Polyaffectivity and Innovations in Chosen Kinship

Elisabeth Sheff
Georgia State University
 Openly conducted non-monogamous relationships
 Focused on emotional intimacy, communication,
 Generally include a romantic or sexual element
Chosen Kinship
 Evolved from fictive kin (Levi-Strauss)
 Most broadly non-biolegal, emotionally and/or
 Weston’s (1990) foundational study of chosen families
among lesbians and gay men set the stage for
LGBTQIP... family studies
 A form of chosen kinship
 Non-sexual relationships among members of a poly
 Characterized by emotional intimacy, companionship,
and reciprocal support
 Differs from “regular” friendship in the level of
devotion and primacy of import
Types of Polyaffective Relationships
Between adults
 Most commonly develop between people who share a
lover in common but are not lovers themselves
 Siblingesque
 Co-spousal, spice
 Can also be ex-lovers, co-parents
Types Continued
Between children and adults
 Most often develop among children and their parents’
 Commonly characterized as aunt/uncle, older sibling,
 Less commonly parental figure, then often coresidential
 Longitudinal ethnographic study of self-identified
polyamorists (1996 – present)
 Three waves of data collection with 81 (6 children)
interview participants and 600 participants observed
 Sample mostly white, middle-class, highly educated,
heterosexual men, hetero and bisexual women
 These relationships take on familial level significance
for adults and kids
 Some polyaffective relationships outlast the associated
romantic relationships
 In some cases provide a more lasting connection than
the potentially more dramatic romantic liasons
 Provides men with a unique opportunity to bond
cooperatively with other men
 Provides adults with additional resources, co-parents,
and assistance
 Provides children with additional adult confidants and
Theoretical Implications
 Polyaffectivity is ultimately the dethroning of sexual
connection as the arbiter of relational import. If sex is not
the singular, sacrosanct privilege of the nuclear couple and
instead becomes one option among many of ways in which
people can relate to each other, then it is no longer the
determining force in deciding if a non-consanguine
relationship is important or valid. As a consequence,
polyaffective relationships that do not include sex can still
be endowed with the same degree of importance as those
that do include sex; if the spouse is not the sole lover,
neither is that spouse necessarily the sole emotional or
practical significant other.
Policy Implications
 These relationships are functionally important to
children and adults
 Legal recognition provides access to benefits
 Policy suggestions
 Multiple parent adoption
 Same-sex and multiple-partner marriage
 Expand domestic partnership