Why Do People Choose Monogamy vs Consensually Non-Monogamous Relationships?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:

Jessica Wood, MSc PhD Candidate, Applied Social Psychology Department of Psychology University of Guelph

Jessica Wood

Jessica Wood, MSc
PhD Candidate, Applied Social Psychology
Department of Psychology
University of Guelph 

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: We are at time in history where we expect more from our romantic partners than at any point in our recent past (e.g., love, emotional and financial support, sexual excitement/fulfillment, friendship etc.). This can place pressure on relationships and make it difficult for each person to have their needs fulfilled. In consensually non-monogamous (CNM) relationships, sexual and emotional needs are dispersed among multiple partners, potentially decreasing pressures placed on a primary relationship. However, CNM relationships are stigmatized and often viewed as less stable or satisfying. In our study, we assessed the legitimacy of this perception by comparing relational outcomes among CNM and monogamous individuals. We also examined whether the motives a person reports for engaging in sex was important to how fulfilled a person was in the relationship, and how this was linked to relational outcomes (such as relationship and sexual satisfaction). That is, having sex for more intrinsic/autonomous motives (e.g., pleasure, intimacy, valuing sex) has been associated with higher relationship quality. In contrast, having sex for more extrinsic reasons (e.g., feeling pressured, wanting to manage feelings of guilt or shame), has been linked to lower relational quality.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings? 

Response: In contrast to the perceptions of CNM relationships as less satisfying, CNM and monogamous participants in this study reported no significant difference in their level of relationship and sexual satisfaction, suggesting that relational structure, in itself, is not a significant differentiator of relational outcomes.

Overall, consensually non-monogamous and monogamous participants engaged in sex for similar reasons, though CNM participants were more likely (on average) to report motives related to the enjoyment of sex itself, their own values regarding sex and relationships, and to satisfy their own sex drive.

Finally, for both monogamous and CNM participants, intrinsic sexual motives were significantly linked to relationship and sexual satisfaction and these associations were mediated by sexual need fulfillment. This means that people who had sex for reasons that were related to things like enjoyment, pleasure, being close to a partner or because they value sex, reported higher psychological need fulfillment in this sexual interaction, which was associated with greater relationship and sexual satisfaction with a (primary/committed) partner. 

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: A person’s motivations for engaging in sex appear to be more central to relational wellbeing than one’s relationship structure. When people feel in control of their sexual encounters and are engaging in sex because they value sex or want to experience pleasure and closeness, they report higher need fulfillment and thus higher satisfaction, regardless of whether they are in a monogamous or CNM partnership. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Future work that includes partner reports would be beneficial to understanding the interpersonal dynamics of romantic partnership and provide a fuller picture of the processes involved in CNM relationships. For example, including reports from both/all members of a relationship could inform us as to how a person’s motives for engaging in sex is associated with not only their own relational outcomes, but those of their partner’s(s’) as well.

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The current research also has implications for individuals in CNM communities. Popular assumptions of romantic relationships position CNM partnerships as less satisfying or less stable compared to monogamous relationships. In contrast to these perceptions, CNM and monogamous participants in our study scored no differently on their levels of relationship and sexual satisfaction. Furthermore, the CNM participants reported being relationally and sexually satisfied with their primary/committed partner. These findings verify what CNM researchers and advocates have previously emphasized: that for some, CNM relationships are a viable and fulfilling alternative to monogamy, and one of many approaches to encouraging personal growth and fulfillment.

Citation: 

Jessica Wood, Serge Desmarais, Tyler Burleigh, Robin Milhausen. Reasons for sex and relational outcomes in consensually nonmonogamous and monogamous relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2018; 35 (4): 632 DOI: 10.1177/0265407517743082 

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