A Qualitative Study of the Healthcare Experiences of Consensually Nonmonogamous Adults


Introduction: Consensual nonmonogamy (CNM) reflects a view that people can freely choose to engage in intimate romantic, sexual, and/or emotional relations with multiple other people at the same time. Very little published research exists on people who practice CNM and none of these studies focus on the healthcare experiences of members of this population. This exploratory qualitative study aimed to discover the themes that emerge from the healthcare experiences of CNM people, with study questions revolving around patient disclosure of their CNM status to their healthcare providers and the influence of this on the patient-provider relationship.

Methods: This project used convenience and snowball sampling to recruit 20 CNM adults. Data came from a single, semi-structured interview with each participant, lasting from 19 to 79 minutes. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed by the main study investigator. The interview transcripts were then recursively coded and analyzed for thematic elements.

Results: Participants gave a variety of reasons for deciding to disclose or not disclose their CNM to healthcare providers, including providers not inquiring about their personal relationships and patient desire to access appropriate care or avoid discrimination. Participants also discussed the specific importance of both sexual healthcare and mental healthcare. Additionally, participants reported on the impact of encountering inflexible processes and institutions in the healthcare system as well as the major medical decisions that they had made as a result of these encounters. Finally, themes identified were used to help develop a conceptual model of the barriers to and facilitators of obtaining healthcare for CNM adults.

Discussion: From participants’ responses, I was able to able to draw comparisons between the healthcare experiences of the consensually nonmonogamous and members of other sexual minority populations (e.g. LGBTQ). This comparison, along with the descriptions of the bidirectional nature of influence in patient-provider interactions, contributed to the creation of a new conceptual model. This model pinpoints several possible areas of intervention to improve the quality of care encounters and ease the burden of managing disclosure for CNM adults.

Conclusion: The insight into the similarities in healthcare experiences between CNM people and other sexual minorities helped to spur the creation of a new model of the healthcare experiences of the consensually nonmonogamous. This new model highlights areas of possible intervention to improve care for CNM adults as well serving as a starting point for future research into the healthcare experiences of CNM people.