APA launches task force to reduce stigma of 'ethical' polyamorous relationships

Polygamy Credit Bogdan Khmelnytskyi  Shutterstock Bogdan Khmelnytskyi / Shutterstock.

People who practice consensual polygamy are the focus of a special task force recently launched by the American Psychological Association, which said it is seeking to reduce the "stigmatization" of the "marginalized" group.

"Finding love and/or sexual intimacy is a central part of most people's life experience," the task force said in a statement.

"However, the ability to engage in desired intimacy without social and medical stigmatization is not a liberty for all. This task force seeks to address the needs of people who practice consensual non-monogamy, including their intersecting marginalized identities."

The APA said that the task force would look into those in polygamous relationships including "polyamory, open relationships, swinging, relationship anarchy and other types of ethical non-monogamous relationships."

The goal of the task force is to "generate research, create resources, and advocate for the inclusion of consensual non-monogamous relationships" in research, education and training, psychological practice, and public interest, the group added.

"Monogamy is privileged," Heath Schechinger, a psychologist at UC Berkeley and a member of the task force, wrote in a column on Medium. "It is the unquestioned status quo, prompting many therapists to assume by default that their clients are monogamous, or even, for some, that their clients should be."

Schechinger added that therapists and mental health professionals should "examine our biases and take a nonjudgmental posture toward clients engaged in consensual non-monogamy - just as we would with LGBTQ clients."

Andre Van Mol, a California physician and co-chair on the committee on adolescent sexuality for the American College of Pediatricians, told The Christian Post that the task force is another example of using academia to promote obscure and harmful sexual practices.

"This is the entirely expected and predicted consequence of what happens when ideology replaces science. The APA is yet again showing us that they are a professional guild and not a scientific organization," Van Mol said.

In 2009, an American Psychiatric Association task force recommended that the appropriate response to those with same-sex attraction involves "therapist acceptance, support, and understanding of clients … without imposing a specific sexual orientation identity outcome," and that efforts to change orientation "involve some risk of harm."

The American Psychiatric Association had considered homosexuality to be a mental disease until 1973. A former president of the APA lamented in a 2012 video interview that within the organization, "political stances seemed to override any scientific results."

A few recent studies have claimed that people in consensual non-monogamous relationships (CNM) are equally as happy as people in monogamous relationships.

But other researchers, such as those at the Institute for Family Studies, have their doubts. They have said that it is difficult to control for bias in studies that promote non-monogamous relationships, and that these studies ignore children in the equation of deciding what is best for relationships.

In a blog post analyzing one such study on non-monogamy published by Perspectives on Psychological Science, Naomi Schaefer Riley, who is a senior fellow at the Independent Women's Forum and a former columnist for the New York Post, noted that the study admitted to its own possible bias.

"Importantly, the authors acknowledge one big limitation of their study, which is that 'participants were not randomly selected, and, hence, the participants that we recruited may have been motivated to provide socially desirable answers,'" Riley wrote in a 2017 analysis for the Institute for Family Studies.

Furthermore, Riley adds, studies that tout the benefits of non-monogamous relationships also ignore the main reason that monogamous relationships have remained the norm: children.

"Why do we insist on monogamy as the foundation for our culture?...the answer is not because it necessarily brings the highest rates of personal satisfaction for adults, but because it is the best way to raise children," she said.

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Children are the ones who stand to suffer the most when raised in an environment with anything other than their two married, biological parents, research shows. 

"The research on stepfamilies - where you often have effectively three parents in a child's life - is clear," Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project and a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies, told Riley for a 2017 article in the New York Post.

Complications of three-parent (or more) households include the complications of three different adults with different sets of beliefs attempting to raise a child, as well as splitting their time with that child, among other things, he added.

"The complexity of three parents in the mix seems to be suboptimal for kids," he said.

In 2011, Rose McDermott, a researcher who has studied non-monogamous relationships throughout the world and a professor of political science at Brown University, said that such relationships have been damaging to women and children in a myriad of ways.

"My research over the past decade, encompassing more than 170 countries, has shown the detrimental effects of polygynous practices on human rights, for both men and women," she wrote.

"According to the information I have helped to collect in the Womanstats database, women in polygynous communities get married younger, have more children, have higher rates of HIV infection than men, sustain more domestic violence, succumb to more female genital mutilation and sex trafficking, and are more likely to die in childbirth. Their life expectancy is also shorter than that of their monogamous sisters. In addition, their children, both boys and girls, are less likely to receive both primary and secondary education."

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"Whatever their concerns about protecting religious freedom, or demonstrating cultural sensitivity, Western nations should think twice before allowing the kinds of family structures that lead to such abuses," she concluded.

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