Louis Theroux describes polyamory as ‘the practice of pursuing multiple romantic relationships with the consent of all those involved.’
Also known as ethical non-monogamy, polyamory is a relationship lifestyle that seems to be on the rise. Even here at UEA, I know a number of people involving themselves in the polyamorous world or even what they call ‘polycules’ – a molecular cluster of three or more people in a relationship. Theroux explores this contemporary phenomenon in his episode Love without Limits within the larger documentary series Altered States.
Theroux uses Portland, Oregon as his base, which he claims to be a ‘culture of progressive politics and high tech, [which] have proved fertile ground for new ways of arranging relationships.’
Theroux’s first line of the episode is a question posed to a polyamorous man, asking: ‘you said you have a lot of sex?’ The man explains that he is in a relationship with three women who all desire sex at least once a week. With this line of questioning, along with the weighted title, Love without Limits, Theroux begins from the problematic assumption that polyamorous people are often promiscuous, selfish, or uncontrollable. However, thankfully, Theroux’s stance is quickly affected by those he is interviewing, as is so often the case, and he soon seems to warm to the concept.
Theroux follows six different groups involved in polyamory, and even attends a party held by Sex Positive Portland, who are ‘dedicated to building deep emotional connections.’ Theroux isn’t briefed on what will take place, however, he makes sure to get his wife’s consent before arriving, as he knows it involves food and physical connection. Theroux nods along nervously as one of the other attendees informs him that it will be ‘a night of fun and freedom, it’s all about the pleasure.’ It is once again wonderful to see a white, middle-aged man fully immersing himself in an event that clearly makes him uncomfortable, most probably due to the British aversion to displaying one’s emotions. But he gives the party goers his utmost respect and his viewers heart-warming entertainment.
Theroux attempts to centre his documentary around the concept of compersion – a word coined and frequently used by the community to describe the joy one feels when they see someone else experiencing joy. It is a truly beautiful notion, and so credit to Theroux for underlining the positivity that can come from lifestyle, especially due to the criticism the community has often felt after seemingly mocking documentaries such as Vice’s Inside London’s Hedonistic, Polyamorous Unicorn Movement.
Ultimately, Louis Theroux reveals that although polyamory ‘promises more emotional and sexual fulfilment… with freedom can come jealousy’, however it can also provide relationships that centre around honesty, trust, and a whole lot of love.