Guest Article

Consensual Non-Monogamy: A Brief Summary of Key Findings and Recent Advancements

This past year, Div. 44 (Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity) has formed a task force on consensual non-monogamy (CNM), in recognition of relationship diversity, which intersects with sexual/gender identities in interesting ways. The task force formation also recognizes that consensual non-monogamies are becoming more of a focus of research and clinical practice than in the past, as changes in society affect how people approach intimate relationships and family formation.
By Richard A. Sprott, PhD, and Heath Schechinger, PhD

In two studies that used a nationally representative sample of single adults in the U.S. population, Haupert et al. (2017) asked how many had ever had an agreed-upon, sexually non-exclusive relationship, an intentionally broad definition of consensual non-monogamy (CNM). The data were collected in 2013 and 2014. They found that 21.9 percent in Study 1 and 21.2 percent in Study 2 had engaged in CNM at some point in their lives. Lesbian/gay/bisexual adults were more likely to have experience of CNM, with bisexually-identified people having significantly higher levels of CNM than gay/lesbian identified adults in the 2013 study. Other studies have found similar numbers, so it appears that “one in five” adults is a good estimate of how many people have practiced CNM at some point.

While it seems a sizable portion of the U.S. population has this experience, there is clearly a stigma attached to practicing consensual non-monogamies. Forthcoming research by Ryan Witherspoon, PhD, a project lead of the CNM task force, indicates that more than half of CNM-identified individuals have experienced anti-CNM discrimination in some form, despite frequently concealing their CNM practices (submitted for publication). Recent research has also shown that CNM-related minority stress is positively related to increased psychological distress, such as higher self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms (Witherspoon, 2018). In a focus group interview study of people who self-identified as practicing CNM, Vaughan et al. (2019), found that health care providers often demonstrate a lack of awareness regarding CNM and sometimes react with acts of microaggression upon disclosure of CNM. This can lead people to stay in the closet about their relationships and sexuality. From Luna, a single, African American/black, cisgender, heterosexual polyamorous woman: “He [my provider] thought he was doing me a favor [by telling me to become monogamous]. I guess he thought he was “dadding” me, but after that, I stopped telling my health care providers about my sexual habits.” [Vaughan et al, 2019, page 47]

Approximately 25-30 percent of clients who practice alternative sexualities may never tell their therapist about these practices (Sprott & Randall, 2015; Weber, 2002). In the largest study to date on people engaged in CNM who sought therapy, members of the Div. 44 Task Force on Consensual Non-Monogamy found that nearly half of the participants specifically looked for a therapist who was CNM-affirming, highlighting how important finding a CNM-affirming therapist was to them (Schechinger, Sakaluk, & Moors, 2018). Despite half the sample looking for a CNM-affirming therapist, one-fifth rated their therapist as lacking the basic knowledge of consensual non-monogamy issues necessary to be effective.

Current Status and Activities of the Task Force

In the first year of the CNM task force’s existence, 12 Initiatives were identified and several key resources have been created, including brochures CNM patients can provide their mental and medical healthcare providers, suggested language for assessing relationship style on demographic forms, a tool to highlight inclusive clinical practices and a CNM research list designed to summarize, index and organize peer-reviewed and historic CNM literature. The task force is also in contact with multiple therapist locator directories about adding “consensual non-monogamy” (or a related term/s) as a search term on their therapist locator website, making it easier to access culturally competent care.

Additionally, members of the CNM task force have given presentations at national conferences, written blog posts and have been featured by a number of media outlets, including Vogue Australia, Goop, Time Magazine, Fatherly Magazine, National Coalition of Sexual Freedom, Polyamory in the News and Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality. More recently, the task force finished recruiting a diverse group of over 75 professionals volunteer to serve as project leads, contributors or Advisory Board members.

Heath Schechinger, PhD, also recently represented the consensual non-monogamy task force at the Div. 44 bi-annual Executive Committee meeting in Denver, January 18-20, 2019. The Div. 44 leadership made it clear they were supportive of the CNM task force, with many outwardly expressing excitement, acknowledging the historical significance of the task force and endorsing their desire for the CNM task force to become a Standing Committee in Div. 44. Div. 44 is also actively promoting the CNM task force through social media posts and featuring the task force in the June 2019 Div. 44 newsletter. Schechinger also notes how meaningful it is to have Div. 44’s support in addressing monosexism and acknowledging the historical erasure of non-monosexual relationship structures.

If you are interested in supporting the CNM task force, please consider joining the mailing list when you sign our petition to support relationship diversity. You can also follow the Div. 44 CNM task force on Twitter or Facebook for relevant resources and updates. While the initial team has been establish, individuals with considerable experience or expertise related to the task force’s Initiatives are welcome to email the co-chairs, Heath Schechinger, PhD, and Amy Moors, PhD, about potential involvement. Michelle Vaughan, PhD, one of the project leads of the CNM task force,  is also conducting a four-hour CEP at the APA national convention titled, Clinical Practice with Consensually Non-monogamous People.

References

Haupert, M. L., Gesselman, A., Moors, A., Fisher, H., & Garcia, J. (2016). Prevalence of experiences with consensual nonmonogamous relationships: Findings from two national samples of single Americans. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 1-17. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2016.1178675

Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Schechinger, H. A. (2017). Unique and shared relationship benefits of consensually non-monogamous and monogamous relationships: A review and insights for moving forward. European Psychologist, 22(1), 55-71. http://dx.doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040/a000278

Sprott, R. A. (2015, November).  BDSM/Kink and Healthcare: Experiences of Stigma and Resiliency. Paper presented at the Sexual Diversity and Health Conference, Stanford, CA.

Vaughan, M.D., Jones, P., Taylor, B.A., Roush, J. (2019). Healthcare experiences and needs of consensually non-monogamous people: Results from a focus group study. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 16, 42-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2018.11.006

Weber, A. (2002). Survey results: Who are we? And other interesting impressions. Loving More, 30, 4-6.

Witherspoon, R.G. (2018). Exploring polyamorous resilience and strength factors: A structural equation modeling approach. Unpublished dissertation. 

Witherspoon, R.G. Predictors of Perceived Stigmatization within Consensually Non-Monogamous Relationships. Submitted for publication.

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