What do people think about consensually nonmonogamous (CNM) relationships and people, and what are CNM relationships and people really like? This presentation is a summary of the social science research examining these questions.
Presented by Dr Zhana Vrangalova at Catalyst Con East 2015.
Swinging: – My partner and I sometimes engage in sex with other people outside of our relationship and we typically have these encounters at parties or in other social settings. We consider these encounters to be an enjoyable pastime that we can participate in as a couple. The relationships we have outside of our primary relationship are intended to be sexual and not long-term romantic or emotional involvement. We might refer to ourselves as swingers or in the lifestyle. We understand that our relationship is not monogamous and have come to a mutual agreement to practice consensual non-monogamy.
Poly: My partner(s) and I see ourselves as people who have close emotional, romantic and sexual relationships with more than one person. All of my partners understand that our relationship(s) are not monogamous. That is, all relationship partners have agreed to be non-monogamous. We think it is important that any relationships we have are not just sexual, but also romantic /emotional. We might refer to ourselves as engaging in polyamory or polyfidelity. Each of the relationship configurations below would be consistent with this relationship style (though others are of course possible): A committed couple has loving relationships with one or more people outside of the primary relationship. Multiple relationships partners are equally attached
Among 40-44yo US people (Mosher et al 2005), ~10% men & 20% women have had only 1 lifetime sex partner ~50% 1st marriages end in divorce Infidelity is #1 reason for divorce in women (25%) and #2 in men (16%) after incompatible (Amato & Previti, 2003) Amato & Previti, 2003 – 17-yr longitudinal study of 2000+ married couples 1980 representative sample, 1997 last follow-up. 208 ppl final sample who divorced. Open-ended Q of “What do you think caused the divorce?”
Cheating happens in: Up to 75% of marriages (Thompson, 1983) Up to 75% of college students’ committed relationships (McAnulty & Brineman, 2007) 70% people report at least 1 infidelity by partner (Harris, 2002) College women: g., one in four females acknowledge infidelity, one in eight admit having sex with two or more males in a 24-hour period, and one in 12 report involvement in one or more sexual threesomes with two males (Gallop, Burch.. 2006) Semen displacement as a sperm competition strategy. Gordon G. Gallup, Rebecca L. Burch & Tracy J. Berene Mitchell Human Nature 17 (3):253-264 (2006) Joyal et al., 2014 – unusual sexual fantasies
Qs sent to all GL Vermont couples forming civil unions during first year of legislation 2000-2001, their LG same-sex friends not in civil unions, and their hetero siblings in hetero marriages Among online general population: 4-5% (~2 studies since 2010) Among gay couples: 30-75% (~10 studies since 2004)
Other studies from 2004-2014
X% of women and x% of men said they would remain monogamous if they lived in a society where non monogamy was the norm.
Results of Chi Squared test showed men were significantly more likely to say “no” and significantly less likely to say “yes” than women. (This is the same with the new numbers) 106 Men and 347 women – Total = 453
recruited people through Facebook and Craigslist—a smaller and older sample this time (132 participants with a mean age of 35)—and had them read a description of a couple (Sara and Dan) who’ve been together for five years, enjoy each other’s company, and hope to get married some day. But one half of participants also read that Sara and Dan “have been monogamous for their entire relationship, are finding themselves to be happy with this arrangement, and plan to continue to be monogamous," while the other half read that “they were monogamous for the first four years of their relationship, then, a year ago, both mutually agreed that it would be okay if they have other sexual partners. For about a year, they have been engaging in relationships with other partners. They are finding themselves happy with this arrangement and plan to continue to be nonmonogamous.” The participants then rated Dan and Sara’s relationship on a number of characteristics.
