Jack, Emmy, and Izzy from "You Me Her"

Why Is There An Absence Of Poly Ships In Media?

A few days ago, I was in the middle of writing a fanfic. The main relationship in the fic is an OT4 (One True Foursome) of mine (WinterIronFalconWar for those who are curious) and it had me thinking about polyamorous ships. Eventually, I went, “Ya know, I don’t really see poly ships that often within media… Why is that?” You would think that since our lives are surrounded with various types of relationships — friendships, family (which includes pets), romantic relationships, friends with benefits, etcetera — that the media would showcase all types. However, that isn’t the case… well in regards to polyamory (“poly”) relationships that is.

So, what is it about poly ships that make the media hesitant to include them in television and films?

What Is Monogamy, Polyamory, & Open Relationships?

If you were to look up the word ‘monogamy’ within the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you would see various definitions. However, the definitions that are the most relevant to this article would be 1a and 1b, which are defined as:

1a: “the state or practice of having only one sexual partner at a time”

1b: “the state or custom of being married to only one person at a time,”

or to put it more simply: Monogamy is a state where you’re in a relationship with one person. Monogamous relationships are more of the norm within our culture and the type of relationship we see more of within television and film.

Gomez kissing Morticia's hand in a scene from Paramount's 1991 film, "The Addams Family."
The ever-so iconic Gomez and Morticia Addams are just one example of a monogamous relationship in our media. (Photo courtesy of: Paramount Pictures)

Polyamory, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is,

“the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.”

While open relationships, as defined by dictionary.com, are

“one where an established couple has mutually agreed to share a non-monogamous lifestyle. This includes either or both parties having other sexual and/or romantic partners. This type of relationship is carried out with the consent and knowledge of all parties involved.”

While some people use ‘polyamory’ and ‘open relationship’ interchangeably, there can be a difference. For example, three people can be in a relationship with each other—as in they’re all dating each other. That relationship would be considered a polyamorous relationship. Another example would be if someone in a relationship, with the consent of their partner, began seeing someone else. The partner may find another person as well or only see them. This would be considered an open relationship. Though, the term someone uses to describe their relationship can vary depending on the type of relationship and personal preference of which term they like more.

For clarity’s sake, I just want to note that I’ll only be focusing on monogamy and poly ships in this article.

How Long Has Monogamy Been Around?

If you’re like me, you probably thought that monogamy has been around for thousands of years, but it hasn’t. While monogamy seems to be the modern prevalent choice when it comes to relationships, it is very recent, about a thousand years recent. According to Kit Opie, an evolutionary anthropologist from University College London. In an article with CNN Health News, Opie stated that,

“only humans became truly monogamous.”

Although there is no solid evidence as to why humans evolved to be monogamous, there are many theories.

What Are Some Of The Theories?

In a study done by Chris T. Bauch and Richard McElreath, they used a mathematical simulation model that explored the evolving mating norms in human societies. As a result of their study, they learned that when groups became larger, STIs and STDs became common within the population. This suggests that STIs and STDs could have put social pressure on humans to become monogamous in order to prevent infertility.

Two graphs showing STIs are not commonly found in small groups, while three graphs show STIs are more commonly found in large groups.
Graphs showing how STIs became regularly found when groups became large, and thus causing metapopulation to demand for monogamy. (Credit: Chris T. Bauch & Richard McElreath)

Another theory that scientists have involves something dark: infanticide. In a report made by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), they suggested that males had become monogamous as a way to prevent other males from killing their offspring. The logic behind this theory is pretty simple: Males want their genetic line to survive. If an attacking male were to kill an infant, it gives them a chance to mate with the mother.

However, if the father hung around the mother and child, it prevents other males from attacking. Thus, allowing the genetic line to continue. Despite all the theories that scientists have for why human beings became monogamous, there’s one question that stays in my mind: If humans were polyamorous before being monogamous, then why is there such a stigma about poly relationships today?

The Stigma Behind Poly Relationships

I’ve combed through many different articles on the internet to figure out why western culture has such a stigma about poly ships. In my research, I came across various answers that ranged from some people having no interest in it to some people finding it immoral. Though, there are three common themes that popped up in my research: religion, jealousy, and the social construct of relationships and love.

Religion & Poly Relationships

One article that I found that best describes people’s viewpoints about poly relationships is an article by Peter Moore for YouGov. In the article, YouGov did their own research and found that the more religious someone is, the more likely they are to believe that polyamory is wrong.

Four bar graphs showing the relationship between religion and polyamory.
(Credit: YouGov)

When I read this piece, it was interesting to me to see how faith plays a part in people’s viewpoints for poly relationships. For example, I thought it was fascinating to see the difference between how important religion is for someone versus someone who finds religion unimportant (as shown in the graphs below).

Jealousy, Social Construct, & Poly Relationships

When it comes to polyamory, one of the first things that pops into people’s minds is jealously. From the various articles and opinions I’ve read, it seems that jealousy is one of the top things that prevents people from being open to the possibility of having a poly relationship. In western culture, there seems to be five harmful myths that we tend to perpetuate when it comes to love, sex, and relationships. One of those myths is jealousy. I will admit that from my own conversations about poly and open relationships with my friends, we all have agreed that none of us would even consider having that type of relationship because of jealousy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that everyone should push aside their jealousy and be polyamorous. Though, it is interesting to see how society tends to glorify jealousy when it comes to relationships and love. (But that topic is a conversation for another time).

Poly Ships In Media & Fandom

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a single television show or film that shows a poly relationship in a healthy manner off of the top of my head. (If you can then, total kudos to you). After a quick search on Google, the results were pretty limited. In a list made by an IMDb user, harukohana, there seems to be only seventy-three listed films and shows — though, it is important to note that the list was last updated in late December of 2015.

The Polyamory Fandom Wiki lists seventy-two films — though their list includes films that show poly ships in a positive, negative, or neutral light. However, if you want some shows that showcase poly ships in a healthy and positive light, then I got you covered. There are two television shows that are “get[ting] polyamory right,” according to Vice: Unicornland and You Me Her. While I haven’t seen either of these shows, based off of the Vice article and synopses of the shows, they seem promising (and something I will definitely be adding to my ‘Things To Watch’ list).

Annie, Kim, and Samara in bed from the show, Unicornland.
Annie, Kim, and Samara from Unicornland. (Credit: Unicornland Productions)

Unlike television shows and films, I can easily think of at least ten fanfics that have a poly relationship as the main ship. In fact, after a quick look at the Archive of Our Own, the tag, ‘Polyamory,’ currently has about 50,000 fics listed under that tag. That’s a staggering difference between mainstream media content and fan-made content. I find it compelling that fandom is more than happy to have a poly ship represented as opposed to mainstream media.

However, these numbers do bring up two questions that I hope someone can answer: Why is the fandom world more willing to showcase poly ships than western media? Is mainstream media just afraid of showing poly ships because they don’t want to risk upsetting a good chunk of their viewership?

The Future Of Poly Ships In Media

Despite there being a limited amount of poly representation in western media, we are a culture that is slowly evolving and becoming more accepting. I do have hope that the creators are going to be including more poly relationships in television and film. Now, do I think it’s going to happen within a year? No. I think it’s going to be a slow progress, but I do think we’ll get there eventually.

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