actions.  The culture of polyamory protects by prescribing programs and ensuring outcomes for all, no matter their choice.[6]
  • Above the floor of the forbidden the culture of monogamy leaves all goals and actions freely available to everyone. The polyamorous culture, having less of a floor, constantly increases prescriptive and regulatory detail, telling people more and more how they must act.
  • The laws of the culture of monogamy are designed to protect one’s capacity to pursue legitimate goods of one’s choice (and they are myriad) but those of the culture of polyamory are designed to guarantee particular outcomes for everyone, especially income outcomes.
  • One of the most notable characteristics of the culture of polyamory is its denial of personhood to some of the most innocent and vulnerable, the unborn and the infirm, thus denying them the law’s protection of the innocent, while in the culture of monogamy the key function and foundational justification of legitimate government is precisely this: the protection of the innocent. 
  • In the culture of monogamy all human life is sacred and protected, be it the pre-born, the handicapped or the elderly.  In the culture of polyamory about one third of the pre-born are killed by their mothers, and the handicapped and elderly are unwelcome and increasingly vulnerable to early elimination.
  • The constitutional state was the product of a monogamous culture; it could never have emerged from a culture of polyamory, and has not emerged in non-monogamous cultures.  It assumes responsible citizens.  The expanding social welfare state is the product of the culture of polyamory and is increasingly hostile to the culture of monogamy.  It is created for less responsible citizens.[7]
  • Regulations are minimal in the culture of monogamy because laws, stated clearly in the negative (“Thou shalt not”), require minimal regulatory interpretation. The culture of polyamory having no such clear negatives,  through programs and policies aimed at outcomes and safety nets, enumerates what must be done not only that which may not be permitted.[8] 
  • The culture of monogamy, by being child oriented, is future oriented and full of hope: the child is protected and the next generation, the future of the country, is the main focus of the society’s work.   For the culture of polyamory the present welfare of adults is its main focus.
  • The culture of polyamory, contrary to the claims of radical feminists, aggressively fosters the male they most decry: the sexually and physically harassing, the abusing and abandoning male.  Being the natural cost of its defining project, these and related dysfunctions justify and necessitate more safety nets, bigger behavioral bureaucracies.  The degree of their attachment to their licence is visible in the absence of the promotion of marriage, even their opposition to any promotion of marriage.[9]
  • In the culture of monogamy men not only are anchored, they are required to be so. In the culture of polyamory women are the anchors while men can drift or be cast adrift, as they or their women desire, and they do so in very large numbers --- to the massive detriment of their children and the mothers of their children.
  • In the culture of monogamy gender roles are more differentiated, with women more fertile and likely to give more of their time to the tasks of motherhood while the men are likely to be the sole or the main source of family income.  The culture of polyamory is much more androgynous, its main focus being equality of outcomes for both men and women in the workplace and in the home.  Many who attempt androgyny are finding that it is only the super-gifted among them who can “have it all”, that is very, very few.  
  • The culture of polyamory cultivates strong girls (a good) but at the cost of weaker boys (not a good, but a great social weakness or evil).[10] 
  • The culture of monogamy is more economical and effective in raising citizens with habits and aptitudes needed by society, while the culture of polyamory at its very best only fractionally achieves these and always with major unintended consequences, for instance its welfare programs engendering a permanent underclass.  In other words the culture of polyamory’s social policy is not working while marriage and worship are --- massively so by contrast.[11]
  • The culture of monogamy, built on appetite constraint through deliberate focus, has minimal needs for behavioral bureaucracies.  The culture of polyamory, designed as a safety net not only for the unlucky but especially for the unrestrained, increasingly relies on social welfare programs to rescue its adherents from the effects of its choices in matters sexual.  Without its safety net the culture of polyamory would collapse of its own weight and disorder.[12] 
  • For the public purse, the culture of monogamy is inexpensive; the culture of polyamory is very expensive. [13]  It likely depends on a massive transfer of payments from one  culture to another.
  • In sum, the culture of monogamy is a culture dedicated to building belonging while the culture of polyamory is a culture dedicated to sexual belonging that assumes future rejection when passion and feelings pass.
  • The culture of monogamy is dedicated to self sacrificing love. The culture of polyamory is prepared to sacrifice love in its dedication to the self. 

