New research provides evidence that several developmental features of emerging adulthood are associated with the willingness to engage in consensually nonmonogamous relationships. The findings have been published in the scientific journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
In consensually nonmonogamous relationships, (including but not limited to polyamorous relationships and swinging) partners agree to engage in sexual or romantic relationships with other people. Some research has indicated that there is growing interest in these types of relationships, but little is known about how the developmental period of emerging adulthood influences the willingness to engage in consensually nonmonogamy.
“I am interested in this topic for a number of reasons. First, I am intrigued by the many sexual and relationship experiences and opportunities available to contemporary youth and young adults,” said study author Spencer B. Olmstead, an associate professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
“Consensual nonmonogamy is one relationship orientation that has not, as of yet, been studied specifically among young adults. Although a wealth of research exists with regards to both committed and casual relationships among young adults, emerging adulthood seems like an important life course stage to begin identifying the thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors that may increase one’s willingness and actual involvement in a consensually nonmonogamous relationship.”
For the new study, the researchers surveyed 792 participants (ages 18–25) residing in the United States regarding their perceptions of the developmental features of emerging adulthood. The participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed that this period of their life was a “time of possibilities” (experimentation), a “time of finding out who you are” (identity exploration), a “time of confusion” (instability), a “time of personal freedom” (self-focus), and a “time of feeling adult in some ways but not others” (feeling in between). They also reported their willingness to engage in various forms of consensual nonmonogamy, such as “[taking] on a third partner to join you in your relationship on equal terms.”
Olmstead and his colleagues found that those who agreed more that emerging adulthood was a period of identity exploration tended to be less willing to engage in consensual nonmonogamy, while those who agreed more that emerging adulthood was a time of experimentation and “of feeling in between” tended to be more willing. Perceiving emerging adulthood as a time of instability or as a period of self-focus was unrelated to the willingness to engage in consensual nonmonogamy.
“One of the main take away messages from this article is that young adults perceive this period in their lives from a number of vantage points,” Olmstead told PsyPost. “Some of these self-perceptions increase one’s willingness to engage in consensual nonmonogamy whereas others may reduce such willingness. These various features and perceptions highlight the heterogeneity of emerging adults, and when it comes to relationship orientations these self-perceptions matter.”
The researchers also found that men, non-heterosexuals, those who were more interested in sexual exploration, those who were more accepting of casual sex, and those who were not attending college tended to be more willing to engage in consensual nonmonogamy. Importantly, however, the findings held even after controlling for these variables.
But the study, like all research, includes some caveats.
“It is important to keep in mind that this sample of participants is not a representative sample of all emerging adults, and that the main focus was on willingness to engage, rather than actual involvement in consensual nonmonogamy,” Olmstead said. “Also, participants reported on general perceptions of each of the five measured developmental features, and so future studies will want to examine more closely the perceptions specific to relationships and sex, as these measures may explain more of the variance in the outcome variable.”
“This study looked primarily at those in the period of emerging adulthood and those who were among the millennial generation,” Olmstead added. “Those considered to be GenZ may have very different attitudes, perceptions, and openness to a variety of relationship orientations and sexual experiences, including consensual nonmonogamy.”
“Thus, it will be important in future studies to collect a representative sample, that includes a variety of generations to draw comparisons, and to collect data from participants over multiple time points to get a better understanding of willingness to engage in consensual nonmonogamy among emerging adults.”
The study, “Are the Developmental Features of Emerging Adulthood Associated with Willingness to Engage in Consensually Nonmonogamous Relationships?“, was authored by Spencer B. Olmstead and Kristin M. Anders.