Three people in an intimate embraceThree people in an intimate embrace

The Next Generation of Non-Monogamy

Is sharing the new currency of love?

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Overview

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and millions of people were confined to their homes, many saw the increased time spent together as a benefit to families and couples. As time went on, though, tensions rose and marriages were put to the test. Wedding vows never said anything about a 24/7 lockdown, and as many people finally find themselves on the other side now, it’s clear why.

The pandemic inspired honest conversations about relationships, particularly how monogamy isn’t always the fairytale we’re led to believe. Some even consider it a turning point in non-monogamy’s popularity. With that in mind, Ashley Madison, the world’s leading married dating site1, surveyed its global members as well as the general American population on their attitudes toward non-monogamy and how they feel about more fluid relationships replacing traditionally monogamous ones as society’s default to happiness.

A societal shift to non-monogamy

Monogamy has been the gold standard of relationships for centuries, but infidelity and divorce have existed for as long as marriages have. Clearly the one partner traditional monogamy structure doesn’t suit everyone, especially long term, yet so many people still choose to conform. Is it finally time for a change?

Friends getting coffee

“I believe society can benefit from moving toward a more open style of monogamy/non-monogamy.”

24%
of Americans agree
Includes 40% Zillenials
(Gen Z and Millenials)
52%
of Ashley Madison members agree
Includes 50% Zillenials
(Gen Z and Millenials)

60% think there would be lower divorce rates with everyone becoming happier in their relationship

53% think people would become more open-minded and accepting of different forms of love

52% think both men and women could learn to ask for what they want and be more satisfied

50% think there would be less pressure on one partner to fill all of the needs of a spouse

According to Ashley Madison members
“The popular media in western cultures repeatedly dispels information that tells us that each person has a ‘soulmate.’ Because of this socialization, the majority of people report expecting monogamy in their romantic relationships and that this love will last a lifetime. The expectation for monogamy has increased in recent decades. More than ever, people are expecting their romantic partner to meet all of their needs (e.g., parenting, financial, security, intellectual, social, creative) and no one else's. These lofty expectations make violations of monogamy incredibly devastating, particularly because many people opt to dissolve relationships after acts of infidelity. For example, if one's partner engages in sexual behavior with a secondary partner, he/she/they might opt to terminate the relationship which ultimately means that not only is that person no longer getting their sexual needs met, but all other needs as well. Consequently, violations of monogamy may be viewed as the ultimate form of betrayal because it often results in losing a partner and failing to get one's needs (even the most basic) met.”
Dr. Ashley Thompson
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Expert
Dr. Ashley Thompson
Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Minnesota Duluth

How much do members think each of these areas would benefit from a shift to non-monogamy?

On a scale of 1 to 5 (minimally to greatly)
Family Life and Child Rearing
2.25
58%
There would be less divorce if parents’ needs are met and therefore fewer broken homes
51%
Parents could have more of their needs met and can be their best self for their family
28%
Sharing household responsibilities gives parents more freedom, time, and makes parenting less burdensome
Personal Finance and the Economy
2.35
61%
Higher satisfaction within relationships means fewer expensive breakups and divorces
39%
Finances would be separate, offering more financial independence
23%
It’s more economical to live in a group and divide responsibilities for raising a family, household management, childcare expenses, etc.
Mental Health
3.34
61%
Having various partners satisfying various sexual needs is important to overall wellbeing
46%
Having various partners satisfying various emotional needs is important to overall wellbeing
38%
It helps people identify and enforce their boundaries to ensure they’re always comfortable and enjoying themselves
Individual Sexuality and Sexual Expression
3.99
60%
Non-monogamy introduces more variety in people’s sex lives and moves away from the boredom that can happen with monogamy
57%
It gives people control of their sex lives and helps them feel more secure, giving them confidence to be more forthright with their desires
49%
A shift to non-monogamy would help decrease shame and help people feel more empowered to express themselves and their erotic needs
Intimate couple

Non-monogamy, but make it spicy

When asked how monogamy does or would make them feel, 26% of Ashley Madison members say unfulfilled and 23% say trapped. Further, 65% don’t believe in monogamy, so it’s unsurprising that when asked to describe their ideal relationship type, the majority opt for something more open.

An ideal relationship right now would be something non-monogamous

26%
of Americans agree
82%
of Ashley Madison members agree
Including:
“One serious romantic relationship with sexual activity on the outside”
or
“No serious romantic relationships, but one or more casual partners when I feel like it”

So, why the desire for promiscuity?