The culture of monogamy welcomes the love called eros, in romance and courtship but goes on to transcend it in the second love --- agape.  The culture of polyamory is fixated on and glorifies eros.

How can these two cultures live together in the same political order?

Is it possible for these two cultures to live together in the same political order?   This is the political question which defines our day.  Over and above the differences just delineated, two issues leap to the fore in their political consequences:

  • In population, the culture of monogamy is fertile and expanding while the culture of polyamory is below replacement and contracting.[14] 
  • The culture of monogamy is inexpensive while the culture of polyamory is very expensive. 

Despite these two seeming “killer conclusions”, and contributing significantly to the tension between the two, whether by happenstance or deliberate design,  the culture of polyamory has figured out its way to survive and even thrive by controlling three critical areas of public policy, which yield big gains in “converts” from the culture of monogamy to theirs.  These three are childhood education, sex education and the control of adolescent health programs.

Controlling these three expands the polyamory culture’s reach into the traditional monogamous culture and gradually dismantles it, especially when aided by the entertainment industry, which today especially, is a very powerful institution aligned with the  culture of polyamory  with a massive operative bias against  the monogamy culture.

By controlling these three areas (education of children, sex education and adolescent health) the culture of polyamory diminishes the influence and dismantles the authority and influence of parents of the culture of monogamy particularly in their ability to form their children as members of their own culture.  One could say they “snatch” children away from their parents and from the culture of monogamy.

This “snatching” is almost complete when these three program areas result in adolescents accepting and engaging in sexual intercourse.

Every time the polyamorous (anti-monogamy) programs and the media succeed in drawing teenagers into sexual activity they have captured another “Janissry”[15] and won a number of victories simultaneously:

  • The adolescent has been initiated into the polyamorous  culture (albeit without knowledge of what is at stake) by having his first sexual experience outside of marriage;[16]
  • With the out of wedlock births or abortions that follow they have broken the family before it has started, solidifying the polyamorous  stature of the adolescent or young adult;
  • And, with powerful consequences, they have pulled the young person away from participating in the sacred because formerly religious teenagers who begin to engage regularly in sex outside of marriage tend to stop worshipping God. 

The culture of polyamory achieves all this without any overt, direct attack.  It is silent and subtle but very substantive in its victories and outcomes.  And they know it, and are fierce in protecting their control of these programs, with fierceness nothing in the culture of monogamy rivals in intensity or success.

For instance, in the United States of the last decade, the rise of abstinence education—monogamy education—immediately galvanized the institutions of the culture of polyamory in the US into massive political counter-attack, culminating in their recent victory which eliminated federal funding for such programs.  This came to pass despite all the good that came with abstinence, including reducing teenage abortions, out of wedlock births and sexually-transmitted diseases, while increasing educational attainment.

 In Europe where the culture of polyamory has greater sway, the clearest illustration of its continuing advance is the attack against the monogamy culture’s new bastion of effectiveness --- home-schooling and home rearing, either in early childhood (up to six years of age) or throughout even longer periods of childhood. In home schooling the Big Three programs (education, adolescent health and sex ed.) are all under the control of the parents and, we know from US data of some depth, yield outcomes far superior[17] to what the state-controlled programs can yield.

Since the 1960’s the culture of polyamory has led to a massive weakening of the United States for it has led to a massive weakening of our citizens in all areas --- in all the five basic tasks of every society, community, family, marriage and individual: the tasks of sexuality, of religion, of learning, of income and of governance.  Normally we call these family, church, school, marketplace and government.  In all we are weaker and weaker: and we know it. 

