Over the course of eleven weeks, June 10, 2020 to August 20, 2020, I completed a remote summer research internship (120+ hours) with the Center for Positive Sexuality (CPS), located in Los Angeles, CA. I gained practical experience doing research, am in process of co-authoring at least one paper for submission to academic journals, and became more familiar with research on a central component of my thesis: consensual non-monogamy (CNM).
CPS matched me with Ryan Witherspoon, Ph.D. (pre-licensed) psychotherapist, researcher, and educator in L.A. His training and background in psychology and quantitative statistical analysis exposed me to another academic discipline and new methods. As part of a three-person research team, supervised by Ryan, I helped edit stigma and discrimination manuscripts; made a codebook using Thematic Analysis (Clarke & Braun, 2017); coded survey responses on discrimination, harassment and violence (DHV); and created an annotated bibliography. The two survey data sets were of approximately 1,200 and 1,500 adults in the U.S. who practice some form of CNM. However, I primarily worked with a smaller subset of 282 responses; these were the long answers to the DHV question we coded. My contributions to these projects will result in co-authorship on at least one academic journal article (forthcoming). I was able to workshop my own paper on monogamy and polygamy in the U.S. with members of the research community and participate in online polyamory research discussion forums. I also created a presentation/workshop for CPS on peacemaking and ways sex positive communities can approach assimilation failure.
My thesis examines how monogamy operates as a marker of national identity in the U.S. and how polygamy functions as a human rights violation in the U.N bodies, such as the Human Right Committee. Critical and historical analysis points to monogamy as the idealized family formation for American citizens (Balzarini et al., 2018). In contrast, polygamy, even in the Mormon case, is characterized as Asiatic, African, Islamic, and distinctly “other” (Coviello, 2019). Nonmonogamy practiced today in the United States is aligned with the LGBTQ movement and sexual freedom (National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, 2020). Notably, I learned through this internship, CNM practitioners and researchers in the U.S. also seem to distance themselves from the term “polygamy.” The term is rooted in religious traditions which are viewed as unwelcoming to sexual minorities and discouraging of gender/relationship equality (Goldberg, 2016). Additionally, I learned a great deal about the categories of relationship structures within CNM, namely, polyamorous, swingers, and open relationships (Brewster et al., 2017). Cursory observation suggests polyamory garners more respect and legitimacy due to the higher level of commitment to multiple partners and a deemphasis on sex. It was also clear (and acknowledged) that current research skews White and middle/upper-middle class even though there are populations of non-White practitioners. There are efforts, including by my research supervisor, to correct this underrepresentation.
In a polyamory researchers forum, I learned of two domestic partnership testing places: Somerville, MA (An Ordinance Adding Provisions Regarding Domestic Partnerships in the City of Somerville, 2020) and Cambridge, MA (Policy Order Review and Change Request Language of the Domestic Partnerships Ordinance POR 2020 #180, 2020). Within the last couple months, each city council have approved (Somerville) or are considering (Cambridge) multiple domestic partnerships. These newly unfolding case studies on political and social discourse around monogamy and polygamy in the U.S. may prove useful to my thesis. Finally, the contacts I made through this internship may also help me recruit subjects for semi-structured interviews.
The internship was grounding in several ways. I was able to participate in and contribute to active, original research in various stages of development. Most importantly, I made connections and learned how certain segments of the CNM community understand their practice. My long-term goals are to obtain a Ph.D. in political sociology and become faculty at a research university; this internship was an important step in that direction. I greatly appreciate the support provided through the Global Studies MA Summer Award which allowed me to complete a truly substantive and interdisciplinary internship during a pandemic.
An Ordinance Adding Provisions Regarding Domestic Partnerships in the City of Somerville, no. Ordinance No. 2020-16, City of Somerville City Council (2020). https://library.municode.com/ma/somerville/ordinances/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=1028806
Balzarini, R. N., Shumlich, E. J., Kohut, T., & Campbell, L. (2018). Dimming the “halo” around monogamy: Re-assessing stigma surrounding consensually non-monogamous romantic relationships as a function of personal relationship orientation. Frontiers in Psychology, 9. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00894
Brewster, M. E., Soderstrom, B., Esposito, J., Breslow, A., Sawyer, J., Geiger, E., Morshedian, N., Arango, S., Caso, T., Foster, A., Sandil, R., & Cheng, J. (2017). A content analysis of scholarship on consensual nonmonogamies: Methodological roadmaps, current themes, and directions for future research. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 6(1), 32–47. https://doi.org/10.1037/cfp0000074
Clarke, V., & Braun, V. (2017). Thematic analysis. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 12(3), 297–298. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2016.1262613
Coviello, P. (2019). Make yourselves gods: Mormons and the unfinished business of American secularism. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, . https://catalog.lib.unc.edu/catalog/UNCb9830179
Goldberg, A. E. (2016). The SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies. SAGE Publications, Inc. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781483371283
Policy Order Review and Change Request Language of the Domestic Partnerships Ordinance POR 2020 #180, no. POR 2020 #180, Council – Cambridge City, MA (2020). https://cambridgema.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_LegiFile.aspx?Frame=&MeetingID=2656&MediaPosition=&ID=12316&CssClass=
National Coalition for Sexual Freedom. (2020). https://ncsfreedom.org/