Can Non Monogamy Ever Work

Lesbian Dating

Can Non-Monogamy Ever Work?

Dr. Wendy Walsh

Written by: Dr. Wendy Walsh

Dr. Wendy Walsh

Known as America's Relationship Expert, Dr. Wendy Walsh is an award-winning television journalist, radio host & podcaster, and the author of three books on relationships and thousands of print and digital articles. More than 1.5 million people follow her sage advice on social media. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and teaches in the Psychology Department at California State University Channel Islands and has been the host of "The Dr. Wendy Walsh Show" on iHeart Radio's KFI AM 640 since 2015. Walsh is also a former Emmy-nominated co-host of "The Doctors," as well as former host of the nationally syndicated show "EXTRA." She was named a Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2017 after speaking out about harassment at a major news network.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

Reviewed by: Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks is a dating and relationship expert who has penned over 1,800 lifestyle articles in the last decade, and she still never tires of interviewing dating professionals and featuring actionable advice for singles. She has been quoted by the Washington Times, Cosmopolitan, The New York Post, and AskMen.

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Discuss This! Discuss This!

Consensual non-monogamy is a hot topic in relationship news. The subject is so juicy lately, it’s been appearing on podcasts, in the news, and even in dating profiles. When a pervasive media trend crops up, I prefer to go to the academic research to find out more. My questions were simple: How common is consensual nom-monogamy really? Who’s most interested in it? (Spoiler alert: It’s men) Are people any happier in consensual non-monogamy? And can that kind of relationship arrangement hurt some people?

First, a little definition, consensual non-monogamy is an umbrella term used to define open relationships that are sexually or romantically non-exclusive. The consensual part means that all people involved in the arrangement are aware and consent to it. 

You Probably Dream About It

According to the reliable researchers at the Kinsey Institute, many of us imagine having extra partners with full consent or even participation with our current partner. In fact, about one-third of us fantasize about some type of sexually open relationship and call it our favorite sexual fantasy of all time!

In that same study, of the 32% who reported such fantasies, 80% said they’d like to try this out in the real world. But there’s a caveat: Those who identified as male or nonbinary reported more ethical non-monogamy fantasies than those who identified as female.

Who Has Actually Tried Polyamory?

A 2021 study from Chapman University and the Kinsey Institute found that one out of six people have a desire to engage in polyamory. About 10% of people in the study said they have tried poly dating at some point. And it’s not being kept a secret. In that study, one in 15 people reported that they knew someone who has been or is currently engaged in polyamory.

Graphic: one in six people want to engage in polyamory

Surprisingly, the researchers found the rate of polyamory didn’t change much when they looked at political affiliation, income, religion, geographic region, or race and ethnicity. Apparently, consensual non-monogamy crosses all social strata. However, sexual orientation and gender were big factors in whether someone practiced consensual non-monogamy. Sexual minorities, men, and younger adults reported a greater desire to engage in polyamory. Heterosexual folks, women, and older adults reported less desire to share their mates. 

Education was another factor: Men and people with lower education backgrounds were most likely to have previously engaged in polyamory. Women and people of all genders with higher education were less likely to bed hop, even with consent.

Attachment style also plays a role. Secure attachment predicts consensual non-monogamy, anxious attachment does not. Some think that polyamorous people are in it for the romp and try “not to catch feelings.” But the research doesn’t support this idea. People in consensual non-monogamous relationships don’t shy away from emotional intimacy. Studies indicate they don’t have anxiety and abandonment issues either. 

One Australian study found that when people have low or moderate levels of avoidant attachment, which is on the side of secure attachment style, then positive attitudes toward consensual non-monogamy increase.

Personality type, categorized by The Big Five factors, was a much greater predictor of both attitudes and willingness to engage in consensual non-monogamy. People who are naturally open to new experiences felt more positive and had a greater desire to engage in consensual non-monogamy. On the other hand, negative attitudes and less willingness to try open relationships were highly correlated with conscientious people. Those folks tend to be responsible, organized, and goal-directed. They like to adhere to norms and rules.

Are Poly People Happy?

I’ve always said that happy people have happy relationships. And that adage rings true for people in a variety of relationships.

A 2021 study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that happiness comes from human bonding, no matter what form it takes. The researchers found that married people (particularly wives!) and multiple-partnered folks reported being significantly happier than their single counterparts in the U.S. general population. But here’s a cautionary note for married men hoping your wives will consent to opening your love nest: This same study found that husbands in the consensual non-monogamy group did not differ significantly in levels of reported happiness than married males in the general population. Chew on that for a minute.

As for sexual satisfaction, polyamorous individuals, compared to a control group of monogamous people, scored significantly higher on sexual satisfaction in one study. And, get this, some people get excited by their partner’s prospects for a new sexual adventure. It’s as if they are so emotionally connected that they live vicariously through their partner’s experience.  

The transparency and honesty of ethical non-monogamy can be a great benefit. Partners in consensual non-monogamy worry less about betrayals and cheating, at least when it comes to their main squeeze. In one study, CNM participants expressed more confidence that their primary versus secondary partner would never cheat, although this belief was stronger for CNM women.

However, not everyone can conquer that age-old feeling of sexual jealousy. It’s one thing to desire a novel sexual partner and quite another to imagine, consent to, or even help facilitate your partner’s extracurricular pleasures.

Who Should Not Try an Open Relationship

Polyamorous dating and open relationships aren’t for everyone. Here are five types of people who should avoid non-monogamy.

1. Jealous People — Some people want a harem who is dedicated to their sexual pleasure but don’t want to share their partner.

2. Religious People – Some people may follow a religion that demands monogamy in a marital relationship. 

3. Those who have cheating trauma – Perhaps they experienced the impact of infidelity in their family of origin and have unresolved trauma from previous betrayals in relationships.

4. People with an Anxious Attachment Style – People with high levels of abandonment anxiety.

5. People who have a Monogamous Sexual Orientation – Some people are just naturally monogamous. Why fix something that isn’t broken?

Your Polyamorous Success Depends on You

It’s hard work to manage the feelings of more than one partner, especially while dealing with social stigma. Study after study has shown that polyamory works best when people have clear communication. It works for people who access supportive resources, people who embrace sexuality, and — this is a big one – people who have found the right partners.

Oh, and here’s one interesting bit of data that I found buried in the research: If you have more options, you’ll probably be more interested in consensual non-monogamy. Lower commitment to a primary relationship was associated with higher perceived attractiveness of alternatives and thus more interest in consensual non-monogamy. No matter your gender, if you’ve chosen a high-value mate, that mate may want to explore their options. Word to the wise: If you are wired to be monogamous, date within your own league.