Socioeconomic Privilege and Polyamory: What I've Seen in 12 Years

Hi team! I recently got an interview request for a magazine I think you’ll enjoy reading soon. And, as with all interviews I know some of my words will be lost in editing and interpretation so I thought I would share the questions I was sent and my responses here for your review.

As always let me know what you think. Would you have answered the questions differently? What would you add to these responses?


THE QUESTIONS

  • In your experience working with consensually nonmonogamous people, do they tend to be of higher SES (more educated, wealthier, more liberal, probably whiter), or is it a myth that people in these alternatives relationships are all like that?

  • If your clients have been of higher SES, why do you think that is? What's the connection between nonmonogamy and SES?

  • One theory is that higher SES people may have more time/ resources to pursue non-monogamy. Has that been substantiated with any data/ research that you're aware of? How much more time and resources do you need to be non-monogamous versus monogamous?

  • Conversely, why might someone with lower SES be more inclined towards monogamy or traditional relationships?

  • It's also possible that there's a relationship between privilege, power and advocating for your sexual/ relationship needs. Have you found this to be the case? Do people with more privilege feel more comfortable discussing and exploring sexual interests that might fall outside the mainstream? 

  • Why/ why not does the connection between SES and nonmonogamy matter?

MY RESPONSE

In 12 years supporting consensually non-monogamous (CNM) populations I have seen clients spanning the spectrum of income, class, and privilege. I've seen CEOs, politicians, celebrities, judges, lawyers, sex workers, and entrepreneurs making six and seven figure incomes and I've worked with baristas, students, social workers, performers, writers, and many others living on minimum wage and/or government benefits.

It is a total myth that CNM folks are white from a higher SES. I think that myth is informed by the stereotypes we hold about what non-monogamy looks like.  For starters CNM exists in all cultures around the world, but is called different things and plays out in different ways based on cultural norms.

Even in the US, loving relationships and family networks of all kinds exist but our main cultural narrative often ignores the experience of POC as a whole, and of course that extends into our understanding of CNM. 

Folks outside CNM relationship structures also often imagine stereotypical polyamory or open relationships are one big orgy, or happen annually at Burning Man, or look like scenes from Eyes Wide Shut.  While all of those options exist they are far from the norm in CNM and are certainly not the only way folks make consensually non-monogamous relationships work.

All of that said, the ways people enact their non-monogamous arrangements and the supports and spaces they can access vary widely based on SES.  Here are a couple examples:

  • Many of my higher SES clients frequent sex parties and/or clubs that require private membership for entry.  The membership costs $150-$550 per night for a couple for certain events. $550 is monthly rent for some of my clients with less economic access.

  • Other higher SES clients I support frequent international events, spas, cruises, festivals and resorts catering to specific kinds of sex play, kink, and/or swinging.  These events are FAR outside the range of possibility for other clients of mine who cannot take time off work, let alone afford that kind of travel.  

  • Even our local Sex Positive Portland meetup group is difficult to access for clients who are single parents working multiple jobs.  

  • So on the other end of the SES spectrum I have quite a few clients who cohabitate with current and former partners because it's not wise to separate their family's finances or childcare network.  Many of these folks fit into a larger polyamorous web of families supporting one another- some of whom are romantically and/or sexually-linked, and some who are not but are still highly committed to lifelong partnership.

As far as privilege and advocacy, yes there is probably some privilege and entitlement at play with my higher SES clients, however, I often see them far more consumed by fears of being outed as CNM than other clients.  For many, their social, career and political status can be threatened if people in their community discover their relationship status.

I have clients who are on the board of major corporations, who have run for elected office, and who are well-established conservative church leaders who all have healthy CNM relationships but fear their family's well-being would be threatened if they are found out.  

Of course, that fear spans the SES spectrum because nearly all of my clients over the years have spoken out about fears others would find out. And it is more complicated for folks facing multiple layers of oppression. Meaning, if you are already concerned about job security because you are lower SES and POC, being outed as CNM often only adds another layer of worry.  

The one deviation from what I've seen is, I do find that often out members of the LGBTQ community manage this fear with a little more easily as they have already survived one coming out process (and often learned a lot from the experience). 

So, in summary, it is a myth that CNM is a rich white people thing, but (just like nearly everywhere else) more SES privilege affords more access to options and flexibility. I hope that helps!


Madison sex therapy | Gina Senarighi

Gina Senarighi, MS, MA, CPC is a communication consultant, sexuality counselor and certified relationship coach specializing in polyamory, open relationships, jealousy, and infidelity.  

She coaches online clients all over the world and leads retreats in the U.S.

Call me for a free consultation to rethink the way you do relationships.