Giving swingers the cold shoulder causes them psychological distress

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Swingers are often snubbed by the rest of society – to the detriment of their health, according to a new study.

Researchers found that people in open relationships face negative attitudes from others that can impact their well-being.

Despite rising interest in polyamory, the study shows that people in consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships experience social stigma that takes a toll on their health.

Previous research has found that people tend to view CNM relationships more negatively than monogamy, and the new study suggests that public opinion can have real-world effects.

Lead author Doctor Elizabeth Mahar, of the University of British Columbia, Canada, said: “People in consensually non-monogamous relationships do indeed report experiencing stigma in a variety of ways.

“Furthermore, this experienced stigma is associated with psychological distress.”

The research team surveyed 372 people in CNM relationships for their first study, asking if and how they have experienced stigma.

Around four in 10 reported experiencing a negative stigma as a result. Of those who reported experiencing no stigma, most (70 per cent) limited the number of people who knew about their relationship.

Dr Mahar says four themes emerged among those who said they had experienced a CNM-related stigma: expressions of discomfort or disapproval of their CNM relationship; loss of resources or threatening behaviour; devaluation or diminishing of their character; and devaluation or diminishing of their relationship.

She said: “Previous research has found that people with marginalised identities, for example, LGBTQ individuals, experience stigma in a variety of unique ways.

“We found a similar pattern for people in consensually non-monogamous relationships.”

The second study examined the effects of such stigma on the well-being of people in CNM relationships. A survey of 383 participants found that experience of a negative stigma related to increased psychological distress.

The research team noted that the association is also connected to anticipated stigma – the extent to which people expect to be treated or thought of poorly – and internalised stigma: the degree to which people feel guilty about their CNM relationship.

More than one in five people report having been in a CNM relationship at some point in their life, while research suggests that four to five per cent of relationships are non-monogamous.

Dr Mahar said that it is important to be “mindful” of how people may be engaging in behaviours that negatively affect the well-being of people in CNM relationships.

She added: “Gaining a better understanding of stigma and how it is linked to well-being will make it possible to develop and implement interventions to effectively mitigate the harmful effects of minority stress for consensually non-monogamous people.”

The findings were published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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