Ryan G. Witherspoon, M.A.
California School of Professional Psychology
Alliant International University
Predictors of Perceived Stigmatization within
Consensually Non-Monogamous Populations
Consensual Non-Monogamy (CNM)
•4-5% of American adults may be engaged in CNM relationships.
(Conley, Moors, et al., 2013; Conley, Ziegler, Moors, Matsick, & Valentine, 2013)
•Large percentages of LGB relationships may be CNM.
(c.f., Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Bonello, 2009; Munson & Stelboum, 1999; Wosick-Correa,
•CNM often broken down into: polyamory, swinging, open
relationships. (Conley, Moors, et al., 2013; Matsick, Conley, Ziegler, Moors, & Rubin,
•Prevalence of CNM in two large general samples did not differ
when using behavioral vs. identity-based assessments. (Rubin,
Moors, Matsick, & Conley, 2014)
•But….this basic taxonomy has yet to be empirically validated as
matching CNM participants’ views of themselves or the definitions
researchers ascribe to these labels.
Stigmatization of CNM
•CNM relationships heavily stigmatized compared to monogamous
ones. (Conley, Moors, et al., 2013; Moors, Matsick, Ziegler, Rubin, & Conley, 2013)
•Prejudice against CNM extended to perceptions of the individuals
involved in those relationships. (Conley, Moors, et al., 2013)
•CNM relationships also rated more negatively on arbitrary qualities,
indicating possible ‘halo effect’ surrounding monogamy. (Conley, Moors,
et al., 2013)
•CNM individuals have reported suffering acts of prejudice and
discrimination due to their lifestyle. (Weber, 2002; Wright, 2008)
•CNM sub-types may be differentially stigmatized by general public:
Two studies found polyamory less stigmatized than swinging or
open relationships. (Grunt-Mejer & Campbell, 2015; Matsick et al., 2013)
Do the CNM practices and identities of participants align with the
What predicts greater CNM-related perceived stigma and
experiences of discrimination, harassment, and violence (DHV)?
Are there differences between CNM subtypes regarding:
Perceived stigmatization (of the individual).
Perceived stigmatization (of CNM group).
Experiences of DHV.
Level of outness about CNM.
Importance of CNM to sense of identity.
The Present Study
Internet-based survey. Exploratory. Correlational design.
Age, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation, Race/Ethnicity, Income,
Education, Personality (Big 5).
Independent & Dependent Variables:
Outness about CNM. (OI; Mohr & Fassinger, 2000)
Salience of CNM identity. (CSES; Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992)
Perceived stigmatization due to CNM. (SCQ; Pinel, 1999)
Experiences of DHV due to CNM. (adapted from Cox et al., 2009)
Length of CNM identification
Presence of children at home
1,582 self-identified CNM adults
living in USA.
Age: M = 36.7, SD = 10.5
Female 57.5 909
Male 35.4 560
Non-Binary 5.2 83
Trans (M + F) 1.9 30
Pansexual 51.8 819
Heterosexual 35.7 564
Gay/Lesbian 5.5 87
Other 4.3 68
Queer 2.8 44
Caucasian 86 1361
Black/AA 3.9 61
Latino/Hispanic 3.9 61
Mixed Race 3.3 52
Other 3.0 47
Income: Median = $40k
2013 US median income = $28.8k
0 10 20 30 40
Some Grad School
% of Sample
2014 U.S. Average
Tripartite CNM Taxonomy
•Polyamorous relationship definition: A person (or couple, if applicable) is involved in
multiple simultaneous relationships that are romantic in nature and may also be sexual.
These relationships usually involve sex, but do not have to. All parties involved understand
and agree to the lack of sexual and/or romantic exclusivity. A key factor is the desire to
have multiple relationships that are romantic/emotional in nature, not just sexual.
