6 Things That Draw People to Consensual Nonmonogamy

6 Things That Draw People to Consensual Nonmonogamy

Wanting an open relationship is usually about far more than just sex.

  • Consensually nonmonogamous relationships are common, with about 1 in 5 people having been in one before.
  • Many see these relationships as being only about sex, or as being driven by sexual and/or relationship dissatisfaction.
  • New research identifies at least six distinct reasons for pursuing consensual nonmonogamy, with most people reporting more than one motivation.
  • Besides sex, these relationships are often driven by a desire for psychological fulfillment and to be one’s authentic self.

Consensual nonmonogamy is a relationship style in which all partners openly agree to the possibility of having more than one sexual and/or romantic relationship at a time. These relationships are common, with about 1 in 5 North American adults saying they’ve been in some type of sexually open relationship before.

At the same time, however, these relationships are also frequently stigmatized and widely misunderstood. For example, a common stereotype of consensually nonmonogamous relationships is that they are only about sex, or that greater sexual opportunity is the primary thing that draws people to them. Likewise, many see these relationships as being rooted in problems, such that people who open their relationships tend to do so because they are inherently unhappy.

However, the reality is that people can be drawn to consensual nonmonogamy for a very diverse set of reasons. In fact, research has identified at least six distinct motives.

In a recent study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers surveyed 540 people who were currently in consensually nonmonogamous relationships. Participants were age 34 on average and most were from North America. The average number of current partners reported was two, although some reported up to 11.

The key question participants were asked was as follows: “Please tell us about your reasons for participating in a multipartnered/consensually non-monogamous relationship.”

Participants could write as much or as little as they wanted in response—and the researchers then coded all responses for themes.

The 6 Reasons People Pursue Consensual Nonmonogamy

The results generated six broad, interconnected themes. Each is described below with brief descriptions in the words of the study’s authors in italics:

1. Autonomy

“It was important to participants to feel as if they had control over their own bodies and the ways that they interacted and connected with others. Having sexual and relational autonomy appeared to foster independence.”article continues after advertisement

Essentially, this theme centered around the idea of doing what felt most natural to the individual and being one’s authentic self.

2. Belief Systems

“These beliefs reflected a tension between the constraints of monogamy and the possibilities offered by CNM as well as ideas about how personal and interpersonal needs should be fulfilled.”

Put another way, persons in multi-partner relationships tended to see monogamy as restrictive and potentially harmful to one’s well-being, with open relationships offering the ability to grow and explore the self.

Another common belief system involved the idea that it is difficult to have one partner who meets all of your needs, sexually and emotionally.

3. Relationality

“Participants also conveyed that CNM relationships afforded them the ability to develop and maintain friendships, build community, and create their own families. CNM was also a way to meet a partner’s needs, to develop connection, and nourish a current partnership. Participants explained that CNM allowed them to engage in interpersonal relationships in ways that reflected their ethics and allowed for relational integrity.”

In other words, this theme was about being part of a supportive community and having the opportunity to build more connections with others—connections that are good for one’s psychological well-being and that strengthen all of their relationships. Many participants also talked about how this kind of relationship allows them to meet their needs with integrity—without having to hide things from a partner or engage in deception.

4. Sexuality

“Three subthemes capture how CNM was viewed as a relational structure that provided participants with the opportunity to explore their sexual identities and expressions, experience variety, novelty, and excitement, and manage sexual discrepancies in their partnership(s).”

Put another way, participants felt that multi-partner relationships allowed the opportunity to explore queer and kink identities, offer more sexual fun and adventure and provide avenues for dealing with discrepant sexual desires/interests in relationships.

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