How can the monogamous family survive and thrive in this postmodernist (polyamorous) Social Welfare State era?

State controlled programs today in developed countries, almost universally, are polyamorous-friendly and monogamy-hostile. This is unjust from every perspective of political analysis because those who choose monogamy are, generally, the most effective, the cheapest and the safest in raising the next generation.

But they are unjust mainly because it is a universal, inalienable right of parents to raise their children as they see fit, including raising them in their culture.

Further, the social welfare state asks the monogamous to support the polyamorous, and uses the universal safety net insurance scheme (or taxes) to ensure that the monogamous pay more to support those who choose the polyamory culture.  This is plainly unjust, but even more so because the monogamous do not have their own culture-friendly programs and their own children are the target of the culture of polyamory’s “Janissary” scheme. Justice will increase and tensions decrease when that culture of polyamory begins to pay its own costs.

One way to progress in this direction and to make the behavioral bureaucracy to serve both cultures is to give all parents, parents of both cultures, and control over the program money set aside for their children.  That is giving parents vouchers, in one form or another for all three program areas 

The other way is to divide the bureaucracies into two: one for the monogamy culture the other for the polyamory culture.  Citizens can choose which they want (and pay taxes accordingly). 

The social welfare safety net will still be in place but the parents (be they monogamous or polyamorous) will choose who holds the net in place for their children. 

Whatever solution we choose the bottom line is that those who hold to the culture of monogamy must have control over those agents of transmission of the sexual and religious norms to their children. At present we do not.

In the first solution the flow of money from the special interest groups (organized doctors, teachers, schools) and instead directing the voucher money (cost per child served) to the parent— who can then choose the individual doctor, teacher or school they want, will take enormous political effort.  But the professionals will still receive the same amount of money.  But instead of serving a bureaucracy they will be cooperating with the parents.  But such a change is a big one in the political order and the culture of monogamy must harness itself to the task.

By its very make-up, the culture of monogamy organizes itself bottom up, not top down in social (and thus political) matters.  It solves its social problems by forming its own private “platoons.”  And in the protection of the family, men have the special role of being the primary protector. Thus, in this political competition for peaceful coexistence, the male needs to especially engage the increasingly hostile state and the polygamy culture whenever it “raids” the territory of his family’s domain. 

The presence or absence of the father is one of the great defining differences between the two cultures.  Therefore not only fathers, but all men who support monogamous marriage, need to step forward to stand for the difference.  The modern tendency of seeing family issues as mainly a woman’s issue, especially in public discourse, is an influence of the culture of polyamory.  As a result men often are not regarded as the best spokespersons, solely because of their gender.  But precisely because men make the difference they need to be seen at the forefront of this competition.  Their women and children need them in the sacred core of the family; society needs them in the same way at the public core of this discourse.  (Of course this does not take away a whit from the need for women and mothers to be involved in this discourse.)

Every male in the monogamy culture, and especially every father, will find his way to be engaged in this protection of his children, and, given what is at stake, other men and women of the culture of monogamy will increasingly expect this of every man.

Monogamy men will be expected to fight for control over is what is his and his family’s just due, what his taxes fund, and what he can use in raising his children: control over the three big programs of childhood education, sex education and adolescent health programs, so that they can be carried out in a way that supports the norms of the culture of monogamy.  In this rearrangement parents of the culture of polyamory have the same control to do as they wish for their children.


In this way, both cultures can live together with much greater ease and peace.

Now, we are tasked with gathering, planning, and exhorting each other and drawing to our side not only monogamous men but the fathers of good will in the culture of polyamory, for their children will also benefit from their having control over the Big Three programs.

However, first let monogamous men get serious about being men:  protecting their own families by obtaining for them the same resources that the poyamorous are given for their children.

The culture of monogamy has never encountered this type of competition ever before in all of human history. We must engage, if we are to have equality and the peace that comes with it. We can wait no longer; we need men of courage and energy.  We are looking for the first few.