Older studies of stigma
Gilmartin (1975) – 50% nonswingers would mind if an “otherwise unobjectionable swinging couple moved into their neighborhoods”. Jenks (1985b) – Compared perceptions of swingers by 100+ nonswingers to responses by 300 swingers Swingers perceived as using alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs far more than swingers themselves indicated. 50% swingers seen as in need of psychological counseling; only 26% of swingers had undergone counseling
Across all samples: Women & Men Undegrads & Non-college students Hetero, LG, & Bi All ethnic groups Those in monogamous & CNM relationships Across all characteristics: For arbitrary qualities (multivitamin, flossing, dog walking) Personality characteristics (successful, caring…) Sexual satisfaction For specific Mono > CNM relationships: Lesbian and gay couple Male & Female target of the couple But CNM gay & lesbian couples viewed slightly more positively than hetero CNM couples
- Lack of sexual desire/arousal is one of most common reasons for women in LTR to seek sex & marriage therapy (~30% in therapy can get some milder version of old strong passion back) - 35 - 40% of partnered women & 15% of partnered men have low desire - HSDD, sexual distress, dissatisfaction, pain, lubrication, arousal & orgasm problems increase w/ relationship length, esp in women (Klusmann, 2002; Witting et al., 2008) even when controlling for age & other confounds
36% of 2,207 partnered (3 months+) US women age 30-70 had low desire (West et al., 2008) 39% of 31,581 US women age 18-102 had low desire; 22% associated distress 15% of UK men (NATSAL-3) had low sexual desire (Mitchell et al., 2013) Klusmann 2002: 1,865 19-32 yo German students Witting 2008: 6,601 Finnish female twins ages 18-33yo
“About how often did you have sex [as self-defined by the respondent] during the last 12 months?” Responses were coded as, 0 D “not at all,” 1 D “once or twice,” 2 D “once per month,” 3 D “23 times per month,” 4 D “weekly, 5 D “23 times per week,” 6 D “four or more times per week.”
In national samples, 25% women & 9% men had had no orgasms in the past year (Laumann et al., 1994) Sexual satisfaction 4.17 men; 4.39 women on 1 to 5 scale
Fernandes, 2009: 1,376 swingers online Marital satisfaction: 84.4 men; 86.8 women, on 0 to 100 scale (above 70 is indicative of satisfaction)
Fleckenstein & Cox, 2014 – healthier and happier adults 55+ from a subsample of 4,000
Moors et al., 2014 – 130 CNM (18-70yo) vs. 1,000 mono (18-85yo) No diff in anxious attachment CNM < Mono avoidant attachment Morrison et al., 2013 – 390 people online No diff in attachment Intimacy: Polyamorous > Monoamorous Trust & Passionate love: No difference Kurdek & Schmitt, 1986 (gay couples) No diff in Psych adjustment (BSI total & all subscales) Wagner et al., 2000 – 63 gay couples mixed HIV status No diff in depression, anxiety, hostility, hopelesness Mono & CNM > Secretive & Partial knowledge in relationship satisfaction & functioning LaSala 2004 – 121 gay male couples Really monogamous = CNM > Cheaters on Dyadic adjustment overall or any subscales
Hosking, 2013, 229 Australian Gay men Mono men slightly more likely to break an agreement Breaking a rule (regardless of agreement type) linked to lower passion, intimacy, commitment & satisfaction
Very few people are lifelong monogamists: 10% men & 20% women Couples often have sex before agreeing to monogamy & before/without getting tested for STIs 62% stopped using condoms within two months as a sign of “trust, commitment, and exclusivity” 64% had not gotten tested to find out their sexual health status Cheating is common: Up to 75% http://www.mtv.com/news/1927028/trojan-condom-survey/ Trojan recently surveyed 500 men and 500 women between 18 and 34, two-thirds of them single and a third in relationships, about their condom use and attitudes. Of the people in relationships who don’t use condoms (62% of whom stopped using them within two months as a sign of “trust, commitment, and exclusivity”), 64% hadn’t been to a doctor or clinic to find out their sexual health status. You can only build up so much “trust” in a couple months, but you can’t lie your way out of latex.
Eight hundred one individuals were recruited through a variety of Web sites to participate in an anonymous online study (e.g., volunteer sections of classified ads such as http://craigslist.org) as well as listservs and web pages specifically related to NN groups (e.g., swing_cafe, http://openmarriagesnetwork.com, http://euphoria4life.com).
Lehmiller et al (in prep): Frequency of condom use during intercourse & oral sex with primary and secondary partners (1-9 scale, ranging from never to every time). Replicated Conley’s findings for condom use frequency of mono vs. CNM.
