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One-third of people in monogamous relationships fantasize about being in some type of open relationship, study suggests

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A study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that fantasies about open relationships are not uncommon among people in monogamous relationships.

Consensual nonmonogamous relationships (CNMR) are partnerships that allow members to have more than one sexual or romantic partner at a time. As study author Justin J. Lehmiller relates, there is reason to believe that these types of romantic arrangements are on the rise.

“For example,” Lehmiller discusses, “searches related to polyamory and open relationships have increased on internet search engines over the past decade (Moors, 2017). At the same time, “how to” books and guides to CNMRs have begun to proliferate, and increases have occurred in both popular media depictions and coverage in mainstream news outlets.”

CNMR includes various types of sexual arrangements, ranging from open relationships — when partners grant each other permission to have sex outside the relationship, to polyamory — having intimate relationships with more than one partner at a time, to cuckolding — when one partner watches the other having sex with someone else. Lehmiller conducted a study to examine whether fantasies about CNMR are common in monogamous couples, which CNMR fantasies are the most popular, and what types of people are interested in CNMR.

A sample of 822 adults who reported currently being in a monogamous relationship took part in an online survey. Participants were asked to describe their favorite sexual fantasy, with sexual fantasies defined as, “mental images you have while you are awake that you find to be sexually arousing or erotic.” The subjects were then given a list of sexual fantasy themes (e.g., having sex with more than one partner at the same time, trying something forbidden or taboo, being in a sexually open relationship) and asked to check off one or more themes that apply to their favorite sexual fantasy.

Participants also answered a series of questions about whether they wanted to try out their sexual fantasy and whether they had discussed it with their current partner. Finally, participants completed assessments of attachment anxiety and avoidance, erotophilia, sexual sensation seeking, relationship satisfaction, and the Big Five Personality Inventory.

An analysis of the data found that 33% of the sample reported that their “favorite sexual fantasy of all time” had to do with belonging to some kind of sexually open relationship. Furthermore, 80% of these participants indicated that they wanted to carry out this fantasy in the future.

“The present research confirms the important distinction between sexual fantasy and sexual desire in that not everyone wanted to act on their favorite sexual fantasy of all time. This suggests that fantasies may serve different functions for different people,” Lehmiller speculates. While for some, these fantasies may arise from a high sex drive, for others, they may serve the purpose of adding something new to a relationship that is losing passion.

Further analysis showed that identifying as male or non-binary was associated with more frequent fantasies about CNMRs than identifying as female — with the exception of fantasies about cuckolding one’s partner, for which there was no gender difference.

Having CNMR fantasies was also associated with being non-heterosexual, older, and high in erotophilia, openness, and sensation seeking. Those with lower scores for neuroticism and sexual/relationship satisfaction were also more likely to report CNMR fantasies.

As Lehmiller highlights, although most of those who reported CNMR fantasies also reported the desire to act on these fantasies, few of them reported actually carrying out their fantasies. “This, coupled with the finding that fear and lack of knowledge are among the biggest perceived obstacles to enacting CNMR fantasies, speaks to the importance of destigmatization of consensual nonmonogamy.”

The study, “Fantasies About Consensual Nonmonogamy Among Persons in Monogamous Romantic Relationships”, was authored by Justin J. Lehmiller.



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