How do we go forward and strengthen the culture of monogamy locally, and at the state and national levels?  This is the work that urgently confronts us.

To redress and change this weakness I suggest we first get control of our own for ourselves --- in justice, and by that very process,  provide to those stuck in the middle,  the example of how to be strong again. 

We need to target the main injustices which must be redressed for us:

Control of our schools for our children.  The public schools in many areas do not transmit the culture of monogamy.  That is unjust for parents who are monogamous.

Control of all sex education given to our children:  for the monogamous there is only one way to go: one man or one woman for life --- and all the support that such a path entails.

But to pull off these reforms we must also reform ourselves in our  Churches: 

First:  Marriage Reform in the Church.

Restoration of the defense of chastity by men, in public. 
We hace the best sex and give the best to our wives.

Requiring modesty of dress from women around us.

Marriage Reform in the Black Church.  The black family sufferes most from the onslaught of polyamory culture (Planned Parenthood) against it..not only in abortion but particularly in its assault on the chastity of its young men and women.  This leads to massive rates of abortion and fatherless families.

In our universities to develop the economic sciences more:  making clear the intimate connections between marriage and the economy:  that marriage and worship together have profound strengthening effects on the economy.  Both have profound effects on  the growth of small businesses (the major employment sector of the major economy on earth) and the source of 80% of the growth of the major economy on earth.  Most stock holders in this country are married.  h Tax paper.  Family businesses, marriage, growth of capital, stocks, investing, taxes paid.

Freedom and peace both need the virtues that flow from marriage and worship.   Without them democracies will become cisterns of conflict, corruption and war. We can sense now the correctness of Mother Theresa when she warned that abortion will be the cause of war.

We need men who will protect their families and their children, who will demand and get justice for their families in education, in health and in sex education, who will  demand a rearrangement of society if it needs that, so that first they can preserver their families and then so that they can win back most of the rest to a good way of life.

Such men will be both tough and tender.  Tender in their families (though occasionally tough when their children need it) and tough in their public stance (though tender when dealing with wounded individuals of the polyamoury culture --- and there are lots of them). 

Protective of our own and working to win back the middle:  Tender and Tough,   Tough and Tender.

To help NC Family Policy Council do this the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) at the Family Research Council will be providing as much research backup as our resources make can make available. 

For the data are on our side and the social sciences well done cannot but illustrate the way God made man.

And we do believe that the pen (and persuasion) is mightier than the sword.

This year we will be issuing 10 synthesis papers (overviews of the social science) and two new Annual Reports … the next one on the effects of pornography then the Effects of Religious Worship on Educaiton.

The Annual Report on the American Family …showing where we were and where we are.

And the Annual Belonging Rejection Ratio, the key statistic on the future of America: what proportion of our children grows up in an intact married family.   They are the core strength of the future of the nation (though everyone is held special and unique by all of us).  We will give this for the nation, for each state and for the top 25 cities in the country. Each year for the next three years we will be able to increase the detail until we can rank order most of the cities and counties of the nation (and within each state too --- by 2012).

Bill and his staff rank among the very highest in the nation in doing state level family policy work --- at the very top.

They represent the traditional family in the finest manner possible and with great professionalism, in all their ways of communicating.  Thank you for supporting them and I look forward to continuing to do so as well in the years to come.


Patrick F. Fagan is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Research on Marriage and Religion at the Family Research Council.

This article was slightly edited for the Christians in Politcs Portal.

[1]          The following speech was given by Pat Fagan to the World Congress of Families in Amsterdam on August 12, 2009. The World Congress of Families is the world’s largest conference of pro-family leaders and grass-roots activists.

[2]     For instance: the continuing struggles on matters sexual deep within the HHS bureaucracy every time there a change in the Presidency coincides with a change in party affiliation.

