Study: Monogamous and Nonmonogamous Relationships Equally Happy

Group of 4 nonmonogamous young adults eating brunchConsensual nonmonogamy (CNM) relationship styles may be increasing in popularity. Nonmonogamy describes when someone has more than one romantic partner at once. Consensual nonmonogamy requires the permission of everyone involved.

Although CNM is legal in many contexts, it has historically faced stigma. Skeptics argue nonmonogamous relationships are less stable and less happy than monogamous couples. A new study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships undermines these claims. Researchers found people practicing monogamy and CNM were equally satisfied with their relationships.

Research on this relationship style is in its infancy, so reliable data is scant. Yet the available studies suggest CNM is more common than many people realize.

  • A 2016 survey found 17% of Americans aged 18-44 report engaging in CNM at some point in their lives.
  • In a 2017 study, 1 in 5 Americans said they have engaged in CNM in their lifetimes.
  • The current study above estimates 4% of Americans currently participate in CNM.

Monogamous vs. Nonmonogamous Relationships: Which Are Happier?

The newest study assessed the relationship satisfaction within both monogamous and nonmonogamous relationships. Researchers recruited 554 people from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The survey included 348 people engaged in CNM and 206 engaged in monogamy.

Each participant completed a cross-sectional survey. Recruits did self-reports on their motivations for sex and the extent to which their sexual needs felt fulfilled. They also reported their levels of sexual and relationship satisfaction with their partner. People practicing CNM answered questions about their “primary” partner—not about other partners.

Overall, monogamy and CNM offered similar levels of relationship satisfaction. The study also found:

  • People practicing monogamy and CNM had similar reasons for having sex. Yet people engaged in CNM were more likely to have sex for personal intrinsic reasons. Intrinsic motives were self-driven, such as a desire to develop intimacy with a partner.
  • Intrinsic motivations for sex resulted in higher sexual need fulfillment. Having sexual needs fulfilled correlated with higher relationship and sexual satisfaction.
  • Some people reported external motives for sex, such as avoiding conflict. These people reported lower relationship and sexual satisfaction.

The data suggest sexual and relationship satisfaction may be closely related to a person’s reasons for having sex. In both monogamy and CNM, self-driven motives for sex offer greater satisfaction than external motives. According to the study, a person’s reasons for having sex have more impact than the structure of a relationship.

The study had a limitation: It asked the CNM group to focus only on their bond with their primary partner. Thus, it did not directly address satisfaction in secondary relationships. People who do not see themselves as having a primary partner may not be fully represented in the data.

References:

  1. Haupert, M. L., Gesselman, A. N., Moors, A. C., Fisher, H. E., & Garcia, J. R. (2017). Prevalence of experiences with consensual nonmonogamous relationships: Findings from two national samples of single Americans. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 43(5), 424-440. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0092623X.2016.1178675
  2. Moore, P. (2016, October 3). Young Americans are less wedded to monogamy than their elders. YouGov. Retrieved from https://today.yougov.com/topics/lifestyle/articles-reports/2016/10/03/young-americans-less-wedded-monogamy
  3. Open relationships just as satisfying as monogamous ones, U of G study reveals. (2018, June 28). EurekAlert. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-06/uog-orj062818.php
  4. Wood, J., Desmarais, S., Burleigh, T., & Milhausen, R. (2018). Reasons for sex and relational outcomes in consensually nonmonogamous and monogamous relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(4), 632-654. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0265407517743082

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