Dating & Relationships

Swingers And Polyamorists May Have More Satisfying Sex Lives Than Monogamists

April 16, 2018 by Justin Lehmiller

There’s a common assumption that monogamous relationships are superior to consensually non-monogamous relationships in virtually all ways. In fact, studies have found that monogamous relationships are thought to be better in terms of promoting closeness, trust, intimacy, companionship, and communication [1]. However, the presumed benefits don’t stop there—monogamous relationships are assumed to be more sexually satisfying, too, because it’s presumed that people who open their relationships are only doing so because they’re unhappy in some way.

So is it really the case that monogamists necessarily have better sex lives and relationships overall compared to those who are in consensually non-monogamous relationships? Do the stereotypes reflect reality? Let’s take a look at the research.

First, let’s consider the implications of consensual nonmonogamy (CNM) for relationship quality. A recent paper published in the Journal of Sex Research reviewed dozens of studies focusing on three different forms of CNM: swinging, open relationships, and polyamory [2] (Note: In case you aren’t familiar with the differences between these relationship types, check out this post by my colleague Dr. Elisabeth Sheff). The results of these studies were then compared to data on people in monogamous relationships.

In the end, the authors concluded that “the majority of research suggests that the psychological well-being and the quality of the relationships of consensual nonmonogamists is not significantly different from that of monogamists.” It didn’t matter what outcome they considered—from overall relationship adjustment to jealousy to relationship stability—there just wasn’t evidence for the idea that monogamists are necessarily happier or better off.

As for sexual satisfaction, a new set of studies published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships offers some insight [3]. This paper is the subject of a column I wrote over at VICE, where you can go for all of the details.

Briefly, two studies were conducted in which people practicing one of three forms of consensual non-monogamy (again, swinging, open relationships, and polyamory) were compared to persons practicing monogamy in terms of their sexual satisfaction, likelihood of reaching orgasm, and how recently they had sex.

The results revealed that polyamorists and swingers reported more satisfying sex lives than monogamists and were more likely to have had sex recently with their primary partner. In addition, swingers (but not polyamorists) were more likely to have orgasmed the last time they had sex than were monogamists. Just to be clear, it was not the case that monogamists were dissatisfied with their sex lives. They were satisfied overall—it’s just that consensual non-monogamists were more satisfied on average.

Interestingly, unlike polyamorists and swingers, people in open relationships didn’t differ from monogamists in terms of their sexual satisfaction, orgasm frequency, or recent sex. This finding highlights the importance of distinguishing between different types of consensual non-monogamy because they don’t all appear to be equal in terms of sexual outcomes.

Together, what all of this research tells us is that monogamous relationships aren’t inherently superior to consensually non-monogamous relationships in terms of overall quality or sexual satisfaction. In fact, it appears that certain types of CNM relationships could potentially have advantages over monogamy, at least in terms of how partners feel about their sex lives and how often they have sex.

With all of that said, the key takeaway here is not that one kind of relationship is inherently better than another. Regardless of the relationship agreement that people have, it’s possible to maintain a healthy and satisfying relationship.

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[1] Conley, T. D., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Ziegler, A. (2013). The fewer the merrier?: Assessing stigma surrounding consensually non‐monogamous romantic relationships. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 13(1), 1-30.

[2] Rubel, A.N., & Bogaert, A.F. (2015). Consensual nonmonogamy: Psychological well-being and relationship quality correlates. The Journal of Sex Research, 52, 961-982.

[3] Conley, T. D., Piemonte, J. L., Gusakova, S., & Rubin, J. D. (2018). Sexual satisfaction among individuals in monogamous and consensually non-monogamous relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(4), 509-531.

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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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