Swinging

Scientists say this is the key to making an open relationship work

Posed by models (Photo: Marcelo Chagas for Pexels)

If you want to have sex with people besides your other half, it’s best to talk about it with your partner.

That’s the – perhaps unsurprising – conclusion of a study into the success of open relationships carried out by researchers at the University of Rochester in New York.

They conducted online questionnaires of 1,658 couples.

Most respondents were in their 20s and 30s and in long-term relationships (with an average relationship span of 4.5 years).

Approximately 12% identified as gay/lesbian, 11.5% as bisexual and 17% as ‘heteroflexible’ (i.e. open to the idea of same-sex activity).

Researchers split the respondents into five groups: Two monogamous (early-stage and longer-term relationships); One consenting non-monogamous group (i.e. fully open and honest about it), one partially-consenting non-monogamous group, and a one-sided non-monogamous group. That’s one in which one person has sex with others but their partner is not keen, has not agreed or does not know about it.

They say these five groups broadly cover the spectrum of relationships and include what people might commonly refer to as “swingers” and “open relationships.”

The consenting non-monogamous group made up about one in 13 of the respondents.

Related: More and more gay Millennials are resurrecting monogamy from the dead

Can you guess which relationships they found to be “functioning” the best?

It was the two monogamous groups and the consenting non-monogamous group (CNM). The two groups in which there were one-sided non-monogamy or low levels of discussion and agreement, were found to function less well.

In the consenting non-monogamous group, there was “low interest in monogamy and high levels of mutual consent, comfort, and communication around commitment and sexual activity with a person other than the primary partner.”

The research was not designed to say whether open relationships can be successful for all people, as different sorts of relationships will suit different types of people in different situations. However, good communication remains key to have a well-functioning relationship – whether open or closed.

Related: Are Millennials leading monogamy on a slow march towards death?

The study was published last month in the Journal of Sex Research.

Roger Rogge, an associate professor at the University of Rochester’s Psychology Department, told the University’s website: “We know that communication is helpful to all couples. However, it is critical for couples in nonmonogamous relationships as they navigate the extra challenges of maintaining a nontraditional relationship in a monogamy-dominated culture.

“Secrecy surrounding sexual activity with others can all too easily become toxic and lead to feelings of neglect, insecurity, rejection, jealousy, and betrayal, even in nonmonogamous relationships.”

Other findings included:

  • Those in non-monogamous relationships were more likely to report having had a sexually-transmitted infection.
  • The people in the consensual open relationships were in fairly long-term couplings and actually had the highest proportion among all five groups of living with their partner.
  • The same group – consenting non-monogamous – “also had the highest number of heteroflexible (primarily heterosexual but open to sex with same-sex partners) and bisexual respondents, suggesting that individuals in the LGBT community might be more comfortable with non-traditional relationship structures.”
  • Same-sex couples were more likely to be in open relationships.
  • Those people in partially consensual open relationships, or who were having sex with others without their partner’s knowledge, “showed some of the highest levels of discomfort with emotional attachment (also called attachment avoidance), psychological distress, and loneliness.” In fact, 60% of them expressed significant dissatisfaction with their relationships.

“Sexual activity with someone else besides the primary partner, without mutual consent, comfort, or communication can easily be understood as a form of betrayal or cheating,” says Forrest Hangen, another of the study’s authors. “And that, understandably, can seriously undermine or jeopardize the relationship.”