25% GSS & 78% of CNM sample ever had an HIV test Lehmiller et al (in prep)
556 participants in relationships recruited online for a study of “attitudes toward sexual relationships” 351 monogamous, 205 CNM Mean age of 26.69 (SD = 9.83), 70% female, 69% White, 78% heterosexual The CNM sample was significantly more likely to be male, non-White, and non-heterosexual than the monogamous sample
Assuming best estimates for: current prevalence of HIV in the US (1 in 300), infectivity of HIV per single vaginal sex act with an HIV+ person (1 in a 1000), condom efficiency of 90%, frequency of sex in long-term relationship 2/week, It is SAFER to have condom-protected vaginal one-night stands with 3,800 different people of unknown HIV status than to have unprotected vaginal sex with a single long-term partner of 5 years of unknown status (total of 480 sex acts) Pinkerton & Abramson, 1993 0.0011440956=1-(1-.003*.0001)^n 0.0011440956=1- 0.9999997^n 0.9988559044=0.9999997^n Complete monogamy: P = π[1 – (1- α)^n] Complete promiscuity P = 1 – (1 – πα)^n
Infidelity is bad for kids: Children whose parents’ relationship dissolved as a result of infidelity tend to have insecure attachment styles (Platt, Nalbone, Casanova, & Wetchler, 2008; Walker & Ehrenberg, 1998), Children whose parents commit infidelity are more likely to grow up to cheat on partners themselves (Carnes, 1983). Is it extra-dyadic sex that’s harmful or breach of trust and parental conflict over it? Swingers vs. Poly
Communes: Johnston et al. (1973) - Observed child rearing at 20 intentional communities in OR, WA, & BC: 74 children ages 3 weeks to 14 yrs. Johnston et al., 1973 Observed child rearing at 20 intentional communities in OR, WA, & BC: 74 children ages 3 weeks to 14 yrs The kids were alright: high maturity, self-confidence, self-reliance, coping, social skills, cooperation, Intellectual skills: high practical and varied traditional Low competition & varied competence motivation Early sexual experimentation, comfort/contact w/ nudity Bedouins: Hamdan, Auerbach, & Apter (2009). Polygamy and mental health of adolescents. 406 (53% from polygamous marriages) 11-18yo students. No difference in competence, behavioral problems, anxiety and depression.
Children of open marriages: Parental disclosure and perspectives. Watson, James; Watson, Mary A. Alternative Lifestyles, Vol 5(1), 1982, 54-62. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF01083286 Studied parents in open relationships and their disclosures of information to their children. 71 adults, half of whom had children, responded to questions concerning their open relationships and their children's awareness of and involvement in these open relationships. 75% of the Ss wanted their children to be aware of their life-style. However, only 21% of the Ss fully informed their children as to their involvements
Jordan - Polygamy and its impact on the upbringing of children: A Jordanian perspective. Khasawneh, Omar M.; Hijazi, Abdul Hakeem Yacin; Salman, Nassmat Hassan Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Vol 42(4), 2011, 563-577
Sheff, 2010 – 71 Poly parents (89% White, 88% some college) Benefits (perceived by parents): less time in day care because of the flexibility of having multiple parental figures involved in their lives. Greater diversity of interests available from adult figures helped children foster a wider variety of hobbies and skills. Children were being raised in a sex-positive environment and that the parenting situation allowed children to see their parents as real people, thus promoting honesty between children and parents Drawbacks (perceived by parents): Discomfort of having partnerships between adults dissolve and the resulting emotional trauma for children who may have been very attached to a departing partner. Social stigma in schools etc.
Goldfeder & Sheff (2013). C HI LDREN O F PO L Y A M OROUS F A MI L I ES: A F IRST E MPIRIC A L L O O K. LSD Journal, 5, 150. Interviews w/ kids of poly parents ages 5-18 Articulate, thoughtful, intelligent, & secure in relationships w/ parents. Younger kids not aware of being in a different living environment, felt loved, safe, and secure as a result of multiple parental figures. Utility more obvious when a child with special needs Older children more aware of being in an “unusual” family structure but did not find this problematic. Not questioned by school officials or other students about multiple parental figures - so many peers from monogamous families have stepfamilies (or romantic partners of unmarried parents). Advantages of larger number of parental resources available to them, help with homework or transportation. Children becoming attached to partners who then leave after breakup not major concern for the kids: Parents’ former partners often stayed involved in their lives even Some pain at losing the friendship of adults, but no worse than for platonic friends of parents
In a paper (link is external)just published online in Psychology & Sexuality, researchers fromSouthwestern University(link is external) set out to see whether people’s attitudes towards polyamory and their interest in trying it out would change if they were provided with different kinds of information. They recruited 196 U.S. citizens (ages 18 to 79, mean = 33; 80 percent white, 64 percent in committed relationships) using Mechanical Turk, an online marketplace that solicits and pays participants for completing online tasks, such as surveys. Then they randomly assigned participants to one of three groups: The Standard Definition group received a short definition of polyamory: “Polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.” The Elaborate Definition group received this short definition plus a more detailed elaboration that distinguished polyamory from other forms of consensual monogamy (swinging and open relationships) and nonconsensual monogamy (i.e., cheating), and noted that polyamorists often engage in typical relationship behaviors, including raising children and forming family units. The Critical Examination group received the standard, short definition of polyamory, and was then asked to consider the advantages and limitations of monogamy based on their own experiences in romantic relationships.
