Dating & Relationships, Sex Ed

7 Things You Should Know About Consensually Non-Monogamous Relationships

March 1, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller

In consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships, the partners involved agree that having more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at the same time is acceptable. There are a great many myths and misconceptions about CNM relationships, so let’s take a moment to clear things up and look at what research has revealed about them. Here are seven things you should know about CNM relationships, according to science.

1.) CNM relationships can take several different forms, from polyamory to open relationships to swinging to cuckolding—and many more. In other words, CNM does not mean just one thing. There are a lot of ways to structure these relationships, and different people may prefer very different arrangements. To learn more about different forms of CNM that people might practice, check out this article.

2.) CNM relationships are common. In fact, a recent nationally representative survey of single Americans found that just over 1 in 5 respondents reported having been involved in a sexually open relationship before. Moreover, another U.S. survey found that nearly one-half of men and one-third of women said they would be open to the idea of practicing some kind of non-monogamy.

3.) Interest in CNM relationships is on the rise. Data from Google Trends reveals that, over the last decade, internet searches related to polyamory and open relationships have significantly increased in the United States.

4.) A lot of people assume that being non-monogamous necessarily means you’re less committed to your relationship; however, research finds that this isn’t the case. In fact, research suggests that relationship quality and stability are quite similar when comparing CNM relationships to monogamous relationships.

5.) CNM relationships aren’t the hotbed for STDs that so many folks assume. In fact, a study comparing self-reported rates of sexual infections among persons in monogamous and CNM relationships found no difference—and that’s despite the fact that persons in CNM relationships had more partners and were more likely to have been tested.

6.) You might be wondering how people in CNM relationships could have more partners, yet not have more STDs compared to people who are monogamous. What might account for that? Research suggests that it’s likely because a lot of people who say they’re monogamous aren’t truly being monogamous. People in monogamous relationships often cheat and, when they do, they aren’t very likely to practice safe sex. It’s also important to note that persons in CNM relationships are actually more likely to practice safe sex than people in monogamous relationships who commit infidelity.

7.) CNM relationships aren’t for everyone. Research suggests that people with “sex seeking personalities”—or people who enjoy new and exciting sexual activities and who view sex and emotion as separate—tend to be happier when they’re in a CNM relationship, but less happy in a monogamous relationship. This suggests that different kinds of relationships might work better for different kinds of people and that it’s probably not the case that all of us have the same relationship orientation.

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Image Credit: 123RF/Nipon Temsakun

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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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