•Swinging relationship definition: A couple desires to have sexual relationships with people
other than their primary partner (i.e., spouse or significant other), and typically engage in
these sexual relationships at parties, social settings, or group/couple dates. All parties
involved understand and agree to the lack of sexual exclusivity. Key factors are that the
couple views consensually non-monogamous activities as something they usually do
together, like a recreational activity, and that the outside relationships are only sexual, not
•Open relationship definition: A couple desires to have sexual relationships with someone
other than their primary partner (i.e., spouse or significant other), and there is an agreement
where one or both partners may individually pursue outside sexual relationships. All parties
involved understand and agree to the lack of sexual exclusivity. Key factors are that
individual members of the couple typically pursue outside sexual relationships independently,
for example without their primary partner present, and that these outside relationships are
only sexual, not romantic/emotional.
CNM Identifications Participants Could
A couple that is primarily monogamous, but occasionally allows an outside
sexual partner, either independently or together as a couple.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
A couple agrees that each member is free to pursue outside sexual
relationships, but that the members of the couple will keep the details of
these outside sexual relationships hidden from each other.
A couple in which one partner maintains outside polyamorous relationships
with the knowledge and consent of their primary partner, who is
monogamous and does not maintain any outside romantic or sexual
Pearson Χ2 (14, N = 1,582) = 885.79, p < .001, Cramer’s V = .529
2.3 2.1 4.2
Open Rel. Practices
None of the Above
Endorsed CNM Practices vs. CNM Self-Identification
2.3 2.1 4.2
Self-Endorsed CNM Practices
Condensed CNM Identity vs. Practices
None of the Above
Pearson Χ2 (6, N = 1,582) = 741.98, p < .001, Cramer’s V = .484
Experiences of DHV due to CNM
54.7% reported at least 1 type of DHV.
26.4% reported 3 or more types of DHV.
Percentage of sample reporting 1 or more experience of:
29.1% - Verbal Harassment
23.7% - Internet Harassment
16.5% - Discrimination by a medical doctor
14.2% - Discrimination by a mental health practitioner
19.7% - Sexual Harassment*
10.0% - Stalking
8.1% - Divorce
5.1% - Rape or sexual assault
3.9% - Physical assault
2.0% - Temporary or permanent loss of child custody
What predicts anti-CNM stigma & DHV?
Hierarchical multiple regressions were run:
Perceived Stigma (SCQ)
Experiences of DHV
Step 1 (control variables):
Personality (Big 5)
Step 2 (independent variables):
Children at home
Length of CNM Identification
Outness about CNM
Importance of CNM to Identity
What predicts stigma and/or DHV?
.076 .012 .115 .065
Bisexual/ Pansexual .164 .000 .187 .141
Other Orient. .097 .000 .060 .097
.055 .026 .047 .057
Mixed Race .093 .005 .122 .097
.184 .000 .144 .136
Conscientiousness .069 .005 .053 .072
.137 .000 .172 .128
Neuroticism .062 .021 .072 .059
Multi-Cohabitation .054 .027 .100 .057
Children at Home
Length of CNM ID .143 .000 .165 .126
Outness .167 .000 .229 .168
R2 = .098, Adj. R2 = .083
R2 = .142, Adj. R2 = .129
Experiences of DHV
CNM Type and Perceived Stigma (SCQ)
Practices η2 = .012, Identity η2 = .014
Types of DHV Reported
CNM Type and Experiences of DHV
Practices η2 = .015, Identity η2 = .014
CNM Type and Outness
Practices η2 = .055, Identity η2 = .054
CNM Type and Identity Salience
Practices η2 = .01, Identity η2 = .006
•Overall impression: Huge within-group variability! Missing third variables?
•Question about utility, validity of Open Relationship category in CNM taxonomy.
•Research shows polyamory less stigmatized than swinging, open relationships.
•Polyamorous participants in this sample reported slightly higher levels of
perceived stigmatization and DHV events, compared to other CNM types.
•Poly participants also reported higher levels of outness & CNM identity salience.
•Mediation was not statistically significant – possibly due to small effect sizes.
•CNM identity salience predicted > perceived stigma. The more important CNM is
to one’s identity, the more sensitive one is to feeling stigmatized due to it.
