group Marriage Kerista monogamy Oneida Community polyandry Polyfidelity polygamy Polygyny Tiger Woods


We have received a lot of comments about the Tiger Woods polygamy post, so I thought it might be interesting to explore the idea of non-traditional sexual partnerships a little more. There is a long  history of groups of people, who are usually bound together by common religious beliefs, creating communities that have sexual/romantic relationship practices that differ from the monogamy that is seen in the majority of human societies. Some, like the homosexuality of the ancient Greeks, just expand the standard practice of monogamy. Others, like the early Mormons, and the Maasai people in Africa, had group marriage practices such as polygyny and polyandry. Another type of non-standard sexual/romantic relationship that has been seen in recent American history is polyamory. In polyamory groups of people form sexual/romantic relationships. Polyamory may refer to a couple who allow one of both partners to engage in intimate relationships with other people, or it may refer to a group of people who have exclusive intimate relationships among themselves (polyfidelity).

One of the best known groups to have practiced polyamory was the Oneida Community in New Harmony Indiana which lasted from 1848 to 1881, and at its zenith had around 300 members. Members of the Oneida community (not be mistaken with the native American Oneida tribe) practied a form of group marriage whereby every male was married to every female in the community. The Oneidians believed that Christ had already returned to earth and that they were perfect and free from sin. Theoretically men and women were equal, though in practice labor was divided into stereotypical gender roles, with the women doing most of the domestic work. Exclusive intimate relationships were not allowed and group members were supposed to circulate through different partners. Married couples joining the community were supposed to expand their sexual relationships to include the other group members. Female group members reported that the had an average of three sexual encounters per week. Sexual relationships were encouraged between the more spiritual members and the less devout with the idea that the less devout would become more spiritually-minded through association. Teen-aged males were paired with older post-menopausal women who not only were able to initiate the males into sex, but also provide spiritual instruction. Males were encouraged to learn to control their ejaculation both for health reasons (it was thought that too much ejaculation could damage a man’s health) and for birth control. As a result birth rates in the community were low, but sexual encounters could last an hour or more which supposedly made the women happy. Positive eugenics was practiced and members had to apply to become parents. Prospective parents were matched by the group leaders in order to produce the healthiest children. After weaning, children were raised communally. Like many such utopian sexual experiments, the community disintegrated after the death of its charismatic leader John Humphrey Noyes.

Another more recent experiment in polyamory was the Kerista Village in San Francisco which existed from 1971 until 1991. The Keristas practiced what they called ‘polyfidelity’. Each person belonged to a B-FIC (best friend identity cluster) where every person slept with everyone else of the opposite sex on a strict schedule. Children were raised with all adults in a B-FIC taking on equal parenting roles. The community supported itself by doing computer support for Macs (what else?!)
When I was in college at UC Santa Cruz in the late 1970s and early 1980s the Keristas came by trying to recruit people (mostly young women including my girlfriend at the time) into the community. As one of my friends from that time says:
Yeah… I hung around with the Keristas for a while. They were really hot to have us… and I guess we kind of strung them along by pretending to be seriously interested. Exploring their world was like doing anthropology field work or something – we should have asked the UCSC Anthro Dept. if we could write a paper for credit.

The best part was that, once they’d gotten comfortable with us, they let down their guard and started gossiping about one another and openly discussing the tensions in the community in front of us – particularly speculation as to who might or might not be a “romantic couple” (a thing looked upon with scorn in the Kerista world).

We did indeed find the Kerista efforts to regiment human sexuality by enforcing strict “sleeping schedules” and proscribing some of the world’s most popular sex acts hilariously ridiculous – but looking back on it with 30 years additional life experience under my belt, I now wonder whether our own culture’s similar but more familiar efforts to regiment human sexuality aren’t equally ridiculous.

The Keristas ran into trouble however when people in the B-FICs started falling in love with another person exclusively. They would still sleep with everyone but would only have sex with the person they were in love with. They also had some problems because the leaders supposedly banned oral sex from being performed on the women – that got them into a lot of trouble! The Keristas were also reported to be very messy since no one would enforce rules about cleaning up.
To my mind the life cycle of these experiments in polyamory says a lot about the evolution of the monogamous family structure. There was (and perhaps is) great survival value in monogamy for humans. It is a system that kept both parents around for child-rearing, and for obtaining resources like food and shelter necessary to live. It also helped keep males for competing with each other for harems, allowing them to cooperate in hunting and protecting the social group.
In both the Oneida Community and Kerista Village many if not most of the community members ended up in monogamous relationships when the groups dissolved. Monogamy and the nuclear family structure are likely to some degree hardwired within us. We may go to an orgy, exchange one partner for another for another, or live in a a group marriage, or have a harem of mistresses, but at the end of the day most of us revert back to monogamy. Even though Tiger Wood’s wife is leaving him, I would be willing to bet that he will be in another monogamous relationship in the near future. Hopefully his new wife will be comforted by the fact that although he may cheat (which I also think is likely and which I hope she understands up front), he will likely return to her.


Foster, L. (1998). Sex and prophetic power: A comparison of John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Community, with Joseph Smith, Jr., The Mormon Prophet. Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought, 31(4) pg:65-83.

Kerista Village Website

Margulis, L., Sagan, D. (1991). Mystery Dance: On the Evolution of Human Sexuality. New York, NY: Summit Books.

Wikipedia Entry for the Oneida Community

Wikipedia Entry for Polygyny

alpha males Cheaters droit de seigneur Indonesia infidelity Lord of the Rings Oedipal Complex Plato polyandry polygamy Ring of Gyges Tiger Woods

The Solution to Tiger Wood’s Problems: Polygamy!

