In recent years, consensual non-monogamy (CNM) has gained increasing visibility and acceptance as a relationship choice.1 But what exactly is CNM, and how does it differ from traditional monogamous relationships? More importantly, what can we learn from the experiences of individuals practicing CNM to foster healthier, more fulfilling partnerships? In this article, we’ll dive into the latest psychology research to answer these questions and provide practical insights for modern relationships.

Understanding Consensual Non-Monogamy

CNM refers to any relationship where partners openly agree to engage in romantic and/or sexual relationships with others.1 While monogamy remains the dominant relationship model, studies suggest that a growing number of individuals are exploring CNM. One recent survey found that approximately 4-5% of Americans are currently in a CNM relationship, with up to 20% having engaged in CNM at some point.2

Polyamory, which involves maintaining multiple romantic and/or sexual relationships with the full knowledge and consent of all involved, is one of the most common forms of CNM.1, 4, 5,6 Polyamorous relationships can take various structures, such as primary-secondary arrangements or non-hierarchical configurations where all partners are considered equal.1,4,5,6

Stigma and Challenges Faced by CNM Individuals

Despite growing interest, CNM relationships often face significant stigma and challenges. Mononormativity, the societal assumption that monogamy is the only acceptable form of relationship, remains prevalent.1 ,2, 4, 5, 6 CNM individuals may experience discrimination, lack legal protections, and face judgment from friends, family, and professionals. 2,5, 6

Moreover, the stigma surrounding CNM can intersect with other marginalized identities, such as being LGBTQ+ or a person of color.2,5,6 As a result, many CNM individuals carefully navigate concealment and disclosure of their relationship status to manage potential negative consequences. 5, 6

Many also believe that CNM’s carry a greater risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). While it is true that CNM partners reported more lifetime sexual partners than individuals in monogamous relationships, they tend be more likely to use protection with these extrarelational involvements.

When compared with monogamous partners, one study 7 of 556 participants, one-third of whom were in CNM partnerships, found that CNM partners were more likely to:

(i) report using condoms during intercourse with their primary partner;
(ii) report using condoms during intercourse with extradyadic partners; and
(iii) report having been tested for STIs.

Approximately one-quarter of monogamous partners reported sex outside of their primary relationship, most of whom indicated that their primary partner did not know about their infidelity. 

The Potential Benefits of CNM

Despite the challenges, research suggests that CNM relationships can be just as healthy and fulfilling as monogamous ones. Studies have found no significant differences in relationship quality, satisfaction, or psychological well-being between CNM and monogamous individuals. 1, 4, 5,6

In fact, some experts argue that CNM can offer unique benefits. The open communication and negotiation required in CNM relationships can foster greater self-awareness, personal growth, and emotional resilience. 1 ,4, 6 Additionally, having a larger support network of partners may provide increased emotional and practical support. 4, 6

Lessons for All Relationships

While CNM may not be the right choice for everyone, the experiences of individuals in these relationships offer valuable insights for all couples. Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Open communication is essential. CNM relationships rely on clear, honest communication about needs, boundaries, and expectations. 1 ,4, 6,7 All couples can benefit from prioritizing open dialogue.
  2. Challenging assumptions can lead to growth. CNM individuals often have to confront and unlearn ingrained assumptions about relationships. 1,5,6,7 Being willing to question our beliefs and explore new possibilities can lead to personal and relational growth.
  3. Supportive networks matter. Having a strong support system, whether it’s multiple partners or close friends and family, can provide emotional resilience and practical help during challenging times. 4,6,7


As we’ve seen, consensual non-monogamy is a complex and often misunderstood relationship model. While CNM individuals face significant stigma and challenges, research suggests that these relationships can be healthy and rewarding for some. By learning from the experiences of those practicing CNM, all couples can gain valuable insights into fostering open communication, challenging assumptions, and building supportive networks. Ultimately, the key to any successful relationship, whether monogamous or CNM, is finding what works best for you and your partner(s) while treating all involved with respect and compassion.


[1] Balzarini, R. N., Dharma, C., Kohut, T., Campbell, L., Lehmiller, J. J., Harman, J. J., & Holmes, B. M. (2019). Comparing relationship quality across different types of romantic partners in polyamorous and monogamous relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 48(6), 1749-1767.

[2] Haupert, M. L., Gesselman, A. N., Moors, A. C., Fisher, H. E., & Garcia, J. R. (2017). Prevalence of experiences with consensual nonmonogamous relationships: Findings from two national samples of single Americans. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 43(5), 424-440.

[3] Scoats, R., Joseph, L. J., & Anderson, E. (2018). ‘I don’t mind watching him cum’: Heterosexual men, threesomes, and the erosion of the one-time rule of homosexuality. Sexualities, 21(1-2), 30-48.

[4] Wood, J., Desmarais, S., Burleigh, T., & Milhausen, R. (2018). Reasons for sex and relational outcomes in consensually nonmonogamous and monogamous relationships: A self-determination theory approach. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(4), 632-654.

[5] Füllgrabe, D., & Smith, D. S. (2023). “Monogamy? In this Economy?”: Stigma and resilience in consensual non-monogamous relationships. Sexuality & Culture, 27, 1955-1976. [5] Alarie, M. (2023). Family and consensual non-monogamy: Parents’ perceptions of benefits and challenges. Journal of Marriage and Family.

[6] Conley, T. D., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Ziegler, A. (2013). The fewer the merrier?: Assessing stigma surrounding consensually non-monogamous romantic relationships. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 13(1), 1-30.

[7] Sheff, E. (2014). The polyamorists next door: Inside multiple-partner relationships and families. Rowman & Littlefield. [6] Rubel, A. N., & Bogaert, A. F. (2015). Consensual nonmonogamy: Psychological well-being and relationship quality correlates. The Journal of Sex Research, 52(9), 961-982.

[7] Lehmiller, J. J. (2015). A comparison of sexual health history and practices among monogamous and consensually nonmonogamous sexual partners. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 12(10), 2022-2028.

[8] Rodrigues, D., Lopes, D., & Pereira, M. (2016). “We agree and now everything goes my way”: Consensual sexual nonmonogamy, extradyadic sex, and relationship satisfaction. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 19(6), 373-379.