Polyamory and Stigma

Polyamory and Stigma June 21, 2017

Research shows that being polyamorous isn’t all frolicking amongst one’s multiple sexual partners. The risk and management of stigma are very real.

Photo in public domain from Unsplash.
Photo in public domain from Unsplash.

Recall that stigma is the attribution of an identity to someone that is discredited and tainting, often unwanted in a larger social context. Stigma and sexuality have a number of intersections, from the sense of dirtiness attributed to people with STIs to the shame of being an alternative sexuality in a culture that demonizes such.

Researcher Justin Lehmiller’s recent findings about polyamory and stigma are intriguing when read in this light: in his survey of 3500 polyamorous adults, he found that they experience a lot of stigma, and have to manage their public images quite carefully as a result.

That’s part of why I was floored at AASECT when I witnessed a panel of sex therapists disclosing that they’re polyamorous, and then stating how this impacts their ethical decision-making when out in the world. It was revolutionary, and I don’t think it could’ve happened a decade or two ago. More on that in my AASECT reflections post (coming soon).

See also: Relationship Style Terms: CNM vs. Polyamory

Lehmiller also found that polyamorous folks are very satisfied in their relationships and sex lives, possibly due to how they can customize their relationships to fit their needs. This is also something monogamous people do, but without the possibility of sexual or romantic intimacy with more than one person.

One note: Lehmiller claims that his study is one of the largest to date, and that may be true, I’m still catching up on the literature. But it’s worth mentioning that Elizabeth Sheff has done some of the longest-running longitudinal studies on polyamory, focusing on polyamorous families. I highly recommend her book The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families.

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