There is a strong link between polyamory and bisexuality. Some people see a “natural” affiliation between the two because having multiple partners allows bisexuals access to both female and male lovers, satisfying their bisexual desires. Mainstream poly communities in the US are populated mostly with heterosexual men and bisexual women, plus a significant minority of heterosexual women and a smaller minority of bisexual men.
Unicorn Hunters and the Hot Bi Babe
It is so common that it is cliché for a female-male couple to approach their local or virtual polyamorous community searching for a female bisexual to add to their relationship and form a “FMF triad” with both women relating sexually to the man and each other. These free-floating bisexual women waiting to be snagged into an existing relationship are rare enough to be called “unicorns” or “hot bi babes,” and the couples that seek her are termed “unicorn hunters.”
In her most exaggerated form, the unicorn is an attractive single woman in her mid 20s, eager to move to the couple’s dilapidated farm in rural North Dakota to care for their children (but not get pregnant herself), work in the fields, clean their house, be their sex toy, remain silent when it comes to the couples’ relationships, and disappear whenever it would be inconvenient to explain her presence to the couples’ family or friends.
Many couples who approach poly communities seeking the unicorn are disappointed by the glaring absence of women lining up to be vetted for inclusion in their relationship. Not only are most poly women already in at least one relationship and thus disqualified from the mandate to be single, but they also tend to be wary of being seen as objects to fill a pre-ordained role instead of three-dimensional people with lives of their own. Unicorn hunters generally either broaden their parameters to include a wider range of partners, or give up and go away.
This is not to say that FMF triads are impossible—some FMF triads are highly successful loving relationships with full personhood for all. In these cases, the “added” woman often transitions from the unicorn to become a “real” (socially acknowledged) partner who has a say in what happens in the relationship as well.
“Not all that”
In other cases, men who are able to realize their fantasy of having sex with two women at the same time end up being more peripheral to the actual interaction than they had anticipated. In their minds, several of my study respondents told me, they were the center of the sexual interaction, but in reality it ended up being “not all that” because the women were often more focused on each other than either was on him.
Why the emphasis on female bisexuality?
While sex between (certain kinds of) women is so appealing to heterosexual men that it has spawned an entire genre of “girl on girl” pornography designed for a male audience, sex between men is decidedly less celebrated in mainstream society.
Even though poly people tend to be liberal and less homophobic than society in general, sex between women is still more sought after and socially acceptable within poly communities than is sex between men.
Another possible reason that bisexual women are so highly valued among poly communities could be the scarcity of available or “free-floating” female partners. Whether due to the enduring sexual double standard that allows men far more sexual latitude than women, or men’s biological need to spread their seed, men seem more willing to have multiple-partner relationships and single or available women are rare at many poly community gatherings. Scarcity could increase women’s value in relationship, bisexual or not.
Why so few gays and lesbians?
One reason there are so many bi and heterosexuals in poly communities is that both of these sexual orientations have traditionally been less developed as identities and thus do not already have an existing social niche, so they have had to create their own in the poly community. Because heterosexuality is the norm, it usually blends in to the social background unless something specifically emphasizes it. Bisexuals are frequently invisible as bi, often mistaken as homo or heterosexuals, and either marginalized from or absorbed by gay and lesbian communities.
There are few exclusively same-sex relationships among poly men, primarily because, as a friend once told me “Gay men invented open relationships, we don’t need another label to do what we are already doing.” Lesbians also have non-monogamous norms and groups already within their own communities, and may be reluctant to join poly gatherings because of the likelihood that they will encounter unwanted male attention. For these and other reasons, mainstream poly communities in the United States often emphasize women’s bisexuality and downplay men’s bisexuality.