Sex Q&A

Sex Question Friday: I Want A Non-Monogamous Relationship. How Do I Find Someone Who Wants The Same Thing?

December 21, 2012 by Justin Lehmiller


Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wants to have a non-monogamous relationship but isn’t quite sure how to find like-minded partners.

“How do you find out who is non-monogamous these days? So many people are afraid to divulge this kind of information for fear of being judged.”

Great question! Let me start by saying that you are not alone in desiring a non-monogamous relationship. Although we don’t know exactly how many people prefer non-monogamy, survey research has found that about 4% of participants in general samples report having some type of consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationship [1]. Of course, keep in mind that this number only reflects people who are willing to be honest about their relationship status, and there are probably many more people who would like a non-monogamous relationship, but just do not feel it is a viable option in the current social climate. Given how prevalent cheating and divorce are in this world, it certainly seems like a lot of people have non-monogamous inclinations. As you noted, however, people who enter CNM relationships face widespread social stigma, and that discourages people from pursuing such arrangements. Monogamy is seen as the norm and the ideal relationship state by the general public; in contrast, CNM relationships are judged harshly and are seen as immoral and harmful to the health of the partners [2].

My philosophy on relationships is that people should pursue the type of arrangement that best suits them, whether it is monogamous or non-monogamous. As long as the relationship is between consenting adults, what should anyone else care? I don’t think we do the individual or society any favors by forcing people to adopt any type of relationship agreement that they do not want or cannot keep. Besides, it is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve relationship success if people are unwilling or unable to communicate openly about sex and their relationship desires and goals.

So how do you begin a non-monogamous relationship? That’s tough, because so little research has been conducted on this topic and it’s not like there’s a definitive “how-to” guide (although you may enjoy reading The Ethical Slut or checking out the Polyamory Weekly podcast for some perspective on how other people have navigated non-monogamous relationships). The key to getting started is probably just to get your foot into the CNM community. The easiest way to do that is online because lots of people in CNM relationships keep their relationship status quiet precisely because they have concerns about the social consequences of other people finding out about their romantic interests. So, for starters, you might look for a Facebook or Meetup group, or do an Internet search based on your specific relationship desires.

I should note that CNM can take many different forms, including polyamory, open relationships, swinging, and so on. Each of these arrangements is quite different, so you need to figure out what your personal philosophy on CNM is. For instance, will you have multiple romantic and loving relationships simultaneously? Alternatively, will you have one primary relationship that simply permits sexual exploration? Will you be married to one person and occasionally engage in wife or husband “swapping?” I mention this because most people fail to realize that non-monogamy isn’t just one thing; rather, it refers to a very diverse set of practices. The one thing all of these practices share in common is that they are consensual and based on open and honest communication and trust (i.e., there’s no cheating involved—in fact, people in CNM relationships tend to frown upon cheating because it violates the spirit of having a relationship based on honesty and trust).

I know it’s not much, but I hope this at least gives you a starting point. Hopefully I can give a better answer to this question in a few years once researchers begin to study CNM relationships more seriously!

For past Sex Question Friday posts, see here. Want to learn more about The Psychology of Human Sexuality? Click here for a complete list of articles or like the Facebook page to get articles delivered to your newsfeed.

[1] Conley, T. D., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Ziegler, A. (2011). Prevalence of consensual nonmonogamy in general samples. As cited in Conley, T. D., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Ziegler, A. (in press). The fewer the merrier? Assessing stigma surrounding non-normative romantic relationships. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy.

[2] Conley, T. D., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Ziegler, A. (in press). The fewer the merrier? Assessing stigma surrounding non-normative romantic relationships. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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