Surface and Complex Representation of Diverse Intimate Relationships: Insights from a Content Analysis of Marriage and Family Therapy Resources

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Searching online for health information plays a vital role in the decision-making process to seek mental healthcare for relationship and sexual issues, especially among people with marginalized identities. The landscape of intimate arrangements in the U.S. is rapidly changing, yet it is unclear whether diverse intimate relationships are discussed in popular relationship-focused mental health resources. In the present research, we sought to understand how six diverse intimate relationships were represented in a set of online mental health resources focused on relationship and sexuality issues. We conducted a content analysis of 23 mental health articles; articles were coded for surface-level (1) and complex (2 through 5) representation: (1) the frequency at which six diverse relationship types were mentioned, (2) awareness of stigma (prejudicial experiences based on relationship type), (3) unique situations (experiences that are specific to a relationship type), (4) clinical recommendations (suggestions made for a specific relationship type) and (5) inclusive language. Overall, the frequency at which relationships were mentioned (surface-level representation) greatly varied: monogamous relationships (82.61%), singles (39.13%), blended families/stepfamilies (26.09%), same-sex/queer relationships (21.74%), multi-racial/cultural relationships (21.74%), and consensually non-monogamous relationships (0%). Complex representations, including stigma, unique situations, and recommendations for each diverse relationship type were infrequently mentioned (< 14% and, in many cases, never mentioned). These results illustrate that relationships other than monogamy were infrequently mentioned and, if mentioned, content related to diverse relationships lacked relevant and inclusive details, including clinical recommendations.


This article was originally published in Sexuality & Culture in 2022. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-022-09956-8

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