Like most of you we have been inundated with news of Tiger Woods’ multiple infidelities over the past week or so. Most commentators have been expressing various forms and levels of shock and outrage over his sexual escapades as if his situation was somehow unique, strange, and bizarre. It is of course none of these things and, in fact, for a person of Tiger Woods’ vast resources, quite common.

Plato wrote in the Republic of the Ring of Gyges, which renders its wearer invisible and hence capable of any kind of behavior without consequence. Anyone with the Ring will be succumb to temptation to use it and act immorally. In Plato’s view, morality is a social construction in that we adhere to its conventions only because we fear our immorality could be discovered. If we cannot be caught, this fear is removed and we will behave immorally. By the way, it is interesting to note that Plato’s Ring of Gyges likely provided J.R.R. Tolkien with inspiration for Lord of The Rings.

For men like Tiger Woods, their vast wealth and fame must excerpt a temptation similar to the Ring. When your net worth is around 1 billion dollars it is inevitable that you might feel you can get away with anything. How many of us men (and women too) if given a billion dollars, would be able to withstand the temptation?

Of course, wealth and fame are only an approximation of the power of the Ring, and as we know Tiger has been caught cheating. So what, in biological terms did Tiger do? He committed the act of reproduction (i.e. sex) with multiple females (at least one of whom wanted to have his actual baby) as alpha males have done throughout human history and throughout time in the animal kingdom. Tiger is no different than past Turkish Sultans, Chinese Emperors, or European medieval lords with their droit de seigneur. He also behaved no differently than alpha male gorillas and chimpanzees, or even the elephant seals which are currently congregating at Ano Nuevo Island on the California coast, north of Santa Cruz.

A recent study by Knox, Vail-Smith, and Zusman (2008) found that about 1 in 5 college-aged men of typical social status report cheating on their partners. Furthermore, these men did not always disclose their cheating. Sexual infidelity is not that uncommon, so why such a big negative reaction to Tiger? It may be that the alpha male is always a target for subordinate males who would like (at least unconsciously) to usurp his position. The Tiger Woods of the world bring out the Oedipal Complex in us men – if we can’t get rid of him, we want to be him. The overblown response to Tiger’s cheating (as with Bill Clinton or Elliot Spitzer) may be an example of our inability to identify with Tiger anymore and a reversion back to our unresolved Oedipal crises. If we can’t be Tiger at least we can bring him down a notch. (We don’t have space to go into Tiger’s own Oedipal issues including his identification with an adulterous father. Supposedly he was in bed at his home with one of his mistresses when he received news of his father’s death.)

It is likely that the number of cheaters among the rarefied social ranks is higher and perhaps like our primate ancestors we worry in some deep, hidden parts of our brain that these alpha cheaters are capable of ravishing our women as well. If Tiger has put on the Ring of Gyges what is to prevent him from seducing our wives or girlfriends?

The solution to this seems in some way obvious to me, and is something practiced in many cultures: Polygamy. In other words why not adopt a practice which allows alpha males to have sex with multiple partners within a moral, not to mention legal, framework?

I am not talking here of forcing young girls to marry partners chosen for them as has been found in some fundamentalist Mormon sects and in some Muslim countries. This is tantamount to child rape. I am speaking of polygamy with the fully informed consent of all adults involved. While controversial, this could be at least an option for SOME individuals.

One model for the institution of polygamy might come from Indonesia, a progressive Muslim nation where the practice is legal under tight constraints. Most importantly, the first wife must give consent (The need for the first wife’s consent can be withdrawn if it is proved that she is infertile, terminally ill, or “not performing her wifely duties”). Another condition is that it is necessary to get the permission of a religious adviser. Polygamy in Indonesia is controversial with some women’s groups trying to have the practice forbidden. However, some women, such as Dr. Gina Puspita are supportive of the practice, starting ‘Polygamy Clubs’ to educate men and women who may be considering adopting the practice.

And of course all of the arguments in favor of polygamy could also apply to the practice of having multiple husbands or polyandry. This was traditionally practiced in some parts of Tibet where a woman might marry two or more brothers, one of whom would be off on long trading treks for months or years. One could easily imagine powerful women like Hillary Clinton or Carly Fiona having multiple husbands. And there would likely be many men wishing to be added to Sarah Palin’s harem.

What if Tiger Woods’ had married a women who understood that he would likely take on more wives in the future instead of a wife who unfortunately assumed he would be monogamous? How many of Tiger’s mistresses would even today opt into a polygamous marriage? We most likely will never know. What is certain is that the vein of suffering in Tiger’s current situation has not dried up. The Ring has been ripped from his finger, and like Gollum, he is falling into a fiery abyss.


Badenhausen, K. (2009). Sports’ First Billion-Dollar Man., Sept. 29.

Bennett, C., and Burke, C. (2009). Tiger’s mistress romp as father died. New York Post, Dec. 17.

Childs, G. Polyandry And Population Growth in a Historical Tibetan Society, The History of the Family Vol. 8: 423-444, 2003.

Entry for Droit de Seigneur. Encyclopædia Britannica.

Knox, D., Vail-Smith, K., and Zusman, M. (2008). Men are dogs’: Is the stereotype justified? Data on the cheating college male. College Student Journal, Vol 42(4), Dec, 2008. pp. 1015-1022.

Plato (360 BCE). The Republic. (Trans. Benjamin Jowett). The Internet Classic Archives. MIT

Van Wagner, K. What Is an Oedipal Complex?, downloaded Dec 17, 2009.

Vaswani, K. (2009). Club promotes polygamy in Indonesia. BBC Jakarta, Dec. 17.

Wikipedia Entry on Plato’s Ring of Gyges