- About 4 to 5 percent of people report being in a consensually non-monogamous relationship.
- Despite it's growing popularity, consensual non-monogamy still carries stigma due to misinformation.
- Myths involve everything from jealousy and cheating to attachment style and even sexism.
Consensual non-monogamy (or ethical non-monogamy) is on the rise. According to research, 4 to 5 percent of Americans report that they are currently in a CNM relationship, while 20 percent say that they have been in one at some point during their life.
Consensual non-monogamy comes in many forms. Polyamory, for example, literally translates to “many loves” and involves having multiple sexual and or romantic partners. Sometimes polyamory is hierarchical, meaning that a person has one “primary partner” and other “peripheral partners.” Other times it’s non-hierarchical, meaning that all partners are sexually and emotionally invested in each of their partners equally.
Other types of consensual non-monogamy include swinging, where couples occasionally invite others into their shared sexual play, either as part of a threesome or a sex party.
Open relationships involve two people who are in a committed relationship but who also enjoy outside sexual relationships, such as a friend with benefits. Monogamish is yet another type, where otherwise monogamous partners agree to let each other have occasional sexual experiences with people outside their relationship in tightly defined situations, such as when one partner travels for work.
In a world that is built around and idealizes monogamy, people who practice consensual non-monogamy often feel stigmatized and shamed. This is largely due to many misconceptions that create anxiety and fear. Below are some common myths about consensual non-monogamy that everyone should be aware of.
Myth #1: Consensual non-monogamy is an excuse for cheating.
Fact: Unlike cheating, consensual non-monogamy rests on clear boundaries and rules. Partners discuss and agree on the terms, such as how much time they spend together versus with their other partners and whether their other relationships are just sexual in nature or involve deeper, romantic connections as well. All partners enter the relationship with equal enthusiasm and equal amounts to gain or lose.
Myth #2: People in consensually non-monogamous relationships can’t experience jealousy.
Fact: It’s not uncommon for partners in non-monogamous relationships to experience jealousy, especially in situations where it feels like one of their partners is spending an inordinate amount of time or energy with other relationship partners compared to them. Issues of jealousy are especially likely to arise when new partners come into the picture and suddenly take up a lot of focus. This is so common that it even has the name new relationship energy. In healthy, consensually non-monogamous relationships, strategies to prevent and cope with jealousy are discussed before issues arise. Also, jealousy happens in monogamous relationships as well. It's an emotion that no relationship structure is immune to, but that can usually be avoided or mitigated with empathy and communication.
Myth #3: People who gravitate toward consensual non-monogamy have avoidant attachment styles.
Fact: Many people falsely assume that the only reason a person would reject the notion of happily ever after with one specific soul mate is that they have an avoidant attachment style. In reality, research by Amy C. Moors shows that although avoidantly attached people are more likely to find the idea of consensual-nonmonogamy appealing, their positive attitudes don’t correlate with them actually engaging in it more. Moors’ research also shows that it’s not uncommon for consensually non-monogamous people to demonstrate different attachment styles with different partners.
Myth #4: People in monogamous relationships report greater happiness and more relationship satisfaction than people in non-monogamous relationships.
FACT: Some research suggests that, on average, people who identify as consensually non-monogamous report slightly higher levels of overall happiness than people who describe themselves as monogamous, but only when they report having had one or more sexual partners in the last year. Regarding relationship satisfaction, outcomes differ depending on the type of non-monogamy being practiced. For example, some studies show that swingers and polyamorous people report relatively high levels of sexual satisfaction, whereas those in open relationships report less. This might be because open relationships involve a highly emphasized primary relationship that might be more vulnerable to outside sexual or romantic partners, even if transparency exists. Although swinging also involves a highly emphasized primary relationship, outside sexual experiences with other partners are typically shared by the couple, not enjoyed by just one partner.
Myth #5: Non-monogamy is more advantageous for men than it is for women.
Fact: Consensually non-monogamous relationships can be equally advantageous for everyone involved, regardless of gender, when there is mutual enthusiasm and attention given to each partner's needs and concerns. However, it's important to acknowledge that when one partner feels pressured or obligated to agree to such an arrangement, the advantages may shift in favor of the partner with more power. Gender norms can contribute to power imbalances in some non-monogamous relationships, potentially making women more vulnerable to agreeing to terms that don't align with their preferences. It's crucial to recognize that this issue stems from broader societal gender norms that can also affect monogamous relationships.
Facebook image: Marcos Castillo/Shutterstock
Moors, A. C., Ryan, W. S., & Chopik, W. J. (2019). Multiple loves: The effects of attachment with multiple concurrent romantic partners on relational functioning. Personality and Individual Differences, 147, 102-110.
Conley, T. D., & Piemonte, J. L. (2021). Are there “better” and “worse” ways to be consensually non-monogamous (CNM)?: CNM types and CNM-specific predictors of dyadic adjustment. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 50(4), 1273-1286.
Cox, D. W., 2nd, Fleckenstein, J. R., & Sims-Cox, L. R. (2021). Comparing the Self-Reported Health, Happiness, and Marital Happiness of a Multinational Sample of Consensually Non-Monogamous Adults with Those of the U.S. General Population: Additional Comparisons by Gender, Number of Sexual Partners, Frequency of Sex, and Marital Status. Archives of sexual behavior, 50(4), 1287–1309. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-021-01973-2