A Phenomenological Approach to Understanding Consensual Nonmonogamy Among African-American Couples

Krishna Jones Clanton, Walden University


Monogamy is recognized as a singularly accepted relationship construct within the United States. As a result, little is understood about alternative relationship constructs and those who choose them. Even less is understood regarding these practices among members of marginalized communities. Despite this lack of knowledge, there is evidence to suggest that approximately 4-5% of the United States population is engaged in some form of consensually nonmonogamous relationship pairing (a percentage comparable to the LGBTQAI community), and an estimated 25% of the population will engage in some form of consensual nonmonogamy over the course of their lifespan. This study looked to understand the lived experiences of African American men and women in married or cohabitating relationships who have participated in consensually nonmonogamous relationships with secondary partners. This qualitative study was conducted with 3 African American heteronormative married couples, using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) and a combined theoretical framework which includes symbolic interactionism and queer theory. Study findings concluded that consensually nonmonogamous couples viewed consensual nonmonogamy as an orientation as opposed to a lived experience in which their primary relationship remained their priority. Emerging themes included rules related to consensual nonmonogamy, emotional regulation, stigma, and the intersectionality between race and sexuality. Implications for social change include reduced stigma related to nontraditional families, a more informed understanding of practices and experiences involving consensual nonmonogamy and the development of sociopolitical interventions, policy and advocacy, and positive and negative consequences of consensually nonmonogamous experiences.