Consensual Non-Monogamy — it’s more popular than you think

The scoop on consensual non-monogamy and why it works for some couples


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Good communication key as partners delineate relationship boundaries

In my line of work, I’m privy to an often unsolicited glimpse into the intimate lives of couples from all walks of life. From chatty Uber drivers to long-lost childhood friends, it’s not uncommon for people to open up as soon as they find out what I do for a living.

One of the trends I’ve observed over the past 10 years is an increase in consensual non-monogamy (CNM). Data from two representative samples of 8,718 adults suggest that 21 per cent have been in some form of a CNM relationship. And although non-monogamy has always existed in multiple forms (e.g., cheating), it seems that consensual non-monogamy may be on the rise. 

Some, like Mandy* from Forest Hill, say CNM is a more realistic option given the divorce, infidelity and marital dissatisfaction rates. 

“I didn’t want to be another statistic. After watching my parents and so many of their friends and siblings, I knew there had to be another way.”

Others discovered CNM by chance and were pleasantly surprised. 

“It had nothing to do with our upbringing,” says Yorkville resident Petra*. “My parents have been happily married for fiftysomething years. But monogamy just isn’t the best fit for us. We opened up 12 years ago after talking to some new friends we met in France, and we couldn’t be happier.”

There are, of course, many reasons people opt for CNM, and no two relationships are alike. And although Mandy and Petra see CNM as the key to relationship success, people in monogamous relationships view monogamy similarly. This is because we tend to generalize our desires as universally ideal. The data, however, suggests that both CNM and monogamy can be successful. Although those practising CNM exhibit higher levels of trust and lower levels of jealousy, research reveals that levels of satisfaction, passion and commitment are similar. 

Your chances of success, in either arrangement, increase when you thoughtfully consider the options in advance and opt in as opposed to accepting one structure as a default. 

Just like monogamy, CNM does not work for everyone (there is some preliminary evidence that certain personality types are drawn to it), and it is not the answer to a failing monogamous relationship. It won’t eliminate common relationship stressors, but its benefits might include expanded support networks, alternative openings for personal growth and an emphasis on exploration over restriction. As CNM requires greater specificity with regard to delineating relationship boundaries and expectations, it can lead to more communication, which has the potential to increase intimacy and decrease tension. 

“I also feel less pressure around sex than I did before,” says Petra. 

“I feel like it helps us to connect in other ways, and because we’re open about other people, I’m not afraid of losing him to someone else.” 

CNM is about much more than sex, and although it is often dismissed as a way to condone sexual infidelity, the clear distinction between CNM and cheating is consent by all parties involved.

*Please note that names have been changed and relationship details have been shared with permission from all parties referenced.

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Jess O’Reilly is a sought-after speaker, author and sexologist. SexWithDrJess.com.

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