[3]     The history of federally funded abstinence education is the clearest case in point.  Hundreds of millions of dollars goes into polyamorous sex education.  Opponents (members of the culture of polyamory)  worked tirelessly, and successfully to defund abstinence education. 

[4]     The modern discussion on the place of the recognition of God and religion in America’s original self definition is increasingly illustrating the stance of the Founding Fathers, even the more non-conformist of them, as one of reverence. (See for instance Michael Novak’s book “On Two Wings”).  By contrast the ACLU and its academic allies would have a very different place (none) in public, or in public institutions for God or religion.

[5]     A good analogy would be the rules of a family household where parents have rules not to unjustly limit or burden their children but rather to free them to live healthily, safely, and morally.  Many modern parents are now confused about this aspect of freedom and leave even young children choose (or rule) even when they do not have the maturity to decide.

[6]     This clash of views on the nature of law is the big contributor to disagreement in the health care reform debate of  2009.

[7]              It is worth noting that the bending (if not the eventual breaking) of the Constitution began with Griswold vs Connecticut (1965) when Planned Parenthood’s efforts wrought the change in the way the Constitution was interpreted so that contraceptives could be used.  This was gained by finding a “right to marital privacy”.  It was quickly followed (1972) with a ruling expanding that right to individual privacy (not marital privacy as in Griswold) thus conferring the right to procreation outside of marriage: “"If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child." EISENSTADT v. BAIRD, 405 U.S. 438 (1972)

[8]     The massive expansion of regulations in finance, in education, in health are often the result of a breakdown in the virtue of the operators, and the breakdown of taboos in society.  An enormous amount of regulations in social work result from abandonment of marriage laws.  Much the same holds for regulations regarding the administration of poverty programs.  Insisting on government control of schools necessitates myriad regulations that would be unnecessary were parents given free choice in schools.  Their moral demands coupled with their competitive choices would ensure more virtuous behavior at schools.

[9]     One of the clearest instances of this was the revolt by the membership of the National Council of Family Relationships (NCFR), against a joint project by NCFR with the federal Dept. of Health and Human Services to produce a database on marriage.   NCFR is the publisher of the premier journal on marriage, a journal which repeatedly documents the superiority of monogamy over other family forms.  For NCFR’s handling of the issue see  NCFR pulled out of the project. 

[10]    This difference can be seen rather clearly in education graduation rates where boys are continuously falling behind girls.

[11]    The Mapping America project illustrates this repeatedly with charts from national sample US federal government surveys.  See  Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher’s book, The Case for Marriage is another.   “Why Religion Matters” and “ Why Religion Matters Even More” also make the case from the data.

[12]    The deliberate implication here is that there is a massive transfer of payments from the culture of monogamy to the culture of polyamory to pay disproportionately for the safety net. 

[13]    The studies cited directly above and myriad related studies all point to the increased cost of non intact families and the increased costs of non worshipping or less worshipping families.  There is a need to do the gross cumulative estimate on these differences.  One good study exists on the cost of divorce  (though it deliberately underestimates the cost): The Taxpayer Costs of Divorce and Unwed Childbearing.  Their estimate: $122 billion per year or over a $1trillion every decade. 

[14]    See Mapping America   TK

[15]    This Janissary  analogy comes from the practice of the Ottoman Turks of the 14th century who raided boys from Christian nations to train them as their own elite warriors, the Janissaries

[16]    Women over thirty who have had one extramarital partner --- and normally that is before marriage --- have almost a one in two probability of having a divorce.  For those with two sexual partners –ever --- outside of marriage, it is more than one in two and with three such partners it is 60:40.  Adolescents are not taught this. 

[17]    For instance see partial evidence for this at (insert the Berlin Powerpoint URL here).  Combine this with the data on the effects of religious practice on education attainment, health, income, longevity, and with much lower rates of dysfunctions and illegal behaviors. For this see Why Religion Matters, and Why Religion Matters Even More by Pat Fagan.  See also Fagan et al. Map of the Family.


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