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Defining Polyamory: A Thematic Analysis of Lay People’s Definitions

Cardoso, Daniel and Pascoal, Patrícia M and Maiochi, Francisco Hertel (2021) Defining Polyamory: A Thematic Analysis of Lay People’s Definitions. Archives of Sexual Behavior. ISSN 0004-0002 (In Press)

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Abstract

This study aimed to analyze laypeople’s definitions of polyamory and compare definitions presented by people who are not willing to engage in consensual non-monogamy (CNM) and those who are or are willing to be in a CNM relationship. This exploratory qualitative study used data collected from a convenience sample through a web survey, where people answered the question “What does polyamory mean?” We conducted thematic analysis to examine patterns in meaning and used demographic data to compare themes among groups. The final sample comprised 463 participants aged 18–66 years (M = 32.19, SD = 10.02), mostly heterosexual (60%). Of the total sample, 54% were in a monogamous relationship, followed by 21% not in a relationship, and 13% in a non-monogamous relationship. Analysis showed that people define polyamory mostly as a set of behaviors in a relationship, followed by the potential of multiple relationships or feelings for multiple people. Definitions also include emotional, sexual, and ethical aspects. People in CNM relationships are more likely to define polyamory as constituting a potential form of relating, focus more on interpersonal feelings and ethics, and include consent in their definitions than those unwilling to engage in CNM. People in CNM relationships also focus particularly on the non-central role of sex within these relationships, which might challenge assumptions about sexuality in these relationships in clinical and research settings.

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