The Psychiatric Impact of Polygamy

Polygamy in North America began with the founder of the Mormon religion, Joseph Smith (though not all polygamists are Mormons, though the majority are, and not all Mormons are polygamists). In 1842, the Bible was rewritten as the “Doctrine and Covenants”. A section in this hallowed writing included verses explaining that a man shall have many wives. It was believed that Moses had many. It was polygamy that kept Utah from becoming a state until the US government was tricked into its inclusion in 1890 (Utah isn’t the only state famous for polygamyist practices, so are Texas and Arizona). Raids and arrests followed suit and polygamy was proclaimed illegal. However, in the modern world where gay marriage is now considered not only legal but acceptable, one may wonder if polygamy will follow suit. As it stands now, polygamy is rarely punished.

It was the introduction of Warren Jeffs in 2007 that suddenly catapulted polygamy into the limelight once more. People had a cornucopia of questions they wanted answers to regarding this odd living arrangement.

I will cover the psychological side of polygamy, while Lyn Lomasi will cover homeschooling in polygamyous sects.

Polygamy Presence in WorldPhoto: Metron

According to some studies there are well over 80,000 people in the US alone living in polygamy. They, no surprise, have the highest birth rates. Many argue that the living arrangement of having 10 to 60 wives is grounds for charges of child abuse, human trafficking, physical and psychological abuse of women and children, enslavement, oppression of individual wealth and medical neglect. This article is not to persuade one to engage in or disengage in polygamy – that’s a personal choice for one to make.

While the stereotype is firmly implanted in the average American mind that this is mostly a “white people” living arrangement, please take note. Polygamy started in Africa, in ancient times. Due to the lack of fresh, young, virile black men in the US, with numbers of these men dissipating every year, well educated black women have now joined polygamist sects in record numbers in hopes of securing a partner.

Consider their plight for a moment. Nearly three out of four white women are married compared to one out of three black women. If a child is born out of wedlock, there’s a 67% chance the child is black, compared to a 25% chance of the baby being white. Black men are just not as plentiful now.

Polygamy affects everyone. According to this study, 33% of those on welfare are living under this marital arrangement and are legally considered single mothers, not married. Polygamy has been considered by many to promote domestic violence and increase government costs through law enforcement — some people go as far as calling polygamy “intimate terrorism”. This could be one of the reasons why adoption agencies don’t consider polygamists when they seek to adopt a child.

You will find that everything is shared in the polygamist sect. Birthdays, husbands, children, homes, and funerals are just some of the things that draw a large crowd. Funerals, for an example, are so frequent, that a polygamyist will go to an average of 20 a year. Research indicates that living in a polygamist relationship increases a woman’s chance of being abused by their partner from 8 to 15 times above the normal average for women in traditional relationships.

Studies have shown that unlike other animals, humans build a lasting, unbreakable bond with the “partner they reproduce successfully with”. This leads many to wonder, how polygamy could be natural rather than asking for big trouble?

Forget TV, junk food, electronics/gadgets, and modern conveniences. These social pressures are thrown out in lieu of growing food, building homes and public buildings, shunning contact with “Gentiles”, as non-polygamists are considered to be. Even so, some things are allowed in polygamy sects. Cell phones, high-end SUVs, sometimes computers, and laser surgery are some of the things that are highly favored and utilized.

Living arrangements vary by culture. Women in the US live in separate wings of homogenous 4 to 10 bedroom houses, some built just in one day, reflecting the solidarity of the community. Some live in granny cottages. Typically the labor is divided up among the wives — probably to diffuse possible jealousy. You will see that one wife will educate the children (homeschooling), another sews, and another is the janitor.

In other countries, particularly in Mali where polygamy is the norm, the husband is legally married to and lives with one woman. But, the other “wives”, who are financially dependent on other males in the family, get an occasional visit by the “husband”. The women who consent to being in a relationship like this where they live alone and are dependent on male family members, are often unable to get married, whether because they are poor or thought to be ugly. For these women, being in a polygamous marriage is better than not being in one at all and/or being homeless.

Jealousy or fighting is not considered an issue, claim many “sister wives”, as these women are raised to be passive and subordinate to others, especially to their husbands. One wife might be closer to another or one might get on everyone’s nerves more, but they excuse that as being a part of a normal family. In contrast, this article explains that women living under polygamist arrangements are far more likely to have physical and psychological problems (such as paranoia) compared to women in traditional relationships.

Often the wives are biological sisters. They are thrilled to share the same husband because they know they have a great man and want to share that happiness. Traditionally, women are expected to have at least 10 to 15 children each. The median age of the mothers who give birth in Utah, according to this article is 14. To give one perspective of how young that is, the median age for women in the US giving birth is 36.6 (as most women are putting off childbirth later and later).

mormonsPhoto: Amy

If one has noticed that there are far fewer men and many more ladies in polygamyist sects, this would be quite astute. The least bit rowdy, individualistic, and opinionated boys are kicked out of the sects at the very tender age of 13 or 14 typically. This is because the demand for women is high, and the more males there are, the fewer women there are to go around. Thus, females are highly cherished and coveted in this part of the world.

Many people view polygamists as homosexual. This would assume that all the wives and the husband have consensual sex at the same time. The argument that links homosexuality and polygamy is made to justify gay marriage. However, as this article points out, the women living in polygamy are in fact heterosexual and, even though they share one husband, they don’t have sexual relations with each of their sister wives.

The world of polygamy is a fascinating and strange one. However, in the same way that beauty is defined in the eyes of the beholder, so is strangeness defined by the “wives of the beholder!”

Where applicable permission has been granted to publish photos in this article