New research published in Frontiers in Psychology suggests that polyamory — a consensual arrangement that involves romantic and sexual relations with more than one person at a time — is not as unpopular as people might think. Still, the findings suggest that the practice remains stigmatized by many Americans.
Study authors Amy C. Moors and her team note that family and close relationships lie at the center of our social lives. In the media and in marriage and family research, monogamous relationships are seen as the most favorable type of romantic relationship. Despite this idea that monogamous relationships are superior, non-monogamous relationships are surprisingly common and might even be increasing in popularity.
Moors and her colleagues were interested to explore the popularity of one specific type of consensual non-monogamous relationship — polyamory. In contrast to open relationships or swinging relationships, polyamorous relationships embrace both romantic and sexual relations with more than one person at a time. In the first study of its kind, the researchers wanted to explore the prevalence of polyamorous relationships, the desire for these relationships, and the public’s opinion of them.
Moors and her colleagues analyzed data from a national survey of 3,438 single Americans. The surveys included 11 items related to previous polyamorous behavior, desire for a polyamorous relationship, and attitudes about polyamory.
The results revealed that around 11% of the sample had been in a polyamorous relationship at some point in time, and 17% showed some type of desire for this relationship. Of those who had tried polyamory, 30% said they would be involved in a polyamorous relationship again, 33% said they found the emotional components of polyamory too difficult to handle, and 21% said they were too possessive to cope with polyamory.
Overall, the results suggested that people from a variety of backgrounds engage in polyamory, with only a few sociodemographic factors being linked to the likelihood of engaging in this type of relationship. In line with previous research on non-monogamous relationships, men had a greater likelihood of desiring polyamory. Younger respondents as well as lesbian, gay, or bisexual respondents were also more likely to desire a polyamorous relationship.
When it came to attitudes toward people who engage in polyamory, younger people were more likely than older respondents to say they respected those who engage in polyamory. Democrats (compared to Republicans) and sexual minority groups (compared to heterosexuals) were also more likely to respect people who choose polyamorous relationships.
The authors note that while polyamory was relatively common among their sample (with 1 in 9 respondents having been in a polyamorous relationship and 1 in 6 reporting the desire for one), the findings suggest that this type of relationship remains stigmatized. Of those who said they did not want a polyamorous relationship, only 14% said they respected such a relationship in others.
Moors and colleagues say that previous research suggests that polyamorous relationships can be healthy, and bonds between partners may even be especially secure. “These studies suggest that a relationship with one partner tends to function independently of a relationship with another partner as both relationships were considered fulfilling, satisfying, and secure (essentially without influencing each other),” the researchers say, noting that it would be interesting for future studies to explore why some do well in polyamorous relationships while others find these arrangements too emotionally intense or jealousy-inducing.
The study, “Desire, Familiarity, and Engagement in Polyamory: Results From a National Sample of Single Adults in the United States”, was authored by Amy C. Moors, Amanda N. Gesselman, and Justin R. Garcia.