Non-monogamy: The Science Behind "The More The Merrier"

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Non-monogamy, though not a new concept, is a lifestyle that is quickly on the rise. Consensual non-monogamy (CNM), also known as ethical non-monogamy, is when “all partners give explicit consent to engage in romantic, intimate, and/or sexual relationships with multiple people.” Around 1 in 5 of single adults in the United States have participated in some form of CNM at least once according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. Given that these numbers were from 6 years ago, it’s not presumptuous to think that they have changed since then, as there is greater recognition and acceptance of CNM. We at Marriage Pact address this important relationship dimension through the question “I’m open to being in a non-monogamous relationship”. An average of 64% of people respond 1 out of 7 (AKA they are not open to it). This suggests that 36% of respondents are either somewhat or completely open to the idea of participating in a non-monogamous relationship. 

There is a growing body of literature that supports CNM as a viable alternative to monogamy. Some people report participating in CNM as a way to fulfill various unmet needs (emotional, sexual, etc.) in a relationship, though they may maintain one primary partner. For example, their primary partner may fufill emotional needs, but additonal partners may meet their sexual needs. Therefore, with having all their needs met, consensual non-monogamists may have a more satisfying experience than if they were pursuing a monogamous relationship.

There is evidence that people in CNM relationships report high relationship satisfaction. At the least, relationship satisfaction is on par with monogamists. When it comes to relationship stability or the mental health of consensual non-monogamists, there is no conclusive evidence to support the idea that they are significantly different from monogamists. 

The question remains– why do people gravitate towards it? Many report that it’s because it feels natural to them and that they feel a strong desire for it. They have either participated in it from the beginning or have tried out monogamy and it didn’t work out for them. This suggests that some people have a stronger tendency to be non-monogamous than others, and that this is the relationship that works best for them and their lifestyle.

This is an emerging field of research and relationship scientists are still in the process of understanding the nuances of CNM relationships. However, any attempts to claim whether or not monogamy or non-monogamy is “better” are fruitless, as it is an individual choice that changes from person to person.