Polyamory Is More Common Than You Think, One in Nine Americans Have Tried It

One in nine Americans have been in a polyamorous relationship, and one in six would like to try one, a study has revealed.

Polyamory is a type of relationship where people have multiple romantic and sexual partners. It differs from cheating because each person is aware of and consents to the arrangement. It is also different to swinging and open relationships, which often involve limited amounts of emotional intimacy and romantic love with others, according to the authors of the study published recently in Frontiers in Psychology.

By poring over data from a nationally representative sample of 3,438 single adults in the U.S. from a range of backgrounds, researchers found one in six (16.8 percent) respondents wanted to be polyamorous, one in nine (10.7 percent) have been polyamorous at some point in their lives, and approximately one in 15 (6.5 percent) said they knew someone who was or is polyamorous.

That means around the same number of Americans want to be polygamous as want to move to another country, and as many have been polyamorous as people hold a graduate degree in the U.S., the authors said citing past research.

Of those who had been polyamorous, 30.4 percent said they would try it again, while over a fifth (21.1 percent) said they were "too possessive to cope," and 32.8 percent said the emotional side of the arrangement was too tricky to navigate.

Although the team found some patterns in who wanted to try this lifestyle, no particular social group was overwhelmingly more likely to be polyamorous than another, even when political slant, income, religion, location, and race and ethnicity were taken into account.

People who did not identify as straight, as well as men, and young adults were more likely to want to be polyamorous, when compared with straight people, women, and older people, according to the study.

And men who were less educated than others were more likely to have had a polyamorous relationship when compared with women, and those who were more highly educated.

Christian Klesse, a reader in sociology at the Department of Sociology at the U.K.'s Manchester Metropolitan University has studied consensual non-monogamy and polyamory for many years. He was not involved in the research but he told Newsweek that this data calls into questions the widely held assumption among polyamory researchers that it is often practiced by white people of higher social class status.

Klesse said that in his own research, he has explained difference in the experience of non-monogamous relationships across genders, by critiquing a dominant culture where heterosexual and patriarchal relationships are favored. Klesse said such a culture is more likely to be critical of women who are not monogamous, and clamps down on their erotic agency.

The authors of the study went on to note that most relationship research in the past has focused on monogamous relationships, and while most people are monogamous, there have been "remarkable transformations" in what relationships look like in recent decades.

Existing research suggests polyamorous relationships may be more common than the average person might think, the authors said. Citing past studies, they also said that there is a misconception that monogamous relationships have less problems with jealousy and are less challenging than those involving multiple people, stressing there was not enough evidence to confirm this.

Newsweek recently published a personal essay by a person who has had three, long-term polyamorous relationships, and who said she never experienced jealousy.

"With polyamory, like with any relationship, you have to have very clear boundaries and clear communication," she said.

The study also shed light on attitudes towards polyamory among those who don't practice it, with one in seven (14.2 percent) saying they respected people who were, meaning most people were judgmental, the authors said.

The authors also acknowledged the study had limitations, including that it only took in information from one time period.

Victoria Brooks, a U.K.-based researcher on sexual ethics at the University of Westminster who was not involved in the study, told Newsweek the paper shows "there is more openness to different relationship structures than we might have assumed" and could be useful for combating the stigma people in different types of relationships may face.

Asked what reader should take away from the study, Brooks said: "To keep an open mind. Polyamory won't be for everyone, and that's perfectly OK, but as this study shows, lots of people are thinking about it, and lots of people are practicing it.

"Rather than judge, it would be wonderful to take the opportunity to learn more about ourselves and our systems; what works and for who and why, some of the benefits, as well as some of the common difficulties, pleasures as well as harms. If we don't talk about it and de-stigmatize it, then we can't learn and understand, and do better by ourselves and our partners."

This article has been updated with comment from Christian Klesse.

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A stock image shows a group of people holding each other. Polyamory may be more common than some people expect, according to experts. Getty Images