A potentially bigger problem for long-term polyamorous relationships is a declining libido. On nights when Ian ventures out for affairs with other women, Jaiya and Jon live an almost monastic existence. The three of them have little interaction with the Los Angeles polyamorous community, because, they say, meetings are dominated by old hippies with grown children and newcomers with questions about coping with jealousy. And Jaiya and Jon's relationship has turned effectively platonic since she gave birth to Eamon; where once, Jaiya claims, they had 20-hour marathon sessions, now they have sex only for her instructional videos and classes. Jaiya and Ian have tried to overcome the libido-killing effects of financial worries and child care with weekly date nights, out-of-town trips to hotels, and scheduled sex (Friday afternoons, after she tapes a show for VoiceAmerica radio). They are, Ian admits, like old married people.
That's hardly unusual. According to Thad, 31, and James, 43, both IT professionals and members of a long-term polyandrous triad in Bloomington, Indiana, with a writer named Mandy, 42, none of the three of them (whose names have been changed) date much outside of their relationship. "We've played with some other people," James says. "But nothing serious. All activity outside of the family has to be mutually approved. We have ground rules. No fluid exchange can take place." They also attend monthly family-counseling sessions.
Family counseling? Isn't plural love supposed to be the magic bullet to relieve the doldrums of monogamy? But Terisa reports a similar situation. "Our lives are so boring," she says. "I cook dinner. The guys clean up. We go upstairs and watch The Soup, and then we go to bed. Or the three of us go out to the movies. Or all five of us"—meaning the Bullens, too—"sit down to watch TV together. We do things as a family.
"The great thing is that the guys can go have sex with other people."
Most men in polyandrous relationships get into them for one reason: They fall in love with the woman at the center of the triad. Few are looking for male companionship. Fewer still seek intimacy with their "metamour"—their lover's other lover. This isn't Big Love, and male polyandrists aren't sister husbands.
Although they've lived together for more than a decade, Scott describes his relationship with Larry as one of benign neglect. "We wouldn't be close friends in different circumstances," he says. "We're so different. We're perfectly cordial, but it's not common for the two of us to hang out and talk together if Terisa isn't there." Matt, Terisa's boyfriend, agrees. "I don't think I've ever been out for a drink by myself with Larry or Scott," he says. The relative distance among them, he adds, is why the arrangement works.
Max, the young lawyer, describes his relationship with Dean as being like that of stepbrothers. "We're family but not related," he says. Ian and Jon are like that too. They interact almost entirely through Jaiya and Eamon—"I get to love Ian through him," Jon says, pointing at the boy.
Nowhere was this truer than at Eamon's birth. The two men aided Jaiya in a natural, "orgasmic" labor in an outdoor hot tub that lasted 20 hours—with Jon sitting behind her at one point, massaging her anus and feeding her, and Ian in front massaging her nipples and clitoris, until at last Eamon passed into this world through one long climax while the Santa Anas blew and a pack of stallions whinnied nearby. Jon and Ian are two men who have shared one of the most intimate moments imaginable. They see each other every day. But at brunch, they speak in turn to Jaiya—never to each other. They rarely make eye contact.
One Friday afternoon, Jon takes Eamon to Topanga State Park. He's scooping sand into a mound for the boy to run up and down on. "This is his athletic training," Jon says proudly. "I'd like for him to play baseball." Jon deserves much of the credit for Eamon's sunny disposition—the 2-year-old sings constantly and loves being read to. Ian matter-of-factly describes Jon as the "manny" and pays him a modest salary to look after Eamon. Jaiya says that Eamon occasionally calls Jon his "dada."
One of the great debates about plural love in America is about how it affects the children. In a September 2010 polemic in The American Spectator, William C. Duncan, director of the Marriage Law Foundation, argued that these kids might be at a higher risk of suffering abuse, behavioral problems, and household instability. But Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, a sociology professor at Georgia State University who has spent more than a decade studying kids from polyamorous homes, disagrees. "Many of the children in poly families are doing great," she says. "All the attention they get and the access to shared resources helps them blossom. Research on single parents shows us that it's too much work for one person. Polyamory comes at it from the complete other direction—that two people aren't enough." And polyandry gives a kid more father figures—perhaps not the worst family structure in a country where there's an epidemic of fatherlessness.