The more the merrier? New study suggests polyamorists may have more satisfying relationships

Exploring how some relationship arrangements may or may not work.

Exploring how some relationship arrangements may or may not work.

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Could a non-monogamous relationship be more satisfying than a monogamous one? Even the concept of non-monogamous relationships might get some people's backs up. An exclusive partnership is so socially ingrained that another concept might even seem to go against our instincts, though a study into our past revealed that monogamy may have simply originally been a way to combat prehistoric STIs. Regardless of its origins, some researchers believe that, most people fall somewhere in the middle of a flexible monogamy spectrum. Similar ideas have been echoed by sex advice columnist Dan Savage, who believes most people are "monogamish", and that true monogamy can actually harm a relationship. Though the research is minimal (believed to be because of the stigma around non-monogamy keeps people from coming forward), a recent survey of 550 polyamorous Canadians (mainly residing in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.) revealed that many are living in fully-functioning non-monogamous relationships, including polyamorous co-parenting.

With more people coming forward to dispel the myths and misconceptions about non-monogamy, researchers are turning toward the possible benefits of this way of life. In fact, as a new study shows, those in polyamorous relationships might be more satisfied than those in monogamous ones.

The research, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, aimed to compare the levels of self-reported satisfaction (sexual and otherwise) between those in monogamous relationships and those in consensual non-monogamous relationships. 1,177 individuals in monogamous relationships were surveyed, along with 510 practicing consensual non-monogamy. Of those non-monogamous participants, 52% identified as polyamorous (having more than one sexual or romantic relationship simultaneously, with the consent and knowledge of all partners), 30% had open relationships (where there is a primary partnership between two people who may seek sexual relationships outside the partnership, under varying circumstances) and 18% identified as swingers (a primary relationship that permits outside sexual activity, often together, such as partner swapping). The survey asked participants about their sexual activity frequency, orgasm frequency, sexual satisfaction and overall satisfaction in their current relationship.

So, were consensual non-monogamists more satisfied than monogamists? Actually, both groups reported similar levels of overall relationship satisfaction. However, when it came to sexual satisfaction, the non-monogamists reported higher levels, as well as being more likely to have had sex with their primary relationship partner in the past two days and being more likely to have orgasmed during their most recent sexual encounter.

At first glance, non-monogamous individuals might logically have higher sexual satisfaction because of their access to more sexual partners, but in the data breakdown of the non-monogamous groups, a more unique picture emerges. Firstly, the swingers group similarly reflected the total average of the non-monogamous group data; they reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction, were more likely to have recently has sex and an orgasm, while being just as satisfied with their overall relationship as monogamists. The open relationship group actually reported similar numbers as monogamists in the sexual categories but were less satisfied than monogamists with their relationship overall. Finally, the polyamorous group, though they were more likely than the monogamous group to have had sex recently, were not more likely to have orgasmed despite reporting greater satisfaction both sexually and overall in their relationships.

As for why non-monogamists seem satisfied, it may all come down to free will and communication. Researchers hypothesized that non-monogamists may simply be more focused and/or skilled in attaining sexual satisfaction than monogamists. Non-monogamists may also have more ability to exercise their sexual free will and thus, would have less psychological reactance — a sense of threatened or reduced free will — than monogamists. No matter what shape your relationship takes, the key to a satisfying sex life is communication. By definition, non-monogamy could foster a greater ability to communicate, accept and act on different desires than monogamy.

While this is only the tip of the iceberg as far as beginning to understand the circumstances and consequences of different types of consensual non-monogamous relationships, hopefully these findings and others help to erode the perception and stigma of non-monogamy so it can begin to be seen as a healthy (and sometimes more satisfactory) alternative to the traditional relationship.