Skip to main content

Consensual Non-Monogamies and Social Movements: A Comparative Study of Activism in Portugal and the UK

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - CNM-MOVES (Consensual Non-Monogamies and Social Movements: A Comparative Study of Activism in Portugal and the UK)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-08-31

People’s intimate and sexual lives are in constant evolution, and concepts like “marriage” and “monogamy” do not have the same meaning in different cultural contexts and in different moments in history. However, not all the different ways of living are socially condoned and treated equally.
Over recent decades, the discrimination and violence against intimate and sexual minorities has been challenged by diverse social movements, often called activists.
While LGBTQI+ activism has widely been documented and researched in previous decades, the activism of groups working under the banner of Consensual Non-monogamy (CNM) has been virtually absent.
Public debates about CNM (an umbrella term for lifestyles and practices such as swinging, polyamory, relationship anarchy, etc.) have been growing since the 1990s. Yet we know close to nothing about the history, strategies, demands, and key figures when it comes to CNM activism. Beyond that, there is a lack of research on how knowledge and strategies created by activists circulate between different countries and regions.
CNM-MOVES was carried out to understand the concerns of those who engage in CNM activism in two countries, the UK and Portugal. It further aimed to understand the importance of journalistic narratives in both the marginalisation of CNMs and in the strategies of CNM activists.
This research is important for society because it raises awareness about intimate and sexual diversity, tackles discrimination in the fields of culture, politics, and law and helps to understand how the intimate and sexual politics around CNM unfold within different national contexts and in the transnational sphere. The research has helped to gain knowledge of an under-studied social movement; and to create visibility for CNM activism and how it intersects with forms of politics around anti-racism, feminism, environmentalism, and LGBTQI+ movements.
CNM-MOVES deployed a multi-method approach and explored both journalistic coverage of CNMs and the voices and media outlets of CNM groups and activists in Portugal and the UK.
The media research collaborated with news clipping agencies to collect all news pieces in the written press mentioning CNMs. This resulted in over 200 news and opinion pieces for Portugal over ten years, and close to 2000 pieces for the UK over the same time period. We found major differences in how CNMs are portrayed in the Portuguese and UK’s press, with the former being far less polarized about the issue, but also affording less visibility to it. In both countries, opinion pieces are more negative than reporting coverage. Most reports are based on slice-of-life stories, adopt a sensationalist tone, and are celebrity-focused or sex-centric. Few pieces focus on political, social or human rights aspects discussed by activists. Both reports are readily available on our project’s website.
CNM-MOVES also engaged with activists in both countries, collating publicly available resources about past and present activities of CNM-focused activist groups. Conducting focus groups and interviews (5 in the UK and 10 in Portugal) allowed for a thorough understanding of how CNM movements have organized and cooperated over the past two decades. This data has been analysed mainly through thematic analysis, demonstrating the conceptual and practical complexities around CNM activism. It showed several intersections between CNM activism, bisexual activism, anti-racist activism, and even climate change related activism. We also attended relevant online events to gain an understanding of the main topics discussed, considering all of them were roundtable discussions or panels that sought to bring awareness to CNMs.
Along the project, and relying on the data collected, we have helped facilitating training and awareness-raising sessions specifically focused on health professionals, while simultaneously presenting the research project to them and garnering feedback from them. This pertained to the project’s social outreach goals to tackle discrimination against CNM people. The systematic compilation and research of websites and other public-facing communication platforms used by CNM-focused communities plus the analysis of historical accounts of key activists resulted in the publication of an activism timeline in Portugal and the UK from 1990 onwards on the project’s website. The timelines show that more consolidated and topic-specific movements started appearing around the early 2000’s, but there have been more diverse initiatives in the UK, while Portugal is characterized by more cohesiveness and more direct participation in politically-centred events like LGBTQ Pride March organising. Activists’ analyses of inequality, social policy, and the law were collated in a short report, and a policy briefing shared with political parties in both countries. This ensured that the topic has formally been brought to important stakeholders’ attention.
Apart from these strategic steps of dissemination in the areas of professional psychology and policy making, CNM-MOVES created open access academic and non-academic texts, participated in round-table discussions, contributed to databases and podcasts, and engaged with mainstream media in several countries.
By focusing on activist voices combined with an analysis of wider shifts in the intimacy, gender, and sexuality related representations in journalism, CNM-MOVES provided complex qualitative datasets about CNM activism in Portugal and the UK. This allowed for a nuanced understanding of a new politics of intimacy within both these countries, while showing up the transnational flow of activist ideas and strategies at the same time.
The project engaged in the comparative analysis of a decade of CNM written press coverage in both countries. CNM-MOVES added depth and complexity to CNM research in Europe by documenting and historicising main events and groups of CNM activism in two countries in a comparative manner.
The research showed the close interaction of CNM activists with other social movements (e.g. feminism, LGBTQI+ activism, ecological movements, and anti-capitalism), demonstrating the intersectional orientation of CNM activism beyond the known connection with bisexual politics. CNM-MOVES has shown that there are lines of mutual influence between the USA and the UK, and between the UK and Portugal. Mobility of both ideas and persons is extremely relevant to understanding how CNM-related social movements evolve and strategize. However, other social movements that do not directly pertain to CNM (or other aspects of intimacy or sexuality) have also had a clear impact on activist agendas around CNM.
Considering its intervention in terms of promoting workshops and classes aimed at health professionals, the project has raised awareness among professionals about the needs of CNM clients and patients. By inviting political stakeholders to engage with CNM concerns and political claims, the project has further contributed to bringing awareness to CNM struggles and lives, contributing to a necessary debate on human rights and intimate injustices. Lastly, the project has helped to expand the vocabulary and range of concepts associated with activism, social movements, and intimate and sexual citizenship.
Sign saying "Keep calm and Poly on", at a Portuguese LGBT Pride March. Photo:Pedro Barão.