Monogamy has existed as the default relationship model for ... well, forever. It's the go-to gold standard and the so-called superior path to coupled bliss. With that said, there's an uptick in the interest in consensual non-monogamy. Google searches for the topic are on the rise. Shows like "You Me Her," "Unicornland" and "Polyamory: Married & Dating" explore what life is like beyond traditional monogamy. There's even a lite version of consensual non-monogamy known as "monogamish."
Research Busts the Age-Old Idea That Monogamy Is the More Satisfying Relationship Style
If it's feeling like non-monogamy is relatively common, that's because it is. Recently, New York Magazine reported a study of single Americans that found that 20% of respondents practiced some form of non-monogamy during the course of their lifetime. Although this relationship model is generally looked down on as less-than by mainstream society, as someone who practices non-monogamy, it's refreshing to see this demographic getting attention.
Those In Monogamous & Non-Monogamous Relationships Are Equally Happy
A new study by the University of Guelph revealed that people in open relationships are as happy as their coupled-up counterparts. "We found people in consensual, non-monogamous relationships experience the same levels of relationship satisfaction, psychological well-being, and sexual satisfaction as those in monogamous relationships," Jessica Wood, Ph.D. student and lead author of the study told Science Blog. "This debunks societal views of monogamy as being the ideal relationship structure."
I was monogamous during my formative dating years because it was the only dating model I knew. I kept multiple romantic and sexual relationships throughout most of my mid-to-late 20s although I didn't have the words to identify exactly what I was doing. When I did partake in monogamous relationships, I almost always ended up cheating on my partner. This didn't come from a place of contempt or disinterest. I cared deeply about my partners in every instance. The rub was my huge heart and high sex drive. I like frequency and variety. A singular partner was never able to fulfill all of my needs. I also have a massive capacity to love, one that's not limited by gender. I always felt limited by having to pick one penis, pussy or person.
Happiness Equality Is Found in Another Study, Too
Another study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships backs up the claim of equal sexual satisfaction between the two relationship types. The study divided the participants into two groups: monogamous and consensually non-monogamous, including those in open relationships, practicing polyamory, or swingers. For people who identify as being in an open relationship, the results were similarly aligned: both open relationships and monogamous relationships report equal levels of sexual satisfaction and had sex with the same frequency. However, those in open relationships reported orgasming in their last sexual encounter at a higher rate (83% versus 72%).
More People Are Participating in Open Relationships
More and more people are getting involved in open relationships. The University of Guelph study reported that between three and seven percent of people in North America are currently involved in a consensual non-monogamous relationship.
"It's more common than most people think," Jessica Wood told Science Blog. "We are at a point in social history where we are expecting a lot from our partners. We want to have sexual fulfillment and excitement but also emotional and financial support. Trying to fulfill all these needs can put pressure on relationships. To deal with this pressure, we are seeing some people look to consensually non-monogamous relationships."
Adapting a wholly non-monogamous and polyamorous lifestyle greatly improved my happiness and relationship satisfaction. There's incredible trust, respect and communication between my partners and I. I'm able to love whoever I want, however I want, and for as long as I want. My emotional and physical needs are met from multiple sources in a beautiful spectrum of ways. My life is rich and satisfying. I love the love and experience that being flexible brings. There's nothing lacking in my life and I'm damn grateful for it.
Still, there's a whole lot of stigma attached to consensually non-monogamous relationships. "They are perceived as immoral and less satisfying," Wood continued, "It's assumed that people in these types of relationships are having sex with everyone all the time. They are villainized and viewed as bad people in bad relationships, but that's not the case."
Many sociologists say humans were never meant to be coupled in 'til-death scenarios. As we live in a world where it's not uncommon to delay marriage and DIY our relationships according to our needs and values, more and more people are eschewing such societal expectations.
People are starting to recognize there are alternative ways ways to have happy, healthy and satisfying relationships. Monogamy isn't it for everyone. If monogamy is your thing, that's totally fine. It appears, though, that we're all experiencing sexual frequency and satisfaction regardless of whether we commit and couple up or scratch our sexual itch with multiple partners. The bottom line? Do what's right for you.
Ryn Pfeuffer is a versatile print and digital writer specializing in sex, lifestyle, and relationship topics. Over the past two decades, her work has appeared in more than 100 media outlets including Marie Claire, Playboy, Refinery29, The Globe and Mail, The Washington Post, WIRED, and Thrillist.
She adopted a pseudonym and was AVN’s (Adult Video Network) first female porn reviewer – while penning children’s books at the same time. More recently, she is the author of 101 Ways to Rock Online Dating (2019). She lives in Seattle with her rescue dog, Mimi. You can find her on Twitter @rynpfeuffer or IG @ryn_says