There was one set of seven questions that asked about their general attitudes toward polyamory and polyamorists, such as whether they thought polyamory was harmful to children, successful in the long term, spreading sexually transmitted infections, or deserving of the same legal rights as married couples. Another set of five questions asked about participants' own interest in trying out polyamory, including whether they found the idea intriguing, would be open to it, would consider discussing it with their partners, or would be upset if their partner brought it up. For both scales, the responses could range from one (strongly disagree) to seven (strongly agree), with higher ratings indicative of greater approval and interest.
Myths & realities of cnm catalyst con east 2015_slideshare
MYTHS AND REALITIES OF
WHAT SCIENCE KNOWS SO FAR
Zhana Vrangalova, PhD
New York University
How (non)monogamous are humans?
What do people think of CNM?
What is CNM really like:
Psychological, Physical, & Relationship Wellbeing
Sexual (v. social or marital) monogamy:
CDC (2009): “Mutual monogamy means that you agree
to be sexually active with only one person, and that
person has agreed to be sexually active only with you.”
CNM: Consensual / Ethical / Open / Negotiated
Nonmonogamy: Committed relationships with non-
secret agreements to engage in sexual and/or
romantic relationships with others
LIFE LONG SEXUAL
MONOGAMY IS RARE
Cross-cultural marital patterns
(1231 societies in Ethnographic Atlas)
15% – monogamous
37% – occasional polygyny
48% – frequent polygyny
0.3% – polyandry
Up to 75% of people
Few lifelong monogamists
40-44yo: 10% men & 20% women
College women (‘06): 13% sex w/ 2 men in 24 hrs & 8%
Fantasies (‘14): Women Men
Sex w/ 2 men 57% 16%
Sex w/ 2 women 37% 85%
Sex w/ 4+ ppl 31% 45%
SO ARE ALL PEOPLE EQUALLY
Hamilton et al, in preparation
PERFECT MONOGAMY > NONMONOGAMY
1. Agree to monogamy before engaging in any genital
2. Wait several months for any possible past diseases
3. Receive a full battery of STI tests; and
4. After STI tests are negative (or STIs are
treated/managed), be sexually monogamous;
5. Never have another sexual partner.
BUT, Real Life Monogamy Is Imperfect!
CNM PEOPLE PRACTICE SAFE-SEX MORE
CONSISTENTLY THAN CHEATERS
CNM PEOPLE USE CONDOMS MORE CORRECTLY
CNM PEOPLE DO NOT HAVE MORE STIS
Lehmiller et al., in preparation – cannot share
RESPONSIBLE PROMISCUITY VS.
A hypothetical example
A. Person A - Typical monogamy:
one long-term partner of 5 years
of unknown HIV status
unprotected vaginal sex
have sex 2/week (total of 480 sex acts).
B. Person B - Responsible promiscuity:
only one-night stands
condom-protected vaginal one-night stands
with partners of unknown HIV status
How many different partners before B reaches A’s
likelihood of getting HIV?
INFIDELITY IS BAD FOR KIDS
Cheat on partners themselves
Is it extra-dyadic sex that’s harmful or the breach of trust
and parental conflict over it?
Sources of evidence:
Polygamous marriages cross-culturally
Arab Bedouins in Israel; Nigeria; Xhosa; UAE; Jordan
Communal Child Rearing in the 70’s
U.S. swinger parents today
U.S. poly parents today
POLY PARENTS RAISING KIDS TODAY
Benefits (perceived by parents):
Pooled financial resources
More attention to kids (e.g. less time in day care)
Sex-positive environment promoting honesty & intimacy
Diversity of interests, hobbies, role models
More personal free time for parents
Drawbacks (perceived by parents):
Kids become attached to partners who leave
Social stigma in schools
THE KIDS SEEM TO BE ALRIGHT
Sheff, 2013, interviews w/ kids of poly parents ages 5-18:
Articulate, thoughtful, intelligent & securely attached.
Younger kids not aware of being in a different living
environment; felt loved, safe, and secure.
Older children aware “unusual” family structure but didn’t
find this problematic – no stigma, more logistical help.
Children becoming attached to partners who then leave
after breakup not major concern for the kids.
SO, IS REAL-LIFE MONOGAMY BETTER THAN
Social Stigma - YES
Sexual Satisfaction – NO
Sexual Health – NO
Relationship Quality - NO
Psychological & Physical Health - NO
The Children – (Probably) NO
But much more research is needed!
HOW DO YOU MAKE PEOPLE MORE
ACCEPTING OF CNM?
196 U.S. citizens (ages 18 to 79, mean = 33;
80% white, 64% in committed relationships)
STAY IN TOUCH
Strictly Casual Blog:
The Casual Sex Project: http://thecasualsexproject.com/