LGBTQ+ Activism Should Include Consensual Non-Monogamy

By Amy C. Moors, Sharon Flicker, and Michelle Vaughan

Photo by FG Trade

This piece is a part of our Spark series: Living an LGBTQIA2+ Life

Some people agree to be romantically, emotionally, and sexually exclusive to one person (commonly known as monogamy). Consensual non-monogamy, on the other hand, is described as varying levels of romantic, emotional, or sexual openness with more than one partner. Consensually non-monogamous relationships can take many different forms, from people in multiple committed relationships to people who limit romance to one person but have multiple sexual relationships.

National polling surveys and the U.S. Census have tracked the intimate lives of Americans for decades. Yet, people engaged in consensual non-monogamy have been rendered invisible because these surveys did not ask about the type of relationship people were in. It turns out that prior engagement in consensual non-monogamy is common: 1 out of 5 Americans have practiced some form of consensual non-monogamy, including polyamorous, swinging, or open relationships. LGBTQ+ people appear to be particularly interested in consensually non-monogamous relationships. In the U.S., 77% of bisexual and gay men and 56% of bisexual and lesbian women have been in a consensually non-monogamous relationship at some point during their life. This rate of prior engagement is two times higher among lesbian, gay, and bisexual people than heterosexual people.

Challenging Misconceptions about Relationship Quality

The public tends to perceive consensually non-monogamous relationships as inferior to monogamy. People rate those in consensually non-monogamous relationships as lacking love, trust, and satisfaction in their relationships. However, these misconceptions do not hold up under empirical scrutiny. For example, a large comparison study of more than 2,100 people in monogamous and consensually non-monogamous relationships found that people in both relationships reported similar levels of trust, satisfaction, and commitment. People in consensually non-monogamous relationships also tend to navigate their intimate relationships with less anxiety and avoidance than people engaged in monogamy. Similarly, people in multi-partner relationships demonstrate competence in a range of intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, such as navigating jealousy (and even experiencing positive emotions about a partner’s other relationships) and conflict resolution (to help positively resolve issues or challenges). Not surprisingly, many people engaged in consensual non-monogamy describe having strong communication skills as well as high levels of psychological well-being. While consensually non-monogamous relationships are stereotyped as unsatisfying, research shows that these relationships are associated with a range of personal and relationship benefits.

Consensual Non-Monogamy and LGBTQ+ Issues

While sexual orientation is different than relationship type, these facets of identity share several sexuality-based unique stressors. For instance, LGBTQ+ people endure shame, stigma, and fear of discussing intimate relationships to family and friends because of their sexuality and/or gender identity. People in consensually non-monogamous relationships also experience these stressors due to their relationship type. A recent study found that nearly two-thirds of people in consensually non-monogamous relationships have experienced at least one instance of discrimination based on their relationship type, including being fired from work because of their consensually non-monogamous relationship. Moreover, given prior engagement in consensual non-monogamy is high among LGBTQ+ people, this means that many experience dual forms of sexuality-based prejudicestigma based on their sexual orientation and participation in consensual non-monogamy. These sexuality-based stressors are linked with a host of harmful outcomes, including depression, relationship issues, and posttraumatic stress.

In the near future, we will likely see county- and state-level discussions about anti-discrimination ordinances as well as expanding the institution of marriage for people engaged in consensual non-monogamy. Prior to the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court ruling granting same-sex/gender partners the right to marry, activism for legal rights for multi-partner relationships appeared to be non-existent. However, within the past two years, several groups have mobilized legal efforts for multi-partner relationships. Currently, there are three cities in the state of MassachusettsArlington, Cambridge, and Somervillewhere people engaged in consensual non-monogamy can obtain multi-partner domestic partnerships. These three cities were also the first to grant same-sex/gender domestic partnerships in the U.S. In addition to this advancement for multi-partner relationship benefits, a number of non-for-profits and professional legal and social science groups focused on consensual non-monogamy have formed. To better serve LGBTQ+ people and their relationships, this next wave of LGBTQ+ activism needs to include consensual non-monogamy.

Recommendations for Educators, Researchers, and Providers:

We can implement tangible, meaningful changes in our work to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ individuals, and others, who engage in consensual non-monogamy. We provide a few key takeaways and recommendations:

  • To combat historical (and current) erasures of their existence, instructors of relevant courses should ensure that consensually non-monogamous populations are acknowledged and validated. Courses in relevant fields such as psychology, sociology, medicine, and law should acknowledge the existence of and include readings about consensual non-monogamy.
  • Those who conduct research on relationships and families should include relationship status options (e.g., monogamy, single, consensual non-monogamy, giving participants the ability to endorse multiple options) and ensure that research questions are inclusive of people with multiple partners. Scholars should also report the relationship status of their participants within these studies. This will facilitate a better understanding of the nature of our samples and avoid unwarranted assumptions that our samples are monogamous by default.
  • Those who train students who are pursuing people-oriented careers should be versed in issues that may be relevant to consensually non-monogamous populations, such as avoiding assumptions of monogamy while working with clients/patients and how birthing plans and medical decision-making could accommodate the existence of multiple partners.
  • Providers should ask all patients/clients about their relationship status/partners, maintaining client/patient confidentiality.
  • Providers should seek consensual non-monogamy-affirming training rooted in current research for self and staff. They should practice cultural humility, respect patients’/clients’ unique experiences and monitor themselves for assumptions of pathology, harm, or risk.

Taken together, the future of LGBTQ+ issues, including education, research, and practice, should include people who engage in multi-partner and open relationships. Consensually non-monogamous relationships are a valid way for people to engage in intimacy and, as scholar-activists, we can implement the recommendations provided above to foster an inclusive curriculum and environment for LGBTQ+ and others in these relationships.

Dr. Amy C. Moors (she/her) is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Chapman University and a Research Fellow at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute and serves as the co-chair of the American Psychological Association’s Division 44 Committee on Consensual Non-monogamy. Dr. Moors’s research focuses on the lived experiences of diverse expressions of sexuality as well as developing evidence-based training for the next generation of therapists on consensual non-monogamy affirming practices. Twitter: @ACMoors & web:

Dr. Sharon M. Flicker (she/her) is a clinical psychologist who researches intimate relationships, most recently focusing on consensual non-monogamy and love languages. She is licensed to practice psychology in NY and PA and is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at California State University — Sacramento. Dr. Flicker currently serves as the co-lead of the Inclusive Education initiative of the American Psychological Association’s Division 44 Committee on Consensual Non-Monogamy. Find out more at:

Dr. Michelle Vaughan (she/her) is a counseling psychologist researching experiences, stigma and strength in CNM relationships as well as the strengths of LGBTQ+ people. She is a licensed psychologist within the state of Ohio and an Associate Professor within the School of Professional Psychology at Wright State University. She is a Fellow of American Psychological Association’s Division 44 (Society for the Scientific Study of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity) and Co-Lead of the Inclusive Education Initiative for APA Division 44’s Committee on CNM. Find out more at:



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