•DHV experiences were predicted by both level of outness as well as how long a
participant had identified as CNM. Both factors could be seen as enhancing one’s
exposure to CNM-related discriminatory events.
•Identifying outside the tripartite model = More out, less salient to overall identity,
less perceived stigma, but more DHV experiences.
•Future work should investigate the effects of minority stress on CNM populations,
as well as potential coping, resilience, and strength factors.
Barker, M. (2004). This is my partner, and this is my… partner’s partner: Constructing a polyamorous identity
in a monogamous world. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 18, 75–88. doi:10.1080/10720530590523107
Barker, M., & Langdridge, D. (2010). Whatever happened to non-monogamies? Critical reflections on recent
research and theory. Sexualities, 13(6), 748–772. doi:10.1177/1363460710384645
Blumstein, P, & Schwartz, P. (1983) American Couples: Money-Work-Sex. New York: William Morrow and Co.
Bonello, C. (2009). Gay monogamy and extra-dyadic sex: A critical review of the theoretical and empirical
literature. Counselling Psychology Review, 24(3 & 4), 51–65.
Conley, T. D., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Ziegler, A. (2013). The Fewer the Merrier?: Assessing Stigma
Surrounding Consensually Non-monogamous Romantic Relationships. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy,
13(1), 1–30. doi:10.1111/j.1530-2415.2012.01286.x
Conley, T. D., Ziegler, A., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Valentine, B. (2013). A Critical Examination of Popular
Assumptions about the Benefits and Outcomes of Monogamous Relationships. Personality and Social Psychology
Review, In Press, 1–57.
Crandall, C.S. (1994). Prejudice against fat people: Ideology and self-interest. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 66, 882-894.
Dovidio, J.F., Major, B., & Crocker, J. (2000). Stigma: Introduction and overview. In T.F. Heatherton, R.E.
Kleck, M.R. Hebl, & J.G. Hull (Eds.), The social psychology of stigma (pp. 1-28). New York, NY: The Guilford
Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.
Kleinplatz, P. J., & Diamond, L. M. (2014). Sexual Diversity. In D. L. Tolman & L. M. Diamond (Eds.), APA
Handbook of Sexuality and Psychology: Vol. 1 (pp. 245–267). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Matsick, J. L., Conley, T. D., Ziegler, A., Moors, A. C., & Rubin, J. D. (2013). Love and sex : polyamorous
relationships are perceived more favourably than swinging and open relationships. Psychology and Sexuality, 1–
10. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2013.832934
Meyer, I. H. (2003). Prejudice as stress: conceptual and measurement problems. American Journal of Public
Health, 93(2), 262–5. Retrieved from
Meyer, I.H., & Dean, L. (1998). Internalized homophobia, intimacy, and sexual behavior among gay and
bisexual men. In G.M. Herek (Ed.), Stigma and sexual orientation: Understanding prejudice against lesbians, gay men,
and bisexuals (pp. 160-186). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Moor s, A. C., Matsick, J. L., Ziegler, A., Rubin, J. D., & Conley, T. D. (2013). Stigma Toward Individuals
Engaged in Consensual Nonmonogamy: Robust and Worthy of Additional Research. Analyses of Social Issues and
Public Policy, 13(1), 52–69. doi:10.1111/asap.12020
Munson, M. & Stelboum, J. (1999) The lesbian polyamory reader: Open relationships, non-monogamy, and casual sex.
New York, NY: Routledge.
Sue, D.W. (2010) Microaggressions in everyday life: Race, gender, and sexual orientation. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley &
Weber A (2002) Survey results: Who are we? And other interesting impressions. Loving More 30: 4–6.
Wo s ic k -Correa, K. (2007). Contemporary fidelities: Sex, love, and commitment in romantic relationships. (Doctoral
dissertation), University of California, Irvine, United States --California. Retrieved from Dissertations &
Theses. (AAT 3282829).
Ryan G. Witherspoon, M.A.