A PHENOMENOLOGY OF POLYAMOROUS PERSONS

ABSTRACT
There is currently a lack of research on “alternative lifestyles” involving multiple sexual partners;
also, there is some academic bias towards monogamy and the nuclear family as the norm, as well as elevated risks of bias for mental-health practitioners serving clients with multiple sexual relationships.
Therefore, mental-health practitioners would benefit from further research in this area.
This qualitative study investigated “polyamory”—an emerging lifestyle typically involving multiple sexual partners—through the eyes of 10 participants in the area of Salt Lake City, Utah. Participants were recruited with a research announcement distributed directly to polyamorous persons at a local community center, posted on Internet discussion groups, and passed along from person to person. Individual interviews were followed by focus-group interviews involving all of the participants; then these interviews underwent phenomenological analysis: the essential meanings of the phenomenon were extracted and described through a process of transcription, horizontalization of meanings, clustering of meanings,

textural description, structural description, essential description, and validation of the essential description.
The results provided seven main themes with first- and second-level subthemes.
The main themes were monogamist prejudice, mainstream culture, selective social circles, intimate relationships, core relationships, self-identity, and learning and growing.
The theme of intimate relationships—including core relationships—most closely related to the practice of polyamory.
The themes of self-identity, mainstream culture, and monogamist prejudice provided important contextual information. Selective social circles and learning and growing appeared adaptive given abundant stressors and the experiences or expectations of prejudice.
The following conclusions were drawn for mental health practitioners: polyamorous clients are likely at risk for monogamist prejudice; practitioners may need to confront internalized prejudice; practitioners should educate themselves regarding polyamory (and other alternative lifestyles) and become aware of available resources; practitioners may wish to consider clients’ levels of ego development and/or personal value stances with regard to relationship complexities and conflicts with mainstream values; polyamorous clients will likely benefit from exploring relationship issues; polyamorous clients likely experience many stressors associated with relationship issues and prejudice; and, therefore, these clients may present needs for acceptance and normalization from practitioners who are able to model unconditional positive regard.

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