5 Surprising Statistics that Reveal American Attitudes Toward Open Relationships

I recently got my hands on the results of a study conducted by Avvo on American’s views on relationships, marriage, divorce, and fidelity.  In May of this year, Avvo surveyed a representative sample of 2,001 Americans age 18 and up from across the country, and the findings are very interesting.  Participants were asked a variety of questions ranging from opinions about relationship longevity to feelings toward prenup agreements, but it was the attitudes concerning fidelity and open relationships that intrigued me the most. Though traditionally conservative and religious in origin, Americans seem to be slowly warming up to open relationships, albeit with some reservations:

1. Nearly half of the population would consider an open relationship.

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Unfortunately there aren’t any similar studies from 10 or 20 or 30 years ago in order to track how much this is a change from attitudes held in the past. However, it’s probably safe to assume that the number of people open to non-monogamy is on the rise.  

Although, to be fair, within that 45% there are probably plenty of people who, though they wouldn’t automatically leave their partner at the suggestion of an open relationship, still wouldn’t exactly be thrilled by the concept.  

In examining the 55% that are definitely not interested in non-monogamy, there is a clear difference between the genders...

2. Women are more likely than men to leave their partner if he or she wants an open relationship.  

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This opens a Pandora’s box of questions about gender differences and stereotypes. Do women have more traditional values?  Lower sex drives? Are men just horny freaks that take to non-monogamy like a fish to water?  Sweeping generalizations about gender get my panties in a bunch, but of course the results of the study unquestionably show that there is something afoot.  

I strongly suspect socialization is at play.  Others have already done a good job of arguing that monogamy itself is more socialization than inherently encoded in human beings, such as the authors of Sex at Dawn and this great article on women and monogamy over at ScandalousWomen.com, so I won’t be arguing it here.  However, I don’t think it’s just women being socialized to prioritize monogamy and finding a partner who is “committed”, but also the threat of slut shaming that keeps women more reticent toward being open to non-traditional relationships.

3. West Coasters are more open to consensual (and non-consensual) non-monogamy.

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Oh, you liberal, relaxed West Coasters.  With your gourmet vegan cuisine, yoga retreats, and juice cleanses.  Of course you’d be into open relationships, you damn hippies.

(For those of you who don’t know, I was born and raised in California.  I’ve never done a juice cleanse, but I did quite easily fall in polyamorous love with a certain vegan yogi chick.)

Unfortunately, West Coasters might be a little too relaxed, because…

...they are also much more likely to cheat on their partners.  The West Coast may be more sexually liberal, but maybe doesn’t have the appropriate communication skills or emotional honesty to keep up with it.  
 

4. Very few people actually claim to be in an open relationship.

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This is fairly consistent with the results of other surveys, though it is a difficult statistic to track.  Many people in non-monogamous relationships choose to stay “in the closet” and it is unclear how many relationships in the States are actually open.  

If you look at the bottom of the image, you’ll see that the study question they are basing this statistic on is a little broad. “Having sex outside of the relationship with the approval of my partner” could apply to many things--swinging, threesomes, sex clubs, etc.  

That being said, there is still a big discrepancy between half of the population being open to non-traditional relationships and the percentage who actually choose to practice them.  No surprise, these things are generally easier said than done.

5. Americans are 4 times more likely to cheat than to be in an open relationship.

This statistic is the most disturbing to me.  Infidelity is not only characteristic of a lack of a integrity; it also causes enormous heartbreak and emotional upheaval. For many struggling with monogamy, this is the choice that is made. Many in the poly community wonder why anyone would risk such a blow to their relationship.  
And yet, this statistic is also unsurprising.  Though an open relationship may be an available option for some who are tempted to cheat, the majority of people are not willing to take that plunge.  The emotional vulnerability and communication required to actually talk to your partner about what you want and need is intimidating.  Add to that, the notion of an equal non-monogamous relationship--where both partners could be free to pursue multiple relationships--is also an instant turn off for many. Pursuing a secret relationship or sexual rendezvous is risky, but from a certain viewpoint, much easier than building an open relationship.  

Overall, Americans are starting to “talk the talk” when it comes to non-monogamy, but it may be a while longer before more start to actually walk the walk.  Do you think this study is an accurate portrayal of current feelings in America?  Will these numbers change in the future?  Should I do a juice cleanse so I can finally get my “Official Californian” ID card?


Dedeker Winston is a relationship coach, writer, belly dancer, model, nomad, and chapstick-addict.  Follow her here: @DedekerWinston | www.dedekerwinston.com