Polygamy

Polygamy is defined as “marriage in which a spouse of either sex may have more than one mate at the same time.”1

There are two subsets for the word polygamy: polygyny and polyandry.

Polygyny is “the practice or condition of having more than one wife at one time.”2 Polyandry is “the state or practice of having two or more husbands at the same time.”3

“The Latter-day Saints renounced polygamy in 1890, but the practice has persisted among some, although it has been rarely prosecuted.”4 Being married to more than one living person at a time is illegal in the United States and the penalties vary by state.

Polygamist families exist in the United States. Reality television shows such as “Sister Wives” and the cancelled show “Brother Husbands” showcase their existence.

The sourced articles below provide more information on polygamy.

Footnotes: 1. merriam-webster.com, 7/7/2018; 2. dictionary.com, accessed 7/12/2018; 3. collinsdictionary.com, accessed 7/12/2018; 4. encyclopedia.com, 7/12/2018


  1. Polygamy And Mental Health: A Conversation With Sister Wives Founders Robyn & Chris Alesich

    “Below is a fun, casual, organic, informative and entertaining conversation I had with Christopher and Robyn Alesich. They are married to each other, polygamists and founders of SisterWives.Com, the largest polygamy dating site and the only polygamy matchmaking site on the web. … We touched on a lot of topics, the main ones being the mental health benefits and mental health challenges of polygamy. … Erin: Right…, but that sounds more like polyamory to me?
    Robyn: NO. Polyamory is much different. In the world of polyamory, in the world that I’ve seen, most are open-they are in open relationships.”

    Erin Stair, bloomingwellness.com, 2/28/2018

  2. Yes, ‘Brother Husbands’ Was Actually A TLC Show Because Polyandry Does Exist

    “Yes, brother husbands actually exist! … The short-lived series revolved around the Stone family — which consisted of wife Amanda, husband Chad, and second husband Jeremy. … ‘We also don’t have a religious reason for doing this. We weren’t seeking it out,’ Chad explained. ‘It was a complete shock and surprise that this even happened, and we are just learning as we go. We’ve done a lot of research and reading.'”

    Emma Hernandez, intouchweekly.com, 2/6/2018

  3. The Pros And Cons Of Polygamy

    “Even in monogamous societies, powerful men often establish long-term sexual relationships with women other than their wives (concubinage), except that in this case the junior partners and the children born to them do not enjoy the same legal protections as the ‘legitimate’ wife and children. … Polygyny also has many drawbacks, particularly when seen through a modern, western lens. First and foremost, it sanctions and perpetuates gender inequality, with co-wives officially and patently subordinated to their husband.”

    Neel Burton MD, psychologytoday.com, 1/4/2018

  4. Moral Acceptance Of Polygamy At Record High — But Why?

    “In short, there is little reason to believe that Americans are more likely to know or be polygamists now than at any other time in the past. But there is one way Americans may feel more familiar with or sympathetic to polygamy: television. Beginning in the mid-2000s, television shows began to feature polygamist characters — though these depictions were not always favorable. The TLC show ‘Sister Wives’ premiered in 2010, and according to The Washington Post, humanized a family of polygamists. The show was successful and remains on the air. Notably, over the time it has been on the air, Gallup has seen support for polygamy rise by nearly 10 percentage points, although it is impossible to establish any direct causality between the show and changing attitudes.”

    Andrew Dugan, gallup.com, 7/28/2017

  5. The Polygamous Town Facing Genetic Disaster

    “Even more intriguingly, this region is polygynous. In this small, isolated community of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) – a group that split from the LDS in the early 20th Century – the likelihood of being born with fumarase deficiency is over a million times above the global average. … In isolated communities, the problem is compounded by basic arithmetic: if some men take multiple wives, others can’t have any. In the FLDS, a large proportion of men must be kicked out as teenagers, shrinking the gene pool even further.”

    Zaria Gorvett, bbc.com, 7/26/2017

  6. Humans And Harems? Review Of Out Of Eden: The Surprising Consequences Of Polygamy By David Barash

    “In ‘Out of Eden’ (Barash in Out of Eden, Oxford University Press, New York, 2016) David Barash argues that humans are naturally polygamous, in that they have innate polygamous preferences. In particular, Barash argues that human males have preferences and other psychological states designed to support aggressive polygynous sexual competition, and that the resulting behavior has driven the selection of various other psychological and behavioral traits in humans.”

