Study: Consensually non-monogamous couples more dehumanized than monogamous same-sex couples

People in consensually non-monogamous relationships may face more dehumanization than individuals in same-sex relationships, according to new research in Sexuality Research and Social Policy.

In consensual non-monogamous relationships, all partners agree to engage in multiple sexual or romantic relationships. The new study found evidence that individuals in these types of relationships — whether gay or straight — tend to be viewed as less human and more animal-like.

“We started to examine the relationship experiences of consensual non-monogamous (CNM) people and those with same-sex partners. We noticed that these experiences sharply contrasted with the perception that others have about these relationships,” said study author David Rodrigues of the University Institute of Lisbon.

“Hence, we were really curious as to why people have such strong and negative opinions about partners that do not have the so-called typical romantic relationship. For instance, consensual non-monogamous relationships are perceived as less committed, trusting, intimate or close than monogamous relationships.”

“As a consequence, the stigmatization of these ‘non-conforming’ relationships can have negative impacts on physical and mental health. For instance, partners in same-sex relationships often report greater anxiety and depression when they do not receive contextual support,” Rodrigues explained.

The researchers surveyed 585 heterosexual individuals from Croatia, Italy, and Portugal. They found that people in non-monogamous relationships were viewed as experiencing less uniquely human emotions — such as love, compassion, and remorse — compared to both same-sex and opposite-sex monogamous couples. People in non-monogamous relationships were also judged as experiencing more unthinking and instinctive emotions like lust and fear.

“I think our study highlights two important issues. First, the stigmatization of CNM relationships does exist and is extended to the perception that CNM people are ‘less human’ (i.e., experience less complex emotions) than their monogamous counterparts. This is called dehumanization of others and has been related to marginalization or even violence,” Rodrigues told PsyPost. “For instance, people who have to disclose their relationship agreement to their healthcare practitioner may find themselves being targets of discrimination.

“Second, this stigmatization occurs for partners in different-sex and same-sex relationships. This shows that the dehumanization of CNM relationships is not grounded on preconceptions associated with sexual orientation, but rather a socially pervasive phenomenon that we must attend to.”

However, the study should not be interpreted as indicating that same-sex partners face less prejudice overall than non-monogamous partners. “In fact, gay men can experience discrimination (e.g., verbal or physical aggression) solely based on their physical appearance or sound of voice, in contrast to heterosexual individuals,” the researchers noted in their study.

The current study also did not address why people dehumanize those in consensually non-monogamous relationships. But Rodrigues and his colleagues plan to publish new research to address that.

“One of the main questions left unanswered was the mechanism underlying the dehumanization of CNM relationships. In other words, why do people perceive negatively partners in CNM relationships. We had several hypotheses for this and in the meantime tested those hypotheses. We are now in the process of submitting the paper for peer-review,” the researcher said.

“By having objective knowledge about ‘non-conforming’ relationships — how partners experience then and how other perceive them — we hope to provide people with tools to reduce stigmatization. In the long run, we hope to contribute for a greater acceptance of the choices people make in their romantic lives and consequently for their quality of life and well-being,” Rodrigues added.

The study, “Which Partners Are More Human? Monogamy Matters More than Sexual Orientation for Dehumanization in Three European Countries“, was authored by David Rodrigues, Fabio Fasoli, Aleksandra Huic, and Diniz Lopes.