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.
yes, this makes sense. thanks for breaking this down!
Jeez Carolyn just @ me next time ????
Sounds about right to me.
So lovely. Thank you for bringing all that sexy science into awareness.
Huh, I guess that does seem to make sense regarding a person’s “interest” in CNM, but I don’t think being less conscientious would make a person more suited or more successful at being CNM. I feel like being conscientious is essential in any successful cnm relationships.
I hear you in the initial reaction, but if you read the description that they use for that word, it can make sense. I totally get where you’re coming from, but the definition they use describes me. I hate to minute but I could probably cook up some diamonds in my butt hole. And although I am super open and like to think of myself as a thoughtful partner, I am really just too wound up for CNM. I was in a situation recently where it would’ve been absolutely amazing but I couldn’t handle it.
* hate to admit it
When I read your first comment, I thought you meant you hate to take minutes at meetings, and I was like, huh ok that’s an interesting way to define attitudes towards certain kinds of responsibility sure :)
Hah! I just didn’t see a way to edit on my phone. Too many voice to text typos have just carelessly been dispatched into the universe and my will to care has been worn down, hah
Conscienciousness in this study is a personality trait rather than a practice. The downside of being high in conscientiousness is being uncomfortable with ambiguity, and in my experience being comfortable with uncertainty really helps with nonmonogamy.
Yes! Discomfort with change and ambiguity is like 97% of why my nesting partner is “monogamish” and not polyamorous.
The description of “conscientious” sounds like me so this may help explain why the thought of polyamory makes me want to shrink into nothingness and disappear forever
The conclusions makes sense, but the science part of me is scoffing at the notion anything credible can me derived from a sample size of 108
If you’re doing a quantitative study, sure, but for qualitative research it makes sense to start with small sample sizes and – possibly – work up to larger groups of respondents if you get results, right? I don’t think a lot of people could get the funding to interview and do qualitative analysis of a statistically relevant group on a relatively unresearched subject. (I don’t have access to the study though so I haven’t looked at their methodology.)
Re. the extroversion thing, I’m an introvert and while I’m not sure that I’d want multiple partners myself, I’ve recently begun thinking that I might like to become involved with someone who is already in a primary CNM relationship. From past experience, being someone’s only partner can take away so much of my personal space and time and emotional energy that it becomes really overwhelming for me, so this seems like it could be an interesting avenue to explore. I don’t actually know if there’s any validity to this idea as I haven’t had the opportunity to try it yet, but I thought I’d throw in my 2 cents anyway.
This is also me, and I’m doing it and I like it! We’re not hierarchical but my girlfriend has another girlfriend, and I’m really enjoying the depth of our relationship but still having a lot of space for myself. I think you can get that in a monogamous relationship as well, but then they would need to match you on the amount of time and attention they want, whereas if they have other partners they can get attention elsewhere too.
Good luck exploring that avenue if it feels right for you ^_^
I’m high in openness and low in conscientiousness and have always been drawn to nonmonogamy so I think this is legit
This is super interesting – my anecdata supports it too. I’ve let my inner conscientious person-flag fly during the past few years and I’ve definitely become less interested in CNM in that time.
Love the term “anecdata” and am totally gonna adopt that!
The differences in findings between straights and queers here was intriguing. I’d had a sort of vauge, back of the mind sense of some kind of difference in attitude and approach between the queer and straight people I’d encountered in CNM relationships–even within the same relationship, such as a straight man in a CNM partnership with a queer woman.
This is super cool, thanks for sharing it Carolyn!
Definitely interesting. My relationship is open- my wife currently has two girlfriends and has had other previously partners since we’ve been together. I personally have not been interested in having other partners, but I find benefits to my wife having other partners (it gives her other sources of validation and room to experiment with things I’m not interested in). Reading about the study it makes me wonder about differences in personality between my wife and myself. I would say I am more conscientious (self-disciplined) than my wife, and I know I’m not overly enthusiastic about new experiences- I like things that are predictable and familiar.
I was all prepared to come here and say, “Nahhhh”, but actually, those two axes seem pretty accurate. And why polyamorous mostly-straight people drive me crackers.