    Catherine Driscoll, springer.com, 4/12/2017

  7. Is Polygamy Legal In The US? ‘Sister Wives’ Case Denied By Supreme Court

    “The United States Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to polygamy laws brought by the family featured on TLC’s ‘Sister Wives’ reality show, the court announced Monday.
    Kody Brown and his four wives — Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn — wanted the Supreme Court to review part of Utah’s polygamy laws that prohibits a married couple from living with other women. Brown is legally married to only one of his wives, while maintaining ‘spiritual marriages’ to the other three. Brown had argued in court that Utah’s provision against cohabitation violated citizens’ rights to privacy and religious freedom. In December 2013, a U.S. district court judge agreed, ruling that the state’s anti-polygamy law was unconstitutional, but an appeals court overturned the ruling in April 2016, deciding that since the Browns had never been charged with a crime under the Utah law, they had no standing to sue.”

    Josh Keefe, ibtimes.com, 1/23/2017

  8. Having Multiple Devoted Boyfriends Is Wonderful, Polyandrous Women Confirm

    “Polyandry, the female-focused version of polygamy, is technically illegal in the United States; thus, those who practice it do so without literally getting married. “I would say [polyandry] is when a woman has many male partners,” says Dr. Denise Renye, a San Francisco-based psychologist who specializes in sex and intimacy. … Those who are specifically seeking a modern American version of polyandry view the distinction between polyandry and polyamory as one that stems from differing power dynamics. These women want to have multiple male partners, but their men must be completely devoted to them, a different relationship structure than what Blue practices.”

    Sophie Saint Thomas, vice.com, 7/11/2016

  9. Love In The Time Of Monogamy

    “It’s hard to say how many people in the United States practice polygamy — estimates vary widely, from 20,000 to half a million — but it’s clear most of their fellow Americans disapprove. In a 2013 Gallup poll about morally controversial issues, a mere 14 percent of the public said they accepted polygamy (only adultery and cloning humans had lower approval rates). … In the United States, polygamy is technically a form of adultery, since it involves sexual relations between a married person and someone who is not his or her legal spouse. Adultery remains illegal in 21 states. Rhode, though no fan of adultery, argues that it should not be prohibited by law, because such laws infringe on our constitutionally protected right to privacy — and have proved woefully ineffective, in any event, at protecting the institution of marriage. Laws criminalizing polygamous cohabitation have comparable flaws, she observes.”

    James Ryerson, nytimes.com, 4/5/2016

  10. Polyandry (One Woman, Many Men)

    “When biologists such as myself began doing DNA fingerprinting on animals, many of us were shocked, shocked, to find that the social partner of even some of the most seemingly monogamous bird species was not necessarily the biological father. And people aren’t altogether different, although for understandable reasons, the sexual adventuring of women has long been more obscured. Polyandry –unlike polygyny – has only rarely been institutionalized in human societies, and yet women, like men, are also prone to having multiple sexual partners.”

    David P. Barash, PhD, psychologytoday.com, 3/26/2016

  11. What Is The Difference Between Polyamory And Polygamy?

    “Another difference between the two is that polygamy does tend to only refer to the act of a man having more than one wife and it is, therefore, based on gender. Polyamory is open to any mixture of numbers and genders so it is just as common for a man to be in a relationship with several women as it is for a woman to be in love with several men. It should also be pointed out that polymory can of course involve people of the same sex as well whereas this won’t be possible with polygamy due to its strong links to religion and culture.”

    Mike Hatcher, yourtango.com, 1/14/2015

  12. Seven Forms Of Non-Monogamy

    “Alongside (and even predating) monogamy, cultures throughout the world have long practiced polygamy — a form of marriage consisting of more than two persons. The most common form of multiple partner marriage is polygyny, a marriage of one husband and multiple wives, who are each sexually exclusive with the husband. Worldwide, Muslims are most likely to be polygynous, with the highest concentrations of contemporary polygyny in the Middle East and parts of Africa. Polyandry — a marriage of one wife to multiple husbands — is far more rare, as marriages between one woman and multiple men have received less social, political, and cultural support than have polygynous relationships.”

    Elisabeth A. Sheff Ph.D., CASA, CSE, psychologytoday.com, 7/22/2014

  13. Polygyny

    “Polygyny has several economic, social, and health advantages over monogamy. In most cultures, women contribute significantly to the wealth of the household and can thus materially benefit from the labour of an additional spouse. Where mortality rates of men consistently exceed those of women, polygyny can be seen as a resolution to the ‘deficit’ of males and the ‘surplus’ of females.”

    Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, britannica.com, 1/8/2014