The casualization of intimacy: Consensual non-monogamy and the new sexual ethos

Brittany Griebling, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation explores the discursive construction of consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships. The focus is limited to non-monogamists involved in primary, committed dyadic relationships who also pursue secondary, more casual partners. Using the framework of "casualization," the dissertation carries out a discourse analysis of 25 in-depth interviews with straight and LGBT individuals and couples involved in CNM relationships. The term casualization of intimacy makes an analogy between the evolving norms of private life and the casualization of labor. For scholars of work in a global economy, the casualization of labor refers to decreasing job security for workers, coupled with increasing productivity and the demand for new skills. The casualization of intimacy means that our personal lives, like our work lives, are characterized by precarity, the need for flexibility, the feminization of communication, and the valorization of individual "hard work." Analysis of interviews with non-monogamists demonstrates a construction of CNM in line with casualization. Non-monogamists portray their lifestyle as protective of partners' autonomy and uniquely accommodating of change; individual adaptability to changing expectations is construed as a necessary virtue. The feminization of communication norms is demonstrated in interview subjects' construction of verbal communication, particularly self-disclosure, as central to and distinctive of CNM relationships. Frequent communication about emotionally-fraught topics – jealousy, desire, insecurity – is considered essential to the success of CNM partnerships; interview participants often argued communication was "more important than sex" in distinguishing CNM and monogamous partnerships. This emphasis on communication suggests one reason CNM appeals to some women; it also disrupts an understanding of non-monogamy as inevitably sexist. Additionally, by framing the self-disclosure required by CNM as "hard work," interview subjects align their lifestyle with the ethos of casualization. In sum, non-monogamists contrast an image of traditional, rigid, hierarchal, and monologic relationships with their construction of non-monogamy as a modern ethic of intimacy, one that is flexible, egalitarian, and dialogic, while also deemphasizing the instability and insecurity inherent in CNM. In trading predictability for excitement and security for freedom, the discourse of consensual non-monogamy highlights the promise and peril offered by the casualization of intimate life.^

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Gender Studies

Recommended Citation

Griebling, Brittany, "The casualization of intimacy: Consensual non-monogamy and the new sexual ethos" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3550956.