Reader Survey Results: How Do You Feel About Non-Monogamy?

August 9, 2013 by Justin Lehmiller

Keys from a computer keyboard spelling out the word "sex" on a pink background

Results from The Psychology of Human Sexuality’s second Reader Survey are in! Today, we will be taking a look at your views on the subject of consensual non-monogamy (i.e., relationships in which both partners consent to allowing each other to have sex with outside partners).

Let’s begin with a look at the overall sample. A total of 186 individuals (55% female-identified, 43% male-identified, 1% transgendered) ages 18-79 from 30 different countries participated. Most participants identified as heterosexual (67%), with the remainder identifying as bisexual (20%), gay/lesbian (5%), pansexual (5%), or something else (1%). The average number of lifetime sexual partners reported was 18.7 (Standard Deviation = 24.9; Median = 10), and participants reported an average sexual frequency of twice per week.

In terms of previous experience with consensual non-monogamy, the majority of participants reported never having tried it (57%). Among the 43% of participants who had at least some experience with consensual non-monogamy, there was considerable diversity in the nature of their previous relationships. The most common experiences were “friends with benefits” and polyamory; however, some participants reported experiences with open relationships, swinging, and threesomes. Thus, consensual non-monogamy does not mean just one thing! It is also interesting to note that participants’ levels of sexual satisfaction were equally high regardless of whether they had previous experience with consensual non-monogamy (F(1,179) = 0.64, p=.43). This suggests that both approaches (i.e., monogamy and non-monogamy) can be highly satisfying and that one is not inherently better than the other.

When asked whether they would be open to the idea of a consensually non-monogamous relationship in the future, 47% of participants said that they were. Of the remainder, 27% said they would not be open to the idea at all and 26% said that they were undecided.

Openness to non-monogamy appeared to vary across genders and sexual orientations. Specifically, a larger percentage of men (51%) were open to the idea than women (42%). In addition, a larger percentage of bisexually identified persons (74%) were open to it compared to heterosexual persons (37%).

Openness to non-monogamy was also dependent upon participants’ personal feelings about jealousy. All participants were asked which of the following best describes how they feel about romantic jealousy:

(1) “I would be upset if my partner became emotionally intimate with someone else, but not if my partner slept with someone else.” (26% of all participants selected this option)

(2) “I would be upset if my partner slept with someone else, but not if they became emotionally intimate with someone else.” (7% of all participants selected this option)

(3) “I would be upset regardless of whether my partner slept with someone else or became emotionally intimate with someone else.” (51% of all participants selected this option)

(4) “It would not bother me if my partner slept with someone else or became emotionally intimate with someone else.” (15% of all participants selected this option)

Of those who expressed openness to future non-monogamy, 74% selected options 1 or 4, indicating that they do not experience jealousy when their partner has sex with someone else. Of those who categorically ruled out the possibility of future non-monogamy, nearly all of them (92%) selected option 3 (i.e., they get upset when their partner becomes physically or emotionally intimate with someone else).

At least in this sample, it is clear that non-monogamy is a common practice that can take many different forms. However, it does not appear that everyone is equally interested in or capable of handling a non-monogamous relationship because people have very different feelings about jealousy. Although this is not a representative sample and it would be unwise to extrapolate too much from these results, they confirm something I have argued on this blog many times before: it does not seem to be the case that all humans are “meant” to be monogamous or non-monogamous and we are probably better served by letting people select the type of relationship that’s right for them rather than imposing the same relationship structure on everyone.

To see results from previous versions of the Reader Survey, click here. To participate in the latest version of the survey, click here.

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Image Source: iStockphoto.com

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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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