“For some open monogamy marriages, keeping the emotional monogamy is a priority, while seeking sexual excitement outside the marriage can heighten things for both partners. Finding ways to add more eroticism and intensity can bring energy home, into the bedroom, without threatening the primary partnership. Because it's in the open and both partners agree on the boundaries, it can add to the relationship instead of taking away from it. Many times it's in the sharing of the sexual experience with others that the marriage is strengthened. Ashley Madison is at an advantage because of the large number of members, representing a growing population of people interested in being in an open relationship and finding a platform where they can meet other couples and singles who want similar types of relationships.”
Dr. Tammy Nelson
Expert
Dr. Tammy Nelson
Author of Open Monogamy

Women are leading the way

Previous Ashley Madison research2 has revealed that 26% of women compared to 13% of men have a more open and fluid monogamy agreement with their partner, and 82% of women compared to 74% of men report fulfillment within these relationships. Despite long-standing stereotypes, women aren’t more programmed for or in favor of monogamy than men are. Not by a long shot.

of them, 56% realized this in the past year

65% of women on Ashley Madison do not believe in monogamy

Woman sitting with a coffee

Of the women who have had a change of heart and no longer view monogamy as the gold standard

57%
realized how unfulfilled they were with monogamy but didn’t want to leave their partner
39%
realized that their various needs can only be met by various partners
“Traditional forms of marriage and commitment have always assumed sexual and social monogamy. Today, the definition of monogamy can include new ideas of what it means to be in a committed relationship. I call this new definition of monogamy ‘open monogamy,’ and more couples than ever before are embracing open forms of sexual and emotional commitment while still being attached to a primary partner. These relationship types are agreed upon within the committed partnership. Each couple agrees on their own definition of monogamy and comes up with their own monogamy agreement. It starts with an explicit conversation that includes negotiation around boundaries, desires, and hard and fast redlines. Marriages and committed partnerships grow and develop through stages, and monogamy agreements should be subject to change. Make sure to meet and discuss potential changes regularly instead of assuming your partner always wants the same thing you do as you both grow and experience new phases of your relationship. If we renew our license to drive a car, why not renew our monogamy?”
Dr. Tammy Nelson
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Expert
Dr. Tammy Nelson
Author of Open Monogamy
Intimate couple

How much do the men and women on Ashley Madison think each of these areas would benefit from a shift to non-monogamy?

Family Life
2.39
Women
2.23
Men
Mental Health
3.45
Women
3.32
Men
Personal Finance and the Economy
2.51
Women
2.33
Men
Individual Sexuality and Sexual Expression
4.08
Women
3.98
Men
On a scale of 1 to 5 (minimally to greatly)
63%
Women
60%
Men
There would be lower divorce rates with everyone becoming happier in their relationship
54%
Women
52%
Men
People would become more open-minded and accepting of different forms of love
55%
Women
49%
Men
There would be less pressure on one partner to fill all of the needs of a spouse
58%
Women
51%
Men
Both men and women could learn to ask for what they want and be more satisfied

Women see a slightly higher benefit to society when it comes to non-monogamy

Throughout my marriage, I felt like I was missing out on an essential part of myself. I wasn't getting my needs fulfilled, specifically intimate, emotional, and physical, and I started looking elsewhere. I felt bad lying to my husband so I gave him the choice of either divorcing me or continuing our separate lives. He chose to remain with clear boundaries. Since opening our marriage, my ego has thrived. I believe that a particular segment of society will embrace a non-monogamous lifestyle because the information is more readily available and less taboo. While I know it's not something many people talk about, I've noticed an increase in non-monogamy among women. Having more confidence and comfort in oneself allows women (especially) to experiment and live their lives to the fullest. So if you're curious about exploring your sexuality and/or relationships, don't be afraid: go for it!
Member
Member
Female, 50s, USA

Sources

Survey of 3,897 Ashley Madison members between April 12, 2022 and April 19, 2022.
Online survey conducted by YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1,195 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 28th and 31st January 2022. The survey was commissioned by Ashley Madison in consultation with Dr. Zhana Vrangalova. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).
1Based on the number of signups to Ashley Madison since 2002.
2Survey of 2,874 Ashley Madison members from December 23, 2021 to January 4, 2022.