Interest In Consensual Nonmonogamy Among Sexual Minority Men and Women

October 17, 2015 by Justin Lehmiller


Open relationships are widely believed to be more common in the gay community than they are in the rest of the population—and scientific research seems to back this up. For instance, whereas online studies put the prevalence of consensually nonmonogamous (CNM) relationships at around 5% overall, the prevalence of CNM among gay male couples tends to be much higher (depending upon the study you consult, estimates have ranged from 20-56% [1]). However, this seemingly greater interest in CNM is something that most people (including the researchers) appear to consider unique to sexual minority men. Lesbians are widely thought to have greater interest in monogamy. But is this really the case? A new study challenges the idea that sexual minority women are inherently less interested in the idea of open relationships.

In this study, researchers recruited a sample of 110 gay and bisexual men and women online. Participants ranged in age from 18-32 (the mean age was 21) and most were White. All participants completed a survey that included questions about their overall view of CNM, as well as their willingness to engage in sexual and (separately) sexual/romantic CNM.

Results revealed that sexual minority men and women did not differ in their overall attitudes toward CNM. Moreover, there were no gender differences in personal willingness to engage in sexual or romantic CNM.

Interestingly, willingness to engage in CNM appeared to be relatively low overall, with mean scores ranging from 2.7-3.1 on a 7-point scale. Because mean scores were below the scale midpoint of 4, it appears that most of the men and women surveyed would not be willing to have a CNM relationship (or at least that’s what they said—because CNM is stigmatized, some people may underreport their interest in practicing it).

These results are limited in that we’re not dealing with a representative sample of sexual minorities here and, for each gender group, gay and bisexual participants were lumped together. Future research would benefit from recruiting a larger and more diverse sample and from considering each sexual and gender identity combination separately.

That said, these results are interesting because they challenge the idea that sexual minority men are inherently more inclined toward CNM than are sexual minority women. Further, they suggest that more attention to the prevalence and practice of CNM among lesbian and bisexual women is warranted.

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[1] Moors, A. C., Rubin, J. D., Matsick, J. L., Ziegler, A., & Conley, T. D. (2014). It’s not just a gay male thing: Sexual minority women and men are equally attracted to consensual non-monogamy. Journal für Psychologie, 22(1).

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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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