Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

June 1, 2019

"Estimate of Number of Non-Monogamous People in US." New updates.

Eli Sheff signing a book at a polycon
My last post was about guesses of how many people will be open or polyamorous in the future. Here's an update on the prevalence of polys today, from sociologist Elisabeth Sheff. She posted it a few days ago on her Psychology Today blogsite The Polyamorists Next Door, which she maintains with a steady stream of important and useful stuff.

Updated Estimate of Number of Non-Monogamous People in U.S.

In a previous blog [2014] I explained the challenges of estimating the number of polyamorous people, including who to count and how to count them. Since then, scholars have tackled these challenges and come up with some surprising results that document the number of people involved in consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships in the United States.

As I explain in Seven Forms of Non-Monogamy, consensual non-monogamies take a range of forms including swinging, polygamy, open relationships, polyamory, monogamish relationships, and relationship anarchy. ... Rubin and colleagues defined CNM as “any relationship agreement in which the partners openly agree to have more than one sexual or romantic relationship(s).”

Lifetime Experience

Using two separate samples based on the US Census, Haupert and colleagues found that fully one-fifth of the population in the United States (21.9% in the first sample and 21.2% in the second sample) has engaged in consensual non-monogamy at some point in their lives. The percent of the population reporting some experience with CNM remained remarkably stable across many categories such as age, race, social class, religion, region, education level, and political affiliation. ...

A different research team found similar results.... Rubin and colleagues found that men were slightly more likely than women to engage in CNM, and thought that might be due to the prevalence of CNM among gay men and/or lingering stigma from a sexual double standard that judges women more harshly than men for [reporting their] promiscuity.

In practical terms, that means — no matter where you live, how old you are, your race, or what kind of religious or political affiliations you have — at least one in five of your friends, neighbors, family members, or coworkers has tried swinging, had a threesome, or been in an open relationship of some sort.


More people try CNM at some point across their lifetime than are currently in a CNM relationship at any single point in time. Rubin and colleagues found that 4% to 5% of the population of the United States was currently involved in a CNM relationship. While that might sound like a small number of people, it is larger than the entire bisexual, lesbian, and gay population combined.

Probable Underestimate

Even though the number of people reporting current or lifetime experiences with consensual non-monogamies is considerably higher than anticipated, it is probably a significant underestimate. There are several reasons for this. ...

Read on (May 27, 2019).

Also: Ryan Witherspoon posted yesterday on the PolyResearchers list,

Nationally representative data from American samples indicates that 4% of relationships are open/non-monogamous in some way (Levine, Herbenick, Martinez, Fu, & Dodge, 2018), which matches the percentage found in a representative Canadian sample (Fairbrother, Hart, & Fairbrother, 2019).

Furthermore, multiple representative studies have found that approximately one in five adults report prior engagement in a consensually non-monogamous relationship (Fairbrother et al., 2019; Haupert, Gesselman, Moors, Fisher,
& Garcia, 2016).

Regarding LGB populations, the only nationally representative data to date indicates that 32% of gay men, 5% of lesbians, and 22% of bisexual identified people reported being in open relationships (Levine et al., 2018). Other, non-representative studies have found higher rates of engagement in consensual non-monogamy among LGB people. Regardless, it’s safe to say that prevalence of consensual non-monogamy is higher in LGB populations than among heterosexuals.

We currently lack enough data to say what proportions of these relationships are polyamorous vs. swinger vs. open, etc.


Fairbrother, N., Hart, T. A., & Fairbrother, M. (2019). Open Relationship Prevalence, Characteristics, and Correlates in a Nationally Representative Sample of Canadian Adults. Journal of Sex Research, 0 (00), 1–10.. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2019.1580667

Haupert, M., Gesselman, A., Moors, A., Fisher, H., & Garcia, J. (2016). Prevalence of Experiences with Consensual Non-monogamous Relationships: Findings from Two Nationally Representative Samples of Single Americans. Journal
of Sex & Marital Therapy, 0715
(May), 00–00.

Levine, E. C., Herbenick, D., Martinez, O., Fu, T. C., & Dodge, B. (2018). Open Relationships, Nonconsensual Nonmonogamy, and Monogamy Among U.S. Adults: Findings from the 2012 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 47 (5), 1439–1450.


Also in recent polyamory research news: Rhonda Balzarini (York University, Toronto) and colleagues recently published a report titled Eroticism Versus Nurturance: How Eroticism and Nurturance Differ in Polyamorous and Monogamous Relationships.

In polyspeak, that means NRE (new-relationship energy) versus ERE (established-relationship energy).

Here's a popular summary of their paper by Balzarini herself, on PsyPost:

People in polyamorous relationships diversify their need fulfillment across multiple partners

Andriy Petrenko

New research provides insight into why some people choose to have multiple romantic relationships at the same time. The findings suggest that this arrangement — known as polyamory or consensual non-monogamy — can help individuals have a greater set of their needs met.

Our new study, which has been published in Social Psychology, was the first to examine the roles that different partners within polyamorous relationships play in meeting a person’s needs for eroticism and nurturance.

Often, in relationships, the sexual intensity is high in the early stages — couples tend to have frequent sex and report high desire and passion. But as the relationship progresses, the sexual intensity tends to fade, while comfort, closeness, and intimacy tend to increase.

...In polyamorous relationships, where all parties agree that additional sexual or romantic relationships are permitted, partners may be more likely to have these needs met simultaneously, since they can diversify the fulfilment of their needs via multiple relationships.

The growing body of research on consensually non-monogamous relationships has found that polyamorous relationships can be as satisfying and intimate as monogamous relationships, but in my work, I want to understand the factors that are linked with satisfaction and intimacy in polyamorous relationships.

One of the unique aspects of polyamorous relationships is that couples can diversify sexual and relational need fulfillment across different partners, but we know little from a research perspective about how people do this. ... We recruited a large sample of individuals who were in monogamous (N = 2,183) and polyamorous (N = 1,168) relationships. ...

Our results suggest that people who are polyamorous and have multiple relationships experience greater nurturance with primary partners (compared to secondary and monogamous partners) and greater eroticism with secondary partners (compared to primary and monogamous partners). Furthermore, we found that eroticism and nurturance were in most instances associated with reports of closeness and sexual satisfaction — so experiencing those sexual steamy feelings for a partner, as well as experiencing emotional support, security, and care, seem to benefit our relationships.

One key takeaway is that people in polyamorous relationships do seem ... to experience the best of both worlds. ...

...We saw mixed results when testing how having needs met in one relationship was associated with satisfaction and closeness in the other relationship. For example, we found that when polyamorous individuals reported more eroticism with their secondary partner, they reported greater closeness with a primary partner. However, greater eroticism with a primary partner was associated with less closeness with the secondary partner.

Taken together, these findings suggest that although multiple relationship may help individuals meet their needs for eroticism and nurturance, experiences with one partner do not always enhance a concurrent relationship, though more research is needed to understand how having one’s needs met across multiple relationships is associated with intimacy and satisfaction in each relationship, as well as overall need fulfillment.

As with any study, there are several caveats and future directions that arise from this work. ...

The whole article (May 21, 2019).

Their research report in Social Psychology (online April 17).




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