Consensual non-monogamy: Recent research roundup
The Inquisitive Mind, "making social psychology accessible," is a peer-reviewed, semi-popular online quarterly journal. Its editors say, "We'd like to think [it] is the highest-impact journal in social psychology."
The current issue presents a long article by four poly researchers summing up various, somewhat scattered findings. Pithy excerpts:
Consensual Non-Monogamy [CNM]: Table for more than two, please
By Amy Moors, William Chopik, Robin Edelstein & Terri Conley
...According to survey research conducted at the University of Michigan, approximately 4-5% of North American adults, when given the option to describe their relationship, indicate that they are engaged in consensual non-monogamy (CNM; e.g., swinging, open relationship, polyamory; Conley, Moors, Matsick, & Ziegler, 2013; Rubin, Moors, Matsick, Ziegler, & Conley, in press)....
Who is Open to CNM?
You might be thinking, is there a certain “type” of person who desires CNM?... Do people who avoid commitment and prefer casual relationships (known as avoidantly attached) prefer CNM? And, do people who experience extreme jealousy and constantly worry about their partner leaving them for someone else (known as anxiously attached) cringe at the thought of engaging in CNM?
...We found that... avoidant people report a greater willingness to engage in CNM relationships, but ultimately, people in CNM relationships are lower in avoidance. These findings suggest that people can exhibit aspects of attachment security (i.e., low levels of avoidance) without being sexually exclusive.
...People who seek out adventure and are drawn to experiences report that they would like to engage in CNM relationships. Conscientious people tend to hold more conventional attitudes, which might explain why they are less willing to engage in CNM.
...Some research suggests that gay men more frequently engage in CNM compared to other sociodemographic groups; however, estimates of gay males’ involvement in CNM ranges from 30% to 70%, so the exact prevalence is unclear (Bryant & Demian, 1994; Campbell, 2000; LaSala, 2005). In a recent study, we found that female sexual minorities desire CNM as much as male sexual minorities... illustrating that it is not just gay men who have interest in these types of relationships....
...People in CNM relationships actually report relatively high levels of trust, honesty, intimacy, and satisfaction, as well as relatively low levels of jealousy in their relationships (Barker, 2005; Bonello & Cross, 2010; Cole & Spaniard, 1974; de Visser & McDonald, 2007; Jenks, 1985; Kurdek, 1988; Ritchie & Barker, 2006). Thus, people in CNM relationships may be less likely to “keep score” of time spent together versus apart, and they actually enjoy the thought of their partner spending time with other people. In light of this, it seems that the assumed advantages of having one partner are, actually, not advantages at all when viewed in a broader range of relationship types.
...Infidelity in monogamous relationships increases the risk of sexually transmitted infections, because outside sexual encounters are kept secret and cheaters are less likely to use protective measures during sex (Conley, Moors, Ziegler, & Karathanasis, 2012). Yet, people overwhelmingly view monogamous relationships as disease-free and people perceive individuals engaged in CNM as more likely to spread sexual diseases (Conley, Moors, Matsick, et al., 2013).
...We found that sexually unfaithful individuals were less likely than individuals engaged in CNM to use condoms and other barriers during their extradyadic encounter, to tell their “monogamous” partner about the encounter, and to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (Conley, et al., 2012). Sexually unfaithful individuals were also more likely to make condom use mistakes (e.g., putting the condom on the wrong way) than individuals in CNM relationships during their most recent extradyadic sexual encounter (Conley, Moors, Ziegler, Matsick, & Rubin, 2013). Additionally, sexually unfaithful individuals were less likely to implement safer sex strategies with their “monogamous” partner than individuals in CNM relationships (thereby placing their ostensibly monogamous partner at risk)....
The More the Merrier?
Taken together, CNM relationships can be viable and successful alternatives to more traditional conceptions of monogamy. CNM relationships are characterized by an open dialogue and communication about including multiple romantic and/or sexual partners in one’s life.... CNM appears to carry unique benefits that are less common in monogamy, including sexual variety, large social networks, feelings of compersion (an emotion described as the opposite of jealousy), and personal growth (Schechinger & Moors, 2014). Moreover, individuals in CNM relationships report that they are happy, satisfied, committed, and in love (de Visser & McDonald, 2007; Jenks, 1985; Ritchie & Barker, 2006). However, CNM is certainly not without challenges, especially given the fear of stigmatization based one’s non-normative relationship (Moors, Matsick, Ziegler, Rubin, & Conley, 2013). Thus, potential “costs” and “benefits” to CNM should be considered on an individual and couple basis.
Given that the scientific study of CNM is an emerging body of scholarship, there is limited empirical evidence on how to best “open up” a monogamous relationship.... We encourage researchers to examine communication strategies, scheduling, and other relational aspects associated with making a transition from monogamous to consensual non-monogamous relationships....
Read the whole article (published in the issue dated June 2014), with further findings, references, and a large bibliography.