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The Collaborative International Dictionary

Polyandry \Pol`y*an"dry\, n. [Poly- + Gr. 'anh`r, 'andro`s, man, male: cf. F. polyandrie.] The possession by a woman of more than one husband at the same time; -- contrasted with monandry.

Note: In law, this falls under the head of polygamy.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

1767, nativized form of polyandria. Related: Polyandrist.


n. 1 (sense: marital) The having of a plurality of husbands at the same time; usually, the marriage of a woman to more than one man, or the practice of having several husbands, at the same time. 2 (sense: zoological) The mating pattern whereby a female copulates with plural males. 3 (sense: general) Sexual relations with plural males, by a female or a male, human or non-human, within or without marriage.


n. having more than one husband at a time


Polyandry (; from poly-, "many" and ἀνήρ anēr, "man") involves marriage that includes more than two partners and can fall under the broader category of polyamory. More specifically, it is a form of polygamy, where a woman takes two or more husbands at the same time. Polyandry is contrasted with polygyny, involving one male and two or more females. If a marriage involves a plural number of "husbands and wives" participants of each gender, then it can be called polyamory, group or conjoint marriage. In its broadest use, polyandry refers to sexual relations with multiple males within or without marriage.

Of the 1,231 societies listed in the 1980 Ethnographic Atlas, 186 were found to be monogamous; 453 had occasional polygyny; 588 had more frequent polygyny; and 4 had polyandry. Polyandry is less rare than this figure which listed only those examples found in the Himalayan mountains (28 societies). More recent studies have found more than 50 other societies practicing polyandry.

Fraternal polyandry was traditionally practiced among Tibetans in Nepal, parts of China and part of northern India, in which two or more brothers are married to the same wife, with the wife having equal "sexual access" to them. It is associated with partible paternity, the cultural belief that a child can have more than one father.

Polyandry is believed to be more likely in societies with scarce environmental resources. It is believed to limit human population growth and enhance child survival. It is a rare form of marriage that exists not only among peasant families but also among the elite families. For example, polyandry in the Himalayan mountains is related to the scarcity of land. The marriage of all brothers in a family to the same wife allows family land to remain intact and undivided. If every brother married separately and had children, family land would be split into unsustainable small plots. In contrast, very poor persons not owning land were less likely to practice polyandry in Buddhist Ladakh and Zanskar. In Europe, the splitting up of land was prevented through the social practice of impartible inheritance. For example, disinheriting most siblings where many of whom then became celibate monks and priests.

Polyandrous mating systems are also a common phenomenon in the animal kingdom.

Usage examples of "polyandry".

The natural foundation of the institution of monogamy is not any inherent viciousness in polygyny or polyandry, but the hard fact that men and women are born in about equal numbers.

On the other hand, women object to polyandry, because polyandry enables the best women to monopolize all the men, just as polygyny enables the best men to monopolize all the women.

But polygyny would condemn a great many men, and polyandry a great many women, to the celibacy of neglect.

Therefore polygyny and polyandry as a means of educating children fall to the ground, and with them, I think, must go the opinion which has been expressed by Gladstone and others, that an extension of divorce, whilst admitting many new grounds for it, might exclude the ground of adultery.

Because of this and because of the length of time a ship may be at sea, our women practice polyandry, and it has worked well over the years.

Into the modern Utopia there must have entered the mental tendencies and origins that give our own world the polygamy of the Zulus and of Utah, the polyandry of Tibet, the latitudes of experiment permitted in the United States, and the divorceless wedlock of Comte.

Given polyandry and polygamy and everybody could spread their sex around as far as they wanted.

In Tibet one finds polygamy and polyandry, but most people are monogamous.

She knew polyandry and group marriages were common practices in those cultures so why did it surprise her so much when they offered it to her.

Some of them go in for polyandry, and they like men herculean, so beware!

Into the modern Utopia there must have entered the mental tendencies and origins that give our own world the polygamy of the Zulus and of Utah, the polyandry of Tibet, the latitudes of experiment permitted in the United States, and the divorceless wedlock of Comte.

Pointing to its effect on the agricultural workforce, he ascribed it to polyandry (the custom by which a woman was shared by a number of husbands, usually brothers), venereal disease and the drain into the monasteries and convents, where celibacy was the rule.

Only among a minority of species, such as the tropical jacanas and southerly populations of Spotted Sandpipers, is polyandry frequent or routine.

Unlike the genetic unprofitability of polyandry for Tre-ba women, polygyny paid off well for nineteenth-century Mormon men, whose average lifetime output of children increased from a mere seven children for Mormon men with one wife to sixteen or twenty children for men with two or three wives, respectively, and to twenty-five children for Mormon church leaders, who averaged five wives.