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5 Facts about polyamory and consensual non-monogamy

Jul 12, 2019

Over the past few years there has been a concerted effort to normalize polygamous relationships. For example, as Brandon Showalter recently noted, last year the American Psychological Association quietly launched the “Non-Monogamy Task Force.”

This new group is tasked with promoting “awareness and inclusivity about consensual non-monogamy and diverse expressions of intimate relationships. These include but are not limited to: people who practice polyamory, open relationships, swinging, relationship anarchy and other types of ethical, non-monogamous relationships.”

The stated goal of the task force is to “generate research, create resources and advocate for the inclusion of consensual non-monogamous relationships in the following four areas: Basic and applied research; Education and training; Psychological practice; Public interest.”

Here are five facts you should know about polyamory and consensual non-monogamy:

1. Polyamory is a form of non-monogamy, an umbrella term for intimate romantic or sexual relationships that involve more than two people. Because this term includes relationships in which one partner is unaware the other is not monogamous (i.e., relationships in which one person is cheating or committing adultery), advocates of this form of non-dyadic structure often refer to their relationships as consensual non-monogamy (CNM) or ethical non-monogamy (ENM).

2. The range of consensual non-monogamous relationships includes: polyamory (multiple romantic/sexual partners), polygamy (one person married to multiple partners), group marriage (each person in the relationship is married to the others), open relationship/marriage (a committed or married couple that is not committed to sexual fidelity), polyfidelity (a relationship with multiple partners but that restricts sexual activity to within a certain group), monogamish (couples that are sexually polyamorous but remain “emotionally monogamous”), swinging (similar to open relationships, but conducted as an organized social activity, often involving some form of group sex; sometimes referred to as wife/husband swapping), triad (a polyamorous relationship of three people), and relationship anarchy (participants in the relationship are not bound by set rules or norms).

3. Nearly 1/5 of under-30s have engaged in sexual activity with someone else with the knowledge of their partner, according to a 2016 poll. Overall, 11% of Americans said they have had sexual contact with other people with the consent of their partner, while 19% have had sexual contact without their consent. Younger Americans are much more likely to report having had sexual contact with other people with the consent of their partners: 17% of under-45s say that they have, compared to only 3% of over-65s. However, the vast majority of Americans (68%) said they would “not be OK” with their romantic partner engaging in sexual activities with someone else.

4. Non-monogamy has long been a common practice in the LGBT community. A significant percentage of persons in same-sex sexual partnerships, including those who are in same-sex marriages, do not view monogamy or sexual exclusivity as part of the meaning of marriage. A study by the Center for HIV Educational Studies and Training, found that of gay and bisexual men that were partnered, 42% were in in non-monogamous relationships. Of those that were non-monogamous, 53% were in open relationships, and 47% were in “monogamish” relationships (i.e., couples that are sexually polyamorous but remain “emotionally monogamous”).

5. Attitudes toward polyamory depend significantly on religion. Of those who claim that religion is “very important” in their lives, 80% say that polyamory is morally wrong. But among people for whom religion is “not at all important,” a clear majority (58%) say that polyamory is morally acceptable. In this video, ERLC President Russell Moore discusses how a Christian should view this topic, why not to look toward human nature for the answer, and how the gospel points to fidelity.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter has an MBA from Marymount University and is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus. He and his wife, Misty, have one daughter. Read More