Open to new experiences? Not very conscientious? Queer? You might be more into consensual non-monogamy.
More people than ever are in non-monogamous relationships, and new research sheds light on what factors make people — and specifically queer people — more likely to be into them. A study published last week in the Journal of Bisexuality found that more than any other personality factors or attachment styles, being more open (appreciative of a variety of experience) and less conscientiousness (not very self-disciplined) makes queer people more likely to feel positively about and engage in consensually nonmonogamous relationships.
For straight people, there’s a link between attachment orientation and consensual nonmonogamy: people who aren’t super comfortable with intimacy with a partner (the attachment avoidant) are more open to it; whereas people who are insecure about a partner’s availability, need reassurance, and are afraid of abandonment (the attachment anxious) are less open to it.
But for queer people, it’s more complicated than that. Consensual nonmonogamous relationships are common among queers, and social norms like that can influence attitudes or behaviors. According to previous research noted by the authors, 35% of bisexual women and 21% of lesbian women reported having tried out consensual non-monogamy, compared to 16% of straight women. And once you start to get away from a heteronormative relationship model, you might be more likely to get away from a mononormative relationship model, too. Attachment avoidance or anxiety isn’t the whole picture; for queer people, culture and personality are what matter.
The study focused on how personality traits — specifically openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — are linked to positive attitudes and inclination toward consensually non-monogamous relationships among sexual minorities. The authors recruited 108 LGB participants online — 67% identified as women, 62% identified as bi- or pansexual, and 38% identified as gay or lesbian — to answer questions on their attitudes toward romantic relationships.
The authors found that being more open made people more attracted to consensual nonmonogamy, and write:
“[O]penness to new experiences and conscientiousness were robust predictors of attraction to multiple-partner relationships among LGB individuals. People who tend to have active imaginations, a preference for variety, and a proclivity to engage in new experiences (i.e., high in openness) hold positive attitudes toward CNM and greater willingness to engage in these relationships.”
While being more conscientious tended to make people less attracted to consensual nonmonogamy:
“[I]ndividuals who tend to be very organized, neat, careful, and success driven (i.e., high in conscientiousness) perceive CNM negatively and have less desire to engage in CNM. Additionally, given that highly conscientiousness individuals tend to deliberate, these individuals may have carefully considered what these relationships embodied (i.e., thought carefully about how each of the CNM-related item would play out) before providing their attitudes. Although we did not originally hypothesize this result, this finding is largely consistent with previous research showing low conscientiousness to be robustly (and cross-culturally) associated with interest in relationship nonexclusivity … Potentially, those high in conscientiousness may view CNM relationships as having ill-defined relational scripts. Highly conscientious individuals are less geared toward sensation seeking … and perhaps less willing to violate social norms involving monogamy.”
Mostly makes sense, right? They also found that, maybe counterintuitively, being extraverted made someone more likely to feel negatively about consensual nonmonogamy, and didn’t impact willingness to try it out. Originally, the authors theorized that extraverts would enjoy meeting new potential partners and doing related social activities (I’m imagining all those poly family brunches); as a possible explanation, they note that extraverts usually care more about a situation feeling pleasant than about enjoying social interactions, “which could be an underlying reason why extraversion was not related to positive attitudes toward CNM.” They also note that previous research results on extraversion and sexual behavior are all over the place, and that subculture differences and norms could influence the results and need more exploration.
Notably, they also found that, for queer people, how someone acts in regular contexts reveals more about what they’ll think about different types of relationships, or whether they’ll be drawn to them, than that person’s style within relationships: “Arguably, one’s attachment orientation is more related to relationship processes and quality, whereas one’s personality facets are better suited to understand attitudinal dispositions regarding diverse relationships.”
This is the first empirical study to look at personality traits and feelings towards consensual nonmonogamy among a group already more into consensual nonmonogamy. Which is pretty neat! This study didn’t cover how attitudes about or willingness to engage in multi-partner relationships translate to actually having multi-partner relationships, or what makes those relationships successful, which is hopefully a direction for future research.